A long drought was ended Saturday night during the AFT event which took place on the banked, clay oval in Weedsport New York. For the first time in many years, a Canadian stood on the podium in an AFT (formerly AMA) event as 17-year-old Chippewa native Hunter Bauer put in an amazing ride to grab third place in the Pro Singles main event on his KTM 450.
Riding for NKR Canada, Bauer’s night didn’t look like it would end in a podium position early in the day, but determined efforts by both team mechanics and rider would lead to steady improvement throughout the event. In Bauer’s first practice session he found himself in 15th place out of 24 riders, so a quick gearing change was made before his first of two qualifying sessions. Bauer would eventually qualify 12th overall after knocking a couple of tenths off his lap times from his earlier practice session.
Lining up for his semi-final, Bauer needed to get 8th or better to qualify for the main event. Bauer put in a good ride but struggled a bit to get the bike to hook up exiting corners two and four during the race. Despite putting in lap times on par with the leaders, Bauer had a group of three riders right in front of him that he was unable to get around, so he ultimately ended up 7th which would put him in row four to start the final.
Searching for answers to get a better bite off the corners, mechanic Bob Bauer put in a call to suspension guru Steve Beattie. Changing some suspension settings on the advice of Beattie, Bauer and Mike Luczak also took a few pounds of air pressure out of the rear tire which was a bit harder compound than the one used earlier in the day for qualifying.
From the start of the final, it became obvious that the changes in the set-up were for the better as Bauer quickly jumped into tenth as he rode the bottom of the track for the first few laps. A few laps later Bauer had made his way back up to the top of the track, but he was flying as he carved his way through the field. On lap nine, Bauer made a move into fourth and shortly after that came a ten lap fist fight with Trent Lowe for the coveted third position. Lap after lap, Lowe would stick to the bottom, while Bauer would be riding the top portion of the track and coming dangerously close to the concrete wall as they circulated virtually side by side. Bauer crossed the line in third place on laps 12 and 13, but Lowe had not given up the fight as he regained the position at the line for the next two laps. Lap 16 saw Bauer once again take over third, but this time he spent the final five laps keeping Lowe at bay despite repeated attempts by Lowe to get underneath the young Canadian.
After climbing the podium for interviews and photos, an excited Bauer could barely contain himself. “This is the closest track to home and I’ve worked so hard for this opportunity. I’m so proud of this result and the team has worked their butt off for me. I really have to thank NKR Canada, KTM and Vance and Hines for being behind me.” After jumping off the podium Bauer was then engulfed in an emotional hug with his parents and team owner Niki Kendall.
With a string of recent top ten finishes in AFT action as well as a National win in Canada, Bauer hopes he can keep that momentum going when the AFT series returns to action in Port Royal Pennsylvania.
- From Todd Vallee