2012 AMA SuperBike
Infineon Raceway has been a staple on the AMA Pro Road Racing calendar for over four decades, and the series makes a return to the picturesque 2.32-mile natural road course located in Sonoma, Calif. this weekend for the Great Clips West Coast Moto Jam.
Based on the fierce battles witnessed during the opening two rounds of the 2012 season, the cool climate of California’s wine country is set to turn red hot beginning with the first official practice session, scheduled for Friday, May 4, at noon.
There are 21 AMA Pro National Guard SuperBikes representing six manufacturers entered for this weekend’s doubleheader, led in the point standings by two-time defending Champ Josh Hayes (No. 1 Monster Energy Graves Yamaha YZF-R1) and hard-charging Blake Young (No. 79 Yoshimura Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000).
Hayes is the only entered rider with an AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike win to his credit at Infineon Raceway and his riding prowess at the track makes him a solid prospect for success this weekend. His breakthrough National Guard SuperBike win came here in 2009 over Mat Mladin, and he has taken victory by at least three seconds in four of the last six National Guard SuperBike races here. Hayes has also turned in consistent fast qualifying times in Sonoma to capture two consecutive pole positions; his qualifying lap in 2011 was 1:35.717, just .006 seconds off of his 2010 pole time of 1:35.711.
His strategy during both of his championship-winning seasons involved grabbing the all-important bonus points for fastest qualifier and lap leader as often as possible, and he is on a similar track this season. Although the 2012 National Guard SuperBike wins are split 2-2 between Hayes and Young, the Mississippian has grabbed every available bonus point and leads the Wisconsin-native 116-110 in the point standings heading into this weekend’s doubleheader.
Despite Hayes’ strength in Sonoma, success isn’t guaranteed. Young’s dramatic and inspirational victory in Race 1 at Road Atlanta last month served as a notice that his championship aspirations are as strong as ever and that he has the mettle to clinch victories against the odds. Young’s late-race talents are remarkable, as is his ability to overcome issues throughout the weekend leading up to the race and then turn it on and find the winning pace when it matters the most. If Young wins, it will likely be a battle to the end; of his 12 National Guard SuperBike victories, only one has been taken by more than a second.
Suzuki is the outright leader in National Guard SuperBike wins at Infineon with 19, including the win of Young’s former teammate Tommy Hayden over Hayes in Race 2 last year. This season, Young is joined by Chris Clark (No. 6 Yoshimura Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000) and the young talent has already shown speed, posting lap times within a second of his veteran teammate during a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March.
The latest addition to the National Guard SuperBike division is Hayes’ teammate on the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha squad, Josh Herrin (No. 2 Monster Energy Graves Yamaha YZF-R1). Herrin has enjoyed a relatively speedy transition to the class and the more powerful 1000cc Yamaha flagship, grabbing hole shots and taking home a set of podiums in just his second event weekend. The rising star has been strong here, earning a podium finish in each of the three years that he competed in AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike with a best result of second place in the 2010 running.
Roger Hayden (No. 54 National Guard Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000) has taken two thirds and two fourths in 2012 and will almost certainly be challenging for race wins this season, if not this weekend. The Kentucky-native was riding as hard as any National Guard SuperBike rider at Road Atlanta two weeks ago, and is just missing that tenth or two required to become the new fixture in a 2012 version of last year’s Hayes/Young/Hayden trio.
Hayden’s teammate on the Michael Jordan Motorsports roster, Ben Bostrom (No. 23 Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000), has had an uncharacteristic and frustrating start to the season and will look to this event to bolster his 2012 effort. Born in Redding, Calif. and now residing in Malibu, Bostrom performs well at this second-home track, posting two runner-up results in National Guard SuperBike in 2010 and taking the AMA Pro SuperSport race win during the 2008 season.
Larry Pegram (No. 72 Foremost Insurance/Pegram Racing BMW S1000RR) currently sits fifth in the standings on the strength of three top-five finishes. The Ohio native would likely have been higher except for a slight miscue in Race 1 at Road Atlanta that left him with a 12th place result. Pegram has had a number of intense battles recently with Steve Rapp (No. 15 Motorcycle-Superstore.com/Big Kahuna/LeoVince Attack Kawasaki ZX-10), who sits just one point back.
Theriding style of Chris Fillmore (No. 16 KTM/HMC Racing KTM RC8R) lends itself to natural road courses and his recent six- and seventh-place finishes at Road Atlanta are a testament to that fact. Stefan Nebel (No. 12 KTM/HMC Racing KTM RC8R) joins Fillmore this weekend on the KTM/HMC Racing team in his debut AMA Pro Road Racing event. The German standout is a 2-time IDM Superbike Champion and former IDM Superstock Champion and will compete in six rounds this season. Fillmore’s 2011 AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Series win and trio of top 10 GoPro Daytona SportBike performances at Infineon combined with the fact that Nebel has been with the KTM brand since the beginning of the KTM 1190 RC8 Superbike project are positive indicators for the Austrian manufacturer.
Robertino Pietri (No. 3 Team Venezuela Suzuki GSX-R1000) has had a consistent return to AMA Pro Road Racing and enters this weekend ninth in the points. The Venezuelan posted a front-row qualifying effort in AMA Superstock during the 2007 event at Infineon and has made steady improvements since coming on board with his new team in March.
Representing the newest marque in the field, Geoff May (No. 99 AMSOIL Hero Moto EBR 1190RS) is joined on the Erik Buell Racing squad for the 2012 season by two-time AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike Champion Danny Eslick (No. 69 Hero Moto EBR 1190RS). Still a relatively new team/manufacturer/bike, May made it look pure class at Road Atlanta; only a Sunday mechanical mishap could prevent him from taking a pair of top fives. Eslick’s consistent top 10 results will likely be bettered round after round as he acclimates himself to the larger machine after spending the last two seasons piloting a Suzuki GSX-R600.
The EBR 1190RS is the second-most populous brand in the field. The brand’s third entry is privateer Shawn Higbee (No. 19 CrotchRocket.tv/Higbee-Racing EBR 1190RS), who has mounted a grassroots effort with backing from Rob Weaver and CrotchRocket.tv. Fans can logon to the video-centric motorcycling entertainment website at http://www.crotchrocket.tv to follow along with behind-the-scenes video content as Higbee works to develop the only American-made brand in National Guard SuperBike.
Sitting 12th in the standings, Jake Holden (No. 59 EvanSteelPerformance.com BMW S1000RR) has a 2008 AMA Superstock win at Infineon to his credit and was the runner-up in last year’s GoPro Daytona SportBike Race 1. Taylor Knapp (No. 44 Riders Discount/Vesrah Suzuki GSX-R1000), David Anthony (No. 25 Kneedraggers.com/ Motul/Fly Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000) and Chris Ulrich (No. 18 M4 Roadracingworld.com Suzuki GSX-R1000) round out the Top 15 in the points heading to Infineon.
The National Guard SuperBike division will kick off the weekend with a Friday practice session at noon and basic qualifying at 3 p.m. Grids will be set after Saturday morning’s final qualifying session at 9:50 a.m., followed by Race 1 at 3:15 p.m. The weekend’s festivities will close out on Sunday with AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike Race 2 scheduled to go green at 3:30 p.m.
SPEED will once again feature the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike and AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike race finals in a set of same-day delayed broadcasts scheduled to begin during primetime on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT) and on Sunday at 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. PT).