LEXINGTON, Ohio - SuperBike fans in attendance at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and watching the Buckeye SuperBike Weekend live on FansChoice.tv were treated to a pair classic AMA Pro SuperBike showdowns on Sunday.
With Saturday a wash due to uncooperative weather and the complete race program reconfigured to be contested the following day, Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammates Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier squared off twice in the span of just hours on Sunday.
The series' recent past was pit against its near future to determine its present. And while no definitive answer was provided, more than a single-day's share of thrills certainly were.
39-year-old three-time champion Hayes and 21-year-old class rookie Beaubier took both battles down to the wire. In each outing, Beaubier leveraged his compact size and light weight to assume the lead with a draft pass down the back straight and held the lead entering that decisive final circulation.
And both times Hayes attempted an infrequently executed inside maneuver in the double-apex Turn 10-11 section.
In the morning contest, Beaubier immediately countered Hayes' attack and slashed right back to the inside to reclaim the position ahead of Hayes, who couldn't hold his line tight enough to solidify the spot. The reigning AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike king held on from there to win by 0.293 seconds.
"I wanted to win it if the opportunity presented itself but I can't be silly either," said Hayes. "I don't like thinking about championships, but you know... I was trying to be careful, but if he gave me a chance take it. I did on the last lap - took one shot at him on the last lap and I think if it had been anybody else, it would have been a little bit closer of a pass. I wanted to make sure I got all the way through to make sure we got through the corner clean. And I overshot it enough that he could zip past through."
The triumph was the third of Beaubier's young AMA Pro SuperBike career.
"It feels great to be able to beat Josh after a really good battle," said Beaubier. "I know he has the championship probably in the back of his head, but I was pushing hard. I was honestly a little nervous going into this race just because of the lack of track time.
"I had the intention to push the last three laps but I made a few mistakes and ran wide here and there. I knew I wasn't going to break him, obviously, so I was just kind of trying to ride protective - brake a little harder going into the corners, try and not use the whole track, and go up the inside of a lot of corners. I knew he was a little stronger than me in on the brakes in the hard-braking zones so I was trying to do my best right there.
"He did sneak up on me and caught me by surprise. I saw him run a little wide so I stayed out a little wide and cut pretty hard on the inside. It was a good clean race and it was fun."
The second time around, Hayes pressed the issue and came in a little harder in the same 10-11 section. Beaubier was forced into second place but he didn't give up despite a lack of prime passing opportunities from there to the checkered flag.
Hayes worked hard to block Beaubier's attempts to come back by but he made a significant mistake in the Carousel just prior to the final short chute to the stripe while riding in that defensive manner.
That prevented the Mississippian from getting an ideal launch to the flag, while the Californian - who drifted out wide to best power out of the corner - nailed his exit. The No. 2 YZF-R1 pulled right alongside the No. 4 YZF-R1 as the two took the flag.
The race was nearly too close to call. Initially, the transponder data indicated that Beaubier had won by 0.001 seconds but the photo finish proved that Hayes the victor by that same scant margin. The photo of the finish showed a barely visible gap between the two riders' front tires.
"I was pretty sloppy in the Carousel but I thought I had it because there are really no passing opportunities," Hayes said. "I was just trying to get back to the inside and I ended up losing the front and really botching the last two corners. I never upshifted, I just held second and hit the rev limiter at the line. When I glanced over I actually thought Cameron had got me, but it was too hard to tell right at the line. I was pretty relieved to get to the podium and find out I had won the race. I wanted to win it really bad and I had a lot of fun racing with Cam."
The win was the 47th of Hayes' SuperBike career and his eleventh regardless of class at Mid-Ohio, making him the all-time winningest rider in AMA Pro action at the venue.
While Beaubier came up just inches short of claiming the double, he did well to demonstrate he's back to full strength after suffering from a bout of lost confidence due to some mid-season crashes.
"Josh made a hard, clean pass on me," Beaubier said. "After that I was just looking for any way I could to get around him. He was braking pretty deep trying to not give it away. I tried to set him up coming off the last corner and I didn't know who won. Regardless who won today, it was a great race. It's kind of crazy not knowing who won until we came into pitlane."
Hayes came into Mid-Ohio with a 40-point advantage and his 2-1 means that advantage remains unchanged as a result of second-ranked Beaubier's 1-2. With just the New Jersey Motorsports Park doubleheader remaining, all Hayes needs to do is pick up a minimum of 20 points (which could come in a variety of fashions, from a single third to a pair of finishes just outside the top ten) and he'll join Mat Mladin as the only riders to ever win at least four AMA Pro SuperBike titles.
Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing's Roger Hayden picked up a pair of podium finishes at Mid-Ohio but found it difficult to smile too much afterward. The Kentuckian had pushed Hayes for wins at the track in recent seasons and was not pleased to have finished more than ten seconds off the win in the first race, and more than 20 in the second.
"I hung on for a while but I started to make some mistakes," Hayden said after the first race. "I was having trouble getting my bike into the corner and was missing my apex in a couple spots. A little over half way they started pulling away and I didn't want to crash and lose my data for the next race so I kind of put it on cruise control so we could make the bike a little better for the second race. That race was really our first real practice being here on the new bike."
After the completion of the second race, Hayden wasn't as content with just a podium spot.
"Third place is not bad when you're battling for the win but when you're however many seconds back it's not very satisfying. I don't know..." Hayden said. "I'm having trouble keeping up off the corners and on the straights. I'm just riding so far above what I can do every lap and I just start making mistakes. We have some tests lined up and we need to make things a little better and hopefully at New Jersey make a race out of it. It's kind of embarrassing to finish that far back in two races in one day."
KTM/HMC Racing's Chris Fillmore was the next most successful racer on the weekend with a pair of lonely rides - one to fifth and the next to fourth. Hayden's works Suzuki teammate, Martin Cardenas, had the speed to claim to fourths at worst, however, he nearly crashed multiple times en route to fourth in the opening race and then did crash out in the second.
"The first race was not what I wanted," Cardenas said. "We were hoping to get on the podium. I was going good, but then I had a few moments with the bike and almost highsided three times in a lap and a half, I so slowed down and I ended up fourth. In Race 2, we made some changes, and the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 was working good for the first few laps. Then, when I was on the brakes, I hit a small bump and lost the front end and that was the end of my race. I'm pretty disappointed with that, but now we'll get ready for New Jersey and try to do better."
Cardenas' continued struggles see him facing rather long odds to even break into the championship top five at the NJMP finale. It's looking more and more likely that fourth and fifth will fall to ADR Motorsports/Sic/Motul Fly Racing's David Anthony and Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing's Chris Clark, although in which order is still very much in doubt.
Clark made up some ground on Anthony in Ohio, taking sixth and fifth place finishes after being relegated to ninth at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Anthony, meanwhile, struggled with his electronics as a result of the limited track time. In the end, he simply turned them off and did the best he could, claiming two sevenths.
Anthony is still fourth in points, although Clark is now just eleven back in fifth.
"In the first race, I focused on putting in solid laps and was able to get up to sixth," Clark said. "I had a little better start in the second race and we had a pretty good pace. I was happy to bounce back from Laguna and finish in the top five. Now I'm looking forward to New Jersey and finishing in the top five for the year."
Home track favorite Larry Pegram and TOBC Racing's Taylor Knapp scrapped with Clark and Anthony in Ohio. Pegram was regularly able to make up ground in the twisty sections of the layout aboard his Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing EBR 1190RS but struggled to match the outright speed of the big fours on the critical long straight.
He ended up eighth in the first race and then suffered a mechanical issue in the second while caged up in a similar predicament. Knapp stepped forward and pushed Clark in the second contest, ultimately taking the flag in sixth.
"I couldn't get past Chris Clark or Dave Anthony," Pegram said. "I kind of caught them but couldn't pass them. In the second race I got a much better start but got stuck behind Clark again. His bike just has much better top speed than ours, and really, the only place to pass is at the end of the back straight. I actually passed Chris three times and he just came by me down the back straightaway. Then with a couple laps to go we just had a little problem with the thing so that was it."
GEICO Motorcycle Racing Honda's Chris Ulrich (8-9) and Babuska Racing's Frankie Babuska (10-10) both took a pair of top 10s at Mid-Ohio, while Team AMSOIL Hero EBR's Cory West broke in as well in the afternoon race, finishing ninth.
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.