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With one week remaining in 2008, the AMA roadracing series here in the United States is finally starting to take shape, although there are still many questions to be answered as to what certain riders and teams will be doing in 2009.

One major development announced this week by AMA Pro Racing was that it was dropping its previously announced requirement that motorcycles in its series undergo a formal homologation process that involved the manufacturers to provide some detailed technical data about each model. American Suzuki Motor Corp. was the most vocal of the OEMs about its displeasure with those requirements and indicated then that it would not be racing in the 2009 AMA series.

But following this week’s rule change announcement, we hear that Suzuki has now renewed Tommy Hayden’s contract for another two years and the Yoshimura team quickly headed out to Auto Club Speedway in nearby Fontana, California to get Tommy some track time on a 2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000.


There were no immediate announcements regarding the team’s plans for 2009, but with Hayden re-signed and Mat Mladin already under contract, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they don’t show up at Daytona after all. So this is very positive news.

This change was a smart move by the AMA as it also opens the door for the remaining privateer teams to begin making their own plans. The M4 Emgo Suzuki, Michael Jordan and other privateer teams were kind of stuck waiting to know if their existing race machines were going to even be legal for 2009.

Since the new “Superbike” here in the United States is essentially what we used to call a “Superstock” machine, there is a large amount of Suzuki GSX-R1000s now available to compete in the 2009 series.

If you’ve been following my reports, you’ll recall that I had predicted in Part One that it would be business as usual for Yamaha and Kawasaki at Daytona next March, but I thought then that Honda and Suzuki’s factory teams would sit out and let support teams carry their flags for them.

I was pleased to hear that I was right about Yamaha when they announced plans to run Ben Bostrom and Josh Hayes on R1 Superbikes and Bostrom, Hayes, Tommy Aquino and Josh Herrin on R6s in the Daytona Sport Bike class in 2009.

I wasn’t happy about being right that Honda would not be running a factory team for 2009. If there was ever a time to hope I was wrong, it was now, but following on the heels of the company’s recent departure from Formula One, Honda has announced it is out for 2009. Turns out the economic downturn may have played more of a role in sidelining them than conflicts with the new AMA regime.

This announcement does not mean we won’t be seeing any Hondas on the racetrack, however. The company stated that it would still support two privateer teams, Erion Racing and Corona Honda. Erion has only officially announced that it has hired Canadian rider Chris Peris to fill Josh Hayes’ former seat on the team’s CBR600RR, but it is expected that defending class champion Jake Zemke will soon have his contract signed for the year as well.

And while I write this it is not known which of these two support teams will do it, but one will now reportedly add Neil Hodgson, Honda’s lone Superbike rider currently under contract, to its stable with significant back door factory support surely part of the deal. This deal would be a Superbike entry for sure, although it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think of him in the saddle of a 600 in the Daytona 200 as well. We should know soon about his plans.

As stated above, now it looks like Suzuki will prove me wrong and run a factory-backed Yoshimura two-man team in 2009. Reigning AMA Superbike champ Ben Spies has left the team to pursue the 2009 World Superbike championship for Yamaha, but Tommy Hayden is set to team up with Mat Mladin.


Mat was in fine form in 2008 and immediately goes to the head of the class as the pre-season favorite in AMA Superbike. I think people generally accept that his impressive career in the United States is nearing its conclusion.

He’s done well, and with a contract in hand for 2009, he could have relaxed fully paid all year with his family at home in Australia if Suzuki had decided not to race. He’s obviously in a great position either way, but it now looks like he’ll be busy in 2009 after all.

In addition to the powerful factory-backed Yoshimura team, Suzuki has had a strong support program in recent years and while I haven’t seen any official announcements for 2009 yet, I would expected that they would continue along similar lines as 2008, obviously pending the needed sponsor support which is the new “Wild Card” in the racing community.

As I understand it, Michael Jordan is splitting his Superbike race program into two parts, with Aaron Yates on an MJ branded bike, and Geoff May carrying National Guard colors. Team M4 EMGO Suzuki has Blake Young under contract through 2009 and will likely campaign its multi-rider team with Young and its other team riders Cory West, Martin Cardenas and Chris Ulrich. And a new development just this week was former Yamaha team rider Jason DiSalvo testing one of the team’s Suzuki GSX-R600s in Florida. So we’ll see if there is something to come from that. He’s a great rider and will surely be a contender on whatever team he ends up on.


Three other brands have announced their plans for the AMA series: Ducati will support Larry Pegram’s Superbike efforts and Buell will field Michael Barnes, and possibly Jeremy McWilliams and/or Shawn Higbee in the Sport Bike class. Aprilia just announced this week their plans to run one or two bikes as well. Time will tell how these big bore twins fare against the Japanese fours at Daytona and beyond.

Questions to be answered:

The only other of the four major manufacturers yet to release details about its plans for 2009 is Kawasaki. It was thought early on that they would race in whatever series its major competitors went with. Then, when the 2009 rules were announced, Kawasaki reportedly was not in agreement with certain aspects of the package and all has gone silent.

So we await news of the green team and 2008 factory riders Roger Hayden and Jamie Hacking (both reportedly under contract for 2009), as well as Attack Racing support team riders Steve Rapp and Chaz Davies. The two latter names each have a Daytona 200 victory to their credit and in normal times it would seem easy to expect them to be good to go for the new year. But, like Suzuki, Kawasaki skipped the recent Daytona tyre test, and these aren’t normal times.

The other big question mark is: What will legendary rider Miguel Duhamel be doing in 2009? He hasn’t been linked to any rumors or alternate plans that I have seen and is reportedly not under contract with Honda after 2008. So unless I’ve just missed something, it looks like he’ll either need to find a new ride, or perhaps this is the end of one of the most successful AMA Superbike careers in history. We hope it’s the former and not the latter. He’s a popular rider and has been a great part of the sport here.

Final thoughts:

When the Daytona Motorsports Group first took over the AMA series, it seemed that they wanted to head away from the direct factory teams historically campaigned in AMA racing and lean towards working with privateer teams much like how NASCAR is setup.

But as negotiations evolved, DMG seemed intent on putting together an environment for the factories after all. But here we are now just two months from the start of the season and except for Yamaha’s Superbike program, the major teams shaping up are actually all coming from support teams such as Yoshimura Suzuki, Graves Yamaha, Erion Honda, Corona Honda, Michael Jordan, M4 EMGO Suzuki and others.

NASCAR, while working behind the scenes with GM, Ford, Dodge and Toyota, fields teams from Hendrick Racing, Jack Roush, Penske and others. So without really trying, it could be that DMG’s original wishes are coming true.

It is safe say that the AMA season is a go. I think everyone in the sport would agree that it took far longer than anticipated to bring things together for the 2009 season, but finally we see the pieces falling into place.

We’ll have to wait until we get to Daytona in March to see how many fans actually show up to watch the first ever running of the Daytona 200 at night. With our economy here in the United States in historically bad trouble, and this on-going shortage of information for race fans to get enthused about, the vast grandstand of the Daytona International Speedway may have a lot of empty seats this year.

But the management at DIS is in for the long haul, and in the years to come I would expect changes and improvements to come and the series should eventually return to its former prominence. How many years that will take to achieve is hard to say. It could be one, but likely three or more, in my opinion, before it is really rolling again. The format, as they have it now, still could use a little work.

To me it just lacks creativity and only slightly fixes the previous problem for the fans who saw about the same kind of bike in every class. To really get the fans back to the track, I think the format over here still needs to widen its scope.

There are a number of things going on in the U.K. that I could see being put to good use in the U.S. to fix that problem. It’s great to see people in England with good imaginations and fresh ideas giving fans and enthusiasts many different types of motorcycles to enjoy in action. For example, even though the new 450 singles class for converted off-road motorcycles was conceived here in the U.S., it has not found a major home here yet.

But it has in England and I think some really great racing will result. I also think there is a lot of merit to the Thunderbike type classes you run there. Every major manufacturer now makes a “naked bike,” and thousands of consumers are riding them on the street, yet there is no major series to race them in the United States. Hopefully there will be in the future.

That’s what I think as we wrap up 2008.

Happy holidays!

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