The More The Merrier
Here is what you need to know before the green flag drops at Road America
The 2018 MotoAmerica Championship is about to kick off on April 13-15 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia. The early theme in MotoAmerica Superbike in 2018 seems to be “The More the Merrier.” The last couple of seasons have witnessed a compelling, but rather exclusive battle for the MotoAmerica Superbike title between Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing and Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing. If preseason testing is any indicator that title fight could expand to include a couple of other riders and teams.
Important changes to the championship this year include the elimination of the Superstock 1000 class, replaced by the Stock 1000 class. The new Stock 1000 is a stand-alone class with technical rules designed to be friendlier and less costly for private teams, and a place for up-and-comers to build racing experience on 1000cc bikes. The Superstock 600 class has been eliminated, but a new Twins Cup class has been added. And, the KTM RC 390 Cup is now called the Junior Cup and is open to any brand.
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By Larry Lawrence
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN J. NELSON
Five brands of motorcycles will also be represented in MotoAmerica Superbike as Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda and BMW will field entries in the 10-round (20-race) series.
“I can’t wait for the season to get going,” said MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey. “We’ve made a big commitment to the superbike class and it’s good to see the quality of the riders and teams on our premier and season entry list. I believe we are going to see six, seven guys racing at the front and I think we’ll have multiple winners—even more than the five different winners we had last year. The class will also be bolstered by single event and wild card entries, and you never know what surprises might come out of the woodwork for that.”
You might think that defending series champ Toni Elias might be uncomfortable having to battle with three or four additional riders for this year’s MotoAmerica Superbike crown, but at least publicly Elias seems thrilled with the prospect of more riders joining in on the up-front battles this summer.
“This is what the series needs,” Elias said at the recent test in Alabama. “We need six, seven or eight riders battling for the victory in these races. And then in the finals laps we will see what happens. This will bring more fans to the series and I see more riders coming into the fight this year. I do not think it will be just the four factory riders this season with all the strong teams coming into superbikes.”
With the outstanding season Elias had last year on the newly redesign Suzuki GSX-R1000, the former Moto2 World Champion from Spain has to be considered the preseason favorite to defend his 2017 MotoAmerica Superbike Championship. The hope for Elias’ competitors is that he relaxes a bit after his dominating year with Yoshimura Suzuki.
Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Roger Hayden was the king of superpole last season and finished runner up in the championship. The key this season, Hayden believes, is translating that qualifying speed to race day.
“Testing is important no doubt, but the true test comes when that green flag drops,” Hayden said. “We were right there for the championship last year and I think we can do that again this year. Consistency is going to be important. One thing I’ll be trying to do is improve is finding a way to throw caution to the wind and push a little harder in the final laps of the races.”
Based on preseason testing Monster Energy/Yamalube/Factory Yamaha seems to have found improvements in their already impressive Yamaha R1 Superbike. Cameron Beaubier continued to hold the hot hand through off-season testing as the two-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion came out on top of the Dunlop Preseason Test at Barber Motorsports Park. Beaubier had previously led all the test sessions coming into the final shakedown and looks more than ready as the season opener looms this week with the Suzuki Championship at Road Atlanta.
“The two days here at Barber went well,” Beaubier said after the recent tests. “I was stoked to be able to ride here again. Yesterday, I was a little rusty since I didn’t get to race here last year [due to injury]. Thanks to my team, they dialed me in and I got comfortable. I ended up fastest right there at the end, but what I’m happiest about is that I was within a tenth [of a second] on the soft race tire. It’s going to be a tough year. There are a lot of fast guys…my teammate Garrett [Gerloff], Toni [Elias] and Roger [Hayden], and [Mathew] Scholtz are all riding really well right now. So now, I’m ready to go racing. My off-season has been a little bit longer than everyone else’s, so I’m ready to just line up and get the elbows out. I’m excited.”
Beaubier’s Yamaha teammate, superbike rookie Garrett Gerloff, showed flashes of brilliance in preseason tests. With his raw speed Gerloff will certainly challenge for race wins in spite of being in his first year in the premier class. The question is can a rider so green keep out of trouble for the entire series. If he can stay solid throughout, Gerloff may not only challenge for race wins, but perhaps even the number-one plate.
“All in all, I feel really good about my Yamaha R1,” Gerloff said at Barber. “We’re really meshing well. I learned so much about how to ride this bike in the last two days than I had learned in the past five tests we did. What I learned today, I think, is really going to help me this season and it gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
If having Beaubier and Gerloff wasn’t enough, Yamaha has the luxury of still having four-time series champ Josh Hayes waiting in the wings ready to step in should a fill-in rider be needed. Hayes continued his rigorous off-season training regimen and even at 42 is as fit as ever. He’ll be working with young riders in the Junior Cup for Yamaha this season.
While it’s certainly most likely that the 2018 champion will again come from the factory Suzuki or Yamaha camps, the new rules for 2018, which discontinued the Superstock 1000 class that ran alongside Superbike and has consolidated many of those teams and riders into the Superbike class, has significantly upped the competition level. And that’s exactly what MotoAmerica was hoping for. More riders, teams and focus on the premier series.
Showing particular promise at joining the factory four atop the superbike battles coming into 2018 is Mathew Scholtz, of South Africa, and his Yamalube/Westby Yamaha R1. Scholtz, who closed out 2017 with a victory at a rainy Barber Motorsports Park. That was done on a Superstock 1000-class machine, giving Scholtz the permanent distinction of being the only Superstock 1000-class rider ever to win a MotoAmerica Superbike race. Scholtz is now riding on a more level playing field with a superbike and he was consistently near the top of the charts in preseason testing at Barber, finishing second only to factory Yamaha’s Cameron Beaubier.
“We were confident coming into Barber that we were going to be competitive, but the big unknown after racing in Superstock 1000 last year was how would we compare now that we’re on a superbike,” Scholtz said after the recent Barber Dunlop tire tests. “Yesterday didn’t start out well, and we didn’t get much track time due to a few different problems. But, in the final session of the test, we got the bike straightened out, and we were able to work on setting it up for the superbike engine, the forks, and the wheels. Our lap times weren’t where we wanted to be, though. Today, we started out really well, which was a positive step for us. And that was on the older rear tire, which was what we raced on here last year. In the second and third sessions, the bike just wasn’t working, unfortunately, so we didn’t get any track time with the new Dunlop tire. In the final session, the team got things working properly, and the bike was great. With 15 minutes left in the test, we put on the softer tire and did a really quick lap time. We still have a lot of work to do with the brand-new tire, but it was good to show that we have the pace. We go to Virginia [International Raceway] next week to do a test there, so we’ll have some more track time to work on setting the bike up for the new tire before we go to Road Atlanta for the start of the season.”
Other leading Yamaha squads include Attack Performance/Herrin Compound Yamaha with former AMA Superbike Josh Herrin at the controls and the talented Richard Stanboli building the bikes. That pairing could be a very strong entry with a history of success for both.
Kyle Wyman Racing (KWR) has partnered with Speed Demon Motorcycles to contest the 2018 MotoAmerica Superbike Championship. After a successful end of season in 2017, Kyle Wyman will work again with crew chief Gary Dean to challenge for the premier class title. Dean will prepare Yamaha YZF-R1 superbikes for KWR.
Also stepping up for 2018 is the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda squad. With a more sophisticated electronics package on the CBR1000RR, the sole Honda entry in the series could be more competitive, but the team lost a huge asset in Jake Gagne to Honda’s World Superbike squad. Filling his shoes is young talent Cameron Petersen, who certainly has a ton of potential. If he can adopt to the superbike quickly, Petersen might surprise some folks this year.
M4 ECSTAR Suzuki is back in the Superbike class. The team has won a superbike national before with Martin Cardenas. Now the team pegs its hopes on lanky Kentuckian Jake Lewis, who was a factory Suzuki rider a couple of years ago, before being injured and losing the seat to fill-in Toni Elias. Lewis and the team feel they have a lot to prove and hunger for victory could land Lewis on the podium at times this season.
The ever-popular Danny Eslick is making his debut on the Scheibe Racing BMW this year. Eslick had some strong sessions in the preseason test at Alabama. And the outgoing Oklahoman former flat tracker has perhaps the biggest fan following of any rider in the series.
Bobby Fong was one of the few riders who was able to mix it up with the factory four last year and he’ll be back this season, going from a Yamaha ride to a Yamaha R1 sponsored by Hudson Motorcycles.
“I am very appreciative and thankful to Hudson Motorcycles for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to continue my passion for the sport,” said Fong. “With the crew that I have, I am confident that we will have a successful and prosperous tour. After our first test, I knew right away that this would be a great opportunity for me and I look forward to getting back on the track and getting this new journey on its way.”
Australian David Anthony, who has been road racing in the U.S. for a full 10 years, has stepped up his commitment to MotoAmerica for 2018 and will run an interesting squad running two brands of motorcycles. Anthony’s team, officially called “FLY Street Racing” with Boise, Idaho-based FLY Racing as his title sponsor, will feature Anthony himself aboard his familiar #25 Kawasaki ZX-10R superbike, along with Roi Holster piloting the #26 Yamaha YZF-R1 superbike and Sam Verderico also aboard a Yamaha R1 superbike with his bike carrying the #17.
Many expected MotoAmerica Supersport 2018 to be a two-way fight between 2015 Supersport Champion JD Beach and Frenchman Valentin Debise but stepping up big time in testing was Hayden Gillim. The Rickdiculous Racing Yamaha rider was the surprise of the test in the Supersport class as he topped Beach and his Monster Energy/Y.E.S./Graves Motorsports R6 by .508 of a second in the final session to steal the top spot. Gillim lapped at 1:26.804 to Beach’s 1:27.312.
“I was surprised with my speed,” Gillim admitted. “I knew at some point that I would be there with JD [Beach], but I wasn’t expecting it to be right off the bat. I think that says a lot about the whole Rickdiculous program.”
Beach is still likely considered the preseason favorite by most observers. He has traditionally the strongest team in the class behind him and has won a ton of supersport races over the years.
“I’m glad we had this first test because I have a whole new crew this year and the format is a little bit different now, especially with me being the only rider on the team,” Beach said. “It was good to be here to get some things sorted out and see where we need to improve. We’re going in the right direction and, come Road Atlanta, I think we’ll be good.”
Debise hopes to be ready to race come Road Atlanta after his spectacular high-side crash in the Daytona 200 last month. The M4 ECSTAR Suzuki rider was diagnosed with a concussion and compression fracture of the third lumbar vertebra and he was forced to miss the Barber preseason test. In spite of his injuries, you can never count out Debise, who has found ways to be a race winner and series contender on the underdog Suzuki GSX-R600.
“It’s always good to stay with the same team, especially one where you feel great and have a lot of confidence in the crew,” said Debise. “This will be my third year with the team, the bike, the tires, and the tracks, which puts us in a strong position. The team has worked hard to improve the bike, and some of the rule changes for next season look good for us on paper. We won’t know exactly where we stack up until we get out on track, but everything appears to be going in a good way for us. I really feel we have an opportunity to improve and fight for the championship in 2018.”
There are a slew of riders who hope to get up and mix it up with supersport’s Big Three, including Braeden Ortt (Tuned Racing Yamaha), Nick McFadden (M4 medAge Suzuki), Bryce Prince (Lucas Oil/KWR Yamaha) and last year’s Superstock 600 Champion Jason Aguilar (Rickdiculous Racing Yamaha) chief among them.
Twins racing is back in America’s pro road racing series. This class harkens back to the old Battle of the Twins class that became so popular in the 1980s. The MotoAmerica Twins Cup bikes will be a little milder compared to the wide open BOTT days, but the class should attract an interesting mix of machines and riders.
It’s too early to tell who will emerge as the riders to watch in the series. This class will likely attract a variety of different riders at each round by bringing in club racers from different regions around the country the series visits.
At the Barber test the new class was led by Brad Perdiew, the AP MotoArts Yamaha rider besting Altus Motorsports’ Jason Madama and Evansville Superbike Shop’s Shane Perry.
Liqui Moly Junior Cup
The replacement for the very competitive KTM RC Cup spec series, the Junior Cup will still include the race-proven KTM RC390, but now will also feature a variety of motorcycles from Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha.
Yates Racing’s Ashton Yates led the Junior Cup class in testing, the son of former multi-time AMA Supersport and Superstock champ Aaron Yates is racing a Kawasaki Ninja 400. French Canadian Alex Dumas, on the KTM Orange Brigade/JP43 Training RC390R and RiderzLaw Racing’s Jackson Blackmon on a Yamaha R6, gave the new class three different brands of motorcycles in the top three in testing. It’s expected the competition will be equally intense during the 2018 racing season.CN
2018 MOTOAMERICA RACE SCHEDULE
Circuit Of The Americas
Virginia International Raceway
Laguna Seca Raceway
Utah Motorsports Campus
Pittsburgh International Race Complex
New Jersey Motorsports Park
Barber Motorsports Park
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