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Toni Elias Predicts The 2017 MotoGP Champ—and It Isn’t Who You Think

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2017 American Flat Track Season Preview – The Daytona TT this Thursday, March 16, kicks off the 2017 American Flat Track season and what is the most highly anticipated flat track season in decades. Looking back at the 63-year history of the championship the pre-season excitement for 2017 is at least on par with just about any previous year’s campaign.

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview>

New bikes, new teams, new format, new schedule—pretty much new everything for the 2017 American Flat Track Championship, which gets underway next week. Photography by Larry Lawrence

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You have to look back to 1954, when the AMA Grand National Championship became a series instead of a winner-take-all, one-race Springfield Mile title decider; the 1969 season when the British-made bikes were given equal engine displacement as the Harley-Davidson; and 1983 when the Honda factory launched the stunning RS750 to come close the re-entry of the iconic Indian brand and the assemblage of one of the strongest factory squads ever.

With Brad Baker, Jared Mees and Bryan Smith all together with factory Indian, it’s almost game-set-match before the first green flag dropped on 2017. That is until Harley-Davidson responded in a big way with an equally talent-filled factory team of Kenny Coolbeth Jr., Jake Johnson and Brandon Robinson.

Wow, talk about your battle royal!

The mere fact that two American companies have each assemble such powerful teams to go head to head is reason enough for fans to get excited about this year’s championship, but long-time flat track fans who might have not been thrilled to watch motocross-based bikes racing on the national short tracks and TTs may also be coming back to the track to watch the big twins race on the tighter and more technical tracks of the series.

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview>

Brad Baker, Jared Mees and Bryan Smith will make up the new factory Indian team.

All 18 rounds, from the season-opener, will air in one-hour, tape-delayed telecasts on Thursday nights on NBCSN throughout the summer and fall.

The series has been rebranded American Flat Track (AFT) with two classes, the premier AFT Twins and the support class, AFT Singles. AFT Twins will race the big bikes on all tracks, including short tracks and TTs. There’s also a big change with the race format this season that breaks with long-held flat track traditions. Essentially riders will have to race in two qualifying races to make the main event. Instead of transferring straight in from a heat race, the four heat races this year serves to qualify riders into two semi races where 18 riders battle for nine starting spots in each race making for the 18-rider main field. There’s also an LCQ to get into the semi. If a rider falls or has a mechanical in the semi, they’re out. There are no provisional starts. It will be a big accomplishment just to make all the mains this season and that really could play into the championship picture.

There are a number of new venues on the calendar this year. Obviously, the series-opening Daytona TT, played out in front of the massive main grandstands at Daytona International Speedway, is going to be a very interesting race and no one really knows what to expect.

Who’s the favorite to win at Daytona this year? With a new track and riders racing twins for the first time on a national TT track, it really is wide open. Henry Wiles is a TT specialist, but Jared Mees has narrowed the gap. Jake Johnson, Robbie Pearson and Jarod Vanderkooi were also in the top five at Peoria last season. So maybe you start with those guys, but who knows. It truly is a wide open round one.

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview>

It will be interesting to see how Brad Baker adapts to the new Indian FTR750 after riding H-Ds.

There’s a great mix of tracks this year in the 20-race series, with eight half-miles, six miles, four TTs and two short tracks.

And then there’s the big question—who’s going to win the 2017 American Flat Track Championship?

And again, it’s the hardest call in decades. Bryan Smith is the defending champ, but the obvious advantage he had on the miles with the Howerton Kawasaki could be neutralized this season. Still, Smith is a master of the mile and with the big tracks dominating the schedule he could, once again, be the rider to beat.

With Smith perhaps not having the machinery advantage he had last year, that could swing the advantage to fellow Indian factory rider (but under separate tents) Jared Mees. Mees is a multi-time champ who wins with grittiness and race toughness. While Mees normally doesn’t put together a bunch of wins like rival Smith, he rarely has an off weekend and can be almost be assured to be on, or near, the podium in every race.

And then there’s Brad Baker, generally acknowledged to be the most gifted talent in the series. He’s so wide open all the time that he’s tough on equipment. If his bikes hold up underneath him Baker could be on his way to a second national championship.

Of course, with all the Indian riders, the wildcard is the bike, the Indian FTR750. We caught a glimpse of the machine in the season finale last year with Joe Kopp at the controls and it was very impressive to say the least. But most new racing machines inevitably have teething problems and that could be a deciding factor in this year’s chase.

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview>

Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (pictured) and teammates Jake Johnson and Brandon Robinson all hope to put Harley-Davidson back on top.

With the Harley-Davidson squad, you have more veteran and time-tested racers in Coolbeth and Johnson. Both are crafty and can figure out ways to be near the front at nearly every track. And the team has youth and sheer speed in Robinson. But the new liquid-cooled Harley XG750R didn’t look to be a world-beater last year. The big question is how much development was made on the XG at Vance & Hines Racing and in Milwaukee over the winter? They’ve got the riders who can win. The question is, is the machine up to the task?

And while some experts say the top six positions in this year’s championship are set with the factory riders, the new racing format, unproven machinery, and a slew of new tracks, 2017 could present an opportunity for a few teams and riders to break through and go head to head with the factory teams.

There are four TT Nationals and a pair of short tracks, that alone puts Henry Wiles in the mix for the championship regardless of what machine he’s on and it makes you wonder why Indian or Harley-Davidson didn’t bring Wiles on board simply because the schedule plays so much into his favor.

Sammy Halbert is always a contender. He’ll be the premier rider aboard a Yamaha this season, racing the Estenson Logistics/Truline Yamaha FZ-07.

The powerful Zanotti Racing team has picked up 2012 Rookie of the Year Briar Bauman. Bauman is a two-time national winner, both times on short tracks. If he improves this year on the big tracks, something riding the Zanotti machines should help with, he could be another one to mix it up with the factory riders in the championship chase.

Cory Texter has been coming on strong of late and has developed his CTR Kawasaki into a true potential winner. The same can be said of Jeffrey Carver Jr. on his Carver’s BBQ Kawasaki.

Jarod Vanderkooi, Davis Fisher and Ryan Wells (all racing Kawasakis) are the young guns of the series who could break through to be among the front runners this season.

The one certainty about the 2017 American Flat Track season is that nothing is certain. The racers themselves are as anxious as the fans to get the season started and see how things are going to shake out. They’ll get their wish starting this Thursday in Daytona Beach.

CN

LARRY LAWRENCE

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview

Bryan Smith: The Champ’s Take

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview>

Defending champ Bryan Smith is uncertain as to what the opening round has in store—for him, his team and everyone else.

Bryan Smith sounded a bit uneasy on the phone a little over a week before the 2017 American Flat Track season is to take the green flag with the March 16 Daytona TT. The man who earned the coveted number-one plate last season sees nothing but the unknown in front of him.

Next Thursday Smith, will be racing the new factory Indian FTR750 for the first time on a unique first-time track in front of the main Daytona International Speedway grandstands. It’s a high-pressure season opener and Smith has had barely any time on the new Indian, and he hates not being fully prepared.

“We’ve been a little more than delayed and haven’t had the chance to ride them yet or even get everything done to ride them,” Smith says of his 2017 race machine. “Hopefully that will change in the next couple of days and I think we’re going to try to test somewhere.”

Smith isn’t the only one scrambling. He paints a clear picture of just how wide open and unknown the coming season is going to be for nearly all of the top riders.

“There’s never been a season like this,” he explains. “I mean you have seven guys that won grand national races in 2016 who are lining up in 2017 on a bike they’ve never raced before.”

Smith is talking about the six big factory riders—himself, Brad Baker and Jared Mees on Indian; Jake Johnson, Kenny Coolbeth Jr. and Brandon Robinson on the factory Harley-Davidson XG750R and leading non-factory contender, Sammy Halbert on a new Yamaha FZ-07-based machine.

Smith’s feelings about being on the new Indian are mixed. He’s happy to be part of the iconic brand’s return and the financial stability it gives him and the Howerton Motorsports team, but he can’t help but think how big of a favorite he would be going into the season if he were racing last year’s championship-winning Kawasaki.

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview

“It’s good in one sense, that we’re all in the same boat riding new machines, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘Damn, we could have really cleaned house on the Kawasaki.’ The Indian has the potential to be better than the Kawasaki, but we haven’t had the time to get it there just yet. Hopefully that will all change pretty quick.”

The new Daytona TT track is so unique, plus it will be the first time this generation of racers has tackled a national TT aboard the big Twins. While the combination of new bikes and new tracks have pundits scratching their heads on picking a front-runner, Smith claims that no matter what bike he’s on, Henry Wiles, until proven otherwise, is probably the rider to beat.

“I know he’s got a big motocross background and he really took advantage of that racing TTs on the singles, but I think he’s going to be just as tough flinging around these twins over the jumps and running through tight turns.”

Smith also feels the new qualifying format has the potential of putting a big wrench in the works for some of the top guys.

“You could be the fastest in timed qualifying, win the fastest heat race, but say you stall it on the line in the semi, you’re done. There’s no provisional starts. There’s going to be a day when all the top guys are going to screw up with that new format and a guy who normally runs eighth or something is going to win it.”

(Editors note: AMA Pro emailed to let us know there are provisionals, but they can only be used to get a rider into a Semi. One provisional can be used per Semi, and every rider gets one provisional start card.)

Smith predicts the Daytona TT track could become a super rough and technical challenge.

“My understanding is they built our track right after the Daytona 500 and then covered it with plywood and built the supercross track on top of that,” Smith said. “They have the Ricky Carmichael amateur races after the main supercross event and then a quad race, so I don’t think they’ll be able to peel that supercross track off the top until Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. If the stars align they’ll uncover the track and it’ll look great, but you know how that goes. The biggest challenge with that timeline is getting the track to where it’s smooth and racy. I’m kind of expecting the track to get kind of gnarly and maybe look like the Alligator Enduro out there.”

Throw in some new venues for 2017 and the twins being raced on national TT and short tracks, Smith agrees this could be the most interesting season in series history.

“I don’t know how all these changes are going to be on us riders,” Smith said. “But I do know it’s going to be one helluva year for the spectators, that’s for sure.”

CN

LARRY LAWRENCE

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview

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Source : http://www.cyclenews.com/2017/03/article/2017-american-flat-track-season-preview/

2017 American Flat Track Season Preview
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