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They say you never forget the first time and if that’s the case then a lot of people will remember round eight of the 2017 MotoAmerica Series as it takes place this weekend, August 25-27, for the first-time ever at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex on the outskirts of Pittsburgh in Wampum.
Anticipation for the Pittsburgh round has been high since it was first pencilled in on the 2017 schedule. The reasons are plentiful: If you’re a racer, there’s nothing quite like learning and racing on a new track. For teams, there is the intrigue of the unknown as they work hard to find the “perfect” set up for their motorcycles. And for fans… well for many this will be the first time they’ve experienced MotoAmerica up close and personal. Bring on the memories.
While this week’s arrival in Pittsburgh marks the first National-level road race for the track, Friday’s laps won’t be the first turned by MotoAmerica racers at Pittsburgh International Race Complex. Several of the top teams and riders tested at the track back in May and most of them came away impressed. Yamalube/Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz was the talk of the test when he circulated faster than anyone during the two-day shakedown on his Bazzaz Superstock 1000-spec Yamaha YZF-R1. Naturally, he was a fan of the track.
"I love it," said Scholtz, who hails from South Africa. "It's a really fun track - some faster corners, it's undulating. A lot of guys have been complaining about the safety aspects of it, but we go to circuits that are as dangerous if not worse. I'm very happy there. It's a brilliant circuit and it seems to suit me with the flowing corners and the hard-braking zones."
The main area of contention for the riders after riding at the track for the first time was the final corner. But since the test, both MotoAmerica and the track have been proactive in fixing the issue and riders will face a chicane prior to the final corner that will slow speeds and make the area safer.
Two-time defending MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier ended the test in May as the second quickest rider on day two after leading the first test day. Beaubier, who swept to victory in both of the Motul Superbike races in round seven of the series a little over a week ago, at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, is on a roll and hoping to keep it going on his Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory YZF-R1.
“Racing at a new track is always fun and a big challenge,” said Beaubier. “We tested at Pittsburgh earlier in the season and I really liked it. They’ve done some things to make it safer since we tested there and I’m looking forward to seeing the changes and racing. Our team has some momentum after a successful Sonoma round and our plan is to keep that going.”
Beaubier definitely needs to keep the heat on if there’s any chance of retaining his title for a third straight year. He is currently in second place in the title chase but is a whopping 70 points behind series leader Toni Elias, the Yoshimura Suzuki rider having dominated the season thus far with eight wins and podium finishes in 13 of the 14 races. But with three rounds and six races left, there are 150 points still up for grabs so Beaubier will continue to fight until the end to try his rival.
Elias’ season is one for the ages, the Spaniard having won or finished second in all but one race. And that was the one where he was taken out of the race by another rider at VIRginia International Raceway back in May. Remove that blip off his radar and Elias is as close to perfect as you can get in a series this hotly contested. Elias has amassed 300 points to Beaubier’s 230.
Elias’ teammate Roger Hayden was having a season of consistent podium finishes mixed in with his lone win and was a solid second in the championship. Until he arrived at Sonoma Raceway. There it all went horribly wrong. He was involved in a crash with Josh Herrin on the opening lap of Saturday’s race and on Sunday he crashed by himself. Two races. Zero points. And he now slips to third, 80 points behind his Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Elias.
Four-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes had two third-place finishes behind his teammate Beaubier and Elias in Sonoma, but finds himself out of championship contention for the first time in memory. He’s 144 points behind Elias.
The man who sits fifth in the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship is the aforementioned Scholtz. And that makes him the man in the Bazzaz Superstock 1000 (which race with the Motul Superbike class) as he leads that title chase by 51 points after chalking up his sixth win of the season in race two at Sonoma. He is trailed by M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Jake Lewis, a three-time winner this season, and Quicksilver Latus Motors Kawasaki’s Bobby Fong, who has matched Scholtz with six wins thus far in 2017.
The Supersport class title chase is going to go down to the wire between Monster Energy/Yamalube/Y.E.S./Graves Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff and JD Beach. Gerloff has the hot hand coming into Pittsburgh after winning the last three races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway. He comes to Pittsburgh with a 14-point cushion on Beach. M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Valentin Debise is the other race winner in the series, the Frenchman having won twice in 2017. He sits third in the title chase, but is 90 points behind Gerloff.
Five different riders have won Superstock 600 races this season: Jason Aguilar, Michael Gilbert, Connor Blevins, Nick McFadden and Braeden Ortt. So, it’s not surprising that those five hold down five of the top six spots in the title chase. They are joined there by fifth-placed Shane Richardson, the New Zealander earning five podium spots but not a victory so far this season. Is he next?
Aguilar (with three wins) leads Gilbert (three wins) by 14 points heading into the final three rounds of the series. Blevins is 44 points behind in third. Benjamin Smith and his Quarterly Racing/On Track Development RC390 have a 37-point lead in the KTM RC Cup as the series heads to Pittsburgh for the first time. The rider behind him in the title chase, however, has proven to be a race winner of late with Cory Ventura coming into Pittsburgh International Race Complex with three wins in the last five races. Third-placed Draik Beauchamp also has a win and fourth-placed Jackson Blackmon has three race wins to his credit.