Josh Hayes: “The War Is Done.”

Is the two-time and reigning AMA Pro SuperBike champion poised for a “three-peat?”

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July's AMA SuperBike event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was a race for second place, with Blake Young, Josh Herrin, Danny Eslick and Ben Bostrom separated at the checkers by less than a second. Where was championship points-leader Josh Hayes? Way out front, more than nine ticks of the clock ahead of runner-up and title-rival Young.

Yet Hayes was less than pleased with his performance. “This is the slowest race I’ve ridden here in four years,” he said after the event. “I was doing 1:25.8s and still pulling away by half a second.

“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I came up short of my goals for the weekend. After qualifying, I was disappointed. People were like, ‘What do you mean, you’re on pole?’ Well, I’m not even looking at those guys right now. This is about me and my team, and what we show up to work on.

“I’m trying to figure out how to do 1:23s around this place, and I didn’t get to that goal. I went about as fast as I went last year. So, I’m disappointed because I think we have a better motorcycle and I’m riding better.”

Hayes admitted he had a tough time getting focused. Track time was reduced due to the presence of MotoGP, and because the U.S. Grand Prix is a Yamaha-sponsored event, he had more off-track obligations than usual. Further, Hayes’ racing wife, Melissa Paris, was back on track after a short hiatus.

Hayes also noted that the AMA-spec Dunlops didn’t “like” the rubber laid down by the MotoGP-issue Bridgestones. “We had a similar experience earlier this year at Miller Motorsports Park with the World Superbike-spec Pirellis,” he said.

Young, meanwhile, is clearly frustrated both on and off the track. Last year, the Yoshimura Suzuki rider scored seven victories and finished second in points, just five behind Hayes. Thus far this year, however, Young has won just three races—Daytona, Road Atlanta and Infineon Raceway. Hayes, meanwhile, has an eight-race win streak and a 74-point lead with three doubleheader rounds remaining in the season.

“I think my bike has gotten better,” said Young, “and I think their bike has gotten better. I don’t want to make excuses, but there have been a few things going on since Road Atlanta that have taken the fun out of the racing for me.” Whether it’s true or not, Young believes AMA Pro Racing has shown favoritism to other teams, Yamaha in particular.

Young went on to say that last season, Hayes’ Graves YZF-R1 had better acceleration than that of his GSX-R1000, but “we had more top end, which made things pretty even.” He added that the Yamaha is faster this season, which is one of the reasons he has struggled to keep Hayes in sight.

Hayes disagreed. "If you watched last year's races," he said, "you saw that we did not have acceleration off the bottom. Tracks like Barber, Mid-Ohio, Road America, would jump me from initial throttle pick-up. The first two or three gears, they would go five bike-lengths away from me.

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"If it was a long-enough straightaway, I would start coming back in top gear. I didn't have big top speed on them, but I would start coming back. Problem is, every turn that we came off of put me so far back that I was never even able to brake with Blake. I was always trying to outbrake him from four bike-lengths back, which I couldn't do; he's pretty good on the brakes.

“That was the weapon that he had over me everywhere we went: He could jump off the corner better than me. Top speed? We just needed a lot of room.”

According to Hayes, Yamaha's current engine spec has moved the horsepower higher in the rpm range, further above peak torque, making the bike easier to ride. "I can get on the throttle sooner and rev the thing farther before I have to shift, and that has helped my acceleration. Now, I'm able to start rolling the throttle on sooner. I don't necessarily have a lot more acceleration, but I have more feel.

“I think that’s how the old 750s were, which is why they were able to go so fast.”

Top speed has, in fact, improved. A reshaped fuel tank played an important role, said Hayes. “The lower, narrower tank has allowed me to get my shoulders behind the windscreen, my elbows in front of my knees and my legs out of the wind. I started running thinner knee pucks; I don’t drag my knees a lot, so what used to be an inch-and-a-half-thick puck is now a half-inch, and I can run them for three race weekends. Teknic built me a lighter suit. I did a lot of things, and the team did a lot of things.”

Has Hayes begun to think about a third title? “I’m not even thinking about the championship anymore,” he said. “I feel like my work is done. All I have to do is stay off the ground. If Blake beats me in a race, he’s going to have earned it. And the next day, we’re going to go scrap it out again.

"I want to win every race for the rest of the season. That's why we do this, right? I want each battle. The war is done."

How successful has Hayes been since he joined Yamaha in the premier class four years ago? Leaving Mazda Raceway, Hayes was tied for third with three-time series champion Ben Spies on the all-time SuperBike win list at 28 victories. If the 37-year-old Mississippi native wins five of the remaining six races, he will move ahead of 1995 AMA Pro SuperBike Champion Miguel Duhamel for second; seven-time titlist Mat Mladin is out of reach with 82 wins. Having already notched 11 victories this year, Hayes is also on track to surpass Mladin’s single-season record of 12 SuperBike wins.

Maybe that will put a smile on Hayes’ face.