Monday morning crew chief: How do WSBK and MotoAmerica riders compare?

Jul 10, 2017

Just how good are the top MotoAmerica racers? How do they stack up against their counterparts in World Superbike and Supersport?

It’s a question that is more than just idle benchracing. The respect the national series gets (or doesn’t get) affects the opportunities young racers are offered, changing the course of their careers and their lives. It’s also a question that’s impossible to answer with 100 percent certainty.

This weekend, for the first time in the young history of the MotoAmerica series, something closer to an apples-to-apples comparison between the two series was possible, however. With MotoAmerica Motul Superbike rules changed for 2017 to closely match the Superbike World Championship rules, the bikes are more similar than ever.

Similar. But not the same. As MotoAmerica regular Jake Gagne noted, as he took over the late Nicky Hayden’s ride on the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team for the weekend, the Honda CBR1000RR in WSBK trim had some parts that he had not yet had a chance to try on his Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda CBR in MotoAmerica. (On Sunday, in particular, Gagne appeared to be having problems with the motorcycle wheelying on him, which is almost certainly down to the different electronics from what he's used to.)

Chaz Davies
Tributes to Nicky Hayden were everywhere at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend. Chaz Davies carried a flag on his victory lap Saturday. Ducati photo.

But there’s one much bigger difference. Tires. Pirelli makes the spec tire for World Superbike and Dunlop makes the spec tire for MotoAmerica. That means a straight comparison of WSBK and MotoAmerica lap times is not definitive. If you remember the days before a spec tire in MotoGP, when Bridgestone and Michelin were fighting each other, you know that you can give a winning rider a different tire and instantly make him a mid-pack runner.

So saying that Roger Hayden’s pole-winning lap of 1:23.875 in MotoAmerica was more than a second slower than Tom Sykes’ lap of 1:22.476 in World Superbike is of questionable importance. What’s more interesting to me is looking at what we can learn from Gagne’s first ride in World Superbike.

Gagne makes a solid WSBK debut

Gagne finished 15th in both races, earning the last available world championship point, while his teammate, former Moto2 champion Stefan Bradl, came in 11th both days. Most importantly, Gagne finished Saturday’s race within two seconds of Bradl. Gagne had a few sessions on the CBR1000RR in WSBK trim and on the Pirelli tires, while Bradl has had half a season. Bradl is no slouch at Laguna Seca, either. His best performance ever during his MotoGP days was a pole position and second-place race finish at Laguna in 2013.

The new Honda has not been competitive this year in either series, so no one expected Gagne to waltz into World Superbike and post two top-10 finishes. His results do speak well of the depth of talent in MotoAmerica, however. For him to do almost as well, in his first WSBK ride, as his far more experienced teammate (who, in turn, was doing almost as well on the new CBR as Hayden was), puts Gagne in a good light. Some of that rubs off on the series he comes from.

MotoAmerica Superbike
Yoshimura Suzuki dominated at Laguna Seca with two one-two finishes by Toni Elias (24) and Roger Hayden (95). A crash by Cameron Beaubier (1) Sunday while challenging for the lead almost ensures a Suzuki championship this year. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Was someone watching Garrett Gerloff?

At the world championship level, there have been times when U.S. riders were dominant and many years when one or two U.S. riders were competitive, but we have now hit the low point, with no U.S. racer in the top level of either MotoGP or World Superbike. One of the clichés about these combined rounds of world and national series is that young riders are hoping to be noticed by team managers looking for talent.

If there’s any truth to that hope and if anyone did the right stuff to get noticed this weekend, surely it was Garrett Gerloff.

Garrett Gerloff
MotoAmerica Supersport champion Garrett Gerloff put in a record-setting qualifying lap that was faster than many of the Superbikes. He followed it up with a smart race win. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

With the compressed schedule due to being combined with WSBK, the MotoAmerica Supersport riders got one race, instead of the usual two, and got less time on the track. Gerloff, the series defending champion, didn’t need any time to get up to speed. Instead he demolished the field and the lap record in qualifying with a lap of 1:25.406, a full second ahead of everyone else.

Let’s put that into perspective. That lap would have put the Monster Energy/Yamalube/YES/Graves Yamaha rider and his YZF-R6 ahead of one rider on both the WSBK MotoAmerica Superbike and Superstock 1000 grids. That’s despite giving up 400 cc of displacement and not having the advantage of extra-sticky qualifying rubber that WSBK riders in Superpole 2 and MotoAmerica Superbike riders get.

Maybe more importantly, Gerloff followed up with a smart race win. His only competition this year has been his teammate, J.D. Beach, and the two again left the field in the Monterey dust. Beach did what he had to do and got ahead of Gerloff, to keep him from running away. But Gerloff showed patience, waited for his opportunity, made the pass and then laid down the fast laps to cement the victory.

Speed that shows talent, racecraft that shows smarts. It’s just what teams are looking for. Gerloff has made no secret of his desire to move up to the world stage. The question now is whether anyone will give him his shot.

In the measure that MotoAmerica gains respect in places like the WSBK paddock, his chances will only get better.

MotoAmerica Motul Superbike Motul FIM Superbike World Championship
Toni Elias 260 Jonathan Rea 341
Roger Hayden 220 Tom Sykes 282
Cameron Beaubier 180 Chaz Davies 226
Josh Hayes 124 Marco Melandri 189