Gerloff’s Grade: The Superbike Rookie Evaluates His Season So Far

Two-time MotoAmerica Supersport Champion Garrett Gerloff is hopeful of winning a race in his rookie season of MotoAmerica Motul Superbike racing. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

Garrett Gerloff is by no means a motorcycle racing historian. But he does know a few things. For starters, he knows that two-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier won his first AMA Superbike race in just the second start of his rookie season in the class. But who’s counting?

The bottom line is simple: Gerloff expects to be winning Motul Superbike races. Or at least battling for victories. But he’s also a bit hard on himself, considering he has four podiums, including a second-place finish in the last round at Utah Motorsports Campus.

The expectations are high, however, when you win back-to-back Supersport titles and have 19 wins in the class in three years, including an 11-win season last year.

We caught up with the 22-year-old Gerloff in the small break between the Utah Motorsports Campus round and the Cycle Gear Championship of Sonoma, round seven of the MotoAmerica Motul Superbike Championship, August 10-12, in Sonoma, California.]

If you had to grade yourself so far on the season as a whole from Road Atlanta to the just-completed round at Utah Motorsports Campus, what grade would you give yourself?

It depends on the weekend, more or less, but I would say, overall, I would give myself a C. There’s just been some stupid mistakes, some things that have happened that have cost me good races or races that I feel like I could have done better, like VIR (where he crashed out of race one and couldn’t take part in race two). That was something dumb that happened that I feel like shouldn’t have, but it did. I felt like that could have been a good weekend for me to show some improvement of things. I feel like first race at Atlanta, second race at COTA, those were both dry races. Those were my first two weekends. I feel like those two races specifically went well. But in the rain… I still had a lot to learn. I ended up on my head in the first one, which wasn’t good. Then with COTA it was the same deal with race one. There’s a lot of things that I wish could have changed but I can’t go back and change them. Overall, a C, something like that.

Gerloff has four Superbike podiums already as the series heads to the Cycle Gear Championship of Sonoma. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

How would you think that people from the outside or people in the paddock… what grade do you think they would give you? Do you think you’re being a little harder on yourself than others are?

No. I would say the majority of people probably expected me to be winning already, just after how last year went because last year was really good. I felt good with the bike. The bike was perfect. Me and the team were working together perfectly. That’s not the easiest thing to find. This year I have a new crew chief who’s also new to crew chiefing himself. I’m new to the Superbike and I’m working with different mechanics and stuff. It’s a totally different team than the Graves team. It’s a totally separate division. There was just a lot of changes in general, but nothing bad or nothing that I couldn’t get used to or overcome. But I expected myself to have been fighting for a win, and I haven’t done that yet. So that disappoints me. But these guys have a lot of experience on the bike and something that I’m gaining every weekend. Every track feels like a new track to me, but at the same time everything that I’ve learned so far I feel like is going to help me so much next year. I feel like it’s going to be just – not easy next year, but at least we’ll have some data to go off of from this year. The things we learned in Utah that helped me in that second race, if we could have started the weekend like that, I don’t know what could have happened. Hopefully, that’s something that we deal with next year and it’s good.

You haven’t gotten a chance to race with those guys at the front yet – Cameron Beaubier, Toni Elias, Josh Herrin and Roger Hayden.

Not necessarily, no.

Is that something you’re looking forward to, even if it takes you a while to actually beat them? Is your next step to just get involved in the battle and race with them?

For sure. It was good this last weekend in Utah, specifically in race two – even race one – just being able to ride with some guys because a lot of the races this year I’ve found myself by myself, whether it was third or worse. But to actually be able to race with guys and to feel better with the bike and myself racing with people. I go back and think to race two at Miller (Utah Motorsports Campus) just being able to feel comfortable and putting passes on people in different spots. It felt good. It felt like it was some progress that we made, whereas before I was a little timid to kind of put the bike on the inside and out-braking somebody just because I didn’t have confidence necessarily with what the bike was doing. Not because the bike couldn’t do it, just because I’m still getting to that level of feeling good with the bike.

You had a pretty good preseason. Did that set your expectations too high based on that? Did things change once it got to racing?

No. I always had high expectations. I think maybe how well testing went made me just be like, all right, I’m just going to race even higher. But it is different. What I did in testing wasn’t just one lap, one fast lap. It was good. It was consistent. I was able to be consistent. It is different doing it in practice versus doing it under the pressure of a race situation. That’s something that I’m getting more used to weekend after weekend. That’s when things started to change. In the beginning, every time I found myself in a race it was just like… I found myself kind of fighting the bike and fighting the situation because I didn’t know exactly what to expect and what was going to happen with whatever just specific parts of racing with a new bike and new riders and stuff.

What would you say at this point is the most difficult part of being a Superbike racer – from the start of your weekend to the end of your weekend? Is it the race, or is it getting to the race?

It’s both. I think it’s getting to the race and then also during the race. The beginning of the weekend for now with what we have – like I said, every track feels new and I have to get used to the bike and the track and the setup every weekend because it’s not just a 600 with more power. It’s a totally different bike. So just starting the weekend feeling behind – and not even feeling behind but just being behind – is something that kind of sucks and having to get past that and just work on the setup and try to focus on me and getting the bike to where it should be without thinking, “Oh, man. I’m a second down,” or whatever it is. Sometimes I start the weekend out really well, but then get to the race and it’s like, man, I wish I could have made these couple setup changes before, to where I would have a good bike at the end of the race, but was just kind of going off that time in the beginning, or little things. I’m re-learning a lot of stuff right now that I’ve known for a while, but just kind of forgot I guess after some years of just doing it automatically. When you start getting on a new bike and a new program, all those things kind of come back to the surface and you have to kind of learn and put them back where they belong in the learned category.

So when you show up at the track now with the Superbike, without having any past experience, what is the base setting that you start with? Is it whatever you ended up with at the last race?

Yeah, that’s how we’ve been doing it. We got to a point the last couple weekends where that setting actually works at the next track. In the beginning of the year it was like we would have a setting that we would finally get to by the end of race two and then we would go to the next track and it would just be like, this is not working at all so we’d have to make some big changes. What I’ve noticed is that the Superbike is a lot more sensitive to every change that we make, whether it be electronics, suspension, whatever. It’s a lot more sensitive compared to the 600. So one setting that would work from COTA to Atlanta on the 600 doesn’t work on the Superbike, just because it requires a lot more fine tuning.

Obviously when you come back next year, and you go to Road Atlanta or you go to Road America, you will have settings that you ended up with there the year prior and you’ll have a place to start?

Yeah. It will just be easier because we can be like, all right, this is what we felt like was the best at the end of Road Atlanta. So that’s what we’re going to put in the bike in the beginning of the weekend. If it doesn’t work, then we’re going to go back to what we ended the year with. Those are two concrete setups that we can use and just go from there instead of kind of just being in a little bit of a limbo, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Then, like I said, some things would work in practice, but then in the race – things are always different in the race. It wouldn’t feel as good. Just all the little stuff that we learned from weekend to weekend.

Is it a huge difference between the two bikes as far as just going out and riding the Superbike compared to the 600? Did you have to change anything you were doing before, or is it just adapting to the motorcycle?

In the beginning it felt like a big change but now, after riding the bike for six months, I’m coming back to doing the same basic things that I did on the 600 but maybe just a little bit tweaked.

So your strengths from before are still your strengths?

Yes, they are still my strengths. I don’t know why, but I noticed myself doing things differently. Like for example the last couple weekends I found myself just getting to neutral throttle really late in the corner. Part of it was just because I didn’t have the right entry to be able to have the bike pointed the right direction to get to the throttle, but one of the things that I used to do so well on the 600 was brake in the corner, already on neutral throttle. With no time wasted between brakes to throttle and opening the throttle and exiting the corner. The bike was already pointed and ready to go. On a Superbike, I didn’t necessarily at some tracks, some weekends, have the setup to have the bike pointed the right direction by the time I got to the throttle, so I’d have to wait to go to the throttle, and I’d have these gaps in-between brakes off to throttle on. That was something that I did really well, but then for some reason kind of got lost from the switch from 600 to 1000. But now I feel like it’s something I’m more aware of, so I can keep working on it.

What are realistic goals for the rest of this season?

I still want to win a race and I want to get a pole position. Those are two things that I feel confidence that I can do. Just need to put it together and do it. Not saying it’s going to be easy. Every weekend is different, and every track is different, so I never really know what to expect coming into a weekend. But I’m confident in myself and my team that we can have a bike good enough to get a pole position and win by the end of the year.

Are there any races that are left on the schedule that you’re looking forward to more than another?

Yeah, I would say Pittsburgh more or less because I felt really well there last year. Also, it’s a track that nobody really has any experience on except for the test we did last year and the race. Which I guess is more experience than nothing, but it was all new for us last year, for everybody. I feel like that’s a better head start than I’ve had the rest of the year on tracks that everybody’s ridden at more than one time.