INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 8) — Chris Ulrich and his GEICO Suzuki team finished just one position short of extending his recent string of top-five finishes. After finishing in the top five in both races at the July 17-19 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM event in Laguna Seca, Calif., Ulrich came home sixth in the first of two Superbike/Stock 1000 feature races today at the MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Superbike Championship event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The MotoAmerica events are part of the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, and most of the teams, Ulrich’s included, never had competed on the historic facility’s 16-turn, 2.5-mile road course.
Race weekend did not begin well for the 35-year-old California native. Practice on Thursday was held under wet conditions. The weather cleared up on Friday and the team participated in qualifying with little usable reference information on the new track while also attempting to sort out a problem with the bike’s electronics. At the end of the 30-minute qualifying session, Ulrich and the GEICO Suzuki were slated to start both of the weekend’s races 16th on the grid.
Ulrich was moved up one position, to 15th, on the starting grid when a competitor withdrew due to mechanical problems. Three riders crashed in front of Ulrich in the second turn on the opening lap and he was forced to go off course, into the grass, to avoid them. The mishap cost him at least five positions. On Lap 5, Ulrich was assessed a ride-through penalty down pit road when officials determined he jumped the start. Considering both unfortunate instances into account, some riders might have been satisfied to take home a sixth-place finish in an 18-lap race.
“It’s eventful but I’m on the ground, so that’s a positive,” Ulrich said. “Starting where I was starting, I was really keen to get a good start. When the light came on, I moved. I think I moved a little bit too much and then I stopped. Then the launch wasn’t so good, and then in Turn 2 those three guys got together and I had to run off the track to avoid them. I was in last place, so I was hoping maybe they’d (race officials) would take mercy on me and not give me a jump-start penalty. Unfortunately we got the penalty, and I had to come down pit lane at 60 kilometers per hour and that pretty much was the race.
“I had some hope of getting a better finish without the penalty, but once it was assessed it was just basically, ‘OK, let’s gather 18 laps of race data, get through this, and come home,’ ” he added. “I rode as hard as I could the rest of the race. I had two laps that were longer than two minutes thanks to the penalty, and that really gave away a lot of time.
“It’s a bummer, but we went a lot quicker than we qualified, and we went a lot quicker than we did in this morning’s warm-up. That’s positive and we’ll take that into tomorrow morning and try to make some changes for the warm-up to improve, then improve for the race. It’s a big improvement from where we were, but we’ve still got more to go. We’ll see if we can leave Indy with a good result.”
The final day of the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix begins at 7:30 a.m. Sunday with the Superbike/Stock 1000 Warm-up. The second 18-lap Superbike/Stock 1000 feature is the grand finale of the weekend, scheduled for 3:30 p.m.