All of the journalists here in Southern California look forward to a number of things each year, and among them is the annual Yamaha race team announcement gathering. It is a chance for journalists to meet with all the factory riders, and have some fun in the process.
This year there really is some big news with regard to Yamaha’s U.S. race teams. Beginning with roadracing, Yamaha is heading back to the Superbike class for 2007 after an absence of a few years. Racing the all-new 2007 R1-based superbike for Yamaha here in the states will be Eric Bostrom and Jason DiSalvo.
Aside from our favorable first impression of the new R1 at the press intro (see our story here and here), the bike has proven pretty quick “out of the box” during Daytona tire testing (see here). Not just in superbike form, but as a superstock machine for Eric’s brother, Ben Bostrom, who is joining the Yamaha roadrace team for 2007.
Although Ben has been somewhat off his game of late, one has to remember his many WSB wins (including a streak of 5 in a row — I believe) while with factory Ducati several years ago. While he and Eric sport the laid-back California surfer look (evident at this event), they are deadly serious on a race track, and form an important part of a formidable roadracing team for Yamaha in 2007. Yamaha also adds young 16-year-old Josh Herrin as a Supersport class competitor aboard the R6 next year.
Yamaha has beefed up its off-road line-up as well. Particularly the supercross/motocross team. Factory riders for 2007 will include former National champ Grant Langston, along with young star Broc Hepler and multi-time amateur champ Josh Hill. Langston will race a 450, while Hepler and Hill will compete on 250s, both in regional supercross competition and outdoors.
The big news in the supercross arena is the addition of the Yamaha-supported team consisting of Chad Reed and Nathan Ramsey. L&M Racing brings new outside sponsor San Manuel Band of Indians into the mix supporting the Reed/Ramsey supercross duo in the 450 class this year. Reed, of course, is a former Supercross champ, while Ramsey has a title in the Lites class(formerly the 125 class).
Yamaha is getting more serious every year about Supermoto, and it returns with fan favorite Doug Henry for 2007 under the watchful eye of Chuck Graves. The Graves/Yamaha supermoto effort will include not only Henry and Mark Burkhart in the premier Supermoto class, but also Brandon Currie as a contestant in the Supermoto Lites championship next year.
Aside from introducing all these racers, and several others (Yamaha supports a number of motorcycle racing teams off-road, including GNCC and enduro teams), journalists were allowed to participate in several events, including a “pit lane” tire-changing competition with Doug Henry.
My team didn’t fare too well, but it was fun experiencing the time pressure associated with a tire change “during a race”. Remember the phrase “slow down to go fast”? That applies to changing a supermoto tire during the heat of battle. Unfortunately, most of my teammates forgot that phrase, panicked, and took far too long to get the tire changed (okay, I’ll take my share of the blame).
It was interesting to see 2007 R1 superbike and superstock machines on display, as well as Valentino Rossi’s number 46 MotoGP race bike (with a fresh frame ding from his crash at the final MotoGP event).
I had to leave before some of the entertainment concluded, including ramp-to-ramp free style exhibitions involving both motorcycles and a snowmobile (yes, you read that right). Just for the heck of it, here is a photo showing a back flip by a snowmobile ramp-to-ramp on a sunny Southern California day over the green grass covering the back lot of Yamaha’s corporate headquarters. Crazy stuff, and a reminder of the level of Yamaha’s commitment to some of the more extreme aspects of motorized sports.