Cameron Beaubier won another battle. Toni Elias has the war well under control. And Garrett Gerloff seems so far above the fray right now he can’t even hear the roar of distant cannons.
The first-ever day of MotoAmerica racing at Pittsburgh International Race Complex served up tight racing in four of the five classes, a swarm of fans under sunshine that felt more like late September than August, and lots of praise from the riders for both the layout of the track and the work that had been put into it since May to fix safety issues.
The track has been used for motorcycle and car track days and may never have seen the sort of speeds MotoAmerica Superbikes are capable of, so when the teams tested at PIRC in May, several safety concerns arose. Since then, portions have been repaved, guardrails were repositioned and, most significantly, a chicane was added before the last turn, a tight hairpin that butted up against the property line so that there was no room to add more runoff. The new chicane had the look of a temporary patch, but it worked. It slowed down the riders so they weren't going into a hairpin turn with limited, grassy runoff at over 150 mph.
“Overall it’s a great track and a good facility, and they put in a great effort, not only the chicane but they made improvements in other areas, paving the track,” said Yoshimura Suzuki rider Roger Hayden. “It’s awesome to come to a track that wants us here that bad where they want to spend the money and put in the time and not just say, ‘This is what you’ve got, deal with it.’”
Motul Superbike and Bazzazz Superstock 1000
It was an all-Suzuki front row at the start, with the Yoshimura Suzuki duo of Hayden and Elias joined by M4 ECSTAR Suzuki Superstock rider Jake Lewis in third. Once the order shook out, Beaubier on the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing Yamaha YZF-R1 swapped positions with the two Suzuki GSX-R1000 riders. The three were within a second of each other the entire race, with each having strong spots and weaknesses. Contact was narrowly avoided several times, but the racing was clean.
With three laps to go, Beaubier was able to put the final pass on Elias and from there he pulled away half a second a lap for a 1.406-second victory.
“I felt like I struggled a little at the beginning to get going,” said Beaubier. “As the race went on, I almost gained grip, which is kind of strange to me.”
“It was a fun race for me. I couldn’t see my pit board because of the pack coming onto the straightaway.”
Jake Gagne’s fourth was his best finish this season on the Team Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda CBR1000RR. The new bike has been down on top speed this season, but the flowing nature of PIRC, with few long straights, allowed him to stay glued to the back of the three riders dicing for the win.
For the third race in a row, Beaubier won but Elias finished second, losing only five points of his massive lead. That puts Elias 65 points ahead of Beaubier with only five races (125 points remaining). Gaining five points a race is not enough, and an Elias championship is starting to look like a conclusion foretold.
The Bazzazz Superstock 1000 race was a frantic one, with more than one rider running off course and Quicksilver/Latus Motors Kawasaki’s Bobby Fong coming from behind to win by 0.219 seconds over points leader Mathew Scholtz with Lewis in third.
“We changed the bike pretty drastically going into the race,” said Fong. “It took me about half the race to get the feel of the motorcycle.”
Fong started the last lap in third but passed Lewis in turn one and Scholtz in the chicane before the final turn. Then he nearly tucked the front tire twice in the last turn, giving the other two a chance to close in.
“Mathew and Jake were on the inside of me,” Fong said. “I just had a drive. Jake … was leading and I just said, I’m going to die but I’m going to win this thing and I’m not letting off the gas.”
“It was a blessing I didn’t take everyone out.”
The victory gets Fong back to the winning ways he enjoyed early in the season, but the second-place finish still leaves Scholtz with a solid 55-point lead.
Supersport and Superstock 600
If the Superbike race was an exhibition in competition, the Supersport race was a demonstration of domination. Supersport is a class known for close battles and narrow margins, but defending champion Garrett Gerloff turned it into a rout.
How dominant? Gerloff won the 16-lap race by 19.178 seconds, meaning he averaged more than a second a lap faster than anyone else. And, even more remarkable, he did that despite what he called “a dumb mistake,” running off the track on the second lap while leading, which cost him several seconds and pushed him (very temporarily) back to third.
Nobody could touch Gerloff, except a bee. And even that didn’t slow him down.
“Once I passed J.D. [Beach] … a wasp or something got stuck between my chinstrap and my neck,” Gerloff said. “Actually, I’m horrified of bees. It’s the one thing I’m just super afraid of. I felt this thing stinging me and I was like, gosh, this is going to be a long race.”
“I’m trying to get my hand up there to get it out and after three or four laps I just stopped feeling it until the last lap, when I came around and I felt the thing back up in there.”
Despite riding the majority of the race with an angry insect stabbing him in the neck, Gerloff continued extending his lead right to the end, sometimes lapping two seconds faster than anyone else on the track.
Before the Utah round of the series, the Supersport riders began using a new 180/55 Dunlop slick instead of the 200-series slick that is more suited for Superbikes with their six-inch rear wheels, compared to the 5.5-inch wheels on the 600-class bikes. Gerloff said the new tire better suits his high-corner-speed style, but it has not done any favors to his teammate, former dirt-track rider J.D. Beach, who finished third in the race and fell to 23 points behind.
“The Yamaha R6 is fantastic and you can tell by the way Garrett is riding,” said Beach. “I’m just not riding it good enough. I just don’t feel good on the bike and we can’t figure out what it is. It seems like it started once we switched to the 180 rear tire.”
M4 ECSTAR Suzuki rider Valentin Debise also ran off the track early and fell back to ninth, but worked his way up to finish second by the end of the race.
“I get a good start on my Suzuki and so I was happy and I got to the second corner and maybe too happy and never make the turn,” said the French rider.
In Superstock 600, New Jersey rider Anthony Mazziotto got his first win in the class after missing the West Coast races. He said the team has put together the funding to compete in the final three rounds, however.
The final race of the day, in the KTM RC Cup Championship, was the closest of all as Alex Dumas held on to win by 0.045 seconds as Jackson Blackmon drafted him to the finish line.
Racing continues Sunday in all MotoAmerica classes, including WERA support races.