Eazi Grip

MotoAmerica heads to Laguna Seca this weekend

If the MotoAmerica Steel Commander Superbike Championship were a three-course meal, we’d be licking our chops and getting set to dive into the steak and potatoes. Already consumed are the appetizers (Road Atlanta and Barber) and the salad (Brainerd and Ridge). Now you just hope you didn’t overeat because the big plate is in the kitchen (Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio) and it’s likely to determine who will still be at the table for dessert (COTA and New Jersey).

And it’s oh so close. In fact, it’s never been closer as what we’re currently experiencing has never happened in the history of AMA Superbike racing – four riders vying for the title after 11 races and separated by just nine points. Nine points. Four riders.

And one of the most popular rounds on the calendar awaits as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca beckons with two Steel Commander Superbike races and 50 points awaiting anyone who can do the double.

Wrench Motorcycles’ Bobby Fong sits atop the 2024 Steel Commander Superbike Championship point standings with 158 points as the series heads to the iconic circuit on the Monterey Peninsula. That’s one better than three-time and defending MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Jake Gagne (157 points), seven better than Gagne’s Attack Performance/Progressive/Yamaha Racing teammate Cameron Petersen (151 points) and nine more than Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati’s Josh Herrin (149 points).

And all four of the riders at the top have proven to be capable of winning championships. In addition to his three MotoAmerica Superbike titles, Gagne also has a 2014 AMA Daytona Sportbike title and a 2015 MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 Championship; Fong has the 2019 MotoAmerica Supersport title on his resume; Petersen won the MotoAmerica Stock 1000 Championship in 2020; and Herrin won an AMA Superbike Championship in 2013 and a MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 title in 2015.

But back to this year. Fong arrives at this point in the season after winning two races with four additional podiums. He also has just one DNF and that came in race one at Ridge Motorsports Park when he, like several others, opted for slicks when he should have chosen rain tires. Rain has been Fong’s bugaboo, but he likely won’t face that at “the dry lake” in July. There’s also the fact that despite it being his “home” round, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca isn’t at the top of Fong’s list of favorites.

After getting hit with arm-pump issues that first reared its ugly head at Barber Motorsports Park, Gagne is the exact opposite of Fong when it comes to rain. He relishes the possibility as a wet racetrack takes a lot of the pressure of his arms and his best results this season have come in the rain. Case in point, Gagne’s only victory in 2024 came in the wet in race two at Road Atlanta in April. And his three podiums since then have all been in the wet. Still, Gagne has hung in there during what is a frustrating time with results like fifths, sevenths, eighths, and ninths somehow keeping him in contention.

It remains to be seen if Gagne’s physical condition will allow him to run at the front at Laguna or not, but there are plans to try something else with the arm issue during the one-month break between rounds six and seven (Mid-Ohio).

Gagne’s teammate Petersen is having his best season of Superbike racing to date with his three victories and four additional podiums putting him seven points out of the championship points lead. Petersen had a big crash in the first of two races at WeatherTech Raceway last year, but these things don’t seem to slow the South African.

Herrin heads to WeatherTech Raceway nine points adrift of Fong and with two race wins and three other podium finishes. He has clawed his way back into championship contention after a crash in race two at Road America marred his points tally. Although he recently won race two at Ridge Motorsports Park, Herrin was another who chose the wrong tires for race one, though he was able to soldier through to finish 11th.

Herrin is a fan of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (he even wrapped up his lone AMA Superbike title there in 2013) and the Ducati Panigale V4 has proven to work well there.

Okay, four riders, nine points. So that’s about it, right? Well…

… Maybe not.

Herrin’s teammate Loris Baz is fifth heading into the Laguna round, 36 points behind Fong, in his return season of MotoAmerica Superbike racing. Baz loves WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and in his last visit in 2021 he finished a fighting second to Gagne in both races.

TopPro Racing’s Sean Dylan Kelly, in his rookie season of MotoAmerica Superbike racing, is sixth, 51 points off the lead. Those two are longshots, but it’s never over in a season full of parity like this one where a bad day for even the cream of the crop can end up being an eighth-place finish.

The racer who is seventh in the championship and 55 points behind Fong may be the one who instills the most fear in the six riders ahead of him. That rider is five-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier.

Beaubier crashed out of race one at Road America at the end of May, suffered a broken right heel, and consequently missed the next three races. In his comeback race at Ridge Motorsports Park following surgery, Beaubier failed to score a point in the first race after opting for slicks instead of rain tires, then followed that up with a conservative eighth-place finish.

If Beaubier’s health/fitness has improved over the past two weeks, he could be a factor going forward. Especially so at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca where he has won nine AMA Superbike races – more races than any other rider in AMA Superbike history. We must also remember that Beaubier won three of the first five MotoAmerica races this year before his season unraveled with the Road America crash.

Beaubier’s teammate JD Beach will be hoping to give his season another kickstart as he is coming off a less-than-stellar weekend at Ridge Motorsports Park. Beach is eighth in the championship with his lone podium coming in race two at Road America.

Vision Wheel M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Brandon Paasch is ninth in the title chase, 12 points behind Beach and 14 ahead of 10th-ranked Hayden Gillim and his Stock 1000-spec Real Steel Motorsports Honda CBR1000RR-R SP.

Pre-Race Laguna Seca Notes…

Cameron Beaubier won two of the three Superbike races last year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with Jake Gagne winning the other. Gagne won race one with Josh Herrin second and PJ Jacobsen third. Beaubier topped Gagne and Herrin in race two before beating Herrin and Gagne in race two. Last year, Gagne left Monterey with a 34-point lead in the Superbike title chase.

In addition to winning two races, Beaubier also claimed pole position with his 1:22.959 lap of the 2.238-mile racetrack. The fastest race lap a year ago was also set by Beaubier with his 1:23.308 on the second lap.

The MotoAmerica Superbike lap record at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is still held by Josh Herrin with his 1:22.908 dating back to Superpole in 2018. The race lap record, meanwhile, is held by Beaubier with his 1:23.185 coming in race three in 2020.

Cameron Beaubier is the all-time AMA Superbike race winner at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with the five-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion carding nine wins at the track in the hills east of Monterey. The second most wins among active racers is five, a mark held by Jake Gagne.

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca has a long history of hosting AMA Superbike races with the first-ever Superbike race at the track on the Monterey Peninsula taking place in 1976 and won by Reg Pridmore.

With his most recent win at Ridge Motorsports Park two weeks ago, Josh Herrin moved out of a tie with Anthony Gobert for 19th on the all-time AMA Superbike win list and into a tie with Doug Chandler for 17th. Chandler and Herrin have 12 AMA Superbike wins to their credit.

The fourth annual “Rainey’s Ride To The Races” will take place on Friday, July 12 with several legends of the sport scheduled to take part in the ride and then stay for the races. The legends include Eddie Lawson, Bubba Shobert, Rick Johnson, Scott Parker, Doug Chandler, Thomas Stevens, Miguel Duhamel, Ben Spies and John Kocinski.

Posted on Thursday, July 11th, 2024 in News

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