Spies Tops at Road Atlanta

Henny Ray Abrams | August 29, 2008

BRASELTON, GA, AUG 29: Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ben Spies began what promises to be a strange weekend by taking the provisional pole for the Suzuki Superbike Showdown double-header at Road Atlanta. Spies lapped the altered 2.55-mile, 12-turn track in a time of 1:23.649 mins., almost two secs. off teammate Mat Mladin’s 2005 record of 1:21.685 mins. for the previous 2.52-mile layout. The dangerous turn 12 final corner, a right-hander leading onto the front straight, has been turned into a first gear, ninety-degree right with a much greater safety margin. Spies described the now slower corner as “a bit funky” and added that he was “struggling with it this morning and just wanted to do some laps and actually kinda stayed out there a little longer than I was thinking I was and just kinda kept going and going and figuring some stuff out with the bike and trying to figure out exactly what it was doing in some spots and try to ride around some of those things. If we can’t fix them for tomorrow, y’know, just try to get used to how everything’s going.” Of his fast lap he said, “It went good. We got going pretty good on race tires and then came in and just put a new race tire on and went out and went a bit quicker, so, I mean it went good, but nothing crazy special. But track temp will be down tomorrow, so times will probably be quicker yet again and we’ll see if it holds up. I doubt it. I think it’ll be a little quicker tomorrow, but that was kinda it for today and try as hard as we could and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.” Spies could clinch his third consecutive AMA Superbike Championship this weekend, but only if teammate Mat Mladin has a horrible weekend. Instead the decision will come when a verdict is rendered on the appeal of Mladin’s disqualification from both races at Virginia International Raceway. DMG Director of Competition Colin Fraser hoped to convene the three-person appeals panel prior to the races, but Yoshimura Suzuki asked for more time to prepare the appeal on the grounds that the infraction hadn’t been specified. An AMA Pro Racing press release issued on Aug. 21 said the crankshaft on Mladin’s race-winning Suzuki GSX-R1000 was “found to be in non-compliance.” If Mladin were to lose the 74 points he earned at VIR, the championship could be decided after Saturday’s race. Otherwise, it will have to wait until the appeal is heard. If the appeal is accepted, and Mladin gets his points back, the championship will likely go down to the last ever AMA Superbike race, as we know it, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 28. Spies said his approach for the weekend would be impacted by the lack of clarity of the championship. “It’s so hard, because people that haven’t been in the position don’t really know, but when you try to protect and you try to ride like that, you end up riding horrible and it’s harder to ride like that,” Spies began, “so I’m just going to, y’know, same as I always have. “And even if the championship, even when I’m down in the championship, if I’m running second place and I’m trying to win and it’s not there and I know it’s not there and there’s a crash could happen because of it, we sit back and take second, even when we’re needing to make points. And the same goes for when you have points. For me, if it’s there to win, we’ll win and try for it and if it’s not, then there’s no sense in ruining a good bike and a points lead when you know you can’t win. I know when I got to push to that edge to win and I know when it’s easier to win and when there’s just flat-out no way. “Virginia (VIR) there was no way we could win and I went for it and had a go and it almost cost us,” he said of the bobble in Sunday’s race when he nearly fell. “You just kind of got to be smart about it. So I’m just going to take it like every weekend and just see what happens and try to get a good start in the races and go for the win and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.” His take on waiting for days or weeks to win the championship was that it was “kinda no good, but that’s all how it goes. If there wouldn’t have been an appeal or the appeal didn’t get accepted we would have known before and it would have been different. But now, it’s either, y’know, we’re going to find out a week before Laguna if we’re racing for it or if I don’t even have to go, which I’ll still go and obviously try to win. “Yeah, it’s a little bit weird, but just a judgment call and that’s just how it goes. Everybody’s been asking me what’s going on? What’s going on? and all that. It’d be nice to know. I’d like to know how I had to ride this weekend if it was going to be…if I was going to have a points gap next week, y’know, I could actually ride harder and take more chances and go for the win. And if I don’t know, I gotta ride as hard as I can and if it’s not there, it’s not going to be a very good race on TV.” Rockstar Makita Suzukis swept the top three places. Following Spies were Mladin, who led most of the session until Spies’ fast lap 36 minutes into the 50-minute session, and Tommy Hayden. Friday Qualifying: 1. Ben Spies (Suzuki) 1:23.649 2. Mat Mladin (Suzuki) 1:23.963 3. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki) 1:24.782 4. Jason DiSalvo (Yamaha) 1:25.201 5. Aaron Yates (Suzuki) 1:25.226 6. Eric Bostrom (Yamaha) 1:24.333 7. Roger Lee Hayden (Kawasaki) 1:25.392 8. Jamie Hacking (Kawasaki) 1:25.458 9. Miguel Duhamel (Honda) 1:25.652 10. Neil Hodgson (Honda) 1:26.045

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.