Triumph Big Kahuna Atlanta Recap: AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 25, 2012) - It's often cautioned that the AMA Pro Road Racing season opener at Daytona International Speedway can provide a false read -- a one-off weekend contested on a banked superspeedway that doesn't necessarily serve as a good indicator of the field's true strength for when they arrive at more conventional road circuits.
However, the Triumph Big Kahuna Atlanta presented by Dunlop Tire and LeoVince only confirmed what was learned at Daytona, providing even more evidence that we're in for another season of remarkably competitive AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike racing in 2012.
This past weekend's stop at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. hinted that the status quo that took shape throughout 2011 remains intact with a pecking order that is relatively unchanged. Fortunately, the '11 season was one of the most compelling in the series' history and more of the same is exactly what everyone had hoped to see.
If anything, the racing early in 2012 has been even more spirited. While just 0.002 seconds separated title favorites Blake Young and Josh Hayes at the flag in Race 2 at Daytona, Young one-upped that dramatic performance with what may go down as the signature victory for the emerging superstar on Saturday at Road Atlanta.
The Yoshimura Racing Suzuki pilot and his Monster Energy Graves Yamaha-backed rival again elevated their fight for the lead to a level that was impossible for the remainder of the pack to match early in Saturday's contest.
The two routinely swapped positions in tight quarters, with Young swooping around the inside or outside of Turn 10 at will, while Hayes had a counterpunch in the form of an inside jab as they headed down the hill toward the track's final corner, Turn 12.
Young and Hayes have fought fiercely on just about every race weekend for over a year now, but what happened on lap 14 was unprecedented. The two touched as they crested the hill, front wheels aloft. Hooked together, Young was slammed to the pavement and left dazed on the track. A red flag was immediately thrown and Hayes powered his way around the 2.55-mile circuit at race pace to check on the condition of his primary rival. Appearing for a moment to be seriously injured, Young finally picked himself up off the tarmac, brushed off the approaching medical attention, and limped his way to his fallen GSX-R1000 (which somehow managed to merely slide on its side instead of roll). Young remounted his #79 machine and rode it back into the pits to prepare for the restart.
Of course, he was forced to do so from the back of the field. Not happy with that development, Young channeled his anger and aggression to fuel his charge up through the field and arrived on Hayes' tail almost immediately.
The two resumed their epic battle and once again Young pulled a last-lap rabbit out of his helmet to walk away victorious following another final corner duel.
"My Yoshimura Suzuki guys did a great job putting the bike back together," Young said. "I mean, when I got back on the thing it was like when I just got off of it, it was so perfect. And I wasn't too happy about starting on the back row. I didn't feel like that's where I should've been placed. But that's I guess that's the rule.
"I got a spectacular start. I tried to settle in but I found myself trying to get a breath and it was pretty tough. I was taking a lot of short breaths -- I don't know if it was a result of the crash or because of the adrenaline. Once I got to the back of Josh, it seemed like he had a pace that I didn't think I could keep up with but maybe try to do something toward the end there and get a wheel in and mount a pass. I would have been happy to come away with second today. Josh came up in the inside on the last lap. He came up there pretty fast and I knew it was going to be tough to get slowed down there and I just squared him up and took it back."
Despite being defeated in another close dogfight, Hayes was quick to pay tribute to Young's performance: "For him to be able to get his stuff together and get back out there and race the way he did... bravo. Man, I think it's a great story. It was a hero ride and it's great for our sport. Big congrats to him."
That doesn't mean Hayes would back down the following day, however. He proved untouchable on Sunday, reminiscent of his Friday ride at Daytona. Hayes (who crashed twice on Friday) and Young (feeling the effects of his Race 1 crash) were both beaten up heading into their rematch but still proved to be the class of the field. In a dominant display, the Mississippian clicked off multiple laps under his pole mark and broke Young's pursuit early en route to a dominating payback ride on Sunday. The win was the first-ever for Yamaha in the SuperBike category at Road Atlanta.
"I'm excited about it," Hayes said. "This has always been a pretty good track for me and I've always had pretty good speed here. I've gotten outfoxed at the line a couple times by Blake here. So I'm glad to be able to put one together this afternoon and put some good strong laps down. "It's not how I expected the race to go -- I expected another battle. It's a lot easier on my ticker to be able to get away a little bit and ride by myself and do my own laps."
And true to the trend established a year ago, even though they are even on wins (2-2), Hayes has garnered every possible bonus point this season and currently sits six points ahead of Young in the early title fight (116-110).
Hayes remarked, "I don't think I can change my game plan and I doubt he's going to change his. We seem to be splitting wins and it's great for the series and a good show. I don't know what I would do different quite honestly because I feel like my plan is one that works and has brought me to a couple championships. I think it's going to be a lot of this season."
Hayes and Young left Atlanta once again tied 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, Young turned the fastest lap of the race on Lap 5 with a time of 1:25.364 and in Race 2, Hayes turned the fastest lap of the race on Lap 6 with a time of 1:24.922. With a total of 581.3 miles and 213 laps completed so far in the 2012 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike season, Hayes also leads the Sunoco "Go The Distance" Award.
Josh Hayes leads Blake Young during one of the AMA Pro Superbike races at the Big Kahuna Road Atlanta round in April 2012. AMA Pro Road Racing photo by Brian J. Nelson.
Hayes' Sunday victory earned him the distinction of being named the weekend's National Guard SuperBike 'Big Kahuna,' and with that came the iconic surfboard trophy provided by M1 PowerSports and designed by Roland Sands and Motorcycle-Superstore.com. "Getting the surfboard is awesome," Hayes commented. "I was able to get one of the ones at VIR when I was riding Formula Xtreme. I've got that in the living room and I think this will look great sitting next to it to bookend it."
Also confirming the Daytona opener, there were two distinct groups chasing behind the fight for the win. The first was a two-man fight featuring Hayes' Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Josh Herrin, and National Guard Jordan Suzuki's Roger Hayden. The two were just short of the winning pace, able to run in tow for a handful of laps but not at full distance.
That reality is a welcome one for National Guard SuperBike rookie Herrin, who is still learning the ropes and expecting to steadily improve. It's not quite so pleasant for Hayden, who remains consistently quick but a step off of the form at which he concluded 2011, where he proved capable of challenging Hayes and Young for race wins.
While Hayden took a pair of thirds at Daytona, he was twice relegated to fourth by Herrin, who scored the first two podiums of his young SuperBike career. Additionally, Herrin continued to get great starts and enjoyed a stint at the front of the pack both days (if rather abbreviated). The Dublin, Ga. resident was thrilled with the outcome but also aware of the areas in which he needs to improve to take the next step. He explained, "It was a really good race -- I had fun just keeping Josh and Blake in my sights for the first seven laps or so. That felt good. I'll go home and get ready for the next one -- work on my strength; I just need to be a little stronger to throw these bikes around on tight tracks. The Yamaha R1 was working great -- obviously, you can see Josh is doing pretty good on it. The bike is capable of winning -- I just wasn't ready yet. But it was a good weekend. I'm glad to be on the podium twice."
Hayden said, "Two fourths is a little disappointing after being on the podium twice at Daytona. At the same time, we made a run for the podium, we finished both races and we learned some stuff. Although fourth place isn't where we want to be, I feel like I'm riding good and the National Guard Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000 is working great. Hopefully, we can move on to Infineon and get back on the podium."
After Herrin and Hayden was another significant gap leading back to a big pack of contenders for fifth place, which included Team Amsoil/Hero EBR's Geoff May, Attack Performance Kawasaki's Steve Rapp, Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing BMW's Larry Pegram, Jordan Suzuki's Ben Bostrom, Yoshimura Racing Suzuki's Chris Clark, KTM/HMC's Chris Fillmore, Team Hero EBR's Danny Eslick, and Riders Discount Vesrah Suzuki's Taylor Knapp.
Of the group, May was probably the most impressive over the course of the weekend. From nearby Gainesville, Ga., May was in stunning form on the EBR 1190RS, claiming a spot on the provisional front row on Friday, locking down a top-five qualifying position on Saturday, securing a top-five result in Race 1, and was well positioned for a repeat of that finish in Race 2 before a mechanical issue force him into the pits. He still managed to return to the fray and finish 13th.
Team owner Erik Buell said, "Pretty good weekend overall at Road Atlanta, although not quite as good as we had hoped. A shifter pivot bolt fell out on Geoff's Amsoil Hero #99, or he would have had at least a fifth again; he was right on top of fourth at the time of the problem."
Pegram walked away with that fifth after finishing 12th the day before after hitting a curb and damaging his wheels. Fillmore was solid on his orange RC8 both days, taking sixth and seventh, as was Rapp in seventh and eighth. Eslick picked up a couple top tens (tenth and ninth) and Knapp impressed on Sunday with a sixth. Knapp, who gridded up for each of the race finals in 16th position, finished one position ahead of Pegram in Race 1 one position behind him in Race 2. Gaining 15 positions combined at Road Atlanta, Knapp 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.
Clark ran further up the third pack in both races before eventually settling down in ninth and tenth. He said, "This weekend, we got out with some points and we're not too far from my goal of fifth overall. The Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 is running great and we're figuring out the best package for me to beat the guys in front of me, and hopefully come out of the season in the top five. Now, we have a few things we're going to test and a few things we have better knowledge on. So I'm looking forward to going to Infineon and having a good race."
However, it was another nightmarish weekend for former class champion Bostrom. After crashing twice at Daytona, Bostrom managed eighth on Saturday but suffered another fall on Sunday. "It was really a tough weekend," said Bostrom. "The Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000 is a lot better than I've shown at the first few races. I've crashed out of three of four races and that's unheard of. I usually don't crash all year, so I'm not doing the bike any favors. I got eighth on Saturday and that's top 10, but it's not where I want to be. I'm definitely looking forward to racing at Infineon. I grew up in that area and I like the racetrack, and I think our bike will be racing for first there."
While the entire field carries big aspirations into Infineon Raceway, title leader Hayes could prove tough to handle. The Yamaha ace has picked up four of the most recent AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike victories in Sonoma, Ca. with the other two wins going to riders no longer competing in the class (Mat Mladin and Tommy Hayden).
AMA Pro Road Racing will next head west for Round 3 with a stop at scenic Sonoma, Calif. The Great Clips West Coast Moto Jam will take place at Infineon Raceway in two weeks time, May 4-6. For tickets and event information, please visit www.infineonraceway.com.
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