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Phoenix MBNA Superbike - Thursday

13 February 1998

Thursday's notes from the opening round of the 1998 MBNA Superbike Tour from Phoenix International Raceway.

Compiled by Bill Nordquist and Larry Lawrence of AMA Pro Racing.


Many racing enthusiasts will remember the boxing match that pitted welterweight Miguel Duhamel against middleweight Paul Harrell in the pits at Mid-Ohio last year, after the two Superbike riders had an on track altercation.

Harrell signed to ride for Hooters Suzuki this year and found out his teammate would be none other than Miguel's older brother, Mario Duhamel. When asked how Duhamel and Harrell were getting along, team owner Steve DeCamp smiled "They're getting along about as well as any teammates get along. Both are trying to go faster than the other. I'm not going to say they are going to be best of friends, but everything has been civil."

DeCamp also announced that Hooters Suzuki will field Canadian Kathleen Coburn in the upcoming Daytona 200. Coburn raced in several AMA events in the late 1980s.


Randy Renfrow threw his leg over a motorcycle for the first time since suffering a devastating crash on Aug. 31 last year at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Renfrow, 41, endured a long and strenuous rehabilitation since the Sears Point accident.

"I'm not fully recovered," said Renfrow. "I probably won't make a full recovery this year. I need additional surgery to my knee. But, I'm very pleased to even be back on the bike. I wasn't even sure I'd be able to race here because of some physical set backs I suffered this winter. I'm happy, but I've got a long way to go."

Renfrow suffered numerous broken bones and severe knee damage in the crash last August. The list included a broken left ankle, broken left tibia (in seven places), torn ACLs in both knees, a shattered scapula, a broken right thumb (which used to be one of his toes), and several broken bones in his left hand.


Former MBNA Superbike Champion, Jamie James, returned to Superbike racing today in practice for this weekend's Cruise America Arizona Superbike Challenge at Phoenix International Raceway. James is riding on the Don Tilley Harley-Davidson VR1000, the same top-finishing Harley ridden by Tripp Nobles in the series last year.

James, 36, returns to the MBNA Superbike Tour after a year of racing stock cars. After experiencing some success on a limited budget in the cars, James was attracted back to Superbike racing after receiving a call from Tilley this winter.

"The only way I would come back was to this type of situation," said the 1989 MBNA Superbike champ. "Don realizes that it's going to take me a little while to get back to being fast again. There's no pressure on me and we're just looking to have fun."

James and his wife Ramona are in the process of opening a restaurant at the end of March. The restaurant is called The French Quarter Cafe and is located in the popular road riding area of Black Mountain, N.C., 15 miles east of Asheville.


A large concrete patch in turn six of the 1.5-mile PIR road course has slowed the lap times from last year's pace. Several riders predicted the laps times would be as much as a full second slower than those set last year. AMA and PIR officials will apply a grit-filled sealer on the glass-smooth patch of concrete tonight in effort to make that portion of the track rideable for Friday's practice and qualifying. Mat Mladin set the motorcycle track record in qualifying last year with a time of 1:00.823 (89.374 mph).


Chris Ulrich, the 18-year-old writer of a popular column in Roadracing World Magazine, felt good in his first practice session at an AMA national.. Ulrich, a regular past winner in WERA and NASB 125cc Grand Prix racing, is still getting the feel of a new 250cc Yamaha GP bike and a track that he has never raced.

"Every lap I feel like I'm improving," said the high school senior from Lake Elsinore, Calif. "I'm just learning one section of the track at a time. I think I'm solidly in the top 15 or so times in 250, but by the end of the week I hope to be running with the top riders."


After a couple of seasons racing in Europe former AMA 125cc champ Rodney Fee is happy to be back racing in the U.S. Fee competed in the European Open Championships last year winning two races. He will ride in the Elf Race Fuels and Lubricants Grand Prix Series on a World Sports Imports Honda.

"Our bike is totally standard, so we are a bit down on speed to some of the bikes," said Fee. "I gained a lot of experience racing in Europe, but it feels really good to be home and seeing all my old friends."


The winningest team ever in WERA National Endurance racing and the Formula USA Series is looking forward to new challenges in the MBNA Superbike Tour. Valvoline Suzuki is fielding riders Mike Smith and Tray Batey at this weekend's race. Smith will ride in Superbike and Pirelli Formula Xtreme, while Batey will concentrate exclusively on Formula Xtreme.

"I like this track a lot," said first-time PIR runner Batey. "It's very tight and twisty and really makes you work. I'm really happy to be back racing in an AMA event, the atmosphere is really exciting. I'm not putting a lot of pressure on myself. I just want to get the bike set up well and everything should come together."

For Smith, riding for his old team makes him feel right at home. "Valvoline Suzuki was my very first big-time ride back in 1989 and 1990," said Smith. "I'm really close to a lot of guys on the team and I'm amazed at how well our Superbike works. I haven't been on a Superbike for a few years, but I've ridden a lot a good bikes and this one is right up there."


The large Yoshimura Suzuki team was late in arriving for Thursday's practice session and its riders were only able to practice in the afternoon session.

"It's always tough to be ready for the first race of the season," said crew chief Don Sakakura. "This year with the size of our team, it's especially challenging."

Sakakura said the team did off-season testing at PIR so they have a good handle on how to set up for this track. Last year's Phoenix winner Mat Mladin rides for Yoshimura Suzuki along with Steve Crevier, Aaron Yates and Larry Pegram. Suzuki is fielding both its popular GSXR750 four cylinder and the new TL1000R twin-cylinder Superbikes.


The youngest rider racing at Phoenix this weekend is 16-year-old Nick Hayden. The AMA's Dirt Track Rookie of the Year will be riding 600cc and 750cc SuperSport bikes for Hyper Cycle Suzuki. In addition to road racing this season, Hayden will also compete in AMA Grand National Series races for TCR Racing.

"This is my first time racing a 750cc SuperSport bike, said the Owensboro, Ky., youngster. "It has a bit more power and is a little heavier than a 600, but other than that it feels about the same. I'm looking forward to doing all the road races and non-conflicting Grand National dirt track races.


Doug Chandler- Muzzy Kawasaki
"We're just shaking the bike down. We did fairly respectable times today and we'll work on fine tuning tomorrow. The track is not too bad, some of the patches are suspect. It's more of a one- line track than it used to be."

Pascal Picotte - Harley-Davidson
"The track is pretty good but we won't be able to pass on the concrete patch in turn six. We've got two new bikes and today we were making sure everything is fine. We'll work on the suspension setup and going faster tomorrow."

Anthony Gobert - Vance & Hines Ducati
"The Ducati is the best bike I've ever ridden, it's so much fun. I'm really enjoying the team and the support they're giving me, and I've had a lot of support from the Australian fans. So I'm here to prove to the world that I can be a champion.

"This is going to be a difficult season. There are lots of guys with a lot to prove... like Miguel Duhamel, Doug Chandler and Mike Hale, and they'll be trying hard to stop us. There's Mat Mladin and Ben Bostrom too, and the Yoshimura Suzuki team as well. I'm going to do my best every time I get on the bike and hopefully we'll see some wins and the championship will follow."