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Virginia International Raceway preview

Mladin chases Merkel's 19-year-old record PICKERINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 21, 2003) -- In 1984 Motorcycle Hall of Famer Fred Merkel won an amazing 10 races en route to the AMA Superbike title. That record stood as one of the most impressive in the ...

Mladin chases Merkel's 19-year-old record

PICKERINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 21, 2003) -- In 1984 Motorcycle Hall of Famer Fred Merkel won an amazing 10 races en route to the AMA Superbike title. That record stood as one of the most impressive in the history of the series and many considered it nearly unbreakable -- until now. Suzuki's Mat Mladin stands on the cusp of breaking the 19-year-old single season win record when the AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited makes a doubleheader stop at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va., for the Aug. 29-31 Suzuki Lightning Nationals.

Mladin's 2003 campaign looks destined to go down as the most dominant ever in AMA Superbike. Not only has the 31-year-old Australian won nine races in 14 rounds leading up to the VIR doubleheader, he's won many of those races in convincing fashion on his factory Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000. Mladin is riding a three-race winning streak coming into this event and if he manages to win both rounds at VIR he will eclipse Merkel's record to become the all-time single season AMA Superbike wins leader. Even if Mladin doesn't accomplish the feat at VIR he will still have two rounds at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., in September, to break the record. The eight-year AMA racing veteran, and former Australian champion, is aiming to become the first four-time AMA Superbike Champion.

"At the moment the records are not something that I've thought about that much," said Mladin, who is shooting for his first win at VIR. "Maybe one day they will mean a lot, but right now I'm more concerned about doing what it takes to win the championship." Mladin was equally unperturbed on the possibility of breaking the long standing single-season wins record. "If I get nine wins and win the championship I'll be happy," he said directly.

In the Saturday race at VIR last year Mladin was forced to pull out of the race with tire problems. Mladin may well have already broken Merkel's record this season had it not been for tire problems in earlier races. "Tire problems concerned me a lot this year," Mladin said. "Hopefully Dunlop has everything sorted out. They've made a few changes with the tires and it seems to be working."

While a total of eight riders still have a mathematical chance at the championship, realistically it's between Mladin and Yoshimura teammate Aaron Yates. Mladin sees it the same way. "I've got one rider to worry about at the moment. I have no particular strategy going into the race in Virginia. We'll see how we measure up and do what it takes to put ourselves in a good position to win the championship."

The opportunities for Yates to overtake Mladin in the title chase are dwindling rapidly. The Georgian has failed to find the combination all season to match the speed of his teammate. His two victories in the championship this season have come after Mladin experienced tire problems. Many Superbike pundits feel that Yates will need bad luck to strike Mladin yet again if he is to have a real shot at winning his first AMA Superbike title.

Honda riders Miguel Duhamel and Kurtis Roberts have both earned podium finishes at VIR, but neither has tasted victory at the picturesque circuit. Roberts is desperately trying to finally earn his first Superbike win after having come close so many times, while Duhamel is hoping to add to his record AMA Superbike career wins stats, especially considering that Mladin is closing in fast on that record as well. This will be Ben Bostrom's first visit to VIR. He is trying to come off the no wins list this year after returning from a successful stint in World Superbike. Bostrom may find the classic VIR circuit a little more similar to the European circuits he performed so well on.

Ben's younger brother Eric was in the thick of this year's Superbike title hunt until a misfortunate accident that was no fault of his own in the World Superbike event at Laguna Seca last month put the perennial contender out. While there has been no formal announcement for Kawasaki yet, it has been reported that Bostrom will likely miss the rest of the season.

The two other riders who have at least mathematical chance of winning this year's AMA Superbike title are privateer rider Jason Pridmore, of Attack Suzuki, and Shawn Higbee, who rides for Kaufman Trailers/Millennium Technologies Suzuki. Pridmore earned the best finish by a non-factory rider in eight years with his stunning second-place finishes in the Mid-Ohio double-header last month. Those finishes push him ahead of Higbee for seventh in the series standings. Higbee, a former factory Ducati rider, has been amazingly consistent this season, finishing inside the top 10 in all but one round.

Saturday's VIR Superbike race will be shown live on Speed Channel at 2 p.m. Eastern. Race two will be taped and shown at 5:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, Aug. 31. For additional information on the Suzuki Lightning Nationals contact VIR at (434) 822-7700 or visit www.virclub.com.

For immediate post-race results, points, live transponder scoring, in-depth series and rider information, regular columnists and much more, log onto www.USSuperbike.com, the official website of the AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship.

AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship Presented by Parts Unlimited
The Suzuki Lightning Nationals at Virginia International Raceway - August 29-31, 2003

<pre> Thursday, August 28 8:30 -- 10:30: Practice: 1. Pro Honda Oils U.S. Supersport Championship presented by Shoei Helmets 2. Lockhart Phillips USA Formula Xtreme 3. Genuine Suzuki Accessories Superstock 4. MBNA 250 Grand Prix 10:40 -- 11:40: Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited Practice 12:40 -- 2:30: Practice (same order as morning session) 2:40 -- 3:40: Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited Qualifying 3:50 -- 4:20: Genuine Suzuki Accessories Superstock Qualifying, Group 1 4:30 -- 5:00: Genuine Suzuki Accessories Superstock Qualifying, Group 2

Saturday, August 30 8:00 -- 9:40: Practice: 1. Pro Honda Oils U.S. Supersport Championship presented by Shoei Helmets 2. Lockhart Phillips USA Formula Xtreme 3. Genuine Suzuki Accessories Superstock 4. MBNA 250 Grand Prix 9:50 -- 10:50: Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited Qualifying 11:00 -- 11:20: Pro Honda Oils U.S. Supersport Championship presented by Shoei Helmets Qualifying, Group 1 11:30 -- 11:50: Pro Honda Oils U.S. Supersport Championship presented by Shoei Helmets Qualifying, Group 2 12:40 -- 1:00: Chevy Trucks Superbike Practice 1:10 -- 1:45: Lockhart Phillips USA Formula Xtreme Qualifying 2:00: Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited Race 1 (100K - 28 laps) MBNA 250 Grand Prix Qualifying, 20 Minute Session Genuine Suzuki Accessories Superstock Race (60k - 17 laps)

Sunday, August 31 9:00 -- 11:00: Practice: 1. Pro Honda Oils U.S. Supersport Championship presented by Shoei Helmets 2. MBNA 250 Grand Prix 3. Lockhart Phillips USA Formula Xtreme 4. Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited 12:00: FINAL EVENTS: Pro Honda Oils U.S. Supersport Championship presented by Shoei Helmets (60k - 17 laps) MBNA 250 Grand Prix (60k - 17 laps) 2:00: Lockhart Phillips USA Formula Xtreme (60k - 17 laps) 3:00: Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited Race 2 (100k - 28 laps)

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Series AMA
Drivers Kurtis Roberts , Miguel Duhamel , Aaron Yates , Jason Pridmore , Shawn Higbee , Fred Merkel , Ben Bostrom