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AMA: Sears Point to Host 200th MBNA Superbike Series Race

28 April 1998

WESTERVILLE, Ohio -- Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., will host the McGraw Insurance AMA California Superbike Challenge, round five of the 1998 MBNA Superbike Tour, on May 1-3. One of the things that makes this year's Sears Point Superbike event so special is the fact that it will be the 200th MBNA Superbike race in the 22-year history of the series.

The American Motorcyclist Association's Superbike Series began in 1976 at Daytona International Speedway. A little over a year later the Superbikes came to the picturesque Sears Point Raceway, located near Northern California's Napa Valley wine country. Oakland, California's Paul Ritter rode a Ducati to victory in the 1977 race becoming the first of 11 riders to win the Sears Point Superbike race on the challenging 2.5-mile road course. Last year Honda's Miguel Duhamel, starting from the pole, took the victory to tie Fred Merkel's record of three Superbike wins at Sears Point. Duhamel will attempt to become the first four-time Sears Point Superbike winner this weekend.

More significantly, Duhamel, a Montreal native and Sears Point track-record holder, also has the chance to win his 20th-career MBNA Superbike race, which would tie him with Merkel for the record number of wins in the history of the series. Riding a two-race winning streak coming into Sunday's race, Duhamel has to be considered the favorite.

With the spotlight on Duhamel, Australian Mat Mladin has quietly worked his way into the MBNA Superbike Tour lead with a quartet of top finishes. Mladin, wellknown for his aggressive riding style, is sure to be anxious to earn his first win of the season and his first win at Sears Point. Mladin was involved in one the MBNA tour's all-time great races at Sears Point in 1996. In that race he and Suzuki teammate Aaron Yates swapped the lead dozens of times before Yates made a stirring last-turn pass to snatch the victory away from Mladin.

Just three points behind Mladin is defending tour champion Doug Chandler. Chandler finished an astounding third at Sears Point in his very first Superbike appearance at the circuit in 1987. With that type of debut it would be natural to assume that Chandler would win Sears Point at least a few times during his career, but so far the three-time champ from Salinas, Calif., has matched, but never bettered that finish of 11 years ago. A victory on his Kawasaki would go a long way in helping Chandler in his quest to become the AMA's first four-time Superbike champion.

The wild card this weekend will be Vance & Hines Ducati's Anthony Gobert. Gobert has a reputation for two things: first, being dubbed by the press as a "wild child" for his reported exuberant off-track lifestyle, and second for being one of the most naturally talented motorcycle racers to come along in years. Gobert, a former top Grand Prix and World Superbike star from Australia, already has one victory to his credit this season and will be making his first visit to Sears Point. Gobert is certainly a rider to watch.

Other racing classes during the three-day California Superbike Challenge weekend will include Pro Honda Oils 600 SuperSport , Teamline 750 SuperSport , Elf Fuels & Lubricants Grand Prix, Pirelli Formula Xtreme and Progressive Insurance Pro Thunder.

Nick Hayden has emerged as the rising star of SuperSport. The 16-year-old phenom from Owensboro, Ky., has stunned the world of motorcycle racing with his recent performances. Last week at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., Hayden became the first rider to win both the 750 and 600cc SuperSport finals since Britt Turkington accomplished the rare feat in 1993. Hayden is the hottest young prospect to come through the ranks in years. Already many are speculating that Hayden could be a future world champion.