Mladin expected to turn up, race, and wrap up the 2009 AMA Superbike Title at VIR this weekend
The 10th Anniversary Suzuki Big Kahuna Nationals will feature all four of AMA Pro Road Racing’s divisions in a jam-packed schedule highlighted by six different races this weekend, August 14 – 16, at Virginia International Raceway (VIR).
At least two 2009 AMA Road Race Titles could be decided this weekend at Virginia International Raceway.
A decade ago, this event now known as the Big Kahuna, was the first event to feature a dual-final American Superbike race format that has now become the standard at the majority of AMA Pro Road Racing event weekends.
Championship points leader Mat Mladin (Suzuki GSX-R1000) is a likely lock to win the 2009 AMA Pro American Superbike title and he could do just that at VIR. The tough Australian has an unmatched record of 10 wins so far this season, including a streak of seven in a row to open the year. He has been AMA Pro Road Racing’s top rider in 2009 winning all but six races and capturing seven of nine pole positions.
Mladin – who announced his retirement on the same weekend he opted not to race at the previous Heartland Park round citing safety concerns – leads the American Superbike class in every possible statistical category, and all tiebreaker scenarios favour Suzuki’s only winning 2009 American Superbike rider.
Mladin has a comfortable 83-point championship lead, 390 – 307, over Yoshimura Suzuki teammate and nearest challenger Tommy Hayden (Suzuki GSX-R1000) and could seal a record-extending seventh AMA Pro American Superbike title as early as the Saturday final if he beats Hayden by more than 11 points. Mladin’s Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 winning mount would also give the Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura team the 2009 American Superbike Team Championship while Suzuki would all but seal the class Manufacturer Championship if Mladin turns in a championship-clinching run this weekend.
Mladin’s teammates Hayden and Blake Young (Suzuki GSX-R1000) have been among the handful of riders that have challenged the American Superbike leader this year. Hayden is still winless in his American Superbike career but he has finished in the top three in half of the year’s 16 races. That run includes the Sunday final one race ago in the Tornado Nationals in Topeka where Hayden finished second to that weekend’s double winner Larry Pegram (Ducati 1098R). The Kansas runner-up placing was Hayden’s fifth of the year and he also took second in the Saturday finals at Road Atlanta and Infineon Raceway and both rounds last March at Auto Club Speedway in California.
Young has overcome severe injuries to his left pinkie and ring finger in a Sunday final accident at Barber Motorsports Park to remain a threat for his first American Superbike win at every race. His best run of the year came in the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on July 4th weekend where he led the most laps for the first time this season before finishing second to Mladin. That finish matched two other runner-up showings in the last two races before his accident which were the Saturday final at Barber, the day before his spill, and Race 2 at Road Atlanta in early April. He most recently hit the podium with a third-place showing in the Saturday final at Topeka.
Pegram dominated the Tornado Nationals and led every lap in both finals from the Superpole for the biggest weekend of his American Superbike career. Earlier this season, Pegram out-raced Mladin and the rest of the field at Road America for his first win in 10 years. The top Ducati rider in American Superbike has finished in the top seven in eight of the last nine races in a competitive run that began with a third-place showing in the Saturday final at Infineon. He cracked the podium for the first time this season with a third-place finish in Race 2 at Auto Club Speedway. His stellar weekend in Topeka saw him jump from fifth to third in the championship standings with 286 points.
Along with Hayden and Pegram, the only other riders who have a very slim yet mathematical chance of catching Mladin make up the rest of the top five in the championship standings.
Yamaha’s American Superbike riders Josh Hayes (Yamaha R1) and Ben Bostrom (Yamaha R1) rank fourth and fifth, respectively, heading to the Big Kahuna. Hayes joins Pegram as a three time 2009 winner and, like the Ducati rider, turned in a dominating weekend sweep of his own two events ago at Mid-Ohio. He became the first rider other than Mladin this season to earn the top spot in Superpole qualifying on Friday and then went out and won both Mid-Ohio weekend races. Hayes also put a stop to Mladin’s 2009 race win streak, and Suzuki’s multi-year lock on the American Superbike division, with a breakout victory in Race 1 at Infineon in May, where he also led the most race laps. He heads to VIR fourth in the championship standings with 281 points. Bostrom earned his second straight runner-up finish in the Saturday final at Topeka one race after following Hayes across the finish line in Race 2 at Mid-Ohio. He also finished second in the Sunday final at Infineon in May. Bostrom was riding a streak of six consecutive top-five showings after the first Topeka final only to retire with mechanical problems late in Race 2 the next day. He is fifth in the championship with 273 points.
Aaron Yates (Suzuki GSX-R1000) and his Jordan Motorsports teammate Geoff May (Suzuki GSX-R1000) rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in the American Superbike standings. Both riders are looking to rebound at the Big Kahuna after each walked away from separate Turn 8 low-side incidents in the Sunday final at Topeka. Yates did qualify second in Superpole qualifying in Kansas, however, and has similar strong performances recently. His second-place finishes in the Sunday final at Barber and two events ago at Mid-Ohio in Race 1 on Saturday are the best showings of the year for the Jordan team. Yates backed those podium placings up with back-to-back third-place showings in Race 2 at Road America and at Laguna Seca. May’s best finishes were three third-place showings within the year’s first five races, including both rounds at Road Atlanta in April.
Two riders coming off career-best American Superbike weekends complete the top 10 championship standings. Jake Holden (Honda CBR1000RR) has been racing his own Honda under Corona Extra colours at the last few events and scored a career-high fourth place finish in the Sunday final at Topeka. He also qualified an impressive third in Topeka Superpole after setting the fastest overall lap of the weekend earlier on Friday in the group qualifying session, two more career milestones for Holden. He is tenth in the championship standings, one spot behind Taylor Knapp (Suzuki GSX-R1000), who Holden led across the finish line on Sunday at Topeka. Knapp’s fifth-place Kansas finish was the best of his career and is part of a steady run of nine top-10 finishes this season.
Holden first returned to the Corona Extra team when he filled in capably for Neil Hodgson (Honda CBR1000RR) earlier in the season. Hodgson has recovered from a post-Daytona motocross training injury to score sixth-place finishes at Laguna Seca and in the Sunday finals at Topeka and Road America. The results were the former World Superbike Champion’s best showings since taking second in the Daytona opener. He has made just 10 race starts this season.
Other riders to keep an eye on at VIR include Road America Race 1 runner-up Michael Laverty (Suzuki GSX-R1000), Chris Ulrich (Suzuki GSX-R1000) and Scott Jensen (Suzuki GSX-R1000). A total of 32 American Superbikes are entered for the Big Kahuna.