LITRE-SIZED twins may be the bikes to beat in World Superbikes at present, but it’s a four-cylinder bike which is leading practice for the prestigious Daytona 200 race in America so far.
Reigning U.S. superbike champion Mat Mladin is leading the field by a clear 0.38s on his Suzuki GSX-R750 after final practice before tomorrow’s qualifying session.
He’s well ahead of the bike in second, a Ducati 996 ridden by Steve Rapp, and – so far - favourite to take again the race which he won last year.
Third is another four-cylinder bike, Tommy Hayden’s Yamaha R7, ahead of the first Honda SP-1 in the field ridden by Kurtis Roberts, younger brother of 500 GP world champion Kenny.
So is this a foretaste of things to come in WSB? Well, probably not. Daytona is a circuit full of quirks and idiosyncracies, and doing well there is more a testament to good machine set-up and correct tyre choice than is to horsepower – despite the legendary Daytona banking which sees riders on full throttle for extended periods. Mladin’s team-mate Aaron Yates is nearly two full seconds adrift on an identical bike.
Other notable names racing at Daytona include five-times winner Scott Russell and former Castrol Honda WSB star Aaron Slight, both in their first races on Ducatis, and Anthony Gobert on a Yamaha R7.
While pole position is a good indicator to the potential of how the combination of a bike and its rider are shaping up, at Daytona when the flag drops nothing is certain, and a rider skilled in slipstreaming can take a machine that was nowhere in practice on to the podium.
We’ll be carrying news and reports of the race on Sunday.
1 Mat Mladin, Australia (Suzuki GSX-R750) 1:49.99
2 Steve Rapp, USA (Ducati 996) 1:50.39
3 Tommy Hayden, USA (Yamaha R7) 1:50.88
4 Kurtis Roberts, USA (Honda SP-1) 1:51.19
5 Scott Russell, USA (Ducati 996) 1:51.39
6 Nicky Hayden, USA (Honda SP-1) 1:51.46
7 Anthony Gobert, Australia (Yamaha R7) 1:51.78
8 Eric Bostrom, USA (Kawasaki ZX-7RR) 1:51.87
9 Miguel Duhamel, Canada (Honda SP-1) 1:51.93
10. Aaron Yates, USA (Suzuki GSX-R750) 1:51.97
14. Aaron Slight, New Zealand (Ducati 996) 1:53.42