MONTEREY, Calif. (September 27, 2013) - Despite maintaining a position of consistent dominance over the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike field in 2013, defending three-time series champion Josh Hayes enters this weekend’s GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca facing long odds in his hopes to top Josh Herrin and collect an unprecedented fourth-consecutive premier-class title.
Twenty-two points out of first with just Sunday’s single race to go, Hayes needs a lot of help if he’s to somehow retain his crown. Hayes performed in fine fashion on Friday, securing the provisional pole with a blistering time of 1:24.249.
Hayes not only led the way in the National Guard SuperBike class, he even outpaced the superstars of the FIM Superbike World Championship in their respective first practice and first qualifying sessions despite the national championship’s considerably tighter technical rules.
With the pressure of the championship fight largely removed from his shoulders, Hayes rode fast and loose, acclimating to his Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha YZF-R1 after guesting aboard a World Endurance-spec R1 at Le Mans last weekend.
After qualifying, Hayes said, “I’ve just tried to be steady and roll around the racetrack and keep myself feeling good and fresh because I know I’ll be fastest on Sunday. I’ll keep working at it.”
Meanwhile, Hayes’ title-leading teammate, Josh Herrin, was perhaps feeling the additional pressure that has now been shifted firmly in his direction. Herrin, who has done a fantastic job of consistently maximizing his opportunities, suffered his very first crash of the season today in qualifying, tipping over in Turn 3 with around 10 minutes remaining.
As a result, Herrin was pushed down from third at the time (1:25.257) to the provisional second row in fifth, trailing not only Hayes, but also Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing’s title hopeful, Martin Cardenas (1:24.694), KTM/HMC Racing’s Chris Fillmore (1:25.192), and Team Hero EBR’s Geoff May (1:25.248).
Despite Herrin’s Friday fall, Hayes, who needs his teammate/rival to finish outside the top 10 to even have a chance at the title, claims that he considers the championship effectively out of reach at this point.
“In my mind, the championship is over,” Hayes admitted. “I don’t have that in my mind while I’m riding around the racetrack. The only way…if something went wrong (for Herrin), it would be the most bittersweet of emotions.”
Hayes has racked up seven victories this season, but he finds himself the dark horse this weekend due to an odd combination of mistakes and misfortune, not the least of which are his three jump-start infractions. The Mississippian worked overtime on Friday in an attempt to overhaul his starting technique to ensure that he does not suffer the same fate for a fourth time in 2013.
He explained, “That’s what I spent most of qualifying working on. It’s funny — I can win SuperBike races, and I can win SuperBike championships, but I can’t start with my foot on the rear brake. I can’t get the timing right, I can’t get the clutch right. I’m out there — I just did three starts during the qualifying session so I could practice and try to figure out how to do this so this is not an issue for us again in the future. I’m trying to eliminate the problem, and I’ll keep working at it the best that I can.”
While mathematically out of the championship picture, a number of riders are hoping to leave a strong impression with an outstanding finale this weekend. The aforementioned Fillmore and May are off to quick starts at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as are Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing’s Larry Pegram (sixth, 1:25.714) and Motosport.com Motul Fly Racing’s David Anthony, who ranked near the top of the charts during the first half of the session before winding up seventh (1:25.801).
Fillmore’s KTM teammate, Taylor Knapp, finished the day in eighth, while the EBR 1190RS-mounted duo of Cory West (Motosport.com/EBR II) and Aaron Yates (Team AMSOIL/Hero) concluded the Friday top 10.
The final grid for Sunday’s 2013 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike finale will be set following final qualifying, scheduled to begin Saturday afternoon at 12:40 p.m. local time.
AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike
With nine straight AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike wins to his credit, Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha’s Cameron Beaubier was fastest on Friday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Beaubier opened the weekend by setting a new circuit class record, something he’d done at the past six tracks this year in a championship season bulging with accomplishments and accolades.
“It’s important to me to win this race,” said Beaubier after setting a best mark of 1:26.516. “I want to win this as bad as the other ones. It’s good to come into the race with no pressure (from the championship) and be able to run as fast as I can.”
Beaubier lives three hours away and said he wanted to improve from when the series raced at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca earlier this summer. “I wanted to come here and better my laps. I think it was a little warmer than when we were here (in July) for the GP,” he said. “The first session today was important because our race is early Sunday morning.”
Beaubier bettered his teammate Garrett Gerloff, who is battling the injured Jake Gagne for second in the points. Gerloff trails by 19 and Gagne rode in the afternoon after skipping the morning session. RoadRace Factory/Red Bull’s JD Beach was third ahead of another strong performer in July’s race at the circuit, Latus Motors Racing’s Jason DiSalvo.
On provisional row two, Jake Lewis (Meen Motorsports) impressed once again. The Kentuckian, who is in a showdown with National Guard/Celtic Racing’s James Rispoli for top rookie, held off D&D Cycles/Castrol/Triumph’s Bobby Fong, GEICO Motorcycle’s Dane Westby, and Riders Discount Racing Triumph’s Jake Zemke.
Final qualifying is scheduled for Saturday at 3:25 p.m. local time and will determine the running order for Sunday’s 20 lap GoPro Daytona SportBike finale.
AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series
AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series title leader Steve Rapp carried his stellar form into Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Californian claimed the provisional pole position on the eve of the race he hopes will reward him with not only with a triumph in the XR Showdown, but also the first championship of his GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing career.
The Aerostar Global/Suburban Harley-Davison ace posted a 1:35.754 on his final lap to move into first place for the day. Title rival Tyler O’Hara (Eco Fuel Saver/Scrubblade) responded with a fast lap of his own, but ultimately fell 0.150 seconds short of overtaking Rapp.
Outgoing champ Michael Barnes (Spyke’s Harley-Davidson) was third on Friday, followed by a pair of riders from outside the XR Showdown — Hayden Schultz (Kyle Wyman Racing) and Gage McAllister (Folsom Harley-Davidson).
Rapp’s teammate, Ben Carlson, and Thrashed Bike Racing’s David Estok were sixth and seventh fastest, respectively, while second-ranked Travis Wyman (Harv’s Harley-Davidson) rounded out the provisional second row.
“I feel really comfortable,” Rapp said. “The track feels good, and I feel good.”
Asked if he’s finally feeling the pressure of a championship as he nears the conclusion of what he’s repeatedly referred to as a relaxed season, Rapp said, “At times, I do. When I’m on the bike, I feel the same as always, but when we’re sitting around and everyone is talking about this and that, a little bit. I’m pretty mellow at this point. It’s really important to me, but I can’t control everything. I feel like I’m riding good and the bike’s good. Whatever happens beyond that is out of my control.”
Despite his big 22-point advantage, don’t expect Rapp to cruise in tomorrow’s finale. He explained, “I feel like I’m better off trying to get a good start, get out, and get some clear track. If there’s people with me, we’ll sort it out. But if I ride back there with people I’m not used to riding with, it could get ugly. I can do the lap times comfortably, so I’m going to get out there and get some clear track.”
Final qualifying for the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series will begin Saturday at 9:45 a.m. local time, with the 11 lap race to determine the winner of the XR Showdown scheduled that afternoon at 4:17 p.m.
How to Follow the Action
Live timing and scoring with play-by-play commentary will be available for all of this weekend’s GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing sessions on AMA Pro Live. Log on and tune in at http://www.amaprolive.com/rr/