3/8/08 - The 2008 Daytona Supercross will go down in history as perhaps the most brutal Supercross in history. Florida skies opened with vengeance and the Ricky Carmichael-designed Daytona track quickly became a mud bog of epic proportions; a race where smarts and skill paid off as riders fought simply to finish.
Daytona has always been famous for being the toughest and most prestigious round of the Supercross series. To do well under horrendous conditions is a fine testament to Suzuki motorcycles and the entire Suzuki City OTSFF Rockstar team. How well did they do? Try three riders in the main event, two of whom made the top 10!
“In practice it was muddy, but there wasn’t a whole bunch of water so it was super fun,” states Justin ‘Pooh’ Sipes. By race time rain was pouring down, quickly turning the track into a swamp. “Those were the nastiest conditions I’ve ever seen at a Supercross! Horrible!” said Team Manager Michael Nasakaitis. Jimmy Albertson charged through the mud in Qualifier one to finish third, trying to stay clean while others became stuck and floundered around the course. “My qualifier was good,” says Albertson. “I was really going for the win, but I ripped off all of my tear offs at once on the first lap, which put a lid on that idea. There were four or five spots on the track where the bike went completely underwater. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe any bike could make it around that track without blowing up.
There was so much water it was almost like riding in a pond.”
Sipes brought his Suzuki City RM-Z250 into ninth in the first heat, transferring him directly to the main event, but not without some drama. “My qualifier was all right,” he says. “I didn’t know what place I was in and I couldn’t see, but I figured I was in a qualifying spot so I just tried to stay there.” The mud and torrential rain made vision problem number one, but Suzuki reliability was never an issue. Sipes describes “Vision was so bad, you’d hit a puddle and you’d go all the way under. Tear offs didn’t do anything once you’d get water under them…it was rough. The bike was great though!”
Willy Browning put his mud riding skills to good use in his qualifier, spinning his way to fourth and a earning a direct line to the Main event. “That was a mud bath!” exclaims Browning. “I stayed up and never fell down one time out there. I got off to a good start in my qualifier, did some passing and got passed, and just settled into fourth.” Tyler Medaglia finished just outside the direct qualifying position in 11th, earning him a second trip to the mud bath for the LCQ. As conditions continued to deteriorate, Medaglia soldiered on through the LCQ mud, putting in a strong ride and finishing seventh.
Sipes got off to a great start in the main, only to once again struggle with vision problems. “I had some problems with my tear offs,” he says. “They weren’t sticking out where I could pull them, and I got passed by five or six guys in the first rhythm section while I fought with them.” The main event turned into a death march as exhausted riders and abandoned machines littered the track. “I was just trying to survive,” tells Sipes. “I finally went down and a bunch of people passed me. I was trying to stay up but I couldn’t see. I’d hit a puddle and have no idea how deep it was. On one lap it was nothing and the next lap it’d be up to the seat. It would just swallow you! So many people got stuck…one lap a rut would be perfect, the next it was three feet deep.” Sipes enjoyed his mud run, finishing 17th and saying “It’s been a while since I rode in mud, so I was having fun out there!”
Browning solved his vision problems by wearing Roll-Offs instead of using traditional tear-offs, which helped him dig his way to seventh. “I wore Roll-Offs and they worked super,” he says. “I usually prefer tear offs, but this time they worked really well. In the main I went through a complete film by the last lap!” He is a great mud rider, and proved it at Daytona. “I was super pumped on the main,” says Browning. “I don’t mind riding in that stuff. I think it was better that it was raining. If it had stopped the track would have gotten worse. I had no idea what place I was in, but I knew I didn’t want to go down. That water was extremely deep. You didn’t know if there was a hole in there, so you just pinned it. In that rhythm section in the back the water was easily up to the radiators! I was hydroplaning in some spots, but yeah it was fun!”
Running up near the front of the pack, Albertson very nearly put his Suzuki on the podium. “That was the best night of my life…and the worst,” he jokes. “I started around tenth, then I lost my goggles on the fourth lap. Every time I got behind someone I thought ‘I just gotta' pass this guy or I’m done!’ so I was just making my moves really fast and it worked out perfectly. At one time Sipes and Browning and I were all together. It was cool having the team all together like that, sort of like play riding with my friends back home when it’s horrible out! I got to about seventh, and I don’t know what happened but I just started picking off guys. You can ask anyone, they’ll tell ya I’m a terrible mud rider, but last night I just lined up on the gate and it came easy. I was having so much fun! I was cutting through those guys, I think because I couldn’t see their number plates so I wasn’t intimidated by any of them! Everybody looked the same!” Albertson’s newly found mud riding skills let him force his way to third before he went down. “There was a guy stuck in one of the lines, so I picked another and it was really slow,” he says. “Slow enough to let the guy behind me get beside me. We locked bars and I went down, but he stayed up. Then I lost another spot on top of that, so I ended up getting fifth. I was mad at the time, but when I look back now I realize I rode well and really can’t be mad at myself!”
“This is huge for their confidence,” explains Nasakaitis. “We had really good results. Our guys stayed smart and stayed upright. All the guys were going really well. These were Willy and Jimmy’s best career finishes ever, and they are both ready to get to Minneapolis and build on their momentum. I gotta’ give it to the crew, they did a great job prepping the bikes for a mud race. We had no mechanical issues, and in this environment that is a huge accomplishment! Also, Pirelli made a great call on tires (Scorpion MXS) which helped our guys get such great starts. ” Browning is hungry for next weekends Minneapolis Supercross, and says “I’m really excited about the next round, keeping our team’s momentum going and making another main!” Albertson is also stoked, his Daytona success giving him a shot of confidence. “Every time I think about the main I get this feeling in my stomach, like ‘I had third, I blew it.’ But then I think how next week is a whole new week, nice and dry, and I realize ‘Hey, I did great at Daytona!’ I know next week will be even better and I can put my Suzuki on the podium!”
Helping Suzuki City OTSFF Rockstar make their mark are team sponsors Rockstar Energy drink, RG3 Biloxi, Answer, Suzuki Genuine Accessories, Crew Wear, American Suzuki, Millsaps Training Facility, Suzuki Auto, PR2, Hindle, Alpinestars, K&N, Works Connection, Factory Effex, VP Race Fuels, www.suzukionly.com, Sunstar, Pirelli, Pro Taper, Braking, Dragon, Boyesen, and CV4.
For more information on team Suzuki City OTSFF Rockstar, please contact:
Suzuki City Inc, Biloxi, MS
or visit them online at www.racelikearockstar.com