West Coast Moto Jam Recap: AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 9, 2012) - The Great Clips West Coast Moto Jam delivered and then some. The AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike class action at Infineon Raceway in particular was heavy on the drama and potentially pivotal championship shifts. However, in the end it came around pretty close to full circle, as the title fight left Sonoma, Calif. every bit as evenly matched and numerically tighter than when the weekend began.
Yoshimura Racing Suzuki's Blake Young and Monster Energy Graves Yamaha's Josh Hayes were once again the men in the headlines. They split the wins for a third consecutive weekend in 2012 to up their season record to three apiece and with just four points separating new leader Young from reigning double champ Hayes in the championship tally.
However, on more than one occasion the points race looked as if it might get blown wide open -- and in both directions. Hayes continued to demonstrate his mastery around the undulating 2.32-mile circuit and was untouchable from a sheer speed standpoint all weekend long. The Mississippian's Yamaha YZF-R1 has long been recognized as the tool of choice around Infineon Raceway and Hayes put it to good use, repeatedly lapping in the neighborhood of a second stronger than his nearest competitors could manage.
Blake Young #79 leads Roger Lee Hayden #54 and Josh Herrin #2 during Sunday's AMA Superbike Championship race 2 at Infineon Raceway. AMA Pro Road Racing photo by Brian J. Nelson.
Young struggled to equal his rival's form and found himself on the second row after crashing in qualifying in an attempt to make up ground. Infineon Raceway can be a difficult place to pass, and Hayes' hope was that the Wisconsin native would get mired down the order while he ran away at the front to put some distance between the two in the points race. It didn't work out that way as Young immediately guided his #79 Suzuki GSX-R1000 from the second row to second position off the stripe. However, even with his stunning start, he still didn't have the pace to present a genuine threat to the champ.
Hayes cruised around to a double-digit victory while Young had to work hard to secure the runner-up position. "Honestly, the race went to plan," Hayes said. "I was excited to get a good start -- I've been getting beaten up pretty bad on the starts it seems for the first couple of races. I got a pretty good run off the line and had some clear track and hoped I could string together a pretty good first lap and try to get myself a bit of cushion and see where I could go from there. I settled into a rhythm and kept plugging away... All-in-all, just a good day."
A Sunday repeat and resultant perfect points haul weekend seemed inevitable -- until it wasn't. Hayes again ripped free at the front and assembled an advantage of more than a second on just the opening lap of Sunday's race, however, the race and championship picture was thrown on its side along with Hayes' R1 when the champ crashed on the race's second lap. "I was pushing hard, and sometimes things like this happen," said Hayes, who was upbeat after the race. "I hate it for the team more than anything."
Young was moving into second at the time (which became the lead with Hayes' mistake) and proceeded to show a new aspect to his game; the Yoshimura star controlled the race from the front, first fending off some hungry riders in search of their maiden AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike win, before slowly breaking free and claiming a dominating victory of his own.
Hayes was able to pick his fallen R1 back up and diligently worked his way forward from 17th position and some 18 seconds back. In the end he crossed the line in seventh position, less than a half-second removed from fifth. But thanks to the Yamaha man's prior bonus point bounty of seven points, he remains very much within striking distance, just four points back of Young (166-162).
Their rivalry continues to push each man to make history. Hayes' Saturday win was the 20th of his career, moving him into a tie for fourth place all-time with Flyin' Fred Merkel. Meanwhile, Young's 13th moves him even with another former AMA Pro and World Superbike champ Doug Polen for 12th all-time.
"Obviously, I was battling with Roger at the beginning and I saw Josh go down," Young explained. "My first thought was maybe there was something on the track, and I kind of saw out the corner of my eye that he was okay. I knew there was a long race ahead of me so I knew I needed to concentrate and focus. It's pretty easy around this racetrack -- as I found out all weekend long -- to get excited, start grabbing the brakes hard, get on the gas a little bit aggressively, and find yourself going backwards pretty quick. I knew I needed to mellow out, ride my own race, and watch the board. With that said I knew there were a bunch of hungry guys behind me itching for their first win, and with Josh out of the way, everybody behind me was ready to take a shot at me.
"It's good to get a win out of here -- it's my first win here. I was just talking to (Yoshimura Racing Suzuki Team Manager) Peter Doyle and he told me the first time I came here I got sixth, the next race I got fifth, the next race I got fourth, the next race I got third, yesterday I got second, and today I won. It's kind of funny how things work out."
Hayes' massive speed advantage throughout the weekend left some hope that he might be able to pick his way even further up the order than he did. He later explained, "I was able to do some decent laps after the crash but it wasn't quite the same."
Roger Hayden's fortunes were in flux throughout the weekend. The preseason title contender alternated between up and down as the round took shape. Friday's qualifying performance was a disappointing eighth for the National Guard Jordan Suzuki pilot, who expects to be banging fairings with the likes of Young and Hayes on a weekly basis. He responded with a second-place showing in final qualifying but quickly admitted the time was something of an illusion -- the result of an extraordinary single-lap effort, not a major breakthrough in bike set-up. The warning rang true later in the day when Hayden faded back to a disappointing 10th aboard the #54 GSX-R1000 in the day's 22-lap contest. But the Kentuckian responded a day later, scrapping for the lead before ultimately winning a last-lap battle with May to secure a runner-up result, the best of his SuperBike career to date.
"I got a good start for once and then when Josh crashed I tried to stay with Blake," Hayden explained. "I stayed pretty close, but I really struggled in the chicane over there. Every time I would make up some ground he would pull it back out. I was just on the edge trying to keep up and I started sliding all over the place. I fell back a little bit and when Geoff May came by me I hung onto him and just waited until the last few laps and we had a good battle. We missed the podium at Atlanta and struggled early this weekend so it's nice to close out the weekend on a good note."
While Team Amsoil/Hero EBR's Geoff May was praised as the best of the non-podium finishers at Road Atlanta, the showing at May's home circuit was just the warm-up act for what was to transpire at Infineon Raceway. After a couple years of steady development, the EBR 1190RSs of May and his teammate, Team Hero EBR's Danny Eslick, enjoyed what can only be described as a breakthrough weekend in Sonoma. The sleek v-twin racked up a number of firsts throughout the weekend. May secured the machine's debut front-row grid position on Saturday morning. Eslick one-upped that in the day's race, pushing Young hard for second (and actually controlling the position for a handful of laps) before accepting a close third to score his, the bike's, and the team's first-ever National Guard SuperBike podium result.
"That was pretty awesome," Eslick said of his maiden SuperBike podium. "As soon as we showed up on Friday we had a bike that was working pretty good. Overnight we made a few changes and it really got the Team Hero EBR 1190RS hooked up. It didn't even really concern me when I got bumped off the front row. The race definitely showed that we could do it pretty consistently. It's just awesome -- hats off to the team. To get a SuperBike podium is a dream come true, and I'm sitting up here with guys I've beat so I know I can win one of these."
May, who had the speed but not the start to challenge for the box on Saturday, was not content to allow his new teammate to take all of the glory after his years of hard work on the machine. He came back even stronger on Sunday and threw down for second on the last lap before ultimately matching Eslick's third-place result. "I definitely had to fight really hard to get that one," May said. "I didn't get the greatest of starts but got up there with the pack and just tried to conserve my tire and be patient and not expend too much energy because I knew with the heat today it was going to be tough. I just tried to ride as smart and clean as I could and just put my head down. I noticed the guys starting to fall off the pace and when I did I put all the energy into it. I got (into second) and we had a nice, clean little battle there at the end. It was fun. It feels good being back up here -- it's been a long two years coming."
Team owner Erik Buell said, "It was quite a weekend for EBR, and a real tribute to all who have helped us fight back to better than ever. What an honor to be racing with the famous import brands for podium spots in AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike."
The weekend also served as a marked improvement for Hayden's teammate Ben Bostrom on the #23 Jordan Suzuki. After suffering through a nightmarish opening two rounds, Bostrom made good at his home circuit by scoring his two best results of the season. After picking up a seventh on Saturday, Bostrom pushed at the front on Sunday and finished in fourth, just fractionally behind second-placed Hayden and third-ranked May. "I've been on the ground in three of four races this year, so it's not been the greatest start to the season," said Bostrom. "But thankfully, my MJM crew found the problem and fixed it. Also, I grew up around here and Infineon has always been one of my favorite tracks. It's a rider's track, and there aren't a lot of straightaways. It's one of the better tracks to go to for me."
The weekend's other fourth went to Hayes' works Yamaha teammate, National Guard SuperBike freshman Josh Herrin. The physical layout of Infineon Raceway is not especially welcoming to a class newcomer, and Herrin was off the pace in the early part of the weekend. He qualified on the provisional third row on Friday and only just made it onto the combined second row. However, the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha upstart increased in strength as the weekend progressed and ultimately worked his way up to a fourth-place run in Saturday's contest. He looked to be in line for an even better performance on Sunday, stalking at the front and controlling second position before a mechanical issue ruled him out deep into Sunday's race.
KTM/HMC Racing's Chris Fillmore headlined the augmented two-man RC8R effort. Flanked by German IDM Superbike ace Stefan Nebel, Fillmore was in impressive form in Sonoma. He crashed out while defending fifth from May late in Saturday's race but came back to finish in that same position a day later, this time successfully keeping May's teammate, Eslick, and the charging Hayes, behind him. The result is the best yet for the KTM in AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike action.
Attack Performance's Steve Rapp guided the team's 'Black Ops' Kawasaki ZX-10R to sixth on Saturday but was a Sunday scratch when the veteran pilot was injured in an electric bike crash. Kneedraggers.com/Motul/Fly Racing's David Anthony turned heads in the opening free session, running second quick, trailing only fast man Hayes. He ended up putting together a solid weekend with a pair of eighths. Team Venezuela's Robertino Pietri improved upon his Saturday 11th to claim ninth on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing BMW's Larry Pegram, M4 Suzuki's Chris Ulrich and Young's Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Chris Clark will all be counting the days until the next round at Miller Motorsports Park to make up for difficult weekends in Northern California. "I admit it was a pretty disappointing weekend," said Clark. "I had a pinched nerve in my shoulder, so I could only put a few laps in before losing most of the strength in my right arm. Add that to the fact that Infineon is not my best track and the results suffered. But we made it out with some points and now we just need to put this behind us and focus on the rest of the season. My favorite track is next, so I'm really expecting a good result for myself and hopefully that will set the tone for the rest of the season."
More drama is expected later this month at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, where Young defeated Hayes and then-Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Tommy Hayden with some last-lap magic one year ago.
Top 10 Finishers from Infineon Raceway:
AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike Point Standings After Round 3
Year-End Award Updates
The $2,000 Cortech "Performance Edge" Award 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. Following the Infineon Raceway round, Hayes and Young are still tied with three fastest laps apiece. In Race 2, Hayes turned the fastest lap of the race on Lap 2 with a time of 1:36.529 and in Race 2, Young turned the fastest lap of the race on Lap 2 with a time of 1:36.840. With a total of 834.18 miles and 322 laps completed so far in the 2012 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike season, Hayes also leads the Sunoco "Go The Distance" Award.
Current Cortech "Performance Edge" Award Standings After Round 3
Current Sunoco "Go The Distance" Award Standings After Round 3
AMA Pro Road Racing will next head west for Round 4 with a stop at Tooele, Utah. The BigM Weekend will take place at Miller Motorsports Park in three weeks time, May 26-28. For tickets and event information, please visit http://www.millermotorsportspark.com
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