Saturday Cinema: The Turning Point

Conjoined Yamahas: The moment it all came together for Supersport riders Gerloff and Beach…literally.

By definition, a turning point is the point of highest tension in a narrative work. It’s also the exact moment where the protagonist finally overcomes the obstacles, sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and heads toward triumph. We’ve seen it in thousands of cinematic productions, from every single Rocky movie ever made, to countless war films, to almost every romantic comedy and musical including everything from The Graduate to Grease, to episodic shows that we binge-watch from home like Game of Thrones and the Queen’s Gambit.

In 2017, we witnessed a turning point during the final lap of race 9 of the 18-race Supersport Championship, which occurred on Sunday, June 25, at Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah.

Garrett Gerloff and JD Beach were teammates on the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Extended Service/Graves/Yamaha team, and Gerloff was the defending champion in the class. Beach had won the Supersport Championship in 2015, so 2017 was the “rubber match” between the two Yamaha YZF-R6 riders. Whoever captured the 2017 title would break the championship tie between the pair of long-time bLU cRU stars.

Little did we know at the time that the stakes were even higher than just winning the tiebreaker because, later, it was revealed that whichever of the two riders won the 2017 Supersport title would be rewarded with a Superbike ride in 2018 as Cameron Beaubier’s teammate and heir to the R1 throne that was vacated by four-time Superbike champ Josh Hayes.

Gerloff (1) in the lead with Beach (95) looking for a chance to overtake his teammate. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

On the 15th and final lap of that Sunday’s race, at almost exactly the halfway point in the Supersport Championship, and while Gerloff and Beach were fighting for the lead and, ultimately, the win, the pair quite literally tangled. Both riders went down in unison, and their Yamaha R6 middleweight machines inexplicably got stuck together, which delayed both riders’ ability to rejoin the race and prevented either of them from winning the race. They both did manage to finish, albeit in 17th position for Gerloff and 19th for Beach.

Following the race, Gerloff said, “I saw ‘plus-zero’ on my pitboard, so I knew it was JD right behind me. On the last lap, I tried to do everything I could to ride perfectly. The first sector was really good. I felt really strong, and then, going into turn five, I had a little moment where I almost crashed. I was able to save it, but I lost some time. I had to defend the inside, and I thought I had it covered, but JD, at the last second, put it up underneath me, snagged my handlebar, and we both ended up going down. We picked the bikes up and got going again. No points today, which is unfortunate, but all in all, it was a racing incident. We’ll both be back, stronger at Laguna. I lived to fight another day, and fight, I will.”

JD commented, “On the last lap, when Garrett tucked the front in turn five, I was able to get a little bit of a drive on him going into turn six. It looked like he went just a little bit wide, and I tried to get up underneath him. I went for it, and there just wasn’t enough room. Today are the races you would like to forget. I’m sorry to Garrett, his crew, and the whole team for costing them a win. I want to move past this and go to Laguna.”

Beach left Utah with a one-point lead in the Championship, 172 points to Gerloff’s 171 points, and Beach had won four of the nine races thus far in 2017 while Gerloff had won three.

After Utah, Gerloff went on an absolute tear. He won eight of the nine remaining races on the season, including eight victories in a row, while Beach ended the season with one more victory.

All told, Gerloff’s 11-win season clinched the 2017 Supersport title—his second middleweight championship in a row—and Beach, with six victories on the season, was second in the final point standings. The final tally was 387 to 345, with Gerloff winning the title convincingly by 42 points.

Supersport race two on June 25, 2017 at Utah Motorsports Campus was not only the turning point for Gerloff’s 2017 season, but it’s not at all an overstatement to say it was the turning point in his entire motorcycle road racing career. It led to his rookie season in MotoAmerica Superbike in 2018, which led to his breakthrough four-win sophomore Superbike season in MotoAmerica in 2019, which led to his stellar rookie season in the Superbike World Championship this past year.

Cloud of dust…or smoke signal? Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The cloud of dust that went up during Sunday’s Supersport race in Utah back in 2017 was, in fact, a smoke signal that Garrett Gerloff had reached the turning point.

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