Photography by Tim White
Two-time and reigning AMA Pro American SuperBike Champion Josh Hayes qualified on pole for the first of the two season-opening Daytona 15-lap sprints with a time of 1:38.385. If that seems awfully quick, it’s because the big-bike races were once again held on the 2.9-mile “Short Course” because of concerns that SuperBikes are now too fast for the banked Speedway. Hayes’ Monster Energy Graves Yamaha YZF-R1 had tripped the timer at 205.42 mph in Thursday morning practice. Such speeds by 1000cc machines have become normal even for the series’ current near-stock tuning level, which requires use of stock crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons.
Yoshimura Racing Suzuki’s Blake Young, Hayes’ close rival last year, qualified second, with class rookie Josh Herrin, Hayes’ teammate, third-quickest in his first SuperBike ride.
It was clear through practice that Yamaha had found new speed in the off-season. Hayes said both he and the team had worked to find something extra. Young later said he could see that Hayes had some kind of special advantage getting out of the chicane (the left/right/left inserted into the back straight years ago to lower top speeds).
From the start of SuperBike Race 1, Herrin took the lead and held it for most of a lap, letting everyone know he was there before yielding to Hayes, who then made a textbook race of it, pulling away to win by 8.332 seconds. Young, Herrin and National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s Roger Hayden dueled until Herrin lost the front while third on Lap 6. Young was second, with Hayden another eight seconds behind him. Larry Pegram on the Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing BMW S1000RR worked past Steve Rapp aboard the Motorcycle Superstore Attack Performance Kawasaki ZX-10R for fourth. Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom had crashed out of fourth about eight laps into the event.
Was this it? Had racing been destabilized? Would Hayes rule at will? Young had other plans. Those plans depended on staying with Hayes long enough in Race 2 to get a look at what was working so well for him out of the chicane—rather like the musician who says, “Play a few bars and I’ll pick up the tune.”
“I knew I had to make it happen on the first five laps,” said Young, “and be right on him to see what he was doing exactly out of the chicane that made him so good onto the banking. I definitely learned and adapted pretty quickly before he could get away.”
Young managed to stay in Hayes’ draft, and the two rapidly pulled away from the pack. For several laps, Hayes was able to succeed with leading out of the chicane all the way to the start/finish line. For years, the great Daytona champion and drafting-specialist Miguel Duhamel maneuvered his opponents into leading out of the chicane so he could accelerate in their draft, then pull out and around to win. Now, Hayes was launching from the chicane strongly enough to dispense with this strategy.
Something new forced Hayes to think again. His front Dunlop tire lost grip for a scary instant on the east banking, and he rolled out of the throttle just enough that Young got past. If that happened again, or worse (tires don’t improve with time!), that could be that.
“I started having a few doubts about making a run from the front,” said Hayes after the race, “because if I had an issue like that at the end, I’d be a sitting duck. Once I made the run on him [much of racing is actually experimentation] and knew I could draft by him just the same, I kind of let him lead the last lap and just sat back there.”
Then, on the last lap, Hayes lost time in the chicane, running off “pretty hard.” With that small deviation from Hayes’ plan, Young was able to hang on to win by .002 of a second (at that speed, about 7 inches). Third, fourth and fifth went to Hayden, Herrin and Pegram.
“It was 100 percent my fault,” said Hayes. “I just mistimed it.”
Racers either learn to take disappointment in stride or they leave the sport.