Monster Energy Graves Yamaha's Josh Hayes survived a rare two-crash day and a late charge by Yoshimura Suzuki's Blake Young to hold onto the provisional pole for the first AMA Pro Road Race event at Road Atlanta in two years.
"It's been a rough day," Hayes said after ending his day early with a second crash.
The two-time defending Superbike Champion began the first race weekend since the Daytona season-opener by setting fast time in Friday's opening free practice session following a one-year absence from Road Atlanta. But that session ended early for Hayes when he hit a false neutral going into the hard braking downhill turn ten left.
"Me, trying to rectify the situation, I blipped the throttle trying to get it into a gear and as I blipped the throttle I grabbed the brake a little extra and I was a little off line trying to give myself some extra space," he said. "Fell down and tore that bike up pretty good."
He was also fast in qualifying when he highsided in the final corner after setting his fast lap.
"In this session everything was going pretty smooth," he began. "I got up on the front wheel going down into the last turn and it started snaking around like it always does, but I got a little close to the white line and rear wheel went in the grass, and it stepped out and I had a big decelerating highside. Unfortunately, I tore up my second bike so I ran out of motorcycles."
Even with the problems, Road Atlanta feels familiar to Hayes, who grew up west of here in Gulfport, Mississippi, and cut his teeth on earlier versions of the road course.
"Still feels like home," he said after his provisional pole run. "I still remember my way around pretty well. All in all things have gone pretty smooth except for a couple of miscues."
Hayes put part of the problem to the gap year. The Yamaha YZF-R1 has been greatly developed since he last raced here in 2010, so not much of the data applies. "No, it's been a while since we've seen the place, but I've got a lot of laps around here."
At the end of the day, he said, "I'm a little beat up, but all in all everything works [listing abrasions on his knees as his only injuries]".
No one made a serious attempt to take down Hayes until time had expired, at which point Young put in his best effort which wasn't enough. Young improved his time by nearly half a second with his final lap, only to come up short of Hayes' lap of 1:25.380 by .127 of a second.
Neither rider approached the 1:24.730 lap time that Young ran to take the pole at the race when it was last held here in 2010.
Third place was a pleasant surprise for the home crowd. Geoff May, who lives in nearby Gainesville, Ga., put the Team Amsoil/Hero EBR 1190 next to Young on the overnight front row. May's best lap of 1:26.551 mins. came with less than five minutes to go on his 15th lap.
Josh Herrin, Hayes' teammate, was only .021 of a second behind May at the end of the provisional front row.
The order of the second row changed in the final minutes and again after time ran out. Yoshimura Suzuki's Chris Clark moved up to fourth with less than six minutes to go before being dropped by May. But he'd only fall as far as fifth, which is a commendable effort in his first run at Road Atlanta on the Suzuki GSX-R1000.
With his 19th lap, Jordan Suzuki's Ben Bostrom briefly took over sixth place before teammate Roger Lee Hayden (National Guard Jordan Suzuki) dropped him down to seventh, where he'd finish. Hayden's lap of 1:26.642 was faster by .172 of a second.
Kneedraggers.com/Motul/Fly Racing's David Anthony (Suz) was just behind Bostrom and in front of Attack Kawasaki's Steve Rapp. Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing's Larry Pegram filled out the top 10.
AMA Pro Road Race Superbike Qualifying:
1. Josh Hayes (Yamaha) 1:25.380
2. Blake Young (Suzuki) 1:25.507
3. Geoff May (EBR) 1:26.551
4. Josh Herrin (Yamaha) 1:26.572
5. Chris Clark (Suzuki) 1:26.581
6. Roger Lee Hayden (Suzuki) 1:26.642
7. Ben Bostrom (Suzuki) 1:26.814
8. David Anthony (Suzuki) 1:26.854
9. Steve Rapp (Kawasaki) 1:26.858
10. Larry Pegram (BMW) 1:26.992