DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 21, 2012) - AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike title favorites Josh Hayes and Blake Young opened the 2012 season in precisely the manner in which they concluded their epic showdown of 2011. The two men left Daytona International Speedway having taken a well-deserved win apiece, with double-defending champ Hayes boasting a slight edge in the points.
Despite successfully retaining his crown a year ago, the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha ace had little problem finding motivation to drive his offseason program. Still smarting from being more than doubled in the wins column by his Yoshimura Racing Suzuki rival Young during the '11 campaign, Hayes substantially upped his training regimen and arrived at the opener fit, motivated, and hungry.
Aiding his cause was the superb development winter work of his crew, who somehow extracted even more horsepower from his YZF-R1, a fact made evident by routine trap speed readings in excess of 200mph -- and more than a few comments of acknowledgement by his peers.
Hayes put that combination to good use on the racetrack, storming to pole by nearly a half-second with a best time of 1:37.463. Even more telling, however, was the fact that he had the oomph to break free of the draft in Friday's season-opening race, which enabled him to walk away with a lopsided win. The result was a promising sign for Hayes, who often dominated qualifying in 2011 only to be harassed and -- more often than not -- defeated by the Yoshimura Suzukis come the race.
For his part Young, despite suffering an 8.332-second beating while finishing as the race's runner-up on Friday, once again showed the resiliency that made him such a revelation in '11.
Undeterred by Hayes' runaway success, the Wisconsin native made the necessary adjustments for Saturday's contest and clung onto Hayes' draft through the 15-lap rematch. While appearing very much the underdog throughout the race, Young somehow summoned up his last-lap magic once again to fend off Hayes by a scant 0.002 seconds at the checkered flag.
Dramatic last-lap victories are Young's specialty. Of his 11 career AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike wins, just one has been taken by a margin of over a second (1.306 seconds over John Hopkins in the '10 finale at Barber Motorsports Park). However, none had been quite as close his latest triumph.
Hayes, who holds a three-point advantage (58-55) over Young following the Daytona opener, said, "It's a tough field. Blake rode really well last year. Tommy (Hayden) was all over me. Rog was taking all the necessary steps to be a big pain at the end of the year and (Josh) Herrin has been fast in testing. So I just went home and worked really, really hard to try to take another step in my game and the team has been working really hard on the machine. This is the payoff. Daytona is one of the tracks last year where we were fast but couldn't get it done. This year we were able to take it another step and I hope we'll be able to do that at every racetrack this year."
Saturday winner Young said, "(Saturday's) race was a lot better than (Friday's) race, for sure. I knew Josh was going to be good on the banking and out of the chicane -- I just didn't know how good. I knew I had to make it happen on the first five laps and be right on him to see what he was doing exactly out of the chicane that made me him so good onto the banking. I definitely learned and adapted pretty quickly before he could get away.
"He's got more power this year than last year for sure, but my guys worked hard for me. We sat back and looked at the data, but I knew it was nothing we were going to see on the data -- it was me (on Friday). I just didn't have a very good race and wanted to work hard to show my crew they shouldn't give up on me yet."
Hayes and Young both got off to an early start in the chase for the $2,000 Cortech "Performance Edge Award," which will go to the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike rider who posts the highest number of "fastest lap of the race" in event finals during the 2012 season. In Race 1, Hayes turned the fastest lap of the race on Lap 4 with a time of 1:37.490 and in Race 2, Young turned the fastest lap of the race on Lap 11 with a time of 1:37.379.
National Guard Jordan Suzuki's Roger Hayden registered a bountiful opener of his own, doubling his all-time AMA Pro National Guard Superbike podium tally by securing his third and fourth career third-place results.
However, the Kentuckian had somewhat mixed feelings regarding his performances due to the increased expectations that have come along with his remarkably strong close to the '11 campaign, in which he demonstrated the pace to push the likes of Hayes and Young and challenge for victory.
Hayden found himself more than 10 seconds off the win in both AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SuperBike races, battling with impressive rookie Josh Herrin on the second Monster Energy Graves Yamaha YZF-R1 rather than duking it out for the lead.
Hayden admitted that he was searching for speed and grip throughout the weekend, but wasn't overly discouraged considering the anomalous setting of the Florida high banks while being comforted in the fact that his GSX-R1000 should prove better suited to the more conventional circuits ahead.
Hayden said, "Josh Herrin made me earn this one. He was really riding good for his rookie race weekend. I was trying to break the draft in the infield; I felt I was a little bit stronger than him but he could always draft back by me and I couldn't draft him. We definitely need to find a little bit more speed but I'm happy to come away with two third-place finishes. It's a good start to the season. We kind of know where we are weak at now so we can try to improve before Road Atlanta."
Speaking of 21-year-old Herrin, while the points standings show him outside the top ten, the reality on track made it clear that he was the fourth strongest competitor at Daytona International Speedway in what should have served as a warning shot to the rest of the field.
The former 600cc ace has proven a quick study on the 200+ horsepower R1 SuperBike. And while he's likely to face some struggles at times as he adjusts to the class (like Friday's crash from fourth position), he's also certain to shine, as he did when he finished a close fourth a day later.
Veteran SuperBike pilots Larry Pegram and Steve Rapp found each other at the conclusion of both races in Daytona. Motorcycle-Superstore.com/Big Kahuna/LeoVince Attack Kawasaki's Rapp piloted the black 'AP10' ZX-10R in front of Pegram's Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing BMW S1000RR for the majority of both contests, only to get aced at the line by meager margins of 0.001s (for fourth on Friday) and 0.081s (for fifth on Saturday), respectively.
Pegram, who gridded up for each of the race finals in 11th position, led two impressive charges at Daytona, rising seven positions in Race 1 and six positions in Race 2. For his efforts, Pegram took home the MotoBatt "Hard Charger Award," a $500 award given at the completion of each race weekend to the rider who improves the most positions combined from each of the weekend's race finals.
EvanSteelPerformance.com BMW's Jake Holden (seventh and eight), Young's new Yoshimura teammate, Chris Clark (ninth and seventh), Team Venezuela Suzuki's Robertino Pietri (eighth and 10th), Kneedraggers.com/Motul/Fly Racing Suzuki's David Anthony (10th and 11th), and M4 Broaster Chicken Suzuki's Chris Ulrich (11th and 12th) leave Daytona filling out title positions six through ten on the strength of solid outings both days.
Holden said, "The weekend didn't turn out quite the way we wanted, but the team worked really well together and overcame a lot of obstacles, we made constant forward progress but just ran out of time. A positive is we finished both races, and leave here sixth in points, the best points position I have left Daytona with since 2006 or so."
"This was my first race with the Yoshimura Suzuki team, so I definitely was over-riding the bike a little bit," said Clark. "I was nervous and wanting to do well and putting a little too much pressure on myself. So I came out today and worked on what we were having problems with. I was able to turn it around in the second race. We're not too far off from where I want to be, fifth in the championship, so I'm just looking forward to Atlanta."
Ulrich, who is back to strong health following a 2011 injury, said, "We've now got two races and 30 race laps under our belts. We banked two races and picked up some points and we'll build from there. I'm looking forward to going to Atlanta and continually improving and going forward the way we should be. Last year if I would have left Daytona with an 11th and a 12th it would have been the end of the world but this year I'm quite pleased."
A number of big names weren't so lucky. Jordan Suzuki's Ben Bostrom had the speed to be the top rider off the podium pace of the front four on both days but crashed and remounted both days to register just 13th and 15th place finishes.
"It was a tough weekend for #23," said the '98 series champ. "I'm not sure I can remember the last time I crashed out of a race, much less two races. I know the package we have for the upcoming tracks, though, and that keeps my mood right. The Jordan team has done a great job this winter and I hate to let them down. It was great to see Roger on the box."
Similarly, the EBR 1190RS machines of Geoff May (Team Amsoil/Hero MotoCorp.) and Danny Eslick (Team Hero) showed competitive pace and each landed in the top 10 once (May finished sixth on Friday and Eslick ninth on Saturday), only to be balanced out with unlucky rides on the other day.
KTM/HMC Racing's Chris Fillmore was another rider whose title standing (13th on the strength of 12th and 14th place rides) doesn't accurately reflect the potential of the RC8R and its rider, who will no doubt be looking to make amends next time out.
There was little time to reflect on their opening-weekend performances, however, as the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike contenders immediately packed up and headed further south to Homestead-Miami Speedway, in Homestead, Florida where they are currently in the midst of a two-day test.
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