Road racing fans are in for a treat this weekend as the country's top riders will share the stage with their World Championship counterparts at the GEICO Motorcycle U.S. Round, a combined AMA Pro Road Racing/FIM Superbike World Championship event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 2014 AMA Pro SuperBike championship outlook has snapped into focus as the title fight begins its run down the homestretch. Despite losing his crown in 2013 and getting off to another rocky start early in 2014, three-time series champion Josh Hayes on the No. 4 Monster Energy Graves Yamaha YZF-R1 has silenced any premature whispers that his era was coming to a close. While his primary rivals all stumbled when confronted with three tricky races in succession, the 39-year-old's unique combination of speed and experience allowed him to secure a commanding advantage with just five races remaining this season.
Hayes has just about every statistic going in his favor ahead of the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca weekend. Now boasting a remarkable 45 career victories and 31 poles, the Mississippian comes to California boasting three straight victories on the season and three in a row at the fabled circuit.
In fact, as a result of the compacted schedule featuring just one AMA Pro SuperBike race, there is only one rider in the field with even a remote chance of stealing Hayes' title lead this weekend. And no, it's not perennial contender Roger Hayden on the No. 95 Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing GSX-R1000nor rookie phenom Cameron Beaubier and his No. 2 Monster Energy Graves Yamaha YZF-R1. The solitary racer within 30 points of Hayes at the moment is the ultimate championship dark horse, privateer David Anthony, pilot of theNo. 25 ADR Motorsports/Sic/Motul Fly Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000.
The Australian has been the revelation of 2014. Having reorganized his team to allow him the freedom to focus on his riding as opposed to the business aspects of running a top-flight independent effort, Anthony has been quick enough to keep the leading factory riders on their toes and has the consistency to make up ground whenever they falter.
Anthony earned the first AMA Pro SuperBike podium of his career with a runner-up result in the wet at Road America and then backed that up with another second-place ride in the extreme heat of Barber Motorsports Park. As a result, he's currently second in the points, albeit 29 down on the resurgent Hayes. While Anthony has garnered some well-deserved accolades as of late, he can't ease up now because the aforementioned Hayden and Beaubier are just three and six points back, respectively.
Hayden didn't get the big results he expected in Alabama and will be looking to make amends this weekend. The Yoshimura Suzuki ace has flashed exceptional speed in Monterey each of the last two seasons, even if the results haven't exactly been there, and he could be in position to get his title push back on track this time around.
Beaubier, meanwhile, is looking to regain his confidence after a few difficult outings that have hindered his hopes for a championship run as a rookie. The Monster Energy Graves Yamaha rider has accomplished what no one since Mat Mladin has in demonstrating superior outright pace to teammate Hayes on multiple occasions. While his dazzling talent remains unquestioned, Beaubier has suffered from a handful of falls that have damaged both his title positioning and his psyche.
However, assuming he rediscovers his early season form, Beaubier could very well prove to be the one to beat this weekend. He scored the best result of his rookie AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike season in 2011 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a runner-up result and followed that up with three straight victories at the venue. Back on his home turf, the 21-year-old Californian could prove difficult to overcome - even for his legendary teammate.
Chris Clark on the No. 6 Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing GSX-R1000 is only five points behind Beaubier and enjoying a breakthrough season of his own. Having finished no worse than sixth all year, Clark climbed on the podium for the first time in his AMA Pro Road Racing career in Birmingham with a third place result at Barber.
Clark actually leads his heralded teammate, Martin Cardenas on theNo. 36 Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing GSX-R1000 by 15 points. However, the Colombian is coming off his best result of 2014 with a runner-up finish last time out in the Alabama heat.
Chris Fillmore aboard the No. 11 KTM/HMC Racing KTM RC8R, meanwhile, is still seeking that elusive first AMA Pro SuperBike podium for both himself and KTM. His bike expired late in Saturday's race in Alabama while solidly holding down a podium position. That heartbreak was reminiscent of the one endured last season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca when Fillmore powered onto the start/finish straight in third position only to run short of fuel before he arrived at the checkered flag.
Cory West, pilot of the No. 13 Team AMSOIL Hero EBR 1190RS, and Trent Gibson on this No. 17 Seven Sports Kawasaki ZX-10 round out the contenders ranked in the top ten who are readying to do battle in this weekend's AMA Pro SuperBike contest. Both men enjoyed season-best results in last year's finale at the circuit, with West taking fourth and Gibson coming home ninth.
The AMA Pro SuperBike stars will hit the track for the first time at 11:25 a.m. local time (2:25 p.m. ET) on Friday. The class' 23-lap race is slated for a 4:20 p.m. (7:20 p.m.) start time on Sunday.