- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

As with Nascars Daytona 500, the motorcycle races at Daytona not only kick off the years competition but also, oddly, make up its marquee event.

In the years since the big Daytona motorcycle races moved from the beach to the Speedway, little has changed.

Names like Gary Nixon, Kenny Roberts, Scott Russell and Miguel Duhamel dominated the main event, which in turn meant Superbike-class winners from the big four in Japan: Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki.

Harley-Davidsons recent Ford-backed effort to break through proved an embarrassment, and even world player Ducati of Italy has never won at this famous track.

The reasons given were many, but most insiders cited the length of the race (200 miles) and the unique demands of the immense racecourse. Bikes that won elsewhere imploded along the huge straight-aways and high banking.

Tire issues became a life-and-death matter.

This year, however, change was in the air, and the first evidence was the configuration of the track.

Bill France and Co. have at last taken steps to make the track less of a 200-mile high-speed endurance test, making tire-changing tactics less of a factor. And the course was made tighter and twistier, thereby a bit (just a bit) safer for motorcycles in particular.

These changes were welcomed by one and all, as was the increased participation by NBA legend Michael Jordans Jordan Motorsports Suzuki team, which added serious riders Jason Pridmore and Steve Rapp to the mix. Eternal bridesmaid Ducati didnt stand pat either, bringing in Neil Hodgson from the UK. Honda countered with Jake Zemke and past-winner Duhamel, along with Erion Hondas Kurtis Robert, fresh from MotoGP Formula 1.

That said, most of the savvy trackside kibitzers werent sufficiently impressed by all the new stuff to bet against multi-time winner Mat Mladin in the Superbike race on Saturday.

But even before it started, the biggest change in the race had already been made.

Not only was the track shorter, tighter and slower, but the main event, the headliner Daytona 200 would no longer be running Superbikes at all, but the less-powerful Formula Xtreme machines.

The Superbikes were actually the morning undercard, with some of the biggest names in and some disgruntled and out.

This news was met with predictable dismay among Daytona purists. Some predicted it would prove analogous to Baseballs Designated Hitter squabble that persists to this day.

Last years winner, Matt Mladin, just called it pathetic. Understandably, this years 200 winner would feel otherwise, and well rid of the formidable Mladin.

From the Speedways perspective, something simply had to give. Catastrophic tire failure in last years 200 trials pointed to the need for change, traditions be damned.

Accordingly this time around, fans witnessed the spectacle of both a 15-lap seasonal inaugural Superbike race and a 68-lap monster of a Formula Xtreme Daytona 200 on the same sunny day.

As it happened, both races turned out to be runaways, leaving only the question of how the two competing events would play out against each other with the spectators. Would the much shorter Superbike race, likely to be closer, win favor, or would the two-hour 200 hold their interest as in the past, even if run on lesser bikes?

Some, finding it implausible that Mat Mladin was in the event, showed up early for the Superbike at 10:30 a.m. and made plans to leave before the 200. Others decided to go with the flow and make it a full day of racing.

The race results proved little of a definitive nature. Mat Mladin, last years 200 winner and this years Superbike favorite, won the morning Superbike race over Neil Hodgson by a healthy 3.475 seconds. No great surprise there, apart from the margin of victory.

Four-time real 200 winner Miguel Duhamel in turn, won the Daytona 200 by a ridiculous 42.586 seconds. Given that Duhamel also finished an excellent 7th in the Superbike event, it was hard to christen him or Mladin the traditional Mr. Daytona for 2005.

There was a good crowd for both events, but nothing to match the offroad Daytona Supercross the day before, where young Chad Reed edged Ricky Carmichael.

As for his Airness Michael Jordan, there were no doubts at all. His man Pridmore managed a 7th place finish in the 200, right behind Duhamel, and a podium finish in the Superstock on Thursday. The man who hates to lose had a taste of victory. He will be back.

AMA Superbike results:

1) Mat Mladin, Suzuki

2) Neil Hodgson, Ducati

3) Ben Spies, Suzuki

Daytona 200 results

1) Miguel Duhamel, Honda

2) Kurtis Roberts, Honda

3) Jake Zemke, Honda

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