Five questions: Why Garrett Gerloff loves 180 tires and is studying Spanish

Sep 06, 2017

Maybe no other motorcycle road racer in North America is harder to beat in his class at this very moment than Garrett Gerloff.

Since the summer break, Gerloff has a five-race win streak going in MotoAmerica Supersport, but that barely begins to tell how confident and in control he is right now. Two stats show just how well he is riding. First, at the combined round with World Superbike at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, his qualifying time on his Yamaha YZF-R6 was faster than one World Superbike rider’s time on a highly tuned liter bike. Second, in the first Supersport race at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, he won by more than 19 seconds in a 16-lap race, despite running off course on lap two.

I sat down with Gerloff to ask how he has suddenly become a second a lap faster than the field. It turns out it’s a combination of attitude, confidence and different tires on the brand-new Yamaha YZF-R6.

CT: You’ve been unbeatable since the summer break. What changed for you starting at Laguna Seca?

Garrett Gerloff celebrates
Ever since the race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Garrett Gerloff has had a lot to celebrate. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
GG: I was really determined at Laguna. It’s always been a terrible track for me and I was not going to let that happen to me this year. I came into the weekend relaxed and ready to ride and had a mindset of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I just had a positive energy around me. My team was helping with that, and my rider coach, Garrett Willis, also helping me stay in a good mindset.

Once I was able to get past this wall that I had always kind of had at Laguna, it was kind of like a lot of doors opened up. I also learned a lot about my bike and the way I ride it and the way I like it to be set up. Since then, I’ve been carrying on that momentum and it’s been good. We’ve been able to set up the bike in the first two sessions and then just take it from there. That’s been a big help in keeping my confidence high.

MotoAmerica Supersport race
Supersport races are typically closely contested, but Garrett Gerloff has won the last three races by gaps ranging from six to 19 seconds. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

CT: Which is harder, lapping faster than a Superbike on your Supersport or winning a Supersport race by 19 seconds?

GG: The races are harder, honestly. When I’m in qualifying or practice, I’ll try to go and put in a crazy fast lap, and I’ll do that after I have the bike set up the way I want. The new R6 is definitely the reason I’m able to do that. It has helped me so much since I got the new bike, and also with the new 180/60 rear tires from Dunlop. Those things are made for my style: corner speed and lean angle. That’s how I’ve always ridden.

Once we got those two combined it was like, gosh, this is my bike. This is what’s comfortable for me. It was easy to go fast. I’ve gotten a couple of lap records since then, which were faster than the FX records from [Josh] Hayes back in 2007. Those things have been standing for a while so it was cool to see an improvement. A lot of people would say we’re still way off of what we used to be, but I can say no, we’re right there.

Garrett Gerloff corner speed
Garrett Gerloff's preferred riding style calls for carrying high corner speeds, and the new tires introduced by Dunlop before the Utah round have helped him. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

CT: Mid-season, Dunlop switched from a 200-section rear tire to the 180 rear for Supersport. Your teammate, J.D. Beach, has struggled since but you’ve flourished. How have the new tires changed the way you ride the bike?

GG: The 200/55, it’s made for a Superbike, which has a six-inch-wide rear rim and we have 5.5-inch-wide rear rims. So what that does is it stretches the tire over and we have a smaller contact patch on the edge of the tire when we’re mid-corner and trying to pick up the throttle. With the smaller contact patch, you’re not able to carry as much corner speed or put as much load on the tire before it starts to break loose and slide. That’s something that always hindered me with my style because I’m a corner speed guy. Whereas this tire, it’s a bit smaller design but it fits the 600 rear wheel and so when we’re on the edge of the tire we have a bigger contact patch, which gives me a lot more feel when I’m opening up the throttle.

Once we got that tire, we were able to totally rework the bike to work exactly how I wanted it to. That’s been a huge help. I think the old tire helped J.D. because he’s not on the edge of the tire a lot. He’s in, down and out. That’s something he was always really good at that I struggled with and that I still want to work on, because I don’t want to have any weaknesses. But the new tire has definitely helped my style.

CT: Why are you studying Spanish?

[Answer translated from Spanish] Because my girlfriend [Toni Elias’ sister] is from Spain. For my career, it’s very important to know Spanish, especially if I want to live in Spain and compete in Moto2 or World Superbike. The more I speak it, the better I get.

MotoAmerica Supersport race
Garrett Gerloff (1), J.D. Beach (95) and Valentin Debise (53) have accounted for 36 of the 42 Supersport podium finishes this season. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

CT: You won a Supersport title last year and are on the verge of a second and you’ve made it clear you’re looking to move up. But opportunities aren’t plentiful right now in road racing. On a scale of one to 10, with one being “don’t care” and 10 being “totally fed up,” how tired are you of people asking you about your future?

GG: I like to think about the future. So, one. I want to be verbal on what I want to do and where I want to go. With that, and with results, I think opportunities will show up and I’m just trying to find those opportunities. And when I get the opportunities I want to do my best, because sometimes you only get one shot.