A lot has happened since the last time an AMA Superbike race was held at Sonoma Raceway in 2012. For starters, Sonoma Raceway was Infineon Raceway. And Josh Hayes was winning Superbike races. Oh, wait. Some things haven’t changed
The last time AMA Superbikes ran at Sonoma Raceway, Hayes qualified on pole and won the first of two Superbike races for what was his third win of a season in which he would win 16 races and earn his third AMA Superbike crown. Since then, Hayes has won a fourth title in 2014 and has continued to pile on the victories, including his 61st win earlier this year. Five of those 61 Superbike wins (and his first-career Superbike win) have come at Sonoma Raceway and Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing’s Hayes would like nothing more than to add to that total this weekend in the Championship at Sonoma Raceway, round seven of the 2017 MotoAmerica Series.
“I think it’s a racetrack that at times has suited me quite well,” Hayes said. “It’s pretty cool that I got my first win on a Superbike at that track and on this team in 2009. That was the race that broke the long-running Yoshimura Suzuki win streak so that was a pretty big deal. The next year I got rolling pretty good and won both races and it seemed like I had success for the next couple of years. I was a pretty strong contender every time there. I have always enjoyed the track even though it’s a tough racetrack with an odd rhythm sometimes. I think the last couple of turns are very, very difficult. One of the reasons I like going there is because I think it’s one of the more fan-friendly tracks that we have. It’s down in a valley and spectators can sit on the hillsides and see a lot of the racetrack. We’re going there at a good time of the year and I’m looking forward to it.”
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Hayes will have two opportunities to add to his win total as the MotoAmerica Series returns from its summer break with Superbike races scheduled for both days, Saturday and Sunday, August 12-13, in addition to a full day of practice and qualifying on Friday, August 11.
While Hayes continues to be a factor even at the age of 42, the man to beat coming into Sonoma is Toni Elias, the championship points leader after six rounds of the 10-round series. Elias and his Yoshimura Suzuki have dominated, winning eight races and five in a row coming into Sonoma. The Spaniard has been a model of speed and consistency, with 11 podium finishes in the 12 races held thus far. The only bogey on his scorecard is a non-finish in race one at VIRginia International Raceway when he was involved in a crash with Josh Herrin that took them both out.
The man closest to Elias in the point standings is his teammate Roger Hayden, the pair getting the very most out of their new Suzuki GSX-R1000s. Hayden is 40 points behind Elias but there’s plenty of racing yet to come with four rounds and eight races left on the schedule, including the two at Sonoma Raceway.
Third in the standings is held by defending two-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier, the Roseville, California, resident heading to his home race in Sonoma this coming weekend and hoping to flip his fortunes around. Beaubier has won two races and has had the speed to win more, but a few crashes have made catching up a difficult process. He’s 80 points behind Elias, but you can expect him to fight to the very end to retain this title.
Then comes Hayes, the veteran having an up-and-down season with more downs than ups, but he’s won a race and he’s capable of winning more. Hayes is 124 points off Elias as we head to round seven.
The man rounding out the top five in the Motul Superbike class is the same man who leads the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 class – Mathew Scholtz. Scholz has won five of the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 races (which race within the Superbike class, but are scored separately) and comes to Sonoma riding a three-race win streak. Scholtz and his Yamalube/Westby Racing Yamaha lead the series points by 43 points over Bobby Fong, the Quicksilver Latus Racing Kawasaki rider winning five races so far in 2017. M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Jake Lewis is the other race winner in the group, the Kentuckian sitting third in the standings with two victories.
The closest battle for a MotoAmerica Championship is in the Supersport class where Monster Energy/Yamalube/Y.E.S./Graves Yamaha teammates Garrett Gerloff come to Northern California’s wine country separated by just four points. Both have won four races and they’ve battled at the front together in nearly every round so far. Expect more of the same at Sonoma Raceway.
The only rider other than the two Yamaha men to win races is Frenchman Valentin Debise. Debise and his M4 ECSTAR Suzuki have two victories to their credit, but he sits fourth in the standings after suffering three non-finishes. Team H35 Honda’s Benny Solis is third in the standings, three points ahead of Debise as he’s the rider who benefits when one of the other three falter.
Like the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 class and Motul Superbike, the Superstock 600 class runs on the track with the Supersport class. That class is led by Aguilar Racing’s Jason Aguilar, the Californian leading Team MG55’s Michael Gilbert by 21 points heading to Sonoma. Aguilar has won three races in a row to head the title chase with Gilbert winning a pair of races earlier in the season.
Excel Machine Racing’s Connor Blevins is third in Superstock 600, 24 points behind Aguilar and just three points ahead of Nick McFadden and his M4 medAge Suzuki. Blevins and McFadden both have two race wins to their credit and will be aiming to add to that in the Sonoma round, which is presented by Riderz Law.
The KTM RC Cup, presented by Riderz Law, will also feature two races at Sonoma Raceway as three-time winner Jackson Blackmon tries to claw back some points on his championship-leading teammate Benjamin Smith. The two Quarterley Racing/On Track Development riders have won three races apiece, but Blackmon missed the opening round due to injury and he trails Smith by 29 points.
Draik Beauchamp, the third Quarterley Racing teamster, is third in the point standings with one victory. He trails by 32 points and is just five points clear of Cory Ventura, the Union City, California, rider trying to go two-for-two in Northern California after scoring his second victory of the year a few weeks ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
In addition to the MotoAmerica events, the AFM will also hold a race at Sonoma Raceway when it sends its popular Formula IV Twins class on the track for a round of its championship. The AFM race will be held on Sunday at 12:10 p.m.
Sonoma Raceway Fast Facts
The first-ever AMA Superbike race held at Sonoma Raceway (nee Sears Point and Infineon Raceway) was won by Paul Ritter on a Ducati in 1977. Ritter came back a year later to win again before someone different won for the first time in 1979. That rider was Freddie Spencer, who would go on to win three World Championships.
The all-time winningest Superbike racer at Sonoma Raceway is Australian Mat Mladin. Mladin won nine races at Sonoma, with all of those victories coming on Suzuki GSX-Rs.
The winningest active rider with five Superbike wins at Sonoma Raceway is Josh Hayes. Hayes won his first Superbike race at Sonoma in 2009. Hayes also won races in Supersport and the now-defunct Formula Xtreme classes at Sonoma.
MotoAmerica President and three-time 500cc World Champion Wayne Rainey won his only Superbike race in Sonoma in 1983. Rainey also won Formula 1 (500cc GP bikes) and 250cc GP races at the Northern California facility.
With his two wins at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in July, Toni Elias now has eight wins in the Motul Superbike class thus far in 2017. Elias now has 14 career Superbike wins in just his second season of MotoAmerica racing. Elias is now tied with Doug Polen and Blake Young on the all-time win list.
Four riders have won Motul Superbike races this season: Elias (8), Cameron Beaubier (2), Roger Hayden (1) and Josh Hayes (1).
The last time the series visited Sonoma Raceway in 2012, Josh Hayes qualified on pole position for the Superbike race with a lap of 1:35.872. Hayes went on to win race one with the eldest of the Hayden brothers, Tommy, winning race two on his Yoshimura Suzuki.
With its nine wins thus far in 2017 (eight for Elias, one for Roger Hayden), Suzuki now has 190 AMA Superbike wins to its credit. Honda is second on the all-time list with 116 victories while Yamaha sits third with 103.