Round 5: Barber Motorsports Park
Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
BIRMINGHAM, AL, JUNE 12-14, 2015
This season, it appears that the paddock really just can’t catch a break. Two weeks ago, the racers encountered conditions that would make the “Deadliest Catch” crews think twice before going outside, and this past weekend we jumped onto the Devil’s Skillet. What’s next? Another morning snowstorm followed by 90 degrees in the afternoon? That’s happened at Miller before… but let’s not think about that just yet. We have to review Barber Motorsports Park and round five of the MotoAmerica Series.
The quick pace of the season’s schedule means that there is little time for riders and teams to dwell on the previous race. This allows for a more focused approach to the task at hand. For the RoadRace Factory Supersport trio of Tomas “Tomy” Puerta, Ben Young and Cameron Petersen, the focus was solidly on the technical 2.30-mile rolling circuit.
Barber Motorsports Park is a place where a person can easily be distracted by all the art installations, the Vintage Museum (which is loaded with the best collection of vintage two-wheeled eye candy), and fan activities. But this past weekend, all attention was on the Supersport class. This is just about the best racing in the United States, and this trio is right in the thick of the battles. Would we see a repeat of a two-rider podium? Would we see a RoadRace Factory bike leading another race? Would we finally find out who shot J.R.? Only time would tell.
At 9:30 a.m., the time was right for the story to unfold.
The first free practice was a time spent immediately getting to speed. This is the only track that rookie Cam Petersen has previous experience at, so for once there wasn’t so steep a learning curve. The heat was going to be a problem, in that it would create a slippery track surface over the course of the weekend. With the help of Penske Racing Suspension and Dunlop Tires, the Supersport crews got right to business.
Over the first practice session, all three riders were feeling comfortable, and their times placed them solidly in the top 10, with potential for breaking into the top five. By the time the first qualifying session arrived, the heat had increased, and each crew was still searching for the ideal setup.
Cam and his guys were hunting down ideal shock settings as the exit from turn four imparts perhaps the greatest down force of any corner on any circuit we visit. Tomy was circulating well within the top five, and Benny was holding a solid top eight. By the time the session ended, Tomy was in sixth, Cam was in seventh and Ben was in eighth. The crews for each rider would take the data and work through the night and prepare for qualifying session two, which was scheduled for first thing in the morning on Saturday.
Unlike other rounds this season, where the rain or track conditions prevented riders from going faster in the early-morning second qualifying session, Barber Motorsports Park provides ideal conditions in the morning, so times were definitely going to be coming down.
The session was green-flagged, and the RoadRace Factory trio took to their tasks of grabbing the best possible grid positions. Speeds were up and times did fall. Over the course of the 40-minute session, each of the RoadRace Factory riders lowered their times, and when all was concluded, Tomy and Cam had each improved one position, to fifth and sixth, respectively, while Ben had maintained the eighth, even with an improved time.
The grid was set for the first race under a bright and sunny Alabama day. The heat was still climbing in the afternoon and the humidity was also on its way up. Riders on the grid were doing everything possible to keep their core temperatures down, while the crews worked to do the same for the bikes. The horns sounded, the grid was cleared of all but the racers, and it was now time to see who could survive the conditions and bring their bike home first.
When the lights turned off, the riders headed toward the downhill turn one in a massive group. Supersport is one of the largest grids in the series, and when they launch as a group, it’s an impressive sight. All three of the RoadRace Factory riders got off to a good start, and by the third lap, the groups had settled into a single-file line.
Of the three, Tomy was the closest to the leaders, in fifth, with Cam following in seventh and on David Anthony’s rear tire. Benny was right on Cam’s back, in eighth.
As the race worn on, lap by lap, the lead group would pull a gap over Tomy and the rest of the chasing pack. While Cam was battling with Anthony, he couldn’t reel him in to make a pass. When the checkered flag waved, Tomy crossed in a lonely fifth, Cam maintained seventh, and Ben kept his eighth spot.
Race two was set to be another 21-lap affair, but after a mishap during the first Superbike/ SuperStock race, the Sunday afternoon race was shortened to just 18 laps. That was something that perhaps the overheated riders and crews would appreciate. Feeling confident that their crews had found some extra speed over the night, each of the RRF trio lined up for race two with a lot more enthusiasm for the 18 laps that lay ahead.
When the lights went out, it was a nearly identical start, with one exception: Cameron had made a heck of a start and was on the factory Yamaha riders’ tails. Tomy was right there with him, and Ben had improved a few positions as well.
As the race was nearing midway, Cam was running in fifth entering turn five when he was inadvertently run wide and got dropped back to 13th. Tomy was continuing to battle with Anthony for the fifth position, while Ben had a duel with Kyle Wyman all race long.
Cam would ride like a man on fire as he fought his way back to seventh, and his times were close to the leaders’ times. At the line, Tomy crossed in sixth, Cam grabbed seventh, and Ben was nipped by Kyle and finished in ninth.
It was a hard-fought race weekend, and now the team is off to reboot and conduct training at American Supercamp at the team’s Race House in Fort Collins, Colorado. This is a great way to rebuild and reboot after what has already been a long season so far. Up next: Miller Motorsports Park.
“Overall [it] was a good weekend for me and my crew,” Puerta reported. “We learned a lot and try so many things on the bike, and it gave us a little more ideas where to work in the next rounds.
“First race went pretty good, with a smooth [position five] and consistent lap times,” he continued. “For Sunday, we made a couple changes, and the bike was better, but I didn’t get the start I needed, so I had to work my way up and work hard to catch the guys in front of me. I had a really good battle with Anthony and tried to pass him at least three times in the last lap and made a little contact with him in the last right-hander, but I couldn’t make it happen and I finish sixth.
“Logan, Evan and all the RoadRace Factory crew did a great job this weekend, and I can’t wait for Miller!” he concluded. “I want to thank Mick, Danny Walker, RoadRace Factory, Cards for Caring, Addict by Bosi Indeportes Antioquia, and all the sponsors for make this possible for me. Also GeoCrash for all the photos and videos from the race weekends so I can keep all my fans and friends back home updated!”
“A tough weekend,” Young summed up. “I wasn’t struggling from the heat; it was with rear grip – especially in race two. That race was shorter, but it felt way harder than the longer race one. But overall, we made improvements and moved forward and got closer to the front.
“Phil and Tom worked their butts off,” he added, “and the big results will come soon.”
“Barber was a positive weekend for the team and I,” Petersen said, “although the results were not what we wanted, we made a lot of progress, and I’m starting to feel really comfortable on the bike.
“I got off to a bad start in race one,” he recounted, “but I felt like I had a good pace at the beginning of the race. As the tires started to drop, I felt like I could no longer hold the pace and ended up seventh.
“Race two, I had a really good start and was fifth going into turn one,” he continued. “For the first few laps, I was able to run the pace of the guys in front of me until J.D. [Beach] had a moment coming out of turn two and we lost some time. Then, unfortunately, I got bumped off the track in turn five and dropped back to 13th and worked my way back to seventh.
“Overall,” he concluded, “I’m happy with the pace I was able to run and look forward to Miller and working with the team there.”
“We came into this round knowing we had made some positive steps forward with the setup of our bikes,” said team manager Danny Walker. “After freezing our collective rears off at Road America, we kind of welcomed the chance to race under clear skies and [on] a dry track. The heat is always an issue here. It plays havoc on suspension and tires. The track gets pretty greasy at times, so hunting that ideal setup is a session-by-session task.
“Our guys had a good, solid weekend,” he continued. “We didn’t get the results we wanted, but we again saw that we are capable of running up top. We have to find that little extra something that we are lacking to really put us up front and fighting for wins again. I’m confident we’ll be there next round. Tomy is performing well, but he’s had some lonely races lately. It seems after the first few laps we’re losing touch with the lead group, so there’s a mystery to solve there.
“Cam was running great in race two,” he added. “His guys fixed his setup, and it made a big difference. It’s unfortunate that he got bumped, but his climb back from 13th was impressive and it demonstrated his talent and poise.
“Benny had another solid performance. I think this week we have some work to do with his body position, so we’ll be doing some work at the Race House this weekend with American Supercamp.
“Overall,” he concluded, “I’m still really happy with my guys. They’re inching closer to where I know they can be, and I’m confident we’ll be on the podium again soon.”
[For more from the SuperStock portion of this event, please see “RoadRace Factory Race Report from Barber Motorsports Park, Take Two: SuperStock – Double Vision for Gagne in Alabama”… Editor]