Drama and racing are synonymous, and last weekend’s West Coast Moto Jam at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, delivered both. The Superbike points lead changed hands once again, a couple of key riders were injured in crashes, and the emergence of new teams were battling up front.
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This year’s on-track action at AMA Pro Racing events, including the Sonoma round, is only emphasized by the variety of manufacturers competing in the events. Teams like Hero EBR (Erik Buell Racing) and KTM/HMC Racing are challenging the established Japanese OEM machines for the benefit of racing fans.
On Saturday, reigning Superbike champ Josh Hayes set an untouchable pace around the hilly and picturesque 2.32-mile long circuit to notch his 20th premier-class win, tying him with Flyin' Fred Merkel for fourth place on the all-time AMA Superbike win list.
Hayes was again leading the pack on Sunday when he and his Yamaha YZF-R1 suffered an uncharacteristic crash on the second lap. "I was pushing hard, and sometimes things like this happen," said Hayes who remounted and finished a creditable seventh-place. "I hate it for the team more than anything."
Hayes’ crash left the door open for Saturday’s second-place finisher, Suzuki GSX-R1000 pilot Blake Young, to take the win on Sunday and also the points lead, 166 to Hayes’ 162. It’s the third consecutive weekend this dynamic duo has split wins in 2012 double-header events, each tallying three wins apiece so far.
"It's good to get a win out of here,” said Young who took a spectacular victory during the previous race at Road Atlanta. “I was just talking to (Yoshimura Racing Suzuki Team Manager) Peter Doyle and he told me the first time I came here I got sixth, the next race I got fifth, the next race I got fourth, the next race I got third, yesterday I got second, and today I won. It's kind of funny how things work out."
Roger Hayden was the best of the rest, riding his Suzuki to his best finish of the season in second place.
Not as crucial to the championship but no less important was the pair of podium finishes by Team Hero EBR 1190RS teammates Danny Eslick and Geoff May. Eslick scored the team’s first podium finish with his third place on Saturday, and May backed up the team’s emerging performance with a third-place finish on Sunday. Eslick struggled with tire grip and pain from a warm-up crash and fell back to sixth on Sunday. May carded a fifth-place finish on Saturday.
“The team did an amazing job this weekend,” said team principal Erik Buell.“This is our first time to Infineon with the new EBR 1190RS, and the competition is fierce, but the riders and crew really got the bikes dialed-in quickly. This track really rewards the handling and braking qualities of our bikes.”
Team KTM/HMC Racing’s Chris Fillmore crashed on Saturday while battling with May for fifth but returned on Sunday to claim fifth position aboard the RC8R. The result is the best yet for the KTM at a AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike event.
Kawasaki’s Steve Rapp, sixth in Saturday’s Superbike race, suffered a crash aboard the Brammo Empulse RR during qualifying for the TTXGP races. Rapp was filling in for the injured Steve Atlas who highsided coming out of turn seven in practice on Friday, fracturing six vertebrae.
Rapp, who piloted a Mission R e-bike to within 10 seconds of the MotoGP bikes’ lap times during last year’s race at Laguna Seca, fell hard at the same turn where Atlas crashed and broke his wrist, taking Brammo out of Sunday’s races. Rapp’s injury also kept him out of Sunday’s Superbike race and jeopardizes his wild-card entry as a CRT (Claiming Rule Team) MotoGP entrant on a Kawasaki-powered Attack Performance prototype chassis at the two USGPs this summer. We hope the likeable racer heals quickly.
We expected to see several teams and contenders enter the TTXGP races, but, sadly, the mighty Mission R and the wild MotoCzysz didnt bother to show up. And with reigning champs Brammo out of contention for the weekend, the TTXGP field was embarassingly thin, represented only by the factory Lightning SB2 bikes ridden by Michael Barnes and Tim Hunt.
Barnes posted a 1:47.5 lap time in qualifying, well ahead of Hunt and only about 10 seconds slower than a front-running Superbike. Barnes romped to an easy win after Hunt encountered an electrical glitch caused by newly loaded software settings. In race two, it was Barnes’ turn to suffer technical issues, handing the win to his teammate.
In an effort to fill the TTXGP grids, the organizing body introduced a new eSuperstock class for production e-bikes at Inifineon, and we’ll have more on it as well as other goings-on and future announcements from the teams and the electric racing series in an upcoming report.
Triumph enjoyed a great weekend in Sonoma with two first-place finishes for its three-cylinder 675R. Team Latus Motors Racing’s Jason DiSalvo, won the Daytona Sportbike race on Sunday after placing second on Saturday. Castrol Triumph’s, Dustin Dominguez, did the opposite in the SuperSport class, winning on Saturday and placing second on Sunday.
Michael Barnes, riding for Bartel’s Harley-Davidson, won the Vance & Hines XR1200 race on Sunday, just edging teammate Tyler O’Hara at the finish line. It was Barnie’s first AMA Pro win in 16 years!
In addition to the action on the big track, the SupermotoUSA NorCal Championship series was conducting its second round on the hilltop kart track at Infineon. Sounds of tire sliding and whiffs of melting rubber filled the air for those enjoying close racing of modified dirtbikes.
By the end of it all, the beautiful weather brought motorcycle fans from around the Bay Area to enjoy a full weekend of two-wheel competition. With lingering fiscal illness still plaguing our country, the event at Infineon seems a beacon for better times just around the bend.