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Sep 4, 2014

Yoshimura Suzuki’s Sakakura Excited That MotoAmerica Is Taking Over Professional Road Racing In America

Yoshimura Suzuki's Don Sakakura (center) with riders Blake Young (left) and Tommy Hayden (right) in 2011. Photo courtesy of AMA Pro Racing.

Don Sakakura, the Senior Vice President of Yoshimura R&D of America and the head of Yoshimura Racing in America, says he is excited by the news that the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has re-acquired the rights to professional motorcycle road racing in America from Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG) and re-assigned them to MotoAmerica, a group that includes motorcycle racing industry veterans Wayne Rainey and Chuck Aksland.

“It’s quite exciting to see what this new group brings for our American series going forward. I think it’s all good,” Sakakura told Roadracingworld.com in a telephone interview Wednesday, September 3. “We’ve all gone through some very, very tough times with how the economy has treated us all. I think we’re on the road to recovery there. I think it’s good timing to make a change. Hopefully for the better, and I think it will be. I guess time will tell.”

When DMG, a group backed by billionaire and motorcycle enthusiast Jim France, purchased the rights to AMA Pro motorcycle road racing in America in 2008, it also caused excitement, optimism and enthusiasm. Members of the paddock hoped the group could take the terrific on-track product of AMA Pro Road Racing and use their experience from NASCAR racing to promote the two-wheel sport to a new level.

After six years of DMG control, however, professional road racing in America is arguably near all-time lows in terms of global prestige, rider participation, motorcycle industry backing, TV and media exposure, marketability, number of events/venues and fan support. But Sakakura, a 34-year veteran of professional motorcycle road racing in America, says the situation with MotoAmerica taking control of the sport is not the same as when DMG took over.

“I think it’s different,” said Sakakura. “I don’t know all of the details, like how Dorna is involved. I understand that they are involved in some capacity. But they [MotoAmerica] are [motorcycle] racing people. They know the [motorcycle] racing business. They have a purpose for racing and know how to promote the racing. I’m hoping that this entire new package will really turn things around here in America for road racing.”

Where Yoshimura Suzuki has questioned its continued involvement in AMA Pro Road Racing ahead of recent seasons, the number one question on Sakakura’s mind looking ahead to 2015 isn’t whether they will be involved or not. His main concern at this point is, “What are the technical rules?”

“My last communication with the DMG group was the technical regulations that we were going to be faced with for 2015, and nothing was finalized and nothing was published,” said Sakakura. “We had an idea of the direction they were going, but nothing solid and concrete yet. Our season is going to end here in a couple of weeks, and typically after the season we will jump right into planning for the new season. So it’s kind of tough to plan when you don’t have a good solid rule package to work with.”

If given his choice, Sakakura said he would like to see the current AMA Pro Superbike technical rules left in place or shifted closer to the 2015 FIM World Superbike rule package, which allows a few more engine and chassis modifications.

“We’ve talked about a more global set of regulations for Superbike racing,” said Sakakura. “I’ve always supported that idea. And now that the World Superbike regulations are coming back more to where we are currently, very similar engine spec anyways -- obviously cost savings are there for the teams and something we’d still like to see here in America as well -- so I would say a similar if not an identical package to what the World Superbike engine (and) electronics regulations would be a good starting point. That way we’re not having to complete re-spec our engines. If anything it would be an upgrade from where we are now, which is a good thing.

“But a lot of those components have to be outsourced, and typically there’s quite a bit of lead time involved with that. So the earlier we can get a direction we are going the better we can prepare for the off-season testing. I’m hoping to see something here soon, in the next few weeks, hopefully.”