Jared Mees took his Rogers Racing Indian Scout FTR750 to a solid win in the opening race of the new era of American Flat Track, the 25-lap Harley-Davidson Daytona Twins TT at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday night. The win was the first success for Indian in the modern era, and gave them a head start in the 20-round 2017 AFT national championship against arch rival Harley-Davidson.
Victory in the first-ever Daytona TT was the 21st Grand National success for Mees, who also earned the Ohlins Award for the fastest Twins lap of the event on the brand new track.
Daytona marked the first time since the Peoria TT in 1983 that twins raced in a TT-style main event, although Daytona’s sole jump was very low key. There are three more TT events this season; another change to recent trends is the requirement that all Twins riders wear leathers rather than motocross gear in 2017.
Second overall in the feature race went to the second works Indian of veteran Bryan Smith, a lengthy nine seconds behind Mees in a race with significant attrition at the front. After starting on the outside of the second row of the grid on his Kawasaki KX-framed twin, Henry Wiles worked his way up to nab third at the finish, just behind Smith.
The best placing liquid-cooled Harley was fourth placed Jacob Johnson, just ahead of fifth overall Bronson Bauman on another Kawasaki Ninja twin.
“The race was great,” explained Mees from the podium. “We were making adjustments, after the heats and semis, and working things through, right until the last minute. I got a great start in the main, and I really think that was the biggest key. I just want to make a real shout out to our entire team. It’s the start we need.”
Reigning champ Smith said that he was happy with his Indian debut. “I really wanted to be the one to get that first win,” Smith admitted, “but we’re all still stoked for Indian. You have to be satisfied with the performance of a brand new bike, with all the unknowns.”
“That race was a lotta fun,” started Wiles, famous for his high fitness level and one of just a couple of riders at Daytona who stuffed a twin engine into an MX frame rather than a conventional ‘framer’ chassis. “We were shooting a little higher, but this was only the second time out with a new bike, and the other guys were a little faster in a straight line. I didn’t even know we were racing for second there at the end, so the podium is a good start.”
Former Canadian Flat Track champ Doug Lawrence was on hand to watch the event. “Fresh” isn’t sure when he will open his 2017 dirt track campaign, since he is focused on his new Suzuki Canada Mopar CSBK road racing program. Lawrence was testing at the Jennings G.P. venue earlier in the week aboard a Jon Cornwell-built older model GSX-R1000, and was happy to be back on track, as well as doing some bicycle training and motocross down south.
“I think the track was pretty good, they did the best with what they had,” said Lawrence of the new Daytona TT layout, pre-built under the just-used Monster Supercross track in the tri-oval area in front of the NASCAR pit lane. “It got to be one line, kind of hard to pass, but if they went the other way it would have been just too rough and gnarly.
“I don’t know if the track was too much fun to ride at the end there, so you had to be impressed with the Indians, and they basically ran what they had been testing last year. Obviously, it was tougher for the Harley guys, and they had their issues.
“You had to like the way the Indians worked,” continued Lawrence. “They had good power, but more than that they had super clean delivery, from really low down, in the tight stuff. That makes things easier. Now everyone has to get used to the new (AFT race) format, but that won’t take long.”
Dalton Gauthier won the 15-lap AFT Singles national aboard a Yamaha YZ450F, taking the lead on the brakes from Wyatt Anderson’s KTM in the last corner and holding on at the finish line. “Tomato Juice” Kolby Carlile was a close third on a brand new Honda, the top three covered by less than a second after a great dice up front.