After an off-season that saw the addition of two new classes and the tweaking of a few others, the 2018 MotoAmerica season is ready to kick off this weekend in high-flying fashion with the Suzuki Championship at Road Atlanta, the opening weekend of the 10-round series that features the premier Motul Superbike class.
This weekend, April 13-15, marks the debut of the MotoAmerica Twins Cup and Liqui Moly Junior Cup classes. The Twins Cup is all-new and will feature multiple brands of highly tuned twin-cylinder motorcycles doing battle, and the Liqui Moly Junior Cup class takes the place of the spec-class KTM RC Cup. While the motorcycles will change as the class is now open to all manufacturers of small-bore sportbikes, the riders will be the same hard-charging youngsters as before – many of whom are on the fast track to move up through the ranks of MotoAmerica with a goal of reaching the Motul Superbike class.
The Motul Superbike class remains unchanged except for the fact that it is now a class for just Superbikes. Gone is the integration of the Superstock 1000 class on the Superbike grid as most of the top Superstock 1000 teams have kicked it up a gear and have built pure Superbikes with which to do battle, meaning the top Superstock 1000 riders have also made the jump to the Motul Superbike class.
Superstock 1000 is completely gone, replaced by Stock 1000, which will run by itself and on motorcycles that are based on what the class implies – stock 1000cc motorcycles. The Stock 1000 class will offer the opportunity for riders to get a taste of racing 1000cc motorcycles prior to moving to full-blown Superbikes.
The Supersport class returns in 2018, but without the Superstock 600 sharing its grid. The Superstock 600 class has been eliminated with new Supersport rules modified to somewhere between last year’s Supersport and last year’s Superstock 600 rules, allowing the majority of those in the Superstock 600 class to make the necessary changes to their motorcycles in order to compete.
All told, there will be five classes racing in the Suzuki Championship at Road Atlanta this weekend: Motul Superbike (Saturday and Sunday); Supersport (Saturday and Sunday); Liqui Moly Junior Cup (Saturday and Sunday); Twins Cup (Saturday); and Stock 1000 (Sunday)
Of course, all eyes will be focused on the Motul Superbike class as the MotoAmerica Series opens its season for the first time at Road Atlanta. Remember last year’s clash between Cameron Beaubier and Toni Elias? Well, those two are certainly among the favorites for victory in the two races in Georgia and both rank the track in their list of favorites.
“My favorite track is where we start the championship – Road Atlanta,” Elias said. “It is a really difficult track, but I love it. It has a lot of hard braking areas, a lot of ups and downs. It’s amazing and one of the best tracks I’ve ridden in the world.”
To move forward, you must sometimes look back and last year’s two races at Road Atlanta were epic. Race one went to Beaubier and his Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing YZF-R1 and that was the race where Beaubier and Elias clashed in the final corner, with Elias voicing his complaints during the podium ceremony before the war of words went public in the post-race press conference. Roger Hayden, meanwhile, finished third in race one behind his Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Elias.
In race two, Elias turned the tables on Beaubier and took what was his third win of the year (he won both races at the season opener at Circuit of The Americas). Hayden was second with Beaubier third.
The three podium finishers in both races at Road Atlanta last year are back for more and with their same teams. The Yoshimura Suzuki team is intact from last year with Elias coming into 2018 as the defending MotoAmerica Motul Superbike Champion by virtue of a season that saw him win 10 times in 2017. He will be joined again by Hayden, who finished second in the title chase last year with three victories on the year.
While Beaubier is back on the Yamaha Factory team, he is now joined by two-time MotoAmerica Supersport Champion Garrett Gerloff, the Superbike rookie impressing during the off-season tests on the team’s second Yamaha R1 Superbike. Gerloff takes over from four-time Superbike Champion Josh Hayes, the veteran making his debut this coming weekend in his new role as rider coach for Yamaha.
Road Atlanta will mark the first race for Beaubier since his season was cut short at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex round in August where he suffered a dislocated shoulder that required season-ending surgery. Beaubier still ended up third in the title chase and won five races during his shortened season. The Californian has led all the off-season tests and comes to Road Atlanta bristling with confidence.
With the Superstock 1000 class going away, there’s an influx of hungry young riders making the move to the Motul Superbike class. First among them is Mathew Scholtz, the Yamalube/Westby Racing rider coming to the Superbike class after winning last year’s Superstock 1000 Championship on the team’s gold-liveried YZF-R1. Like Gerloff, Scholtz was impressive during the recent Dunlop Preseason Test at Barber Motorsports Park with his lap times bettered only by Beaubier.
M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Jake Lewis finished second in last year’s Superstock 1000 Championship and he too makes the move to the Motul Superbike class this season. Lewis rode his Superbike-spec GSX-R1000 for the first time at the recent Barber test.
Bobby Fong, who rode a Quicksilver/Latus Motors Racing Kawasaki to third in the 2017 Superstock 1000 Championship, not only makes the move to Superbike but he does so on a new team with a new motorcycle. Fong will make his Superbike debut at Road Atlanta riding a Yamaha YZF-R1 for the Quicksilver/LEXIN/Hudson Motorcycles team. Joining Fong and the other top Superstock 1000 men in making the move to Superbike is Danny Eslick. Eslick also changes teams, going from the now-defunct TOBC Racing team to Scheibe Racing where he will compete aboard a BMW S1000 RR. Eslick rode the bike for the first time just a few weeks ago at the Dunlop test in Alabama.
The list of returning Superbike racers from last year is led by Kyle Wyman Racing’s Kyle Wyman. The team owner/racer ended up 10th in the Motul Superbike Championship last year with the highlight an impressive second-place finish to Elias in race two at New Jersey Motorsports Park.\
With the ever-popular Jake Gagne headed overseas to compete in the 2018 World Superbike Championship, his spot on the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda team has been taken by South African Cameron Petersen. The talented young Petersen competed in the Superstock 1000 class last year, though he didn’t complete the full season.
Josh Herrin will also be back and ready to fight for race wins in 2018 and he’ll be armed with an Attack Performance/Herrin Compound/Yamaha YZF-R1. Herrin finished eighth in the Superbike title fight last year, highlighted by a second-place finish at Barber when he filled in for the injured Beaubier on the factory Yamaha.
Team owner/racer David Anthony will field himself and two other riders in the Motul Superbike class as he’ll be joined on his Fly Street Racing team by Roi Holster and Sam Verderico. Anthony will ride a Kawasaki ZX-10R while the other two will be mounted on Yamaha R1 machines.
With practice and qualifying taking place on Friday, racing action begins on Saturday with the Liqui Moly Junior Cup race at 1 p.m., followed by Supersport at 2:30 p.m. and the first 21-lap Motul Superbike race at 3:30 p.m. The day will conclude with the first-ever Twins Cup race at 5 p.m.
Sunday’s main events start at 1 p.m. with the second Liqui Moly Junior Cup race and the one-off WERA Superbike race, which is the opening round of WERA’s Triple Crown Series, at 1:45 p.m. The final three races of the day are the second of two Supersport and Motul Superbike races and the Stock 1000 race, which ends the weekend with its 4:30 p.m. start time.
In addition to the on-track action, the Suzuki Championship at Road Atlanta will feature skateboard legend Tony Hawk & Friends, The Wall of Death, a Kids Zone, a BMX Pump Track and renowned LA and Vegas dance music DJ Jayceeoh.
Road Atlanta Notes…
Who is the winningest active Superbike rider in the MotoAmerica class? Cameron Beaubier. The two-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion (2015/2016) has won 21 MotoAmerica Motul Superbike races – eight in both 2015 and 2016 and five in 2017. Next best is Toni Elias with 16 wins – six in 2016 and 10 last year. Roger Hayden has five MotoAmerica Superbike wins to his credit (nine counting his other four AMA Superbike wins). The only other riders to have won MotoAmerica Superbike races are the retired Josh Hayes (13 MotoAmerica wins/61 total Superbike wins) and Mathew Scholtz, who took his maiden MotoAmerica Superbike win in the season finale at Barber Motorsports Park while riding his Superstock 1000-spec Yamalube/Westby Racing Yamaha.
From a manufacturers perspective, Yamaha has won 35 MotoAmerica Superbike races with Suzuki taking home 21 wins thus far. Yamaha got a headstart to that number when they swept all 18 races in the first year of MotoAmerica in 2015.
If they have the kind of season expected from them, Suzuki could reach the milestone of 200 Superbike victories in 2018. Roger Hayden gave the brand its 194th win when he rode to victory in race one at the season finale at Barber Motorsport Park in September of last year, putting them six wins shy of the mark. Honda is second on the all-time Superbike win list with 116 victories, while Yamaha’s 107 wins puts them third.
As previously mentioned, Beaubier and Elias won the two Motul Superbike races at Road Atlanta last year. Pole position went to Beaubier with his 1:24.555 lap in Superpole. The Superstock 1000 wins last year went to Mathew Scholtz and Jake Lewis, their first career wins in the series. In Supersport, Garrett Gerloff and Frenchman Valentin Debise split the two wins while Nick McFadden swept to both victories in the Superstock 600 class. As for the KTM RC Cup (now Junior Cup), those two race wins went to Benjamin Smith, the young racer who would end up taking the KTM RC Cup Championship. Smith will compete in the Supersport Series this year on a Team Norris Racing Yamaha.