Hayden Gillim and Team Cycle World Suzuki close out 2017 MotoAmerica season with a bang in Alabama
Everyone on the Cycle World Suzuki squad knew they were zeroing in on the setup. Week by week, the team gained more knowledge, checked things off the list, eliminated issues, and found more speed. Racer and van driver Hayden Gillim was also learning the intricacies of rider feedback, that vital element in racing that is also a learned trait, every bit as much as racecraft itself.
If you were around the Cycle World Suzuki pit area this past weekend, you might have heard crew chief Rick Matheny uttering the famous catchphrase of Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith on the 1980s action-adventure television series The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!”
That’s exactly what happened for the squad at Birmingham, Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park. Gillim raced to his best finishes of the season, with a pair of Bazzaz Superstock 1000 rostrum results. Gillim finished third in class on Saturday and was runner-up in wet conditions on Sunday.
With back-to-back race weekends from New Jersey to Barber, Gillim didn’t have a lot time for fun on the road. He did manage to squeeze in one day of recreation between races and that was in the resort town of Atlantic City. “Experienced that city,” Gillim said, with a bit of a smirk. “I guess that was an experience. But the rest of the time between here and there was easy. There really wasn’t a whole lot going on. It was awesome.”
Then came the final race weekend of 2017 and from the second Gillim hit the track, it was smiles all around.
How good was it for Gillim at Barber? Well, on Sunday he missed a Superbike podium by just a single position. That is a major accomplishment for the small, but dedicated crew going up against the factories and larger support squads.
Gilliam made it into Superpole and qualified ninth on the overall Superbike/Superstock 1000 grid. It marked his best qualifying performance of the season and was a harbinger of things to come.
“For some reason, as soon as we pulled the bike out of the trailer, everything was working really good,” Gillim explained. “I felt really good the first session. I was seventh fastest I think in the second session, and then ended up qualifying ninth overall. I don’t know, there was just something about this weekend. The bike was working, the guys, I think we finally all just figured out how to work together and make the bike go fast. This is a really good way to end the season.”
Several issues with the bike, including a nagging front brake problem, were finally solved and that left Gillim free to focus on simply going fast and racing—two things he loves infinitely better than machine development.
Saturday’s race ran in sunny and hot conditions. Gillim battled with and moved ahead of several riders he’s been chasing much of the season, like Jake Lewis and Bobby Fong. As the laps wound down, Gillim was closing in on Danny Eslick and Jake Gagne.
“We had a really good race going and I was slowly catching the guys up in front of me, Gagne and Eslick,” Gillim said. “Maybe with a few more laps I could have done something, but with the race being shortened and everything because of red flags, there just wasn’t anything for me up there.”
Sunday was tense. The race started in the dry, but was red-flagged when it started raining. Then came heavy rain, flooding sections of the track. The race was delayed until late in the afternoon while crews worked to make the track rideable.
Several riders elected to sit out the restart, most notably factory stars Roger Hayden (Yoshimura Suzuki) and Josh Herrin (replacing injured Cameron Beaubier on the Monster Energy Yamaha R1). There was concern with sections of the track that had sealer, but the race went on, the rain stopped, and the track ultimately was wet, but riders reported good grip over most of the track.
The conditions suited Gillim to a T and for a while he was up with the leaders. “We threw on the rain tires, had a few laps to go test it out,” Gillim said. “I felt really good right off the bat. I like the rain a lot. Got a really good start. Was right there behind Gagne and Mathew Scholtz and Tony Elias for a little bit.
“Those guys were putting down some quick laps. They were really moving, and I just couldn’t hang with them. I had 20 seconds back to the next guy, and those guys were leaving me. I was having a few moments here and there, so I just thought second place in class isn’t a bad deal. Then, last lap, Gagne unfortunately went down going for it and bumped me up a spot overall, but it was a great way to end the season.”
Leaving Alabama, Gillim drove his van off into the sunset of 2017, thousands of road miles in the rearview mirror. Collectively, the team said it felt like a slow start to the year, motorcycles and race parts trickled in earlier in the season, but the guys kept their heads down, burned the midnight oil and, in the end, were rewarded with a season finale they’ll long remember and can be rightfully be proud of.