Rain fell for only two hours at New Jersey Motorsports Park Saturday, but it came at exactly the right time to disrupt Cameron Beaubier's otherwise smooth march to the Superbike title, and it also set the stage for the most dominant race win I've seen in years.
First, the Superbike story. The only way defending champ Josh Hayes can keep his young Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Cameron Beaubier, from taking the title on Sunday is with two race wins and no finishes better than third by Beaubier. That was looking like a weak hope during the Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions, as Beaubier ran fastest and Hayes struggled to find the right setup in those dry, sunny sessions.
But everyone knew weather was coming, likely just in time for Superbike qualifying. Fortunately, the severe thunderstorms that were a possibility did not materialize, but when the contenders pulled onto the track around 2:30 for the Superpole 2 session, the track was thoroughly wet and rain was falling lightly. That changed everything.
In the wet conditions, Hayes seized the pole with a late lap that put him almost half a second ahead of Yoshimura Suzuki rider Roger Hayden, with Beaubier in fourth. Critically, Beaubier doesn't have that first-row starting position that makes it easier to get away from the pack. Instead, he'll be lined up behind his teammate.
"Front row is important here because it's really a tough place to pass," said Hayden.
And while Sunday's forecast looks glorious, there is still a slight chance of a shower, and Hayes figures that would work in his favor.
"I can imagine what Cam's nerves would feel like if it started raining right before the race," Hayes said. "There's such small room for error and mistakes in a race like that."
Hayden, meanwhile, said he does not want to get mixed up in the title fight, but he really wants to finish first. The last three races, he has missed the win by less than a tenth of a second. "I really want to end the year with a win," he said.
The real drama Saturday, however, came in the Supersport race. The bikes lined up on a totally dry grid, but rain began falling as they finished the sighting lap. Teams scrambled to switch to wet-weather tires on the starting grid.
On the pole, in just his third Supersport race this year, was Meen Yamaha's Joe Roberts, whom we interviewed last month. He moved to Supersport after he wrapped up the Superstock 600 title early.
Tomas Puerta took the lead first, and then Josh Herrin moved to the front, as Roberts assessed the soaking conditions. But when Herrin nearly high-sided, Roberts slipped past him into the lead. That's when something special happened.
Roberts reeled off three consecutive laps that were nearly three seconds quicker than anyone else on the track. He was lapping in the low 1:41 range, while the trailing pack of riders lapped at about 1:44. Within a few laps, Roberts opened a gap of about 14 seconds, then coasted safely home for the win.
When was the last time you saw a rider putting three seconds a lap on the entire field in a professional motorcycle race?
Just how fast was Roberts? Moments after his Supersport race ended, the second-tier group of Superbikes and Superstock 1000 cc bikes took to the track for the Superpole 1 qualifying session, under the same track conditions. Roberts' best race lap on his 600 cc Supersport bike would have placed him second in Superpole 1, advancing him to the Superpole 2 qualifying round.
If you're anywhere near New Jersey Motorsports Park, I suggest you come out to see the MotoAmerica finale Sunday. The forecast calls for temperatures in the 70s and mostly sunny skies. If you're anywhere else, you can find the link to live streaming of the races at the MotoAmerica web site.