With the opening round of the AMA Superbike series, the Daytona 200, coming up this weekend, here are our thoughts and predictions concerning the new AMA Superbike season.
We have to pick Suzuki’s Mat Mladin to three-peat. Mladin and his Yoshimura Suzuki team seem to work together better than any other combination out there. Pre-season testing of the new GSX-R750 has also been successful, with Mladin saying his bike will be better than ever.
Mladin certainly won’t win every race, but we think he will be the most consistent, and therefore the champion at the end of the season.
There are so many good riders this year that is difficult to put them in finishing order. Beyond Mladin in first place, any one of a number of riders could fall in the next four positions. Mladin’s own teammate Aaron Yates has won AMA Superbike races before, and looks ready to step out of Mladin’s shadow, for example.
Honda has a trio of riders who could win races and place well in the championship, including veteran Miguel Duhamel, second-year sensation Nicky Hayden, and superbike rookie (and multi-time AMA roadracing champion) Kurtis Roberts. Roberts may have more pure speed than any of them, but he displayed a tendency to crash the superbike the few times he tried to ride it last year. We think both Roberts and Hayden will win races this year, but lack the consistency to take the title from Mladin. Duhamel was less aggressive last year, but he claims that the removal of a rod from his previously broken femur has brought new confidence. We’ll see.
Other riders to watch include Scott Russell and Aaron Slight, both on Ducatis (Slight may not race the whole season). Russell, of course, is “Mr. Daytona”, so the first race of the year should be telling. If Russell is not competitive at Daytona, he won’t be consistently competitive anywhere else.
Wild cards include Anthony Gobert on a Yamaha and Eric Bostrom on a Kawasaki. Bostrom looks ready to dominate the 600 class (a title that narrowly eluded him last year), but the Kawasaki superbike platform may simply be too old at this point to be a consistent front runner. Gobert has the natural ability, as everyone knows, and with Haga out of World Superbike, perhaps his R7 will be attended to as well as a World Superbike machine. Gobert should be motivated, and he could surprise a lot of people.
Kawasaki’s Doug Chandler is looking for yet another AMA Superbike championship, but with so many young, aggressive riders now in the class, Chandler’s chances look slim. Chandler is also riding the oldest superbike platform in the field, the Kawasaki ZX-7R (with the exception of the Harley-Davidson platform).
So, here are our fearless predictions: (1) Mat Mladin (Suzuki); (2) Nicky Hayden (Honda); (3) Aaron Yates (Suzuki); (4) Eric Bostrom (Kawasaki); (5) Kurtis Roberts (Honda).