A year ago Yoshimura Suzuki’s Toni Elias came into Georgia fresh off his two wins at the Circuit of The Americas. After seeing the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta track for the first time during Thursday’s track walk, Elias had wide eyes and plenty of trepidation. He said the track, with its varying undulations and blind corners, was unlike any he’d ever seen.
Come race time, Elias knew where he was going and he went out and won race one, proving his mettle as fast learner. Although he suffered a crash in turn five in race two that would ultimately prove costly to his championship aspirations, he still left as a fan of the racetrack.
This weekend, Elias again returns to the Suzuki/ECSTAR Championship at Road Atlanta as the points leader after, once again, sweeping to wins in both races in the Motul Superbike class at COTA. This time he’s got Road Atlanta’s 12 turns etched in his brain and with an appreciation and fondness for the racetrack.
“Of course, going back to Road Atlanta for a second time will make things easier,” Elias said. “I love the track. I will start working from the first practice, and I hope I will be more ready for the races than last year.”
Although Elias won both races at COTA last weekend, both Motul Superbike races were hard-fought. In Saturday’s final he had his Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Roger Hayden nibbling at his heels for the duration with a margin of victory of 1.7 seconds. On Sunday, he had his hands full with Hayden and Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing’s Cameron Beaubier for the entire race with Beaubier bouncing back from a crash on Saturday to finish second – .716 of a second behind Elias.
Elias arrives at Road Atlanta with a perfect points haul of 50 points, 14 more than Hayden, who was second and third in the two races in Texas. Beaubier, who was able to remount from his crash on Saturday to finish eighth, is third with 28 points – 22 behind Elias and just one point better than Quicksilver Latus Motors Kawasaki’s Bobby Fong.
Fong was impressive at COTA, riding his Bazzaz Superstock 1000-spec ZX-10R to third in the first race and fifth in race two and both of those were wins in the Superstock 1000 class, which runs with the Motul Superbike class on-track.
Yamalube/Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz will make his Road Atlanta debut this weekend and he comes into round two fifth in the Superbike standings and second in Superstock 1000. The South African is a quick learner, but Road Atlanta will still provide a challenge in the early practice sessions.
The rest of the top 10 in the Motul Superbike class are all relatively close, led by Josh Herrin in sixth place. Herrin and his HelmetSounds.com/Western Services/Meen Motors Yamaha YZF-R1 finished seventh and sixth in the two races. Jake Lewis had a good weekend on his M4 ECSTAR Suzuki GSXR-1000, finishing third and fourth in the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 class over the two days.
Josh Hayes had a rough start to his Superbike season, the four-time Superbike Champion crashing in Saturday’s race and remounting to finish 14th. On Sunday, he was much better and rode to fourth. But his championship is starting on the wrong foot and he’s eighth in the series standings after the first of the 10 rounds (and 20 races).
TOBC Racing’s Danny Eslick (third in the Superstock 1000 title chase) and Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda’s Jake Gagne are ninth and 10th in the Superbike Championship, respectively, coming into Road Atlanta.
Supersport was the only other MotoAmerica class to race at COTA and it was just a single event on Saturday. It was won by JD Beach with the 2015 MotoAmerica Supersport Champion putting his head down and leaving M4 Suzuki’s Valentin Debise and defending Supersport Champion Garrett Gerloff, on the second Monster Energy/Yamalube/YES/Graves, to battle behind him. The fight went to the finish with Debise second and Gerloff third, but some 4.9 seconds behind Beach.
Road Atlanta and the Suzuki ECSTAR Championship at Road Atlanta is the first in the 2017 MotoAmerica Series that will feature all the classes, including the opening rounds of the Superstock 600 and KTM RC Cup. That results in a full slate of on-track action for three days at the scenic track in Braselton, Georgia.
Both the Superstock 600 and KTM RC Cup Championships should be wide open with both series champions moving on. Superstock 600 Champion Bryce Prince, who dominated the 2016 season, has moved to the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 class and KTM RC Cup Champion Brandon Paasch is now in the Supersport class. In fact, the top three in last year’s KTM RC Cup have moved up with Anthony Mazziotto III and Ashton Yates moving to Superstock 600.
This year’s Suzuki ECSTAR Championship at Road Atlanta will feature a Motul Superbike race on both Saturday and Sunday, unlike the first two seasons of MotoAmerica when both Superbike races were held on Sunday. Both are sure to entertain. Remember last year when Hayes took out his teammate Beaubier in race one?
With practice and qualifying taking place on Friday, racing action begins on Saturday with the Supersport/Superstock 600 race at 2:25 p.m., followed by the first 21-lap Motul Superbike/Bazzaz Superstock 1000 races at 3:30 p.m. The day will conclude with the first KTM RC Cup race at 4:35 p.m.
Sunday’s main events start at 11:30 a.m. with the second KTM RC Cup race and the one-off WERA Superbike race, which is the opening round of WERA’s Triple Crown Series. The final two races of the day are the second of two Supersport/Superstock 600 and Motul Superbike/Bazzaz Superstock 1000 races.
Road Atlanta Notes
Toni Elias’ two Motul Superbike wins at Circuit of The Americas were the seventh and eighth of his MotoAmerica career. Elias won six races in his debut season of MotoAmerica, including race one at Road Atlanta.
Josh Hayes is second on the all-time Superbike win list with 60 victories, 22 behind all-time leader Mat Mladin. Hayes won twice in 2016, his lowest total since he started compiling his record-setting numbers. Although his win total was low, Hayes was on the podium 12 times. He also earned one pole position – at Road America.
Pole position in the opening round of the series at Circuit of The Americas last week went to Roger Hayden, for the second straight year.
Defending two-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier was on pole last year here at Road Atlanta, the Yamaha rider lapping at 1:24.84. It was one of four pole positions for Beaubier in 2016. Beaubier won eight times, including race two at Road Atlanta, in 2016 and now has 19 career Superbike victories. Beaubier was leading race one when he crashed together with his teammate Hayes. Beaubier won both Superbike races at Road Atlanta in 2015 with both held in wet conditions.
Garrett Gerloff comes into Road Atlanta as the defending Supersport Champion and also as the defending race winner in Georgia. Gerloff swept the doubleheader last year for two of his six wins in 2016.