The AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike class makes its much-anticipated return to Road America this weekend. The four-mile Wisconsin circuit is a particularly exciting place to watch the middleweight bikes because its long straights and braking zones make passing and lead changes commonplace. More than just a test of man and machine, the races often develop into a strategic battle leading up to the all-important last lap and run up the hill to the checkered flag. Elkhart Lake is famous for its nail-biting finishes.
Last year, Jake Gagne aboard the No. 32 RoadRace Factory/Red Bull Yamaha YZF-R6 emerged victorious in the second leg of the doubleheader, making the Californian the only racer to defeat series champion Cameron Beaubier all season. Gagne kept the pressure on Beaubier the entire race, then pounced late when Beaubier make a rare mistake.
Gagne finished second in this year’s season opener at Daytona and sits fourth in points with qualifying factoring into the standings. The 20-year-old San Diego native is known for an analytical approach to each track, which can pay dividends in Wisconsin.
Daytona winner Danny Eslick, pilot of the No. 69 Riders Discount Racing Triumph Daytona 675R, is riding high after a fantastic Daytona 200 win in March. Eslick, a two-time AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike Champion, returned to the class in impressive fashion, running up front all race, then motoring away after the final tire stop. Eslick, who previously won championships for Buell and Suzuki, gave Triumph its first Daytona 200 victory since the 1960s. The Oklahoman can tie Josh Herrin for third on the all-time class wins list with a victory in Wisconsin.
Garrett Gerloff is primed for his first AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike win aboard his No. 8 Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha YZF-R6. Gerloff has continued to improve his form after missing most of 2012 with a broken leg. Gerloff’s potential can’t be denied as he nearly earned his maiden AMA Pro victory last year at Miller Motorsports Park and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but was narrowly beaten by Beaubier both times. This could be the weekend for the young Texan.
Gerloff’s teammate, JD Beach, on the No. 6 Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha YZF-R6, earned his first podium of the season with a third place finish at Elkhart Lake last year. Beach’s ten-race streak of top five finishes helped him take fourth in points when the season was said and done. After problems at Daytona in March left him 14th in points, Beach will look to get back to the front at a track where he’s impressed in the past.
Jake Lewis on the No. 85 MotoSport.com/Meen Yamaha YZF-R6 comes to Wisconsin second in points and has a strong history at Road America. He won in spectacular fashion in AMA Pro SuperSport in 2012 and earned his first AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike podium in Race 2 of the doubleheader last season. The teenager from Kentucky is another rider looking for his first class victory, which could come sooner rather than later as Lewis continues to demonstrate a quick learning curve.
Dane Westby aboard the No. 00 Yamalube/Westby Racing Yamaha YZF-R6, may have a new team this year, but he was quick out of the box at Daytona. Westby ran with the leaders in the Daytona 200 until just before the final pit stop, when a crash ended his day. The Oklahoma native’s blend of aggressiveness and experience and makes him a constant on the list of potential race winners.
A pair of Triumph-mounted veterans and former AMA Pro winners are also looking for their chance to shine this weekend.
Bobby Fong on the No. 50 Latus Motors/Castrol/Triumph Racing Daytona 675 is hoping his switch to a new team, Latus Motors Racing, could pay dividends. Fong finished third in last year’s Daytona 200 and earned a podium at New Jersey. Fong won in 2008 at Virginia International Raceway and has eight career podiums in the class.
Former Elkhart Lake polesitter Jason DiSalvo, riding the No. 40 Castrol/Triumph/Sportbike Track Time Triumph Racing Daytona 675, has seen his share of misfortune at Road America in recent years. After winning in Wisconsin as a rookie in 2002, he’s been shut out at Elkhart Lake. As one of the most decorated riders in the class, DiSalvo will no doubt put in a strong effort in a bid to change his luck.
Honda’s hopes in the race rest on Jake Zemke on the No. 98 GEICO Motorcycle Road Racing Honda CBR600RR and Joe Roberts aboard the No. 2 M4 Motorcycle Road Racing Honda CBR600RR. Zemke has a strong history on middleweight Hondas, with 20 wins in AMA Pro middleweight classes. Zemke knows what it takes to get the brand’s bikes to the front. Roberts, after five wins in five starts in last year’s AMA Pro Supersport class, has graduated to AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike after spending the early part of his career racing in Europe.
Blake Young on the No. 79 GN Gonzales Racing Yamaha YZF-R6 has two AMA Pro wins at Elkhart Lake to his credit. His AMA Pro SuperBike victory in 2011 invoked one of the wildest victory celebrations on record and became part of Road America lore. After a season racing MotoGP Wild Card entries, the home-state favorite is attempting to refocus his efforts and return to the podium. Shane Narbonne aboard the No. 56 GN Gonzales Racing Yamaha YZF-R6 joins Young on the Louisiana-based team.
The bevy of young riders looking to make or extend their marks in the class includes; Tomas Puerta on the No. 12 RoadRace Factory/Red Bull Yamaha YZF-R6, Benny Solis aboard the No. 35 Team H35 Yamaha YZF-R6, Kyle Wyman on board the No. 25 Kyle Wyman Racing Yamaha YZF-R6 and Elena Myers, pilot of the No. 21 Castrol/Triumph/Apex Manufacturing Triumph Daytona 675.
Steve Rapp on the No. 15 D&D Cycles/Castrol/Triumph Daytona 675 and Michael Barnes aboard the No. 34 Veloce Racing MV Agusta F3 675 are both veteran riders who have also excelled in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson class. Rapp has previously won the Daytona 200 and excelled for years in AMA Pro competition. But one of the more memorable moments in his career was the first-corner pileup in the 2000 AMA Pro SuperBike race which was captured by late photographer Henny Ray Abrams and featured in Sports Illustrated.
Barnes has also enjoyed a long, successful career, and his battle for the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson championship with Tyler O’Hara in New Orleans in 2012 was one for the ages. Barnes has connected with fans, often in the role of the hard-charging underdog. Over the years, the Floridian has ridden a plethora of machines from the Harley-Davidson XR1200 to the Britten SuperBike. Fans will see Barnes throw a leg over another bike, this time the exotic MV Agusta.
GoPro Daytona SportBike qualifying at the Subway SuperBike Doubleheader will take place Friday and Saturday. Race 1 will go green at 2 p.m. Saturday, followed by Sunday’s second 12-lap race at 2 p.m.
How to Watch
FansChoice.tv will be the official home for live streaming coverage of AMA Pro Road Racing and AMA Pro Flat Track events in 2014.