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Kawasaki will return to AMA Superbike racing for the 2006 season, as announced earlier this off-season. Tommy and Roger Lee Hayden will race the premier class for the factory team in 2006.

Kawasaki's homecoming is a welcome addition to the class. The ZX-10R has done well in the meantime in the hands of Attack Kawasaki's Josh Hayes (even earning a podium in 2005 in the wet at Elkhart) but there's just something about having an official factory effort leading the way.

There is a rich AMA Superbike tradition at Kawasaki, from the days of Eddie Lawson fighting a 1025cc KZ in the early '80s. Some of Freddie Spencer's first Superbike rides were on a Kawasaki, too. Doug Chandler was a three-time AMA champion for the brand. Scott Russell won the title as well and the pinnacle of "The Chief's" career was when he wore green. Eric Bostrom carried the flag in the early part of this decade, winning races and finishing second in the title hunt.

In 2003, Kawasaki stuck with the overbored version on their ZX-7R machine as the Superbike rules changed, but after the season dropped out of Superbike. Tommy Hayden winning the last two Supersport titles lessened the blow, but the class has missed having competitive Kawasakis since then. Many fans and observers thought Kawa's true place was in Superbike, too. The riders and mechanics wanted to be back as well.

Their1000cc model has won races in the two seasons of Repsol Superstock action. Tommy Hayden was a 'Stock title contender both years, including this season until an injury after a Laguna Seca crash derailed him. Some insiders feel the ZX-10R will be even better in Superbike form, which allows more braking, suspension, and engine modification options than Superstock. These rules allow the teams to overcome some of the compromises built into the street bikes.

The ZX-10R has always been a powerful bike. In 2004, the team was actually taking power away to improve grip coming out of the corners. The svelte bike is also a tidy package.

The increased competition will be the biggest issue for Kawaski. Superbike Kingfish Mat Mladin rules the class for Suzuki and the three other factory team in the class (Honda, Ducati, and Suzuki) all field formidable challenges with riders like former World Superbike champ Neil Hodgson and 1995 AMA Superbike champion Miguel DuHamel lining up the 1000cc beasts.

The next biggest challenge will be fielding competitive bikes. Insiders say Kawasaki's Superbike group in Japan was absorbed back into the production side of things after the factory quit World Superbike racing. But with Kawasaki putting together some bikes for WSBK again this year, it made since to put the Hayden on them, too. Both riders desperately wanted to get into the class for 2006.

Tommy has had two stints in Superbike, one in his first pro roadracing gig with Muzzy Kawasaki and again later with Yamaha. Neither went as planned, but in the meantime Tommy has upped his game to a much higher level. Rog is a talented young rider and has done enough to warrant a Superbike ride.

Despite their similar Kentucky accents, the two Haydens are polar opposites on the bike. Tommy is ice, consistent and relentless. Roger is fire, emotion and energy. It will be interesting to see which takes to the Superbike more quickly.

The Kawaskis will test next weekend at the Daytona International Speedway. Stay tuned as to how well they do.

Source: AMA Superbikes - Evan Williams
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