Three-time AMA Pro SuperBike champion Josh Hayes took another major step toward updating that descriptor to 'four-time' on Sunday afternoon at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as he closed out the GEICO Motorcycle U.S. Round with a convincing victory, his fourth in a row.
The Monster Energy Graves Yamaha ace, racing on the No. 4 Yamaha R1, moved past the holeshooting Martin Cardenas on the 23-lap race's opening circulation. The contest was pretty much decided at that point, save for 18 more precision laps executed at breakaway speed. The race was red flagged and called official with 19 laps complete due to a crash by rider Marcel Irnie.
Hayes' biggest challenge figured to come from rookie teammate Cameron Beaubier, who opened the race from the front of the grid after claiming his second pole position of the 2014 season on Saturday. However, the 21-year-old failed to capitalize on his prime starting position at launch and was shuffled back to fourth, corralled behind Cardenas and his Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing teammate, Roger Hayden, while Hayes eked out a gap in front.
Beaubier found his way into third on lap 4 and then moved into second on the following circuit, but by then he already trailed Hayes by more than two seconds.
Beaubier demonstrated similar pace at that point but was unable to make significant progress whittling away at the gap, and the consistent 39-year-old eventually wore him down.
Hayes boasted a commanding multi-second advantage with just three laps remaining when the race was red flagged and ultimately called complete. The win is the 46th of Hayes' remarkable career and his fourth in succession, both on the season and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
As a result, Hayes now leads the title chase with more than a full race's points allotment in hand and only four contests left in play. Two of those races will take place next weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and it's not inconceivable that he could lock up the crown as early as Sunday.
"What a beautiful day," said Hayes after claiming his fifth win of the season. "I can promise you it's never as easy as it looks. The last few laps I was actually having a pretty hard time. I was just trying to stay focused which can be pretty hard to do when you're riding by yourself. Cameron had a little carrot out there in front of him. I didn't have much to look at. I was more running like a scared rabbit, looking at the pit board. It's a little bit of a different game."
Beaubier was credited with second while Hayden, who passed Cardenas while working lap 7, came in third. With his runner-up result, Beaubier now moves into second in the points as well, 40 back of Hayes (175-135), and one up on Hayden in third.
"I think I rode OK," said Beaubier. "I got a pretty rough start and was behind Rog and Martin and was able to pass them. But by that time Josh already had a second or two. I put my head down and started clicking off the laps. Overall, I'm pretty happy to get out of here with second place, especially after the weekend I had at Barber, throwing a couple bikes down the road. It's good to get some confidence back heading to Mid-Ohio."
Hayden was hoping for a little more than third, but was happy with his day overall.
"I got a decent start but the first couple of laps I was having trouble getting by Martin," said Hayden. "Then Cam got by me and he got Martin. Finally, I got by Martin and I was trying to catch Cam in the middle of the race. I was starting to make inroads but the last couple of laps I was starting to make a couple mistakes because I was pushing pretty hard. That was pretty much it. It was a pretty good ride for me - Barber didn't go very good so I feel like this was a bit of a rebound."
Once it settled in, the race took on a processional shape with more than a second's worth of padding separating every rider in the top ten - most of those gaps near the ten-second range.
KTM/HMC Racing's Chris Fillmore finished in fifth behind Cardenas, while ADR Motorsports/Sic/Motul Fly Racing's David Anthony suffered his first finish outside the top five all season long in sixth.
Team AMSOIL Hero EBR's Cory West and Proto-Tech Spain Yamaha's Bernat Martinez took seventh and eighth, respectively, while third Yoshimura pilot Chris Clark and Porter Racing Kawasaki's Sebastiao Ferreira completed the top ten.
Hayes will now take his mammoth championship lead and all the momentum across the country into the Buckeye SuperBike Weekend in just a few days' time.
AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike
Jake Lewis won his first AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday. The 18 year-old started strong and won a difficult but decisive victory on his Motosport.com/Meen Yamaha entry in the 20-lap final.
"It's just a huge weight off my shoulders," said Lewis. "It's been an up-and-down year. Last year, I was close to winning and this year I've been close to winning, so it's just a huge weight off my shoulders to get the first win. Qualifying fifth - I was a little bit disappointed with that, but I knew it was going to be a heck of a race. I was sitting on the grid thinking, 'I'm going to win this race,' because last year I was so close to winning. I got off to a good start, went into the lead in Turn 2 and never looked back. That's been my weakness throughout my career - looking back - so I just put my head down and stayed focused and clicked off lap after lap and got into a good rhythm and brought home the win.
Lewis beat second place finisher JD Beach on the Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves Yamaha machine, making it three runner-up finishes this year for Beach.
"Jake was riding great and he got his first win," said Beach. "I was really wanting that win, but it was a really good race. Hopefully, next weekend we can put something together. I have one of the best bikes out there so all I need to do is get a little bit better of a start and do fast laps and hopefully we can get the win."
The battle for third was a war between Danny Eslick and Jake Gagne, two previous race winners this season. Eslick and Riders Discount Racing Triumph beat Gagne and RoadRace Factory/Red Bull by defending passing attempt after passing attempt over the final three laps.
"Being up here on the podium is huge," said Eslick. "Obviously, I had the big win at Daytona and that's been the top of the year for me. But all I could think about were the races I've been losing since Daytona and not being on the podium. Yeah, Daytona was awesome but I want to be up here week-in and week-out with these guys. It's just huge for the Riders Discount team and Attack Performance. ... It's just good to be up here on the podium."
Gagne was third before losing ground when the leaders hit traffic. By the time he could regroup, Eslick had made his way past.
"We had a great battle but I couldn't make a pass stick," said Gagne.
Dane Westby and Yamalube/Westby Racing snatched back fifth from Beach's teammate Garrett Gerloff. Westby regained the spot with two laps left to finish in front of the factory rider.
Polesitter Jason DiSalvo tagged onto Westby early, but lost further ground after Gerloff came by. DiSalvo finished the contest a shade over 21 seconds back, but ahead of Blake Young (GN Gonzalez Racing) and Jake Zemke (GEICO Motorcycle Racing). Benny Solis rounded out the top ten.
Kaleb De Keyrel was the top AMA Pro SuperSport regular in the race, taking 17th spot on his De Keyrel Racing entry.
AMA Pro Road Racing will be back in action next weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio for the Buckeye SuperBike Weekend on July 19-20.
About AMA Pro Road Racing
AMA Pro Road Racing is the premier motorcycle road racing series in North America and is universally regarded as one of the most competitive road racing organizations in the world. The series is comprised of four production-based classes: AMA Pro SuperBike, AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike, AMA Pro SuperSport and the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series. Learn more about AMA Pro Road Racing at www.amaproracing.com/rr/.
AMA Pro Racing is the premier professional motorcycle racing organization in North America, operating a full schedule of events and championships for a variety of motorcycle disciplines. Learn more about AMA Pro Racing at www.amaproracing.com.
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(AMA Pro Racing Communications)