Go back to the middle of the day, Sunday, April 17, at Road Atlanta, and MotoAmerica Superbike champion Cameron Beaubier's title defense looked even more battered than his Yamaha YZF-R1, which was lying on its side in the gravel trap.
At that point. Yoshimura Suzuki rider Toni Elias had three wins in three races while Beaubier had a fourth-place finish and two DNFs, the second one caused when his teammate, Josh Hayes, bumped him from behind, crashing them both out of the race. Panic would have been a normal, perfectly understandable reaction.
|MotoAmerica Superbike standings|
Instead, Beaubier literally dusted himself off and went out and won the second Road Atlanta race that afternoon (in which Elias crashed). That started a string of wins and podium finishes that moved the 23-year-old Californian steadily up the standings, from ninth place to first. Now, with four races left (two this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in conjunction with the Superbike World Championship and two at the final round at New Jersey Motorsports Park), Beaubier has a 25-point lead and a confident attitude about him.
I talked to him just before he left home for Laguna.
After you got knocked out of the first race at Road Atlanta and you were so far behind in the points, what did you say to yourself that let you go out and win race two and begin your comeback?
At Atlanta I was finally feeling good. I put the R1 on pole and just had a really good feel about that track, riding around there in practice and in qualifying. We had a good setup for the race and everything was going good. And Josh made that mistake and took us both down. Obviously, I was very upset about it in that moment, but that’s racing. That’s what happens, especially for how close Josh and I have been racing each other the last couple of years.
I just wanted to put it out of my head as quick as I could and just get ready for race two, because I knew if I had any chance of clawing my way back, I just needed to go win races. So I went out and had a really great battle with Josh and was able to get that win, which kind of put me on the right path. I got a couple of wins at New Jersey, a couple of wins at Road America. Definitely, that was a turnaround point. The first three races of the year were very rough, for sure.
Last month you got your first World Superbike wildcard ride, filling in for Pata Yamaha rider Sylvain Guintoli at Donington Park. What surprised you about the experience?
It was a really cool experience, looking back on it now. The Pata Yamaha team was super supportive and welcomed us right into the team and made us comfortable. I couldn’t ask for a better team to ride for for the weekend.
The bike was quite a bit different from mine. I was really surprised how different it felt because at the end of the day it’s an R1. Different swingarm, different size forks, a lot of things, and the biggest thing for me was just getting the confidence to push on those tires. The feel is so different, the Pirellis and the Dunlops.
I feel like with more time I could be competitive. It was a little tough. I only got two hours on Friday and then you’re straight into the race on Saturday. I tipped over in the first race on the first lap and I think right there I lost a lot more experience than I think I realized. They’ve already ridden that track quite a bit and then they got another race under their belts on me.
When I lined up Sunday, I did my first couple of laps OK, and then the tire went off and I went through this slump and I was going slow and I was getting shuffled back. Then I started catching my second wind and got a better feel for the bike and started clicking off better lap times. By the end of the race, I was doing around fifth-place lap times. All in all, it was a really cool experience and a really great opportunity that Yamaha put together for me.
I would love to race on the world stage. That’s my dream, obviously, but it’s got to be the right opportunity. I don’t want to sacrifice what I have here and go over there and maybe not be on the right equipment. I just want to make sure I can be completely competitive.
I think the key for me is staying in the Yamaha family. They started me out here. Riding for them for the last five years has been an awesome experience. It’s been so much fun. I just want to keep that relationship going.
In terms of advancing your career, do you think it helps to be racing against Toni Elias, someone who is a known quantity at the world level?
I think he’s really good for the series. He’s been at the top of racing in his day. It’s pretty cool to race a guy like that. It’s been good for the level of competition. It seems he and Rog have been working together on that bike with their crew and their bike has gotten a little better. Also, I think it might have made Rog step up his game a little bit, too. It’s always good having a teammate push you, just the way I think Josh and I have pushed each other to another level, especially last year.
What racers did you look up to when you were a kid?
I looked up to Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner. I remember being a little kid and watching some tribute videos to Wayne Rainey. Wayne Rainey was my hero, for sure.
Before I went over to England, Wayne Rainey got my number and gave me a call and just talked about it a little bit. He told me his first-ever GP was at Donington and I’m like, man, that’s awesome, just talking to my hero about going over there and racing. He told me just to make sure I have fun with it and realize what I’m doing. It’s so easy to put too much pressure on yourself. I mean, at the end of the day, it sounds kind of corny, but we started doing all this for fun and you have to keep that in the back of your mind. When I’m at my best, when I’m riding my best, I’m having a lot of fun on the bike. I’m just riding loose and relaxed.
The MotoAmerica schedule is somewhat unusual this year because you race this weekend at Laguna and then you have two months off before the final round in September at New Jersey Motorsports Park to decide the championship. Does that long wait add to the pressure?
It’s definitely a little crazy. I just have to make sure I have a good, solid Laguna weekend. Obviously, I’ll be ready for New Jersey to roll around. I wish it was back-to-back weekends and get it over with, not keep thinking about it, but that’s the way it is. I’m just going to try as hard as I can not to think about it too much, just stay fit and ride my dirt bike, ride some bicycles, and just be ready to go.
It’s definitely not going to be easy. I know I have a race’s worth of points lead but there’s still 100 points up for grabs. So it doesn’t sound like that much of a lead when you look at it like that.