The 2020 American Flat Track season gets underway in a few days time with the Daytona TT - and the newly branded AFT "SuperTwins" premier class presents a number of interesting prospects.
Will reigning champ Briar Bauman produce another run of consistently strong podium finishes to mount a successful defence of his title? - or will six times GNC winner and Red Torpedo's sponsored rider Jared Mees recapture his trailblazing form from 2017/18 and blast his way to another championship? Who are the other riders who could most likely challenge for podium positions?...and will Indian's FTR 750 continue to monopolise the top spots for a fourth consecutive season...or can the factory Harley Davidson or Yamaha teams get a look in?
Briar Bauman v Jared Mees
Indian Racing's "Wrecking Crew" line-up remains unchanged with Briar Bauman on the number 1 plate alongside Jared Mees and Bauman's younger bro, 22 year old Bronson. Mees produced two outstanding seasons in 2017 / 2018 winning back-to-back championships and dominating the field in a clinical display of relentless, ruthless consistency. In 2017 he bagged 17 podium finishes from the 18 rounds with ten wins. The following year he nailed 15 podiums - again taking ten wins.
Flying high - Jared Mees taking big air at the Peoria TT
But last season, he didn't get off to a good start at the Daytona TT crashing in the heats and then encountering mechanical difficulties in the final resulting in a 17th place finish. The winning momentum of the previous two seasons that had built like a runaway juggernaut didn't get going. By his super high standards, he had an inconsistent year but like all great champions, he'll be myopically focussed on getting into what he describes as "The Zone" and regaining the title. As the Jammer says, winning's never easy...........
Jared Mees - gives the lowdown on "The Zone" and winning.
Mees actually finished last season with more wins than team mate Briar Bauman (8 wins to Briar's 5 - which included all six miles!) but it was Bauman's consistently strong podium finishing that gave him the title. The 24 year old Californian podiumed a total of 15 times -with five wins, seven 2nds and three 3rds. Mees had the eight wins but only three further podium visits: one 2nd and two 3rds.
Jared Mees #1 and Briar Bauman #14 going head-to-head on Indian FTR750s
The March of the FTR750
In its first full season, (2017) the Indian Factory team of Mees, Brad Baker and Bryan Smith won 14 of the 18 races, podiumed 38 times from 54 'possibles' and had six "clean sweep" first three podium places. Harley Davidson won one race, Kawasaki three and Yamaha none. There were still plenty of top 10 places being taken by other manufacturers because there were only the three factory bikes on track. But the "game changer" had arrived on the scene.
In 2018, Indian continued its AFT Twins march - but it became a Blitzkrieg on account of there being many more FTR750s on the track! Other riders had seen how good the bike was and if they could muster up fifty "big ones," run one as a privateer. In 2017 the three man Indian "Wrecking Crew" took 46 of the top ten places. The following season, FTR750s lifted 128 (70%) top ten places. At Springfield Miles 1 and 2, New York short track and Meadowlands Mile the first nine bikes across the finishing line were FTRs. At Black Hills it was all first ten bikes. Indian won 17 rounds - the only non Indian winner being TT maestro Henry Wiles who won his 14th consecutive Peoria TT on a Kawasaki Ninja 650. The FTR750 had become an unstoppable force and was whipping just about every other bike's ass on track.
"Super tucked" and haulin' - Mees on the Indian FTR750
The FTR750's a cracking piece of kit. It's a ground up, purpose built race bike but its dominance of the sport isn't what fans or AFT wants to see. Of course, it's not just the quality and performance of the machinery: the rider makes a pretty significant input! But as far as punters are concerned, a mix of riders and manufacturers vying for podiums and wins makes for exciting racing - and not just in American Flat Track. In World Superbikes, Johnny Rea and the ZX-10RR have lifted five consecutive Championships. Rea's a superb racer and pro in every respect. Kawasaki's WSBK team and the ZX-10RR a class act. All of that goes without saying. But most fans welcome close racing between several manufacturers and riders with the opportunity of different winners and podium finishers. It's the essence of what makes motorsport exciting.
AFT Rule Changes - (only some!)
AFT decided to introduce new regulations in an attempt to create greater parity. For the 2019 season, one of the main rule changes that carried potentially the greatest negative effect on the 750 Scout related to a permitted widening in throttle body openings from 38-40mm for production engined bikes. In addition, manufacturers with production engines could increase cubic capacity to 900cc. (In practice, this only really applied to the Harley XG750R engine - not the Yamaha and Kawasaki engines). Indian Racing wrote an open letter of complaint highlighting that they were effectively being penalised for building a successful racing motorcycle and that the new regs would mean that they'd be unlikely to win any further mile races due to the 900cc hike for the production engines.
So how did the season pan out? Was the FTR750 coshed into submission? Last season, FTR750s won all six mile races (Mees) and 16 of the 18 rounds (JD Beach on a Yamaha MT-07 was the only man to win the other two races - Arizona and Buffalo Chip TTs) - and he also podiumed at Peoria in third. Indians had "clean sweeps" in 9 of the 18 rounds - all first three places. Nearly 70% of top ten finishers were on FTR750. The once mighty Harley Davidson managed one podium place finish! (Sammy Halbert - third at Perris Half Mile).
"The breakaway" - Mees leads the chasers. How many bikes behind?
For 2020 season, AFT has again introduced new regulations in an attempt to create a more level playing field. This year, of all the changes being introduced, the one most likely to affect Indian's performance focuses on restricting the weight of the FTR750's flywheel by enforcing use of a lighter flywheel. Ladybird book explanation - the heavier flywheel improves the bike's traction and so gives a competitive advantage. Time will tell.
Who else to look out for?
"Seconds out, round one".... (eighteen to go). If both main pugilists remain race fit throughout the season, the Briar B / "Jammer" Mees encounter over 18 rounds is sure to be another titantic battle. Who can challenge the two heavyweights for podiums and (even occasional) wins?
Of the 18 riders who'll line up at each round of this year's SuperTwins championship c70% will be on FTR750s. There's the Factory Harley team of three on XG750s (more below) and the two Factory Estenson Yamaha MT-07s. For the first time in several years, there's no Kawasaki presence.
Third "Wrecking Crew" team member Bronson Bauman arrived big time on the scene last year taking third in the championship with five podium finishes including his first AFT twins win at Laconia. Bronson's confidence will have soared following his outstanding season and he'll be doing all he can to build on this position and drive for more podium finishes.
The Harley Vance Hines Factory Team of Bryan Smith, Dalton Gauthier and Jarod Vanderkooi is going to be one to watch closely. Could this be the year that Harley turns the corner (a very long and bumpy left-hander) and comes back into the mix? Gauthier's a real talent and his first full time season in AFT SuperTwins represents an exciting prospect. Not only did he lift the singles championship last year but he rocked up to the Sacramento and Springfield Mile Production Twins races and stuck the XG750R on the top step! The 21 year old has bags of talent and good TT skills - so it's going to be fascinating to see what he can do on the Harley twin over a full season. Word is that the XG750R (production engined Harley) has been improving and crew chief Ricky Howerton, a man with tons of experience, has been working hard on bike set-up and tuning throughout the winter. Get the big bore kit out for the miles Ricky.
"Bangin' bars" - Mees #1 laying down the power out front again with about ten in the chasing pack
The two other Harley riders are no slouches either. Jarod Vanderkooi finished sixth last year with thirteen top ten finishes and "mile master" Bryan Smith has 33 career wins, twenty-five of them being miles. A past twice Expert Twins and GN Champion, he's hugely experienced and will be a huge asset in the HD Factory set-up. Although he had a difficult season last year, he finished strongly with second places at the Minnesotta and Meadowlands Miles. Can he find his mojo again on the factory Harley?
Sammy Halbert debuts on an Indian FTR750 racing for Coolbeth Nila Racing Team - run by ex racer Kenny Coolbeth. Another immensely experienced flat tracker with 13 career wins, Slammin' Sammy H has won past races in all four race formats: mile, half mile, short track and TT.
Then there's the two factory Estenson Yamaha MT-07s of J D Beach and Kolby Carlisle. Beach is a mega talent on two wheels and this is the first full season that the MotoAmerica road racer will have raced in AFT. He's a real force at the TTs - as already mentioned he won last year's Arizona and Buffalo Chip TT's and finished 3rd at Peoria. Carlile moves up to SuperTwins from the Production Twins class having finished last season in third behind Cory Texter and Ryan Varnes. He podiumed six times with two wins on an MT-07 Yamaha.
In addition to all these guys, there's Jeffrey Carver who will campaign an Indian FTR750. He finished fourth in last year's twins class with fifteen top ten finishes including four podiums. Dan Bromley moves up to the premier class from singles where he finished third last year behind Gauthier and Mikey Rush. Then there's Brandon Robinson who was fifth in twins last season with three podiums which included wins at Atlanta Short Track and Perris Half Mile. Let's hope these guys get stuck in and give it a good go.
So, "are we excited about the start of the season?" You betcha Mr President - and Scottie Deubler. In fact....we can't bloomin' wait. American Flat Track - MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.
The 18 round American Flat Track season gets underway at the Daytona TT on Saturday 14th March. For more information and news visit www.americanflattrack.com
📸 Dave Hoenig