Spies claims first Superbike victory, heartbreak for Mladin, Hodgson The Saturday AMA Superbike final at California Speedway started off like any other (well, other than two early restarts brought about by red flags); Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat...
Spies claims first Superbike victory, heartbreak for Mladin, Hodgson
The Saturday AMA Superbike final at California Speedway started off like any other (well, other than two early restarts brought about by red flags); Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin quickly worked his way into the lead and set about building an insurmountable lead at the front while the fireworks were reserved for the battle for second.
However, before the checkered flag flew, several dramatic shifts made the race one of the more unpredictable in recent memory. In the end, rookie Ben Spies broke through to claim the first AMA Superbike victory of his young career despite fighting with two of the world's best and an ailing machine all at the same time.
For the majority of the contest, Mladin's perfect '05 season record seemed virtually certain to continue through the fourth race. The original start saw Mladin make quick work of Ducati Austin's Eric Bostrom who beat him in the launch off the line. Following a red flag and complete restart, Mladin did the same to fast-starter Aaron Yates. And then on the second (and final) restart that followed a lap 6 red flag, Mladin wasted little time dropping both Bostrom and Yates to take command of the race.
After that -- right up until his race ended prematurely -- there were few visible signs that the Australian's weekend was about to take a downward turn. Mladin crossed the stripe to close out lap 20 with a 7.146-second advantage in hand. But by the end of lap 21, the entire field was storming past as the five-time champ was coasting out of the race.
"I'm not too sure what happened yet," Mladin said. "They're going to pull it apart. I just lost all drive. I realized straight away after the restart I had a problem. I was just trying to adjust and adjust and adjust, and I finally ran out of adjustments. Then, I guess it was about eight to go, I came to a halt. That's why you try to win races -- so you can build a points lead. We're only six or seven out of it now. That's racing."
Prior to Mladin's misfortune, eventual winner Spies looked like the Yoshimura runner most likely to be the victim of a mechanical DNF. About sixteen laps in, Spies' body language showed signs of impending trouble. On lap eighteen, the Texan was shaking his head and wrenching the throttle of his ill GSX-R1000 while Hodgson and Yates blew past on the back straight.
But instead of retire, Spies fought back up to the skirmish for second -- which was soon to become a dogfight for the win -- all while skipping second and fourth gear during all his subsequent gearshifts.
Spies mastered the new arrangement sufficiently enough to move past Yates for second on lap 23 of 28 and then close to within striking distance of his Ducati-mounted rival a lap later.
However, working past the '03 World Superbike proved much more difficult than merely tracking him down. Spies showed the British star his front wheel on several occasions as the laps wound down but was unable to find a clear path into the lead. On the final lap, he seemed determined to dive-bomb Hodgson at some point and pray for the move to stick, but the move never came -- it didn't have to.
Instead, Spies' heavy pressure forced Hodgson into a mistake. The Ducati Corse pilot ran his 999F05 wide entering Turn 3 and both remaining Yosh runners took full advantage, quickly powering by.
Spies' win wasn't secure just yet, however. He suffered a major slide entering the start/finish-line straight for the final time and was hit with such a violent shake that he broke his windscreen moments before taking his first career AMA Superbike win.
Afterwards, Spies said, "It wasn't the way I wanted to do it. Mat had a problem, and I feel if we wouldn't have had any bike problems and he wouldn't have either -- if I could have started out with him -- it would have been a good race.
"About lap 7 into it, the fuel pump started going out and wouldn't run in second and fourth gear. I was having to go first to third to fifth. I let Aaron and Neil by because I didn't want them to be behind me on the straightaway and hit me. I just tried to stay on with them, and then I saw Mat was having some problems. I wanted the win really bad even though the bike was making it really hectic. With Neil running off the track, that helped me out. Considering the problem that we had, we came out with the win so that was good. I'm really happy about that."
Runner-up Yates commented, "We were pushing hard and we had a good race going -- I'm sure everybody enjoyed it. I know Ben had some troubles about midway, and I was hoping they were a little more major than they were. I didn't know he was there coming back.
"When Mat went out I was just kind of hounding Neil, trying to figure out where I could make a move on him. And then here comes Ben and we had a race on. The lappers kind of helped sometimes and they hurt sometimes; they brought us back and forth from each other. We were just pushing hard -- there wasn't much for grip out there. But you know, it's great for Suzuki to be 1-2."
After recovering to finish third -- his third podium of the season -- Hodgson admitted, "To be totally honest, I made a mistake going into the chicane and I went through a gear too high. It just catapulted me into the second turn a little bit too fast. I sort of braked where I had been braking every lap -- but probably five mph faster. I just couldn't get the thing stopped and the tires were gone at that stage. There's not a lot of side-grip so you just sort of drift into the corner; you're pretty much a passenger on the bike. That's exactly what happened -- I was just a passenger sliding into the corner.
"And that was it -- race over, simple as that. At that point you can't believe what's happened. I was totally devastated. But that's racing -- I've done it before and I'll probably do it again. We all push hard and it's not easy."
American Honda's Miguel DuHamel took a relatively lonely fourth but was encouraged by logging laps faster than those he managed during qualifying.
Hodgson's Ducati Austin teammate, Eric Bostrom, rounded out the top five. The Californian slugged it out with the major players early on, but slowly drifted back while fighting side-grip issues of his own.
Second American Honda rider Jake Zemke picked up sixth, taking the checkered flag some thirty seconds behind the winner. Attack Kawasaki's Josh Hayes hounded the Californian over the second half of the contest but didn't have enough in reserve to steal away the position.
Jordan Motorsport's Steve Rapp came out on top of a race-long tussle with Mat Mladin Motorsports' Marty Craggill to claim eighth. Team M4 EMGO Suzuki's Vincent Haskovec completed the top ten.
Spies' victory and perfect podium record on the season saw him move past Mladin in the points race 123 to 115 following race four of 17. The Aussie's zero-point finish actually dropped him to third overall, as Hodgson remained in second with a new tally of 120. Yates is right in the mix as well, sitting fourth at 114 as we head into tomorrow's 100k final.
The Sunday AMA Superbike race is scheduled to get underway at 3:00pm local time. If you're not at the track, be sure to catch it live on Speed.