This article was originally published in the August 1995 issue of Sport Rider
By the second lap of the 1995 Daytona 200 by Arai, Russell had had enough. Enough following. Enough traffic. Enough competition. “I’m tired of following these guys,” Russell muttered into his flamboyant Shoei helmet just before running his Muzzy ZX-7 up the inside of Troy Corser and Colin Edwards on the entrance to the International Horseshoe. It was time to split, and Russell wheeled his green-and-purple Kawasaki into the lead—for about six feet.
Russell’s short-lived lead came crashing down with his Superbike, and so did his chance to repeat his ’94 Daytona win—or so everyone thought. Everyone except Russell, that is. Demolition man that he is, Russell was up before he stopped sliding, leaping over his bike and levering it upright onto its not-quite-warm Dunlops.
By the time 58 riders had swarmed past, Russell was back in the hunt, and 193 miles later he would repeat with a win even more impressive than his back-of-the-pack charge a year ago, defeating what must be considered the most star-studded field in Daytona history.
However, many of the stars who started the race didn’t finish. The crash truck never stopped running, and before the day was over Miguel DuHamel, Jamie James, Doug Chandler, Tiger Sohwa, Mike Hale, Mike Smith, Steve Crevier and Anthony Gobert would be among the wadded. Daytona’s notorious gremlins also claimed the Ducatis of Troy Corser and Freddie Spencer early in the race, as well as Chris Carr’s Harley-Davidson just before the finish. Undoubtedly, Lady Luck stood proudly in Russell’s corner, but before you give her all the credit, understand two things: Scott Russell set a new track record in qualifying, turned the fastest laps of the race, and his pit crew fueled and swapped tires quicker than anyone on pit row. Luck is nice but speed is even better.
Rather than rehash race results that are ancient history by the time you read this, we’ll use our pages to give you an up-close, color look at the top-qualifying AMA Superbike from each manufacturer. Since five of the six bikes didn't finish Daytona’s 200-miler, it was a slow beginning for everyone except AMA points leader Thomas Stevens. But based on what we saw, it’s going to be one hell of a season.
FAST BY FERRACCI DUCATI 955
Down But Not Out
After dominating AMA Superbike, the Fast by Ferracci team finds its new Ducati 916–based racer has the expected class-leading acceleration and top speed, but also some unexpected teething problems. Perhaps the biggest news, however, is the team’s signing of legendary three-time World Champion Freddie Spencer and his preseason speed. Last season wily Ferracci ran a controversial hybrid (Muzzy protested its legality but lost) of the older 888-style chassis and the new 955cc engine, which typically resided in the new 916 chassis that experienced handling problems in preseason testing. According to team owner Eraldo Ferracci, the switch to Michelin tires has given their bikes too much grip: “The chassis has a lotta more traction witha the Michelins, and it’s a lotta trouble for our riders to steer it.”
Coming into Daytona’s Tri-oval, the mighty Ducks bellow like nothing else, and it was all the four-cylinders could do to stay in their draft. They were fast beyond question, but Ferracci admits that “We tried to squeeze too mucha outta the engine.”As a result Ferracci riders Tiger Sohwa and Spencer were sidelined with a blown engine and transmission problems, respectively, and Mike Smith caught a false neutral, unfortunately taking Muzzy’s Steve Crevier and Smokin’ Joe’s Mike Hale down with him in the race.
Ferracci finds himself in the uncharacteristic position of heading to the second AMA round with no points. But Ferracci and Ducati didn’t win the previous two AMA Superbike championships by luck, so you can be sure that their Italian Stallions will be back to their winning ways before long.
Team Milwaukee came to the high banks last year with an all-new Harley-Davidson dubbed the VR1000 and took a beating, suffering the usual tragedies of Daytona. But the team, led by Steve Scheibe and staffed with more engineers than NASA, kept their chins up and by the end of ’94 had led AMA nationals in Ohio and Minnesota. Harley ’s VR was a threat.
The off-season saw Doug Chandler and Chris Carr replace ’94 riders Miguel DuHamel and Fritz Kling; the two new riders weren’t met with new bikes, however, just slightly revised machines. The winter’s work focused on fixing the minor, niggling problems that had plagued the ’94 season. Race technician Scott Brooks designed and installed a data-acquisition system, a good investment in future performance and another clue as to Harley’s intentions—serious intentions.
When pressed, Scheibe admitted to minor power increases and some revised suspension work. The team continues to run the Öhlins fork assembly but has tested with Penske’s sticks and likes them, finding the American product extremely competitive and needing only minor improvements before the team runs with them.
In the garage between practices, Doug Chandler was taking advantage of the adjustable steering head and swingarm pivot built into the Harley frame in an effort to make the bike steer lighter. He told us, “It’s a bit slow going from side to side, although the big fuel tank [Daytona only] is probably the main problem. I can go 1.5 seconds a lap quicker than I qualified [Chandler qualified 21st, Carr 29th] because of the changes we’re making. Eventually we’ll have a slipper clutch to eliminate the rear-wheel chatter during downshifts, and that will really help. Right now I’m waiting for the bike to settle down before I can turn it.” Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until later in ’95 to see if Chandler and the Harley will make a winning pair, because he was taken out in a two-bike crash on the second lap of the 200, breaking his collarbone in the process. After Carr broke late in the race, the Daytona 200 was completed without a Harley-Davidson in the finishing results.
HONDA RC45 That’s “H” As In Horsepower
The competition held its breath when Honda, motorcycling’s almighty technological force, unveiled its much-awaited new weapon, the RC45, a year ago at Daytona. But instead of dominating, the Big H’s RC45 left the Smokin’ Joe’s team struggling all year.
This year saw new recruit Miguel DuHamel running with or past anything but the bullet-fast Ducatis on Daytona’s banking. Smokin’ Joe’s Crew Chief Ray Plumb and mechanic Al Ludington were smiling. Honda’s fuel-injected V-four was finally delivering on its promise. Where did the horsepower come from: the Japanese side or the American side? Pistons, cams or exhaust? Plumb would only confess that, “Everything’s been touched. We’ve been working on it and so has Honda.” When we asked what he could tell us, an uncharacteristically quiet Ludington said simply, “Nothin’.” Plumb did admit, “It’s more acceleration than anything, but anytime you add acceleration it’s got to help top speed.” DuHamel concurred: “The RC45 has a really strong engine. It’s got the fastest top speed from what I’ve seen.”
But more than just power gains, Smokin’ Joe’s has the chassis getting the power to the ground better this year thanks to chassis-geometry changes. DuHamel is still searching for the right combination of spring and damping rates, however. “Right now the bike is getting upset on bumps entering corners, and I’d like more feedback from the front to get my entrance speed up,” said the hard-charging Canadian. But it looks like the purple-and-yellow Smokin’ Joe’s bike had the competition breathing uneasily again.
MUZZY KAWASAKI ZX-7
Rob Muzzy has four Daytona wins. Steve Johnson, Muzzy’s crew chief, has four Daytona wins. Gary Medley, Muzzy’s mechanic, has three Daytona wins. Scott Russell, Muzzy’s rider, has three Daytona wins. Are you beginning to notice a pattern with this team? The smart money says there’s more to winning Daytona than simply twisting the loud handle.
Pascal Picotte came to Muzzy’s after a strong run with Fast by Ferracci Ducati and didn’t waste much time getting with the program. Picotte’s off-season fitness program was backed up by a startlingly quick set of qualifying laps that placed him fifth on the grid. Most impressive was Picotte’s continuing improvement throughout Speed Week as he adapted to the four-cylinder, cutting quicker laps with each practice.
Picotte and mechanics Paul Fournier and Lance Baker made minor revisions to a package that’s obviously fantastic. "We’re adjusting the slipper clutch for more engine braking entering the corner and adding some fork oil to stiffen it up near full compression. The bike’s not squatting enough at the exit, so we’re chasing a traction problem, but it gets better every time out," the Canadian told us. Meanwhile, he was adjusting his riding to the new machine: “The front suspension is extremely good, and I can carry more entrance speed than last year [on the Ducati].” When asked if he could reach the !:50 qualifying mark he set last year he answered, “Of course.” And we believed him. Too bad Pascal’s 600 SuperSport crash broke his collarbone before the 200; the man was ready to fly.
YOSHIMURA SUZUKI GSX-R750
A Winter Well Spent
It was a beautiful sight, and one that has been too long in coming. Thomas Stevens and his Yoshimura GSX-R750 swept up onto the Daytona banking with the throttle pinned to the stop and drafted past Colin Edwards’ factory Yamaha to lock in a spot on the podium. Hallelujah!
For the past several years, Superbike-trim GSX-Rs have simply been outclassed. But Yoshimura and Suzuki have been doing some development over the winter, and it shows. “We’re trying to get into the winner’s circle,” Crew Chief Don Sakakura told us.
Up front, a revised Showa fork utilizes different internals and damping rates. Quick-change wheel setups are mounted front and rear, and a beefier swingarm holds things together out back.
When we asked what exactly had been done to the engine, Sakakura said simply, “Just slight engine mods; the airbox has been changed.” And a sly grin worked its way onto his face.
Thomas Stevens qualified 12th on the grid for Sunday’s Superbike final. And with the help of a smooth-running team and a strong-running GSX-R, Stevens put himself on the podium after holding off a determined Colin Edwards II for third place. But the interesting part is that the first- and second-place finishers, Scott Russell and Carl Fogarty, won’t be competing in the rest of the AMA events. That puts Thomas Stevens and Yoshimura in the points lead—something we haven’t seen in too long.
VANCE & HINES YAMAHA YZF750SP
Why change a good thing?
Gone are the bright fuchsia and yellow flash-boy graphics of the YZF750 Vance & Hines racers. Orders from the top came for a “more professional” blue-and-white paint scheme this year. No matter—blue goes just as fast.
For ’95, the SP version of the YZF has been homologated for AMA competition but is actually an early-release ’96 model, similar to what Yamaha did with the YZF600 last year.
Vance & Hines’ top AMA qualifier, Jamie James, put himself sixth on the grid, four places ahead of teammate Tom Kipp. James’ bike wears the ’95 kit’s suspension pieces versus Kipp’s ’94-spec suspenders. This year the rear subframe is detachable and the stock bike comes with replaceable inserts at the frame’s swingarm pivot points.
With such a great motorcycle, are there any downfalls? “The crankshaft in the YZF is long (due to its center-driven camshaft design), and the engine is rather large. This hurts us when experimenting with how to change weight distribution,” said Crew Chief Jim Leonard. He stressed that this is only a factor when dealing with the many adjustments found on a Superbike and doesn’t affect their SuperSport effort.
Jamie James ran second behind Scott Russell before a turn-five crash ended his Daytona effort. “I went into [turn] five like I always do, but there was something on the track and I lost the front,” said James. Tom Kipp ended up sixth at the flag, with Yamaha World Superbike competitors Colin Edwards II and Yasutomo Nagai finishing fourth and seventh, respectively. Once again, the Yamaha YZFs look to be in contention for the ’95 championship.