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."
On Young becoming a more complete racer:
Although Hayes and Young were...
Although Hayes and Young were the main contenders for the championship, with Young’s Rockstar Makita Suzuki teammate Tommy Hayden in with a shot toward the end, both Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom (23) and National Guard Suzuki’s Roger Lee Hayden (54) came on strong at the end.
“I think Blake has probably always raced fairly well. There were times I’ve had to race against him on a 600 (in the past) where I thought he maybe raced a little dirty. He had a real bad tendency to not draft all the way past you before he pulled over in front of you and put you off the racetrack. It’s an effective racing strategy, but it’s not very respectful to the people around you or the safety of the people around you. I talked to him a time or two this year, because we were staying really close together and the battles weren’t one pass and the race was over—it was going back and forth a lot. But what he really learned to do is he became more of a student of his situation—‘I have a bike that does this well and how do I use this tool to beat what my opposition has?’ I’m in the same boat. I have to find the strengths of the Yamaha and figure out how to get the most out of it so I can figure out how to beat those guys. That’s why I was making the moves I was making at Ohio. I knew where the strengths were and I only had a couple of opportunities, so I had to try to make the most of them and fight with the tools that I had. I think he improved that this year. [Another is that] he knew that he couldn’t give me two or three laps up front, because I can go pretty fast and I can get away. He better take those chances for a lap to hang on and make an opportunity and make a pass happen so that he could bring my pace back down to his. And it was a strategy that worked for him many times this year.”
“I think I learned a lot. I knew I had the speed. I felt like I didn’t really know how to apply it consistently enough. I’m telling you, when I got injured and I sat on the couch for a long time, that really was an eye-opener for me. I had a lot of stuff I had to change and think about and kind of rework, so to say. I felt like this year I really needed to grow up quick. I felt like this was it. I needed to put in a great effort, I needed to train hard, I needed to not do some of the things I did in the years past and just be more focused and dedicated. Maybe in previous years, I thought maybe I could get away with not giving it my all and just get by. It worked sometimes but most of the time it didn’t. So, I think you saw me really put forth a really good effort as far as maturity goes."
On the pressure of Young taking the championship lead late in the season at Mid-Ohio and accusing Hayes of over-aggressive riding:
“When he led the points leaving Daytona, it’s the first race of the year. There’s so much season left. You’re not thinking about championship then. You got to wait until you get halfway into the season and see who’s there and who’s not. By the time we got to Ohio, the writing was kinda on the wall. We’re halfway into the season, there’s three of us that are players every given weekend. When it was that late in the season and Blake thinks, ‘Hey, if I win this race I can take over the points lead,’ it was a lot of pressure, because the championship was really starting to become a big part of how you approached racing the series. And I think when he had gotten the championship points lead, all of a sudden he didn’t want to be treated that way, because he had a lot to lose if things go wrong. You start thinking about every single point along the way. I think my quote was, ‘Blake finds himself in the points lead and he doesn’t want somebody racing like Blake around him. Throwing it in there, making mistakes, whatever it takes to get to the front, a guy riding with nothing to lose,’ which is a lot like how Blake rode a lot of the time. We laughed about it, because I understood. It didn’t make much sense, but I’ve been in that position before.”
In 2011, Blake Young had the...
In 2011, Blake Young had the services of Peter Doyle, Mat Mladin’s former crew chief. The pairing finally seemed to gel, with Young suddenly becoming one of the main contenders for the championship.
“I feel like every time he passes me, there’s a theory behind that pass and why he did it. I didn’t think that one pass he made (where Hayes stuffed it up the inside of Young in Turn Nine during the closing laps of Race One at Mid-Ohio, before Young re-passed Hayes on the last lap to take the win) made any sense. Wasn’t a last lap move. Maybe it was a ‘Hey I’m here, now that you’ve got the points lead, I’m going to race you harder.’ I didn’t really like that. I know it’s just racing, we’re both out there fighting for the win. I don’t know, it definitely kinda changed the way I thought about racing with him. And I’m sure maybe he felt that way once or twice about me this year. But I have all the confidence in the world in Josh. I know he’s going to race me clean. I know he’s not going to do anything to jeopardize me and him; I hope he feels the same way about me. I just thought it was pretty close. Maybe he was trying to throw me off my game a little bit—try to get in front of me, slow me up, get me off my rhythm. At times that’s how you’ve got to race.”
On the experience of being in a championship fight at the final round in New Jersey:
Although Young won Race One...
Although Young won Race One on Saturday at Road America, Hayes surprised everyone in Race Two by taking off and winning at a track where it was thought the Yamaha R1 would be at a disadvantage. Hayes feels it was his best ride of the season, and it set the tone for the year.
“When you look at the last weekend of the season, experience came down to a lot of it. Friday’s and Saturday’s performance I was able to go there and not feel as much pressure because it was a position I’d been in before, and it was something that was quite new to Blake and I think it played in my favor. Sunday’s race was really exciting, but I think the work to win the championship was done on Friday and Saturday.”
BY: “I can say it all day long that I don’t think it was affecting me, but I think I’d be wrong. As much as like to say that it didn’t, I think it did have a little bit of affect on me. I don’t think I approached the weekend like I needed to. My whole theory behind going into that weekend was just ‘Don’t really force anything and let it come to you. If it’s there, take it, if it’s not there, don’t make too many mistakes and just get what you can get it out of it.’ And you’ve got to go and do your best on Saturday to try to just salvage the thing on Sunday. I don’t know, maybe I needed to come in fighting harder. I just felt like if I was going to do that, maybe I was going to make some mistakes. If I had it to do all over again, yeah, I think I’d approach the weekend a little bit different. I think I’d probably go in with a little bit more grit between my teeth. And now that I can step back and kind of look at it, it’s going to be tough to do better next year. I know that. But I’m going to definitely go back and work harder and try to do just as good or a little bit better next year.” SR