The Parts Unlimited Ducati Team's 2006 AMA Superbike season begins this week with the traditional Daytona opener. Racers Ben Bostrom and Neil Hodgson will race Ducati 999 Superbikes for the fabled Italian company's US racing effort this year, with Saturday's 15-lap race kicking off the 30th season of Superbike racing in America.
Hodgson, the former World Superbike champion who raced the complete AMA schedule for the first time last year, says he is much more comfortable this time around. "I'm feeling really good about this season. It will be nice to show up at a circuit and know which way the track goes," laughed Hodgson, who won at Road America in 2005. "This time of year is for a strict training regime, staying focused, and getting in shape. I'm really looking forward to Daytona and starting the racing again. I'm very relaxed and confident heading into the season." Neil finished a strong second in last year's Daytona race.
Ben Bostrom returns to the AMA and Ducati after competing in World Superbike last season. Bostrom, after showing good form in winter testing, is eager to race the Ducati 999 for the first time.
"I'm both excited and nervous about Daytona this year," said Bostrom. "It's my first real race on this particular Ducati and I've been gone to Europe for a little while. One thing's for sure - it's great to be back on a factory team and be back here in the US. So far, the bike had been fantastic in testing, but now it is time to race. I want to get a feel for how it's going so we can see where we stand. Daytona is a big race and very important but it is also the first one in a long season."
Team manager Tom Bodenbach echoes the sentiments. "We feel we have improved over the winter and anxious to see if this is the case. We believe we can make a good run at the championship in 2006 against a very tough field. I think Neil and Ben are in good shape and ready to go. Both are legitimate contenders for the championship, in our eyes, and the team is working well together."
Final qualifying is Thursday afternoon, and the 70-kilometer Superbike race will be held Saturday at 11:15 EST.
The Circuit: The 2.95 mile (4.7 kilometers) Daytona International Raceway circuit is located on the eastern coast of Florida. The track called "The World Center of Racing" has been hosting motorcycle events since the 1960s after the historic race moved from a combination road/beach course located a few miles away. Known for the high-speed drafting battles, the banked turns of the Speedway (which reach 31 degrees) have seen many exciting Superbike races over the years. A challenging series of infield turns counter the demands of the banking and make bike setup a tough compromise for the AMA riders and teams. The riders say the revised course that avoids part of the banking has made the Speedway more like a conventional racetrack, yet tyre issues always pose a threat.
Statistics: Mat Mladin of Suzuki set pole in last year's race (1:38.232), the first using the current configuration. He also won the 15-lap race, followed by Parts Unlimited Ducati's Neil Hodgson and Suzuki's Ben Spies.