Laguna Seca hosts WSBK and MotoAmerica

Round 9 of the eni FIM Superbike World Championship season takes the field to the historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the 13th time. Set on the outstanding Pacific coast of Central California, the venue first hosted ten consecutive WorldSBK events between 1995 and 2004 before returning to the calendar in 2013. Prior to this, American events for World Superbike were staged at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota (1989-1991) and Miller Motorsports Park in Utah (2008-2012). At 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometres) in length, Laguna Seca is the fourth and final anti-clockwise circuit this year after Phillip Island, MotorLand Aragon and Imola.

The second WSBK race at Laguna Seca in 2014 was as hot on track as the air temperature as after two red flags and restarts, Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) came out victorious in the 7 lap sprint race that put an end to the ninth round of the 2014 eni FIM Superbike World Championship, which saw a total 49,408 attendants during the three days. Thanks to his 22nd career win, the reigning champion added one tiny point to his championship lead over Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia Racing Team), second at the flag
The second WSBK race at Laguna Seca in 2014 was as hot on track as the air temperature as after two red flags and restarts, Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) came out victorious in the 7 lap sprint race that put an end to the ninth round of the 2014 eni FIM Superbike World Championship, which saw a total 49,408 attendants during the three days.

Having dominated the season so far, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) has won 11 of the 16 races and finished second in the other five. Almost unbelievably, he is yet to claim a race victory on any of the five circuits that remain on the 2015 calendar (Laguna Seca, Sepang, Jerez, Magny-Cours and Losail); one can imagine that will have changed by the time the curtain falls in Qatar on the night of Sunday 18 October. Rea is currently on a run of 17 podium finishes. Only Colin Edwards has ever racked up more successive rostrum results, with 25 in 2002; Rea will beat this should he finish inside the top three up to and including Race 1 in Qatar. Should he win seven more races this year (with ten still to go), he would also beat Doug Polen’s long-standing record from 1991 of 17 race wins in a single season.

Laguna Seca
Laguna Seca

In terms of Laguna Seca and the current field, one looks to Tom Sykes for success. The 2013 title winner is the only rider on the grid to have previously won at the undulating track, taking one win from each of the previous two years. In 2014, he ended the shortened second race (a seven-lap sprint following two red flag stoppages) with a 44-point championship lead over Sylvain Guintoli. The rest is history…

Tom Sykes: “The aim was to win the race. Obviously Race 1 was a big disappointment but we made a number of changes on the Ninja for Race 2. The bike felt OK, better than in the first race and then with every red flag we added little tweaks. What can I say, I got a fabulous bunch of guys working for me. My wife sent me some inspiration, I had some great pictures of my daughter which put a great smile on my face. I’m sure people watching back home enjoyed it as much as I did. I’ve got a few days to really enjoy myself here in California, I’ve got some big events coming up with Kawasaki and I can’t wait to go into summer break.”
Tom Sykes: “The aim was to win the race. Obviously Race 1 was a big disappointment but we made a number of changes on the Ninja for Race 2. The bike felt OK, better than in the first race and then with every red flag we added little tweaks. What can I say, I got a fabulous bunch of guys working for me. My wife sent me some inspiration, I had some great pictures of my daughter which put a great smile on my face. I’m sure people watching back home enjoyed it as much as I did. I’ve got a few days to really enjoy myself here in California, I’ve got some big events coming up with Kawasaki and I can’t wait to go into summer break.”

Staying on the topic of history, it is Australian and American riders who have won more times than any other nationality at Laguna Seca. Competitors from the southern hemisphere country have taken the chequered flag at Laguna on no less than nine occasions, while Americans have won in California seven times. This is not set to change in 2015, with neither Australia nor the United States represented in the category at present.

Troy Bayliss leads Eric Bostrom and Colin Edwards at Laguna Seca in 2003
Troy Bayliss leads Eric Bostrom and Colin Edwards at Laguna Seca in 2003

However, this round will be closest to home for Argentina’s Leandro Mercado; while he is yet to compete in WorldSBK at the circuit, he does know it well following his time in AMA road racing. He is looking to return his Barni Racing Team bike to the top 15, having failed to score points in Misano Race 2 for the first time this season.

Elsewhere, 2011 World Champion Carlos Checa – who never finished on the podium at Laguna Seca – completed three days of testing with Ducati Test Team at Mugello two weeks ago, as the Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team strives for another victory. Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano have both finished in second place at Laguna Seca, in the pair of 2013 races; in the Italian’s case, he missed out on victory to Eugene Laverty by just one tenth of a second. Nevertheless, Ducati remains the most successful constructor at Laguna Seca, with ten race wins in total.

Another manufacturer in a position to celebrate a significant number this weekend is Kawasaki, which will equal Yamaha’s 74 World Superbike wins should it claim the top spot one more time. With two victories, Kawasaki would become only the third constructor in WorldSBK history to claim 75 race wins, after Ducati and Honda.

As for Leon Haslam, just taking part in Race 1 will be enough for the Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils man to move into a select club of nine riders to have started 200 races in the World Superbike class. By the time the second race comes, he will equal compatriot James Toseland on 201 starts; only Carl Fogarty would then have more starts to his name as a British rider, as the four-time World Champion competed in 219 races.

With a cushion of 133 points over team-mate Tom Sykes, many argue that Jonathan Rea already has one hand on the title. The same could be said for Kawasaki, whose advantage over nearest rivals Ducati in the Manufacturers’ standings is 122. This confirms that no title can be sewn up in America this weekend, with a maximum of 250 still up for grabs between now and the end of the season.

Jonathan Rea extended his championship advantage over Tom Sykes to 133 points - Misano 2015
Jonathan Rea extended his championship advantage over Tom Sykes to 133 points – Misano 2015
2015 eni FIM Superbike World Championship (8 of 13 rounds completed)

1 – Jonathan Rea Kawasaki Racing Team – 375

2 – Tom Sykes Kawasaki Racing Team – 242

3 – Leon Haslam Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils – 226

4 – Chaz Davies Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike Team – 213

5 – Jordi Torres Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils – 140

Hayes, Beaubier Battle Moves West To Monterey
Cameron Beaubier (6) and Josh Hayes (1) head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with just four points separating them in the MotoAmerica Superbike Series. Hayes leads Beaubier, 245-241, after six of nine rounds. Photography by Brian J. Nelson.
Cameron Beaubier (6) and Josh Hayes (1) head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with just four points separating them in the MotoAmerica Superbike Series. Hayes leads Beaubier, 245-241, after six of nine rounds. Photography by Brian J. Nelson.

Four measly points. That’s all that separates the top two riders in the 2015 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM Superbike Championship. Four points after six rounds, 12 races, 192 laps and 550.568 miles of racing from Texas to Georgia to Virginia to Wisconsin to Alabama and to Utah.

And this coming weekend, July 17-19, the MotoAmerica Series and its five classes comes roaring into California, and the premier Superbike class leads the way with the closest points battle of any of the five title chases.

Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier bring their burgeoning rivalry to the Golden State for round seven of the nine-round series at the world-renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula. And one thing is certain: The two Monster Energy/Graves Yamaha teammates will be more determined than ever to make their mark as the MotoAmerica Series shares the weekend with the teams and riders of the World Superbike Championship. The stage doesn’t get any bigger than this.

Of the 12 MotoAmerica Superbike races held thus far in 2015, the two factory Yamaha teammates have won all 12. Going into the previous round at Miller Motorsports Park, the pair had earned five wins apiece. But that changed at Miller with Hayes taking both victories to move ahead in the championship – albeit by just four points – with his sixth and seventh wins of the season. Miller marked Hayes’ second doubleheader sweep of the season and his first since VIRginia International Raceway in May as the two have mostly ping-ponged back and forth with race wins.

Now the task at hand is Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the 11-turn, 2.238-mile track that doesn’t rank as one of Hayes’ favorites. Still he comes into this year’s race having won four straight Superbike races in Monterey.    

“Laguna has always been one of the tougher racetracks for me,” Hayes admits. “I was able to pull off a win there last year in front of Cameron [Beaubier], but I feel like the track plays more to Cameron’s favor than it does to mine. Going in with the points lead gives me a little bit more to work with, but I’m not really thinking about points, quite honestly. If I can just keep myself  close in the points as the year goes on, the pressure leans more and more on Cameron. Who do you think is going to feel more pressure, a guy who has four championship trophies at home or a guy who is still trying to get his first one? If I miss out on it, I have another year to come back and try it. I’m just going to focus on trying to beat Cam because that’s hard enough. If he gets up there and feels like he has something to lose and he’s careful, then I’m going to take advantage of that. I’m just going to plug away and go for every win I can as the season goes on.” 

While the two Yamaha men have an intra-team battle going on for the title, the Yoshimura Suzuki twosome of Jake Lewis and Roger Hayden are even closer in their points battle over third in the standings. Lewis leads Hayden by two points, 171-169, though they trail Hayes by over 70 points, which doesn’t sit well with team leader Hayden. The Kentuckian has been riding hard all season in an effort to try and crack the Yamaha stranglehold on race wins, and he’s been second best three times thus far. Hayden has plenty of experience at Laguna – on both AMA and World Superbikes, and even in MotoGP. His first win at the circuit came way back in 2007 in the Supersport class.

Although he’s in his rookie season in the Superbike class, Lewis has been impressive with five podium finishes. And he heads to Laguna with favorable memories – the youngster won his first career Daytona SportBike (now Supersport) race there last year.

Spaniard Bernat Martinez continues to hold down fifth in the Superbike Championship, some 23 points clear of Elena Myers. Danny Eslick (a winner at Laguna in 2011 in the Daytona SportBike class), Chris Ulrich (a winner at Laguna in the now defunct 750cc Supersport back in 2001), KTM’s Chris Fillmore and OC Racing’s Matthew Orange round out the top 10 in the championship heading into Laguna.

Although Superbike is the premier class of the MotoAmerica Series, the racing in the four support classes – Superstock 1000, Supersport, Supertock 600 and the KTM RC 390 Cup – has also been heated.

For starters, the Superstock 1000s (which race on the track at the same time as the Superbikes, but are scored seperately) come to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with 17 points separating the top two. Roadrace Factory’s Jake Gagne rolls into Laguna with nine wins, but TOBC Racing’s Taylor Knapp comes to California with momentum gained at Miller Motorsports Park. Gagne had a crash and a mechanical problem at Miller and he left there with just nine points in his pocket. Knapp, meanwhile, took advantage with second- and third-place finishes to score 36 points on the day.

The two Superstock wins (and 50 points) at Miller, however, went to Westby Racing’s Josh Day, ending a run of races where the Floridian scored just 15 points in two rounds (and four races). Day is fifth in the series standings behind Gagne, Knapp, Brit Mark Heckles (who has scored points in each and every round this year) and Californian Tyler O’Hara. Aprilia HSBK Racing’s Sheridan Morais is sixth in the standings, but has stood on the podium in five of his six starts since making his series debut at Road America in round four.

The Supersport class ventures to Monterey with JD Beach on fire. Beach and his Yamalube/Y.E.S./Graves Motorsports Yamaha R6 come to Laguna with five straight wins and none were more dominant than the last two at Miller Motorsports Park. Beach has turned what was once a close title chase into a 44-point lead over Wheels in Motion/Motosport.com/Meen Motorsports’ Josh Herrin and a 55-point lead over his Graves Yamaha teammate Garrett Gerloff, with those two left scratching their heads as to how to stop Beach’s winning streak. Those three are the only riders to taste victory in the class in 2015 with Beach winning seven races to Herrin’s three and Gerloff’s lone victory at Road Atlanta. 

If Beach is red hot, then so too is Wheels in Motion/Motosport.com/Meen Motorsports’ Joe Roberts. The 18-year-old Californian has also won five straight and eight of the 10 Bazzaz Superstock 600 races held thus far in 2015.  He leads the title chase over Tizayuca, Mexico’s Richie Escalante by 37 points with Las Vegas resident Travis Wyman another 32 points behind in third place. 

The KTM RC 390 Cup is now three rounds (and six races) old and one thing has become clear: Gage McAllister has proven to be not only fast, but incredibly consistent. McAllister leads the series with three wins, a third and a fifth in the six races and that translates to a 47-point lead for the 20-year-old Californian. With that being said, 15-year-old Canadian Braeden Ortt won his first race of the season in race two at Miller to move past Hayden Schultz and into second in the title chase. Anthony Mazziotto III is the third rider in the fledgling series to have tasted victory and the youngster from New Jersey sits fourth in the title chase.

Colin Edwards 2002 Laguna Seca
Colin Edwards 2002 Laguna Seca