(This was written by Tracy Hagen, RIP, in March 1997)
It was the closest Daytona 200 finish ever – Smokin’ Joe’s Miguel DuHamel beat Lucky Strike’s Scott Russel by .010 seconds.
It was the second time Russel has lost the Daytona 200 by a blink of an eye, in 1993 Eddie Lawson beat Russel by .051 seconds. Russel would be a five time Daytona 200 winner instead of a three time winner had he been able to find just .061 seconds, at the right moment in time.
But it was DuHamel’s day and DuHamel’s Daytona; he won by riding harder than Russel on the last lap. With reckless courage DuHamel proved that you can lead out of the chicane and hold off the draft pass challenge of a more powerful bike and a very determined rider. Champagne was never given out so deservedly. ”Oh man, I can’t believe it! Scott rode an incredible race. He is one of the best riders in the world, and at Daytona he is so hard. (Earlier in the race) I was trying to draft past him at the Star/Finish line. I couldn’t do it, the Start/Finish line was not the right place, so I said, ‘I better lead this thing.’ I think that took Scott by surprise. In the banking I did a little weaving, I was trying to break the draft. It was a crazy move, right for the wall. But I leaned it in, and the thing just backed around. I don’t know if you know, but it’s pretty scary sliding a superbike at 170 miles per hour on the banking! I probably backed off one percent, ’cause I might wind up in the bleachers up there. But it worked, Scott just towed me, and that’s what pretty much threw him off completely. You’ve got to love it.”
”Miguel rode a great race, he deserved it,” Russel said from the Winner’s Circle. “We had the race won – something happened, and I just came up a little bit short at the end.”
Fifteen seconds behind the winning Honda and the second place Suzuki was the Yamaha of Colin Edwards II, caught the Yoshimura Suzuki of Pascal Picotte in the closing laps of the race to take third by less than a half second.
“I’m still on the podium, I can’t be too disappointed,” Edwards said. “It be better if I was on top. I rode my butt off, that’s all I could do.”
For the major teams, Smokin’ Joes Honda had the most to cheer about, as DuHamel’s teammate Steve Crevier came home sixth, riding a cautious race in his first outing on a RC-45.
“I got the Smokin’ Joes’s Honda up there for sixth. I didn’t qualify so good, and when you start back there you wind up back here (in the garage). That means I just have to qualify better. We’re walking out of here with some superbike points, so we’re not looking too bad.”
The Yoshimura Suzuki team proved that the new GSXR750 and their new riders – Picotte, youngster Aaron Yates, and Aussie Mat Madlin – are capable of running at the front – provided that the tires are up to it. All three riders had problems with their Dunlop rear tires.
”My rear tire was gone – I mean really gone,” Picotte said. “I got a little confused with my pit board and started thinking about too many things. I blew the chicane, and that’s why Colin caught me.” ”I felt what I thought was a tire vibration, so I came in just as the pace car came out and the team changed it,” seventh place Yates explained. “I got back out and wasn’t sure if I should move back up to where I was. I did, but I guess the AMA felt that I shouldn’t have. I came in for the stop-and-go and did a pit stop, but they didn’t like that so I came back in again.”
“I’m disappointed with eleventh, with two extra pit stops and everything,” Mladin lamented. “But before we had any (tire) dramas, Aaron, Pascal and myself were right in there, right in there for a podium finish. Aaron had one tire go, I sort of had two, that’s the way it goes – it’s Daytona. I think after today, our team should be really enthused, because we have shown that we can run with the new bike. We had some of the best (riders) in the world behind us, I think our team has done a really good job.”
It was not a good Saint Patrick’s weekend race for the green bikes, with Anthony Gobert and Mike Smith both having mechanical misfortunes during the first third of the race. Doug Chandler, who won both legs of the Daytona NASB races, finished fifth overall in the 200.
“I’m happy considering what we came here with. Fifth is better than I expected. The start of the week was really good, as the week progressed we started to have some problems, so it was actually more of a survival race than anything else. I really didn’t have any close calls. There was some times that there was some real close, intense racing, but I was just staying out of trouble and turning some real good lap times there at the end.”
It was pretty much the same story over in the Yamaha garages, who also struggled through the practice and qualifying days. The best Yamaha after third place World Superbike visitor Edwards was Tom Kipp, who finished eighth. Kipp’s teammate Jamie James broke his clutch right at the start and retired after one lap. ”Fried the clutch on the start. That’s the way it goes,” James said. “It was a new clutch system – we’ve never had any trouble with it. It’s a shame we had to learn it here.”
The Ducati’s were dealt the worst troubles of all, as three out of the four works bikes were acting up right from the start. Even the top privateer Ducati of Dale Quarterley, on loan to Randy Renfrow, suffered broken motor mounts in the race, but managed to finish thirteenth. The best Ducati finish (ninth) belonged to Fast By Ferracci’s Larry Pegram, who would have finished higher if the pit stops had been better.
The unfortunate six day rain delay caused many of the out-of-town Harley faithful to miss H-D’s best Daytona 200 in years. Not only did The Harley finish, it stayed on the lead lap all day, and rider Chris Carr made top ten.
”Our goal when we came here was to finish the race,” Carr said. “Harley-Davidson hasn’t finished a Daytona 200 in about twenty years. We came close last year, but came up a few laps short. I thought if we stayed consistent and burned some laps and stayed out of trouble, we had a shot at a top ten, and sure enough we ended up tenth. It was a real smooth race with no major problems. We didn’t make any mistakes and never ran off the track.”
The Race Comes To DuHamel
The now famous six day rain postponement caused eighteen riders to pack up and leave; most where the no hope, come as you are privateers that make up the back of the grid. The two noticeable absentees were the Suzuki World Superbike riders of Kirk McCarthy and John Reynolds, who were never successful in finding the proper speed or set-up for the new GSXR. Reynolds was the twentieth fastest works bike out of twenty works bikes, which meant he was out qualified by the factory Harley VR1000s.
The 200 started in 80 degree weather with a nice, occasional breeze. Promotor Ducati rider Mike Hale was first to Turn One, followed by Russell, Gobert, and Hale’s teammate, pole sitter Troy Corser.
Hale was the first to the reach the NASCAR banking, followed by Gobert with Russell and Corser side-by-side. Russell lost several positions during the run on the banking, but this was all part of the game plan to ensure survival. ”I let Colin, Mike, Anthony, Troy, and all them guys go at it, I didn’t want to get mixed up in that. I stepped back, and rode my own race,” Russell said.
Hale was first to the line, with Gobert and Corser beside each other for second and third. Edwards was a half second behind in fourth, and DuHamel was a similar distance back in fifth. Russell was another full second back in sixth, with another second back to Yates and Picotte. Smith was ninth, followed by Kipp. Corser, Gobert, and Edwards all overtook Hale in the second lap, the three WSB riders all putting in their best laps of the race (1:50.925 for Corser, 1:51.482 for Gobert, and 1:51.252 for Edwards). This quartet were now putting a small gap on the pair of DuHamel and Russell. The Yoshimura pair remained steady, but Smith was falling backwards, and out of the top ten.
“I burnt my clutch up, yup, I sure did,” Smith explained. “It didn’t start slipping until about the second lap. I think the start really took a toll on the clutch.” Smith would pit on the following lap for a new clutch.
Kipp and Pegram rounded out the second lap’s top ten.
Hale’s best lap time of the race (1:51.932) occurred on the following lap, as he tried to hang on to the WSB trio. Russell’s third lap was also his best (1:51.255), as he passed DuHamel and went after Hale. The Yosh bikes were now two seconds behind DuHamel, and were getting caught by Pegram, now ahead of Kipp. As with Hale and Russell, Pegram’s and Kipp’s best lap times were recorded on the third lap (1:52.396 and 1:53.156, respectively).
Edwards and Gobert battled each other on lap four, which allowed Corser to clear himself by two full seconds. Russell passed Hale and was tailing Gobert, while DuHamel found speed to record his best lap (1:51.493), and join the group. The other positions remained as before.
Russell put Gobert a position down on lap five, while Corser padded the lead by another half second. DuHamel was pressuring his former teammate Hale in effort to stay in the five rider contest for second.
Hale’s race ended on lap six with a crash in Turn Six, the left-hander that sends riders out of the infield and on to the banking.
“I was having some problems, but I got into some oil, fell off,” said Hale, who was unhurt. “The lap that Troy came by me, I was having a little bit of an ignition problem. It seemed like it was starting to go away a little bit, I picked the pace back up, closed it up on Gobert and Edwards again. I put it in to Turn Six there – I saw the oil flag, but I didn’t see the oil on the track.”
Everyone behind Hale advanced accordingly, and Mladin was now the last of the top ten.
As Hale was crashing out of the race, Corser started slowing down, and was now lapping two seconds slower. Corser slowed down another second and half on lap seven, which allowed Edwards to take the lead in the infield, followed by Russell. DuHamel was fourth and Gobert was fifth, with only two seconds covering the top five.
“Basically, I had an overheated engine,” Corser admitted. “It was a problem from the first lap of the race, it was running a little bit warm. I thought, well, I’ll go and try to get a little bit of a gap, and then back it off and try and cruise the engine a bit, which I could do, and then let them catch. I was talking with (the crew) the whole time on the radio, just to tell them what was happening on the bike. They said it’s okay, just keep going, ’cause there’s nothing we could do, really.”
The top five tighten up on lap eight, with the only shuffle being Gobert passing DuHamel.
Corser went from cruise back to race on lap nine, after giving his Ducati’s dubious engine a bit of a breather. Farther back, Mladin passed Kipp to move into ninth.
By now the leaders were deep into lapped riders, and DuHamel was getting the best breaks. The Canadian moved up to second on lap ten, followed by Russell and Gobert. Edwards had to dash in to the pits, several laps earlier than planned, for a new rear tire.
“Definitely wasn’t planned that way,” Edwards said. “I’m not going to say it was Dunlop’s mistake, they were doing all they can, Miguel won the race on Dunlops. It was just the wrong tire choice, and we had to come in.”
Also having equipment problems on lap ten was Fast By Ferracci’s Shawn Higbee, who had been steady in the thirteenth position. “The bike broke. Something in the transmission – it started leaking oil on my rear tire. It’s a long race, stuff happens.”
Corser had the lead back at two seconds on lap 11, with Gobert now his nearest rival. DuHamel was third, Russell was fourth, with only a half second covering second through fourth. Edwards was back on the track in twelfth position, 33 seconds back from his former trackmates, with Chandler directly ahead and Crevier farther up.
The running order remained largely unchanged over the next three laps. By lap 14 Corser had a 1.7 second lead on Gobert, who was still being shadowed by DuHamel and Russell. Yates was ten seconds back, with Picotte another two seconds. Mladin was seventh, followed by Pegram, Kipp, Crevier, Chandler and Edwards.
Gobert pitted on lap 15, about three laps earlier than typical race plan, due to problems with his front tire. After replacing both wheels and re-fueling, Gobert had to pit again on the following lap to address a front brake problem.
“The first problem we had was the front tire, it chunked out. I was in second place and I was just sort of sitting there behind Troy, I was feeling pretty comfortable. I wanted to win this race so bad. But then, when we had the front tire problem, and had to pit. I still felt comfortable that we could get back into a reasonable position. When I went out I had a front brake problem, so I had to come straight back in on the next lap.”
The two consecutive pit stops allowed the leaders to bury Gobert, putting him a lap down.
Corser went back to cruise on laps 15 and 16, which allowed DuHamel to catch up. Russell sat in third, two seconds back. Yates and Picotte were now in fourth and fifth, and riding two to three seconds off from their earlier quick times. From there the order read Mladin, Pegram, Kipp, Crevier, Edwards and Chandler.
DuHamel pitted on lap 17 for both tires and fuel, and re-entered the track in sixth position. Pegram pitted on the following lap, and Corser and Yates on the lap after that.
By this point, Suzukis were first, second and third (Russel, Picotte, and Mladin) due to holding off their first stops. Corser was fourth, 24 seconds back from Russell, and the pair of DuHamel and Edwards were seven seconds off of Corser. Kipp, who was also due to pit, was five seconds further back, followed by Crevier, Yates, Chandler, Pegram, and Carr.
The long wait to pit was all part of the Russell plan. “Yeah, that was the plan all day. We did that last year, same schedule. It works. That was all okay. The first set of tires didn’t feel so nice, I lost the front a few times going into Turn One. I wasn’t going that hard, I wasn’t pushing it at all.”
By lap 22 everyone had been in and out of the pits at least once and had settled with the fresh rubber. Corser was back in charge, Russell was in second, five seconds back, closely followed by DuHamel and Edwards. The Yoshimura trio of Yates, Picotte, and Mladin followed, then came Crevier, Chandler, Kipp, Pegram, and Carr. The only major shake-up during the pit stops was that Pegram lost four positions.
“The front wheel got caught up, it was a 25 second stop,” Pegram explained. “Something happened, it jammed up, and we couldn’t get it right. The first pit stop was 22 seconds.”
The order remained generally fixed over the coming laps. Corser’s lead was being steadily eroded by Russell, who was losing DuHamel and Edwards in the process. Yates and Picotte were now paired up tightly, 25 seconds behind Edwards. However, their teammate from down under, Matt Mladin, had to pit on laps 25 and 26 to sort out tire problems.
“We had a few dramas with the round, black stuff”, was all that Mladin had to say about it on the record.
With Mladin now buried, Chandler was promoted to seventh, and was being chased aggressively by Crevier. Kipp was ninth, followed by Pegram and Carr.
Corser was back in the cruise mode by lap 28, and on lap 29 Russell went past to claim back the lead, with DuHamel in tow.
Fourth place Edwards had to pit again for fuel and tires, as he was about nine laps off the normal schedule because of the earlier tire problem.
While the front runners were getting set to mix it up again, former Daytona 200 winner John Ashmead crashed in Turn One while running in fifteenth position. This brought the pace car on the track, and brought Corser into the pits. Corser’s race was over, as the Ducati was emanating fumes like that of a witch’s brew.
“I thought, well, okay, maybe we’re going to be lucky and get away with it, but it just got worse and worse and worse. I just kept riding around trying to keep it running, but just didn’t get there.”
Yates pitted during the pace car laps, and made a huge mistake in assuming that he could move back into his old position. Yates would later receive the meatball flag, and it could be argued that this cost the rookie Superbike rider a podium position.
The pace car pulled off on lap 34, with Russell and DuHamel now joined by Edwards, Picotte, and Yates for a five way battle for the lead.
Unfortunately, the headliner in this battle, Russell, had to pit unexpectedly on the following lap for a new rear tire. “I picked up a puncture behind the pace car. That ruined it for me, really. I was lucky to get back in (the race), actually.” Russell re-joined the race in eleventh, 30 seconds behind the leading foursome. “They were gone, I thought – this isn’t going to work out. I wasn’t sure what lap it was, but I thought maybe we were going to have to stop again for gas, and that’s my race, it’s over. I just kept plugging away out there. Everybody started making their pit stops, and I came back.”
The race order of lap 35 had proved durable over the coming laps, with Edwards leading, and Picotte and Yates close behind. DuHamel was a half second behind in fourth. Chandler, Crevier, Kipp, Pegram, Carr, Thomas Wilson (factory Harley) and Russell followed.
Picotte eventually got past Edwards on lap 38, but pitted on the following lap for fuel and his final set of tires. Other visitors to the pits included Chandler and Kipp.
Edwards went back to the front, with Yates all over his backside, and DuHamel likewise on Yates. DuHamel’s teammate Crevier was fourth, Pegram fifth, Picotte sixth, Russell seventh, Chandler eighth, Kipp ninth, and Wilson tenth.
Pegram pitted on lap 40, which was almost as slow as his first. “The pace car saved me, it caught me back up. After the pace car, I had some lappers in between me and Chandler and Kipp and Crevier, they kinda spread us out, but I caught right up to them. I caught Kipp and I was catching them other guys. I came in for my other pit stop, and we were (then) twenty seconds behind. It hurts a little. I think we could have been top five if we had good pit stops.” Pegram re-joined the race in ninth, ahead of Carr and Wilson.
Edwards remained in front through lap 42, and then yielded to Yates on the following lap.
“I was pretty pumped about it,” Yates said. “Things went really good there when I was in front. Things were easier when I was there than when I was behind people, or when nobody was with me. I felt really comfortable.”
DuHamel pitted on lap 43 for two tires and fuel, just as the weather was getting a little cooler and a little cloudier. DuHamel re-entered the track directly behind Picotte and Russell, who were having their own little battle.
“I thought I had to be up front,” Russell wondered. “I kept looking at the leader board as I got in to Turn One, it said Colin and Aaron Yates was leading the thing. I kept saying, ‘where are those guys?’ I couldn’t see them.”
Crevier pitted on the next subsequent lap, and dropped from third to seventh place.
The exciting Yates over Edwards show came to an end when both pitted on lap 47. Edwards was back on the track in fourth place, with Picotte a short distance ahead. Yates rode into the pits slower than Edwards which cost him dearly in track position.
“I don’t think he really wasn’t quite aware of how important pit stops are,” Edwards suggested. “Coming into the pit, he just kind backed off and relaxed. I came by him, probably 40 mile an hour on him – it’s part of the race track. That’s really where I put my time on him. Not that our stops were loads quicker than his, just that coming into the pits.”
The stage was set by lap 48. Russell had a half second lead on DuHamel, Picotte was nine seconds back and had Edwards two seconds behind him. Yates was another 10 seconds behind, with Chandler and Crevier drafting the Yoshimura Suzuki. Kipp, Pegram, and Carr rounded out the top ten. Yates would drop two positions two laps later, when he was meatballed to the pit lane for a stop-and-go for his irresponsibility while following the pace car.
Russell picked up the pace to nearly equal that of the furious opening laps, but DuHamel was unshakable. Russell, though, was also in a race against fuel consumption, as his last pit stop was on lap 35 and he needed to squeeze 22 laps out of his tank.
“(The sign crew) finally showed me the P1 on the board, and I thought ‘ahh, good,'” Russell recalled. “Then there was like eight laps (to go). I don’t care if he told me to stop, I’m not stopping, we’ll run this thing right out of gas.”
Russell gave the lead to DuHamel on lap 51, and for the first time DuHamel was leading the race.
“A couple of things came to me when I was behind Scott. I was trying to size him up for a draft at the Finish line, ’cause everyone wants to do that, you know. I knew that Scott was expecting it. I was measuring him up, but I didn’t have the right tape measure, I couldn’t get it right. So I said, ‘well, I guess I better lead this thing.’ I could have pulled (a draft at the finish line) off, but it was so close that I didn’t want to do it. I figured that both bikes were the same speed, on top. When I saw L8, I’m thinking I couldn’t believe it, a 200 with only eight laps left, I better do something here. I figured, well, I better get in front. I think that’s what Scott wanted, so it wasn’t too hard to do. He was trying to do the same thing, sizing me up.”
It looked as if Russell had DuHamel right where he wanted him, and the script was as predictable as the sunrise.
“Right at the end, eight laps to go, Miguel tested me, and when he did, I just held the throttle and let him go. Earlier, when Pascal was leading, I had enough margin to do it. I caught a draft off (Picotte and DuHamel), and I came by them both, no problem, at Start/Finish. Then after (DuHamel) got in front, I tested him a few times. I had what it took to get by and get it done. Just like he did as well, but it had to be done at just the right time and everything had to be just right.”
DuHamel also knew that timing was everything. “I thought my chances were more 50/50, maybe 51/49 if I was leading. If I wasn’t leading, I think my chances would have dropped to around 45 percent, 40 percent. To pull a draft move you have to make sure to have everything right.”
For the final two laps the two leaders were lucky to have a completely clear track, free of backmarkers, for the ultimate showdown. Lap times were down in the low 1:52’s as both riders were at the top of their form.
On the white flag lap DuHamel tried everything to break free of Russell, and was throwing the Honda into massive, one hundred foot slides coming out of the infield corners. Russell kept up, and followed DuHamel right up to the chicane.
“We were watching all these (old) races, and you would not believe how many times Al Ludington got on me (about leading out of the chicane),” as DuHamel explained his race strategy. “Everybody that was leading out of the chicane, they got drafted and passed at the front Start/Finish line. The only thing I was thinking was that if I’m leading this thing out of the chicane and I lose, I might as well keep driving towards California and not come in the pits.”
“I came through (the chicane) a little slow, but I came out there real good, strong – but not as strong as I would have liked to, of course, but strong enough where I had a decent drive out of it. Then, of course, I knew that Scott was anticipating me to do something different, so of course I went up high, then I came down low, and then, you know, I got to do something else, I went back up high. It’s kinda hard to move on the banking up and down like that, the G forces pushing you around. When I went back up, I said I better pull this thing in, cause the wall is coming pretty close to me here. When I pulled it in, the rear end broke around, sliding coming off the banking. I must have blipped the throttle like – the computer says 100 percent, wide open – it must have dropped down around 98 percent. I said, ‘get back on it, get back on it, you’re going to lose the Daytona 200!’ I just slid it past the wall. The straight looked like it was probably 50 miles long to the Start/Finish line.”
“Coming out of the chicane, he put on a little move,” Russell explained, “but that was cool, ’cause I had a few bike lengths to play with, I didn’t have to slow down at all. We got out, and started wiggling on the thing at 180 miles per hour. It’s not a lot of fun, you know, you got to chase somebody around like that. The last cut we made comin’ off of Turn Four, both of us just sliding the rear tire. My tires had a lot of laps on it, ’cause I was out for some time. I had to push it that little bit too much, that’s all it took.”
As the pair approached the checkered flag the long awaited move by Russell started, and it was hard to tell who had the advantage.
“I couldn’t feel any buffeting around,” DuHamel recalled. “I was only feeling it about 20 feet before the Start/Finish line, I knew he was a little late unless he had something he didn’t show me. As soon as I past the checkered flag, I could see Scott from the side of my eye, right on my knee puck.”
Fifteen seconds behind the Honda versus Suzuki dual was a nearly equally good fight over third, as Edwards was racing down Picotte.
“With about seven laps to go, I hadn’t gained any time, he hadn’t pulled away any,” Edwards said. “With about three laps to go, two laps to go, I said, ‘this isn’t happening – I’m not finishing fourth again.’ I finished fourth last year, I said I’m either going to throw this thing down the road or get on the box today. I rode as hard as I could those last two laps, and it paid off.”
“I tried as hard as I could in the chicane,” Picotte remarked. “I pushed the front and ended up going really wide, and that messed up my exit off of the chicane. He just ended up drafting and blowing by me at the Start/Finish line. This is the second time this has happened this weekend – first in the 750 Supersport, and now Superbike. But in the points I’m second so I guess it’s not that bad.”