On Sunday, March 3, 2008, the Daytona International Speedway hosted the opening round of the 2008 SunTrust Moto-ST series. Moto-ST is not a new class, but a new style of American motorcycle road racing. It’s designed around production model four-stroke twin-cylinder machines divided by weight and horsepower. The list of eligible motorcycles follows with their respective classes:
Post-qualifying and post-race dyno checks confirm horsepower and punish offenders. The rules favor attributes like durability and fuel economy over maximum power. The result is a road racing series that is not dominated by Japanese brands or limited to a single model. This year’s opener marked the racing debut of Buell’s 1125R (restricted to make the horsepower limit) and the Ducati 848, alongside Bimotas, BMWs, Suzukis, Kawasakis, Aprilias and a lone Honda.
But more unique than the types of motorcycles ringing the Daytona banking is the concept behind the series. Roger Edmondson, president of Grand-American Road Racing and one of the founders of the Moto-ST Series explained.
“When I moved to car racing, I tried to apply what I’d learned in motorcycle racing,” said Edmondson, formerly an AMA national road racing director. “With Moto-ST, I tried to take what I learned in car racing and apply it to motorcycles.”
These lessons included the use of pace cars and rolling starts in a team racing endurance format. The series also uses “spec” tires and fuel. All the fuel is supplied by Sunoco. Tires come from Pirelli, doing away with what Edmondson calls the “dirty little secret” of motorcycle road racing.
“In road racing there are certain tires that certain racers just can’t get,” he said. “In Moto-ST, all the teams from the top to the bottom are getting the same tire.”
According to Edmondson, use of a spec fuel and tires has several advantages, including greater safety and making the racing more exciting for the spectator.
“It narrows the margin of victory and leads to closer lap times,” he said. “It makes close racing more important than top speed.”
It also makes for an affordable style of racing, where the sole tire and fuel supplier keep prices low for the competitor. Combined with the limited modifications allowed to the machines (engine modifications are minimal and original equipment brake calipers, wheels and swingarm must be retained.), Moto-ST is within the reach of most road racers. The result is a race bike not far removed from the street. Austrian Thomas Hinterreiter demonstrated this when he crashed his BMW in a morning practice session and teammate Nate Kern’s personal R1200S was pulled from the trailer to be converted into race configuration. The fresh-from-the-street bike ended up third in Sunday’s race.
“These are concepts that will help elevate the sport,” Edmondson said of the ideas behind Moto-ST. “It’s a different way of doing business.”
Moto-ST’s inaugural event was an eight-hour endurance race held at Daytona in the fall of 2006. The following year it expanded to a full season with multiple race venues. In its second full season, the number of teams in the series has grown 30% with seven races planned.
“Everybody wants improvement and we want to have progressive growth,” Edmondson said. “We’re growing when the participation in other racing classes in the U.S. is dropping off.”
The series has already drawn the attention of major manufacturers. Starting in the 2007 season, Buell signed on as sponsor of the Super Sport Twins class and BMW took sponsorship of the Grand Sport Twins class.
“The classes were perfect for our motorcycles,” said Henry Duga of Buell Race Support. “Buell decided to sponsor a class because we felt the series had a solid base and wasn’t ‘come-and-go.’ Last year’s season absolutely met our expectations.”
Aprilia has given factory support to teams racing their motorcycles, resulting in the 2007 SST championship with a Tuono 1000R.
“Aprilia has a heritage as a racing brand and this series gives us an opportunity to demonstrate that in the U.S.,” said Rick Panettieri, Brand Manager for Aprilia. “On the sales floor, we compete against Ducatis and Buells, and in Moto-ST we have the chance to compete against them on the track. It also allows the smaller manufacturers, like Aprilia, to be competitive against the big manufacturers.”
Moto-ST has also drawn international interest. Representatives from BMW and Aprilia’s home offices traveled from their respective countries to be on hand for Sunday’s race.
The diversity of the motorcycles in the Moto-ST starting grid is matched only by the mix of riders. In the 2008 season opener, riders included Canadian Superbike champ Steve Crevier, three-time AMA flat-track Grand National Champion Jay Springsteen, former World Superbike champion Doug Polen and AMA racer Michael Barnes (The list of names would be longer, except Dunlop blocked several of their sponsored riders from participating in the Pirelli spec-tire competition).
“It gives us older racers something to do,” said Springsteen, who retired from dirt track after the 2003 season. “It gives us a chance to go out, race and have fun so that our names don’t just fade away.”
The team format and equalized equipment make Moto-ST the perfect venue for up-and-coming road racers.
“It’s a great way for a guy who doesn’t have a lot of money to get into road racing,” said 2007 AMA Supermoto Unlimited Champion Benny Carlson. “You can come out and can immediately be competitive.”
Carlson had been looking for a chance to expand his road racing horizons. Only a week before the Daytona race he was chosen to ride for the newly formed Hooter/Cycle Image Aprilia Team. In his first time racing on Daytona’s banks, he and teammates finished sixth overall in the premier SST class.
But Moto-ST is no NASCAR for motorcycles. This is road racing. The mix of motorcycles that are close in capabilities make for exciting racing for the spectator, and Sunday’s season opener provided to be no exception. A six-way battle among four different brands determined the winner in the SST class, and after 300 miles, only 4.5 seconds split first and second place. In the ST class, veteran racers Springsteen and fellow Hall of Famer Jimmy Filice constantly swapped the lead with up-and-comers Ted Cobb and James Rispoli, who eventually edged them out for the victory.
Moto-ST has not been without the birth pains that are to be expected from a new series. Though the AMA sanctioned the inaugural 2006 events, they were dropped in 2007 and Professional Motorsports Productions of Canada took over. During the 2007 season some riders boycotted the Iowa Speedway race with concerns about track safety (these fears were confirmed with a nasty two-bike crash). New rules and the final 2008 schedule were not announced until mid-January of this year, leaving many teams scrambling to prepare their machines, and this year’s schedule is still listed as “provisional.”
But Edmondson has big plans for the series future. He imagines a series where the top 25 teams will have the backing of corporate America beyond the motorcycle industry (The Richie Morris Racing/Bruce Rossemeyer Buell team has already earned the support of companies like Coca-Cola, Geico and Budweiser).
Rumors abound at the possibility of Moto-ST becoming part of the AMA series, bringing the roar of Twins back into the mainstream of American motorcycle road racing, with a possible announcement to be made during Bike Week. But either way, Moto-ST is here to stay, just ask the experts.
“Moto-ST has been great for everyone,” Springsteen said. “It’s about to take off big.”
MOTO-ST Daytona 300 Results
Super Sport Twins
1. Aprilia USA/Lloyd Brothers Motorsports – Ty Howard and Mike Himmelsbach – Aprilia Tuono 1000R
2. Touring Sport Ducati – Doug Polen and Peter Friedland – Ducati 848
3. BMW Motorcycle of Atlanta – Richard Cooper and Nate Kern – BMW R1200S
Grand Sport Twins
1. Wagner Motorsports Racing – Mark Reynolds and Gus Holcomb – Ducati 1000SS
2. James Gang Racing/Hoban Brothers – Jeff Johnson and Paul James – Buell XB12R
3. Richie Morris Racing – Clint Brotz and Tripp Nobles – Buell XB12R
1. Cycle Dynamics – Tedd Cobb and James Ripsoli – Kawasaki Ninja 650
2. Pair-A-Nines Racing – Jimmy Filice and Jay Springsteen – Kawasaki Ninja 650
3. M4 Avteq Racing Suzuki – Ryan O’Donnell and Russ Wikle – Suzuki SV650
Last year’s MOTO-ST season appeared delayed on the Speed Channel, and this season’s events will also show up on the Speed Channel. This year’s remaining MOTO-ST schedule is:
April 27: VIR 500K – Virginia International Raceway
June 15: Road America 500K – Road America
July 20: Barber 500K – Barber Motorsports Park
August 17: Heartland Park 500K – Heartland Park Topeka
August 30: Thunderbolt 500K – New Jersey 500K
October 18: 8 Hours at Daytona Finale – Daytona International Speedway
The MOTO-ST series, along with CCS and ASRA racing events held over the weekend at Daytona International Speedway, are the opening rounds of the 2008 American motorcycle road racing season. For more racing coverage and more stories from 2008 Daytona Bike Week, stay tuned to Motorcycle.com.