Mat Mladin's Yoshimura Suzuki...
Mat Mladin's Yoshimura Suzuki crew, from left to right: Dennis Ackland, Herschel Auxier, Johnny Asher, Mladin, Reg O'Rourke, Peter Doyle
They gathered in the team trailer for the last time within hours of their final race as a team: Peter Doyle, Reg O'Rourke, Herschel Auxier, Johnny Asher, and Dennis "Mega" Ackland. The mostly Australian crew-Auxier is from the U.S., Asher from New Zealand-behind the remarkable success of seven-time AMA Superbike Champion Mat Mladin.
Of the five, O'Rourke has been the longest-serving. The chief mechanic, who worked with Mladin in Australia, came with him to the U.S. in '96 for his first year on the Yoshimura Suzuki. He's been here ever since. Crew chief Doyle, who served on the Muzzy Kawasaki World Superbike title team of Scott Russell, also worked with Mladin when he rode for Kawasaki Australia. Doyle took over as crew chief in '00. Auxier is the self-taught computer and electronics whiz, while Asher started working with Yoshimura in '02; Ackland has been with the team four years.
The discussion was meant to be a retrospective of Mladin's career, but it continued to veer back to the present, which won't go down as the team's favorite year. The Superstock-oriented '09 technical rules were a source of frustration to the team, making the superbike feel less so. Mladin's frustration reached a peak in August when he announced his decision to retire upon returning to his home in Chino, California, after withdrawing from a race for the first time in his career. It came after he rode just a few laps at Heartland Park Topeka, a track whose safety margins in his opinion were well below par.
The transcript that follows isn't complete or entirely faithful to the conversation. Many of the answers were drowned out by laughter or good-natured ribbing. The crew works so well together that their communication is often non-verbal. They know what has to get done and they do it, without fanfare and out of the limelight. The results speak for themselves.
Question: Reg, 14 years ago you came over. What did you expect?
Reg O'Rourke is the veteran...
Reg O'Rourke is the veteran of the Mladin Yoshimura crew. He came over with Mladin in '96 for the pair's first year at Yoshimura Suzuki, after having worked with him back in Australia. He'll be leaving with Mladin as well, returning to Australia.
What did I expect? Jeez. I knew it was going to be tough when we first got over here. Having a little bit of experience of working with some Americans in the World Superbike and stuff. There's lot of good riders over here, so I knew it was going to be a little bit tough. But, in the end, once we got here for a little while and people knew that Mat had an idea of what he was doing and we started building on it and getting a few results.
Q: Mat, what did you expect?
Mat Mladin: I expected to win, really, as soon as I got over here, until I got here and realized how out of whack the whole (Suzuki) setup was. Then just made a change for '97 and won pretty quickly, then realized that I didn't want to stay there. So I went back and started putting a few things together.
Q: When you came back to Yosh, were things a lot better?
RO: Anything we tried to change in '96 sort of went back to the way it was after we left. Then we started leaning on them pretty heavily and turned it around again.
Peter Doyle: Everything always has to change, but it was fairly good when I got here. There were still some big problems. There were some people who were trying to make decisions and do things that weren't in the best interest of anybody of maybe just themselves or just their rider. Yeah, there were some problems, but most of that got sorted out over the next three or four years.re.
Q: When did you start to get more help from Japan?
Yoshimura team manager Don...
Yoshimura team manager Don Sakakura (left), Ackland, Mladin, and Doyle check out the race monitors during the New Jersey Motorsports Park event.
Realistically, in the late '90s it got a little bit better after we won one championship, but then progressively in the early 2000's and mid-2000's it got a lot better for sure. And now it's disappeared again.
Johnny Asher: It's been progressive. We've seen the peak of the factory support and now, as Mat says, it's gone the other way. We're back to nothing. There was a climb, an increase in it, and now, yeah, it's back to zero.