Last July, heading into Round 7 of the 2010 AMA Pro Road Racing series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Graves Yamaha factory rider Josh Hayes already had four race wins under his belt and would claim three more en route to winning his first American SuperBike title. This time around, Hayes has two victories to his credit and trails Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Blake Young by 11 points.
What’s changed? I asked. “The Yamaha YZF-R1 is in its third year of a four-year [cycle] and development isn’t happening as fast,” he replied. “After Daytona, when the bikes were at ‘home,’ the guys worked really hard and improved our machines. But for the last several weeks, the bikes have been on the road. At the same time, Suzuki has stayed one step ahead of us.”
Last year, Hayes battled hammer-and-tongs throughout the season with Young’s teammate, Tommy Hayden. This year, Hayes and Hayden have competition at the front.
“Roger [Hayden] has gotten closer and closer and closer, which is good,” said Hayes. “Blake and Tommy have stepped up their games, especially Blake. I’m not riding badly; I’m just getting beat. I’ve gone faster at just about every racetrack than last year, but they’ve figured out a few things where they can make life real hard.
“Blake is a little bit different animal than Tommy. He’s not as reserved. He’s willing to take the risk, stick his neck out there and take a chance to make something happen.
“Last year, I was begging for those guys to get going. I wanted—I needed—the challenge. This year has been a little different for me; I’ve struggled a little bit more to get the most out of myself. I’m not doing bad, but I know what I’m capable of, and I’ve come up a bit shy of that. Saying that, I don’t want to demean the efforts of Blake, Tommy and Roger; they’ve done a great job. I haven’t.”
What’s different this year? “I’ve been playing a lot of tennis—mostly doubles,” he replied. “Still doing some cycling, but probably half of what I was doing. Running around on a hard court has kept my weight down, but the running, jumping, lunging is hard on the body. Have I felt the effects? Yeah, I’ve been tired.
“I’m here in California now and [my wife] Melissa has put me on ‘tennis restriction.’ So, I’m out on the bike more, and I’m just going to play [tennis] a couple days a week and see how it goes.
“Last year, I wanted to fight. I was so excited about showing up every weekend and going toe-to-toe with Tommy and Ben [Bostrom], when he stepped up. This year, I haven’t really felt that fire.
“I’m working really hard to get myself back into the right place so that I finish up the season strong.”