Two months is a long time to think about what's at stake, when you're a young racer trying to prove you're more than a one-time champion and earn a shot at the world stage.
That's the situation defending MotoAmerica Superbike champ Cameron Beaubier has to deal with. It's been two months since the last round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in conjunction with World Superbike, and now the title will finally be decided this weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
If you're not going to be at New Jersey Motorsports Park this weekend, you can watch the races live starting at noon Eastern time Sunday on beIN Sports. Also, check back here at Common Tread this weekend for coverage and results.
The two MotoAmerica Superstock classes have already been wrapped up. In Superstock 1000, former Superbike champ Josh Herrin came back from a slow start to the season to reel off seven consecutive wins in the class and clinch the title at Laguna Seca. In Superstock 600, Bryce Prince clinched the title at Utah with two rounds remaining. So that leaves Superbike and Supersport to be settled this weekend.
Beaubier is a clear favorite to repeat, with a 29-point lead over his Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Josh Hayes, and a 35-point advantage over Yoshimura Suzuki rider Toni Elias. A crash at the last round at Laguna Seca eliminated Roger Hayden from contention, so the season-long four-way battle among the factory riders has been whittled down to three.
Beaubier's defense of his 2015 title got off to a terrible start — mostly through no fault of his own — with two DNFs and a fourth-place finish in the first three races. But his win in the second race of the second round at Road Atlanta turned his season in a new direction as he won eight of the 13 races after those first three.
Retaining his title should be a relatively straightforward task for Beaubier this weekend. The top four riders have clearly been the class of the field, so barring a crash or mechanical problem, two fourth-place finishes should be the worst-case scenario for Beaubier, and that would still be enough, even if Hayes wins both races. NJMP is the only track to host two MotoAmerica rounds, and while the spring races took place in drenching conditions that made racing treacherous, the forecast for this weekend calls for hot and sunny weather.
So what do riders do when they have two months off before the most important race of the year? Stay fit, first of all, as Hayes shows. But he also had time to fly with the Blue Angels.
Sad times intruded for Beaubier, as he had to face the loss of "the best dog I could ever ask for."
But mostly, stay fit and focused.
"I’ve been continuing to train hard back in California," said Beaubier. "I'm ready to get back in race mode and do everything I can to clinch this title."
I've worked my whole life for this weekend. To be in a position to win a professional championship has been a dream of mine since I started racing way back when. I remember the first time I got on a motorcycle; the freedom, the joy of going fast, the challenge of trying to be better rider than everyone around me, I absolutely loved it! Through the ups and downs of racing I'm glad that I still feel the same way every time I swing a leg over a bike. I'm also so thankful for all the sacrifices my parents, brother, and people around me made so that I could get to where I am now. So if I walk away from this weekend empty handed, I'll be ok because I still have the same love for motorcycles that I did on day one and I will know that I tried my best which is all I can do. But you better believe I'm going to put up a fight and go for it! And I'm going to have a smile underneath my helmet the whole time! But actions speak louder than words, so I'll see y'all on Friday morning.
The closest MotoAmerica championship race in 2016 is the Supersport class, where the two Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha riders, Garrett Gerloff and J.D. Beach, will decide the title at NJMP. Gerloff started the year in commanding fashion, but defending champion Beach has reeled off five straight wins to close to within 14 points, making Supersport the tightest battle this year.
Still, Beach needs help. Two wins at NJMP will not be enough to retain his title if Gerloff finishes behind him in second. The most likely candidate to play the spoiler role is French rider Valentin Debise, in third place in the standings but too far back to catch Gerloff. Debise has already affected the championship race, however, by finishing ahead of Gerloff at Laguna Seca and allowing Beach to gain a few additional and crucial points on his teammate.
Someone will ride a Yamaha YZF-R6 to a Supersport title on Sunday. We just have to wait to see whether it will be the former flat-tracker (Beach) or the former motocrosser (Gerloff).
Still the Yamaha Cup
Yamaha won every race in all four classes in 2015, and improved competitiveness by other brands was one of the keys I felt the series needed to keep progressing this year. Unfortunately for the MotoAmerica team, that's not something they can create by snapping their fingers — unless they want to resort to arbitrary and unfair rule changes that would sour the mood in the paddock.
At the beginning of the year, it looked like Yamaha dominance was over, with Yoshimura Suzuki finishing 1-2 at both races at the Circuit of the Americas in the season-opening round. In Superstock 1000, Claudio Corti on an Aprilia and Bobby Fong on a Kawasaki have been competitive. In Supersport, Debise is third on a Suzuki.
But barring a disaster for the Graves Yamaha Superbike teammates that opens the door for Elias, Yamaha will win all four titles again in 2016.
Where's that new GSX-R1000 Suzuki promised us?