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Oct 16, 2012

AMA Pro Racing Recaps The Superbike Season Finale At NOLA Motorsports Park

Josh Hayes (1) leads Danny Eslick (69), Roger Hayden (54) and Ben Bostrom (23) off the line at NOLA Motorsports Park. Photo by Brian J. Nelson, courtesy of AMA Pro Racing
GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing Recap:

Hayes Tops Dominant Season Off with Impressive Performance at Triumph Big Kahuna New Orleans presented by Dunlop and LeoVince at NOLA Motorsports Park

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - In 2011, Josh Hayes was at once the defending AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike Champion and the underdog heading into the season finale.

Hayes put in a scrappy, three-win campaign to just hang onto the #1 plate under dramatic circumstances; the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha ace was actually in position to finish second in the title fight with just corners remaining on the last lap of the last race.

With riders like Blake Young and Roger Hayden emerging, and his Yamaha YZF-R1 seemingly overwhelmed and growing a bit long in the tooth, there were some pretty big question marks regarding Hayes' ability to repeat a second time in 2012, despite his consistently excellent form.

By the time the 2012 finale rolled around, the questions had long since been answered. Hayes and his machine had both improved markedly over the offseason, and the GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing debut at NOLA Motorsports Park for the Triumph Big Kahuna New Orleans presented by Dunlop Tire and LeoVince essentially served as a weekend-long series of victory laps for the conquering hero who showcased his elite skills in front of his home fans.

Hailing from nearby Gulfport, Miss., Hayes had a huge crowd of supporters on hand -- from immediate family to friends he hadn't talked to since elementary school -- and he gave them a taste of what the rest of the country has witnessed throughout his landmark campaign.

The three-time king registered his seventh perfect points haul weekend (pole, led the most laps in both races, and won both times out) of the season in simply dominating fashion.

Hayes was consistently a second-per-lap quicker than his nearest rival throughout the weekend -- a fitting conclusion for what has to go down as far-and-away the greatest statistical effort in AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike history.

By the time the season was wrapped, Hayes had moved into a tie for second in terms of SuperBike titles with three, joining legends Reg Pridmore, Fred Merkel, Doug Chandler and Ben Spies. He also eclipsed Miguel DuHamel for second all-time on the career SuperBike wins list, scoring his 32nd and 33rd in New Orleans.

His single-season accomplishments are unprecedented. Along with the perfect points weekend mark, he established a new record for most wins in a season (16), most wins in succession (10), and equaled the record for most poles in a single season (10).

At the end of the weekend, Hayes was already looking forward to working even harder this offseason and lifting his game to another level in 2013.

Of his historic season Hayes said, "It was the perfect way to end an incredible year. A lot of fans and friends came out and I'm glad I was able to do a good job in front of them. I think we are showoffs and we tend to do some of our best work when people are around. It was just an awesome weekend."

It was a mixed weekend for the remainder of the usual suspects.

Young and Hayden raced to the podium on Saturday, but tangled with one another in Sunday's race while contesting second, both men crashing out of the event together (and then sharing a golf cart ride back to the pits).

"I got a pretty good start from the second row," said Young, who finished a clear second in Race 1. "I've had to learn to start from the second row because I can't seem to get it together in qualifying to get up on the front row. I got off to a fairly good start. The only thing I would have liked to do better is go faster on the first couple of laps. I'm pretty happy. It was a good race. I'm happy to get second for Yoshimura Suzuki; the guys are giving 110% for me as always."

The podium was the 16th of the year for Young, who, despite not living up to his title aspirations, registered some truly memorable rides during the season, including his remarkable from crash-and-last-to-first ride at Road Atlanta.

Hayden also put in some highlight rides in '12, including pushing Hayes to the brink at Mid-Ohio and claiming his first SuperBike pole and win at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Of Saturday's contest, the National Guard Jordan Suzuki pilot said, "It was kind of an exciting race for me. I got a bad start and kind of got pinched off and lost a few spots. I tried to make it all back up in Turn 4 and ran off the track. I think after the first lap I was 12th or 13th. I made up a few spots and then I passed Dave Anthony and he got into the back of me and off the track I went again. I went back to 12th. I just picked guys off slowly and didn't try to force anything. Third place is a bit of a gift... Not the best race, but we got third and we're third in points, which is my best season finish so far."

Jordan Suzuki's Ben Bostrom suffered a mechanical problem which knocked him out of podium contention on Saturday, but came back to finish second (albeit in somewhat unusual fashion) on Sunday.

Realizing that Team Hero EBR's Danny Eslick had been penalized five seconds for illegally crossing a boundary line on the track, Bostrom simply tucked in behind the Oklahoman and enjoyed the tire-sliding show. He accepted the checkered flag in third position on track but with the knowledge that he'd be credited with a runner-up ranking.

The '98 SuperBike champ concluded the season with three podiums in his last six attempts after going without one in the season's first 14 races.

"I had a good fight there with Danny," Bostrom said. "Josh just left us in the dust. I was behind Danny and I saw him cross the white line. I came by the pitboard and they held up '3' and I held up '2'. They might have thought I was showing them the peace sign. I realized I could just follow him to the finish line. What else is there to do? So I just followed him around."

Despite his five-second penalty, Eslick held on for the final podium position of the season. It was the third for himself and the fourth overall for the EBR 1190RS in what can only be described as a breakout season for the manufacturer. Teammate Geoff May also raced to a podium result in '12 on his Team Amsoil/Hero EBR and finished the year ranked in the championship top-five, just holding off Bostrom's strong finish despite a disappointing season finale.

"I knew I ran off," Eslick said of his penalty in Sunday's NOLA finale. "The thing wheelied coming off the corner and I chopped the throttle, but it ran out onto (the line). It is what it is. I'm still up here with two of the best guys out there. I can't complain."

While almost every frontrunner save Hayes enjoyed one strong ride balanced by a down one at NOLA, KTM/HMC Racing's Chris Fillmore registered two outstanding efforts.

Fillmore notched up a 4-5 on the weekend, and even pushed Hayden on track for third on Saturday (albeit, in a similar situation to Eslick a day later, Fillmore was riding around with a five-second penalty).

"Everything clicked," commented Fillmore. "I felt really good on the bike the whole day and it carried over into my race. I am very proud of the progress our team has made this season.

"It feels great to end the season on a high note. We have all worked very hard and I am happy to finish the year with our best result. We are returning next year full-time and I couldn't be happier with my bike and team. I am really looking forward to the 2013 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike racing season."

A few other riders made waves on the weekend, including Robertino Pietri, Aaron Yates, and Chris Ulrich.

Pietri put together a 5-7 weekend on the Team Venezuela Suzuki GSX-R1000, and ran in a pack with Hayden and Fillmore on Saturday.

M4 Suzuki's Chris Ulrich equaled his best-ever SuperBike finish with a sixth-place ride -- the second time he'd done so in as many weekends.

Meanwhile, multi-time SuperBike race winner Yates flashed his old form in his return to the series, pushing the BMW S1000RR to fourth in the last race of 2012.

The hard-charging Georgian said, "I would like to say thanks to all who were involved or contributed to the effort that helped get me back on the racetrack, especially Evan Steel Performance for giving me the opportunity to ride the BMW. It was great to get back in the AMA Pro paddock and see my friends and fans after such a long break! Thanks again to the great group of guys for doing an awesome job."

Team owner Evan Steel remarked, "With two track days and half of a weekend for us at Miami due to the weather, (Yates) came here to New Orleans and scored our team's best ever SuperBike finish of fourth, but more importantly was closer to the leader at the end of the race than we have ever been, and much closer to third place than we have ever been. It is a huge testament to his abilities that he was able to do that so quickly; the guy is incredible!"

Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing's Larry Pegram (6-14), Riders Discount K&L Supply's Taylor Knapp (7-12), Racing's David Anthony (9-8), and Attack Performance's Steve Rapp (8-9) also put in top-ten rides at NOLA Motorsports Park.

With 2012 complete and the #1 plate secure on Josh Hayes' R1, preparations for the 2013 season are about to get underway.
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