Superbikes: Mat Mladin's Suzuki GSX-R1000 - Dumbed Down?

Mat Mladin's Yoshimura Suzuki Superbike may be slower than in years past, but it still warps time and space

By Ari Henning, Photography by Brian J. Nelson, Andrea Wilson

Four laps into my stint on Mat Mladin's AMA Superbike Champ-ionship-winning Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000, I finally build up the courage to roll the throttle wide flippin' open. The resultant rush is literally breathtaking-the same stomach-churning sensation I felt when I dove out of an airplane. Heading onto Auto Club Speedway's banked pit straight, the front Dunlop finishes its salute to the sky as I shift into third gear. I keep the throttle pinned through fourth and fifth as the massaged motor propels me forward on a tsunami-like swell of power that overwhelms my brain's ability to keep tabs on time and space. If this is what a "neutered" 2009 AMA Superbike is like, I can't imagine the full-blown machines Suzuki ran previously!

"The K8 [model year 2008] Superbike was putting out about 205 horsepower. The K9 Mladin won on this year has about 190," explains Yoshimura Suzuki crew member Denis Ackland. "But it's not just the horsepower; it's how fast it spun up. If you were to stand behind the K8 and the K9, you'd know which one was the Superbike. One would sound angry, the other just like a streetbike."

In years past, there was much bemoaning the predictability of AMA Superbike racing. Yoshimura Suzuki teammates Mat Mladin and Ben Spies were winning by 10-second margins, frustrating racers and spectators alike. When the Daytona Motorsports Group assumed control of AMA Pro Racing in '08, a flurry of rules changes attempted to level the playing field and revitalize the ailing American racing scene.

The DMG's initial class structure was met with stiff opposition. The new series organizers proposed a Daytona Superbike class featuring a motley crew of middleweight fours, triples and larger-displacement twins running in place of the 1000cc Superbikes. Heavily invested in Superbike racing, the Big Four Japanese manufacturers objected, and instead proposed a nearly unrestricted Factory Superbike class. When the smoke finally cleared, the rulebook contained two compromise classes: American Superbike for 1000s and Daytona Sportbike for middleweights, triples and twins.

But while previous AMA Superbikes were heavily modified inside and out-featuring extensive engine work, works suspension and chassis parts, and exotic electronics-the new American Superbikes must be built using only readily available, homologated parts. Modifications are limited to minor cylinder head work, exhaust, fork internals and aftermarket shocks, brakes, wheels and electronics. Teams must also use spec fuel and tires, of which they are allowed a set number per event.

Yoshimura Suzuki team coordinator Rich Doan explains: "In '08 the bike was full works, a real Superbike. Pretty much the only difference between the AMA bike and the World Superbike was the cams. [The AMA permitted changes in duration but not lift.] Before we had factory titanium con-rods and lightweight, forged pistons. Now we can't touch anything below the head gasket."

As a result, the current Superbikes aren't far from those on your local dealer's showroom floor. "But the fans don't want to see stock bikes," complains Doan. "They come to see equipment they can't buy. They come to see the fastest riders on the best equipment. It's been dumbed down and equalized. They've taken the 'super' out of Superbike."

The rules changes haven't done much to tighten up the racing, either. With Spies gone to World Superbike, Mladin ran about a second per lap slower in '09 than he had in '08, yet still regularly finished well ahead of his competitors and went on to take his record-setting seventh championship. The Australian joked that his times had nothing to do with the bike; he'd just gotten tired of the DMG's foolishness and had lost interest in the series.

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