Motorcycle road racing showcases human competition that is unique in the world of sports. Riders interact with their machines at speeds exceeding 190 mph, slide their motorcycles sideways and drag their knees through corners in a compelling display of athleticism at the limit of human control. The intensity of the competitors is matched by their teams and sponsors, producing a weekend spectacle that completely captures the imagination of its fans.
For 2004, road racing sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) continues its most significant transformations since the debut of the 600 Supersport class in 1987. Superbike rules were revamped in 2003 to permit four cylinder machines of up to 1000cc to compete. This year, the AMA has reworked the support class rules to strengthen competition in Formula Xtreme and Superstock classes. “Maintaining close competition, delivering an entertaining show to our loyal fan base and slowing escalating costs to participants, the same criteria we applied to establishing our Superbike rule structures (in 2003–ed.), were priorities here as well,” said AMA Pro Racing CEO Scott Hollingsworth.
The pinnacle of motorcycle road racing in America is the AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship. The ever-increasing level of Superbike technology tests the limits of man and machine alike. AMA Superbike racing attracts some of the world’s most talented riders and commands top-level support from the industry’s leading manufacturers and suppliers. The culmination of this commitment produces racing that is every bit as intense and competitive as the MotoGP World Championship.
Honda’s storied AMA Superbike tradition began in 1980 when 18-year-old road racing phenom Freddie Spencer won three races and finished third in the points standings. Four years later, VF750F-mounted Fred Merkel won 10 of 13 races to win Honda’s first-ever AMA Superbike Championship. Honda came to dominate the class during the ensuing years; today, Miguel Duhamel has more Superbike wins (26) to his credit than any other rider. 2003 MotoGP Rookie of the Year Nicky Hayden won his first AMA Superbike Championship in 2002 aboard the mighty RC51 V-twin after capturing a 600 Supersport championship for Erion Racing in 1999.
Since the debut of the Superbike class in 1976, Hondas have won eight championships. Honda holds the record for the total number of race wins (106), race wins in a season (12) and most consecutive championships (five).
Honda’s interpretation of the latest AMA Superbike rules dictated that a four-cylinder engine was necessary to capture the championship in 2004. The all-new CBR1000RR is a production-based motorcycle that takes full advantage of the AMA’s liberal tuning guidelines. Pre-season testing at Daytona International Speedway has already seen near-record lap times, with plenty more on tap as engineers dial-in the 370-pound RR for race action.
For 2004, there will be 18 individual Superbike races at 11 race venues scheduled between March and September. Fourteen of those races are double-headers—one race held each Saturday and Sunday at the same track. While this means reduced travel time for the teams, there is a heightened level of intensity and competition for the riders and their crews in a short period of time.
AMA Formula Xtreme
A significant change to the popular AMA Formula Xtreme (FX) series—the lowering of displacement limits to 600cc for four-cylinder machines—has attracted the full attention of the Erion Racing Team for 2004. The best-selling sport bikes of the major manufacturers are in the 600cc class and the AMA lowered the FX displacement limit to reflect the direction that manufacturers have taken with their marketing.
The AMA’s U.S. Supersport class has attracted this same interest from the major manufacturers for years. Indeed Honda, who inaugurated the 600 Supersport class in 1987 with the CBR600F Hurricane, has built a reputation as the winningest marque in the history of AMA Supersport racing. With 48 percent (83 of 173) of all Supersport victories and eight of the 17 AMA championships—including two won by Erion Racing—Hondas have more than proven their capability in a class that allows limited modifications to the stock motorcycle. As the limits of street bike technology have brought parity to the class, Supersport has become the place for up-and-coming riders to show what they’ve got.
FX, on the other hand, offers a new challenge for Honda’s engineering prowess. With more liberal rules that are very similar to those of Superbike, Erion and Honda will exploit the limits of racing technology once again.
Erion Racing certainly has the right platform for success. The CBR600RR, modeled after Honda’s MotoGP title-winning RC211V, won the 2003 Daytona Pro Honda Oils 600 Supersport race in its inaugural outing. In fact, every year Honda has introduced a new CBR600, the bike has won at Daytona. The CBR600RR victory was Honda’s 11th in the 600 Supersport at Daytona, more than any other manufacturer. It is only fitting that the CBR600RR also won the World Supersport Championship in the hands of 21-year old Chris Vermeulen.
There will be 11 individual FX races in 2004 between March and September. Fans can expect to see lap times close to those of the Superbikes, with exciting action between the AMA’s top riders. While the class is new to the Erion riders, the challenge is not. Expect to see another hard-earned Erion championship when the race points are tallied at season’s end.
Another exciting transition during a year of change for the AMA spotlights the Superstock class, which sees an increase in maximum displacement to a full 1000cc for all motorcycles. The timely arrival of Honda’s new four-cylinder CBR1000RR creates a perfect match for this revamped class, which is sure to have a close following among street-going sport bike enthusiasts. Boasting a lineage tracing back directly to Honda’s all-dominating RC211V MotoGP weapon, the CBR1000RR will surely carry a distinct edge as it enters the 2004 Superstock fray.
As a safety consideration, slick tires will be standard fitment for this class where bikes will see speeds in excess of 180 mph at some venues. But otherwise the rules established for this new format will greatly restrict modifications to chassis and engine—all the better for close racing. Also, factory Superbike riders will not be allowed to enter Superstock events, so look for a whole new crop of riders to emerge at the top of what will surely be a highly competitive, hard-fought class—lead by the Erion contingent!
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