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Feb 28, 2001

First Person/Opinion: AMA Season Preview, Part Two

Part Two:
Honda Pro Oils 600cc Supersport

The AMA 600cc Supersport series is very important to manufacturers in that it can be directly related to marketing and sales of the largest category of sportbikes for the street. But many of the top names will be missing from the 600 grids except for maybe at Daytona or a last-round appearance to help a teammate in the Championship. Aside from the Ducati riders being shut out along with the Italian company's 748 model, Nicky Hayden, Mladin, and Chandler will not contest the entire 600cc series.

The only changes made to 600cc Supersport rules are the changes that affect every support class. New for 2001, the fastest qualifier in each class will receive a bonus point. In the past, only the Superbike Pole-sitter got an extra point. Also new for 2001, a rider must complete 50 percent of the race laps of the final event to score any points. Gone are the days of crashing on the first lap but still scoring points.

Most fans hope that Eric Bostrom, Jamie Hacking and defending 600cc Supersport Champion Kurtis Roberts will pick up right where they left off at the final round of 2000, at Willow Springs. Bostrom got a lot out of his Kawasaki ZX-6R in 2000, including speeds of 170 mph at Brainerd, and look for Team Green tuners Al Ludington and Joey Lombardo to get even more out of the same bike in 2001.

Roberts and Hacking, 29, will return with updated and new mounts respectively. Roberts' Honda will get fuel injection for the first time along with an upgraded ram-air system and stiffer frame. Hacking will get the state-of-the-art GSX-R600. Roberts should not have any problem getting used to his new bike, but Hacking may have to adjust from the narrower Yamaha YZF-R6 to the wider Suzuki. In contrast, Aaron Yates will most likely find the new, fuel injected GSX-R600 leaner and meaner than his last Yoshimura Suzuki 600.

Although he was rumored during the off-season to be ready to give up 600cc racing, Honda has confirmed that all-time 600cc Supersport win leader (with 37) Miguel Duhamel will chase what could be his fifth title in the class.

But the most interesting news in Supersport racing is that Anthony Gobert will race 600s for the first time in his career. Gobert has been putting in a lot of laps on his YZF-R6 over the winter, even attending many WSMC and CCS club events where he has set track records on his YZF-R6. You can be sure that Gobert will be up at the front in the 600 races. Go-Show's Yamaha teammate, Tommy Hayden, nearly won the 600cc title in 1999 on the YZF-R6 and returns on the blue bike for the third year.

Satellite teams have continued to grow with our sport and are now to the point in Supersport racing where they can run with the Factory teams. For instance in 1999, Josh Hayes and his Valvoline EMGO Suzuki GSX-R600 regularly out-qualified and beat the Yoshimura Suzuki 600s. It would not surprise many people in the industry for any of the following riders to be on an AMA 600cc Supersport podium in 2001.

Jake Zemke, 25, moves up to the Erion Honda squad for 2001. Zemke has steadily progressed through the ranks and now will be riding for the team that has won the 600cc Supersport Championship for the past two years. Although Zemke finished off 2000 strong, he will be going into Daytona with a freshly mended arm, broken while trail riding.

Josh Hayes, 25, struggled with injuries sustained in a 2000 Daytona 600cc Supersport race crash through most of last year. Only recently were the complete extent of Hayes' injuries diagnosed and treated, in part with a nerve transplant in his right arm. Hayes will have to endure another healing year from the seat of his Bruce Transportation Group Honda CBR600F4i in 2001.

Hayes' teammate will be the youngest Hayden brother. Roger Lee Hayden, 17, spent much of the 2000 season at or near the front of 750cc Supersport races, gaining speed and experience. Now Roger Lee has fallen in love with the Honda CBR600F4 i in testing and looks for good results. Jason Pridmore, the 1997 750cc Supersport Champion, 31, got bumped from his Yoshimura Suzuki seat for 2001, but that will only fuel his desire to win in the 600cc class aboard a GSX-R600 built by Richard Stanboli's Attack Suzuki crew.

Graves Yamaha starts 2001 with the independent team's best-ever rider line-up in their history. Riding YZF-R6s that have already proven themselves against the factory 600s in winter testing, Damon Buckmaster and 20-year-old Aaron Gobert will have to be reckoned with in the new season. Former Australian 600cc Supersport Champion Buckmaster, 27, rode well enough in 2000 to deserve a factory ride. Now Bucky will be out to make the factory teams curse their oversight. Relatively unknown, Anthony Gobert's middle brother Aaron has shone brightly in first visits to every track he has tested on this winter. Recently, Aaron Gobert nearly beat Anthony and Tommy Hayden in a CCS club race despite the fact that Aaron was wrenching on his own bike.

Last but not least, comes the hungry trio of riders from a bigger-than-ever Valvoline EMGO Suzuki effort. Reigning Formula USA Champion Grant Lopez has taken to Suzuki's new GSX-R600 well and will race AMA 600cc Supersport for the first time in his career. Lopez will lead the way for his teenaged teammates John Hopkins and Ben Spies. Hopkins won the 2000 AMA 750cc Supersport crown at age 17, has already been offered a 500cc Grand Prix ride for 2002 and will now mix things up with the country's fastest men, under the guidance of tuner Barry McMahan. Nearly as swift as Hopkins and one year younger, Spies may also race the newest GSX-R600 Suzuki in selected events.

Although he will be concentrating on the F-USA series, look for former 500cc GP and former factory Ducati rider Matt Wait, 24, to make several West Coast appearances aboard a Synergy Racing Technologies Honda CBR600F4 i. New to 600cc competition, EBSCO Suzuki will field Jimmy Moore and Vincent Haskovec on Dunlop-shod Suzuki GSX-R600s with support from Corona Extra. Look for Moore and Haskovec to beat some of the factory riders on a regular basis.