If the first practice of the new American Superbike class proved anything, it’s that this isn’t entirely business as usual.Yes, Rockstar Makita Suzuki was still at the top, but it wasn’t Mat Mladin. The six-time AMA Superbike Champion had a short session-he finished ninth-after he wrenched his back on his second flying lap.Instead it was Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Tommy Hayden who ended up the fastest rider in the opening one-hour session, held in chilly, windy, but sunny conditions on the Short Course at Daytona International Speedway. Hayden is under no illusions: He knows that everyone else will get faster. Still, it was a positive start for the team which sat out the December Dunlop tire test and which was forced to quickly build race bikes after a production delay kept the 2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000’s from arriving in time.”It’s a good start, I think,” Tommy Hayden said after riding Daytona for the first time in a year. “The bike didn’t do anything crazy, so it felt good. Couple things we can work on, I think, but overall I felt pretty good out there. And to start off first…there’s still a long way to go. I’m sure everyone’s going to get a lot faster, I’m going to have to find some more speed. But for where we’re at, not testing here, I think things are pretty positive right now. We just got to keep it up.”News of production delays were relayed to the team on the first day of the Feb. 2-4 test at Auto Club Speedway. Two days later, a truck was dispatched to Chaparral Motorsports to pick up half a dozen 2008 Suzuki GSX-R1000’s. That gave the crews for Mladin, Hayden, and Blake Young about 24 days to get the bikes ready before the truck had to leave for Daytona. Hayden tested his bike at Willow Springs International Raceway, just before the truck was packed up and sent cross-country.”I rode Willow for a couple hours just to make sure that everything worked,” Hayden said. “It was alright. It wasn’t too big an adjustment for me, it didn’t seem like, so I was happy about that. Felt pretty comfortable on it. No big issues at the moment.”The biggest difference between the all-new 2009 and the ’08 is the ergonomics, Hayden said. “The ’09 is just a little smaller, compact feel. Besides that…I ran the same suspension and stuff at one point or another on it. A lot of that stuff’s pretty much the same. It’s more just the way I feel sitting on the bike and tucking in. Those things are all different. But it’s not as big as difference as like, say, the Superbike from last year to one of these. It wasn’t that big a deal. I was glad that that was the case.”For the afternoon session Hayden plans to work on entry grip.”Daytona, I mean any grip you can find is an advantage here. I think if we can find a little more grip it would make lap times easier. So we’ll shoot for that. Nothing gigantic. Not a lot of stuff we can do. We were skimping to get bikes ready to come here. We don’t have a pile of parts to start throwing at it. We got a few things. Luckily it doesn’t seem like we need a whole lot right now, so we’ll work with what we got and try to make the best of it.”Tire choice has also been simplified with Dunlop bringing two spec rear tires. Hayden ran the same compound rear for the hour, though he changed tires at one point.”I heard one is emergency and one is what we’re going to use unless we have a problem, so it’s pretty easy,” Hayden said.
Not easy was Mladin’s session. Mladin followed the pace car for the opening lap, did one lap at speed, then wrenched his back entering the chicane on his second flying lap. He returned to the pits, then hobbled back to the team transporter where he received treatment. It was possible that he may have to visit a doctor off-site.