AUSTIN, TX, APR. 8 – The smiles at the Yoshimura Suzuki pit were plentiful on a sunny Friday afternoon at Circuit of The Americas with Roger Hayden leading home his temporary teammate Toni Elias in a one-two Suzuki punch during Superpole for the opening round of the 2016 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Racing Championship. Broaster Chicken/Roadrace Factory’s Jake Gagne will complete the front row of the grid for this weekend’s two races on his Yamaha YZF-R1.
Hayden was impressive at the end of the session, the Kentuckian pushing his Dunlop Qualifying-clad GSX-R1000 to a 2:09.151 to earn the fourth pole position of his Superbike career. The 2:09.151 was a new Superbike lap record at COTA, eclipsing the mark of 2:09.653 set by 2015 MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier in qualifying for last year’s race.
“I didn’t feel like it was that fast really,” Hayden said. “Because the qualifier had so much grip. I got towards the back of the track and thought, ‘man, I hope that was faster than the race tire.’ And then I saw 2:09.1. I thought that was pretty good, but I didn’t really know if that would get pole or not because at the test one person went a little quicker. It’s important to get pole to get a good start. It shows good progress and how hard the whole Yoshimura Suzuki team has worked this off season to have two guys first and second in qualifying. I don’t know when the last time that has happened, but it’s been awhile.There goes full credit to the team.”
Hayden feels it’s important to start strong in 2016 and this is the start he was hoping for.
“I want to start the season out strong,” Hayden said. “I don’t want to wait until Laguna Seca and find my rhythm and be up here. So I’ve really been focusing hard on trying to start strong every practice, every session, testing and everything. I feel good. I know the race is going to be tough, these two guys are solid and you’ve got Josh (Hayes) and Cam (Beaubier) – they are going to be there. It’s going to be a long race, and I think it’s going to be a good one. I think it’s going to be a dogfight so I’m pretty excited for it.”
Hayden ended up just .272 of a second ahead of Elias, the former Moto2 World Champion and MotoGP race winner fitting in nicely in his role of replacement rider for the injured Jake Lewis.
“I’m really happy,” Elias said. “After the two crashes at the last test it’s been a little bit difficult for me to come back to make the same pace, to do the same quick lap time. But finally we did, we work well with the team. I found a good situation – great team, great bike, great feeling with the mechanics, with the (crew) chief. It has been a nice situation for me. I’m really happy. I think this is a very important opportunity for my future. I’m confident. We will see what happens tomorrow.”
Gagne was next and top Yamaha, the Californian .309 of a second behind Hayden in third.
“It feels good to be up here for the first race of the year, to be up here with Rog (Roger Hayden) and Toni (Elias) – these guys are no joke,” Gagne said. “And (Cameron) Beaubier and Josh (Hayes) too. I know that they had some problems, but to be ahead of those guys is cool for once. I had a good time out there. That qualifying session with those qualifiers makes it interesting. It’s going to make for a cool year, I think. All these Superpoles are going to be a good show.”
Only then came the factory Yamahas with Beaubier fourth and his teammate Josh Hayes fifth, the pair the final two in the 2:09s with their 2:09.683 and 2:09.962, respectively. The result, especially for Beaubier, was a surprise as the Monster Energy/Graves Yamaha rider had ripped off a 2:08.764 during testing at COTA a few weeks ago.
Bobby Fong rode the new Latus Motors Racing Kawasaki ZX10-R to the final spot on row two, the Californian leading the rest of the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 riders.
Row three for tomorrow’s first of two MotoAmerica Superbike races will be led by Yamalube/Westby Racing’s Josh Day. He’ll be joined there by Wheels In Motion/Motorsport.com/Meen Motorsport’s Josh Herrin and Cycle World Suzuki’s Hayden Gillim. Scheibe Racing’s Steve Rapp, Millennium Technologies/KWR Racing’s Kyle Wyman and Latus Motors Racing Kawasaki’s David Anthony completed the top 12 from Superpole.
Yamaha Extended Warranties/Graves Motorsports Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff picked up where he left off at the recent COTA test by earning pole position for Saturday’s Supersport race. Gerloff, in his home race, lapped at 2:11.999 to lead his teammate JD Beach by .896 of a second. Frenchman Valentin Debise rebounded from a crash in qualifying to put his M4 SportbikeTechGear.com Suzuki GSX-R600 for what will be his MotoAmerica debut.
Debise’s teammate Cameron Petersen will lead row two over Wheels In Motion/Motosport.com/Meen Motorsports’ Joe Roberts and Team H35’s Benny Solis on the Honda CBR600RR.
Superbike Qualifying: 1. Roger Hayden (Suzuki) 2:09.151; 2. Toni Elias (Suzuki) 2:09.423; 3. Jake Gagne (Yamaha) 2:09.460; 4. Cameron Beaubier (Yamaha) 2:09.683; 5. Josh Hayes (Yamaha) 2:09.962; 6. Bobby Fong (Kawasaki) 2:10.345; 7. Josh Day (Yamaha) 2:10.637; 8. Josh Herrin (Yamaha) 2:10.909; 9. Hayden Gillim (Suzuki) 2:10.931; 10. Steve Rapp (BMW) 2:12.818.
Supersport Qualifying: 1. Garrett Gerloff (Yamaha) 2:11.999; 2. JD Beach (Yamaha) 2:12.895; 3. Valentin Debise (Suzuki) 2:13.582; 4. Cameron Petersen (Suzuki) 2:14.277; 5. Joe Roberts (Yamaha) 2:14.302; 6. Benny Solis (Honda) 2:14.316; 7. Travis Wyman (Yamaha) 2:15.121; 8. Xavier Zayat (Suzuki) 2:15.400; 9. Dakota Mamola (Yamaha) 2:15.845; 10. Jay Newton (Yamaha) 2:19.619.