It isn’t so far-fetched to suggest that reigning MotoAmerica AMA/FIM Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier shares a few things in common with road racing legend multi-time 500cc World Champion Wayne Rainey, the founder of the series in which the 23-year-old Beaubier is the new king.
Both men hail from California, both found their way into the discipline after amateur racing careers in the dirt, both are AMA Superbike Champions, and both suffered an aborted attempt after making the jump from America to the World Championship scene on the first try. With all that he accomplished at the pinnacle of the sport, it might be easy to forget that after winning the 1983 AMA Superbike Championship, Rainey struggled mightily in the 1984 250cc World Championship aboard the fledgling Kenny Roberts Yamaha team, and he returned home after a lackluster season, only to eventually earn another shot on the World Championship stage.
Beaubier’s career appears to be off to a similar start. After finishing sixth in the 2007 Red Bull Rookies Cup, he knocked around Europe for 2 years, contesting the Spanish CEV 125cc Championship before jumping into the 125cc World Championship. After a disappointing 29th-place series finish in the 125c World Championship, Beaubier returned home in search of a ride, eventually hooking up with Yamaha to contest the AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike Series.
Just as Rainey made good with his second chance, Beaubier is hoping that the success he is now enjoying at the top of the American scene will soon afford him the opportunity to return to Europe to contest either the FIM World Superbike Championship or the MotoGP series itself. It wouldn’t be that much of a surprise as Beaubier has long been heralded similarly to a young Nicky Hayden or Ben Spies – on the short list of America’s next hope to bring home a World Championship. From the moment Beaubier returned to America after his trying 2009 season in the 125cc World Championship (the precursor to Moto3), he has worked to create the type of resumé that could set him back on the path toward international superstardom. For whatever it’s worth these days, that credential list includes a Daytona 200 victory – practically a compulsory exercise, as nearly every American who has ever worn the 500cc/MotoGP crown has won Daytona (Kenny Roberts Jr. being the lone exception). In the same year, he won the 2013 AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike (600cc Supersport) title before moving into the Superbike ranks in 2014, where he carded his first career AMA Superbike win and finished third in the series standings. The 2015 season was Beaubier’s time to shine, however, as he scored eight wins and put together consistent podium finishes to wrestle the Superbike title away from Graves Motorsports Yamaha teammate Josh Hayes – not bad for only his second year on the big 1000cc machines.
Now, with the Superbike title in hand, Beaubier intends to keep it only long enough to book a return flight to Europe, possibly as early as 2017 by his own estimation. Whether or not that happens according to schedule remains to be seen, but Beaubier is a worthy of consideration as America’s next great hope for a World Championship either way.
MO: You’ve always been spoken of as one to watch in the same fashion as guys such as Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies, and just like them you are now an AMA Superbike Champion. Like them, it also seems as if it didn’t take you a very long time to get to the top. How does it feel to be mentioned in that type of company?
Cameron Beaubier: It feels great to hear that, but while it may seem like it has happened pretty fast, looking back on it I feel like I have taken quite a few steps to get here, had some struggles as well as really good years.
MO: You’re speaking of your time in Europe?
CB: Yes. Going to Europe when I was younger was really beneficial for me, with all the experience that I got from over there, but at the same time those were really, really tough years. I struggled badly over there, so to come back here and get hooked up with Yamaha, it was really good to have a good support system behind me. They’ve definitely given me the tools to get the job done.
MO: Do you think that the trouble you had coping overseas was because of your age? The equipment you rode? What was it?
CB: I think it was a mix of things. I was really young, and I didn’t know what it took to be over there and stay over there. I would ride and do the best I could on the weekend, but then during the week I would just bounce around from friend to friend. My family wasn’t with me because they were back home, working jobs and stuff, and my little brother was in school. It was just a tough time for me, but I know now that if I ever get a chance to go over there again, I will know a little more of what to expect, and I will be in a better situation. I definitely have something left to prove over there. I want to go back and show people what I’ve got.
MO: You’ve been with the Yamaha factory team in the States since 2011, and this isn’t your first AMA title with them.
CB: Yeah, it’s crazy to think that I’m going into my fifth year with Yamaha. I’ve made some great friends there. They’re a great team, and together we did win the Daytona 200 and the AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike Championship in 2013.
MO: Fast forward to 2015, and you’re now on the Superbike. With the series rebuilding under MotoAmerica’s stewardship, the fact remains that there still is not a strong number of top-level championship riders on factory-backed machines to contend with for the title, and yet just so happens that to win it you had to go through “the guy,” your teammate Josh Hayes, who seems to be as tenacious as ever. What was it like battling Josh for the title on and off the track?
CB: It’s funny you’d say that, because Josh just turned 40, and you’d expect him to start slowing down but he just keeps getting faster and faster. Honestly. It’s really cool racing alongside him. He is a great teammate to have. He is really good at giving feedback to our guys to help them make the bike better and better. That’s something that I’ve learned a lot about by just hearing how he talks to his mechanics and his crew chief. He is a fierce competitor on the track. Away from the track we hang out and joke around, we go golfing and stuff, but when it is time to put the helmet on, our mindset changes. I just have a ton of respect for the guy. He’s a four-time champion.
MO: Obviously, winning the 2015 superbike championship represents the achievement of your goal, but are there other standout moments or things you specifically remember about that season?
For one, just how short the season was, which made things really crazy. We were trying to develop a brand new bike, and that is something I’ve never done before. It was really tough at times because sometimes it wouldn’t work the way I wanted it to. It was just little issues with the bike and with me. At the same time, it was cool being able to do that and put my two cents in when we decided which direction we would go with it. We really had trouble at Utah, but then we got it turned around and I was able to get a double win at Indy, so there is a standout moment in the season. I got two wins, and Josh got a third and a second. That gave me a decent points cushion going into New Jersey, the last race of the season. That was good because I knew that New Jersey is Josh’s favorite track and he had a big win streak there. The year before, I crashed out of both races, so I knew it could be a tough weekend for me. But it worked out.
MO: What issues? Technical issues?
CB: Really, the bike was better in some cases, and it just took me some time to get used to it in other cases. I had to adjust my riding style to match it. It’s a lot more compact, more like a 600. The old bike was pretty big. It was built around Josh, and it was a lot stiffer than the new one. I just had to change my riding style into more of a Superbike style. Take Josh: His style is more of a point-and-shoot, stand-it-up-off-the-apex style. I’m more of a small bike rider where I round the corners, more sweeping. I had to mix my style to be more like the way Josh rides, use the power to your advantage where you get on the brakes, stand it up and use the power to get out of the corner.
MO: Do you think that the change in your riding style helped you as much as the bike did?
CB: I think that just having another year under my belt helped. Also, last year  they condensed our weekends into Saturday and Sunday. We had two races a weekend, but we would show up, practice, qualify and race on Saturday, and I had to get used to riding the Superbike on tracks where I’d only ridden 600s. You have to change your brake markers because on the superbike everything is coming up so much quicker. You also get more tired. It’s a lot of different things. This year, having the Friday, Saturday, Sunday schedule of MotoAmerica has been night-and-day different, so much better. You have more time to get acclimated to the track and the bike now.
MO: The general consensus seems to be that the series structure and race format is better under MotoAmerica’s leadership. What does the series need to change or fix?
CB: Everyone knows that the television package needs to be better, and I think they are working on that. For them, starting a brand new racing series – or revamping it – beginning so late last year, I think that how far they came was pretty impressive. I think everyone had a lot more positive attitude and tried to build it up, and I think that the people in charge are really passionate about it. I mean, it’s Wayne Rainey. They are trying to base the rules more along the World Superbike rules, and I think that is really good because it will make our transition as Americans into Europe much easier if we have a similar tire and rules package.
MO: And that’s your goal, to get acclimated to that style of racing here and then return to Europe and the hopefully get a shot at MotoGP?
CB: It’s definitely my dream to get over there, and I think that with Yamaha returning to World Superbike, I am hoping that might open the doors for me in the next couple years. That would be a really good way for me to get my foot in the door over there, to go and ride a bike that I am already used to riding, the new R1. It would be cool to do something like Ben Spies did. I know that’s a big ask. I feel like one of these days I’ll get that shot, but right now I am very happy racing here. It’s nice to be able to go home after every race and have my family come out to the races. Having that kind of support is everything to me.