AMA Superbike Champ Hayes Interview

2011 AMA Superbike

Although he won three races to his rival Blake Young’s seven, Josh Hayes secured enough points with 12 podium finishes to take his second consecutive AMA Superbike Championship following the final round at New Jersey Motorsports Park last weekend.

The 36-year-old Monster Energy Graves Yamaha rider trailed Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Young by five points heading into New Jersey. But with his race-1 win, Hayes headed into the final race of the season Sunday with an 11-point advantage.

If Young would win, Hayes only needed a third-place finish or better to achieve the title. Well, Young did win, but although he fell back to as far as fifth, and there were many changes up front, Hayes finished second, taking the 2011 AMA Superbike title on the last lap.

During that final lap, Hayes was running fourth behind Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom. But Bostrom made a mistake, slipping Hayes into third. Although third would have gauranteed Hayes the AMA Superbike Championship, he charged past the other Jordan Suzuki rider, Roger Lee Hayden, and chased down Young. At the finish line, Young would beat Hayes by 0.055 of a second. Hayes would win the title by five points.

Following his second AMA Superbike title, Hayes now has five AMA Pro Racing titles: 2010/2011 AMA Superbike, 2007/2006 Formula Xtreme and 2003 Superstock.

Following is an interview with Josh Hayes conducted by Monster Energy, completed after the Mississippian grabbed the 2011 AMA Superbike Championship.

ME: This wasn’t your first time racing for a championship, which must have been a big help.

Josh Hayes:
“Absolutely. There were a lot of things that worked in my favor. I have been in this position a bunch of times, and I’ve been successful in this position a bunch of times. Blake hasn’t been in a championship run before, and we were coming to a track (where) I had won every race we had raced here, while he hadn’t been on the podium. I have a job already for next year, so I wasn’t racing for a job.

“There were a lot of things that were all right for me to have no pressure and just be able to go out, and ride my best, and not worry about it. Even one other thing was – it may sound kind of silly – but I had already won the AMA Superbike Championship. If I didn’t win it this year, I got another shot at it next year, and I’ve won it before, so I know I can. My name’s in the record books as an AMA Superbike Champion.

“It’s not like, man, if I don’t win it, I might never get that opportunity. I’ve done it. I made it. And if I got a second one that was great. If I didn’t, yeah, it stinks, because that’s what we work real hard for, but I get to come back next year and try again.”

ME: At Mid-Ohio, Blake complained about your riding and you made the point that the pressure might be getting to him because he hadn’t been in the lead until then.

Josh Hayes:
“I didn’t see much of Blake at Laguna. After that, we get to this position and I knew what my position was. I’ve been through it before. He hasn’t. I’m pretty sure that was a long six weeks at home for him. I was pretty sure that was a long six weeks of thinking about how things could go down, were going to go down, might go down, or might not go down. And I was, quite honestly, really relaxed.

“I felt good about everything. I just wanted to make sure I showed up here feeling good. I knew if I just went out there and went through the motions of what I do every single weekend, quite honestly it was Blake’s championship to win or lose.

“It was either he was going to step up and take it. Or, if he floundered a little bit, sorry, but it was going to be mine, because I was going to go through the same motions that I do every weekend. And that’s exactly how it played out. He had a bad Saturday. The championship was won on Saturday.”

ME: On the last lap of the season, when you were in fourth place in turn five, and there were nine turns to go, and you were aware that you couldn’t finish fourth, what was the plan?

Josh Hayes:
“I was going to try to make something happen. I knew something was going to go down in turn six. Ben (Bostrom) was showing that he was desperate to go up there. No one was going to leave him room, but he was going to take something anyway. And those guys, between Roger (Hayden) wanting to win real bad, and Ben wanting to win real bad, and Blake (Young) basically in the position of desperation to win – it’s the only choice he really had.

“Something exciting was going go down in turn six with everybody being that close, so I was going to put myself in the position to try to take advantage on the exit, or if they gave me the opportunity on the entrance, to put myself up a spot.

“Then, I still had turns seven and eight, and I felt pretty confident that I could make the move in turn eight on any of those guys. So I felt confident I could make a move in there, and if I could just get myself through there smoothly and get to the run to the front straight, I felt pretty good. I wasn’t sure I could beat anybody to the line from behind them, so I wanted to try to make it happen beforehand if I could.”

ME: When Blake Young let off the brake in turn five and turned into Roger Lee Hayden’s path, he basically set in motion the incident that let you move up to third, and ultimately take the title.

Josh Hayes:
“It’s the way Blake’s ridden all year. It’s kind of the style of Blake. You get in there, you show him a wheel, and he basically crowds you. He puts us all in danger doing it. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all professionals, so we recognize the signs and we go about doing what we have to as quickly as possible.

“And as soon as Blake saw Roger was there, Blake’s idea of how to fix that is, ‘OK, let’s get off the brake lever, point the thing at the entrance and chop across his front wheel. He has two choices. He’s either going to take me down, or he’s going to back off and I’m going to get through.’

“When Roger saw the position he was in, he’s going in just trying to keep it upright on the brakes, and ends up just kind of crossing Blake’s back wheel, because he’s in trouble. He’s got Ben outside of him looking at him and so they end up both running wide. Like I said, it was the excitement I expected in turn six, but it happened in turn five. It all started when Blake stepped it out and botched his drive coming out of four pretty bad. And so he got a bad run up the hill and gave Roger an opportunity to get up there.”

ME: So when Ben Bostrom ran off the track on the exit of turn five, that put you in third. Did you think he had come off the track behind you?

Josh Hayes:
“I didn’t even know he had run off the track. I thought he had just run wide, and I had the opportunity to sneak past him. So, I thought he was still right on my tail all the way throughout the rest of the last lap. I just didn’t know where anybody was.

“As far as I knew I had a line of guys waiting to jump on me and keep shoving me backward. If I’m not moving forward, I’m going to be in trouble, so I just did my very best to attack Roger and put myself in a better position, where if somebody did beat me to the line, hopefully it was one, not two, and I just still had a good shot at third in the championship.”

ME: That made it difficult to pass Blake coming out of the last corner…

Josh Hayes:
“Once he’s up on the top of the tire, his bike just keeps accelerating. I had the run of a lifetime at him coming to start-finish on that last lap. It was the first time I was far enough back of him that I didn’t have to check out of the throttle going through the last turn, and I still couldn’t do anything with him. It’s the story of my life.”

ME: How does this one compare to the 2010 title?

Josh Hayes:
“This one felt quite a bit different on a personal level. The way everything played out with the season, not being sure what the last race was going to be, and then, Virginia (International Raceway) getting taken out of the mix at the last second.

“With all of these things happening like that – plus my family and my little brother getting married – my family couldn’t make the plans ahead of time to come to the race, so this is the first time they haven’t been here when I won a championship.

“Melissa’s family didn’t get make it because of other things they had going on. At the time to plan all this stuff, we still weren’t sure this was going to be the last race. Last year, all my crew had their family there. This year, there was so many other things going on. When was the last time I won and there wasn’t even t-shirts at the podium ceremony?

“Not that they weren’t thinking about it, the feel has been kind of an interesting feel. But, I can tell you when the race was over, it was just an incredible instant amount of relief, a big exhale that we were (finally) able to pull it off. Props to Blake, he rode a fantastic season and he was the racer, I think, this year. Unfortunately, they do pay points with qualifying and leading the most laps in the race. I tried to make sure that I was a force to be reckoned in every single session that we went on the track, and I was always somewhere close to the front, and my bad days just weren’t as bad as his.”

ME: You didn’t win as many races this championship season as you have in the past.

Josh Hayes: “For one, Blake just stepped up his game and actually raced really well. It’s hard to take anything away from the fact that the kid just rode well. He was aggressive. He put himself in the right place. He rode the races the right way.

“He used his machine’s advantages well against me. And the way that the (Yamaha) R1 works, it was very difficult to race against him. Something that we’re going to have to improve for next year, or else we’re going to be talking about this same thing all over again, about why I didn’t win more races. Because, quite honestly, I don’t know what it is, but the acceleration of his bike, it’s just really, really difficult to deal with.

“If I have some clean track I can go really fast. I mean, that’s why we were on pole for all but one race this year, and we were (still) close on that one. That’s why we were leading races, leading sessions, leading laps, all those things. But, whenever you throw him in the mix, he kind of stops my momentum and rhythm of being able to roll around the race track, and that’s when we see the race-long battles.”

ME: How do you think next year is going to be different than this year?

Josh Hayes:
“Right now, it’s going to be interesting to see how all the rides fall into place and who I’m racing against next year, first and foremost. I think that we have a game plan that works pretty good as far as the team goes, and we’re going to continue doing the things that have been successful for us.

“One thing I’m lucky about is that Yamaha is in it for the long haul, and they continually try to improve the machine for me. I may be an old dog that’s been around for a while, but I still have some ideas for some new tricks that I can come out better next year. I’m going to work at that, try to come out and improve next year, and make it harder for those guys.”