Doug Polen takes 1st in the Battle of the CB160s LeMans Start!

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Four-time World Champ Doug Polen (#23) chats with second-place finisher Mick Hart (#775) and third-place finisher Tim O’Mahony (#290) after winning the Battle of the CB160s LeMans Start exhibition race during the 2009 Bonneville Vintage GP at Miller Motorsports Park, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009.

As a four-time World Champion, you can bet Doug Polen rides to win. So when Polen swings a leg over a bike, you sort of assume a rider of his caliber will smoke just about all comers, regardless of what he’s riding. But could Polen, who made his name riding100-plus horsepower bikes like the Ducati 888 and Honda RC45, successfully compete against seasoned veterans in the Lillipution world of 14hp Honda CB160s? And starting at the very back of the pack? He could, and he did, and he won.

The fact that the Battle of the CB160s LeMans Start at the Bonneville Vintage GP is actually an exhibition race doesn’t change the competitive spirit one iota. Regardless of whether they’re racing for points or for fun (and believe me, they’re always racing for fun), the guys and gals who race in the CB160 category are in it to win. So when Polen ran across the track last Saturday and jumped on his little CB after bump-starting it to life, it was anybody’s guess just how this little “exhibition” was going to play out. I always like rooting for the underdog, so it just felt right thinking that maybe, just maybe, somebody would really give Polen a run for the money. Oh ye of little faith.

Polen did have a slight advantage over the competition, as the bike he was riding was actually a CB200, which, we understand from owner Wick Wilkinson, started life as a CL175. But that only gave Polen a 2hp or 3hp advantage – at best – over the rest of the field. And to make things at least a little bit fairer, Polen was placed in the very last spot on the lineup, number 37 of 37 riders. (9-11-09 Update: Michael Bateman informs me that Polen’s bike was powered by an essentially stock but carefully built CB175 engine. He also tells me the 175s have about a 4hp advantage over the 160s, not the 2hp to 3hp I suggested. Michael should know; he helped Tim O’Mahoney build the bike. – Richard Backus)

Riders dash for their bikes in the Battle of the CB160s LeMans Start
at Miller during the 4th Annual Bonneville Vintage GP.

Small bike, last spot, whatever the hand he’s dealt you know a competitive guy like Polen is going to hit the tarmac running, but I don’t think the other riders were prepared for just how quickly Polen shot from the very back of the pack to the very front. The LeMans Start race is only a seven lap affair, so that meant Polen had to work his magic quickly. And that he did, working his way to the front of the pack in, oh, the first lap.

Remember, these bikes typically top out at around 80mph, but with Polen riding you could swear that from the moment he hit top gear to the end of the race he never varied his pace. And in fact he didn’t. Although he put space between himself and the rest of the pack pretty quickly, he didn’t walk away from everyone, as veteran vintage racer Mick Hart challenged Polen for the lead every step of the way, Hart pushing his Honda flat out through the turns to make Polen work for his victory. When the checkered flag dropped Polen was in the lead, with Hart right on his heels and Tim O’Mahony a little farther back in third place.

Polen clearly loved it. “The worst moment was going down through 36 different guys into turn #1,” he told me later. “The best thing was being able to ride that bike at its limit, being able to go around the track flat out. I never had to lift it once, that was great.” Too cool, and great fun. We’ll post more of the fun at the 4th Annual Bonneville Vintage GP in coming days. – Richard Backus

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