Archives: An Early Take on MotoAmerica 2019’s Place in History
In the future when journalists and racing historians look back on the 2019 MotoAmerica Superbike Championship, they very well may point to the August round at Sonoma Raceway as the turning point. That weekend Yoshimura Suzuki’s Toni Elias took a giant step towards winning his second MotoAmerica EBC Brakes Superbike title, the Spaniard finishing second to Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff while his main championship rival Cameron Beaubier crashed out of the race on lap two. Elias’ second-place finish combined with Beaubier’s non-finish gave Elias, what seemed at the time as, an insurmountable 59-point lead in the series championship with seven rounds remaining.
Archives: An Early Take on MotoAmerica 2019’s Place in History
But then Elias returned the favor the next day, by crashing out. Beaubier won the race going away and was suddenly back in contention, Elias’ series lead nearly cut in half. From that point on Beaubier went on a streak of strong results, winning three of the final six rounds and finishing second in the other three. Elias on the other hand seemed to lose the feel for his bike. When the setup was right, Elias was able to win, as he did at Pittsburgh race two, but in that same span, Elias finished off the podium three times in the final six races.
Fans hoped there would be a straight up battle between the top two riders for the championship, but the Barber finale proved anticlimactic. Beaubier won both races. Elias struggled and could only watch helplessly as Beaubier passed him motored away to his fourth MotoAmerica/AMA Superbike Championship.
The championship for Beaubier moved him into rarified air in terms of the history of MotoAmerica Superbike. He’d been tied with Reg Pridmore, Fred Merkel, Doug Chandler and Ben Spies with three titles apiece, now he joins his former teammate Josh Hayes with four championships, tying him in second for the most championships in the 44-year history of the series. Australian Mat Mladin, with his seven championships, leads the way, but it’s now a least conceivable that Beaubier could one day surpass the record that once was thought to be untouchable.
There were five winners in the series this season. That’s a fairly high number in recent years. The last time there were more winners in a single season was 2010 when six riders took victories. With seven wins, Toni Elias led the way for the most wins in 2019, ahead of Beaubier’s six. Garrett Gerloff had four, Josh Herrin two and JD Beach one. Both Gerloff and Beach were first time Superbike winners in 2019. They were the 57tha and 58th riders to win a MotoAmerica/AMA Superbike race.
With their wins Beaubier and Elias both climbed into the upper echelon on the all-time wins category. Beaubier moved to third all-time list now owning an impressive 38-career Superbike victories. Elias was the fastest to the 20-win mark in the history of the series and he continues to rocket up the charts. He’s now tied with Miguel Duhamel for fourth on the all-time wins list with 32. The chart toppers – Mat Mladin, with his mind-boggling 82-career wins and second all-time Josh Hayes with 61 wins, are safe for now. At the rate he’s winning it would take about another four years for Beaubier to catch Hayes. It would likely take seven to eight years for him to have a shot at catching Mladin’s record. He’s 26 so it’s not totally out of the question should Beaubier continue racing in America the rest of his career.
Yamaha led the way in Superbike wins this year with 11, while Suzuki had nine. All-time Suzuki is way out front with 212 total MotoAmerica/AMA Superbike wins since the series began in 1976. Yamaha is second with 129, followed by Honda with 116, Kawasaki with 57, Ducati with 44, BMW with five and Moto Guzzi with two.
It was business as usual with the four factory riders mainly dominating the proceedings, but there were sparks of brilliance from others like JD Beach, who made big news in May at Virginia International Raceway. Just a week after getting his first-career premier class American Flat Track victory, JD Beach did the same in MotoAmerica Superbike. Being an active and winning Flat track racer put a smile on the face of a lot of old-school fans who remember when the AMA Grand National Championship included both flat track and road racing. Beach now has at least the chance to join the very exclusive Grand Slam Club – riders who have won all four disciplines of flat track as well as a premier class road race. Only four riders in the history of American motorcycle racing accomplished that feat – Kenny Roberts, Dick Mann, Bubba Shobert and Doug Chandler. Should Beach go on to get it done in the coming years he would almost assure himself a spot in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Mathew Scholtz on the Westby Racing Yamaha, Jake Lewis on the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki, Kyle Wyman on his Kyle Wyman Racing Ducati, Jake Gagne on the Scheibe Racing BMW and Cameron Petersen on the Omega Moto Yamaha all turned in solid performances in 2019, showing strong depth in the Superbike field.
MotoAmerica scored a coup this year, moving its TV coverage from beIN to the much more available Fox Sports 2. It also had a feature show on NBCSN, which has already been renewed for next year. They are making all the right moves to better position the series in the ever-shrinking motorsports market. Attendance at the events this year also showed positive growth. It was especially obvious at Road Atlanta and Road America. The announcement that the series is heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a stand-alone event was also major news and should greatly increase the exposure of the series in America.
The problem is sportbike sales continue to lag. So much so that the rumor in the paddock is Yamaha is going to discontinue its factory team and instead shift its factory support to Attack Racing. If Yamaha is pulling back, it brings the obvious question will Suzuki do the same? If the two factories scale down their efforts it will look bad for the series, but in the long run could actually provide more competitive racing overall for the series.
One thing is obvious, having just Superbikes in the races makes for some very light starting grids. The fact is, even in the best years, there were not many more true Superbikes in the class than there are today, it’s just the fact that many racers on Supersport-spec machines filled out the grid to make a little extra cash and perhaps glory. MotoAmerica needs to figure out a way to allow and encourage the Stock 1000 competitors to also race in the Superbike class. A good number of the top Stock 1000 racers are turning time competitive in Superbike. A 30 or 35-bike grid would make the TV and live experience much more of a spectacle.
There are some rumors that Kawasaki could return. And Honda is said to have a new 1000cc sportbike in the works, so we could actually have more factory machines on the grid in 2020, but it’s nothing more than paddock speculation at this point.
Early predictions for next year? I see it a tossup between Gerloff, Beaubier and Elias. Elias may have a slight edge, since Indianapolis with its very long straightaway, should be tailor-made for the top speed advantage of the Suzuki, and add in the fact that Sonoma, which Beaubier absolutely owned, is off the schedule. The title chase will likely be decided again this time next year at Barber.
You can read the digital edition version of this story here: https://magazine.cyclenews.com/i/1172754-cycle-news-2019-issue-39-october-1/120