Brainerd World Superbike 1990

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Diesel Jeans Superbike World Championships
Chandler an International Hit
By Larry Lawrence
Brainerd, MN., June 10, 1990

Doug Chandler demonstrated to an international Superbike field and an estimated 41,000 spectators at Brainerd International Raceway, that roadracing in America is very much alive and will continue to produce the stars in the sport of motorcycle roadracing. Even though the Salinas, California rider finished second to Stephane Mertens in the combined results of the U.S. round of the Diesel Jeans Superbike World Championship, he was without a doubt the dominant rider of the weekend.

Chandler and his fellow Americans proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Superbike racing in the United States is world class. Chandler made American pride at Brainerd swell when he won the pole by qualifying at a record 1:42.158 (105.719 mph) on his Kawasaki ZX-7 Superbike. U.S riders dominated qualifying with seven of the top ten riders being from the U.S. Those riders included Fred Merkel (2nd), Scott Russell (4th), David Sadowski (5th), Jamie James (6th), Thomas Stevens (8th), and Randy Renfrow (10th).

A big concern for the weekend was if the race would actually happen. Newly repaved sections became very soft   under the hot sun on Saturday and the asphalt was breaking up severely. The conditions prompted Davide Tardozzi to jokingly ask Pirelli if they had moto-cross tires. Terry Rymer had serious doubts on whether the race could be held, and riders rep Anders Andersson said that if the endurance bikes were allowed to go out, there would be no track left to repair.

The problem was bad enough for the officials to postpone the EBC Endurance Challenge originally scheduled as the last event on Saturday. The Monster Bike Shoot-Out was at first canceled completely before being implemented into the EBC Brakes Endurance Challenge. The move naturally didn’t make many of the endurance teams happy. Dutchman’s Dave Schlosser said it made him feel like the endurance was a second rate side show. “You don’t think that the Superbikes won’t tear up the track for us?” complained Schlosser.

But Brainerd officials dealt with the problem in a heads-up manner. Special sealant was flown in from Iowa, and the highlight of Saturday evening was watching the pilot make a pinpoint landing on the BIR front straightaway with less than 10 feet of space to spare on either wing tip from the side walls. Workers put in heavy duty overtime applying the sealant to the recently repaved turns late Saturday and early Sunday.

The hard work paid off. The racing surface went from nearly impossible to race on Saturday evening, to at least passable especially early in the day on Sunday. The tarmac again became treacherous by the second Superbike leg late in the day contributing to several crashes.

The talk of the paddock on Saturday was the run in that World Superbike points leader Raymond Roche had with corner workers during the first timed qualifying session. Roche Ran off the track at turn nine and toppled off his factory Ducati. The crash damage was light, confined to bent body work. Roche attempted to get corner workers to help him push start the bike so he could ride back to the pits, get repairs and continue his qualifying. The corner workers refused to let him go since bikes were charging full speed around the course. According to eye witness accounts Roche began try and push like bike himself, while a corner was straining to hold on to the bike to keep Roche from moving the machine. In utter frustration Roche kicked the female corner marshall, shoved the bike violently at the marshall then proceeded to stomp back to the pits via the race track.

Roche’s actions infuriated the entire corner working crew and they wanted his head. By the same token Roche’s crew, specifically team manager Marco Lucchinelli, were equally furious. “Roche is a professional. I don’t understand why these people (corner workers) are not professional. He knows when the bike is safe, I don’t understand it.” said Lucchinelli emphatically. As a result of not getting in any more qualifying laps in the first session, Roche had to settle for 15th place on the starting grid.

Roche was fined 1000 Swiss Francs ($680) for his actions. Rod McElnea was given a verbal warning for giving Roche a ride back to the pits, a violation of the FIM Sporting Code.

Roche later apologized to the corner marshall and gave her his helmet as a gesture of reconciliation.

The track conditions during the second qualifying session had deteriorated to the point that no fast times could be made. The session turned into a crowd pleasing wheelie contest for the riders exiting turn nine. Fred Merkel did the most spectacular wheel stands, getting his Honda on the back wheel than cocking the front wheel from side to side changing the direction of the bike. Merkel’s teammate Monti Baldassarre and Scott Russell, tied for the longest wheelie honors. Both kept their front wheels in the air from the exit of turn nine to the entrance of turn ten, a length of close to a half mile.

Final qualifying stats showed Chandler fastest, closely followed by Merkel, Mertens, Russell, Sadowski and James, all in the 1:42 time range.

Rob Muzzy had to be delighted in knowing that his crew was building the fastest 750 Superbike in the world. When asked if that was the case Muzzy just grinned and said “We’re doing alright.”

Surprisingly Merkel was not happy with his second qualifying position. “It would just make me feel better if I knew going into the race that I was the fastest rider.” said Merkel who had won the pole here last year.

So it was Kawasaki, Honda, and Yamaha on the front row for the start of the first Superbike heat. With Roche’s problems and Falappa out with injuries suffered at Mosport, Ducati’s honor was upheld by American James. After James’ performance in Canada the week before, the Ducati factory team gave help to the Feracchi team in the form of a factory motor. James later said that the Feracchi built motor was just as fast if not faster, so they switched back to it.

As the grid lined up after the sighting lap, announcer Chris Carter told the crowd to cheer for their favorite rider. James received the loudest cheer followed closely by the roar for Merkel.

Merkel got another of his patented quick getaways at the start of heat one, getting the bike rolling a split second before the green flag dropped. Mertens tucked in behind the defending champion, followed by Yamaha mounted Fabrizio Pirovano, Baldassarre and James. Chandler got off to a poor start and was well back in the tightly bunched pack.

Roche was charging hard from his fifth row starting position and quickly joined the front runners. By the fourth lap Merkel, Mertens, Roche, James and Pirovano in that order, had established a mini-breakaway from the rest of the field.

That breakaway didn’t last long though, the Kawasaki’s of Doug Chandler and Rob Phillis motored their bright green ZX-7’s to the tail end of the lead pack. Rob McElnea on his Loctite Yamaha followed suit making it an eight bike freight train in the lead group.

Merkel began to experience tire problems and on lap six Roche completed his charge by taking over the lead. For the next five laps Merkel tried used every ounce of his considerable Superbike experience to stay with Roche. “The Pirelli’s work great for six or seven laps, but unlike the Michelins or Dunlops, when they start to overheat the performance plunges immediately.” said Merkel. Watching the two-time champion work a bike with wasted tires was amazing. Going into a turn Merkel had to fight to bring the bike down in speed. As soon as he hit the apex (sometimes even before then) he would start working the throttle, trying to give enough to accelerate out with Roche, but not so much that the back end would get completely out of shape.

Merkel’s skillful manipulation of his machine kept him in the thick of thing until the closing stages of the races when nothing he could do would keep him from being engulfed by the charging superbike swarm.

Two of the American hopefuls dropped out on lap ten. James and Renfrow were running fifth and sixth in that tightly bunched lead group, when the two tangled going into turn four. According to Phillis who was directly behind the accident, Renfrow was trying to stuff his Honda on the inside of James’ Ducati as James was peeling into  the turn. The two made hard contact and both went down. A trip to the infield hospital show nothing more than both riders being a little beat up. Both would start the second leg.

At the same time James and Renfrow were making their exit, Chandler was making his way to the front of the field to the delight of the spectators. He drafted by Merkel and Roche at the end of the nearly mile long front straight and immediately started putting some distance on Roche. Mertens was moving up at the same time Chandler was and he too got around Roche two laps later. The three top riders pulled clear of the field on lap 15, 16 and 17.

By now Chandler was over two seconds ahead of Mertens and Roche (light years on World Superbikes) and it looked as if the American would walk away to his first international win.

Unfortunately an oil leak had developed on Chandler’s Kawasaki and his rear tire was being sprinkled with the oily mist from the leak. That slowed Chandlers pace by three seconds and Roche and Mertens zipped past.

On the last lap Roche was leading but was passed by Mertens who was giving his all to take the win. Roche decided not to challenge so to protect his points lead. Mertens crossed the finish line leading for the first time at the checkered flag. Roche came home 2.1 seconds later and Chandler limped in his Kawasaki to third, almost being caught by fourth place Terry Rymer (who had worked up from 23rd place on the first lap) on the final lap.

In between races the Muzzy crew was making sure Chandler’s machine would leak any more vital fluids. James was icing down a sore knee as the Feracchi crew readied his back up bike. The Vance & Hines crew were trying to fine tune the suspension settings on their Yamahas but they had an even bigger problem. Stevens and Sadowski had crashed together in the 600 Supersport race. Stevens seemed to be for the most part O.K., but Sadowski would have to ride in pain with a re-cracked collarbone.

The Rumi crew decided to go with a harder compound Pirelli for Merkel hoping it would last the 60 mile distance. And Renfrow’s crew was busy making crash repairs on his Honda. Rymer was concentrating on  making a better start.

Merkel again led the pack into turn one at the start of the second leg but it was Mertens who led the field as they completed the first lap. James’ Ducati sounded sour as he circulated near the back before pulling in the pits on the first lap. “I don’t really know what happen, it was something to do with the fuel flow.” said a disappointed James who felt a win was very possible coming into the weekend after his resounding success in Canada a week earlier.

Mertens, Pirovano and Rymer had a bit of a lead by the third lap. Roche was holding off what seemed like 15 or so bikes battling for fourth place. Pirovano put in the fastest lap of the second leg (1:43.293) and led briefly on lap five before Rymer made an aggressive late on the brakes pass to take the lead on the sixth lap.

Scott Russell was riding comfortably near the front of that huge pack, when Merkel got into a huge tank slapper going through the flat out turn one. The handle bars shook so violently that Merkel accident hit the kill switch. McElnea was right on his tail at the time and made a quick evasive maneuver. Russell hit the swerving McElnea and went for a wild ride off the track at about 140 mph. “Luckily the terrain was pretty smooth and I was able to get back on the track. I lost a lot of positions because of it though.” said Russell.

The tarmac was really heating at this point in the day and those resurfaced corners went soft again. This made for some spectacular slides coming out of turns. Chandlers flat-track experience really began to pay off in these conditions. “It felt a lot like a dirt track surface. The fairly long wheel base of the Kawasaki made it easy for me to stay on the gas and get the back end kicked out pretty far. Only once did I get it a little to sideways. I was looking back behind me in a turn to see where Mertens was and I wasn’t paying much attention, got hard on the gas and was almost staring Mertens in the face with the bike completely crossed up.” explained Chandler.

The conditions were ripe for accidents and they began happening suddenly about the half way point in the race. First Renfrow crashed again in the same place he had earlier. The next lap Sadowski went down coming out on to the front straight. Then Phillis dropped the Kawasaki in Renfrow’s radiator water. “They were dropping like flies out there.” said Stevens who was an eye witness to most of the crashes. “I was making a charge up to the front but I lost the front end a couple of times lost a knee puck, and figured I had tasted the pavement enough for one weekend.” continued Stevens who’s Yamaha also experienced overheating problems in both legs.

Up front Rymer was really riding the wheels off his Yamaha. He was braking extremely late for the turns. It looked like Rymer was riding with reckless abandon but he claims he was under control. “The Dunlops were really working even with the hazardous conditions. We finally started to dial in the new Ohlin front suspension unit and the bike handled well.” said the British rider.

With five laps to go Chandler drafted into the lead by Rymer on the front straight. The next lap Mertens did the same to Rymer to take over second. While he was in the pack Chandlers bike began to overheat. “I think it was because ny radiators weren’t getting enough air, because I was always behind someone. As soon as I got out front the engine cooled off.” said Chandler.

Chandler went on to win perhaps the biggest roadrace of his life by 2.6 seconds. He was greeted by a cheering mob at the winners podium, and stood proud at the playing of the national anthem.

Mertens and Rymer finished close together in second and third. Roche cruised home a lonely fourth, while Pirovano barely held off the come from behind Russell.

Mertens echoed the sentiments of many of the series regulars after the race. “If I would have wanted to really push it, I think I could have stayed with Chandler, I don’t know. He was here for one race, I have the entire series to think about. Still there is no doubt that he was very good rider, and his machine was very fast.” said Mertens.

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Thanks much,
Larry Lawrence –

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