No one, however, including Indian executives, expected the outcome. The Indian team swept the season. Indian rider Jared Mees won the Grand National Championship and teammates Bryan Smith and Brad Baker took second and third place in championship points for the 18-race season. Mees finished in first place in 10 races last season. The Indian team took all three top podium spots (first, second, and third place) in six races in 2017. As the 2018 AFT season approaches, the chances of a repeat team sweep have become slimmer.
Indian and Harley recently announced their respective teams. All three Indian riders are back. Referred to as the “Indian Wrecking Crew,” Mees, Smith, and Baker return with the initial winning season under their belt. This year, though, the Wrecking Crew faces new competition in addition to the Harley team.
The Harley-Davidson 2018 AFT Factory Team consists of returning team member Brandon Robinson plus newcomers Sammy Halbert and Jarod Vanderkooi. Robinson was on the H-D team in 2017 and finished in seventh place for the AFT Twins class, with nine top-10 finishes. Halbert, a newcomer to the team, was the 2017 fourth place winner overall and finished in the top 10 spots in 14 races. Vanderkooi is also new to the Harley team, finishing ninth in season points last year with eight top-10 finishes.
Last year the Harley-Davidson team rode a non-production H-D XG750R competition motorcycle with a liquid-cooled fuel-injected 750cc twin engine and a racing frame from Vance and Hines Motorsports. After decades of dominating flat track twins class racing, before Indian’s return, Harley first introduced the liquid-cooled engine in the 2016 season to replace the venerable air-cooled XR750 twin. It will be interesting to see what Harley, Vance and Hines, and the rider’s individual tuners have done to tweak the newer bikes this season.
Indian’s Scout FTR750 V-twin got a lot of attention with the team’s performance. The factory riders were all established pros with winning seasons and championships as privately sponsored racers. So not to take away from the riders, but clearly, the bikes were a major factor in the season’s success. The FTR750’s astounding 2017 AFT season dominance has given rise to new competition for the factory team.
Indian Motorcycle sells the flat track competition bike to private racing teams. At least six of last year’s professional racers will ride Indian Scout FTR750s as privateers in the 2018 season. Three-time Grand National Champion and former Harley-Davidson team member Kenny Coolbeth Jr., 2017 AFT Twin fifth-place finisher Jeffrey Carver, Chad Cose, and Jay Maloney will ride FTR750s for the season. Henry Wiles, the top flat track TT course racer (TT courses have jumps) and two-time Grand National Champion Jake Johnson will race Scout FTR750’s for some races in 2018.
The 2018 AFT season begins March 15 at the Daytona TT in Daytona Beach, Florida. The season finale will take place at the Meadowlands Mile in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 6. This year’s season of 19 races, the most ever, includes dirt and paved tracks — many used otherwise for automobile or horse racing — as well as one mile, half-mile, and short tracks, plus the demanding TT tracks.
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