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AMA: Victory May be Vital to Title

26 March 1998

LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY, Monterey, California The 1998 AMA National Superbike Championship could be decided here on Sunday, April 19, when the series third race is held during the tracks season opening event, the Honda Challenge of Laguna Seca.

Doug Chandler, from nearby Salinas, has won the superbike national title two years running. He is racing this year for an unprecedented threepeat and to be the only four-time winner of North Americas most prestigious motorcycle racing championship. He won his first superbike title in 1991 and his second in 1996 by defeating the reigning champion, Canadian Miguel Duhamel, Team Hondas number one rider and the championship runner-up the past two seasons.

Hondas Duhamel, however, has not been the rider dogging Chandler so far this year. After the first two rounds, Kawasaki rider Chandler is only third in the standings and upstart Australians Anthony Gobert and Matt Mladin are tied in the points lead.

This is no surprise to out-spoken Gobert, who rides for Ducati. It is his first year racing for the AMA National Superbike Championship, after three seasons in the World Superbike Championship. He won the season opening race at Phoenix International Raceway on February 15 and, now, he is not the only one saying he is the rider to beat for the title.

Mladin, also far from bashful, is only surprised that he is sharing the lead on his Suzuki. He expected to be up front this year alone, or so he told the world before the season started. He beat Chandler outright four times in 1997 and, so Mladin says, it was only a lack of good luck that he didnt win the championship. His prediction for 1998 might have been different, however, had he known sooner that Gobert was going to race for the championship.

Gobert and Mladin started their racing careers fighting to be "King of the Mountain" in their home territory in Australia, New South Wales. Mladin spent a lot of time watching Gobert accelerate out of turns ahead of him. When Gobert went off to race in Europe, Mladin wished him well and that he wouldnt see Gobert again. Now his nemesis is back.

Round three could be the title decider because it is at Laguna Seca Raceway. More than anywhere else, you have to beat the track here before you can beat your opponents. At 2.238 miles, Laguna Seca Raceway is one of the most difficult race tracks in the world to go around fast enough to win. If you dont ride on the edge of disaster, you wont be fast. Go even a millimeter beyond and the track will bite you hard and deep.

Chandler was the superbike race winner here last year and in 1996. Mladin was runner-up to Chandler both times. Gobert has never raced in an AMA superbike race here. The rule is that rookies dont win at Laguna Seca Raceway. Chandler and Mladin are counting on the race going according to rule and getting points that will be even harder to come by at other tracks.