The 2012 AMA Pro Racing season kicked off at Daytona International Speedway with entertaining action on the track. Almost every race at Bike Week was decided in a dramatic fashion thanks to that final draft to the Daytona checkers. Highlights from the racing program included a history-making performance in SuperSport, photo finish in SuperBike and a thrilling four-rider scrap for the most prestigious race of them all – the Daytona 200.
The headline for the 2012 Daytona 200 is Joey Pascarella, who established his Project 1 Atlanta R6 as the bike to beat in the opening laps. The 19-year-old Californian tallied a breakout performance on the high banks, but he could just as easily have finished off the podium in fourth. After 56 laps, including two waves of pit stops, Lap 57 ended with a four-rider sprint to the checkers. Pascarella claimed the D200 by a mere 0.048 seconds ahead of Team Latus Triumph’s Jason DiSalvo, with Cameron Beaubier (Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha) and Martin Cardenas (Geico Suzuki) a respective third and fourth – though timing showed them at an identical 0.112 gap to the leader.
Last year’s winner, DiSalvo, was expected to be battling for the D200 again, as was returning 2010 Daytona SportBike champion Cardenas. But the majority of the 57-lap race showcased the young R6 pilots, Pascarella and Beaubier, up front fighting for the lead (Pascarella on a grey-liveried, March of Dimes-sponsored #52, and Beaubier on the familiar Graves Yamaha blue #6).
“I just rode smart and conservative. Cameron, Martin, everybody was there the whole race… so I knew toward the end it would be down to about four of us, and I just was going to do my own thing. It ended up working out,” said Pascarella, who led the most laps during the race and was aided by a fortuitous draft off a lapped rider at the end. “Luckily for that lapper, actually I got a draft off him. I didn’t think I was going to catch up to him on the straight, and I got a little draft.”
“I am in shock, really speechless. I didn’t think we were going to come here and win,” continued Pascarella, who doesn’t have concrete plans for the remainder of the year (Project 1 scored similar Daytona success last year, with Jake Zemke claiming pole position and third-place Daytona 200 podium, but was unable to make a full 2011 run). “It’s a good way to start the season,” said the 2010 SuperSport West champ, adding. “I don’t know what I’m doing for the rest of the season. Hopefully, this can open up some opportunities and some people would want to help the team out, because I’d love to keep working with them. I think we can go on and win some races, and maybe even a championship.”
DiSalvo’s D200 repeat plans were foiled at the line, though the 23011 winner was able to overcome large time deficits to mount a thrilling last-lap charge.
DiSalvo came heartbreakingly close to delivering Triumph its first Daytona 200 win in 45 years. Running a retro Number 9 livery in tribute of the late Gary Nixon, DiSalvo overcame a couple of serious time deficits to climb back for a last lap challenge. The first came early in the race when DiSalvo pitted on Lap 14, thinking there was an issue with his Daytona 675.
“We had a little issue this morning in warmup too, with our other bike,” said DiSalvo. “So I wasn’t really sure what to expect, just had a little doubt creep into my mind. And going 180 mph six inches from the next guy, that’s not something you want to have happen when you’re in that situation. I don’t know, I thought something was starting to go wrong, so I brought it in.”
DiSalvo got back into the mix, and after a quick splash of fuel during the second stop, DiSalvo made a mad dash to get back to the lead group. Going into the final lap, his eight-second deficit from pit number 2 had evaporated and a D200 win seemed probable.
“In the back of my mind I was riding for Gary and riding for his memorial,” said DiSalvo on his charge back to the front. “I thought we were in line to probably take a win – I sort of had a drafting strategy planned out – but a lapped rider got up in there. So that’s how it goes at Daytona some times, luck isn’t always on your side. But I think while we may not have been the luckiest team here today, I know we were the best team.”
Beaubier got shuffled to third on the final finish line push, but like Pascarella the young Californian was riding with veteran-like poise throughout the race. Even younger, by two months, than Pascarella, Beaubier looks set to emerge this season as a top DSB contender backed by coveted Graves support.
Tommy Hayden got a last minute seat in the Daytona 200, unfortunately if only came due to Garrett Gerloff’s broken femur on Thursday. Hayden hopped on the YES Graves Yamaha and finished seventh.
“The race was awesome,” said Beaubier on his second D200 (having finished a respectable eighth last year). “Me and DiSalvo were battling a little bit in the last chicane, going onto the banking. So I kind of got messed up there a little bit, and then I didn’t get a really good draft going to the line. So I’m really happy with third.”
Cardenas was right there at the finish, having led the race at times and in the four-rider mix for the win. Eventual fifth-place finisher Dane Westby led the race at various times too, and the M4 Broaster Chicken Suzuki rider would likely have made it a five-rider fight if not for issues during his second pit stop. The delays took the Oklahoman out of contention, with Westby having made up considerable ground after his first pit stop to rejoin the lead group earlier in the race.
A pair of veteran riders followed Westby on the D200 timesheet: Jake Zemke and Tommy Hayden. Zemke was unable to repeat his previous Daytona successes in his Ducshop Racing debut, the 2006 D200 winner finishing sixth. Hayden’s seventh-place showing came after getting rushed aboard the Y.E.S. Graves R6 to replace the injured Garrett Gerloff, who broke his femur during Thursday’s practice. Last year’s third-placed SuperBike rider with Yoshimura Suzuki, Hayden was iced out of AMA on Thursday but now appears set to fill in for Gerloff until the injured rider’s leg is fully healed. The eldest of the Hayden racing clan is sure to be a potent force with more time to dial in his temp R6.
Maybe the biggest story of this year’s Daytona 200 was the attention afterward directed solely on the great finish. After multiple years marred by controversy, the 2012 race thankfully ran unimpeded. No hours-long delays, tire issues, or pace car malfeasances of years past. It’s a welcome change and an optimistic beginning to 2012. There will be even more optimism if some of the one-off rides at Daytona, including the D200 winner, can find some backing for a full campaign.
Josh Hayes returns focused on a third consecutive American SuperBike title. He leaves Daytona with a three-point lead thanks to the pole position as laps lead bonus.
The American SuperBike races promise an exciting title fight this year between Josh Hayes and Blake Young. The ASB battle also produced the closest victory of what was a weekend of thrillers, with a photo-finish Race 2 decided by a mere 0.002. Still the opening round of the SuperBike title bout went to Hayes, who outclassed Young in the first race, and nearly poached Race 2.
Where Young set the tone with a Daytona sweep in 2011, Hayes returned to the high banks having found more speed from the Graves Yamaha R1. It was a fact not lost on Young.
“He’s definitely got a little bit more power this year than he had last year for sure,” confirmed Young after rebounding with his Race 2 win. “I knew it was me yesterday, I just didn’t have a very good race for whatever reason.”
Hayes noted the difference in Young’s improved performance for Race 2, saying that “he definitely upped his game from yesterday.” Even so, Hayes’ title chances seem strong after Daytona. While the Graves Yamaha ace missed an opening round sweep, it was by the slightest of margins. In fact, Hayes’ last lap Race 2 drafting gambit seemed the sounder Daytona strategy, he just fell 0.002 short on execution.
“It’s funny the draft makes such a big difference and you’re trying to watch the gap and keep it where you want it to be. I had to roll out to almost half throttle at some point, and still kind of change the measure of it, and then get back in the throttle to start accelerating toward him again,” said Hayes on his nearly successful Race 2 drafting maneuver. “It was 100% my fault, I just mistimed it. I had a good weapon today – I had the bike that could win the race. This one’s on my shoulders.”
Blake Young rebounded from Race 1 to claim the Race 2 victory by a mere 0.002 at the line in a photo finish.
The two-time defending champ’s second-place Race 2 finish is tempered by his bonus point sweep of pole position and most laps led, which gives him a three-point lead in the championship. Hayes’ 16 bonus point advantage in 2011, compared to five for Young, proved the deciding factor in the championship (he won by five points despite Young winning seven races compared to Hayes’ three wins). Sweeping all three bonus points is effectively another “win” in the title hunt.
Teammates can play a critical role in title runs. Here is another area where Hayes has an advantage this season, at least judging by the Daytona round. The Graves Yamaha team goes from solo status in 2011 to adding Josh Herrin as rider number 2, while Yoshimura’s Tommy Hayden is replaced by Chris Clark. Herrin made a definite impression in his first SuperBike doubleheader. The Daytona SportBike call-up was on pace for a top-five in Race 1 before mechanical issues sidelined him. In Race 2 the long-time Graves R6 rider had his new R1 mount up in the front with another strong start. Herrin went the distance in the second 15-lap contest, giving National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s Roger Hayden a good fight for the podium.
“Herrin made me earn this one today, he’s really riding good for his rookie race,” said Hayden, who finished with a very solid 3-3 byline. “We definitely need to find a little more speed, but I’m happy to come away with two third-place finishes and a good start to the season. We kind of know where we’re weak at now, so we can try to improve before Atlanta.”
Hayden’s day was an impressive start for half of the Jordan Suzuki squad. Ben Bostrom, on the other hand, had issues in both races, running off in Race 1 and tucking the front end in Race 2. Although able to finish both races (13-15), Bostrom was unable to carry over the encouraging results from his strong finish of the 2011 season at New Jersey (2-5).
Steve Rapp made a notable return to the American SuperBike ranks aboard the Motorcycle-SuperStore.com / LeoVince / M1 Big Kahuna / Attack Performance Kawasaki. The longest team name in the paddock managed a single-digit result, with a respectable 5-6 result at Daytona. Rapp’s success was bettered, however, by Foremost Insurance BMW’s Larry Pegram, who stole position from the AMA veteran in both races thanks to the Daytona draft.
“It’s a Daytona thing,” said Rapp on his hard luck with Pegram. “You got a mile and a half straightaway before the finish line so it gives a lot of chances to pass people. It’s nothing out of the ordinary and basically comes down to strategy and luck.”
Elena Myers celebrated her second career victory with a win in the second Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport race.
Saturday was a big day at Daytona. While the D200 was exciting, and the American SuperBike race a thriller, Elena Myers made history on the high banks. The SuzukiScoopFans-sponsored rider piloted her GSX-R600 to victory in the 10-lap Motorcycle-Supertore.com SuperSport race. After getting the short end of the Daytona draft in Race 1’s eight-rider fight for the lead, Myers came out on top in a four-rider sprint for the Race 2 checkers.
The fastest woman in the AMA paddock, Myers’ accomplishments are often historic, and Daytona was no exception. Danica Patrick made national headlines at DIS the week prior with her NASCAR outing, highlighted by Daytona 500 pole position. However, it is Myers who will go down in history as the first-ever woman to win a professional motorsports race at the historic racing venue.
It’s not Myers’ first AMA Pro road racing win, having claimed the Race 1 SuperSport victory at Infineon in 2010. But Myers noted this Daytona victory is different, describing it post-race as her first “legitimate win.” The Suzuki rider’s Infineon victory occurred because she was leading a red-flagged race, but this time around Myers claimed to the checkers on a final drafting push. Myers was aided by podium finishers Corey Alexander (National Guard Suzuki) and Hayden Gillim (RoadRace Factory Yamaha) rubbing elbows in their side-by-side dash to the line.
While Myers rightly deserves accolades for her Race 2 performance, Celtic Racing Orient Express Suzuki’s James Rispoli leaves Daytona with the points lead. The defending SueprSport champ got the upper hand on Friday’s Race 1, and looked like the rider to beat in Race 2 before fading in the final lap to an eventual fourth-place finish.
The AMA Pro Racing paddock now heads south to Miami for two days of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway March 20-21. Round 2 of the AMA series will be held next month at Road Atlanta, April 20-22.