Honda And Suzuki Teams Protest Buckmaster’s R1-engined Yamaha YZF-R7 Formula Xtreme Bike

Honda And Suzuki Teams Protest Buckmaster’s R1-engined Yamaha YZF-R7 Formula Xtreme Bike

© 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

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Copyright 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

Following the Formula Xtreme race at California Speedway last Sunday, protests against Damon Buckmaster’s winning Graves Motorsports Yamaha YZF-R7/R1 were filed by Mike Hale, Tom Kipp, Jason Pridmore, Steve Rapp and Jake Zemke.

The protests signed by Kipp, Pridmore and Rapp were written and printed out by Pat Alexander of American Suzuki’s Sports Promotion Department, and presented to Kipp, Pridmore and Rapp to sign and turn in. All three riders are directly contracted to American Suzuki Motor Corp. and have been assigned to ride for Valvoline EMGO Suzuki, Attack Suzuki and Corona EBSCO Suzuki, respectively.

Hale and Zemke are both contracted directly to American Honda Motor Co. and have been assigned to ride for Erion Honda and Bruce Transportation Honda, respectively.

For the first time in over a year, AMA officials actually accepted a protest regarding the legality of the YZF-R7 chassis in the class. In the past, AMA officials have refused to even accept a protest. Last year, AMA officials told representatives of competing teams that Buckmaster’s bike had a “one-year exemption” for 2001 and would not be racing in 2002, once Yamaha introduced the new, second-generation YZF-R1.

The rule in question reads:

“Formula Xtreme competition is restricted to motorcycles (engines and frames) produced for street use and available in the U.S. through retail dealers. A list of eligible motorcycles is available from AMA Pro Racing.”

At issue is the fact that the YZF-R7 was never sold for street use in the United States and was not certified by Yamaha as meeting U.S. DOT and EPA regulations for street motorcycles.

On page 27 of the October 17, 2001 issue of Cycle News, a Yamaha advertisement touting Aaron Gobert’s Formula Xtreme victory at Virginia International Raceway (on an R1-powered YZF-R7) referred to the win as “starring Aaron Gobert and the YZF-R1.”

AMA Pro Racing has not produced any list of eligible motorcycles, despite repeated requests from team managers, crew chiefs and riders.

The controversy was set off when Richard Stanboli of Attack Performance built a YZF-R7 racebike with a YZF-R1 engine. When he arrived at the 2000 Sears Point AMA National with the bike, Stanboli was told the machine was not legal and drove back to his shop in Southern California to retrieve an R1 frame.

Stanboli later built a combination R1/R7 chassis that passed tech at subsequent AMA Nationals after a lengthy debate that at one point included an argument over whether or not the chassis was more R7 than R1 or vice-versa.

The chassis of the YZF-R7, which was built expressly as a limited-production homologation special for World Superbike competition, made a far better racebike platform than the production YZF-R1 chassis, according to Stanboli. Limited numbers of YZF-R7 Yamahas were sold in the United States, and at the time of the bike’s introduction, Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A. spokesmen said the bike was for racing use only in the U.S. and that buyers would have to produce a racing resume to be eligible to purchase a YZF-R7.

Stanboli has since switched to racing Suzukis and builds Pridmore’s GSX-R1000, and objects to what he sees as receiving different treatment when he fielded an R7 versus the treatment Graves Motorsports is receiving now.

“This has been an on-going thing, as everybody knows,” said American Suzuki’s Alexander. “Honda approached that when the bike originally came out. Erion Honda originally protested the bike when it came out. Attack (Racing) tried to make the very same motorcycle and was denied. That was two years ago. We believe that the bike should not be in the Formula Xtreme class as the rule is written. We still have not heard yet. They have not informed any of our riders as of April 11. The riders protested when Suzuki asked them to protest the unit.”

“It’s illegal,” said Erion Racing’s Kevin Erion of Buckmaster’s R1-powered YZF-R7. “My understanding of the rule is that the motorcycle has to be a motorcycle that was available for sale in the United States through normal retail channels as a streetbike. My understanding is that chassis is an R7 chassis. The R7 was never for sale as a streetbike; it was only for sale in the United States through racer resume approval from Yamaha. The fact that you can purchase it, and whether it’s legal is two different matters. It doesn’t matter that you can purchase it. What matters is that in the AMA rulebook it says it has to be a legal streetbike, and I don’t believe if you contacted the federal government and asked them to…if you gave them a VIN (vehicle identification number) number of a R7, would it come up as a legal motorcycle that was made for sale in the United States? Did it pass the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and DOT (Department of Transportation) approval? And I believe my understanding through everybody that I’ve spoken to, including people pretty close in at Yamaha, is that bike was never a streetbike. It was only sold as a racebike. Whether they dropped the process of approval for resumed racers because they couldn’t sell them so they just kind of opened it to anybody that would buy one is irrelevant to the fact that it wasn’t a streetbike.

“Whether they sold a kit, after the fact, that you could convert it to a streetbike, to me I don’t know how they could do that if it wasn’t a DOT or EPA-approved motorcycle. You can buy four-stroke off-road bikes and go buy a kit and put lights and turn signals on it and get it registered. That doesn’t mean it’s a legal streetbike. Just because the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) will put a license plate on something doesn’t mean it’s already gone through all the proper federal government standards for safety and emissions,” continued Erion.

Asked if he had heard anything back from the AMA on the protest, Erion said, “No, no. My opinion was, and still is, that I was told by the AMA that they were going to take care of this problem at the end of last year, and that I didn’t have to worry about it and they were going to change the rule and they were going to make sure that bike was not going to be legal and it was an 11th-hour decision on the AMA’s part to allow it to race again. I brought it up every time I received a proposed rule change for the AMA, at the end of last year going through the beginning of this season, before they actually printed the rulebook. I kept calling and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got nothing on the R7 in here.’ (Erion speaking as the AMA) ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry. We’re going to change that. That’s not a proposed rule. That’s already a done deal.’

“So they basically told me not to worry, I didn’t have to get too upset about it because they were going to take care of the situation. Then once the rulebook was printed and there were no changes in it, I asked why. And I believe Merrill Vanderslice’s quote to me was, ‘Well, we had pretty good racing last year. It seems that everybody, every manufacturer won at least a race, and we don’t know how long the Formula Xtreme class is gonna be in existence. So we don’t see a need to change it.’

“Well, if that were the case, then they should’ve changed the rulebook to allow the bike to really be legal. If they didn’t change the rulebook, they didn’t change the rule, but they’re saying that it’s OK to let the bike run. If that’s the case, then they should’ve changed the rule,” said Erion.

When a reporter pointed out that Erion seemed to have the situation pretty well thought out, Erion said, “I don’t have this thought out at all. I’ve been living with it for the last three years. There’s no thought process behind it. It’s strictly what happened; a turn of events that’s occurred over the last couple of years. I, to be honest with you, was a little upset that other competitors not running Yamahas started calling me after the last Fontana practice (test) session when Buckmaster did some pretty good lap times. ‘Hey Kevin, what’s going on here? We think this bike’s illegal.’ Where were you a year ago? Where were you six months ago? Where you three months ago? Why are you calling me now? Hello?

“As far as the other competitors go, my opinion is, and I don’t know for fact or fiction whether or not anyone else has been following this as closely as I have, but I feel pretty comfortable with my language to the AMA, my conversations over the last six months with the AMA, or seven months, and also I feel comfortable enough to say right up until the point that the rulebook was printed I was told not to worry about it, that the bike would not be allowed to be raced. Mostly my conversations early on were with Ron Barrick. Ron told me not to worry about it.”

Asked about the situation, Chuck Graves of Graves Motorsports said he had not seen copies of any signed protests by any riders and said “There was no rule change from 2000 to now. It was allowed in 2000, it was allowed in 2001, and it is allowed in 2002. When I asked at Brainerd last year if there were going to be rule changes made for Formula Xtreme, (AMA Pro Racing Director of Competition) Merrill Vanderslice said there was no reason to make any rule changes, because we have good, competitive racing. What Merrill said was, ‘I’m really happy with the competitiveness of the class. All the manufacturers are sharing positions on the podium, and race wins. I see no reason to make any rule changes.'”

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