The Loudon Road Race Series kicked the action off for the 2012 season with its first event hosted by New Hampshire Motor Speedway on April 28th-29th. After a mild winter, by New England standards, riders were greeted with sunny skies and temperatures that made their way into low 50s, but strong winds kept riders on their toes as they searched for traction on a cool racing surface.
The big news before a single lap was turned was the new safety improvements that took place during the offseason. An additional 270 feet of AirFence was added to the impressive amounts already deployed by NHMS for motorcycle events. Even more is expected to arrive before the May 2012 event. Other changes included new curbing in Turn 4 area, removal of trees on the riders right in Turns 7 and 8, and a reconfiguration of the wall on the riders left exiting Turn 9 that created run off areas and increased safety. All changes were met with a big round of applause during the riders’ meeting.
Riders had a day of testing and ten Saturday races to acclimate to the changes before lining up for the weekend’s feature race, the Middleweight Grand Prix “Dash for Cash.” This race is run as the last of the day on Saturday and offers payouts to the top-eight Experts and the top Amateur finisher. The race was shortened from its usual 12-lap challenge to eight laps due to cooling track conditions.
As the green flag dropped, Shane Narbonne grabbed the hole shot on his MOB Racing Yamaha R6 with Argo Cycles’ Scott Greenwood, Penguin Racing School’s Eric Wood, Bruce Transportation’s Cory Hildebrand, Moto-Race’s Jason Carter and the rest of the pack giving chase into Turn 1. Wood made quick work of Greenwood with a tight inside pass at the apex of the first turn and set his sights on the race lead. Entering Turn 6, Wood dropped to the low line and made a pass for the lead on Narbonne.
Over the next few laps, Wood and Narbonne broke away from Greenwood and Hildebrand, and continued to battle one another for the lead. As they encountered lap traffic, Narbonne seized the opportunity to attack for the lead and made an aggressive move in the inside of Turn 4 on Lap 3. The close action continued with Wood trying to pressure Narbonne into a mistake, but he refused to give it up and eventually used traffic to build a small gap and bring home the victory.
At the checkered flag, it was Narbonne by 2.5 seconds over Wood. Third-place Greenwood managed to break clear of Hildebrand, who finished fourth. Carter brought it home in fifth, followed by Kip Peterson, Ronald Poulin, David Fett, Justin Landry and Alex Guilbeault to round out the top-10. Orlando Gonzales, aboard his Yamaha R6, claimed victory in the Amatuer division.
Narbonne was all smiles on the podium. “After the first few laps, I could see Eric trying to build a lead and check out,” he said. “The light switch went off and I reeled him in quickly and worked my way past at the first opportunity. I am here with my MOB Racing AMA bike working on setup and using the AMA Spec Dunlop US tires. They worked great and it was nice to get to ride my AMA bike here at my home track, so a big thank you to the guys on the team.“
“I made a small mental mistake and lost a knee puck in the grass inside Turn 11 and I let it effect me more than it should have,” said a disappointed Wood. “Shane rode fast and consistent and did not make any mistakes through traffic. We will regroup and be ready for the battle at the next event.”
The friendly rivalry that cultivated during the 2011 season between LRRS’s Overall top rider Rick Doucette and Scott Mullin has not diminished for 2012, to say the least. It seems these two riders can be found within a bike length or two of each other whenever they go head-to-head. If this weekend was any indication of how the season will go, they are going to be locked into a battle that will rage on throughout the entire season!
After grabbing victory in the first battle of 2012 in Expert GTL, Shohegan Valley Kawasaki’s Mullin was feeling confident heading into the other four races in which he competes against Doucette. Being a crafty veteran, Doucette decided that sometimes race strategy is the best defense against a hard charging Mullin. In multiple races, Doucette would stalk Mullin for the entire race, only to snatch the lead and victory on the last laps.
In Expert Thunderbike, the final head-to-head race for the two competitors, Mullin jumped out with the typical hole shot from the start, only to be mirrored by Doucette for the first six of eight laps. Each lap, the times would only be about 0.10seconds difference between Mullin’s Kawasaki EX650 and Doucette’s Suzuki SV650. Lap after lap, Mullin would try to break away from Doucette, hoping for a break in traffic or a bit of racing luck, only to have Doucette work his way past on the final lap.
In making his way to the lead, Doucette turned in the fastest lap of the race on his final circuit. “I compete in eight races per weekend on three different motorcycles,” Doucette said of the weekend. “I decided I needed to manage my energy and with the competition that Scott provides in the Lightweight classes, I can’t always break away, so I decided to let him lead and keep the pressure on him all weekend long. He rode great but I was able to find a way past near the end of the races and be able to hold him off.”
Mullin, who could plainly see the strategy being played out against him, said, “I knew exactly how Rick was going to race me after a few races. I even would try to make a little mistake here or there and hope he would go by and allow me to turn the tables on him. He just wouldn’t take the bait!”
Fans of LRRS will be looking to see how this battle for Overall championship unfolds over the course of the season. The series returns to action at NHMS on May 19th-20 for round 2. In June, the riders will take center stage in the 89th Loudon Classic. The oldest motorcycle race in America features a packed weekend of action from June 15-17.