Will 2013 Daytona 200 polesitter and race-winner Cameron Beaubier be the next American to make the leap from domestic success to Grands Prix? Two-time national champion and ’06 200 winner Jake Zemke believes 20-year-old Beaubier is a likely candidate for world-championship stardom.
“He’s riding great,” said Zemke, who qualified fourth on a Desmo Veloce Ducati 848 for this year’s race. “I think he’s our next American hope to go overseas and make an impact. With any luck, after this season, he’ll get out of here and go to Moto2 or something. As soon as he does that, I think he’ll be on a MotoGP bike in no time.”
Beaubier, a former Red Bull Rookies Cup race-winner and KTM 125cc GP factory rider (teamed with Marc Marquez, now a highly acclaimed factory Honda MotoGP rookie), was the only Daytona SportBike entry to lap the Speedway’s 3.51-mile “long” course in less than 1 minute, 50 seconds.
Second-quickest qualifier, Beaubier’s Graves Yamaha teammate, 17-year-old Garrett Gerloff, was 1.49 seconds back, with Zemke nearly 2 seconds behind. “Cameron was flying,” said Gerloff. “I think he’s got an R1 motor in there. I may have to protest.”
Asked if he had planned to rip off a “super lap” at the end of the qualifying and how close he had gotten to doing the “ultimate lap on a 600”—questions that would have sent retired seven-time AMA Superbike Champion Mat Mladin stomping out of the room—Beaubier responded politely. “I felt like I got a pretty good lap in.”
Beaubier was also the only rider in that qualifying session to string together laps in the 1-min., 50-sec.
range. Would that pace be possible during the race? “There are a lot of variables,” he said. “I didn’t have a full tank of gas, stuff like that. The tire was shredding a little on the right, but it still had decent grip. I think we’re planning 19-lap stints, so it should be okay.”
To paraphrase hall-of-fame college basketball coach Bob Knight, hope may spring eternal, but it’s a lot
better to work and plan for something than just to hope for it.
On Saturday afternoon, Beaubier delivered on that plan, leading 50 of 57 laps. Zemke was credited with five first-place circuits, Gerloff and third-place-finisher Bobby Fong one apiece. Watching Beaubier distance himself from the field, seven-time AMA Grand National Champion Chris Carr joked, “That kid is stinking up the show.” Margin of victory was 22.254 seconds.
After his victory, Beaubier looked a bit dazed. “I was going around the last lap, like, it’s over. Everyone was cheering for me, and it felt amazing. It’s definitely going to take a little time to sink in. Wow, I just won the Daytona 200.”
Beaubier said he made one mistake: braking too late for Turn 1 with a full tank of gas. “I braked at my usual marker and ran a little wide over the paint. I picked it up and got back on the track. It was a tough race. Doing 57 laps around this place isn’t easy.
“With the margin that I had in qualifying, I knew I could make a run. The first time I tried, it didn’t work, so I settled in with the group for a few laps. Then, going into the infield, I charged really hard and tried to get a gap. I saw that I had half a second, so I pushed hard in the infield again.
“My tires were going away a little bit at the end of the first and second stints. In the third stint, I just kept my cool. I didn’t want to do anything stupid and throw it away. I really wanted that trophy.”
Although Zemke rode a great race, he dropped out with a mechanical failure, officially finishing 26th. “We
need Americans overseas,” he said. “Colin Edwards is little bit long in the tooth. If he had a competitive
motorcycle, he could still run at the front. Nicky Hayden is a helluva competitor and works harder than
anyone else, but he’s 31, and you don’t see GP riders racing into their late 30s like in World Superbike.
We’ve still got Ben Spies over there, as well, but there’s a big age gap between him and Cameron.”
Pointing at Beaubier, Zemke said, “I think that’s the kid right there who’s going to do it.”