Going into turn seven at Sonoma Raceway on the third lap in race two a few weeks ago, Toni Elias led the 2019 EBC Brakes Superbike Championship by a healthy 59 points. Milliseconds later, Elias was sliding across the tarmac watching and praying his Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 stayed intact. It didn’t. When the Spaniard got to the bike, he found the handlebar dangling off the side. Broken. Just like that 59-point lead that was now just 34.
“I was frustrated,” Elias said when asked to recall what went through his mind as he slid to a stop. “I was there with my elbow. I think I never pushed my elbow to the ground (so hard) while trying to stand up the bike like that but was too late. That moment I said, ‘Okay. I go to take my bike and I continue. Doesn’t matter.’ But I was running to my bike and I saw the handlebar was broken.”
It was the second race crash of the season for the Yoshimura Suzuki rider, the first coming in race two at Road America. Again, it came when Elias had a big points lead. And, again, it opened the door for Cameron Beaubier to get back into championship contention. Both were equally as frustrating.
“Both are the same because in both was very stupid, both,” Elias admits. “That one, Road America, it’s was okay to finish second. In Sonoma it was like, okay. Don’t risk but keep going, and… crash. But honestly both were not (me) doing the stupid things.
“We made a big change on the bike in Road America, which after that, I was feeling the crash more and then I crashed. To set up the bike we totally said, I don’t want to go this way anymore. The last crash (at Sonoma) was really strange. I think when I hit the bump… something touch the ground.”
Elias is faced with a quandary when it comes to setting up his GSX-R1000. He has this one set up that is really, really fast. But it’s sketchy. And, basically, he’s stayed away from it.
“What do you want? Do you want to finish the races, or do you want to crash?” Elias said. “One sometimes is faster. But you feel it is more able to crash. ‘We have to be fast, we have to be fast.’ Then this year it’s been like this. It’s been since the first race.”
Elias is happy with his team and the overall performance in 2019. How could he not be? He’s won six races. But those two crashes. The big fat zeroes on the points sheet.
“I think we’ve been always doing really good job,” Elias said when talking about the points situation. “Today, five points. Today, nine. Today, 13…. then zero. Five points, nine points, 13, 30, 59 – boom. It’s been difficult. It’s not an easy championship for anyone. Even if we are doing a great job, doing the right things in every moment, the zeroes f*&^ed up everything. It’s a disaster. We could have a big advantage.”
Elias knows that everything changed on that Sunday in Sonoma. Going in he knew he was in for a fight. Now he knows it’s a war. And not just the annual Elias vs. Beaubier battle. This time there’s a third party and his name is Garrett Gerloff. Elias knows that addition of a third to the conflict definitely changes the landscape.
“It’s really good now with just three guys,” Elias said. “It’s really important for the championship and I’m happy. Cameron (Beaubier) made a mistake that created this situation. And one of my last (social media) posts was, ‘Welcome to the party, Garrett Gerloff.’ It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be a big party. I have 34 points advantage, which it’s something but it’s nothing because the situation can change really quick. So, focus on every single race. Focus on win. Then let’s see the weather conditions for the next three rounds. Always it’s part of the championship in the last three rounds. Some rain (always) visit us. So, we will try to be very competitive in every condition. Then we’ll see. But for the fans, for the championship, it’s a really good situation.”
As for the final three rounds, Elias knows it will be difficult, but he also knows that two of his bogey tracks are behind him.
“The last two tracks (Laguna Seca and Sonoma) were not really good for Suzukis,” Elias said. “Our bike is a very competitive bike, but for the way it’s built the other bike has something else in Laguna and Sonoma. We did a great job. Knowing this, we did a great job in Laguna. We were doing a really good job in Sonoma, too. Sonoma was even more difficult. Saturday, I was not there, but I was lucky. Cameron (Beaubier) normally doesn’t crash like that because it was very stupid crash. I think someone else put the situation in the right place on Sunday because of my crash… I still cannot explain the crash. I remember going to the first lap, braking so much deep in that corner. The second lap I brake deep, but a little bit less… but I felt I was going too deep. So, then my strategy was more from half (halfway) to the end of the race because my tires were harder compounds. So I was quiet… just waiting for my moment, waiting my moment, being calm. Then I lost the front. I could lose the front because maybe I was using a very aggressive setup. I don’t understand my crash. If my setup was too aggressive, we made it less aggressive for here. If my engine touch the ground (at Sonoma) then here (for) this race it will be less close to the ground.”
“From my side I will try to not make mistake, but from my side I will try to win races.” – Toni Elias
On Sunday morning during the warm-up session at Sonoma Raceway, Elias was fast. Very fast. In fact, he put in his fastest ever lap of the track in Northern California’s wine country. Was that his undoing? Was it those fast laps on the super soft Dunlops? Did his mindset change from getting second or third to going out and winning?
“I used the super soft tire in warmup so if I used the same tire as Cameron (Beaubier), which was the super soft in the race, I was able to have this his speed, because we did it in the warmup,” Elias said. “But the conditions were hot, and I decide to move to one step up (harder) with the tires. I was super sure if I don’t crash, we win that race. If we look at the lap times, they were doing 35s for two laps, then 36, then 37. Then when they didn’t need to push because one (Beaubier) was first and the other one (Gerloff) was second, they start to do 38. I had the right tire. I had the right speed. My brain and my numbers were perfect. My lap time with that tire for the first two laps was even better than what I was in my mind. So I was there and I was just waiting. I saw Cameron the first two laps with the big grip, but from the lap number three I was seeing him start to losing the rear. So I said, ‘Okay. It’s coming my time.’ But my time go in one corner when I wasn’t even pushing to my limits because I don’t need it.”
Ironically, Elias’ most famous quote came back in 2017 when he and Beaubier came together both off and on the track at Road Atlanta with Elias telling everyone on TV that he “had a long memory.” But, in actuality it’s a short memory that he draws from the most when it comes to moving forward after a crash. When it comes time to go back out and race, when it comes time to go back out and be Toni.
“It’s okay; things are like this,” Elias said of the current situation, post-Sonoma. “Things cannot be so easy. I think his (Beaubier’s) crash on Saturday was not nice for him. So something had to happen Sunday to put everything back in the right place. I don’t expect mistakes from him like that. I don’t expect mistakes from my side like that, too. Let’s see. These next three tracks are good for our bike. All three are good for Cameron. And this one is a little good for Gerloff. I think he has a big chance to win this weekend. It’s coming with a big motivation from his wins the last two. But here (he) is really good. I don’t know how he do this chicane (at PittRace). In that chicane he’s faster… three or four tenths faster than everyone. With 600, with Superbike, it doesn’t matter. I don’t know what he does, but he’s fast.”
There are three rounds and six races left. Forty points separate three riders. And there’s still 150 points up for grabs. It’s all there to play for. Those three men and their teams will ultimately decide the outcome and it will be interesting to see who falters and who excels.
One thing you can count on. If Elias loses this battle, it won’t be from a lack of effort.
“From my side I will try to not make mistake, but from my side I will try to win races.”
The man is also living proof that you don’t stop learning. Even if you are a Moto2 World Champion, a MotoGP race winner… and a MotoAmerica Superbike Champion.
“I’m learning for the future, for ’20,” Elias said with a smile. “Let me learn for ’20… and these last three rounds.”
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