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Laguna Seca: Round seven preview

SPIES/MLADIN BATTLE SET FOR WORLD STAGE IN MONTEREY The Ben Spies/Mat Mladin AMA Superbike rivalry is the best in the series in 20 years. Now the battle between the top two road racers in the American championship will be shared by an ...

SPIES/MLADIN BATTLE SET FOR WORLD STAGE IN MONTEREY

The Ben Spies/Mat Mladin AMA Superbike rivalry is the best in the series in 20 years. Now the battle between the top two road racers in the American championship will be shared by an international crowd at The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, a combined MotoGP and AMA Superbike Championship event held on July 20-22, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

Last year Spies, of Longview, Texas, ended the longtime dominance of his Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Mladin by beating the six-time AMA Superbike champion from Australia for the 2006 title. Mladin vowed to return strong this year, and good to his word, the 35-year-old Mladin has given Spies, who turned 23 on July 11, a serious run for his money.

Mladin had tire problems at the season opener in Daytona, crashed and still finished 10th. The gritty Aussie fought back and after winning three races in a row he drew into a tie with Spies in the standings at mid-season. Spies responded and coming into Laguna Seca has a three-race winning streak of his own, opening an 18-point gap over Mladin after 11 of 19 rounds. A race win is worth 36 points so an 18-point advantage means the two are running nearly neck-and-neck with eight races remaining.

Spies is the defending winner at Laguna Seca and he is brimming with confidence and ready to show the massive crowd and the GP team managers at the Red Bull MotoGP/AMA weekend that he's ready to make the step to MotoGP racing if he decides to go that direction in the future.

"I needed to step up my game to respond to Mat, who definitely raised his level this year," Spies said. "I got the momentum back on my side, but I can't rest. I want to go to Laguna and keep this thing rolling. It's going to be an important race and naturally you want to show your best at the biggest race weekend we have in this country."

Mladin will be eager to bounce back strong after crashing in the most recent round last month in Utah. To illustrate just how determined Mladin is, he nearly pulled off a podium finish after the crash. The race was red flagged and his team scrambled to get his damaged Suzuki repaired for the restart. In spite of suffering a violent high-side crash, Mladin was able to salvage fourth place in the race to minimize the championship points damage.

Mladin congratulated Spies after his teammate swept the recent round in Utah, but signified that he's in no way conceding an inch. "He did a great job," Mladin said flatly after the race in Utah. "We've got eight races to go. It's going to be good."

While the championship focus remains on Spies and Mladin, other riders are hoping to use the spotlight they'll receive in Monterey to give their season an unforgettable highlight.

The winningest AMA Superbike rider at Laguna Seca in recent years is Eric Bostrom. Eric, the younger of the two racing Bostrom brothers, has earned three Superbike wins in the last six years. He's back in the series after a year's absence and is hoping to give Yamaha its very first Laguna AMA Superbike victory. The Yamaha factory has returned to AMA Superbike for the first time in five years and Bostrom has given the team some highlights by leading several rounds of the series so far this season. Bostrom is simply hoping to make the race at Laguna. He is recovering from a separated shoulder suffered at the last round in Utah. Eric's brother Ben is slated to ride in Superbike for the first time this season, on a Graves Yamaha R1 Superstock-spec machine. Ben is also a former Laguna Superbike winner.

Tommy Hayden, also with Yoshimura Suzuki, will be another rider eager to turn in a good performance at Laguna. The eldest of the racing Haydens will be watching his brothers Nicky and Roger racing in the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. He hopes to keep the Hayden name atop the leaderboard when the Superbikes take to the circuit.

Miguel Duhamel, the 1995 AMA Superbike Champion, will have a hectic weekend racing both the MotoGP with Gresini Honda and the AMA Superbike race on the factory Honda. "I'm really super pumped and looking forward to getting out there," said Duhamel, who formerly raced MotoGP fulltime in 1992. "It's a tall order for sure. At the very least I hope to put on a good show for the fans. I know I've wanted to see this for a long time. I'll also still be in the AMA Superbike race right after the MotoGP race, so it's going to be a busy day for sure."

Jake Zemke lives 100 miles down the road from Monterey in Paso Robles. He's hoping some home track mojo will give him the thrust he needs to get his first win this season. Zemke is the last rider, other than Spies or Mladin, to win an AMA Superbike race and that was over a year ago.

Jamie Hacking will fly the flag for Kawasaki while his teammate Roger Hayden focuses on the MotoGP and Pro Honda Oils Supersport events. Jordan Suzuki's Aaron Yates is another rider showing great promise to earn the team's first Superbike podium finish. Jordan Suzuki is owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan, who is expected to be on hand for the race.

The MotoGP bikes won't be the only exotica at Laguna Seca. The rare Italian MV Agusta Superbikes will race at Laguna under the Fast by Ferracci banner with riders Matt Lynn and Luca Scassa.

The Laguna Superbike race will receive same-day, tape-delayed television coverage on SPEED at 11:00 pm Eastern.

-credit: ama

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Series AMA
Drivers Miguel Duhamel , Tommy Hayden , Jamie Hacking , Aaron Yates , Jake Zemke , Ben Spies , Matt Lynn , Luca Scassa