Day Summary: MotoAmerica VIR 2017 — Sunday

Sunday’s MotoAmerica action from VIRginia International Raceway (VIR) was tame compared to Saturday’s bar-banging drama. That said, there was plenty of on-track action in all three racing classes. The sun was out all day and conditions were much warmer and drier than either Friday or Saturday. Unfortunately, the hot conditions made the track greasy, and the day was witness to several unfortunate incidents.

Chief among those incidents was a crash involving two Ohioans. During the KTM RC390 Cup morning warm-up, Hillard, Ohio’s Gavin Anthony (#176) and Medina, Ohio’s Tyler Wissel (#200) crashed after both drafted past Tyler’s twin brother Ryan (#220) on the front straight. Based on Ryan’s description of the incident, Tyler tried to pass Gavin on the inside of turn 1 when he lost control and crashed into Gavin as Gavin was taking a wider line into the corner. The session was red-flagged and both riders were transported to a local hospital and then released. I spoke with Gavin’s father Adam later in the day and he indicated Gavin had a sprained wrist and a lot of bruising but has no broken bones. Ryan reported to me that Tyler was going to need surgery, but was generally okay. Both motorcycles looked significantly damaged when I saw them in the paddock. One of Gavin’s clip-on handlebars was broken completely off. Hopefully both riders will be healthy enough to race at Road America in three weeks time.

Gavin and Tyler’s incident was far from the last one for the KTM RC390 Cup riders. Of the 14 riders who started the KTM RC390 Cup race, six of them crashed out and one more ran off track and rejoined. Points leader Benjamin Smith (#118) crashed out when he ran into the back of another rider and lost the front at turn 1. Buckeye Ryan Wissel (#220) crashed at turn 3. I spoke with Ryan after the race and he believed his crash and a number of the other crashes had been caused by teams raising rear tire pressures too high for today’s hotter conditions. I also spoke with RC390 Cup competitor Nate Minster (#101), who reported the track felt greasier to him in the hotter conditions. With the top two riders in the KTM RC390 Cup standings not finishing Sunday’s race, the points standings have been shaken up a bit. Race winner Jackson Blackmon (#618) who entered the weekend with no points, left VIR fourth in the standings. The battle at the top of the points remains close, with the top three separated by only six points.

Today’s supersport highlights actually began during the last chance qualifier (LCQ). Xavier Zayat, who I had a chance to sit down and talk with for a bit on Saturday, had failed to finish Saturday’s LCQ due to clutch problems. During Sunday mornings’ LCQ, Zayat crashed on the warm-up lap, but came all the way back to finish second and advance to the main. Unfortunately, Zayat struggled with more clutch problems in Sunday’s main and did not finish the race.

The action at the front of the Supersport/Superstock 600 race was intense. Team Hammer M4 Suzuki’s Valentin Debise, who was a front runner all of last year and at Road Atlanta, crashed out on lap 2 at turn 1 for the second day in a row. Unlike Saturday’s crash, Debise’s fall was an unassisted low side  as he tried to make a pass for the lead. The remainder of the race featured a close battle at the front between the Y.E.S. Graves Yamahas of J.D. Beach (#95) and Garrett Gerloff (#1) with Beach coming out on top. Honda factory-supported rider Benny Solis brought his Honda CBR600RR home in a lonely third place. With Debise’s two DNFs this weekend, Solis has moved past Debise for third in the points standings. Gerloff left VIR having maintained his four-point lead in the championship over Beach.

Sunday’s Superbike/Superstock 1000 race did not feature as many of the close battles or controversy that Saturday’s race did. Sunday’s race did feature a new-old winner, as Monster Energy Graves Yamaha’s Josh Hayes took his first win of the season. Hayes grabbed the holeshot and maintained his lead throughout most of the race. Despite Hayes’ victory, the ride of the day belonged to Hayes’ teammate Cameron Beaubier. For the second day in a row, Beaubier made a mistake under braking for turn 1 that took him off the track. Beaubier rejoined the race in sixth and fought his way back onto the podium. Saturday’s race winner, Yoshimura Suzuki’s Roger Hayden, went off track at turn 1 on lap 22 of 23 and finished in sixth place. Josh Herrin, who was penalized three grid spots for his crash on Saturday that took out Yoshimura Suzuki’s Toni Elias, ran off track early in the race and finished in eleventh place. Elias ran a solid race that featured a battle with teammate Hayden throughout most of the race and was able to bring his 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000RR home in second place. As for the overall championship, Elias has maintained his position at the top of the standings despite the DNF in race 1. Elias leads Cameron Beaubier by 10 points and teammate Roger Hayden by 11 points heading into the next round at Road America on June 3-5.

Day Summary: MotoAmerica VIR 2017 — Saturday

Saturday’s MotoAmerica action at VIRginia International Raceway could be re-named “bump day.” While the racing in all three MotoAmerica classes features close battles, all three races were defined by multiple incidents of riders banging bars to the point where one or more of them left the racing surface. Banging bars can be a sign of good or bad racing. However, when bar banging results in more crashes than close battles it begins to cross the grey area between bravery and recklessness.

Not helping the bar banging was the weather. While the rain stayed away and the sun came out for good around 11am, the heavy rains that fell on Friday continued to define track conditions throughout the day. The morning was cold, humid, and overcast, and the track dried slowly as each of MotoAmerica’s classes took their turn on track. As the sun came out, the track dried more quickly and lap times began dropping. Xavier Zayat, who was among the top three Superstock 600 riders in dry conditions at Road Atlanta a couple weeks back led the Group 2 qualifying with a 1:39.228. Michael Gilbert was the fastest Superstock 600 bike in Group 1 (which went out after Group 2) with a time of 1:31.746. Later on in the race water began seeping up from the track in areas, including a small river running across the last turn. I chatted with Hayden Gillim, who was our guest on the TWPH a couple weeks ago. He told me water coming up out of the track after a heavy rain was not unusual, but the amount of water at the last corner was very unusual. More on the impact of the water coming up can be found below.

Unfortunately, a couple buckeyes were on the losing end of the bar-banging. OMRL product Gavin Anthony was forced wide at the last corner by another rider and went down. Gavin remounted and was able to finish the race a lap down in 13th. I caught up with Gavin after the race. He was disappointed but was physically okay. Gavin had put in an incredible effort in qualifying. He came into the pits with about four minutes to go with a front brake fade problem. His dad sent him back out since there was just enough time to get in a out lap and a hot lap in before the session ended. On the hot lap the front brake fade problem came back, so Gavin had to finish the hot lap using only rear brake and backing the bike into corners. Despite having the ride the bike very unorthodoxly, Gavin jumped from ninth to sixth. While Gavin’s race did not go as planned, he will have another chance tomorrow. Gavin will again line up on the second row of the KTM RC390 Cup grid, where he should have a good chance to getting to the front again. The twin buckeyes of Ryan and Tyler Wissel also had bummer days out on track. Tyler, who told me before the race he was a big fan of VIR, was another bar-banging victim. He started the race fourth on the grid and slipped back a few positions at the start. Tyler was then forced off track at the top of the roller coaster section and crashed heavily. I swung by the Wissel Racing paddock set-up after the race and caught up with Tyler. He reported that he is physically fine despite the spectacular-looking crash, and that the KTM RC390 is repairable and will be ready for tomorrow’s race. Tyler’s identical twin brother Ryan, who reported not being a big fan of VIR, finished ninth after starting twelfth.

The Supersport/Superstock 600 was also the scene of more bar-banging. The relatively clean first lap featured another three-way battle between the Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha R6s of Garrett Gerloff and J.D. Beach and the M4 Suzuki GSX-R 600 of Valentin Debise. Debise did stand Gerloff up in turn 1, but Gerloff managed to get around Debise and Beach to take the lead. As they began lap two, Debise clipped the left rear of the Gerloff’s bike at the end of the front straight and ended up going down in the muddy turn 1. Debise was uninjured but the rider and bike were covered in a thick, wet layer of mud and grass. The remainder of the race featured a close battle between Gerloff and Beach, with Gerloff eventually breaking away and taking the win. With Debise out, Honda’s factory-supported Benny Solis was able to bring his CBR600RR home in a lonely third place for his first podium of the season. TWPH friend Caroline Olson crashed her Meen Motorsports Yamaha R6 at turn 1 on the last lap. I did not have a chance to catch up with Caroline after the race but will try to find her this morning. Despite the use of the last chance qualifier pre-race to limit the size of the Supersport/Superstock 600 grid, Gerloff and Beach began lapping riders around lap 12. That caused the gap between the leaders to change and created some close calls between the faster and slower riders on the mostly one-line VIR track. MotoAmerica may need to look at ways to shrink the middleweight grid even more the rider safety.

The Superbike/Superstock 1000 race was spectacular with its deft riding and amazing comebacks by the Graves Yamaha riders. However, the race was ultimately defined by bar-banging between Yoshimura Suzuki’s Toni Elias and Meen Motorsports’ Josh Herrin. Graves Yamaha’s Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier, along with Herrin, secured a Yamaha lockout of the front row. Herrin, Elias, and Yoshimura Suzuki’s Roger Lee Hayden got off to good starts while Beaubier made a mistake in turn 1 and Hayes was forced off track at the top of the roller coaster section. Herrin battled with Hayden for the first part of the race with some aggressive passes and defensive riding before Hayden’s Suzuki was able to get in front and pull away to a comfortable lead. Herrin began drifting back toward Elias while Hayes and Beaubier were trading fastest laps between them. Elias caught and passed Herrin, and Herrin attempted to make a bold pass he had completed successfully several times earlier in the race at the top of the roller coaster. That time however he lost control and crashed straight on, taking Elias out with him. Hayden was then able to cruise to a win, while Beaubier has ridden all the way back to second and Hayes back to third. Hayes, however, was piped at the line by Latus Motors Kawasaki’s Bobby Fong, who took his third Superbike podium and third Superstock 1000 win of the season. Fong reported in the post-race press conference that Hayes lost drive after running over the aforementioned river at the last turn and that is why his Superstock 1000 Kawasaki ZX-10R was able to out-drive the factory superbike to start finish. I spoke with Hayes after the race and he did not feel that the “river” slowed him down. He thought he had gone around it and just did not get a good drive out of the last corner.

There was a mixed response in the press box and the paddock to the Herrin/Elias incident. During the press conference, Fong and Hayden heavily criticized Herrin’s riding. They felt he was trying too hard and was seriously overriding his bike to pass other riders for pride rather than positions he would be able to maintain. When I asked Roger how he felt Herrin had raced him earlier in the race. Hayden responded “Clean, but dumb.” Several people in the press room also felt that Herrin had tried to come from too far back to out-brake Elias, who is renown for being strong on braking. Other members of the press and Josh Hayes felt that it was a racing incident and that Herrin had not done anything any other racer would do, or that Elias would not have done to him. Personally, I always go back to the Ayrton Senna quote, “If you no longer go for a gap, you are no longer a racing driver.” Herrin had made that same out-braking maneuver several times earlier in the race. I think he probably tried to out-brake someone he could not out-brake and got in too deep. Racers are going to make aggressive moves. They are not out there to complete the world’s fastest parade on two wheels. To me, it was not a dirty pass and did not deserve to be penalized. Instead, Herrin has been dropped three grid positions for Sunday’s race.

Day Summary: MotoAmerica VIR 2017 — Friday

After an eventful drive that started at 4am this morning, the Two Wheel Power Hour has now made its presence known in the MotoAmerica paddock for the first time this season. Because I wanted to get my credentials on Friday I left Youngstown plenty early at 4am….or so I thought. The trip was uneventful until I got on to the West Virginia Turnpike. A mile or so before the first toll booth, traffic came to a standstill….and stayed that way for almost an hour and a half. My car moved a total of ten feet during that time. A tractor trailer had crashed just south of the tollbooth, and the turnpike runs through some very rugged terrain that is not easy to access from surface roads. Once that mess was in the rear view mirror the rest of the trip was uneventful. However I had to hustle to make it to the track in time to pick up my credentials before the booth closed. Fortunately I did not hit any additional snags and made it to VIR around 330pm. A constant drizzle was coming down when I arrived and it remained that way until a downpour started right after KTM RC390 qualifying ended.

After I got to the track I was able to spend some time catching up with friends of the Two Wheel Power Hour in the MotoAmerica paddock. My first stop was the Kyle Wyman Racing tent. Kyle was in good spirits and reported being much more comfortable with his Yamaha R1 superbike this season. Kyle finished the second practice session P2 in mixed conditions, and was on his way to a kick-off event at a local motorcycle dealer when we parted ways. My next stop was the Wissel Racing tent. I spent some time chatting with the Wissel brothers’ crew chief and father Matt. Both of the twins have moved up the time sheets from last season. I also swung by the Anthony Racing set-up to chat with Gavin and Adam. Gavin took P2 in KTM RC390 Cup qualifying today, with another qualifying session coming tomorrow morning.

The day was defined by the weather. Mixed conditions governed the track from start to end. Time sheets for both the Motul Superbike and Supersport classes lacked any definition. Riders who were leading in the first practice were closer to the bottom in second practice. The two Yoshimura Suzukis of Roger Lee Hayden and Toni Elias came in P2 and P3, respectively in the first practice session. In the second session, Elias was P6 and Roger P11. The Graves Yamahas of Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier were P11 and P6, respectively, in first practice. In second practice, they were P4 and P3 with the R1s of the aforementioned Kyle Wyman and session-leader Josh Herrin in front of them. Conditions are expected to be similar tomorrow with less rain but the same temperatures. If the track does not dry out overnight, it could make for tricky conditions for tomorrow’s Supersport/Superstock 600 qualifying and KTM RC390 Cup qualifying in the morning.

Overall, the best part of the day was just being back in the MotoAmerica paddock. It is always good to be at any race track. For me though, MotoAmerica is a unique environment that means so much more to me. Maybe it is the effort I put into writing my strategic plan for the sport a few years back. Maybe it is that it is our national series and that stirs my sense of pride. Or maybe it is the people I got to know in the paddock last year and the sense of community I perceive as I walk about the paddock. In any event, MotoAmerica will always have a special place in my heart because of what it is and what it has overcome to reach its current level of success. I am so happy to be covering it again this year, and am looking forward to catching up with more people I know and bringing Two Wheel Power Hour listeners more stories from the paddock on Saturday.

Ride Report: Final FJR1300 Ride, 4/22/17

Unfortunately, this is the last ride report I will be writing for a while. Usually writing ride reports is one of my favorite things to do. For me, it is basically a running journal of the places, roads, and people I get to learn about when I go out riding. Each journey, recorded on paper or not, becomes a small kernel of history that allows me to learn a little more about the world I live in. Unfortunately, like any other form of history, there are always dark kernels. April 22, 2017, was one of those dark kernels for me.

The plan was to head down to Circleville, Ohio and come back to Youngstown the same day to cover an Ohio Mini Roadracing League (OMRL) event being held at Circleville Raceway Park.  I headed out later than I had planned due to waking up late and the unseasonably cold temperatures. Once I was fueled up, I hit the road around 7am. Because I was running late I took the fastest route to Circleville, which is I-76 west through Akron to I-71 south to U.S. 23 on the south side of Columbus. I had already traveled all of those roads several times this year and found them to be in good condition. Since it was a weekend and early in the morning, the traffic going through downtown Akron on I-76 was very light. While the weather forecast has called for steady rain the entire ride, I did not encounter at all during the three hour ride.

The OMRL event was great. They has 44 competitors turn out on a day when it was supposed to rain all day, compared to 51 competitors for the 2016 season-opener under near-perfect weather conditions. It was also great to visit with the Anthonys before Gavin Anthony made his debut as a professional motorcycle road racer at the MotoAmerica event at Road Atlanta the next weekend.

I left the event later than I wanted to (around 4pm) and was heading to Freddy’s Street Food in Delaware, Ohio for dinner when I was involved in a motorcycle accident. I do not want to go into details about what happened or my injuries at this time. However, my FJR1300 has been totaled and I will need to take some time to heal up before I can ride again.

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the EMTs who responded to the accident from the Orange Township Fire Department. Several of them ride and did their best to keep me in good spirits. I would also like to thank the nurses and staff at the OhioHealth Lewis Center Emergency Department who tended to my injuries quickly and kindly.