Mat Mladin could barely walk let alone ride with his trademark physicality, but that didn’t stop him from setting the fastest time in the American Superbike afternoon session at a cold and windy Daytona International Speedway.Riding with severe lower back pain, Mladin set the fastest time of the day, a 1:38.540 around the Daytona Short Course. The six-time AMA Superbike Champion injured his back on his second flying lap of the morning session and immediately pulled in. The treatment he received from the Jordan Suzuki team therapist allowed him to ride in the afternoon, but he was far from his usual self.
“Just a bit hard to tuck in, a bit hard to manhandle the bike off the turns and stuff,” a visibly stiff Mladin said. He added that “it’s just pretty hard to manhandle the bike when you’re scared to move, because you’re going to get jolting pain. Just sort of sitting there and having a comfy old ride. I guess that’s one good thing about Superstock bikes, it’s definitely a bit softer than the old Superbike.”Mladin didn’t see his 2008 Rockstar Makita Suzuki GSX-R1000 until he landed in Florida on Tuesday. Just a month ago, the team was forced to build 2008’s because, they were told, the 2009s wouldn’t arrive in time. Mladin and teammates Tommy Hayden and Blake Young each have one race bike, two sets of bodywork, a spare engine, and other assorted spares.”It was fine,” Mladin said. “It’s not a Superbike, it’s a Superstock-cross-whatever. So my excitement level about racing a motorbike’s not that high. I’ve been racing factory Superbikes since 1992, essentially, other than my one year in Grand Prix. It’s just, I don’t know, feels weird turning up to see a bike that looks almost stock. It’s just not something I planned on doing in my career, especially at the end.”Mladin briefly tested the prototype 2009 GSX-R1000 at Auto Club Speedway a month ago. The new GSX-R is much smaller, “but the bike feels quite different to me. But again, I only did…with today I’ve done 30-35 laps since September last year.”
American Superbike regulations allow for far less modification, and therefore adjustability, especially in suspension. Though the team did their best to make the necessary changes, Mladin said it was hard to test anything given his back condition.”The big difference in the last few years in this championship over here between the top two guys and the rest has been the way the guys use their body and the way they muscle the motorbike around,” Mladin said. “Until I can do that, it’s pretty hard to test at the level I want to test at. So, yeah. Not too bad.”Now Mladin has very little time to recover. American Superbike qualifying is Thursday morning, Superpole is just before noon, and the 15-lap race starts at 3:30 p.m. Between now and then Mladin hopes to have more physiotherapy.”Again, what can be done I’m not 100 percent sure right now, because I don’t know what the issue is,” he said. “I’ve always had a bit of a problem with my back in the mid-back from some old compression fractures, but nothing that’s been a problem on the bike. But this is a completely different deal. Down low. Just not too sure.”As to whether Daytona was better or worse than other racetracks – it has the longest full throttle runs on the calendar – Mladin wasn’t interested.”Honestly, I got a couple issues at the moment, but in the end we’re at a race and we’ll do the best we can and I don’t care to harp on any issues,” he said. “This morning, six hours ago, I was fine. I was fit, healthy and all the rest of it, so it’s just one of those things. I don’t want to go on about it. It is what it is. Whether it’s a good track or a bad track for it makes no difference. Tomorrow we’ll do what we can and go from there.”
American Superbike Afternoon Times:1. Mat Mladin (Suzuki) 1:38.5402. Neil Hodgson (Honda) 1:38.6073. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki) 1:38.9274. Ben Bostrom (Yamaha) 1:39.2975. Larry Pegram (Ducati) 1:39.3176. Aaron Yates (Suzuki) 1:39.5567. Geoff May (Suzuki) 1:39.6118. Josh Hayes (Yamaha) 1:39.6409. Michael Laverty (Suzuki) 1:40.23110. Blake Young (Suzuki) 1:40.395