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Copyright 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.
By David Swarts
The Daytona tire test held in December each year not only offers the debut of new teams, riders, and bikes, but also reveals many riders' new personal gear sponsors.
During the 2001 racing season, Arai helmets dominated the AMA professional road racing paddock, covering the heads of a vast majority of the top riders. But as seen at Daytona this past December, Arai's competitors are putting forth extra effort for 2002.
Suomy Helmets has signed all three Gobert brothers, but probably the biggest moves are being made by Shoei. "This year we made a big push," says Shoei Motorsports Manager Rob Vallejos. "Part of it is that we have more budget, part of it is that there are more opportunities out there. We get a set budget every year, and we had been pushing for it for a long time to expand our race program. This year, we got a good answer from (Shoei headquarters). They wanted us to get at least one or two marquee riders and we ended up getting Kurtis Roberts."
To some, Shoei's push appears so large that representatives from other companies are suggesting that Shoei is throwing large amounts of money around to convert riders from competing brands.
"In order to get a marquee rider from the other company…part of it is that they (Arai) have a huge stable of riders," explained Vallejos. "Unfortunately, our budget was strapped about four years; we were stuck with the same budget. With riders' expenses going up and contracts going up, we had to sacrifice a lot of key riders.
"So in turn, for us to get these riders back, to say that we are throwing an insane amount of money there, that's not entirely true. There's a point to where it's no longer valuable. To spend $500,000 on anybody is insane and we're not going to recoup that. So it doesn't make sense.
"There are other companies out there, not necessarily a high-end company, but I know there's lower-end, some of the cheaper stuff in the market, that are trying to establish recognition. They're having to buy that from other racers.
"We've had that situation with some of our riders shifting teams just because of the amount of money that was thrown at them. We, as a high-end company, we recognize that our product has an inherent value to itself. So we don't need to, for instance, double our contracts in order to keep a majority or our riders that want to go to some of the lower-end helmets because the riders recognize that the product, especially the higher-end stuff, I won't say the other company but you know who it is, they recognize that. And because of that, it has its own inherent value on top of the contract fee because they feel confident in the product and they feel comfortable in it too, which is the key at 185 mph.
"I'll give you a rundown of who we are looking to add for the new (2002) year. Obviously, Kurtis Roberts was one of the marquee guys that we wanted to add to our team, along with Miguel (Duhamel) and Pascal (Picotte). We've got Pascal now on the fast Ducati, and he will do very well there hopefully. From what I understand at the tire testing, he went very well.
"We also have Tony Meiring, a new up-and-coming young guy for Kawasaki. Jimmy Moore came over to our side also. We're really looking forward to having him in our strong group. Mike Hale. We've had a long relationship with him regardless of what helmet he was wearing, actually. Of course, there's (Jake) Zemke and Damon Buckmaster, Rich Oliver, Chuck Sorensen, Perry Melneciuc and Ed Sorbo. We're adding a total of five more guys.
"We have some other stuff brewing that hasn't quite materialized yet. Nothing I can really talk about."
Duhamel's replica helmet was updated in 2001, and Picotte wore an updated version of his joker helmet design at Daytona. Will Kurtis Roberts have a replica helmet?
"What you saw there (on Roberts at the Daytona tire tests) was kind of the first rendition of the replica," pointed out Vallejos. "We're actually going to be finalizing that (design) within the next two to three months. That's probably going to be a mid-year introduction."
But what about 2003? "The future all depends on what happens with the year and what happens with the market. Right now, I'm sure you guys are aware the economy for the motorcycle side of the business, the motorcycle sales are still growing. It seems to be a bit shielded from the actual economy and what's going on in current events.
"We're looking to grow our business a little more next year and then possibly adding some more riders, but a lot of times, we'll spend some time with the younger riders creating a relationship. It's a lot more difficult to get a rider that's been with a manufacturer for a long time. These guys are all loyal and we respect that."