And they’ll be joined by young chargers Josh Herrin, 18, and Tommy Aquino, 16, the teen-agers contesting the Daytona SportBike class aboard Graves Motorsports Yamaha YZF-R6’s.
All four will race in the season-opening Daytona 200, a race Hayes won this year before he was disqualified for a technical violation.
For Hayes, it’s the culmination of a career spent trying to prove that he merited a factory Superbike.
“I’ve known quite a few Yamaha riders and I’ve never seen anybody leave Yamaha on bad terms,” Hayes said in response to a question from team manager Keith McCarty at the team intro at Yamaha’s headquarters in Cypress, California. “It’s a family atmosphere and you know we’ve been working on you for a couple of years.
“Everybody knows I’ve been wanting to get back in the Superbike program,” Hayes, who last raced an Attack Kawasaki Superbike in 2005, said. “I want to thank Yamaha for allowing me to do that, for inviting me into the family.
“The new (R1) is exciting. I’m excited about it. I got to see it firsthand with Ben (Spies) testing it at Portugal. I think it’s going to be the machine to have.”
Hayes also let it be known that he’s not there as a grid-filler. “I really hope that Mat Mladin sticks around and races Superbike this year, because I’ve wanted a shot at him for quite a while.”
A journeyman most of his career, the 33-year-old Mississippian has shown that with experience comes speed. Hayes has been the most successful Honda rider the past three years, with the 2006 and ’07 Formula Xtreme titles going on the shelf next to the 2003 Superstock crown he won aboard an Attack Suzuki.
This year Hayes suffered a crushing blow at the start of the season when his Daytona-winning Erion Honda CBR600RR was found to have an illegal crankshaft. That set the tone for the first six races of the season, which included a seventh at Barber and 12th at Road America. He finished the season strongly, winning three races in a row and finishing second at the Laguna Seca season finale. But it was too little, too late: Teammate Jake Zemke had secured the title at the previous round at Road Atlanta.
Hayes finished third in the Supersport championship to Ben Bostrom and Zemke. His only two wins came late in the season when Bostrom was in defensive mode.
At the end of the season, Hayes joined the Parkalgar Honda team for the final three rounds of the World Supersport Championship. His best finish was in the final round when he came within .043 secs. of finishing on the podium in Portimao, Portugal. There was some interest from World Supersport teams, but not for the sort of payday he could expect in the U.S.
Bostrom has been here before, the laid-back Californian who currently resides in Malibu having competed in both AMA Superbike and World Superbike competition. Bostrom won the AMA Superbike title for American Honda in 1998 and finished runner-up to Mat Mladin in 1999 aboard a Vance & Hines Ducati. The following year, Bostrom headed overseas to contest the World Superbike Championship for Ducati, ending the year fifth in the championship.
Bostrom’s finest hour came in 2001 when he raced an L&M Ducati to third in the World Superbike Championship, winning six races during the season – including five in a row. The following season was a struggle for Bostrom and he returned to the AMA series for the 2003 season in a return engagement with American Honda. He ended that first season with Honda fourth in the championship, a result he repeated the following year. In 2005, Bostrom had perhaps his worst season of racing as he went back to the World Superbike Championship on a Renegade Honda for a season filled with mediocre results.
The following season, 2006, Bostrom returned to the AMA series to ride a Parts Unlimited Ducati and finished an uninspired ninth in the championship. The 34-year-old’s career was reinvented when he joined Yamaha the following year and finished second in the Superstock class on an R1.
And this year it all came together for the ever-popular former dirt tracker as he won the Supersport title on Yamaha’s new R6.
In addition to contesting the entire Superbike championship, Bostrom will ride in both support classes at the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix.
The highlight of Josh Herrin’s season came early. Herrin beat teammate Ben Bostrom by .132 secs. in the Supersport final at Barber Motorsports Park. He finished the season with podiums in two of the three final races en route to fifth overall in the championship.
Aquino, who joined the series halfway into the season at Miller Motorsports Park, was 14th in the season standings. Still, he was earned the AMA Road Race Rookie of the Year title.