50-year-old Jeremy McWilliams leveraged every last bit of his vast racing experience to claim Saturday's AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series race victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The GP race winner led across the stripe to open all but one lap after starting from pole, but that fact masks the contest's actual hard-fought nature. Four and five riders packed tightly at the front, jockeying for position in the draft down the fabled venue's long start/finish straight.
McWilliams found another gear on his Harley-Davidson of Bloomington XR1200 on the race's last lap to successfully counter a late strike from Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson's Ben Carlson.
The Northern Irishman took the white flag with just over a half second in hand, but Wisconsin native Carlson made a desperate bid to chase him down. Feet in the air and bars locked at one point, Carlson made good in his effort, diving past McWilliams at the end of the circuit's back straight.
However, McWilliams calmly settled in and ultimately leveraged the slipstream to claim his second Indy victory at the line by a scant 0.083 seconds.
"You put a bit of pressure on yourself when you start from pole because I suppose you've done all that work and you don't want to give it away on the first lap," McWilliams said. "So I got the hammer down and stupidly thought I could break away. I gave it everything - I tried to maintain the tire a little bit but to be honest, that didn't really work - Benny caught me.
"He taught me a few things when he got through - he was just using his superior height to get the bike back on the big, fat part of the tire and I thought if he keeps doing this, we're going to be in trouble. So I had to keep working hard to get back on him on the last sector, because once the draft's broken, it's gone. I'm lucky Bloomington Harley gave me a bike that can stay in the draft. It's as good as it was last year and it's a pleasure to ride. That's a big weight off my shoulder to get a win here. I just wanted one again because it's such a special place to do it."
Meanwhile, Carlson continues to knock on the door, drawing ever closer to finally securing his first-career AMA Pro Road Racing victory.
"Turn 1 last lap, I almost went down," Carlson said. "I don't know the gentleman on the PETRONAS bike but I thought 'I'm going to push him off line if I have to because I'm not going to let (McWilliams) get away.' I haven't won one yet - so that's why.
"I drafted (McWilliams) down the backstretch up the inside. I knew I was getting a better drive down the front stretch so I thought if I could get five or ten bike lengths, I could beat him. But..."
Third place finisher Kyle Wyman came from seemingly nowhere to claim the final spot on the box. Wyman had been rendered to a relatively lonely fifth as the race took shape, falling more than two seconds back of the fight for first, which included McWilliams, Carlson, defending champ Steve Rapp and PETRONAS-backed Malaysian Ramden Rosli.
However, Wyman was able to better tend to his tires. This allowed him to claw his way back into contention over the contest's final three laps, which positioned him to displace both Rapp and Rosli on the last lap.
"I just showed up a little late to the party," said Wyman. "I didn't really get a bad start, but I was on the third row and got caught up with a couple of guys. By the time I was free, I had lost some ground. I knew we had a little better tire life on our bike with our Nitron shocks, so that was the key for me. I knew if I stayed consistent with fast laps and didn't make any mistakes, the tire life would be in my favor. The last laps, those guys slowed down and I stayed the same. It allowed me to make two passes on the last lap. I would have liked to have seen what I could have done if I had been up there from the get-go."
Rosli, who actually opened the final lap in second place, came up less than a half second short of the podium in what was a most impressive Indy debut for the teenager.
For the second consecutive race, Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson ace Rapp lost out on the last lap, seeing what appeared to be a potential race win turn into a fifth-place finish.
As expected, title rivals Danny Eslick and Tyler O'Hara battled for position, both on track and in the points standings today in Indianapolis. However, unexpectedly, this fight took place well below their usual spots in the order. Eslick ultimately padded his championship advantage by a single point by finishing seventh on Saturday, one position ahead of O'Hara.
Eslick fell 0.002 seconds short of opening up just a bit more space in the title hunt, losing out to Harv's Harley-Davidson's Travis Wyman for sixth at the checkered flag. It was the opposite story for O'Hara, who edged ChiliPepperRacing.com's Hayden Schultz for eighth by 0.028 seconds.
Their combined struggles have opened the door for the surging Carlson, who now sits just 12 points back of first.
Thrashed Bike Racing's David Estok completed the race's top ten.
The AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series contenders are set for a Sunday rematch, with the weekend's second 10-lap contest scheduled to get underway at 3:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. PT) tomorrow afternoon.
Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series Race 1 top 10 finishers
1. Jeremy McWilliams
2. Ben Carlson
3. Kyle Wyman
4. Ramden Rosli
5. Steve Rapp
6. Travis Wyman
7. Danny Eslick
8. Tyler O'Hara
9. Hayden Schultz
10. David Estok
Reigning champ Steve Rapp emerged from a five-way drafting war to claim Sunday's AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series checkered flag at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.
The victory was not only hard-earned, it was long-awaited for the Californian, who had been the victim of the slipstream down the long start/finish line straight of the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway on more occasions than he'd prefer to remember.
Rapp turned that history on its head Sunday, however, storming past his Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson teammate, Ben Carlson, and Ruthless Racing's Danny Eslick to lunge ahead for the win by a margin of 0.011 seconds.
Saturday winner Jeremy McWilliams suffered the fate usually reserved for Rapp, as he was shuffled from the lead down to fifth in the race's decisive final laps. The ex-GP hero finished a few bike lengths behind fourth place finisher Kyle Wyman on the KWR/Millennium Technologies XR1200 and less than a half-second off the win.
The ten-lap contest was split into two parts. A red flag stopped the race at mid-distance, setting up a five-lap sprint for victory. At the restart, the top five riders quickly broke free from the remainder of the field and resumed their dogfight for victory.
Rapp led across the stripe to take the white flag but Eslick overhauled both the defending champ and Saturday's winner McWilliams entering Turn 1. Carlson found himself in fifth on the final lap but diced ahead of all four of his foes. The lanky Wisconsin resident charged out of the final corner with the lead, just as he had on Saturday. However, that strategy backfired for a second time, as he proved to be a sitting duck for Eslick, who was in turn sniped by Rapp.
The win was Rapp's first-ever victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"I had a lot of years to practice where not to be," Rapp said. "I could tell going down the back Danny sat up but I didn't want anything to do with it either so I sat up. Ben went by and I was like, 'cool, that works.' We got back in line and I wasn't sure if I was going to pass them but it worked out pretty good. They got next to each other and built a little draft there. It went great.
"To win at Indy finally - I wanted to check that off my list. I'm running out of time and I finally got it, so that's cool."
While Eslick wasn't able to take the win, he did take a significant step toward becoming the first-ever two-time AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson champion. His closest title challenger entering the race, Josh Chisum Racing/Bartel's Tyler O'Hara, crashed out of contention on the race's third lap. As a result, O'Hara is no longer in championship contention and Carlson remains the only other man still alive, 16 points back of Eslick (159-143) heading into the season finale.
"There was lots of crazy stuff on the first start," Eslick said. "McWilliams missed a shift and I had to swerve to go around the outside of him. I had a couple-of-hundred-yard tank slapper, which is an eye-opener when you're in the lead of the championship.
"I tried to calm down and settle in and then we had the red flag. Everyone had their strong sections of the track and we had to figure out where we wanted to be for the run to the finish line. I was on the lead on the back straightaway and I wanted no part of the lead through the last section of turns and onto the front straight. I sat up and pulled off to the side and let Benny go by. I tucked back in line and thought I had enough. I got by Benny but Steve came by and caught the draft perfect. It was a great race and these guys rode awesome."
For Carlson, it was the same old story - close but no cigar - as that first-career AMA Pro Road Racing victory continues to prove frustratingly elusive.
"It was the second day coming on the front stretch in first and it ended up working out not so well," Carlson said. "Nonetheless, being on the podium two days in a row is an ultimate result and we moved up in the championship; it doesn't get much better than that. I just wished we would have knocked down Danny or something. But hey, it was great."
ChiliPepperRacing.com's Hayden Schultz narrowly beat Aerostar Global Suburban Motors' Nick Hansen for sixth. Meanwhile, Thrashed Bike Racing's David Estok finished eighth while Josh Chisum Racing/Bartel's Josh Chisum edged Bell Helmets/Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson's Brice Cooper to the flag by 0.068 seconds in their clash for ninth and tenth.
Saturday front-runner Ramden Rosli crashed out of the race during its opening half while Folsom Harley-Davidson's Gage McAllister Indy weekend disappointment continued as he was struck down by mechanical woes on Sunday.
Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series Race 2 results (top 10)
1. Steve Rapp
2. Danny Eslick
3. Benny Carlson
4. Kyle Wyman
5. Jeremy McWilliams
6. Hayden Shultz
7. Nick Hansen
8. David Estok
9. Josh Chisum
10. Brice Cooper