With two rounds and four races completed in the 2018 MotoAmerica Motul Superbike Championship, just what have we learned about this season? Can we extrapolate yet who will be the 2018 Champion? What conclusions can we make at this early stage?
Ever since defending Superbike Champion Toni Elias started racing in MotoAmerica, the Spaniard has been quick out of the gate. In each of his first two years with MotoAmerica, when the series started the season at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA), he won both races. This year, MotoAmerica changed things up, flip-flopping round one and round two so that the season began at Road Atlanta. Nevertheless, Elias won both of the races in Georgia and, once again, emerged from the opening round undefeated. And, with round two at COTA – a track on which Elias had never lost a Superbike race – up next, odds were that he would take both wins in Texas and get off to his best MotoAmerica start ever, riding a four-race winning streak into round three at Virginia International Raceway.
Funny how things work out. At a track on which Elias has seemed positively invincible, he was never comfortable and never had the pace necessary to win Saturday’s rain-soaked Superbike race one at COTA. Not since round three of the 2016 MotoAmerica Superbike season, at New Jersey, had such a notable chink in Elias’ armor been revealed from racing in the rain. Indeed, in the rain at Road Atlanta a few weeks ago, Elias seemingly exorcized the rain demons by winning Saturday’s wet Superbike race one in Georgia, but alas, they returned with a vengeance in Saturday’s wet Superbike race one in Texas. Although, to be fair, Elias did manage to finish in fourth place.
When Sunday at COTA dawned, the rains had passed, and a dry track enabled Elias to return to his dominant form, winning Superbike race two by more than 10 seconds over two-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Beaubier has had early-season struggles during the Toni Elias Era of MotoAmerica. Crashes, DNFs, and a dearth of season-opening championship points have put the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing rider in catch-up mode over the past two seasons. This year, beginning the 2018 season at Road Atlanta didn’t do much to change the trend for Beaubier, although he did leave Georgia with ninth- and second-place race finishes, which were, all things considered, a much better start to the season than he had in 2016 and pretty much equal to his 2017 start. But, COTA was looming on the horizon, a track that has been both Beaubier’s and his Yamaha YZF-R1 Superbike’s nemesis over the past couple of seasons.
As it turned out, this year, Beaubier didn’t fare too badly at COTA. Although he didn’t win either race in Texas, he was on the podium twice with a third-place result on Saturday (despite crashing in the wet and remounting) and a second-place finish on Sunday.
As Beaubier explained in the Sunday afternoon press conference following Superbike race two, COTA and, to some extent, Road Atlanta are both tracks that better suit the Suzuki. They are point-and-shoot circuits on which motorcycles that accelerate quickly out of the sharp corners seem to excel. Beaubier expressed his relief that the series is now going to VIRginia International Raceway and Road America, tracks at which he feels he can better exploit the characteristics of the Yamaha Superbike. The track layouts at VIR and Elkhart Lake enable Beaubier to roll through the sweeping turns, carry momentum and maintain cornering speed – all things that he says the Yamaha R1 does well.
Surprisingly, Elias agrees. His comments in the same press conference indicated a level of uneasiness. Rather than brimming with his trademark bravado, Elias admitted that the next couple of rounds will be difficult. He knows the number one on his Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 is a big target, and he may be engaging in a bit of gamesmanship, with humility being the chess piece he has put in play, but something felt different while he was in the final press conference at COTA.
Perhaps it’s because Beaubier is closer to Elias going into VIR than he’s been at this point in the past two seasons. Or, just maybe it’s because Elias senses that Beaubier is the not only challenger to the crown.
Next, we’ll discuss who else has designs on storming Elias’ castle. One of them is currently in second place in the points standings.