Don't Count Out Mladin

Larry Lawrence
by Larry Lawrence
Mat Mladin begins what has become the monumental task of trying to earn his fourth AMA Superbike championship this weekend at California Speedway in Fontana. Most pundits are giving the 30-year-old Aussie little chance to defend his title after missing Daytona due to injuring his elbow in a practice crash. However, I say counting out Mladin this early in the season is a big mistake...

Working in Mathew’s favor is the fact that the AMA Superbike schedule now boasts 16 races due to a slew of doubleheader race weekends. If Mladin gets on a winning streak and starts winning poles on top of that, which he’s been known to do, he could conceivably catch Honda’s young star Nicky Hayden in as few as seven races. So Mladin needs to win roughly about half of the races from here on out and he could be right back in play. Mladin has never won at that kind of percentage rate, but you have to keep in mind that his modus operandi has been to build up a big points lead early in the season and then coast home to the title.

The point being - much was made of Hayden’s four-race winning streak at the end of last year. While I’m not arguing that the streak wasn’t impressive, I simply submit that if Mladin would’ve needed to win races to secure the title things might have been a little bit different. Keep in mind that Mladin crashed out of Brainerd last year and was still able to win the championship by the largest points margin in six years.

Another thing to consider is Mladin’s ability to ride injured. This is probably a result of his early years of motocross racing where riding through injuries is a way of life. Mladin won the pole at Sears Point last year riding with a broken leg! This guy is also a freak of nature in terms of healing time. So look for him to turn in a pair of good rides this weekend despite his elbow injury.

Also keep in mind the excellent team that Mladin has assembled around him. With the engineering talents of Ammar Bazzaz and the meticulous attention to detail by team coordinator Rich Doan (to name just two of the key players) has helped raise the most established team in AMA Superbike to even higher levels. The Yoshimura bikes rarely, if ever, have mechanical failures.

Now think about the rider Mladin has to catch – Nicky Hayden. The kid is very experienced and certainly has the skills to go off and smoke everyone this year. It probably comes down to if Hayden can keep his factory Honda RC51 on two wheels throughout the season. But as experienced of a racer as Hayden is, he’s still a 20-year-old rider who has a history of making mistakes (last year’s Road Atlanta and Laguna crashes come to mind).

If you study the history of Superbike racers you’ll find that they normally hit their prime in the 26 to 30-year-old range. Hayden will hit that sweet spot in the years 2008 to 2112! That’s scary to think about isn’t it? The kid certainly has a bright future to look forward to, but can he consistently beat the in-his-prime Mladin over the course of 16 races this year?

Now we’re not even talking about Yamaha’s Anthony Gobert, who could throw a big ol' monkey wrench in this whole Hayden vs. Mladin thing.

It will be an interesting season to say the least.

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