GoPro Daytona SportBike title hunt takes shape after two thrilling races at Mid-Ohio
LEXINGTON, Ohio - The AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike class was a unique showcase at Mid-Ohio last Sunday. Due to weather issues, all seven AMA Pro races were held the same day, making for a special challenge for all competitors. The class' protagonists put on their usual good show in two exciting contests and the championship tightened up heading into the GoPro Daytona SportBike season finale at New Jersey.
The two Mid-Ohio winners bracketed the range of experience in the class. Motosport.com Meen Yamaha's Jake Lewis won again as the teenager continued his fine form from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Veteran Jason DiSalvo, one of the "senior" riders in the class, found his stride on the Castrol/Triumph/Sportbike Track Time machine in Race 2 and returned to the top in what he described as one of the best wins of his career.
Lewis had a great battle with Jake Gagne (RoadRace Factory/Red Bull) as the two were facing off both on the track and in the points. Lewis trailed as the white flag lap began in Race 1, but managed to somehow hold his line through the Esses after making the inside move at the end of Mid-Ohio's longest straight. Lewis never put a wheel wrong in the last half of the laps and took his second win in eight days.
Lewis made up five points on Gagne and was tied with his rival after the victory.
"This one is pretty huge. I came into the weekend with a lot of confidence. I don't really go well here but I put it all together, a solid race," said Lewis. "I got a good start. When I was following Jake, it looked like his tire was falling off so I stayed right there. On the last lap I was really good on the brakes. It's huge to get the second win in a row."
Lewis was fourth in the second contest but has the championship within his grasp if he can excel in New Jersey. Lewis was 33 points out after Road America and in fourth place after Race 1 at Barber. Getting hot along with the weather has meant Lewis is one of only two men with a strong chance at the crown with just two races left.
DiSalvo's victory saw the New Yorker in fine form, displaying the distinctive riding style he's shown on his best days. DiSalvo earned pole at Laguna Seca but couldn't parlay that advantage into a return to the podium. One week later, he fulfilled that promise and showed how the Triumph middleweight machine has improved.
After a red flag with ten laps to go, DiSalvo improved on his pace from the first leg. With five to go, DiSalvo took the lead over Gagne. From then on, it was classic DiSalvo, hanging off the bike with heavy lean angles, using all the track and carrying high corner speeds with wide, sweeping lines.
DiSalvo saved his best lap for last and made no mistakes to earn his first win since 2012.
"It's such a good deal to give (Triumph) a win. They've been trying everything and we've been working on developing this bike for so long," said DiSalvo. "To win at this track with all my family here is special. I rode my heart out and the new Dunlop GPS Pros were awesome. I think they are an easier tire to go fast on and I felt like I could go hard the whole race."
Gagne finished second both times out. He said he had a bad lap the final time around in Race 1 when Lewis was not to be denied and took the win. In Race 2, Gagne just couldn't get close enough to make a good move on DiSalvo late after leading much of the race.
While a win wasn't in the cards, his second place finish and Lewis' fourth put Gagne back in the points lead.
"We wanted to get the win but Jason was hauling butt," said Gagne. "It was all I could do to hang on the back of him. We'll head to New Jersey and try to get some wins."
In a close class like GoPro Daytona SportBike, with multiple winners and a litany of riders capable of finishing in the top ten, consistency pays off. Gagne has finished fourth or better in every race, save one of the Barber contests that saw him collected as riders crashed in front of him. He's been on the podium in every race but two, so he has earned a seven-point margin heading into the final race.
Garrett Gerloff is a rider looking to regain his momentum after following some tough luck this year. After crashing hard at Road America and breaking his arm in Alabama, The Texan has been trying to get healthy and find the form that had him at the front in the early races.
In a step forward, he earned fourth and third on his Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha in Ohio. Gerloff ran with the lead pack in race two, dicing with the leaders - especially Race 1 winner Lewis. Gerloff's bold move for position on Lewis was tight and stood both riders up momentarily and was one of the most exciting moments of the race.
"I have to say I am sorry to Jake," said Gerloff in explaining the move that put him in third. "I'm glad I didn't take him out or anything. I'm happy to be back on the podium again. It's been a tough couple of weeks.
Danny Eslick and Dane Westby were two championship hopefuls that saw their bids for the title take serious blows in Ohio. Barber double-winner Westby, with two previous victories at the track, could have leapt into the title fight with a couple more wins on his gold Yamalube/Westby Racing entry. However, Westby got a terrible start in Race 1 and cooked his tire trying to make up ground. He made his way up to third briefly before dropping to fifth at the flag on a day where he just couldn't make the magic happen.
In Race 2, Westby got another bad start and worked his way up to the lead group when he went down. Eslick on the Riders Discount Racing Triumph and Jake Zemke on the GEICO Motorcycle Racing Honda also fell as it appeared Westby's bike may lave lost a water hose just before he crashed.
Westby restarted last and from pit lane after repairs during the red flag and finished tenth after a run through the field. With just two rounds to go, he trails by 47 points in fifth place. Having turned the fastest lap of Race 2 before the red flag, the Oklahoman left the track wondering what might have been.
Eslick needed wins in Ohio, too. The DAYTONA 200 winner has been lurking in title contention this season but required a big race to close the gap. A podium at Laguna hinted there could have been more dynamite from the charismatic racer.
There was dynamite, but not the kind Eslick wanted. After he finished third in Race 1, Eslick criticized Westby from the podium celebration on FansChoice.tv, saying Westby held up the third place man in points and allowed the leaders to slip away.
During the red flag in Race 2, he and fellow Oklahoman Westby had a confrontation in pit lane, which was also captured by the FansChoice.tv cameras.
After the red flag, Eslick couldn't get it going on his once-downed machine and earned 15th. The two-time series champ is now 32 points out of the lead with two races left. He needs bad luck to fall on Gagne and Lewis if he is to win the crown again.
JD Beach's numerous runner-up races have shown he's ready to take the next step and join the ranks of class victors. He showed he badly wanted to make it happen in Ohio. Beach led Race 1 on his Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha and it seemed as if his first class victory was within his grasp in the early laps. The Kentucky resident looked aggressive and motivated. Unfortunately, he faded as the race wore on and took sixth. It was a similar story in Race 2 as he earned eighth to cap a tough weekend.
Kyle Wyman garnered 11th and seventh in Ohio for Kyle Wyman Racing. Wyman showed good pace throughout the day and the results kept him inside the top ten in points. The New Yorker holds eighth in the title chase and has finished every race this season in GoPro Daytona SportBike.
Veteran Bobby Fong showed well on his Latus Motors/Castrol/Triumph. The Californian was eight and fifth. Both times out, he topped Blake Young on his GN Gonzalez Yamaha.
After a difficult Daytona, Young has finished in the top ten in every race as his new team continues to get up to speed.
Jake Zemke was 10th in Race 1 but couldn't continue after crashing in the incident that brought out the red flag in Race 2 due to a broken frame.
Top rookie Tomas Puerta left the line early in race one on his RoadRace Factory/Red Bull Yamaha and finished 12th when the jump start penalty was assessed. He regrouped to take ninth in the finale. The Colombian is 11th in points.
The New Jersey showdown promises to be exactly what fans have come to expect from GoPro Daytona SportBike - exciting and unpredictable action from a wide variety of competitors. Gagne holds a slim lead and looks to have what it takes to be the champion. Lewis, however, is the hot hand and goes great at NJMP. He won't concede anything, and shouldn't.
Others, such as Gerloff and Beach, have come so close to getting their first class wins this year. They won't pass up their final chances to join the five race winners in 2014.
With racers like DiSalvo showing they, too, can break through, and frustrated race winners Westby and Eslick wanting nothing more than to go out of 2014 on top the event could be the most competitive of the year.
Top 10 GoPro Daytona SportBike finishers in Race 1 from Mid-Ohio
1. Jake Lewis (Yamaha)
2. Jake Gagne (Yamaha)
3. Danny Eslick (Triumph)
4. Garrett Gerloff (Yamaha)
5. Dane Westby (Yamaha)
6. JD Beach (Yamaha)
7. Jason DiSalvo (Triumph)
8. Bobby Fong (Triumph)
9. Blake Young (Yamaha)
10. Jake Zemke (Honda)
Top 10 GoPro Daytona SportBike finishers in Race 2 from Mid-Ohio
1. Jason DiSalvo (Triumph)
2. Jake Gagne (Yamaha)
3. Garrett Gerloff (Yamaha)
4. Jake Lewis (Yamaha)
5. Bobby Fong (Triumph)
6. Blake Young (Yamaha)
7. Kyle Wyman (Yamaha)
8. JD Beach (Yamaha)
9. Tomas Puerta (Yamaha)
10. Dane Westby (Yamada)
GoPro Daytona SportBike top 10 in points following Mid-Ohio
1. Jake Gagne 189
2. Jake Lewis 182
3. Danny Eslick 157
4. JD Beach 154
5. Dane Westby 142
6. Garrett Gerloff 120
7. Jason DiSalvo 111
8. Kyle Wyman 98
9. Blake Young 93
10. Jake Zemke 91
Following the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series' Indianapolis doubleheader Aug. 9-10, the AMA Pro Road Racing season will come to its conclusion and the 2014 champions will be decided at the Kawasaki Devil's Showdown at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey on September 13-14.
How to Watch
FansChoice.tv is the official home for live streaming coverage of AMA Pro Road Racing and AMA Pro Flat Track events in 2014. The site also provides coverage of IMSA's development and single-make series, and NASCAR's touring and weekly series.