Two MotoAmerica championships were settled this weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park, but in the premier Superbike and Supersport classes, the points tightened up even more with one round remaining in two weeks at Barber Motorsports Park.
Yamahas swept the podium in both EBC Brakes Superbike races while the Yoshimura Suzuki Racing team struggled. Points leader Toni Elias finished fourth in both races, coming in 25.801 seconds behind race one winner Garrett Gerloff on Saturday and 11.395 seconds behind race two winner Cameron Beaubier on Sunday. The other Yoshimura rider, Josh Herrin, was even further back, finishing seventh in both races.
That means the title will be decided at Barber between Elias and Beaubier, the men who have won the last four MotoAmerica Superbike titles. Going into the last two races, Elias' lead is down to 16 points from a high of 34 points.
Everyone else is eliminated from title contention now because Beaubier's Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing teammate, Gerloff, continued his pattern of alternating between being the fastest man on track and the unluckiest one. Since his breakthrough Superbike win at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca this summer, Gerloff has won more races and led more sessions than anyone. He did the same at New Jersey, winning pole position and the Saturday race. Then the bad luck hit again.
In the Sunday morning Superbike practice session, Gerloff crashed and hit his head, briefly losing consciousness. Though he walked away from the crash, he was ruled unfit for the race. The win and a DNF mirrored the previous round at Pittsburgh, when he won on Saturday and had to pull out of Sunday's race with a mechanical problem.
The two strong finishes and the points gained on Elias went a long way toward alleviating the frustration Beaubier has felt with himself in recent races, including a crash at Sonoma Raceway and a mistake at Pittsburgh that let his teammate beat him for the win on Saturday.
"I'm more relieved than anything," Beaubier said. "We've been fast at every round. One of the fastest guys, if not the fastest. But we just have not been able to put it together when it counts. So today feels really good. Obviously bummed for my teammate that he couldn't line up today. I think for sure, obviously his pace was incredible all weekend and he definitely would have been another Yamaha in the mix."
"I feel really good going into Barber," Beaubier added. "We're still in striking distance and we're closing the points down."
Attack Performance Estenson Racing's J.D. Beach finished third and second in the two weekend races, his best showing since his one win early in the season at Virginia International Raceway. Westby Racing's Mathew Scholtz also found new speed this weekend, getting on the podium Sunday for just the fourth time this season.
So what was the problem at Yoshimura?
Any weekend that finds Toni Elias half a minute behind the winner is an unusual one. Elias specifically was struggling at NJMP to find the rear grip he needed, but that was not the only issue, said Yoshimura Racing Senior Vice President Don Sakakura. The way Sakakura describes it, the Suzuki GSX-R1000 race bike, when it is dialed in perfectly, is hard to beat. But that window of settings is very narrow and unforgiving. Miss the setup a little and you find yourself half a minute back, as Elias and Herrin did Saturday. Run out of time to find the right setup, and you have a weekend like this one. The task was made more difficult because this weekend was one of the abbreviated two-day rounds MotoAmerica is experimenting with this year, so there were fewer practice sessions.
With the Yamaha rider 16 points behind, if Beaubier wins both races at Barber, Elias can be champion with a second and a third, so Beaubier still needs help. But he suddenly has more help than ever. For one thing, now that he's eliminated from the title chase, Gerloff may be less inclined to take five valuable points from his teammate as he did Saturday at NJMP by winning the first race. Plus, if Beach and Scholtz can maintain the speed they found this weekend, then Elias has two more Yamaha YZF-R1s that could potentially get in front of him at Barber and steal points.
Beach made light of the possibility of helping Beaubier win the championship on a Yamaha: "If he gets the checkbook out, I'll help him. But hey, the same goes for Toni, man. Whoever wants to write me a check, I'll help 'em."
One last unknown: Barber has been repaved, so the teams are expecting a fast track that's also new to them in many ways. That could make it even more challenging for Yoshimura Suzuki to hit that elusive narrow window when setting up Elias's GSX-R1000.
Supersport: A comeback rider chases down a wounded rider
The Yamaha riders were also smiling more in the Supersport class at NJMP, though points leader Bobby Fong was still smiling through the pain. Still walking around on crutches, with broken ribs and a possibly broken heel from his crash two weeks ago at Pittsburgh, Fong finished second in both races on his M4 ECSTAR Suzuki GSX-R600. But P.J. Jacobsen on his Celtic HSBK Racing Yamaha YZF-R6 won both races to close to within 10 points, meaning two wins at Barber would clinch the title for Jacobsen no matter what Fong does.
Jacobsen said his resurgence is largely a result of getting used to his Supersport bike after racing in World Superbike last year. Jacobsen has passed Rickdiculous Racing's Hayden Gillim in the standings to become the main challenger to Fong. Gillim's title chances took a big hit when he crashed out of Saturday's race, his YZF-R6 tumbling and springing off its front suspension to do three full rotations in the air. Gillim came back to finish third in Sunday's race. Late in that race, Gillim passed the other M4 ECSTAR rider, Sean Dylan Kelly, and Kelly crashed. Kelly's father threw a water bottle at Gillim when he came off the track, hitting Gillim in the (still helmeted) head. After a hearing, MotoAmerica race direction penalized Gillim three points for the move that led to the crash and the M4 team was fined $150 for the water bottle incident.
Despite still using crutches, Fong said he feels a lot better than he did two weeks ago when he finished second in Sunday's race at Pittsburgh, despite his injuries. He has two more weeks to heal before Barber.
"The main goal all weekend was just to win, to win both races because for the championship, that's what we have to do," said Jacobsen. "Now it's down to the wire."
Fong spent most of Sunday's race right behind Jacobsen, but felt he didn't have the pace to lead. He did make one attempt at a pass on the last lap, and the two made slight contact, but Fong couldn't get past.
"I really wanted to take a lot more chances, if the championship wasn't on the line," said Fong. "We're not happy with second, but we're happy we got some points."
Andrew Lee clinches Stock 1000 title
In addition to Rocco Landers clinching the Liqui Moly Junior Cup title on Saturday, Andrew Lee won his fifth consecutive Stock 1000 race Sunday to nail down that title for the second year in a row on his Franklin Armory Graves Kawasaki ZX-10R. Lee held off a furious late charge by Corey Alexander, who has participated in some of the Stock 1000 races this year. Stefano Mesa, the only rider coming to New Jersey with a mathematical chance to catch Lee for the title, finished third.
With his two championships in Stock 1000, which is a MotoAmerica development class, like Junior Cup, Lee cannot return to the class next year.
"All of our goals are to be on the Superbike grid," Lee said, when asked about the future. "Unfortunately, I don't know if that's the future for me yet. Logically, the next step would be Superbike, but there's still no offers on the table. So we'll keep working on it in the meantime and hope I don't have to go back to a nine to five."
The other MotoAmerica class, the Twins Cup, will also be decided at Barber. Last year's Junior Cup champion, Alex Dumas, won his fourth straight race at NJMP and now leads Draik Beauchamp by 21 points with just one race remaining at Barber.