Monster Energy Graves Yamaha’s Josh Hayes won his second AMA Superbike title by playing to his strengths and minimizing his mistakes. Hayes was consistently strong, he didn’t crash during the races, and he was faster in qualifying than anyone had been since Mat Mladin. He won every pole position but one, and scored a host of points by leading the most laps, even in races he didn’t win. Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Blake Young won seven races to three for Hayes, but the AMA points structure is such that Hayes was able to deliver Yamaha its second Superbike title in a row; the final points were 363 to 358. Under the FIM points system, Young would have won 264 to 261.
The 2012 season is again shaping up as a fight between Hayes and Young. Tommy Hayden, who won three races and finished the season third on the Rockstar Makita Suzuki, became the latest victim of the continued downturn in the motorcycle business. Hayden was let go by the team, replaced by Chris Clark, whose father is paying for the ride. Hayden was the only other rider to consistently challenge the lead duo. A disastrous weekend at Barber Motorsports Park — a bad first race on a wet/dry track and a blown engine in the second race — ended Hayden’s title hopes.
We caught up with Hayes and Young a month after the season ended and asked them to reflect on their 2011 seasons and what to expect in 2012.
On the importance of earning every championship point available:
This was where the 2011 AMA...
This was where the 2011 AMA Superbike season was set up at New Jersey. While Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom and Hayes fought over the win, Hayden brothers Tommy (22) on the Rockstar Makita Suzuki and Roger Lee (54) on the National Guard Suzuki forced Young back to fifth at the finish.
“Blake upped his game, but we were still able to go fast a lot of the time and that put us in a position to lead a lot of laps during the races and get pole at all but one event, which played a pretty key role in our championship.”
Blake Young: “I think when I first started out I didn’t really concern myself with [points for qualifying on pole and laps led]. I was more interested in just putting in a really full season and give the team a decent effort towards the championship. And I guess I obviously didn’t think that the extra points were important enough. But I obviously learned now. I thought just going out there and winning the races would get the job done. I knew they were important and the team stressed to me the importance of them. I just thought, at the end of the day all I want to really do is go out there and win races. Sometimes some of the races I won this year, I felt if I was out pushing out front using up my tires to lead the laps, I thought I wasn’t going to be there at the end. I think maybe next year’s going to be a lot different qualifying strategy for me.”
On continuously developing the race bike during the year:
Tommy Hayden (22) was ready...
Tommy Hayden (22) was ready to pick up the pieces should Hayes or Young falter, but his season came undone with a blown engine and poor result at the penultimate round at Barber.
“The team improved the bike over the course of the season after Daytona. They really went to the drawing board. We improved acceleration, we improved things like figuring out how to get me a little bit tighter in the bike for aerodynamics and things like that. Took a lot of weight off of the machine to try to get us closer to their acceleration and it was key. Unfortunately I think that their bikes got a little bit faster just like ours did. But if we hadn’t done that, we’d have been dead meat really early in the season. We worked on improving those things when we had that pretty big gap [in the season] up to Infineon. It seemed like we were pretty close to them, Road America we were pretty close. And then it seemed like when we got to some of the smaller tracks where we really thought we would do better, they kinda crept away from us a little bit again and got a little bit more on the acceleration side. It made life hard for us. It may or may not be evidenced by Tommy (Hayden) having a failure at Barber. But I think that Blake had a little bit of a trump card that allowed him to race me well and I had to be real creative on how I figured out how to make passes. So it’s something we’re going to have to definitely work on improving for next year.”
BY: “I think at the beginning of the year I think the guys really, really worked hard in the off-season to get the thing as good as it was. And I think maybe through the middle of the year maybe we just didn’t find as much as we had at the beginning. [The Yoshimura team] obviously wanted to get the championship. I mean they’re always going back to the shop and figuring out more stuff; ‘What we can do to be better and make the bike better?’ I know we worked on our aerodynamics and improved the bike there. I can say I think his bike does a few things that ours doesn’t do. I think there’s a few tracks, like Infineon, for instance, the power delivery of his motorcycle might just suit that track and makes it definitely difficult to get close there. Some of these other racetracks just suit the Suzuki much better. I think [our] bike jumps off the corners fairly well. If that’s what he says it makes it harder for him to get around me, we need to keep improving that then."