One who studied the Yamaha streamlining closely was the race's Grand Marshal, Bill Mitchell, vice-president in charge of styling at General Motors and a motorcycle freak. Mitchell's eye, sensitive to esthetics as it is, lit up at the factory seats and fairings. "For once they have discovered how to make good aerodynamics look good," he said.
Cecotto was the first of the three factory Yamaha riders to qualify, but he was soon blown off by Baker, who set a lap record of 111.772 mph for the 3.87-mile course that combines almost three quarters of the banked oval used for stock-car racing with a series of five flat turns in the infield. Roberts, the pole sitter the past two years, raised his eyebrows when Baker's time—more than four seconds quicker than Cecotto's—was announced. Then he went out and missed beating Baker by .115 second. Cecotto ended up fourth on the grid, following Australian champion Warren Willing, who apparently had a tuning trick or two bestowed on him by the Yamaha factory. Willing, nearly everyone noticed, shared a garage with Roberts.
Qualifying so much slower than Baker and Roberts was an embarrassment to Cecotto, but then the entire 1976 season, his second in Europe, had been an embarrassment. After he won at Daytona last year, it was all downhill; he fell 13 times in subsequent races. This year at Daytona he lasted three lackluster laps, an oil leak putting him out.
Already pit murmurs have it that Cecotto was too good too soon, that he is a 21-year-old burnout. Said Rod Gould, a former world champion and now a Yamaha public relations man, "I think Cecotto was going fast and didn't really know why. Now he doesn't know why he's going slower and crashing. Last year he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with his excuses for poor showings."
Said Cecotto, explaining why he qualified so much slower than Baker, "Is because Stevie knows very well the track now." Cecotto has ridden about 500 miles on the Daytona road course himself, a circuit any good rider can learn in a couple of dozen laps.
Baker is one of the first two Americans to sign a full-season factory contract (the other, Pat Hennen, was absent from Daytona because the Suzuki team had not finished developing its 750-cc. racer). Although Cecotto has two seasons of international experience, he and Baker rank as equal teammates. It may not be that way for long if things keep going the way they have for each of them; Baker also won the 250-cc. race on Saturday, also by 28 seconds.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Stevie put it all over Johnny this year," said Gould. "I think he's got a good chance to win a world championship in any class in which he will be riding."
That includes 250 cc. and 500 cc., as well as 750 cc. And if the Europeans laugh when Baker goes by, chances are good they will have to laugh with him, not at him.