Recap of National Guard SuperBike Action at Road America
NEWS June 6, 2013
Photo by Brian J Nelson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 6, 2013) - Following the shocking GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing season opener at Daytona International Speedway, the 2013 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike title picture continued to take intriguing shape at the Subway SuperBike Doubleheader at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Reigning triple champ Josh Hayes got his revenge for his double Daytona DNF with a double victory, but there was more to weekend's developments than simply another steamroll of the field by Hayes and his Monster Energy Graves Yamaha YZF-R1.
There's no disputing that Hayes was dominant yet again. The Mississippian again excelled at what may be his favorite circuit on the tour, winning his fourth and fifth consecutive race at Road America (the 34th and 35th of his remarkable premier-class career).
Additionally, for the second consecutive season, Hayes was the top dog way every single time the SuperBikes were on track, coming out on top of every practice, qualifying session, and both races. Along the way, Hayes scooped up his 24th pole position, equaling the tally of Ben Spies for second on the all-time order.
Underlining the champions' unprecedented ownership of the modern era, the weekend marked the 11th time Hayes has assembled a perfect points haul weekend, earned by claiming pole position, leading the most laps in both races, and claiming the double victory. To put that in perspective, consider that in the 38-year history of the class, only 14 other riders so much as lay claim to 11 career SuperBike wins.
Hayes' outstanding Road America weekend went a long way toward making up for his Daytona dual DNF disaster, slashing his championship deficit by 14 points and moving him to within 34 points of the lead. If he continues to string together perfect weekends, he'll have effectively dug himself out of his early-season hole by the time the series leaves Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in July.
However, the Road America weekend also hinted that Hayes' position atop the pecking order may not be quite as firmly entrenched as it once was. Still struggling somewhat to adapt to the U.S.-made Dunlop tires after mastering the nuances of the U.K.-made rubber the series previously used, Hayes' minor difficulties were exacerbated by the emergence of Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing's Martin Cardenas.
Having learned to deal with young and talented rivals such as Blake Young and Josh Herrin, who frequently up their pace dramatically when following in Hayes' wheel tracks but also struggle to match his pace without a guide, Cardenas poses a different kind of threat.
The Colombian was considerably closer to Hayes than any other rider in terms of outright pace throughout the weekend, and showed the ability to improve his rhythm throughout the races. He twice applied pressure on the champ as he closed in from seconds behind to make for tense finishes.
Still adapting to the speed of the works GSX-R1000, Cardenas can only be expected to expected to improve as the season goes on.
He'll need to. Currently leading the championship with 105 points following his impressive double runner-up (followed by Herrin at 92, Larry Pegram at 75, and Hayes with 71), as previously explained, Cardenas can't simply sit back and collect second-place results and expect to win the championship.
His early-season promise combined with the progress he's already shown hint at a year-long titanic title fight.
Double winner Hayes said, "It was a great weekend; I'm really happy with the results. The racing was very hard for me. (Sunday) was a really tough day… I was trying really, really hard. I got really tight. I was definitely struggling even from the halfway flag on. It was just me hanging on and gripping the bars really tight. My right arm is pretty worked… I started to panic a little bit when (Cardenas) started closing that gap up, but I was just trying to stay relaxed. I never really looked back. I had a pretty bad moment in Turn 8 and thought, 'oh, you just threw away the race.' I looked back and saw I had a little bit of room and just tried to ride the second half of the lap clean. I'm glad I was able to make it to the line."
The understated Cardenas remarked, "The race was good. I liked it a little bit better than (Saturday's). Especially at the end, I got in a very good rhythm. I got a good start and the first few laps I was kind of okay. And then he passed me and did some very fast laps and I couldn't keep on with him. I was not so good in some corners, but then I calmed down and started to get into a very good rhythm.
"We finished second, which is a very good place and a little bit closer, which is the idea. We're happier than yesterday and the Suzuki is working good. We're looking forward to Barber and seeing what we can do."
While Hayes proved he's still the series' unquestioned top rider, his comfort level with the tires could prove to be a deciding factor as the season -- and Cardenas -- develop.
Hayes explained, "I'm looking at the gaps and I’m wondering right now if these guys who rode on 600s on U.S. tires for two or three years before they jumped on SuperBikes, and now we're going to U.S. tires in SuperBike, maybe without even knowing it, they have a better feel for how these tires act based on their experiences on the 600. It's something that's going to take me a little more time to get accustomed to."
Hayes' Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Josh Herrin, actually came into Road America with a one-point championship advantage over Cardenas. He's now second after claiming a sixth and a third on the weekend, but left somewhat disappointed not to have been immediately quicker, and then running off on Saturday and costing himself what should have been an easy double podium weekend.
Herrin rebounded from his Saturday mistake to claim third on Sunday. However, while he again showed the ability to up his game considerably at the green light when dicing with his rivals, he was unable to hold that hot pace for race distance.
After finishing third on Sunday, Herrin said, "I thought it was really good. Towards the end of the race I faded, obviously. I have no excuses for that -- I was making little mistakes. For some reason when Martin would run wide, I'd think in my head, 'here's my chance to catch up or to pass him' but I'd follow him every time. He'd run wide, I'd run wide. He'd have a bobble, I'd have a bobble. That was really hurting me. Towards the end, he really dropped the hammer and started reeling in Josh. I was hoping I'd stay with him but I just wasn't able to."
Herrin's Saturday misfortunate was National Guard Jordan Suzuki's Roger Hayden's gain, as he inherited third place and defended it to the flag, overcoming a determined challenge from Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing's Larry Pegram.
The Kentuckian flashed front-running speed for a pair of laps on Sunday before making a mistake of his own and dropping from the podium chase. He still managed to collect a fourth-place result.
The 3-4 weekend was encouraging from a certain perspective for the Kentuckian, who has never quite come to grips with the Road America layout. And yet it was discouraging from another, as Hayden expects to be challenging Hayes, Cardenas, and Herrin on a weekly basis for race wins and ultimately the championship.
"We struggled some this weekend," admitted Hayden. "On Saturday, we were lucky to get on the podium. On Sunday, I was faster, I felt better and I was a lot closer to the lead pack. But then I made a mistake and lost touch with the group. I’m a little disappointed about that. But this one is past us now. For some reason, I’ve never done well at Road America. So now, I’m just looking forward to putting on a good show at Barber."
Pegram backed up his twin Daytona podiums with a fourth place behind Hayden on Saturday at Road America and a sixth-place run on Sunday.
Jordan Suzuki's Danny Eslick enjoyed a similarly solid weekend, stringing together a pair of fifths as he continues to acclimate to the Michael Jordan Motorsports Suzuki GSX-R1000.
The Oklahoman said, "It was a good weekend. It started off a little rough because I was off the pace. Then I had a crash in qualifying and that set me back, but my Jordan Suzuki crew worked hard to give me a good bike for the rest of the weekend. In Saturday’s race, I got a bad start and had to work my way up and I lost the lead pack, so it was a lonely race for me. On Sunday, I got a good start on the Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000 and was able to hang in there. I’m still struggling a little as I get to know the bike but with some more seat time, we should be right there with them."
Motosport.com Motul Fly Racing's David Anthony quietly put together another strong weekend, logging eighth and seventh-place results on his Suzuki GSX-R1000.
Meanwhile, KTM/HMC Racing's Chris Fillmore also collected a pair of top tens aboard his orange and blue RC8R, finishing ninth and eighth. Things did not go as well on the other side of the tent, as teammate Taylor Knapp was the victim of a two mechanical DNFs.
Fillmore said, "I am happy to get two top ten finishes. We have made quite a few improvements on the bike in the last months but we definitely still have some areas to work on. I am happy with the progression so far and hope to continue to improve upon our results at the next round.
Team Hero's Geoff May showed competitive speed on the EBR 1190RS in both races despite the fact that the four-mile circuits' three lengthy straights don't exactly play to the machine's strengths. Still, he put on a good show for the home crowd, logging a seventh-place result on Saturday. May was angling for an even better finish on Sunday but crashed spectacularly in Turn 1.
"The good news is I was far enough away from Chris Fillmore that there wasn't any chance of contact," May said. "The only danger was him running me over after I had already fallen. Chris did a really good job of avoiding me, because when the bike low-sided it started dragging me back across the track into harm's way.
"I just had to get off as fast as I could. Chris missed me by a foot or two. There was a paint line on the track that got me. I went in there hot, ran out wide, tried to keep it on the track, and as soon as I hit the paint line it threw me down."
Looking on the bright side, May said, "We've got the best handling bike on the grid. When we get the power we'll be able to run up front all race. The good news is we've got the guys behind us to find the power; it's just a matter of time.
"I could already tell when I was drafting with some guys out in the field where their issues are," May said. "We don't have the same issues charging the corner and carrying high roll speed. When we get equal power they're going to be in trouble."
His Erik Buell Racing teammate, Aaron Yates, put the Team AMSOIL/Hero EBR 12th on Saturday and ninth on Sunday.
"All weekend we've been progressing along trying to get comfortable on the bike," said Yates. "We're looking for a good setting where we can carry speed through the corners. (Saturday) was a learning experience because of the brakes, but things held in there really well (Sunday)."
Team RSRacecraft EBR's Cory West collected two more top tens for the EBR 1190RS continent with back-to-back tenths.
Cardenas' Yoshimura teammate, Chris Clark, had a weekend to forget, claiming 11th and 14th-place results at the scene of his best race weekend a year ago. Coming off his best career weekend to date in Daytona this past March, Clark carried high expectations into Elkhart Lake, but was stymied by mechanical issues in qualifying and twice ran off track in the races.
"It was a bit of an off weekend," admitted Clark. "During the first race, I had a decent start but another rider tried to pass me and ran us both off the track. On Sunday, we had an unfortunate issue on the warm-up lap. Luckily the first start was delayed and we were able to make the second start, but in last place. Even though I got another good start on the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000, I made a mistake trying to make-up positions and ran off-track. Now I'm just focusing on getting a good result at Barber."
M4 Broaster Chicken Racing's Chris Ulrich made big developmental gains aboard his new CBR1000RR during the weekend. Ulrich improved his pace considerably over the three days and fought for a top-ten finish in Sunday's race, coming home a close 12th.
He said, "You always want to be a little further up, but it seems like this whole weekend we've been behind. We had the electronics problem on Friday which was a significant problem and we worked on that. That's getting minutely better. But we discovered a pretty big thing about how the CBR1000RR chassis reacts to certain changes.
"For (Sunday's) race we threw a Hail Mary. We changed the offset from the morning. I wasn't that confident before the race but we all sat there and wondered what would happen if we went up a couple rates on the springs on both ends. We did, we lengthened the wheelbase considerably, and changed the gearing. We ended up a little short on the gearing, which was the only negative of that whole thing. But the positives were all the sudden it was a transformed bike. The thing was stiffer, it was agile yet it was supportive. It was fun to ride. I got done with the race and I told my guys, 'We've got a baseline now -- I can ride this now.'"
Meanwhile, a couple of up-and-comers made premier-class debuts on the weekend. Daytona SportBike regular Huntley Nash raced the Neyra Racing Kawasaki ZX-10R to 20th and 13th-place results, while SuperSport East standout Ryan Kerr took the Ryan Kerr Racing Team Suzuki GSX-R1000 to 14th and 21st on the weekend.
Nash said, "I am happy with how the Superbike race turned out for us after some tough points in the weekend. We went around two seconds faster than we qualified in today’s race. It was really the first time we got to see what we could do after being taken out of yesterday’s race and some dodgy weather at times this weekend. We made a lot of progress with the bike with limited track time. I think we’re ahead of where people think we should be at this point. It was the most fun I’ve had for a while, and I want to do it again. Superbike is different, and I am still learning, but it didn’t really overwhelm me. I think we can make more progress next time."
Kerr remarked, "It felt great to be competing with the top guys in this profession. I am excited to advance in such a prestigious arena and strive to become a top rider in the class. (The mechanical DNF) is a tough way to finish the weekend but I’m counting on a full weekend of great results at the next SuperBike Race at Barber Motorsports Park."
The 2013 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike title chase will resume on June 21-23 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL for the Triumph SuperBike Classic presented by America's First Federal Credit Union.
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