It’s go time: Who is ready for screaming HONOS Superbikes to make the run down Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta’s famous Esses? Photo by Brian J. Nelson
Twenty-six HONOS Superbike riders will take to the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta track this weekend for the opening round of the 2021 MotoAmerica Series, and all of them will do so from the same perspective: zero pole positions, zero wins, zero championship points. In other words, a new beginning.
More than anything, 2021 promises change because change in this case is a certainty. What we’ve grown to believe is the norm is gone. Like death and taxes, the one thing everyone could count on in the MotoAmerica Series since its inception in 2015 has been the fact that Cameron Beaubier and Toni Elias would win the most races and challenge for the title. After all, the two combined to win 72 percent of the 116 races run since MotoAmerica took over the AMA Superbike Series in 2015. And those two also won 100 percent of the Superbike Championships with Beaubier taking five titles and Elias one.
But that was then, and this is now.
Beaubier will be in Spain this weekend, racing in round four of the Moto2 World Championship, and Elias will be at home in Southern California, the Spaniard still without a ride for the 2021 season. What’s left in their wake is a hungry horde of wannabe champions licking their lips as the season gets ready to start on Friday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Without exaggeration, this is anybody’s title to win. Without Beaubier and his 54 AMA Superbike wins and Elias with his 32 victories in the class, the next active rider with the most wins is Josh Herrin. With eight. Four of those came pre-MotoAmerica and the other four came during the MotoAmerica era. Based on experience and win record, Herrin is a good place to start when talking about the season opener at Road Atlanta. Let’s also remember that he’s the only rider in the series that has earned a Superbike title even if it was way back in 2013.
Herrin comes into the 2021 season after a year on the Scheibe Racing BMW and he realizes this is his best shot yet of winning a second Superbike Championship. Herrin rejoins forces with Richard Stanboli and the Attack Performance team, and he will be armed with the same YZF-R1 and technical support that dominated the series last year with 16 victories in the hands of Beaubier. No pressure, though.
Herrin will be joined on the championship-winning team by Jake Gagne, the runner-up in last year’s title chase. Gagne has yet to win an AMA Superbike race, but he finished second eight times last year – including twice at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Gagne had a total of 11 podium finishes and ended the year 48 points clear of third place in the standings. The Californian, who now calls Colorado home, was consistently fast at the Dunlop Preseason Test at the Circuit of The Americas a month ago and is full of confidence. He’s also really happy with his new crew chief, former racer and Öhlins technician Jon Cornwell.
The M4 ECSTAR Suzuki team is led by Bobby Fong, one of just three riders who won Superbike races last year (Beaubier, Fong and Italian Lorenzo Zanetti). And he won three of them, which makes him the second-winningest active HONOS Superbike racer in the field behind Herrin. Fong ended the preseason test with the fastest lap, so he arrives in Georgia with a bit of a giddy-up in his step. He also has withstood the pressure that comes with fighting for a title as he won the MotoAmerica Supersport Championship in 2019 for the M4 team.
Fong is joined on the team’s Suzuki GSX-R1000s by 2020 MotoAmerica Stock 1000 Champion Cameron Petersen, the South African moves from the Stock 1000-spec Altus Motorsports Suzuki GSX-R1000 to the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki GSX-R1000 Superbike and that should be a fairly easy transition. In addition to winning the Stock 1000 crown, Petersen also walked away with the Superbike Cup check of $25,000 for his efforts in the Superbike class. Petersen showed up at the COTA test with a limp that slowed him, but he was still fast, and he’s expected to be healthy for the opener.
The other rider in the HONOS Superbike class to have won an AMA Superbike race is Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz, who has won two of them. One of those came on a wet Circuit of The Americas track (on a Superstock 1000 Yamaha) in 2017 and the other in the rain at Barber Motorsports Park in 2018. Scholtz will be one of the main protagonists in the chase for this year’s MotoAmerica Superbike crown and he’s hellbent on showing people that he can win on a dry surface as well as a wet one.
Then there’s Loris Baz. Fast and French, Baz will be armed with a “factory” Ducati under the Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati New York banner, and he’s hot off a solid season of World Superbike racing where he ended the year eighth in the championship. Baz didn’t come here to finish second, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to life in the MotoAmerica paddock, the Dunlop tires and the American racetracks. Very few expect him to struggle, and he’s shown already how committed he is by partaking in three track days to learn tracks (VIR, Pitt Race and New Jersey Motorsports Park) that are new to him.
If there is a level just below the six already talked about, then it’s just a tiny little bit to Kyle Wyman Racing’s Kyle Wyman. After all, the team owner/rider landed on the podium twice in the second of two rounds held at Road America last season, and he ended the year ranked seventh – and just two points behind Herrin, who was sixth in the title chase. Wyman runs a first-class team, brings unique sponsors to the paddock, and knows how to ride a motorcycle. His 2020 season featured some highs and some lows, and he will be shooting for more of the former and less of the latter in 2021.
Steve Scheibe went to the 11th hour before finding a rider for his Scheibe Racing BMW S 1000 RR, and that rider is Héctor Barberá, a Spaniard with gobs of racing experience in different classes all over the world, including MotoGP. Barbera, like Baz, will have circuits and life in the U.S. to adapt to.
David Anthony is another team owner/racer in the HONOS Superbike class. Anthony will be joined on his FLY Racing ADR Motorsports team by Jayson Uribe, with the Northern Californian set for his first full season of Superbike racing. Both men will be armed with Suzuki GSX-R1000s.
Max Flinders will again be ready to go for the season opener with his signature yellow Thrashed Bike Racing Yamaha YZF-R1. Flinders ended last year’s championship in 13th and will be giving his best to improve upon that in 2021.
The list of those hoping to take home the $25,000 in the Superbike Cup on their Stock 1000-spec motorcycles is long and talented. With Petersen moving to the HONOS Superbike class, last year’s winner won’t be there to defend, making it a wide-open affair.
Among the favorites are last year’s runner-up Corey Alexander on the HONOS HVMC Racing Kawasaki ZX-10RR, Petersen’s replacement on the Altus Motorsports Suzuki, Jake Lewis, Travis Wyman Racing’s Travis Wyman, Jones Honda’s Ashton Yates (on the all-new Honda CBR1000RR-R SP, Michael Gilbert Racing’s Michael Gilbert, M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Wyatt Farris and Tecfil Racing Team’s Danilo Lewis.
Road Atlanta Superbike Notes…
With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on sporting event schedules worldwide in 2020, the MotoAmerica round at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta was moved from April to August last year. This year, the event returns as the series opener.
With the two winningest riders – Cameron Beaubier and Toni Elias – not racing in MotoAmerica in 2021, the current rider with the most victories is Josh Herrin. Herrin is tied for 22nd on the all-time AMA Superbike win list with Wes Cooley and Tommy Hayden.
Riders from seven different countries have entered the HONOS Superbike race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta with the U.S., Spain, South Africa, Great Britain, France, Brazil and Australia all represented.
While American racers have, by far, won the most AMA Superbike races, it’s Australia that has the second most wins in the history of the Superbike class in the U.S. Australia has 96 AMA Superbike wins, led by Mat Mladin’s 82 class victories. Anthony Gobert won 11 times and Troy Corser captured three wins. Canada is third on the list with 35 wins, led by Miguel Duhamel’s 32 victories and supported by Pascal Picotte’s three wins. The other countries with AMA Superbike wins to its credit are as follows: Spain, Columbia, Italy, New Zealand and England.
Watch this: If Loris Baz wins a HONOS Superbike race this season, he will become the first French rider to win an AMA Superbike race.
The good old days? The very first AMA Superbike race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta was held in 1980, and it was won by four-time 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson. The first-ever AMA National motorcycle race at Road Atlanta was held in 1971 and was won by Kel Carruthers. Coincidentally, Carruthers was Lawson’s crew chief for three of his four World Championships.
Cameron Beaubier earned the pole position at Road Atlanta in 2020 with his lap of 1:24.244 set during Superpole. Beaubier’s best was .795 of a second faster than Mathew Scholtz, with Toni Elias completing the front row with a 1:25.364.
Beaubier actually went faster in race one than he did during Superpole, setting the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta race Superbike lap record with a 1:24.085 en route to victory. The outright Superbike lap record on the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta race course is held by Garrett Gerloff with his 1:23.844 set in Superpole in 2019.
MotoAmerica has removed the Superpole session from its schedule for 2021 as demand for track time is at an all-time high. Thus, pole will come from the best time set during the qualifying sessions. The fastest laps, however, will most likely come during the final session on Saturday morning as that’s when the soft Dunlop Q tires will be available.
Beaubier won both HONOS Superbike races here last year, besting his then-teammate Jake Gagne in both. Mathew Scholtz was third in both races in 2020.
On-track action gets started on Friday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta with practice and qualifying starting at 8:30 a.m. and running through to the last practice session at 4:40 p.m. The first race of the weekend will take place on Saturday at 1 p.m. with Stock 1000 Race 1, followed in rapid succession by Supersport Race 1 (2 p.m.), HONOS Superbike Race 1 (3 p.m.), Twins Cup Race 1 (4 p.m.) and SportbikeTrackGear.com Junior Cup Race 1 (4:45 p.m.)
On Sunday, racing begins at noon with Stock 1000 Race 2, Mission King Of The Baggers (12:30 p.m.), Supersport Race 2 (1 p.m.), SportbikeTrackGear.com Junior Cup Race 2 (2 p.m.), HONOS Superbike Race 2 (3 p.m.) and Twins Cup Race 2 (4 p.m.).