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Common Tread

The great racing you missed this weekend

May 17, 2016

Based on the numbers I see, I suspect many of you feel that motorcycle roadracing begins and ends with MotoGP.

If so, here's what you missed this weekend:

  • The Star Spangled Banner was played at a World Superbike race for the first time in seven years
  • A strategy-ruled race in which a 12-second lead on lap two turned into a 14th-place finish
  • A last-lap pass for the win by a reigning champ
  • 0.006-second and 0.038-second margins of victory in two races on the same track at the same time.

Among other things.

While MotoGP was off this past weekend, the World Superbike Championship was in Malaysia at Sepang and the MotoAmerica series was at Virginia International Raceway. The first race of the weekend, the Saturday Superbike race at Sepang, was the least interesting, with Tom Sykes dominating. Then, over in Virginia, things got a little too interesting. Just before the Supersport/Superstock 600 race, a brief but intense storm hit, deluging the track with rain and whipping the paddock with winds that turned the Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha team's truck-mounted canopy inside out and left it ripped, tangled and destroyed.

By the time the riders lined up for the delayed race, the sun was out but the track was still soaked. That led to a wide range of tire choices, from points leader Garrett Gerloff on slicks to his teammate, defending champ J.D. Beach, on full wets. Steam was rising off the asphalt as the green flag fell, and Beach took advantage of the wet conditions to open an astounding 12-second lead in just a couple of laps.

Gerloff did not panic, however. He has plenty of experience racing at VIR from his amateur days, and he knew how fast it would dry if no more rain came. By the halfway point, the track was completely dry. Gerloff not only passed Beach, he passed him twice, putting him a lap down by the end of the race.

Rain also played a role at Sepang on Sunday. Nicky Hayden qualified fourth and gambled in the dry conditions on Saturday, choosing a different tire from most of the field, but it did not pay off, as he faded late in the race. On Sunday, rain was the equalizer, reducing the disadvantages of the Honda, which is older than the other Superbikes on the grid. Hayden methodically moved to the front and opened a four-second advantage, riding an error-free and consistent race, then managed his lead for a two-second win over Davide Giuliano. It was the sort of savvy performance you'd expect from a veteran and a world champion.

It was Hayden's first win since his MotoGP championship year, 2006, and it renewed hopes that if Honda can provide a new CBR1000RR next year that's competitive, he can still battle for wins, or maybe even contend to become the first rider ever to win both MotoGP and WSBK championships.

"When it started raining I knew I had to go for it," Hayden said. "I’m definitely not in the championship fight and that meant I could risk a bit more."

"It’s been a few dry years but I never stopped trying."

Josh Hayes at VIR
Uncharacteristically, Josh Hayes didn't get his first win of the year until the seventh race. At VIR, he came from 10th on the grid to win race one, and nearly did the double, losing race two to a last-lap pass by his teammate. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, the other Superbike veteran, four-time champion Josh Hayes, was trying to reverse his slow start to the season: six races without a win. It didn't help that he got balked in Superpole while on his lone qualifier tire, putting him 10th on the grid while the other three title contenders, his teammate Cameron Beaubier and Yoshimura Suzuki riders Roger Hayden and Toni Elias, were on the front row.

Even though he's four years older than Valentino Rossi, Hayes showed he still has the pace, coming from the fourth row to win his 59th career Superbike race. He almost did the double, too, but Beaubier passed him on the last lap for the win in race two. 

The second Supersport/Superstock 600 race, this time in dry conditions, saw two photo finishes: Gerloff beating Valentin Debise by 0.038 seconds in Supersport while Bryce Prince edged Richie Escalante, in his first race back from injury, at the line by 0.006 seconds in the Superstock 600 class.

"I had no idea who won until I saw the second monitor on the track," Gerloff said after the race.

There was more, like Josh Herrin slewing his Superstock 1000 bike sideways in do-or-die fashion in race one to keep up with the faster Superbikes at the front of the field until contact with Hayden sent him tumbling into the dirt. But you get the point. All told, it was a great weekend of racing, but if you only tune in when Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi are preening for the cameras, you missed it. Don't miss it.