It’s hard to believe it’s been seven months since Cameron Beaubier was crowned for a second straight time as the MotoAmerica Superbike Champion when the sun set at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 11, 2016. Now, Beaubier and his rivals are ready to take to the track again with the opening round of the 2017 series set for this coming weekend, April 21-23, at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.
As has been the case for the past two years, MotoAmerica again shares the weekend with the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas, round three of the MotoGP World Championship.
On the eve of the 2017 campaign, the heavy weight of being the odds-on favorite to win the Superbike crown has to fall on the shoulders of two-time defending champion Beaubier and his Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing YZF-R1. Beaubier won eight races last year, the same number that earned him his first MotoAmerica title in 2015, giving him 16 wins in the past two years and 19 career Superbike wins.
“I’m excited to get the season started, but I know it’s probably going to be the toughest one yet,” said Beaubier. “I didn’t have much luck at COTA last year and I’d like to change that this year. It’s an important race in the series and you always want to get your season off to a good start.”
Beaubier knows he’s in for a fight. And if he didn’t know it prior to the recent Dunlop Preseason Test at Circuit of The Americas, he knew it at the end of those two days when Yoshimura Suzuki’s Roger Hayden and Toni Elias held the top two spots on the timesheets on their new GSX-R1000s.
It was Hayden who led the test, putting in a best lap of 2:08.305—0.846 of a second faster than what the Kentuckian turned in to capture pole position for last year’s two Superbike races at COTA. The lap was also nearly half a second quicker than Beaubier’s best from the 2016 Dunlop test. Elias was second best, just 0.127 of a second behind his teammate.
And when you mention Beaubier, Hayden and Elias, you can’t forget the fourth member of the Fab Four, Josh Hayes. When you start the season with four Superbike titles, 60 Superbike wins, 40 Superbike pole positions and 82 total AMA victories, you just don’t get forgotten. Let’s also remember that in the two Superbike titles that Beaubier has won in 2015 and 2016, Hayes was there to the bitter end and was second in both of those title chases.
Jake Gagne is returning to the Motul Superbike class this year after a trying debut in last year’s series. This time things are different, however, as the young Californian comes in armed with a Honda CBR1000RR SP2 with sponsorship from Genuine Broaster Chicken and support from American Honda. His experienced crew remains intact in the RoadRace Factory team.
Bazzaz Superstock 1000 Champion Josh Herrin moves to the Superbike class this season with his Wheels In Motion/Western Services/Meen Yamaha R1. Herrin was dominant in winning eight races in 2016 and we must remember that he does have an AMA Superbike Championship on his resume.
Kyle Wyman will race again in the Motul Superbike class for 2017, the Motovation USA/Lucas Oils/KWR-backed team owner/rider is hoping to improve on his 13th-place finish in last year’s Superbike Championship.
Class favorites in the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 class, which runs together with the Motul Superbike class, include TOBC Racing’s Danny Eslick, Yamalube/Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz, Quicksilver Latus Motors Kawasaki’s Bobby Fong, Fly Racing/Motul/ADR Motorsports’ Cameron Petersen (in his debut in the class after moving up from Supersport), last year’s Superstock 600 Champion Bryce Prince, M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Jake Lewis and Cycle World Suzuki’s Hayden Gillim, all of whom are capable of winning races in 2017.
In addition to the two Motul Superbike/Bazzaz Superstock 1000 races that will be held this weekend at COTA, MotoAmerica also runs a lone Supersport race. The favorites in that one include defending class champion Garrett Gerloff and his Monster Energy/Yamalube/Y.E.S./Graves Yamaha’s JD Beach, the 2015 MotoAmerica Supersport Champion. You also can’t count out Frenchman Valentin Debise, the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki rider winning for the first time last year at Road America en route to finishing third in the title chase.
"I love everything about COTA: the challenge the track presents, the electric atmosphere with MotoGP there, and the awesome Texas fans,” Gerloff said. “We had a great test there a couple weeks ago and the 2017 R6 is a dream. I really feel like I mesh with this bike. It's really given me a lot of confidence every time I swing a leg over it. This season is definitely going to be a challenge, but I'm more prepared than ever and I can't wait to start my championship title ‘offense’ close to home."