A MotoAmerica Mid-Term Report: Part 1, Motul Superbikes

The 2018 MotoAmerica Motul Superbike Championship has been the best yet. It’s also been a tale of two quarters as we get ready to start the second half in Utah next weekend. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Anyone who has attended school has lived through mid-terms. It often-times marks the middle of the semester, or term (get it?), or even the middle of the entire school year. Your performance at mid-term offers the chance to reflect on where you are and what you need to do to get to where you want to be at the end. If you’re doing well, it’s a time to celebrate and take a breath. If not, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

The same holds true for the 2018 MotoAmerica season as it starts the second half of the season. It’s a time for reflection. A time to see just how we got here.

When you look at the 2018 MotoAmerica Motul Superbike class as we head to round six of 10 at the Utah Motorsports Campus, it already seems like two different series. The first quarter was simply owned by Yoshimura Suzuki’s Toni Elias, the Spaniard winning five of the first six races with only a wet race one at Circuit of The Americas slowing his progress. Even then, he finished fourth, bouncing back the next day with a victory and then he swept both races at VIRginia International Raceway for three wins in a row. Elias didn’t have both hands on the championship, but he had one on it – and it was squeezing hard.

Early in the season, this was all anyone saw of Toni Elias. But of late he’s struggled with front-end feel. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

On the other side of this Elias domination sat Cameron Beaubier. The Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing rider couldn’t have had a worse start to his season as he crashed in the series opener at Road Atlanta, remounted and finished ninth. And the crash was Beaubier’s third of the weekend. The following day, in the rain, Beaubier led most of the race but was chased down and beaten by Elias. At the following round in Texas, Beaubier crashed out of the lead in the rain, remounted and finished third. At least he was ahead of fourth-placed Elias. But the following day saw Elias dominate, beating Beaubier to the flag by over 10 seconds.

At VIR, Elias stalked Beaubier until two laps from the end of race one to take his fourth win of the season. The following day he led all of the 23 laps to take his fifth win. Again, Beaubier was second. And still winless on the season. In fact, he hadn’t won a race since August of 2017. Oh… and he was also 35 points behind in the championship. Simply put, the two-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion was riding shotgun on the struggle bus while his rival was headed for Title Town in a Lambo.

Then came Road America. And everything changed.

In the first of two races in America’s Dairyland, the action was hot and heavy with the battle at the front featuring not only Elias and Beaubier, but a healthy dose of Josh Herrin. It was a heated struggle with all three in with a fighting chance in the final laps. And then push came to shove.

The final lap started with Elias running into Beaubier in turn one, sending the Yamaha rider wide and filling his faceshield with red mist. It all came to a head later in the lap in Canada Corner with Beaubier stuffing the R1 up the inside of Elias with the two colliding and Elias crashing out of the race. Herrin was the big beneficiary initially as he got by the ruffled Beaubier and led the way into the final corner and up the front straight to the checkered flag. But Beaubier got the perfect draft and slid past Herrin’s Attack Performance/Herrin Compound R1 right at the line.

Margin of Victory: .002 of a second. Anger Level: 10 out of 10.

All three riders were brought to Race Direction for a “chat” but the results stood. Beaubier 25 points; Herrin 20 points; and an upset Elias 0 points.

Cameron Beaubier has the hot hand heading into the second half of the season. He’s won four straight. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Beaubier continued his roll the following day, sweeping to his second victory of the weekend and second of the year. Combined with Elias finishing fourth, Beaubier had turned his early season woes around and he left Wisconsin two points ahead after coming in 35 points behind.

As for Elias… whether he was still feeling the effects of the incident from the day before or if it was Dunlop’s new rear tire (the latest version of the KR451 N-Tek, which is larger in circumference than the previous version and requires a different set-up) that had him spun out a bit, he was suffering. In short, he didn’t look anything like himself as he ran wide early and lost touch with the top three – Beaubier, Herrin and Roger Hayden – and only just held off Quicksilver/LEXIN/Hudson Motorcycles’ Bobby Fong for fourth.

“Everything was perfect and when the new tire arrived everything was different,” Elias said of his problems of late. “The bike changed a lot, set up changed a lot, electronics changed a lot. I don’t feel the same feeling so my goal and my focus and my team’s goal is to go back to where we were before Road America. I think in two races we understand the situation and we understand what was wrong and what create the problems and what create the different feelings. We did a little test in Fontana and everything seems like back to normal. Not 100 percent, but very close. I think we have a good base to start everything in Utah and start to feel the front again. I crashed a lot when the tire arrived, but the front (feeling) is back. Normal feeling is back so I am happy. Now Cameron (Beaubier) has pretty much the advantage I had before  He is strong and so ready and very consistent, but 20 something points is not enough to relax. I will be there to reduce this distance and we have time enough. This is my goal so let’s do it.”

Elias’ woes got even worse at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca when he crashed twice in the first race and didn’t score points while Beaubier continued to hold the hot hand and won his third straight race. The next day, Elias rode hard to climb back from some early miscues to finish second but, again, it was Beaubier who won the race. The end result is that Beaubier leads the title chase by 29 points as the second half of the season starts at the Utah Motorsports Campus next weekend.

“It’s just a matter of going about my business the same way,” Beaubier said in the week leading up to the Utah round. “We are definitely in a different spot than I thought we’d be in a couple of rounds ago. It’s nice to have a little points cushion, but it’s not much and I feel like now is not the time to be protective of that. We just need to go and keep winning races and doing the best we can because we still have another half season to go. I will definitely try and take advantage of the tracks and the rounds that we’ve excelled at the last couple of years. I’m feeling good about it. We’re in a good spot and my bike is feeling really good. Everything is going to plan right now and hopefully we just keep the ball rolling.”

One thing Beaubier knows he can count on is that Elias won’t continue to struggle.

Josh Herrin has been a factor in the last two rounds and he believes he can win. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

“There’s always going to be ups and downs,” Beaubier said. “I started the season off pretty rough with some crashing and some other things here and there. It seemed like he had a couple of issues at Laguna, but I know that team is really strong and I know Toni is really strong so I know he will be right back in the mix of things come Utah. That’s been a good track for him the last few years and we will need to be on our A game and do the best we can at Utah. I want to take advantage of the races and the racetracks that suit our R1. If Utah is not one of them, I will be as smart as I can and move on.”

Herrin didn’t do his championship effort much good in the second race at Laguna Seca when he crashed, and he’s now 68 points behind Beaubier. At this point the series title looks to be down to two men, Beaubier and Elias, but we’ve already seen in the first half how quickly things can change so Herrin is by no means out of contention. Ditto for Yamalube/Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz, the only rider other than Beaubier or Elias to win a race this year. Scholtz is fourth in the standings – 74 points behind Beaubier and just six behind Herrin.

“I think we should be close enough,” Herrin said when asked about winning races. “We’ll see how the power is at Utah compared to the other teams. We are there for the wins. In the past two rounds, four races, we had the bike to win. I just messed up on all of them. My strategy at Road America wasn’t that good. I didn’t really anticipate being there. Normally, I come up with a race strategy and for that round it was kinda like new for me to be at the front the whole time, so I wasn’t planning on what I was going to do at the end of the race. That was my bad there. At Laguna, I made a mistake in the second race, but I think it was mainly down to a lack of energy. Not that I wasn’t in good enough physical condition, but mentally I was drained. We have the package to do it, I just haven’t put it together myself. We are more than ready to start winning races now. Everything just has to work right. Just like it does for Cam and Toni. We just have to make it happen.”

Motul Superbike rookie Garrett Gerloff is fifth in the standings, the two-time MotoAmerica Supersport Champion’s season highlighted by three podium finishes as he works on adapting to a Superbike.

Gerloff is just three points clear of M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Jake Lewis and 16 clear of KWR’s Kyle Wyman.

Hayden, meanwhile, had the most horrible of season starts with four non-scores in the first six races, but he’s turned that around with three straight podium finishes. He will spend the second half of the season chasing victories and really has nothing to lose as he’s eighth in the championship with no shot at the title.

Yamalube/Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz is the third rider to win a race this year, the South African taking victory in the rain at COTA. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

“I think the luck has gotten better,” Hayden said. “At the beginning of the season, I struggled and in the first couple of races I crashed and kinda lost my confidence a little bit. The first three actual races I crashed and that’s never really happened to me. Two of the crashes I wasn’t even really pushing, the ones in the rain. We changed a lot of stuff on the bike this off-season and, to be honest, I didn’t feel as good with the bike as I had the previous years. Now we’re back and I have the bike just as good and the luck has kinda changed and things are coming together. The championship is long gone so now I just keep trying to win races and try to help Toni (Elias) – not letting him beat me by any means – but working with him to see if we can get him back in the title hunt. Just keep trying to make the bike better and make myself better. I don’t have to worry about points so I will just try to win as many races as possible.”

Scheibe Racing’s Danny Eslick and Fly Street Racing’s David Anthony round out the top 10 in the series standings as they head to Utah and the second half of the season.