Imagine you're a racer trying to beat Toni Elias in MotoAmerica Motul Superbike. You're looking — hoping — for a weak spot. Maybe the rain? There was that disastrous wet weekend in New Jersey two years ago.
Elias stamped out that spark of a hope under the wet heel of his Alpinestars boots on Sunday. The defending champion and Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing rider rode a perfectly calculated race on a soaked Road Atlanta track, finishing it off with the fastest lap of the day on the final lap, to nail down a double win and take a solid lead in the chase for the title.
Rain fell all morning and delayed the start of the Supersport and Superbike races, both of which were shortened by a few laps. In Superbike, it's almost routine now that Elias gets a great start and he again got the holeshot. Meanwhile, Yamalube/Westby Racing's Mathew Scholtz, who was confident of his pace in the wet, got a poor start and had to take evasive action when Jake Lewis crashed in front of him. Scholtz lost 20 seconds running off into the wet grass, time he was never able to make up.
Another early crasher was Monster Energy/Yamalube/Factory Yamaha rider Garrett Gerloff, who high-sided in the always-treacherous turn 10A, made even more dangerous by water standing on the track.
At the front, Elias gave up the lead on lap three to his teammate, Roger Hayden. Following were Attack Performance/Herrin Compound/Yamaha rider Josh Herrin on his converted street bike and the other Factory Yamaha rider, Cameron Beaubier. On lap eight, Hayden crashed in just about the same spot as Gerloff. Both Elias and Beaubier narrowly avoided his bike spinning down the asphalt.
Meanwhile, with Herrin pulling off passes on the frontrunners and then losing out to the true Superbikes' power on the straights, people began speculating about a YZF-R1S that was street-legal on Thursday being on a Superbike podium on Sunday. Maybe that's the story a scriptwriter would have produced, but real life intervened and Herrin began slowing on lap 11, looking at his rear tire.
"I felt like the tire had chunked but then I realized the clutch was slipping and it just went downhill from there," Herrin said. "I just wanted to limp it back because I knew a lot of guys DNFed so we had a chance to score some points. That was the whole plan this weekend was just to salvage some points and we are leaving here with 16, more than I thought we were going to get."
That left a two-man battle for the win between Elias and Beaubier, who swapped places as the lap times kept dropping. Elias made the final pass for the lead in turn one and then clinched the perfect weekend by setting a 1:33.907 time on the last lap, the fastest lap of the day.
Scholtz recovered to finish third with Lucas Oil/KWR rider Kyle Wyman in fourth, Hayden fifth and Herrin sixth. Only nine riders finished, the last being Gerloff, who limped home two laps down.
"I was just happy to get through the race without falling down, as I have pretty much every session this weekend," said Beaubier, who crashed on his out lap in the morning session — the only practice session all weekend that was wet. But once he figured out the conditions in the race, he inherited the lead after Hayden crashed.
"I saw my gap opening up, and I was kind of surprised to see that because I was running wide here and there in some sections," Beaubier said. "And then it started closing up and I was like, oh, here comes Toni. I didn't have anything for him the last lap. I was struggling for trust in the front tire."
Elias won despite entering the race with less than total confidence.
"Since 2001, I never win a wet race again," Elias said. Following Beaubier and Hayden helped him build his confidence in the conditions, he said.
"In the beginning I lose many times the rear, so I was calm, trying to be smart, don't make a stupid decision," Elias said. With no more rain falling, the track slightly improved. After watching Beaubier from behind, he found a spot to pass and then on the final lap he was able to raise the pace and pull away.
"In my last lap, I was a little bit faster than before," Elias said. "I didn't expect that lap, but it was nice."
Elias leaves Georgia with a perfect 50 points, with Scholtz second in the standings with 36 and Beaubier third with 27 despite "a terrible weekend." While the other MotoAmerica classes are off, the Motul Superbikes run again next weekend in conjunction with MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas. Elias has yet to lose a MotoAmerica at COTA. Good luck finding a weakness there, either.
A first in Junior Cup
One of the great things about watching young racers is seeing how incredibly fast they can learn, improve and grow. Sunday's Liqui Moly Junior Cup put all that on display.
Ashton Yates won in an impressive display of rain riding while 17-year-old Jamie Astudillo made history as the first female racer to earn a spot on a MotoAmerica podium. After her fourth-place finish on Saturday, Astudillo said she got a lot of attention on her Facebook page from girls and their parents who considered her success an inspiration.
"That's what I want to do. I want to help these younger girls have someone to look up to," said Astudillo, a former motocrosser now starting just her second year of roadracing. An off-season renewal of her commitment and an offer to join Quarterley Racing and ride a Kawasaki Ninja 400 put her in a position to do just that.
"Last year, as everyone knows, I was in the far end of the pack," she said. "We had some ups and downs. There was a part of the winter when I didn't think I was going to be racing. Once that hit, I knew I have to train harder, I have to be up front, I have to be on the podium to keep racing."
Since joining Quarterly racing, "the change has been huge," she said.
While Astudillo, Sean Ungvarsky and Jay Newton were battling for second, Yates was disappearing on his Yates Racing Yamaha YZF-R3. Once he separated from the pack late in the first lap, they never saw him again. Yates' fastest lap was nearly two seconds better than anyone else's and he averaged better than a second a lap faster. Yates, son of former Superbike racer Aaron Yates, credited his ability in the rain in part to training at the Herrin Compound, where the drills include riding small dirt bikes on asphalt in the wet. "That's been good training for me," he said.
Ungvarsky, the Ghilliman Racing KTM RC 390 rider who finished third on Saturday, took second on Sunday though it was virtually his first time ever racing in the rain.
"The only other time I ever lined up for a rain race was at Road America and I made it about three turns before I hit a painted line and crashed out, so I don't really count that," said Ungvarsky. "I've had those rain tires in my trailer for about three years. I said, we need a new set because those have three summers baking in the trailer."
Alex Dumas, who won Saturday's race, did not make the start due to a mechanical problem. The weekend results put Yates first in the standings with 45 points, Ungvarsky second with 36 and Astudillo third with 29 points. Despite his DNS on Sunday, Dumas' 25 points from Saturday put him in fourth.
Another first in Supersport
Just a couple of hours after winning the Junior Cup race, Yates made another trip to the podium by finishing third in Supersport. That made him the first rider in MotoAmerica's short history to stand on the podium in two different races in one day.
And just as Yates dominated in Junior Cup, Rickdiculous Racing's Hayden Gillim ran away with the Supersport race, lapping more than half the field, setting the only sub-1:39 lap and winning by 11.796 seconds over Monster Energy/Y.E.S./Yamalube/Graves Yamaha rider J.D. Beach (see top photo). That made it a sweep of the podium by Yamaha YZF-R6 riders and left Gillim and Beach tied for the Supersports points lead.
The last strong shower of the day delayed the start of the Supersport race, which was shortened to 14 laps. Beach, Anthony Mazzioto and Gillim got away from the rest of the field at the start. On lap four, Gillim got past Beach and gradually pulled away. Meanwhile, Yates found his rhythm and began hunting down Mazzioto, catching and passing him on lap six. While several riders behind them crashed in the wet conditions, the top four positions stayed the same to the end.
Travis Wyman rode his Weir Everywhere Racing BMW S 1000 RR to the win in the first race of the new Stock 1000 class, finishing ahead of Andrew Lee on a Kawasaki ZX-10R. Tim Bemisderfer finished third on a Suzuki GSX-R1000.
The two newest MotoAmerica classes, Stock 1000 and Twins Cup, each had less than 10 entries at Road Atlanta.