Westby's sweep highlights GoPro Daytona SportBike action at Barber Motorsports Park
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike class has been unpredictable and electrifying this season and the last event might have been the most action-filled yet. The Barber Motorsports Park round showcased one of this year's themes, a different rider earning the spoils of victory.
In the DAYTONA 200, it was Danny Eslick. At Road America, Jake Gagne took the double win. In Alabama, Dane Westby and Yamalube/Westby Racing swept the action by winning both races.
In a class usually filled with twists, turns and drama, 2014 has been a high water mark for excitement. GoPro Daytona SportBike is a topsy turvy world and it was Westby's turn to shine in Alabama, in the heat, on his gold Yamaha.
The popular Oklahoman won two very different contests in Birmingham - one (mostly) from the front, and the other a performance where he stalked his rivals and moved through the front pack. Both wild races are available on AMA Pro Racing's YouTube channel in high definition in their entirety. For photos from Sunday's action, click here. Pictures from Saturday's GoPro Daytona SportBike race can be seen here.
Westby, after founding his own team with backing from Yamalube for this season, impressed at Daytona by running in the lead pack, but crashed out before the last pit stops. At Road America, he looked to be in line for a podium before a last-lap mechanical. He shored up that first podium with a third on Sunday in Wisconsin but was a little disappointed after easing up as the rain began to fall late in that one.
"The Wolverine" headed into the Triumph SuperBike Classic as one of the top riders in class, having shown his speed in earlier races despite his bad luck. His performance in Alabama, however, was a cut above, and the wins justified the risk he took to form his own squad.
On Saturday, Westby took advantage after a red flag to move to the front by the second lap after the restart. Westby said he sensed chaos after a crash involving Jake Lewis on his MotoSport.com/Meen Yamaha machine, Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha pilot Garrett Gerloff and RoadRace Factory/Red Bull's Jake Gagne. He motored on, clicking off laps in the Alabama heat.
The weather wasn't the only thing that was hot as Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha's JD Beach and Lewis reeled Westby back in, setting up a tight race to the finish.
Westby and Beach also had tough battles at Road America, but this time, Westby earned the upper hand - even as Beach looked to have spots on the track where he was superior. The Yamalube/Westby Racing pilot never left much of an opening and looked to be concentrating on powering out of the corners rather than charging in. He was also quick in the last section of the circuit.
At the beginning of lap 16 of 19, Beach made a bold and sure move to the front into Turn 1. His time in front was short-lived though, as Westby yanked back the lead in the Museum Turn.
One lap later, another big drama moment saw Lewis overcook the Charlotte's Web corner. He nearly took out both Beach and Westby but somehow weaved through both riders as he ran off the track.
Through the final corner, Beach gave it all he could and nearly crashed, but Westby had earned his third career AMA Pro GoPro AMA Daytona SportBike win.
"I was able to take advantage of the red flag," said Westby. "I knew the guys were off track, off the line, and there was a little bit of confusion. You just have to keep going until they throw that flag and it ended up working in my favor. The last couple of laps, I saw one guy go flying past, and I knew they were going to try to do something, so I just tried to attack back as quick as I could."
"It's so ridiculously hot - the humidity," said Westby. "I was dying in the truck before this race, but we come out and there's no one in front of you ... that stuff just disappears. It's been almost 20 months since I stepped on a podium before last race, so I'd really like to thank the Yamalube team and my dad and Arai and Taichi and all my guys who helped me make this happen. It's been a long time coming."
On Sunday's start, Westby slipped to sixth in the order and watched the opening laps shake down. Westby passed Danny Eslick on the Riders Discount Racing Triumph entry early on but at halfway he was just fifth and had shown little to convince anyone he would repeat his win.
Over the second half of the contest, Westby worked by Latus Motors/Castrol/Triumph Racing's Bobby Fong, Castrol/Triumph/Sportbike Track Time' Jason DiSalvo, Lewis and Gagne.
Westby had moved to the lead with three to go, advancing his position in the same late corner each time.
Gagne and Lewis took shots at the lead and Fong crashed out of second, but Westby took the checkered flag by 0.235 seconds over Lewis and Gagne.
"Yesterday was a first for me when I led the race and won it that way," Westby said after completing his sweep. "Today, I felt like these guys had a leg up on me. I wasn't quite as comfortable as I wanted to be early on. I was a little slow in some parts of the track but I was really good in the 'Alabama Rollercoaster,' as they call it. It was a real barnburner of a race, super hot out there and the conditions were tough. I put my head down and waited until my moment. I passed everyone back there in the back, just a block pass and then making it stick. I had some different lines where I could hold it until the end and earn the position. It was a really great race, and I am proud of what we were able to accomplish."
Westby also vaulted up the points chart following the trip to Birmingham. He's now fifth but just 22 points out of the lead. He was 16th and 52 points out after Race 1 at Road America.
Gagne still leads the points, rallying after Saturday's crash to take third on Sunday. He led most of the race but didn't have the endgame to earn win No. 3 of 2014.
"I started having a little issue towards the end and the gap was closing," said Gagne. "The last few laps had me battling again with Jake (Lewis) and Dane Westby. I felt I could make the charge for the lead but I made a small mistake in the chicane and lost two positions. I finished third and took some points but I can't say I'm too happy. At this point we're only going to be happy with wins so it's onto Laguna and another chance to win."
Jake Lewis recovered from his mistake on Saturday to take second on Sunday, taking a risk as the only top runner on the softer Dunlop race rubber.
"That was really fun. We were battling the whole 19 laps," said the Kentucky-born teen. "I got off to a good start and got the lead and then settled into second behind Jake (Gagne). We were on the soft tires so we were pushing pretty hard. I saw Dane and Bobby were right there and I was just trying to play my strategy for the end of the race. Bobby passed me with a little under one lap to go and then he ended up crashing. And then Jake made a pretty big mistake in the last chicane and I just went underneath him. Dane had a little bit of a gap so I couldn't catch him but I'm really happy to be back up on the podium."
As we have seen with Lewis, the pace in AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike is so hot that the line between brilliance and a mistake is razor thin. When the negatives happen, there are all too many combatants ready to seize opportunities and really ruin a racer's day.
Beach saw fortunes along those lines - a strong second on Saturday but a late mistake and a run off the track spoiling his chance at a double podium. Even though Beach gathered it back up to salvage fifth, he looked to be in good shape as the laps wound down.
Still, the Factory Yamaha pilot's battle for the win on Saturday added to his fine resume in 2014.
"It seems like Dane and I keep finding each other out there," said Beach on Saturday. "Dane's a great rider, and we had a really good battle. There were just a few spots where he had me. I got on the gas too hard and nearly bucked myself off at the end."
Likewise, Bobby Fong walked the tightrope. He started from the back on Saturday after his crash brought out the red flag. His Latus Motors Racing team was able to get his bike ready and Fong earned a seriously strong podium by charging up to third from last.
Fong was a major factor in Race 2 as well, but tumbled out at the Museum Turn on the final lap.
Team H35's Benny Solis was just behind Fong on Saturday as the young rider earned his best result of 2014. The Californian is tied for eighth in points after Barber.
DiSalvo also experienced an up-and-down weekend. The veteran missed the first race due to a mechanical problem but took fourth in the finale.
Eslick wasn't able to challenge for the win in Alabama, but avoided trouble and netted fifth and sixth finishes to help his championship fight. On Saturday, The Oklahoman held off Steve Rapp on the D&D Cycles/Castrol/Triumph machine by 0.376 seconds.
Two-time series champion Eslick lies second in the points, five ahead of Lewis and 12 behind Gagne.
Another veteran, Jake Zemke, had a similar weekend. The GEICO Motorcycle Racing pilot took seventh and eighth in Alabama. That string of consistency has helped him close to within a point of Kyle Wyman of Kyle Wyman Racing, in points.
Blake Young of GN Gonzalez Racing earned eighth and seventh as his new team continues to make progress. Young now has four top ten results in a row.
The top Rookie in the class this year has been Tomas Puerta. The Colombian bagged two more top ten finishes for the RoadRace Factory/Red Bull team.
Gerloff's weekend was undoubtedly a tough one. He looked very strong during the opening laps of Race 1 but fractured his arm in Saturday's crash. The Texan could not race on Sunday.
"I'm determined to get back on the bike as soon as I can," said Gerloff.
With the wild 2014 season as a backdrop, the next showdown at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca might be the most unpredictable race of the weekend.
The stars of AMA Pro Road Racing will share the spotlight with world-class company as the GEICO Motorcycle U.S. Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is up next. The joint AMA Pro-FIM event will take place on July 11-13 in Monterey, California.
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.
About AMA Pro Road Racing:
AMA Pro Road Racing is the premier motorcycle road racing series in North America and is universally regarded as one of the most competitive road racing organizations in the world. The series is comprised of four production-based classes: AMA Pro SuperBike, AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike, AMA Pro SuperSport and the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series. Learn more about AMA Pro Road Racing at www.amaproracing.com/rr/.
AMA Pro Racing is the premier professional motorcycle racing organization in North America, operating a full schedule of events and championships for a variety of motorcycle disciplines. Learn more about AMA Pro Racing at www.amaproracing.com.