EXCLUSIVE: Yoshimura Suzuki to Race ’08’s

Henny Ray Abrams | February 6, 2009

BROOKLYN, NY FEB 6: The Rockstar Makita Suzuki team will line up for the Daytona season-opener on machines they’ve never raced, after it was revealed that production delays will force the team onto 2008 Suzuki GSX-R1000s, rather than the all-new 2009s. The team was informed of the delay on Monday morning, just prior to the start of their two-day test at Auto Club Speedway. Tommy Hayden, seen in the photo below on the 2009 bike, and Blake Young immediately began adapting to the new model, which was a pre-production unit and couldn’t be homologated for racing. But six-time Superbike champion Mat Mladin was less enthusiastic about testing. On the second day of the test, he ran only four laps and one at speed. “I’m not too sure what’s going on right now, so it’s hard to say, but I’m not sure if we’re going to be racing these bikes. I don’t know,” Mladin said before returning to his home in Australia. “So, right now I’m not sure what we’re here for, what we’re doing really at the moment.” Production delays will prevent sufficient quantities of the 2009 model to be in the country in time for the March 5 Superbike race at Daytona International Speedway. And the Rockstar Makita Suzuki team may have to race the ’08s in the second round of the championship at Auto Club Speedway. “We had some delays in production timing related to the news GSX-R1000 and we’re still hoping that we could have bikes in time to race at Fontana, but we can’t guarantee that yet,” American Suzuki spokesman Glenn Hansen said. “So our plan for now is to race 2008 bikes at Daytona and maybe Fontana.” The delay is especially onerous for Yoshimura Suzuki, since they have no 2008 models in anything but full-Superbike trim. Satellite teams, such as Jordan Suzuki, could race their 2008 Superstock machines with limited changes. Hansen said it was unlikely any other team would be on ‘09s at Daytona. “If we don’t have 2009’s, they don’t,” he said. So with about three weeks to go until the Yosh semis leave for Daytona, the team has to build at least three complete race bikes to 2009 American Superbike specs. Not only will that make for long days, but it also delays the development program of their 2009 models. “Obviously, we had plans on preparing – actually they were underway – not production, they were a pre-production level of equipment, we had that program under development,” Yoshimura boss Don Sakakura said. “Obviously, we were pretty satisfied, pretty pleased at Auto Club Speedway for those two days.” Tommy Hayden was the second fastest rider with a hand-timed 1:24.3. Only American Honda’s Neil Hodgson went faster (1:24.0). And Mladin’s lone flying lap on Tuesday was a 1:25.2. “Going back to the ‘08 model, obviously we have to use those,” Sakakura said. “We’ve had some success with those models. We don’t think we’ll have any other problems, other than the team constraints of building equipment for three riders. The guys will have a couple of busy weeks. We’ll do what we need to do.” The team began making preparations this past Tuesday afternoon when they sent a truck to a local dealership to pick up a number of assembled 2008 GSX-R1000s. “We have had great success with that ‘08 machine in Superbike trim and Superstock,” Sakakura said. “It’s basically the same motorcycle as the ‘07. We have a fair idea of where we need to start. We’re trying to get a test session prior to do Daytona just to do a quick shakedown. “I think we’ll be okay, I think at this point it’s just going to be limited to the volume we have,” Sakakura said when asked if each of their three riders would have two motorcycles. “One or two motorcycles for each rider – more likely one – and an assortment of spares. They’ll only be used for one or two events.” He said the number of completed motorcycles was dependent “on what level of equipment is available. There are suspension requirements, bodywork requirements, some homologated items we need to sort through and how quickly I can get a hold of that equipment. That will determine how many motorcycles we can prepare for Daytona.” The Auto Club Speedway round of the championship follows Daytona by two weeks. Once you factor in travel time for the team semis, the team would have a little more than a week to get ready for Fontana. Following Fontana, the teams have to drive back across the country to Road Atlanta for the third round. “Fortunately, it seems like [the 2009] is a fairly competitive, balanced package that we assembled for the test, which is great,” Sakakura said. Following either Daytona or Fontana, “depending on the release of production models, we have to jump right back on those machines. It’s quite chaotic, to say the least, right now. “We’ve got some great crews, great strength, obviously, great riders who are all motivated to start the year. We’re looking forward to starting the year,” Sakakura said.

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.