AMA Pro SuperSport action from the Buckeye SuperBike Weekend a Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was typical of the class for up-and-coming stars of tomorrow and fast club aces. In other words, it was a full grid's worth of battles and unpredictable skirmishes at the front.
Dustin Dominguez of Houston Superbikes took two wins as the Oklahoman's hot streak extended. Each time out, he topped TOBC Racing's Hayden Gillim as both races were held on Sunday due to track conditions unconducive to racing the day before. With the riders making their bids for the series championship, the New Jersey round will be another winner-take-all showdown in the final chapter of 2014.
The weekend began as a test for three men fighting for the points lead as Corey Alexander (HVMC/Celtic Racing) remained out in front as the teams entered Ohio. Alexander was great early in the season. The reigning East champion, looked nearly unbeatable at Daytona and was almost as strong at Elkhart Lake despite a training accident that put his participation in doubt. However, a subpar Alabama round left Gillim and Dominguez rallying closer.
Mid-Ohio would go be a turning point as Dominguez and Gillim left Alexander behind.
In Race 1, Gillim had the early lead but Dominguez made a great pass on lap two and made it stick. Gillim made a nice move to rip the lead away on lap four but Dominguez repeated his earlier ploy - outbraking Gillim on the main straight. He then cut a blazing lap and when Dominguez encountered lapped traffic, he didn't have Gillim's No. 69 machine directly on his Yamaha's tail anymore. From then on, the Oklahoman held the point position.
"With these races being so short and there's so many riders, I didn't know if there was going to be a red flag so I tried to lead every lap," said Dominguez. "We've finally got this thing the way we wanted it and have been getting good results ever since."
Dominguez had another good race in the second affair. He led Gillim, but the Kentuckian seemed poised on his tail and in good position to make a late-race move. Gillim nearly crashed with a lap and a half to go, avoiding a highside heading onto the main straight.
Gillim tried to rally on the final lap. He made an ambitious move and the two touched. Neither rider fell, and Dominguez pulled away for a 3.510-second victory after 11 laps.
"Mid-Ohio has always been one of my favorite tracks. I knew going into the weekend I had to win both races to have a shot at the championship," Dominguez said. "This was the biggest weekend for me not just because I won both races, but because now I'm two points out of the championship and have good momentum going into the last race of the year. All the glory to God and can't thank my team and sponsors enough for providing me a bike and opportunity to win races. I'm ready to prove I have what it takes to win this championship."
Gillim took two second place finishes on the day. He was disappointed not to win but made the most of a day when he never really got his bike sorted.
"With us getting so little track time before the race, I really didn't have a good setup," said Gillim after Race 1. "I had hardly any weight on the rear so in every turn I was out sideways."
He clearly found some answers for Race 2 but wasn't totally satisfied.
"We were still having some issues with grip," said Gillim, pointing out his near-crash with two to go. "The last lap, I put my head down and pushed as hard as I could. (Dominguez) made a little mistake. Coming into Thunder Valley, I was right next to him I felt like I might have made the pass but I didn't want to risk taking us both out. I'm glad we could give the fans watching a good race. I'm looking forward to New Jersey and (I) have the points lead so it should be fun."
Gillim dueled with Alexander for the East crown at New Jersey last year and the outcome was in doubt until the checkered flag, so he has experience in a championship shootout. The Suzuki pilot holds a slim two-point margin after Ohio.
Alexander lowsided in the Keyhole on lap five of the first race - a tough blow for his championship hopes. In Race 2, he had to pull off before the race started due to an issue with his brakes.
"I guess bad luck comes all at once when it does come," said Alexander. "This weekend started off rough just from the weather alone, which cut down the whole weekend to essentially one day. With that said, I felt we had a really good bike and a lot of potential to do really well. Unfortunately the unpredictable track surface caught us out in Race 1 which ultimately caught us out in Race 2 with a brake failure induced by the crash. With such a short schedule it puts a lot of pressure on the whole team to get everything together in a big hurry, and very little time for the riders to get a feel for everything. It's unfortunate for the team, the sponsors and myself to be plagued with such bad luck especially with such high potential and a strong start to the season. The only thing we can do is move forward and hope to dominate at our home track, New Jersey Motorsports Park, in September. Thanks, to all of the sponsors and people who made this season possible. It is unfortunate when things don't go as expected as we owe it to all of you to get a good result."
Alexander dropped down to fourth in points after his troubles.
His teammate on the HVMC/Celtic Racing squad, Wyatt Farris, earned third in Race 1 after a duel with Conner Blevins. He leapfrogged his stable mate in the points, too. Farris was second in Daytona but off the podium since then.
"I'm happy to get back on the podium with a third, and bring home a fifth for the Celtic/HVMC Suzuki team and our sponsors," said the Californian. "Even though they may not be quite the results I'm looking for, or the results we know we can get, any time you're on the podium it's a good day. I'm going to use this seven-week break to work on a few things, and head to New Jersey looking to improve our results."
Conner Blevins (Excel Machine Racing) earned his first AMA Pro podium in Race 2.
"We had a rough start to the season, but my dad has gotten the bike working really well now," said Blevins, who battled with Farris in Race 1 and finished fourth. "Also, the new tires that Dunlop brought this weekend were great, lots of grip and they looked really good at the end of the races."
Kaleb De Keyrel had been building momentum and earned a double podium in Alabama. The De Keyrel Racing pilot was just a little short of repeating that pace but still earned two nice finishes with sixth and fourth.
J.C. Camacho showed nice speed once again, earning fifth and eighth. The Texan has been solid all year and spent most of the time in the top ten, showing he can duel with the best in class. The House of Paint Designs racer is a lock to do well in the final points standings and is seventh heading into the final round.
Tuned Industries' Jason Aguilar (9-6) and Harv's Harley-Davidson pilot Cody Wyman (7-9) also garnered a pair of top tens in Ohio. Two surprise finishers jumped up this weekend as well. Jimmy Merck (Merck Factory Racing) was seventh in Race 2 after bagging 11th in Race 1. Frankie Gillim, Hayden's older brother, made the most of his appearance in Ohio and took 10th in Race 2.
Youngster Nick McFadden (TOBC Racing) was tenth in the opener.
It's all on the line for New Jersey. It has been an unpredictable season, one that saw Alexander look like a lock to win the title while Dominguez and Gillim had some low moments. With two aggressive, tough riders going for the honor of the number one plate, expect fireworks.
Following the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series' Indianapolis doubleheader Aug. 8-10, the AMA Pro Road Racing season will come to its conclusion and the 2014 champions will be decided at the Kawasaki Devil's Showdown at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, N.J., Sept. 13-14.
FansChoice.tv is the official home for live streaming coverage of AMA Pro Road Racing and AMA Pro Flat Track events in 2014. The site also provides coverage of IMSA's development and single-make series, and NASCAR's touring and weekly series.