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GP Week : Issue 209
21 GPWEEK.com // 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Been having to sit on this news for quite a while, but the official announcement last Thursday means it’s time to join the celebrations in public. American racing is saved! The us glory days of domination are set for a revival. Wayne Rainey has taken over. Happy days are here again. Or at least there is now a chance. Though the triple 500cc World Champion and subsequently Yamaha team chief faces a massive task, with some serious changes needed to try and regain big swathes of lost ground. It will take time to turn the juggernaut round. The way US national championship has been downgraded over the past six years has been alarming. In 2008 the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) sold the national championship rights to the Daytona Motorsports Group in 2008. DMG embarked on an immediate technical dumbing-down programme intended to reduce costs and make success more accessible to privateers. (A clarion call that rings loudly also with Dorna). The consequences were dire. Soon factory-backed teams abandoned the series, likewise high-end sponsors. Good riders found themselves out of work. And by 2014 the calendar has shrunk to just seven rounds, and the standard had nose-dived. At GP level, the near-domination of US riders in the 1970s and 1980s is a distant memory, albeit a roll call of timeless heroes – Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, to name but the champions of that era. The last US champion was Nicky Hayden in 2006. They sprang out of a high-level AMA Superbike championship, ready to win in GPs. The same premier national series whose current champion, Josh Herrin, finds himself alarmingly out of his depth in Moto2. To some, however, the rot set in long before the DMG debacle, back in 1976, the first year of AMA Superbikes, when for the first time a national title – a Number One Plate – was awarded for an exclusively road-racing series. Until then, the Grand National title, won three times by Kenny Roberts, (above) was contested over a wide range AMA racing. Motocross was not included, but serious contenders were required to race dirt-track ovals of a mile or half- a-mile, short-track, TT Steeplechase (twisty, jumpy dirt-track) and road- racing. The champion had to be an all-rounder. Kenny Roberts had won it twice. Though the champions who followed Roberts, right up to Rainey, were part of the AMA Superbike phenomenon, all had come up through the earlier system, and all were highly proficient dirt-trackers – something that made all the difference in GP racing, at a time when horsepower was advancing much faster than chassis, suspension and tyres. The technical landscape is different now, especially with traction control – but a dirt-tracking past still clearly pays big dividends to modern riders. It plays at least some part the background of all the top guys, and is a standard part of every racer ’s practice routine. But things are different now. In every sphere of racing specialisation, usually at a very young age, is a would-be champion’s normal career path. Can a mixed discipline championship series be re-invented? Well, there’s really no reason why not. Over to you, Wayne Rainey. ama again, again OPINION OPINION MotoGP MICHAEL SCOTT