Not everyone has signed yet, but here are the names swirling around as 2001 AMA Superbike series contestants.
First of all, Anthony Gobert is on his way back — to either Yamaha or Ducati. Gobert, who frequently threatens to piss his entire career away by insulting his employers, has such a well of natural talent and speed that he is just as frequently forgiven and hired by top teams.
Scott Russell, long considered one of the most naturally gifted roadracers ever, and a former World Superbike and AMA Superbike champion, will finally leave the beleagured Harley-Davidson team to ride for, according to recent speculation, either Yamaha or Ducati. Apparently, the team that doesn’t get Gobert will get Russell (according to one report/speculation).
Then there is John Kocinski — again, a rider whose natural abilities have been praised (and contrasted with his often disagreeable demeanor). Kocinski was seen sliding both the front and rear of his Vance & Hines Ducati through turn four at Willow Springs last weekend, in a vain effort to catch Honda’s Nicky Hayden. Kocinski made post-race comments indicating he wants to race the AMA series again next year.
Which brings us to Nicky Hayden. We’ve said enough about this kid’s natural talent, and his results say even more. Hayden will be back on a superbike with Honda next year in the AMA series.
So, let’s see, two former World champions (Russell and Kocinski), two-time AMA Superbike champion, and defending champion Mat Mladin, Doug Chandler (three-time AMA champion, going for a record fourth on his Kawasaki), Nicky Hayden, Anthony Gobert, and Kurtis Roberts (wait until you see this kid on the Honda RC51 next year). How do these guys stack up against the World Superbike regulars? I would say there is a deeper pool of talent in the AMA series next year, provided Gobert, Kocinski and Russell sign with AMA teams.
Kocinski, who took Honda’s RC45 to its only World Superbike championship (beating the Ducati of Carl Fogarty in the process) just a few years ago, would arguably be the third or fourth quickest rider in the AMA series next year (behind Hayden, Gobert and possibly Mladin). Without Fogarty in the fold, WSB has lost some of its lustre and, although it still has some great riders (including, arguably, the most talented roadracer in the world at this time — Yamaha’s Noriyuki Haga — if he stays in WSB), doesn’t have as deep a talent pool as the AMA series will have next year. On a neutral track, I’d bet on the top ten finishers being largely AMA riders. What do you think?