MILLVILLE, NJ, SEPT 7 – “Wow, it feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a motorcycle; I’m sure everybody out there’s feeling a bit of the same,” said Monster Energy Graves Yamaha’s Josh Hayes after setting the pace in first qualifying for this weekend’s AMA Superbike double-header at New Jersey Motorsports Park on Friday.
Hayes qualified with a lap of 1:21.176, topping second fastest Roger Lee Hayden (National Guard Jordan Suzuki) by 0.411 seconds. Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom was third fastest with Geoff May fourth on the Team Amsoil Hero EBR 1190RS.
When Hayes was last on track, nearly six weeks ago, he was winning his eighth Superbike race in a row, and 11th of the year, on the undercard of the Red Bull US Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. That win ballooned his championship lead to 71 points, 415 to 341, over Yoshimura Suzuki’s Blake Young. Now, with three rounds, six races, remaining, Hayes is back at it while Young started slowly by qualifying 11th fastest.
The track in New Jersey doesn’t hold good memories for Young. The Wisconsinite came here a year ago holding a five-point championship lead, but left empty-handed. Young finished fifth and nearly 16 seconds behind Hayes in Saturday’s race, giving Hayes a much easier path to his second AMA Superbike title the following day. Even so, the title wasn’t decided until the final lap of the season. Young won the race, beating Hayes by 0.055 seconds, but Hayes won the crown by five points.
With three AMA Superbike rounds to go starting this Friday at New Jersey, Hayes hasn’t started counting points.
“At this point, if I did it would just be because I was tired and weak,” he said. “I think I don’t have to think about points very much, so I can race every race and if we have a mistake then we reevaluate. If I throw a race away then I sit down and reevaluate how I’m going to handle the next five or the next two or whatever it may be. Right now, I’m in a position, other than not wanting to get hurt, from that aspect, the safety aspect, I can race for the win and I don’t have to worry about much of anything. If I don’t, I’d be disappointed in myself, I think.”
Though Hayes admitted he was rusty, he was up to speed by the end of morning practice and on the gas for qualifying, held on a hot, sunny afternoon in South Jersey.
“Four weeks would’ve been a nice break, six weeks I think was a little long,” he said. “But fortunately we showed up and the track is in good condition. The weather is good and we were able to kinda go out there and focus on what we’re doing and I’m a little ahead of where I was last year, which is positive and I’m having fun. So feels good to be back on the bike.
“I’m definitely using muscles that haven’t been used since Laguna. And feel a little rusty. And hopefully as we go through it the rest of the weekend, next two days, things will get better and better every time we’re on the motorcycle. And having fun. The R1 is as I remember it. I didn’t come in and go, ‘God, this thing stinks. I don’t know what to do any more.’ It’s still a great bike. Yeah, everything’s going smooth.”
The Yamaha YZF-R1 AMA superbike isn’t much changed from the motorcycle that won at Laguna Seca. Hayes is using bigger brakes at New Jersey and he also has the use of two new U.S.-made Dunlop rears, though he stuck with the UK product on Friday.
“I did do more than race distance on it, and I did some of my best laps,” he said. “I think I did 21.7 with one lap more than race distance on the tire. It’s about how we were last year. We ended up in the 22s in the race, but I think I was capable, at the end to really push my luck, 21s at the end. Kind of in the same boat now.”
The six week break was spent training, partly on his bicycle, partly on the tennis court.
“Cal Crutchlow stayed in town for a little while until the Indianapolis Grand Prix,” Hayes said. “While he was in town we did quite a bit of cycling. I got a couple of big weeks in and got some big volume and some hard riding in on my pedal bike and then whenever he left, I still got a good bit of riding, but I definitely backed things off to get a bit of a rest and make sure I showed up here feeling fresh. I played a little tennis, but I didn’t go crazy with it.”
He and his wife, Melissa Paris, also rode to the Mexican border from their home in Oceanside.
“It was a big day,” he said. “One hundred fifty miles on a bicycle, it was long day for me, a big day.”
AMA Superbike New Jersey Friday Provisonal Qualifying results:
1. Josh Hayes (Yamaha) 1:21.176
2. Roger Lee Hayden (Suzuki) 1:21.587
3. Ben Bostrom (Suzuki) 1:21.589
4. Geoff May (EBR) 1:22.137
5. Larry Pegram (BMW) 1:22.202
6. Steve Rapp (Kaw) 1:22.248
7. Josh Herrin (Yamaha) 1:22.409
8. Danny Eslick (EBR) 1:22.421
9. Chris Clark (Suzuki) 1:22.527
10. Chris Fillmore (KTM) 1:22.561
11. Blake Young (Suzuki) 1:22.663