The weather at Road America today reflected the mood of the paddock. The day progressed from the darkness and dreariness of a memorial to the brightness of carrying on how our fallen hero would want us to. A steady rain started and stopped several times during morning practices and qualifying before the memorial activities began for the late Nicky Hayden. The tribute started with Nicky’s younger brother and Yoshimura Suzuki rider Roger Lee doing a lap on a street Suzuki GSX-R1000R with a flag bearing Nicky’s unforgettable “69” logo. Roger ended his ride at the podium, where a large crowd remained silent for 69 seconds in honor of our fallen hero. As Roger made his way around Road America’s four miles of asphalt, the rain began to gradually pick up. By the time Roger made it to the podium, the precipitation had built into a steady shower. But as the long silence drew to a close, the rain suddenly let up. While I do not propose that coincidence is evidence of supernatural intervention, the was an awe, a sense, a spirit about those moments. Whether it was Nicky looking down upon those who he had spent the last twenty years inspiring or simply a psychological phenomenon created by a group consciousness we will never know for sure. But in those moments, one could sense how Nicky’s passion had touched an entire generation of motorcycle racing fans.
As rain ended, the clouds gradually cleared and the Supersport/Superstock 600 field was left with a difficult tire choice. Even though the air temperature was coming up and the track was drying, almost the entire field opted for wet weather tires. One notable exception was Valentin Debise (#53). Debise was sitting fourth in the championship despite his two DNF’s at the previous round at VIRginia International Raceway. The race began as an 11-lap race but was red-flagged on lap 1 due to a crash in turn 5. The race restarted as a 7-lap race, and the still damp conditions pushed Debise wide at turn 1 where he fell back to 24th. At the front, the Y.E.S. Yamalube Graves Yamaha riders Garret Gerloff (#1) and J.D. Beach (#95) took off at the front. Despite the drying line that was forming around the racetrack, Debise was not able to make any real inroads toward the front and finished 14th. In the end, Gerloff was able to stay ahead of teammate Beach for the win, with the factory-supported Honda CBR600RR of Benny Solis (#35) taking his third podium in a row. Several riders were setting their fastest lap times of the race on the last lap despite the wet weather tires getting torn up and greasy.
By the end of the Supersport/Superstock 600 race, the track had mostly dried for the Superbike/Superstock 1000 race. However, there were still a few damp spots, and Josh Hayes (#4) found one of them in spectacular fashion. Hayes was coming up the hill out of Canada corner when he hit a standing water on the track and was violently high-sided off his Monster Energy Graves Yamaha R1. Hayes was okay, but was unable to start the race. The Superbike/Superstock 1000 race featured a close three-way battle between the remaining Monster Energy Graves Yamaha R1 of Cameron Beaubier (#1) and the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000Rs ridden by Roger Lee Hayden (#95) and Toni Elias (#24). On the last lap, Elias was in the lead and Hayden passed Beaubier going into Road America’s best passing zone at turn 5. After that, Beaubier went on a charge. First, he re-passed Hayden in turn 6 to re-take second place, then went hard after Elias. Beaubier’s bike could be seen moving around and sliding a bit on corner exit as he gradually reeled Elias in. In the last corner, Elias reported after the race that he made an error on his throttle application that forced him to go wide. This allowed Beaubier to get passed Elias by the narrowest of margins as the two squared off on a drag race up Road America’s iconic front straight to decide the winner. Despite the grunt from the all-new GSX-R motor, Beaubier was able to hang on by 0.005 seconds to take the victory. Hayden finished in third, and Josh Herrin (#2) brought his privateer Meen Motorsports Yamaha R1 home in fourth. Jake Lewis (#85) onboard a Superstock GSX-R1000R took fifth overall in the race, and first in his class. It was Lewis’ first win of the season. During the post-race press conference Lewis reported his feel for the new bike has been growing over the first few rounds of the championship and he expects his performance to continue to improve as the season goes on.
The last race of the day belonged to the KTM RC390 Cup class. For buckeyes, this was a very special day. Buckeye Gavin Anthony (#176), who still competes in the Ohio Mini Roadracing League took the holeshot from a second row start. He slipped back to third at turn 3 while eventual race winner Benjamin Smith (#118) and Justin Blackmon (#618) took a commanding lead over the rest of the field. Around lap 3 of 7, Blackmon and Alex Dumas (#690) were given ride-through penalties for jumping the start. By the end of the race, Dumas was running behind Anthony and Blackmon pulled in to serve his ride through, handing second place to Anthony. Third place went to Draik Beauchamp (#77). Anthony and Beauchamp secured their places by coming out on top of a seven to eight bike pack that ran together for most of the race. Anthony’s finish was most impressive, considering he went wide at turn five on the penultimate lap, and had to battle back through that pack to secure his first podium of the professional racing career.