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VIR: Round nine preview

AMA SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP UP FOR GRABS AGAIN AS SERIES MOVES TO VIR Bad luck for Mladin spells opportunity for teammate Spies PICKERINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 19, 2005) -- The 2005 AMA Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited has been a...

AMA SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP UP FOR GRABS AGAIN AS SERIES MOVES TO VIR
Bad luck for Mladin spells opportunity for teammate Spies

PICKERINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 19, 2005) -- The 2005 AMA Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited has been a roller coaster ride for defending champion Mat Mladin. Twice this season the Australian racing sensation has built a large points lead only to see it evaporate when bad luck hit. A rare bike failure was the culprit that shaved Mladin's points lead at California Speedway back on April 30, and most recently the Yoshimura Suzuki rider was caught up in an unavoidable crash in the last round in Lexington, Ohio, and just like that his commanding 37-point series lead has been reduced to nine.

As the series moves to the scenic Virginia International Raceway in Alton, on Aug. 26-28, the AMA Superbike Championship chase will be in full stride with young Texan Ben Spies suddenly within reach of Mladin with just four rounds remaining. The race is being dubbed the Suzuki Big Kahuna Nationals at VIR and will feature rounds 14 and 15 of the 17-race championship.

One would think Mladin would be troubled by his sudden change of fortune but he took the Mid-Ohio incident in stride. At Mid-Ohio his Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Aaron Yates crashed right in front of Mladin leaving him nowhere to go and he ended up hitting the ground and damaging his bike.

"I was seeing red right after the crash," Mladin admitted. "But by the time the race was over I was pretty much over it. That's part of racing and one of the reasons I work so hard to win as much as I can to create a points buffer. I'm not going to dwell on what's happened in the past. I'm going to VIR with the intention of building my lead again."

Mladin won at VIR in 2003, and while he'll be looking to score a sweep of the two rounds his young teammate Spies sees nothing but the opportunity of a lifetime to win the AMA Superbike title in his rookie season. He'll be swinging for the fences at VIR.

"I spent most of this season learning the ropes in Superbike racing," said Spies, who already scored a victory in the series at California Speedway earlier this year. "A lot of my focus has been on learning to ride fast late in the race when the tires start to go off. I think I've done that pretty well and now it's time for me to get some good starts and try to battle for the lead from the drop of the flag. I respect Mat a lot and don't like to see him have bad luck, but that's part of this game and I need to take advantage of the opportunities that come my way."

Ducati Austin's Eric Bostrom has come to life late in the season and is the hottest rider in the series coming into VIR. Bostrom's win over Mladin at the circuit in 2002 was one of the closest races in the history of the series. Bostrom, who is third in the standings, hopes to keep his momentum going this coming race.

"Our crew has been steadily closing the gap on Mladin's bike here late in the season and the results are starting to come," Bostrom said. "It feels good to finally feel confidence in the bike and we're looking to win at VIR."

Other past VIR Superbike winners expected to be on the grid this weekend include Honda riders Miguel Duhamel and Kurtis Roberts. Both riders struggled much of the season while their respective teams worked on developing in house Honda Superbikes. The hard work by American Honda and Erion Honda seems to be paying off. Duhamel scored his first podium of the season with a second at Mid-Ohio, while Roberts scored his first top-five result of the year. Both are eager to close out the final four races with strong performances to give them and their teams something to look forward to going into 2006.

While nobody is counting out the veteran Mladin, the top six riders in the championship still have at least a mathematical shot at the title coming into VIR, including Aaron Yates and Britain's talented Neil Hodgson. Hodgson, a former World Superbike Champ, is preparing for his first race appearance at VIR.

Motorcycle racing fans from nearby North Carolina will have a hometown hero to root for at VIR. Lee Acree, from Greensboro, N.C., is ranked in the top 10 on his KWS/Millennium Suzuki. Acree shocked the AMA regulars in one of his first visits to the series when he won the VIR Superstock race (then called 750 Supersport) in 2001, just after the track re-opened after major renovations. He'll be looking to turn in another solid performance at his home track.

The Suzuki Big Kahuna Nationals at VIR will be televised nationally on SPEED Channel with the AMA Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern, Sunday, Aug. 28.

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Series AMA
Drivers Kurtis Roberts , Miguel Duhamel , Lee Acree , Aaron Yates , Eric Bostrom , Ben Spies