Herrin, Cardenas Split AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike Wins at Miller Motorsports Park in Round 6 of GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 8, 2013) - The 2013 GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing weekend at Miller Motorsports Park was the most stunning the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike class had witnessed since its shocking season opener at Daytona International Speedway that originally laid the groundwork for the barnburner of a championship chase that is playing out. Having clawed his way all the back to the top of the order following a disastrous Daytona opener in which he suffered mechanical problems twice while leading, triple champ Josh Hayes entered MMP seemingly in control and well on the way to becoming the first man ever to win four consecutive AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike titles. In fact, after scoring his 28th career SuperBike pole on Saturday, it didn't seem to be much of a stretch to imagine the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha ace registering yet another doubleheader sweep and putting himself in to lock down that title a round early with another stellar performance at New Jersey Motorsports Park ahead of the Laguna Seca finale.
However, the unpredictable season threw a couple more curves at this year's crop of contenders in Utah, setting the stage for a thrilling conclusion to the season.
Hayes went against the grain on Saturday, choosing the harder, dual compound tire that he felt would give him a big advantage as the race took shape. However, the tire never really came in and the alternative medium option didn't fade as he expected, relegating Hayes to a race-long dogfight with his Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Josh Herrin, and National Guard Jordan Suzuki's Roger Hayden. Unable to make a break, Hayes actually found himself at a disadvantage versus his rivals in a race that played out in a similar fashion to the Mississippian's multiple late defeats in 2011 when pit up against then-Yoshimura Suzuki title fighters Blake Young and Tommy Hayden. Hayes was unable to draft by his lighter opponents, which stripped away the possibility of making a move on the entrance of Turn 1 -- the corner in which the vast majority of the weekend's passing took place. Ultimately, the champ was rendered an interested spectator in the scrap for the win from third, as Herrin held off Hayden to claim an exciting narrow victory.
Josh Herrin on the #2 Monster Energy/Graves Motorsports Yamaha YZF-R1 leads Roger Hayden on the #54 National Guard/Jordan Motorsports Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Josh Hayes on the #1 Monster Energy Yamaha during one of the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike Series races at Miller Motorsports Park last weekend. AMA Pro Road Racing photo by Brian J. Nelson.
The race was the arguably the greatest performance of Herrin's career. Herrin's innate skills have been obvious since his high-profile entrance as a prodigious 16-year-old several years back and he's long been viewed as one of the paddock's most talented riders. However, only recently has he started to develop a complete game, working overtime on his fitness while building the sort of consistency and mindset needed to control races from the front. Herrin did so spectacularly at MMP, maintaining a strong pace while leading the race and immediately swatting away any attempts by Hayes or Hayden to steal the position. "It feels really good," Herrin said after his Saturday triumph. "I've been putting in a lot of hard work. It's only been a month or a month-and-a-half and already paying off a bunch. Laguna and here are the first races in SuperBike where I haven't gotten tired since I started. It feels awesome. I've just got to thank the whole Monster Energy Graves Yamaha crew for sticking behind me, especially today making our tire choice. I feel like we made a really good choice and it paid off in the end...Also, being able to stay out front the whole time and get the points for most laps led, I think that's the first time I've been able to do that in three or four years. And to get my first win without Josh being out feels really good."
Runner-up Hayden admitted, "It's a little bummer to be that close to winning, but I felt good. I made some attempts there on the last lap. I was watching the lap before to see where I was stronger. I really thought I got the bike stopped enough in Turn 5 and I didn't want to out-brake him and overshoot it, but I got just wide enough that he was able to sneak back by me." Hayes said, "It was a good race -- it was a fun race. I had a good bike and rode as hard as I could. These guys had my number in a couple of areas, and I knew once we really got to racing and dicing around it was going to be tough. I rode the best that I could and they just beat me."
Hayes went back to the drawing board for Sunday's rematch. He opted to use the same tires as the rest of the frontrunners and attempted to take advantage of his slight open-track pace advantage by making any early break. That strategy has worked for the Yamaha superstar on many previous occasions, but it always comes with a risk as he's forced to push at a fine edge right from the start. And similar to what happened in Sonoma last season, the tactic bit Hayes at the worst possible time; he crashed out of the lead while working the third lap and boasting a near-one second margin. Hayes later explained, "I was trying hard and I fell down, you know? The front wasn't very good and was giving me some warnings, even on the first lap. I was pushing on it anyway. (Saturday), I didn't think the front was all that good but I had been able to push on it and keep going. All the places it had given me indications that it was bad, Tooele Turn wasn't one of them. I was going at it the same as I had. I don't know or think that I had done anything different that lap but I had one that happened fast and it got away from me."
However, Herrin wasn't able to fully capitalize on his teammate's mistake. The youngster noticed a problem with his machine's front-end on the sighting lap and was forced to ride a frustrating race of damage limitation. "(Sunday's race) was a lot different," Herrin said, "I was just struggling to keep the bike off the ground. I don't know what it was; we didn't really change anything from yesterday. But I came in off the sighting lap and told the guys there was something up with the front tire because it was moving all over the place. We thought about getting on the backup bike...But we figured I would do better nursing a front tire than starting from the back of the field. So that's basically what we did -- just trying to do as well as we could and make the best out of it."
Hayden appeared to be the most likely beneficiary of Hayes' fall and Herrin's struggles. After coming up just fractions short of a victory the day before, the on-form Hayden was flying again on Sunday. In fact, the Kentuckian was actually inching his way up to Hayes from second before the champ crashed. However, Hayden was unable to break free of the challenge of a resurgent Martin Cardenas on the Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000. Cardenas, who finished a distant fourth on Saturday, clung onto Hayden deep into the race before eventually reeling him in and turning the final few laps into a heated dogfight.
Cardenas, a noted late-race master, closed out the race by taking the checkered flag in first, while Hayden coasted across the line in second just ahead of Herrin after suffering an issue with his machine. Race-winner Cardenas said, "It was a pretty hard race. At the beginning these guys were a little bit faster up to the point when Josh crashed. Roger was pretty fast and I was just trying my best to keep with him. I started to gain a little on him and when I got on his rear wheel I stayed there for a couple laps and was thinking about doing a pass right at the end. It was a pretty tough race -- I did my best, every lap as hard as I could. I passed Roger and he passed me back. He went a little deep and I went back to his inside. I pushed that last lap because I knew he would try to pass me back and I ended up winning. I'm very happy for me and the whole Yoshimura team."
A deeply disappointed Hayden later explained that his bike had actually being going south over the race's final several laps, severely impairing his chances to claim a well-deserved second-career premier-class victory. Hayden has elevated his game during the 2013 season significantly, showing incredible bike control while also boasting Hayes-like pure pace. However, the luckless rider hasn't always been able to score results equal to his form for one reason or another. As a result, he's a long shot for the '13 crown -- to put it mildly -- but the Michael Jordan Motorsports pilot could still prove to be the ultimate spoiler before the year is out. "I'm not real sure what happened," Hayden said after Sunday's runner-up. "It started with about six laps to go. It just started getting slower and slower out of the flat corners and really started backing in bad under the brakes. You know, the last lap, when I got on the throttle nothing was really happening. I don't know what was happening -- if it dropped a cylinder or was tying up or what. But with about four laps to go I really didn't think I was going to finish. Obviously, I'm about as disappointed as you can get. I felt like I had the pace to win today."
The victory was the second of Cardenas' season and re-energizes what had been a consistent albeit quiet title campaign. Having finished on the podium in nine of eleven races, the Colombian's win puts him within nine points of the championship lead with only three races left to go. Of course, it's Herrin and not Hayes that Cardenas is now chasing. Herrin's recent strides have him riding a wave of confidence and in firm belief that he can take the fight to both Cardenas and Hayes and win the title in just his second attempt. That said, Hayes will still have his say before this season is finished. While 16 points back and with little time left to make up the deficit, the champ remains very much in control of his destiny. If Hayes manages to string together a perfect final two rounds, he'll retain his throne no matter what his rivals manage in response.
While a tall order, history shows it's very much within Hayes to pull it off. He's already collected maximum points on three race weekends this season, including at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where the 2013 season will conclude. In all, Hayes has successfully accomplished that demonstration of total weekend dominance on twelve occasions since joining the Yamaha SuperBike program. Once again Jordan Suzuki's Danny Eslick led the next group of SuperBike stars. He collected 5-4 results and pushed Herrin for a podium placement for a good deal of Sunday's race. "This weekend, we pretty much did the same thing we've been doing all season," said Eslick. "But we made some progress with the feel of the bike. The Jordan Suzuki team has worked hard to find something good for me and Sunday was better than Saturday. I got a good start and was right up there, but with about four laps to go, I lost the front brake and I faded back a little bit. Now I'm just looking forward to New Jersey. I've done pretty good there in the past and I'm ready to get back to it and hopefully get up on the podium."
Team Hero's Geoff May logged his third top-five result of the season on Sunday. After finishing in ninth on Saturday, the Georgian diced his way into fifth early on the EBR 1190R in Sunday's contest and held strong to equal his best result of the season. "Today is the race I had envisioned yesterday but didn't pan out," May said after Sunday's contest. "I'm really happy that today we were able to bring home a top 5 for the EBR Hero/AMSOIL team. I'm really happy with the end result, and hopefully we can carry some momentum into the last few races. We are still learning and the bike just keeps getting better and better each time we go out. Top 5 is an awesome result."
Similarly, May's teammate, Aaron Yates, improved significantly from Saturday to Sunday, turning his twelfth into a sixth (which also equals his best result of '13). "Today is definitely a much better day and the results show it," Yates said. "I really wish we could have been right here (Saturday) and move forward from there.
The EBRs usual sparring partners on the orange KTM/HMC Racing RC8Rs were right with them again this weekend. Chris Fillmore finished just ahead of May in eighth on Saturday but crashed out on Sunday's contest. Meanwhile, teammate Taylor Knapp, who finished tenth on Saturday, won out in an exciting dogfight with Yates on Sunday, taking the checkered flag sixth on track. However, Knapp had been assessed a five-second penalty for jumping the start, which knocked him down to eighth in the final tally. "I had an awesome last lap battle with Aaron Yates," stated Knapp. "We were both pushing so hard at the end. I was really happy with my ride and pumped I held him off for the position, but then I rode back in the pits and the team informed me of the penalty off the start. I was bummed to hear that but still glad that we made so much progress and I was able to put in a good battle with Yates."
Motosport.com Motul Fly Racing's David Anthony's enjoyed another strong weekend performance with a pair of seventh-place finishes. Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing's Larry Pegram had another difficult weekend. Still looking to regain the form that saw him on the podium twice at Daytona and in the top five in four of the season's opening six races, Pegram finished sixth on Saturday before a blown engine knocked him out of contention of Sunday.
Other riders to break into the top ten at Miller Motorsports Park were Cardenas' Yoshimura Suzuki teammate, Chris Clark (11-9), and Motosport.com/EBR's Dustin Dominguez (14-10). "This weekend was a step in the right direction," said Clark. "We found a setup on the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 that we like and I feel like I'm getting back up to speed. Unfortunately, we found the right setup a little late in the weekend, so I didn't really have the pace to hold on to the guys in the top five. But I still finished ninth and that's a really positive direction for the rest of the season. Now, I'm going to work on my fitness so I can come back and get some good results at the last two races of the season."
A far cry from the 2012 season in which Hayes won the title by over 150 points (and more than 250 points ahead of his returning '13 competitors), the 2013 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike title fight is headed to a compelling conclusion. The pivotal penultimate round will take place following a month-long break for the premier class contenders when they travel to The New Jersey Lottery Devil's Showdown at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 13-15.
The 2013 GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing season will resume in less than two weeks' time as the series travels to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana for Round 7 on August 16-18. For tickets and additional information, please visit http://secure.brickyard.com/Tickets/RedBullIndianapolisGP.aspx.
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About GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing:
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