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It's hard to believe it's been seven months since Cameron Beaubier was crowned for a second straight time as the MotoAmerica Superbike Champion when the sun set at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 11, 2016. Seven months later, Beaubier and his rivals are ready to take to the track in anger again with the opening round of the 2017 series set for this coming weekend, April 21-23, at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.
As has been the case for the past two years, MotoAmerica again shares the weekend with the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas, round three of the MotoGP World Championship.
On the eve of the 2017 campaign, the heavy weight of being the odds-on favorite to win the Superbike crown has to fall on the shoulders of two-time defending champion Beaubier and his Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing YZF-R1. Beaubier won eight races last year, the same number that earned him his first MotoAmerica title in 2015, giving him 16 wins in the past two years and 19 career Superbike wins.
Cameron Beaubier: "I'm excited to get the season started, but I know it's probably going to be the toughest one yet. I didn't have much luck at COTA last year and I'd like to change that this year. It's an important race in the series and you always want to get your season off to a good start."
Beaubier knows he's in for a fight. And if he didn't know it prior to the recent Dunlop Preseason Test at Circuit of The Americas, he knew it at the end of those two days when Yoshimura Suzuki's Roger Hayden and Toni Elias held the top two spots on the timesheets on their new GSX-R1000s.
It was Hayden who led the test, putting in a best lap of 2:08.305 - .846 of a second faster than what the Kentuckian turned in to capture pole position for last year's two Superbike races at COTA. The lap was also nearly half a second quicker than Beaubier's best from the 2016 Dunlop test. Elias was second best, just .127 of a second behind his teammate.
After his performance in last year's season opener at COTA, Elias can't be counted out. The diminutive Spaniard won both races in what was his debut in the MotoAmerica Superbike Series and his first outing on the Yoshimura Suzuki. Impressive stuff. He also proved that winning at COTA wasn't a fluke as he ripped off four more race wins for a total of six, a mark that put him a close third in the championship at season's end. The former Moto2 World Champion and MotoGP race winner has made a home in California and is thriving in the MotoAmerica Series.
And when you mention Beaubier, Hayden and Elias, you can't forget the fourth member of the Fab Four, Josh Hayes. When you start the season with four Superbike titles, 60 Superbike wins, 40 Superbike pole positions and 82 total AMA victories, you just don't get forgotten. Let's also remember that in the two Superbike titles that Beaubier has won in 2015 and 2016, Hayes was there to the bitter end and was second in both of those title chases.
Jake Gagne is returning to the Motul Superbike class this year after a trying debut in last year's series. This time things are different, however, as the young Californian comes in armed with a Honda CBR1000RR SP2 with sponsorship from Genuine Broaster Chicken and support from American Honda. His experienced crew remains intact in the RoadRace Factory team.
Bazzaz Superstock 1000 Champion Josh Herrin moves to the Superbike class this season with his Wheels In Motion/Western Services/Meen Yamaha R1. Herrin was dominant in winning eight races in 2016 and we must remember that he does have an AMA Superbike Championship on his resume.
Kyle Wyman will race again in the Motul Superbike class for 2017, the Motivation USA/Lucas Oils/KWR-backed team owner/rider is hoping to improve on his 13th-place finish in last year's Superbike Championship.
Australian David Anthony returns to the Motul Superbike class after a season in the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 Championship. The Fly Racing/Motul/ADR Motorsports team owner/rider will be back on board Kawasaki's ZX-10R for a second season and first in Superbike-spec trim.
Class favorites in the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 class, which runs together with the Motul Superbike class, include TOBC Racing's Danny Eslick, Yamalube/Westby Racing's Mathew Scholtz, Quicksilver Latus Motors Kawasaki's Bobby Fong, Fly Racing/Motul/ADR Motorsports' Cameron Petersen (in his debut in the class after moving up from Supersport), last year's Superstock 600 Champion Bryce Prince, M4 ECSTAR Suzuki's Jake Lewis and Cycle World Suzuki's Hayden Gillim, all of whom are capable of winning races in 2017.
In addition to the two Motul Superbike/Bazzaz Superstock 1000 races that will be held this weekend at COTA, MotoAmerica also runs a lone Supersport race. The favorites in that one include defending class champion Garrett Gerloff and his Monster Energy/Yamalube/Y.E.S./Graves Yamaha's JD Beach, the 2015 MotoAmerica Supersport Champion. You also can't count out Frenchman Valentin Debise, the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki rider winning for the first time last year at Road America en route to finishing third in the title chase.
Gerloff beat Beach by just a tick over a second in last year's season opener at COTA with Debise third. Gerloff ended up beating Beach in the title chase by just four points. Gerloff won six races with Beach taking home eight wins.
Garrett Gerloff: "I love everything about COTA: the challenge the track presents, the electric atmosphere with MotoGP there, and the awesome Texas fans. We had a great test there a couple weeks ago and the 2017 R6 is a dream. I really feel like I mesh with this bike. It's really given me a lot of confidence every time I swing a leg over it. This season is definitely going to be a challenge, but I'm more prepared than ever and I can't wait to start my championship title 'offense' close to home."
The 2017 MotoAmerica season gets rolling once again at. Circuit of The Americas with two of its classes, Motul Superbike and Supersport, taking to the track for their opening rounds. The other classes, the KTM RC Cup and Superstock 600, will begin their seasons next weekend at Road Atlanta in round two of the series.
The top MotoAmerica Superbike and Supersport teams took part in a two-day test at COTA three weeks before the race with the teams adapting their motorcycles to new rules in the Motul Superbike/Superstock 1000 classes. The man who led the way after two days in Texas was Yoshimura Suzuki's Roger Hayden, the Kentuckian lapping at a best of 2:08.305 in the final session.
Roger Hayden's 2:08.305 at the test was .459 of a second faster than Cameron Beaubier's fast time from last year's Dunlop Preseason Test and .846 of a second quicker than Hayden's pole time from the 2016 season opener at COTA. The top men did their fast times using Dunlop's newest generation qualifying tire.
Hayden was aboard the brand-new Suzuki GSX-R1000 and he led his Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Toni Elias, proving that the new bike looks to be a weapon and a challenger to the Yamaha YZF-R1, the bike that has won the first two MotoAmerica Superbike titles. Elias was just .127 of a second slower than Hayden.
The two Yamaha factory men were next with two-time defending MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier third fastest and his teammate Josh Hayes fourth quickest. Beaubier was just a tick over half a second slower than Hayden.
Monster Energy/Yamalube/Y.E.S./Graves Yamaha's Garrett Gerloff was the fastest of the Supersport men, March 28-29, at COTA, the Texan lapping at 2:11.728. That lap was .271 better than his pole time from last year's race.
Toni Elias came into the 2016 MotoAmerica season opener at COTA happy to have a job. He left with two wins under his belt after dominating the two races here a season ago. Elias topped his teammate Roger Hayden in both races on the 3.426-mile Circuit of The Americas and left with the lead in the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship. Elias' debut season in the series didn't disappoint as he ended up winning four more races and finished the season a close third in the title chase.
The Fab Four in the Motul Superbike Class - Beaubier, Hayes, Elias and Hayden - will be joined by a factory supported Honda for the first time as Jake Gagne enters the season on a Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda CBR1000RR SP2. Last year, the Californian ended up 10th in the championship after winning the Superstock 1000 title in 2015.
South African Mathew Scholtz is another from foreign soil hoping to make a name for himself in 2016. Last year, Scholtz joined the Yamalube/Westby Racing team late in the year as a replacement rider for Josh Day and the team liked what they saw. Scholtz is in for the full campaign in 2017.
The fifth foreigner in the Motul Superbike/Superstock 1000 class is Frenchman Sylvain Barrier. Barrier will make his MotoAmerica debut here at COTA in the Motul Superbike class, riding a BMW S1000RR for the Scheibe Racing/Hayes Brake team. Barrier is a two- time FIM Superstock 1000 Cup Champion.