–  AMA SBK Laguna Recap – Herrin Crowned 2013 AMA Superbike Champion

The mammoth potential of Josh Herrin was evident from the first time he threw a leg over a Graves Yamaha R6 to make his GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing debut just days after turning 16. Herrin harried future World Champion Ben Spies in his debut, racing to a six-place finish in the AMA Supersport contest at Road America back in 2006. His next time out, he was on the box, battling with Roger Hayden en route to a third at Miller Motorsports Park. Herrin seemed destined for greatness and was already openly discussing his plans for eventual world domination.

But it wasn’t until this past Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca that 23-year-old Herrin fully realized that initial promise. He finally claimed his long-awaited first-career AMA Pro title and did so on the biggest stage available to a national championship-level competitor, winning the prestigious AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike title.

Herrin entered the ’13 season the underdog but ultimately overcame the sometimes-overwhelming challenge presented by his all-conquering Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Josh Hayes. Herrin did so by relying not just on his immense innate talents and his heart, but also by using his head. The Georgian maximized every opportunity to his throughout the season, winning when he could, accepting the highest result possible when he couldn’t, and most importantly, making Hayes pay for virtually every mistake he made.

Sunday’s race was just another example of that approach, as Herrin registered a cagey runner-up result to seal his championship triumph.

Altogether, Herrin claimed four race wins and 12 podiums in 14 races, never finishing lower than sixth. In the end, those numbers added up to #1.

Herrin will be repaid for his breakthrough season with what he’s long sought — an entry into the FIM World Championships. Herrin has used his SuperBike title as a springboard to a two-year contract to compete in the Moto2 World Championship.

After winning the SuperBike crown, Herrin said, “This has been a life-long dream of mine and it’s finally come true. I can’t even explain the emotions right now. Coming around that last lap… I just filled up with tears. I could barely see where I was going. I’ve never felt that kind of emotion before. It’s crazy the emotions you feel when you finally achieve something you’ve been waiting to do your whole life.”

Herrin credited Hayes with forcing him to seriously up his game, explaining, “Josh has really helped me the past couple of years adapting to the SuperBike. He’s definitely the best, in my opinion, that there has ever been in AMA… I’ve been mad at him a few times — I just couldn’t figure out how to beat him on this thing. But in the end, this is what matters. I may not have had the most race wins, but we were real consistent.”

It was a strange season indeed for Hayes, who was denied in his bid to make history with an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. The Mississippian was the rider to beat in each race, but two mechanical retirements, three jump starts, and a crash out of the lead proved too much for even Hayes to overcome.

Still, he continued to assemble his HOF credentials by taking more wins than every other rider combined (eight), while also scooping up every single pole position during the season.

Hayes closed out the year with a statement performance, winning by more than 13 seconds at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. He took his 41st career SuperBike victory on Sunday, equaling the competition number he brandished back when he was a SuperBike rookie on an Attack Kawasaki and even a first-win was borderline unthinkable.

Hayes said, “I’ve had a great season and I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. My statistics are good. I was able to get eight pole positions — I think I’ve gotten all but two pole positions in three years, which is a pretty amazing run. It’s fun to be fast. That makes life pretty easy. And I had a good run of races this year. It’s just when I get it wrong, I really get it wrong apparently.”

Hayes also gave Herrin his due: “I really think the story is Josh winning his #1 plate. He did what he needed to do and when the pressure was on he stepped up.”

Expect Hayes to reload in 2014 and come out swinging once again. While Herrin won’t be back to defend his title, Hayes and the rest of the SuperBike field will be presented with a new challenge in the form of AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike king, Cameron Beaubier, who will fill Herrin’s vacated seat on the second works Yamaha R1.

Hayes said, “I definitely think Cameron could (present a serious challenge). Watching how Cam rode this year — the kid dominated. He has ridden a few laps on the SuperBike and did really well when he rode that and some of his feedback was really smart. I think his riding style is going to fit well with that machine. Just getting the settings right is going to be the thing. He’s still going to have a bit to learn, but every time I say, ‘Oh, it’s going to take some time,’ well, look at what (rookie MotoGP World Championship points leader Marc) Marquez is doing now. So who knows? Cameron is a talented kid and it’s not going to be easy to beat him no matter what.”

Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing’s Martin Cardenas finished third in the 2013 SuperBike standing despite crashing from a close second on Sunday.

The Colombian took major strides forward in his return to the premier class, claiming two wins and 11 podiums on the year.

“It’s been a great season overall,” said Cardenas. “I was able to put the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 on the podium at almost every race this year. This weekend was good but in the race I pushed a little too hard to get at the front, but these things happen. But it’s been a pretty good year. I would like to have been a little bit better, but I know I did all I could do. I want to thank the Yoshimura Suzuki team for all their hard work and overall I’m happy with the season, for myself and for the team.”

With Cardenas on the ground and the Michael Jordan Motorsports duo of Roger Hayden and Danny Eslick showing impressive speed in wild card FIM Superbike World Championship duty, the race for the final spot on the podium came down to a shootout between Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing’s Larry Pegram and KTM/HMC Racing’s Chris Fillmore.

The two went back and forth the entire distance. Fillmore finally looked to have etched out just enough breathing space to secure the position and earn himself and KTM a first-ever SuperBike podium. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as Fillmore’s machine ran out of fuel exiting the final corner of the season with the checkered flag in sight.

Fillmore pushed on (literally), finally crossing the line on his feet in seventh position.

Pegram gladly accepted third, ending a sometimes-frustrating season with the same level of excellence he opened it when he took a pair of podiums at the Daytona International Speedway opener.

And as the two came into the finale equal in points, the result also made the difference in the fight for sixth in the final championship standings.

“I knew (Fillmore) was going to try to make a move at the end,” Pegram explained. “He came into the last corner (on the penultimate lap) and put a block pass on me. It’s funny — everyone thinks the KTM is so much slower than the Yamaha — and it is on the top end — but his bike was really good out of that corner. He could get it stopped and still pull me because mine was wheelie-ing so much. I passed him going into 2, but I got a little wide and he came under me. I passed him into 5 and we went side-by-side. When I passed him in 5, it pushed us both wide and I got stuff all over my tires when I went wide. I got really sideways going into 6 and I kind of lost him a little bit. I was going to try to catch him in the last corner, but luckily I wasn’t as close as I probably should have been. I was trying to square him up and something happened to his bike. I almost hitting — so it’s probably lucky I was about a bike-length back.”

Motosport.com/EBR II’s Cory West’s took by far his best result of the season, racing his way up through the field to finish in fourth position. He crossed the stripe just ahead of Team AMSOIL/Hero’s Aaron Yates, who also earned his first top-five of the season.

Yates said, “It feels really good to finally break that top five. I had a good race, but you always hope it goes a little better. I knew when it would get close to ‘go time,’ we’d settle in and have a decent race.”

While Yates enjoyed a strong showing, the season finale couldn’t have gone much worse for teammate Geoff May, who earlier flashed the pace to race for a podium on his Team Hero EBR 1190RS.

“The morning warm-up was wonderful,” May said. “I went out there on used tires working on race setup and ran P3 and was looking really strong for the race. But I had a freak accident with two minutes left in warm-up doing a practice start. The bike put me on the ground, took my foot and ankle into the swingarm and tried to rip my foot off. I was worried about even being able to ride again. Thankfully, my physical therapist was here and kept me moving and kept me loose.”

It only got worse from there for May. “We were on the grid and the bike wouldn’t start. Once we finally got it going, I could tell it wasn’t running right. I brought it in, but we weren’t ready with the backup bike. So it was game over right then and there.

“It was as bad as a day could go without ending up in the hospital.”

As a result, May was overtaken by teammate Yates in the final standings by a single point, as they ended the year ranked eighth and ninth, respectively.

KTM/HMC Racing’s Taylor Knapp was the final man to blast past Fillmore, who was pushing his machine across the line. The two were credited with sixth and seventh in the final order.

Motosport.com Motul Fly Racing’s David Anthony finished in eighth in the race, securing his tenth-place ranking in the championship. Privateer Anthony finished in the top ten in all but two races during the 2013 season.

Cardenas’ Yoshimura teammate, Chris Clark, actually led the pack that included West, Yates, Knapp, and Anthony early in the race but crashed out of the race.

“It was a rough season,” said Clark. “We started out really strong at Daytona and then about mid-season, I had some personal issues with my health. It seemed like I was finally starting to get my rhythm back and the season is over. I have to thank the Yoshimura Suzuki team for all their support and dedication through the season.”

M4 Broaster Chicken Racing’s Chris Ulrich had a similarly trying season. He looked capable of ending the year on a high note despite a heavy fall on Friday, but his race in Monterey ended early while running in the top ten.

Ulrich said, “I was beat up going in and I had a poor warm-up but I rallied for the race. I was right there with that group fighting for a top five. I was just trying to hang on and I put the shifter in the ground through Turn Six and knocked the pin off. That was the end of my race.

“It’s frustrating. It turns out that we didn’t quite have the qualifying pace but we did have a solid race pace. You watch a lot of those guys’ pace over the race distance and I was competitive. That was good — we need to work on qualifying a little bit more.

“Going forward, we’ve got some time, so we’re going to try some different stuff and do some testing and get the bike consistent and go from there.”

Seven Sports’ Trent Gibson and Zlock Racing 2′s Kevin Pinkstaff rounded out the finale top ten, picking up their first top tens of the season.

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About GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing:

GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing is the premier motorcycle road racing series in North America and is universally regarded as one of the most competitive road racing organizations in the world. The 2013 schedule consists of nine rounds of competition on the country’s finest road courses. The Series is comprised of four production-based classes: AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike, AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike, AMA Pro Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport and the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series. Learn more about GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing at www.amaproracing.com/rr/.