Superbike motorcycle racing returns to the California Speedway this weekend, with six-time champion Mat Mladin striving to recapture the title from his Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Ben Spies, the 2006 series winner.
Qualifying for the AMA Suzuki Superbike Challenge is today and Saturday, followed by two races on the 2.3-mile, 21-turn Fontana track Saturday and Sunday that determine the event's overall winner.
The course mostly snakes through the infield portion of the two-mile California Speedway oval. But the riders also use the track's front straightaway to reach speeds of 165 mph and higher.
Mladin, 35, had dominated the sport in recent years until the 22-year-old Spies won the title last season. Spies (pronounced speez) also is the defending winner of both Fontana races.
"I certainly wasn't pleased about losing the championship last year, but as I said a number of times, I don't think I deserved to win," Mladin said. "My head and my heart weren't in it."
But this year, the Australian said, "I'm not going to leave anything out there."
Mladin trailed Spies by 17 points in the standings going into last weekend's races at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. But Mladin swept and now trails Spies by only eight points.
"He's definitely stepped up from last year," Spies, of Longview, Texas, said of Mladin. "Hopefully we can rebound and come back at Fontana strong."
Chasing them will be such riders as 1995 series champion Miguel Duhamel of the American Honda team, and Aaron Yates of the Suzuki team owned by basketball great Michael Jordan.
The weekend's program also includes races in the AMA's supersport, superstock and Formula Xtreme series, whose riders include 35-year-old Steve Rapp of Manhattan Beach. Rapp won his first Formula Xtreme race for Kawasaki last month at Daytona International Speedway.
-- JIM PELTZ