It was a battle to the finish at the final round of this year's AMA Superbike
Championship. The two-day Corona AMA Superbike challenge rewarded fans with cool sunny weather, and hot racing action.
"We came into 2007 looking to win two championships - Superstock and Superbike - and I told myself I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than that. We got the Superstock title in Atlanta and now we won the Superbike Championship. I'd like to thank Yoshimura Suzuki and my crew for working hard all year and for giving me a great bike to race in the GSX-R1000. With this win, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. At the beginning of the race, I thought about the fact that we only had 45 minutes left in the season. I knew it was time to get it done."
Going into this weekend's final round, only three points separated point's leader Mat Mladin
from reigning champ and teammate Yoshimura Suzuki's Ben Spies. With this weekends round only being a two day event, Spies wasted no time when he hit the track on Saturday. He qualified on pole with a new lap record of 1:23.105, pushing Mladin back to second position on Row 1 and racking up an additional point to bring the gap between them down to just two scant points. Honda's Jake Zemke
, who is currently unsigned for next year was looking for a good finish to end a frustrating season and locked in on the third spot.
When the green flag dropped on Sunday's 28-lap grand finale it was Mladin who rocketed to the front of the field with Honda's Jake Zemke and teammate Spies in tow. Monster Energy Kawasaki's Roger Lee Hayden's race ended almost as soon as it started when the ZX-10R pilot took a tumble in Turn 3.
Meanwhile Spies quickly found his away past Zemke and began going to work against his one and only true competition this year. Mladin wasn't giving the Texan any ground though and put together a string of 1:24 flat lap times. Monster Energy Kawasaki's early Superbike race misfortune would be duplicated by Jamie Hacking when he fell while chasing Zemke, moving Jordan Suzuki's Aaron Yates into fourth position with Yamaha's Eric Bostrom
and MV August's Matt Lynn closely behind.
Spies looked good going into Turn 2 - backing in his GSX-R1000. Mladin on the other hand had the flat and slow first gear Turn 11 dialed - the six-time champ consistently getting a fantastic drive out of the corner and onto the short straight away. By lap 13, the Yoshimura Suzuki duo had already started to mix with lapped traffic, both getting by the first lappers cleanly without any drama.
Three laps later though, it would be another lapped rider who got in the way of Mladin while the two were entering the Corkscrew. Spies saw the opportunity and jumped on it passing Mladin for the lead. Spies continued to push hard, setting his fastest lap on his 18th go around the 2.2-mile long circuit. Mladin looked to be riding hard but had nothing left to offer the 23-year-old Texan and ended up crossing the checkered flag just over two seconds behind repeat Superbike champ Spies.
"We came up a point short in the end and that's the way it goes," commented Mladin. "I'm happy, honestly. It was a great season and I thank Ben for helping me become the racer that I am. I had to pick up my pace and pick up my game to get up to his level and it's been a really good year. I'm looking forward to the off season - go home and start working and do a few things different and see if we can't come back for another shot at it next year."
Spies, who broke Mladin's six-race win streak, looked exhausted after Sunday's finale.
"It was one of those deals, coming into here I was trying not to deal with all the pressure and just get going with it," commented the now two-time AMA Superbike champ. "The race went just liked I hoped it would. Once the pass happened, when I got in front I knew I had some strong sections and he had some strong sections too. I just thought if I could string together some laps it'd be pretty good at the end and we did. We came out on top and we did our job this weekend."
Yates rounded out the all-Suzuki podium, besting Zemke by less than a second at the finish line. Despite losing to Yates, Zemke retained his third place overall in the championship points standing.
"We kept them (Spies & Mladin) in sight for ten laps at least," explained Zemke after what was likely his last ride for American Honda. "You know, I was actually surprised. I thought their pace was going to be a bit quicker in the beginning like they normally do. It didn't seem like they were going flat out from the beginning. It seemed like they were playing cat and mouse with each other and just kind of hanging out to see who was going to do what, I think. Aaron (Yates) just seemed to have a couple tenths a lap on me. I could see him coming, see him coming. Then he made a mistake. Then we got into lappers and he caught back up pretty quickly. There, the last three, four laps, when he got by me, we got into a couple of lappers and I just kind of got out of rhythm and I ran a couple slow laps there in a row and the last lap I picked it back up, but it was too late. He was going good. He did a good job, but my guys did a great job this weekend. We had a good bike all weekend."
Laguna Seca Superbike Results:
"While I was chasing them, I was really happy with my bike. The crew did a great job. I think that's probably where we would have been or should have been back in July (at the USGP) when we were here."
1. Ben Spies (Suzuki)
2. Matthew Mladin (Suzuki)
3. Aaron Yates (Suzuki)
4. Jake Zemke (Honda)
5. Eric Bostrom (Yamaha)
6. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki)
7. Jason Disalvo (Yamaha)
8. James Ellison (Honda)
9. Jake Holden (Suzuki)
10. Matt Lynn (MV Agusta)
Sunday's 17-lap Pro Honda Oils Supersport race had more drama than a Day's of our Lives episode. It all started when Erion Racing Honda's Josh Hayes suffered a vicious high side in Saturday's Formula Xtreme practice, breaking both feet in the process. Hayes hung tough for Supersport qualifying, though, and managed to nab pole position for the championship-deciding race. This gave the Mississippi-native another precious point allowing him to close within ten points of Monster Energy Kawasaki's Roger Hayden who would go on to qualify on Row 2. Teammate and fellow championship rival Jamie Hacking would start next to Hayes on the front row with Graves Yamaha young buck Josh Herrin and M4 Emgo Suzuki's Geoff May rounding out the front row. Fellow moto-journalists Steve Atlas of Cycle News riding a Corona Honda CBR600RR and Cycle World minion turned Erion Honda rider Mark Cernicky also qualified 25th and 26th respectively.
When the second race of the day got underway it was Hayes who got the holeshot followed by Herrin, Hacking, May, and RL. Herrin got around Hayes by lap two and tried to make a break from the 600cc freight train. Hacking got a good run up on Hayes and went by him going up the hill after Turn 5. Hayes retaliated almost immediately passing the Monster Kawasaki rider in the ultra-slow Turn 11. The two hard-charging riders would continue to swap back a fourth for second position.
On lap six Hacking and Herrin collided, damaging the front brake lever of Herrin's YZF-R6. Herrin quickly slowed and was seemingly out of contention for his first AMA Supersport race win.
The following lap Hayes was looking to overtake Hacking for the lead in Turn 5. Hayes dove in from the outside and highsided mid-corner, sending the already injured Honda rider into the gravel - again. Race officials quickly red-flagged the race and ordered a restart from the last lap's running order.
On the restart it was Herrin who again snatched the holeshot on his repaired Yamaha. Points leader Hayden, M4 Emgo Suzuki's Martin Cardenas, and Hacking all right behind the young Yamaha pilot.
Mayhem would continue to plague the Supersport race when Cardenas dive bombed into the corkscrew and ended up stuffing Hayden and Attack Kawasaki's Steve Rapp. Geoff May and Topline Printing's Chris Peris winded up crashing in the aftermath. The carnage worked out well for Hacking though. The Kawasaki rider moved from seventh up to second but was unable to run down Herrin who claimed his first ever AMA Supersport win.
"When Jamie made that pass on me, it hit my brake lever and bent it forward. It was really scary actually because I thought I was going to go down," explained Herrin. "I ended up getting lucky with the red flag. If it wasn't for that, we would have been in trouble."
Hacking finished over a second behind, followed by Cardenas, Attack Kawasaki's Ben Attard, and Rodger Hayden. Hayden's fifth-place finish secured him his first ever Pro Honda Oils Supersport championship.
I don't think it's sunk in yet," commented Hayden. "I'm so excited. I didn't know what to do. Kawasaki took a chance with me when no one else would. My hat's off to those guys."
Within the moto-journalists ranks, Cycle News / Corona Honda's Steve Atlas finished 17th, besting Cycle World's / Erion Honda's Mark Cernicky by eleven seconds at the line.
Laguna Seca Supersport Results:
1. Josh Herrin (Yamaha)
2. Jamie Hacking (Kawasaki)
3. Martin Cardenas (Suzuki)
4. Ben Attard (Kawasaki)
5. Roger Hayden (Kawasaki)
6. Blake Young (Suzuki)
7. Aaron Gobert (Honda)
8. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki)
9. Garrett Carter (Yamaha)
10. Steve Rapp (Kawasaki)
With this year's Superstock champion Yoshimura Suzuki's Ben Spies sitting out of Sunday's Superstock race in order to focus on Superbike; the 27-rider field was going to have one less usual suspect to fight against for the win.
At the start Yamaha's Ben Bostrom came into turn two first, followed closely by pole winner Jordan Suzuki's Jake Holden, Aaron Yates, M4 Emgo Suzuki's Geoff May, and Australian Superbike star Jamie Stauffer. Bostrom's lead was short lived when Holden made a pass on the inside going down into the corkscrew. Holden put his head down and began to put a gap between himself and teammate Yates, who was now in second position.
Disaster struck on lap thirteen when Holden crashed in oil from another incident which then brought out the red flag. The 17-lap race was eventually called and Holden scored his first career AMA Superstock win with teammate Yates and Ben Bostrom completing the 1000cc Superstock podium.
"It felt good to lead some laps and to get the win," explained Holden. "I'm really happy for my Jordan Suzuki crew because they've worked hard for me over the last several years and we've just been pressing forward. It's good to finally get the first one under my belt. But I'm not glad that they called the race because I would like to have won it on the Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000 with full laps. But it's still nice to get the win at the end of the season. Hopefully, we'll get more wins next year."
*AMA officials have taken both the MJM Suzuki's to Ohio for further technical inspection. There is rumor circulating that the riders might be disqualified if their machines are found to have illegal modifications.
Laguna Seca Superstock Results:
1. Jake Holden (Suzuki)
2. Aaron Yates (Suzuki)
3. Ben Bostrom (Yamaha)
4. Jamie Stauffer (Yamaha)
5. Geoff May (Suzuki)
6. Blake Young (Suzuki)
7. Ben Thompson (Suzuki)
8. Danny Eslick (Suzuki)
9. Chris Ulrich (Suzuki)
10. Robertino Pietri (Suzuki)
With Erion Honda's Josh Hayes already taking home this years FX title and opting out of the final race in order to focus on 600cc Supersport, it was going to be an open invitation for the series other competitors to try and score a win in the class that has been dominated by Hayes.
Leo Vince Ducati's Larry Pegram motored off the line and was followed by Erion Honda's Aaron Gobert and the Attack Kawasaki's of Ben Attard and Steve Rapp. Gobert eventually worked his way past the Ducati rider and went on to win the race by a margin of over three seconds.
Rapp picked up the third and final podium position, thereby securing him second overall in the series points standings. Teammate and early front runner Attard had an unfortunate mishap. The Kawasaki rider had a shot at the podium but ran wide in turn two and crashed in the gravel. The Kawasaki rider picked up his machine and went on to finish tenth.
Laguna Seca Formula Xtreme Results:
1. Aaron Gobert (Honda)
2. Larry Pegram (Ducati)
3. Steve Rapp (Kawasaki)
4. Martin Cardenas (Suzuki)
5. Chris Peris (Yamaha)
6. Chaz Davies (Yamaha)
7. Ryan Andrews (Honda)
8. Cory West (Yamaha)
9. Ryan Elleby (Honda)
10. Ben Attard (Kawasaki)