Round 4: Road America
Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
ELKHART LAKE, WI, MAY 29-31, 2015
This year’s pilgrimage to the scenic Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, proved to be something akin to going to a black-tie ball when suddenly a drunken brawl breaks out, the string quartet is reduced to a banjo and a washboard, someone sets fire to the tablecloths, setting off the sprinklers, and after the police and the fire department leave, you’re still expected to be nicely dressed and finish the dance. You’re tired, cold, soaked and confused, yet you soldier on and get back to the business of dancing… or, racing… wait, what are we talking about here? Oh, yeah: This year’s Road America event was crazy!
It was known that the weather was going to be a factor this year. It always is. Friday morning came and the rain never fully materialized. As the first session was getting under way, the sun was out and it was around 70 degrees. Tomas “Tomy” Puerta, Ben Young and Cameron “Cam” Petersen were excited to get going and finally get a chance to really open up their Yamaha R6s.
Road America is a four-mile, 14-turn track with three flat-out sections that test a rider’s bravery. For Tomy and Ben, this was a return to a track where they have done well in the past. For Cameron, it was to be another learning opportunity. As has been the case so far this season, Cam is quick to learn the tracks, and by the end of the day (one practice session and the first qualifying session), he had placed himself in provisional position four, in conditions that were beginning to deteriorate. Tomy was right behind him in position five, as he struggled a little with setup. Ben ended the day by taking the position-10 spot
Saturday is where it all went dark. The rain came in the middle of the night, and it brought along its friends – “Wind” and “Cold.” It wasn’t the big kind of rain we had at Road Atlanta or Circuit of the Americas. It was an English rain, a steady, heavy mist that, when combined with close-to-freezing temperatures and high wind gusts, made for a very uncomfortable day. But this isn’t tennis. This is motorcycle racing, and in this sport, the riders are warriors who do battle in any conditions. Tomy, Cam and Ben suited up and took to the track for the second qualifying session.
The expectation is that the second session is used to find more speed and increase one’s grid position. On Saturday, there was no chance of anyone going faster than they had on Friday. The key purpose of this session was to find the best “wet” setup and to shake down the bike before the afternoon’s race one.
By the time Saturday afternoon’s race was to be gridded, the temperatures had somehow gotten colder. As Cam, Ben and Tomy tried to find as much warmth as possible, the horns sounded, and the riders needed to take their positions.
Lining up on the grid, the crews draped jackets – or anything available – on their riders to their keep their core temperatures up. Tomy was already visibly shivering, Ben seemed mildly uncomfortable, and Cam must’ve been reconsidering his “great American adventure.” The time came, however, for all that to be put aside and get to the racing. Riders struggled to see the lights go out through fogged visors, but off the pack went and, with adrenaline pumping, they charged toward the fast turn one.
In what would be a contest of patience vs. bravado, patience would win the day. Tomy and Cam were sitting in positions two and three, respectively, in the early stages, as other riders made small but costly mistakes.
Josh Herrin was leading when Cam decided it was time to make a move. Cameron got past Tomy and within a lap had moved around Herrin to lead a race for his first-ever time in the United States.
He was beginning to pull a gap when he lost the rear in the fast turn seven. That left Tomy to battle with Josh and Ben to deal with the recovering J.D. Beach for the remaining podium position.
At the line, it was Josh Herrin over Tomy, with Ben following to close out the first double podium for the team this season. After the race, it was all the guys could do to stop shivering during the trophy presentations.
Race two would be a vastly different experience. The sun was out and the sky was clear. Temperatures were still down, but the riders were bolstered after a successful race one. Track conditions were not going to play a role in this race, and with little dry time, the crews and riders hoped they had the right setups. The riders lined up in their grid positions and waited for the lights to go out.
At the start of the race, it was a close pack. The top 10 would stay close to one another for the first several laps. Tomy was riding well in the top five, battling it out with Bobby Fong and Garrett Gerloff. Cameron was running close behind Tomy, fighting with David Anthony, as they tried to chase down the lead group. Ben was circulating alone in ninth.
When the checkers fell, Tomy crossed the line in a solid fifth position, with Cameron in seventh and Ben still in ninth.
All in all, it was one of the best weekends for the RoadRace Factory Supersport trio. Next, they will focus on Barber Motorsports Park and round five.
“This was a really good weekend for me,” said Puerta. “I felt really competitive in all the sessions, and we were improving the bike every time. I felt good in the wet and was able to be with the front guys and even led the race a couple times. I rode smart and finished on my first podium of the year. I’m really happy to bring this result for the team. They’ve been supporting me a lot over the years, and they deserved this!
“On Sunday,” he continued, “I had big expectations and went out on the warm-up and secured [position one] by trying different things on the bike. When the race started, I was right there with the lead group for three-quarters of the race, and that felt good! We are moving forward and improving every time we go out. Evan and Logan have done an awesome job this season, and we feel better and better the more we work together.
“I want to thank all the RoadRace Factory/ Orion Team for their support: Mick, Danny Walker, Addict by Bosi, Cards for Caring, Indeportes Antioquia, Bell Helmets, Dainese and GeoCrash Photography!”
“We had a big struggle with a dry setup,” Young said, “and I was still way off the pace in race two, but I rode as hard as I could with the bike dancing and managed to still go faster than [my time in the first qualifying session in the dry]. Still stoked on my podium, but we still have lots of work to do in the dry. Getting after it hard at Barber!”
“Road America was a frustrating and disappointing weekend for me,” Petersen said. “After qualifying fourth, I felt confident for the races.
“In race one, I got off to a good start,” he continued. “As the race went on, I made my way to the front and led for a few laps. I was just starting to open up a gap on the guys and then crashed on lap seven, but had to put it behind me and focus on race two.
“I struggled in race two to keep up with the guys and fell back to seventh, and that’s where I ended up. I was extremely upset after the first race, as I felt really good at the front. But I know sooner or later we will be fighting for a podium again and give the crew the results they deserve. Other than that, it was awesome to lead a race in the States for the first time.”
“What more can I say than, ‘Holy Cow!’” said team manager Danny Walker. “You know, we’ve been making strides with our Supersport program. Race one was a bit of a confidence-builder for our guys, as they tasted success, and hopefully that’s a motivator for the remainder of the season.
“I know Tomy was really excited to be back on the box,” Walker continued, “and for Ben, it was an emotional high point, as his whole family was here, watching. Cam led a race! Not only was he leading, he was pulling a gap until his crash. For a guy who’s never ridden in the rain, he’s gotten more than his share of experience this season, and he’s developing into a quite a rider. It looks as if we have a little ways to go, still, in the dry setups, but we’ll get there. The crews are working well with their riders, and like I said, we’re just making positive strides. We know that our guys are capable of results like we had this weekend, and heading into Barber, we are upping our expectations. We’re hoping to see our guys on the box more often.”
[Stay tuned for more from the SuperStock portion of this event to be posted soon on Today’s Cycle Coverage… Editor]