Archives: Corser is for Real
The AMA Superbike round at Phoenix International Raceway in 1994 – it wasn’t a particularly important race in the bigger scheme of things. It was the second round of the 10-round AMA Superbike Championship. The title was not necessarily going to be won or lost there. But it was at this race, in late March of that year, where American racing fans found out that Australian newcomer Troy Corser was the real deal. His victory over Fred Merkel, who raced for factory Kawasaki, and Vance & Hines Yamaha’s Colin Edwards was significant. Merkel was already a two-time World Superbike Champion and Edwards was America’s leading up-and-coming racer, who would also go on to become two-time champ of the series as well. Any doubts that Corser would be able to be an AMA title contender in his first season in America, were wiped clean that day.
Archives: Corser is for Real
A little background on how Corser came to race in America. Eraldo Ferracci had to think outside the box. His Fast by Ferracci Ducati team dominated the 1993 AMA Superbike Championship, mostly on the strength of Doug Polen’s riding at his absolute peak. Recall by ’93 Polen was already a two-time World Superbike Champion. Polen badly wanted to win the AMA title before moving on to new horizon’s and he got it done with one of the most lopsided performances in series history in ’93. Then Polen took a “could not refuse” offer from Honda to race World Superbike in 1994. Ferracci was left without his star rider.
Ferracci had a fast, young and improving French-Canadian named Pascal Picotte on his squad and Ferracci thought Picotte might have a decent shot at winning the ’94 AMA Superbike title, but he certainly wouldn’t be a lock like Polen.
Enter GP legend Barry Sheene. Sheene was living in Australia at the time and had watched Corser’s rapid rise in Australian road racing. Corser was a former motocross racer, turned flat tracker, who moved to road racing in 1990 and immediately became a success on the pavement, winning the Australian 250 Production Series on a Suzuki. By 1992 he was a factory Yamaha rider in Australia and finished fourth in the series, before winning the Australian Superbike Championship in 1993 aboard a Honda RC30.
Sheene was good friends with the Castigliones, the family that owned Cagiva, and at the Castigliones’ request Corser was given a test with Ferracci during Daytona Tire Testing in December of ’93. Sheene accompanied Corser to Daytona.
The test went well. The 22-year-old Corser, had no history at Daytona, no history on a Ducati, yet he still managed to clock a 1:52.21, which would have landed him on the front row of the ’93 Daytona 200. All of this on an ex-Polen bike with 900 race miles on the clock. Sheene’s recommendation looked solid.
In spite of his strong test outing, a Cycle News pre-season feature on the 1994 AMA Superbike Championship predicted Corser finishing eighth in the championship, reasoning that he would be at a disadvantage trying to learn American tracks. (Interestingly, the feature predicted another Australian Kevin Magee, as the rider who would win the AMA Superbike Championship aboard the Smokin’ Joe’s Honda.) A week later, illustrating how little American fans knew about him, Cycle News ran another feature titled “Who is Troy Corser?”
The first round of the ’94 AMA Superbike Championship was the Daytona 200. It was a Ferracci Ducati sitting on the pole for the talent-packed race, but instead of Corser, it was his teammate Picotte.
In the 200 it was Scott Russell winning after starting from the back of the field because of a mechanical failure on his Muzzy Kawasaki in one of the Twin 50s. The race came down to a battle between Russell and Corser and their respective pit crews. On their last stops, the Muzzy Kawasaki crew elected not to change tires. Ferracci decided to put fresh rubber on Corser’s Ducati. That gave Russell a big lead in the final segment of the race. Corser put on an epic charge in the closing laps, but came up 2.9-seconds short at the checkered flag. Eddie Lawson was third.
Even though he finished second, Corser pushed perhaps the all-time best at Daytona to the very end. Fans were beginning to figure out just who this new guy from down under was.
Then came round two in Phoenix, two weeks after Daytona.
Corser set the tone early at Phoenix by running fastest in practice and eventually qualifying on the pole. Corser’s 1:02.532 at 86.931 mph, broke the previous mark set by Doug Polen by nearly a half second. Corser had such a comfortable margin in qualifying that he pulled in and watched the final fifteen minutes of the qualifyiung session. Never having seen the track before this weekend didn’t bother the friendly Aussie.
“It’s a very short track and is easy to learn,” explained Corser. “It’s the kind of track that you have to attack in places and take it easy in others. And it doesn’t hurt a bit that the Ducati is perfectly suited for this type of circuit.”
In the race, after a few laps Corser closed in on early leader, teammate Picotte, as the Ferracci Ducatis pulled away from everybody else. On lap thirteen the leading duo hit traffic and Corser took the lead for the first time. Picotte took the lead back briefly and was running a close second when his Ducati expired on lap 22.
With Picotte gone, Corser was alone up front with a five second lead over a good second-place scrap between Fred Merkel, Colin Edwards and Tiger Sohwa. Try as they might, Merkel and Edwards, who left the fading Sohwa, couldn’t make a dent on Corser’s lead the rest of the race. The Australian put the Ducati on auto-pilot in the closing laps and cruised home to his first victory in America.
“I was fortunate to stay out of trouble early after my slow start,” Corser said in the press conference. “It was quite hectic on the first lap. I didn’t realize at first that Pascal retired from the race. I kept looking around for him. I thought maybe he crashed.”
The win not only put Corser in a solid lead in the series after only two races, it also showed everyone, fans and fellow competitors alike, that the new Aussie was no longer the unknown new guy, but instead the rider to beat in the championship. Corser would go on to win the ’94 AMA Superbike title before embarking on a stellar career in World Superbike.