Hayes moves into control of AMA Pro SuperBike title chase with Barber Motorsports Park sweep
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (June 25, 2014) - This year's Triumph SuperBike Classic at Barber Motorsports Park may very well go down as the pivotal round of the 2014 AMA Pro SuperBike championship. A title fight that arrived looking like anyone's game, left with one man firmly in command.
Unfortunately for the competition, that man is none other than three-time AMA Pro SuperBike champion Josh Hayes.
The 39-year-old has been making up for lost time ever since he was awarded a relatively late opportunity to do the business in the premier class. Over the past five-plus seasons, he has etched his place in the SuperBike annals, and now owns sole possession of second place in almost every meaningful class statistic.
His three SuperBike crowns tie him with fellow icons Reg Pridmore, Fred Merkel, Doug Chandler and Ben Spies.
The Monster Energy Graves Yamaha superstar missed a chance to make history with an unprecedented four consecutive title victories last season when he was beaten by an unexpected combination of mistake, misfortune and the emergence of teammate and eventual champion Josh Herrin.
However, Hayes has a shot at redemption this season and would move into sole possession of second with a fourth title, which would leave him trailing only seven-time king Mat Mladin.
Hayes' 2014 campaign endured an inauspicious start - more than a little reminiscent of his frustrating 2013 season. He again encountered mechanical difficulties in the Daytona opener and was presented with an even younger and even faster challenger in Herrin's replacement, new teammate Cameron Beaubier.
After three races, Hayes found himself 26 points out of first with 21-year-old Beaubier looking nearly unbeatable.
Fast forward three more races, Hayes is now firmly in control. He boasts a 29-point advantage over second and is 35 points up on reigning GoPro Daytona SportBike champ Beaubier - a remarkable 61-point swing - with just five races remaining on the season slate.
While Beaubier and Hayes' other primary pre-season title threats - Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing teammates Roger Hayden and Martin Cardenas - have been inconsistent as of late, Hayes has been perfect over the last three races, including a pair of dominating wins in Alabama.
While his rivals struggled with the brutally hot and slick conditions, Hayes powered away at the front to claim his fifth and sixth consecutive Barber Motorsports Park race wins.
"I think things have shaken up a bit differently than I expected," Hayes admitted. "I'm doing my best to prepare for the worst. I don't think you typically see such a big momentum swing in one weekend, so this weekend was pretty rough on a lot of people and I managed to get through unscathed.
"I've been on the other side and it's always difficult. This is pretty reminiscent of last year when I got myself back to the points lead, but now things have changed a little bit with a good race (Sunday) and already being halfway through the season -- we don't have that many races left.
"If I have a race's worth of points, that means if Cameron wins the rest of the races this season and I finish second to him, I could still win the championship. That takes fate out of his hands a little bit and puts a lot of pressure on him. It still puts a lot of pressure on me to be able to perform but I feel like I can perform and be competitive at every race. We just have to be smart and keep doing what I've practiced doing for so many years and see where we end up."
While Hayes was enjoying his newly advantageous position, Beaubier, Hayden and Cardenas were all left licking their wounds.
Rookie Beaubier came into Barber tied with Hayden for first in points and owning the tiebreaker. He ended the weekend relegated to fourth.
On Saturday, he crashed during qualifying, ran off track early in the race, and then crashed out trying to make up for his earlier mistake. On Sunday, he made a couple of early mistakes that dropped him out of contention for the win. He rebounded well enough to fight his way back up to a podium position, taking a hard-earned third in the end.
"I felt really bad for my team, crashing two bikes within eight laps or so on track," Beaubier said. "So I have to give it up to those guys for getting me back on track. To tell you the truth, I'm pretty happy with a third right now after the rough day I had (Saturday). I made a lot of mistakes in that race - I'm going to go back and figure out what we need to do to move forward."
It was a similar story for Colombian Cardenas, who crashed out on the opening lap of Saturday's race and then came back to finish as the runner-up on Sunday.
"After (Saturday), this podium is a very good result for us," said Cardenas. "I would have liked to get closer to the leader, but we gave it everything we had and I'll happily take second. I have to give it up to the Yoshimura Suzuki team. I'm so sorry for the crash (Saturday); it caused them to have to stay very late to fix the bike (Saturday) night. This podium is for them."
Hayden might have had the most frustrating weekend of all the title contenders. Last year, he missed out on a pair of BMP wins by just fractions of a second, pushing Hayes for all he was worth, right to the checkered flag. He looked capable of possibly improving upon that on Saturday, running right with the Yamaha man until lap 16 of 21 when he too joined Beaubier and Cardenas on the ground.
He kept it upright on Sunday, but was unable to make an honest pursuit, struggling with rear traction.
"On the first day, I had a good pace going and was right there," said Hayden. "But I made a mistake and lost the front end. On Sunday, I struggled to keep pace with the leader because of a severe lack of rear tire grip. I did the best I could, given the circumstances. I feel bad for the Yoshimura Suzuki team, especially because they worked until 1:30 Sunday morning to build me a new bike. I can't thank them enough for all their hard work. I wanted to put on a good race for them but it just wasn't in the cards. So we'll to go Laguna and start fresh."
While Hayes was the undisputed big winner of the weekend, the Barber Motorsports Park round also served to underline the continued emergence of two of the season's pleasant surprises, ADR Motorsports/Sic/Motul Fly Racing's David Anthony and third Yoshimura pilot Chris Clark.
Anthony capitalized on the mistakes of Beaubier, Cardenas and Hayden on Saturday to claim a second straight runner-up result. And on Sunday he continued his run of impressive string of results with a fourth-place finish, one spot ahead of Hayden.
Anthony has been in the top five all season long is now sits second in the points chase.
"I think everyone will say the same - it was a matter of attrition out there," the Australian said following his podium on Saturday. "I was just trying to keep it on two wheels - it was pretty slippery out there. That was my goal - just bring it to the end. I knew some people would go down and a few of them did."
Clark finished third on Saturday to score his first-ever AMA Pro Road Racing podium. He backed it up with a sixth-place run on Sunday.
"To earn a first (AMA Pro Road Racing) podium in the SuperBike class out of all of them is something pretty special," he said. "It was definitely a race of attrition - if everybody would have stayed up, I probably wouldn't be up here, but that's how the race went.
"I've been putting in a lot of training in Florida. ... When I knew it was going to be a hot race, I thought we'd have a chance at doing something special. I can't speak for all the riders, but when you're in a race that long and hot, the brain starts to fade and mistakes can happen. I just put in a really solid race and I'm really thankful to be up here."
The weekend's wild races saw an eclectic mix of riders land in the top ten.
EBR 1190RS pilots Larry Pegram (Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing) and Cory West (Team AMSOIL Hero) came home fourth and fifth, respectively, on Saturday. West finished one spot ahead of Pegram the following day, as the two went 8-9.
GEICO Motorcycle Racing Honda's Chris Ulrich battled with Clark on track for sixth on Sunday but was ten seconds off the chase according to timing and scoring after being assessed a penalty for anticipating the start. Either way, he crossed the stripe in seventh, but showed encouraging speed in the process, especially considering the fact that he suffered a painful crash during Saturday's contest.
"I was unsure I could even ride (Sunday)," Ulrich said. "My arm felt pretty stiff this morning but the medical staff here at the track was excellent in making sure I was able to compete. With a modified dressing to fit in my leathers and some Advil, I was ready to go out there.
"I had a little difficulty keeping the clutch in during the start and I earned a penalty for a little roll there. I was aware of the infraction during the race and knew I had to battle against the other riders and the penalty. It was good to go faster than I had in qualifying and I got my best finish of the year. On top of that I overcame a crash that could have ended much worse (Saturday). I will be sore for a few days but thankfully we have a few weeks off before Laguna for us to regroup and come out swinging. I look forward to battling with the elite group that makes up the top five. That's the next step."
Vicious Cycle Racing's Sean Dwyer picked up a pair of top tens in Alabama (6-10), while Pilot Travel Centers Racing's Reese Wacker (7-14), Seven Sports' Trent Gibson (8-11), United America All Nation's Johnny Rock Page (9-12) and Babuska Racing's Frankie Babuska (10-13) all made an appearance in the top ten as well.
Meanwhile, it was another hard-luck weekend for Chris Fillmore and the KTM/HMC Racing squad. Electrical woes cost Fillmore a shot at a podium result late in Saturday's race and then eliminated him from contention practically before Sunday's contest got underway.
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.