MotoAmerica Superbike: If you can't win, lose well

May 15, 2017

Winning championships is often less about the dominating victories than about salvaging shreds of consolation on the days when things go sideways. The two most highly touted preseason favorites for the MotoAmerica Motul Superbike series conducted some solid salvage operations this weekend at Virginia International Raceway.

Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing rider Toni Elias came into the weekend in the points lead and left with the lead, but lost more than half his advantage. Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing rider Cameron Beaubier started the weekend in second place and remains there, but one slip of a racing slick on the saturated mud of southern Virginia would have put him in a deep points hole. For both riders, it could have been much worse.

On Sunday, Josh Hayes nailed down a solid victory, his 83rd in combined top AMA Pro roadracing classes, pulling him ever closer to record-holder Miguel Duhamel, who has career 86 wins. Elias was second and Hayes’ teammate, Beaubier, finished third.

Josh Hayes wins
The Yamaha crew celebrates Josh Hayes' 83rd AMA Pro victory. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

On Saturday, Elias had been taken out by an overly ambitious pass attempt by Josh Herrin and Beaubier set himself back by running off the track and falling back to 16th place. On Sunday, Elias avoided further problems but Beaubier repeated his.

One thing Elias did repeat on Sunday was another blazing start from his ninth-place starting spot to move into third within the first few corners of the race while Hayes got the hole shot to take the lead. Along with Elias’ teammate and Saturday Superbike winner Roger Hayden, those four — the usual suspects — took the point. On lap six, Hayes had a bobble and shortly after that Beaubier made a pass to take the lead.

The lead lasted less than a lap, however, as Beaubier misjudged his braking in turn one — the spot that saw most of the race-changing mistakes over the course of the weekend — and ran off into the grass and mud that was soaked from days of rain, just as he had done Saturday. This time, Beaubier rejoined in sixth instead of 16th, and set about chasing down the leaders for a second day in a row.

“I’m pretty disappointed in myself,” said Beaubier, sounding more subdued than usual. “To make the mistake once yesterday is one thing, but to do it twice is dumb and pretty frustrating.

“I just want to apologize to my team. I felt like I had a bike to win this weekend.”

Bobby Fong
Bobby Fong (50) not only handily won both Bazzazz Superstock 1000 races and opened up a points lead, but he also harried the frontrunners on the more sophisticated Superbikes. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

As Beaubier went to work trying to pass Kyle Wyman and eventual Bazzazz Superstock 1000 winner Bobby Fong on his Quicksilver Latus Motors Kawasaki ZX-10R, Hayes set about trying to put some space between himself and the Yoshimura Suzuki riders.

“After Cam went by I was a little panicked for a minute and then he made his mistake,” Hayes said. “Then things kind of settled down for me and I started plugging in some pretty good laps.

“You get to that happy place when you see three laps to go and plus three (seconds). A second a lap at the end of the race is hard to make up, so you can start picking your spots where you’re going to lower your risk.”

Roger Hayden
MotoAmerica races are fan-friendly affairs, with events such as the lunchtime Dunlop Hot Pit Walk and Autograph Session. Here, a young fan scores a Roger Hayden autographed poster. Photo by Lance Oliver.
A few seconds behind Hayes, Elias and Hayden continued racing nose to tail for second. Whoever finished second would have the points lead, since Elias started the day just one point ahead of Hayden. Again in the eventful turn one, on the last lap, Hayden attempted a pass to move into second. It didn’t work.

MotoAmerica Motul Superbike/
Bazzazz Superstock 1000 standings
Rider Class Points
Toni Elias SBK 115
Cameron Beaubier SBK 105
Roger Hayden SBK 104
Josh Hayes SBK 69
Bobby Fong STK1 65
Mathew Scholtz STK1 51
Jake Lewis STK1 51
Josh Herrin SBK 49

“I just made a mistake and got into turn one a little too deep and just ran off the track,” Hayden explained later. He was able to stay upright (unlike many riders who went off into the soggy southern Virginia soil) and finished sixth. Hayden said he was aware that a pass would have given him the points lead.

“I knew that, but I was just wanting the position more than anything,” Hayden said. “He beats me a lot at the end of the race. More importantly I was just trying to get the spot.

Jackson Blackmon
One young fan was very excited to congratulate Jackson Blackmon on his KTM RC Cup win. Photo by Lance Oliver.
“I’m not going to let today’s race put a downer on the weekend after I won yesterday,” he added.

Once again, Fong easily won the Superstock 1000 race and spent much of the afternoon harassing the Superbikes, as he did on Saturday. With four wins in six races, Fong has a 15-point lead over Mathew Scholtz despite a DNF at Road Atlanta.

Supersport and Superstock 600 race

Valentin Debise came to VIR with the Supersport points lead and left in fourth place, having completed less than four laps of racing in two days. You could call it a disastrous weekend for the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki rider and few would argue.

On Saturday, Debise crashed in turn one after contact with Garrett Gerloff, the defending champion on the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Y.E.S./Graves Yamaha YZF-R6. On Sunday, Debise crashed in the same spot, but with no help. Just as Hayden would do in the Superbike race later, Debise braked too late and ran off the track, but unlike Hayden his bike tumbled in the mud.

J.D. Beach and Garrett Gerloff
After turn one claimed Valentin Debise for the second straight day, the Supersport race was again a two-man affair between teammates J.D. Beach (95) and Garrett Gerloff. Only this time, Beach came in first. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

That made the rest of the race a repeat of Saturday’s event, with Gerloff and teammate J.D. Beach pulling away while Team H35’s Benny Solis rode around alone on his Honda CBR600RR in a lonely third. More than once, Gerloff would draft past Beach on the front straight and take the lead in turn one, only for Beach to pass him back in the lefthand turns three and four.

“He left the door open on the left and I’m an old flat-tracker,” Beach said. “If he’s not in the grass on the left side, I’m going to go for it.”

Michael Gilbert
Michael Gilbert celebrates his double win at VIR in the Superstock 600 class. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

In Superstock 600, Saturday winner Michael Gilbert fought his way out of a four-way scrap in the Superstock class and then gradually pulled away, once he had open track in front of him. Gilbert, whose day job is writing motorcycle test reviews for Sport Rider magazine, now has a nine-point lead over Nick McFadden.

Many of the MotoAmerica teams will be testing this week at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, which will hold its first-ever pro Superbike race in August. The next round of racing takes place in three weeks at Road America.