Following a month-long break in the AMA road racing schedule, Team Valvoline Suzuki got back onto the track Friday at Virginia International Raceway. The day produced mixed results for the Michelin-equipped squad, with all three riders will looking to improve on their Friday times as the weekend progresses.
Steve Rapp has grown accustomed to running up front in Superstock competition, having scored three podiums — including two race wins — over the past four events. So the Californian was understandably less than impressed by his third-row qualifying performance on Friday.
“I’m not quite sure what the problem was today,” admitted Rapp, who qualified eleventh with a 1:28.839. “I felt pretty fast, but the times just weren’t there. I’ll have to look over the splits, but I’m confident we’ll get everything sorted and move back up front.”
The new AMA rules designed to keep factory riders out of certain classes ended up hurting Rapp and Team Valvoline EMGO Suzuki this weekend at VIR. Rapp, who has entered the Superstock, Formula Xtreme and Superbike classes at many events this year, was initially told he would be forced to only enter Formula Xtreme class and not be allowed in Superbike this weekend. Eventually the AMA relented and allowed Rapp to choose Superbike over the Formula Xtreme class. Steve was 12th in Superbike on Friday with a time of 1:28.907.
Youngster Matt Furtek also qualified on the third row aboard his Michelin-shod GSX-R750. Just one spot behind Rapp in 12th with a best lap of 1:28.898, Furtek has continued to show improvement over the course of the season.
Afterwards he commented, “Today went really well for me. This has been my best day at the track this year and all the hard work is starting to pay off. Thanks to the team for having faith in me. It helps too that my arm is feeling a lot better since the surgery I had for the nerve problem earlier this summer. Hopefully tomorrow will be even better day for us.”
Chris Ulrich was just one position behind Furtek, qualifying 13th for Saturday’s 17-lap Superstock final. Chris might have turned in a better time but the beginnings of a rainstorm on his fast lap made him think better of it.
Ulrich explained, “I was going pretty well today until the end when it came time to do one quick lap. On my fast lap, I was catching Matt (Furtek) but I noticed some rain drops on my windscreen. I was faster than him in the first section but it was a judgment call. I eased up, he didn’t. After that, I was watching him go around in front of me and thinking he would crash but he never did. It turns out he made the right move.
“Race day will be a different story because some of the other guys in front of us used soft tires that won’t last the race,” Ulrich said.