Triumph Big Kahuna Atlanta Recap: AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike

NEWS April 26, 2012

Triumph Big Kahuna Atlanta Recap: AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 26, 2012) – At Road Atlanta, the AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike class returned to a more conventional event after last month’s DAYTONA® 200. Instead of the single endurance race on the banks of Daytona International Speedway replete with pit stops, the doubleheader sprint race format came to Braselton, Ga.’s 2.55-mile natural road course for the M1 PowerSports-promoted Triumph Big Kahuna Atlanta presented by Dunlop Tire and LeoVince. Martin Cardenas of GEICO Suzuki won both 20-lap races in Dixie and assumed the points lead for his efforts in what was an impressive display.

Cardenas won the GoPro Daytona SportBike championship the last season he raced in the class before moving to AMA Pro National Guard last year and earning a rare first-season win. Cardenas was right there with the lead pack at the front in Daytona and finished fourth, a result that went a bit under the radar with Joey Pascarella’s flawless run to victory and Jason DiSalvo’s brilliant charge getting most of the accolades.

On Saturday at Road Atlanta, Cardenas ran away with the win, taking the checkers 4.461 seconds in front of the scrapping behind him. Cardenas had a couple of moments in the victory, but did not crash either time and quickly recovered to go even faster.

“I thought it was going to be a battle between four or five bikes. I don’t know why, but it didn’t happen that way this time,” said Cardenas. “The first few laps, I got a good gap and that was it. I ran a very good pace and I kept pushing.”

Dane Westby of M4 Broaster Chicken Suzuki took second place with a charge through the field. Westby had a poor start but his run through the field was exciting as he picked off rivals with skill.

"By the time I got up there, Martin was pretty far away. I couldn't see him over Turn 3 or a couple other corners. Maybe if I had been up there at the start it would have been easier on me,” Westby said. “The guys on the pitboard kept giving me the ‘plus zero’ -- they wanted me to catch Martin so I was really on the stick the whole time."

Tommy Hayden earned third for Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha. Hayden faced a stiff challenge when he was drafted to replace the injured Garrett Gerloff on the second day at the season-opening round at Daytona. Following a successful test at Homestead, Hayden had a much better grasp on things at Road Atlanta. The Kentucky-native had a race-long battle with Benny Solis (Riders Discount Vesrah Suzuki) that ended with just over a lap remaining in the race when Solis crashed at Turn 10A.

Jake Zemke on the Ducshop Ducati showed steady progress in his run to fourth on Saturday and hard-braking Cory West earned the top five for Riders Discount Vesrah Suzuki in his race. After a season away from the AMA Pro Road Racing scene, former GoPro Daytona SportBike race winner Bobby Fong proved tough on the Meen Motorsports Yamaha to get sixth.

Local rider Huntley Nash got his best GoPro Daytona SportBike result yet for LTD Racing when he took seventh after being in the top 10 all weekend. He led a pack of riders including Daytona winner Pascarella, now riding for SGA Yamaha, J.D. Beach (RoadRace Factory/Red Bull) and Michael Beck (Full Tuck Yamaha) that finished within one second.

Beck put a decent gap on the competition in the chase for the $5,000 Sunoco "Go The Distance" Award, given to the rider that completes the furthest total distance in 2012 AMA Pro Road Racing race-weekend events. The Californian has logged 731.04 miles to second-place Beach’s 711.9 miles.

On Sunday, Cardenas had a tougher go of it. Zemke got the holeshot ahead of fast-starting Hayden (from the second row) and Jake Gagne (RoadRace Factory/Red Bull).

By lap two, Cardenas made his way to the front with a bold pass at Turn 10A. Unlike Saturday, Hayden was able to hang with Cardenas, as was Castrol Triumph’s DiSalvo until he had a mechanical issue on lap 12. The trio lived in the low-1:29 second range, a hot pace for the 20-lap race.

With less than two laps to go, Cardenas fared better through traffic and then put in a flyer to take the impressive win by 1.220 seconds.

“Tommy put the pressure on me the whole race, so it was very difficult,” said Cardenas of his 18th career GoPro Daytona SportBike victory. “I tried to pull a gap on him but it wasn’t possible. At the end, we found a few lapped riders and I think that helped me a bit.”

“We made a few changes and that made a few of the sections more comfortable for me,” said Hayden. “I’ve been chipping away at it and I feel like I am getting closer and closer. It was important for me to take the next step.”

The battle for third proved to be highly contested. Westby, Zemke, and Gagne rode in tight formation for much of the race. Westby could not move through the group on Sunday, but started to consolidate the placing starting with five laps to go. It wasn’t over, though. Zemke, riding for a small team based out of Atlanta, regrouped and made a pass for position at Turn 10A with three remaining. Westby, who was quicker than Zemke through the Esses, managed to wrest third with the pass and hold it to the flag.

“I was able to get in there on the brakes in Turn 10 and stick it to (Zemke),” said Westby, who clearly enjoyed his battle with the California native.

Zemke’s two fourth-place results showed the progress his new Ducshop Ducati team has been able to make despite limited testing opportunities.

Gagne took fifth, a stellar result for the class rookie who has more experience racing in Europe than the US; the young standout won the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup two years ago and raced a Moto2 bike in Spain last year. With 29 GoPro Daytona SportBike points, he continues to lead in the $5,000 Saddlemen Rookie of the Year award program.

Fong was sixth in another impressive run, holding off Beach in his best result of the year of seventh.

Nash was eighth on Sunday despite some arm pump issues and showed that he, too, is a young rider to watch in the class.

Solis responded from his Saturday crash by beating Pascarella for ninth by less than 0.3 seconds.

Cardenas has now won five of the six AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike races held at Road Atlanta. The Colombian now leads the points 82 to 62 over Westby, with Hayden just two back in third.

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