So many people had predicted Jared Mees to win the opening round of the 2017 American Flat Track season at Daytona that the win felt almost inevitable, but it was anything but.
For the Michigan rider to win the 18-rider main event, his debut championship race on the FTR750, under the Florida floodlights took an immense amount of skill, determination and a splash of luck. Three factory Indian riders started the day - Mees, Smith and Baker, all former or current champions. Mees and Smith ended up 1-2, Baker in hospital after being crashed into in his heat race.
There had been months of discussion about twins racing on a TT track, but the Chris Carr designed course had a gentle jump, with two very tight turns at either end of long straights and a left-right dog-leg directly before the jump. It was the flick that was causing the most problems, in terms of crashes, and where Baker crashed early in his heat race and was hit by Jeffrey Carver. It was a slow speed, but hard impact. Luckily Baker, through the wonders of social media, could post a photo of himself thumbs up from a hospital bed before the night's 25-lap final got underway. Though it doesn't look it from the photo above, the jump itself was just about enough to deserve the name, but still caused huge problems for some of the top riders' machines. Chains were jumping off sprockets all night, and the factory Harley team suffered a slew of DNFs throughout the night, due to this and also an ECU failure on Robinson's XG750R.
A new format of racing, saw the day's quickest riders compete in two 18-riders semis, where before four riders would progress straight from the heat races to the Main event. The change means fans get to see more of the top riders, while those riders, used to one heat and one main, are on track for longer and at risk of more event-ending mishaps.
Back with his number 9 plate, after narrowly missing out on the 2016 championship, Mees won his heat and came second in his semi. Number 1, Bryan Smith, was first in his heat and, third in his semi, putting both remaining Indians on the six-rider front row, with 12 riders behind them. They shared the front row with two privateer Kawasakis and a private Yamaha, the Factory Harleys, of Johnson, Coolbeth and Robinson, on the rows behind.
Mees got the holeshot and led the 25-lapper, from flag to flag. Mikey Rush on the Yamaha was second when he slid off on the dog-leg, holding up the pack and giving Mees breathing space. Smith patiently worked up to second. Wiles, on a Kawasaki twin that looked like a 450 DTX bike, moved up to third. No one could touch Mees, or his FTR750, and he won by over nine seconds. The large Indian contingent, corporate and fans, went wild.
Next race is a week tomorrow, on the short track in Georgia. Twins on a short track? I can't wait.
Read all about the Indian FTR750, and when we rode it, in Sideburn 27.
Photo: Mitch Friedman