Michael Jordan Motorsports’ Aaron Yates shot to the top of the timesheets with just under five minutes to go in today’s opening qualifying session at Auto Club Speedway and he stayed there, the Georgian the first and only rider to crack the 1:24-barrier despite riding his back-up bike.
The session got going with Foremost Insurance’s Larry Pegram holding the top spot, but he was soon displaced by Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Tommy Hayden. Hayden held the spot until Yates upped the pace late, turning in a 1:23.982 to hold off Hayden by .151 of a second.
Yates did his best lap on his number-two bike after running into a mechanical problem with his favored GSX-R1000.
“We were working on a couple of different things and I had an issue there when I was going pretty good on one bike,” Yates said. “I felt like one bike runs a little better than the other and the front forks we have in there were definitely better for this session. I was real comfortable on it and down the front straightaway things kind of went flat on me and I thought it was tightening up. I went through the gears and went off through turn one up here and kind of pulled the clutch in and blipped it a little bit. I didn’t smell any oil and I looked back and didn’t seen any smoke or anything. The bike seemed to pull strong off the corners, but it just wouldn’t rev up enough rpms. So I pulled in. It felt like the secondary injectors quit working or something and that might be the case. So I got on my other bike, after we messed around with that for a bit, and went straight out on it. I wasn’t really happy with the front suspension on it, but I knew I had to go out and fast and we scuffed a tire in and tried to go around the track as good as I could and managed to come out with the pole for today, I guess.
The Ducati-mounted Pegram ended up dropping to third, just .168 of a second behind Yates.
The John Hopkins everyone was looking for at Daytona showed up today at Auto Club Speedway, the former MotoGP racer shooting up from well down in the pack to third with some six minutes to go in the session. That third would become fourth with Yates’ quick lap, but it was a vast improvement over his performance in the opening round in Daytona and I put him on the provisional front row. And he was just .208 of a second behind Yates.
Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Blake Young was fifth fastest, just a few ticks behind Hopkins.
Graves Motorsports Yamaha’s Josh Hayes was sixth, just head of Jake Holden, the privateer Honda rider returning to the Superbike class after racing in Daytona SportBike in the opening round at Daytona. Hayes and Holden were just .378 and .410 of a second behind Yates as .809 of a second separated first from eighth – Pat Clark Motorsports’ Ben Bostrom.
Daytona Superbike doubleheader winner Jake Zemke ended up ninth on the National Guard Suzuki GSX-R1000 with M4 Monster Suzuki’s Chris Ulrich rounding out the top 10.
Yates says there’s more to come tomorrow with the qualifying session scheduled for 9 a.m.
“I went faster when we tested here and I know I can go faster than I did today,” Yates said. “The bike didn’t feel to me as it was running as good as my other bike so if we get all that sorted out, tomorrow it will be cooler earlier in the day, and I’m pretty confident we should be asble to go mid -23s or something.”
1. Aaron Yates (Suzuki) 1:23.982
2. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki) 1:24.133
3. Larry Pegram (Ducati) 1:24.150
4. John Hopkins (Suzuki) 1:24.190
5. Blake Young (Suzuki) 1:24.227
6. Josh Hayes (Yamaha) 1:24.360
7. Jake Holden (Honda) 1:24.392
8. Ben Bostrom (Yamaha) 1:24.791
9. Jake Zemke (Suzuki) 1:25.228
10. Chris Ulrich (Suzuki) 1:25.270