The Return of Toni Elias
Toni Elias just fired a shot across the bow of every racer and team in the MotoAmerica paddock at PittRace this past weekend.
The headlines all read, “Jake Gagne wins his 13th race in a row“. And to be sure, Jake is absolutely dominating in MotoAmerica Superbikes, much like his predecessor Cameron Beaubier did. But what intrigued us this past weekend was the surprise return of former champ Toni Elias, and the successful weekend of racing at Pittsburg International Raceway he experienced both days. Toni took 2nd place in race 1 on Saturday, then narrowly missed the podium on Sunday with a hard fought 4th place finish. That alone is impressive enough.
What makes this even more noteworthy, is the fact that Toni had no ride at the end of the 2020 race season. Married, a father in the past year, and older than nearly every other racer on the track at 38 (now), Toni found himself at the end of last season without a team, when M4 ECSTAR Suzuki didn’t renew his contract. For the first time in his career, Toni was “homeless“ without a bike to race and a team to race for. Sullen and frustrated, the former world 2010 Moto2 and 2017 MotoAmerica champ felt like he still had some competitive racing years left in him, but no one made Toni an offer.
Still, Toni has been in attendance at every race round this season in the MotoAmerica series, a fan and paddock favorite alike. His passion and commitment to the sport, and specifically to the MotoAmerica series that he emigrated to the States for, is evident to all who see him trackside. And that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Gagne out front, Elias giving chase, Baz crashing out. Photo by Brian J. Nelson
Toni got a surprise call from Kyle Wyman’s team earlier in the season. Kyle had crashed hard at Road America back in June, sustaining wrist and forearm injuries, and would need help by Laguna Seca. Kyle has not only been riding the Panera Bread Ducati in HONOS Superbikes, he was also leading the Mission Foods King of the Baggers competition for Harley-Davidson. If Kyle could rehab enough to ride the Harley, could Toni take his seat on the Ducati for the Laguna round, July 9-11? Toni was thrilled and honored to be asked, and gladly agreed. Without much time to acclimate to the bike, Toni still took an 8th place finish in race 1, then 7th in race 2 at the fabled track.
Then on even shorter notice Toni got another opportunity to race, this time for his long time arch rival, the Attack Performance Yamaha team. Jake Gagne’s teammate Josh Herrin was down sick, and the team reached out to Toni, asking him to take Josh’s ride at the (then) upcoming PittRace weekend. Toni enthusiastically agreed, and they flew him in with the weekend ahead.
Race 2 battle for the rest of the podium. Fong would edge out his former teammate to the checkered. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
On a bike he’s never even ridden before, a Yamaha R1, with only Friday practice and qualifying to get “up to speed”, Toni climbed aboard, meshed with the machine, and magic happened. In race 1, Toni jumped in behind temporary teammate Jake Gagne, pounded down great laps fighting off the pack behind him, and took 2nd place behind the runaway series leader. In race 2, Toni battled with former teammate Bobby Fong and Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz for much of the race (as Jake ran away from the pack again), and barely missed the podium, finishing 4th in a hard fought race. Impressive, for an “old guy” who hasn’t been with a team since last fall, and entered the weekend completely unfamiliar with the bike he was to ride.
In Toni’s own words, “It’s been a strange year because I really wanted to race this year since the first race, but I was fighting for an option. I put everything on the table to make it happen. In December, they said they didn’t want me, so I’ve been a little pissed off for months… Last year was difficult. Many people doubted about me. This is the confirmation I’m still competitive. I want to continue racing. I’ll be ready.”
Elias and son, 2020 race season. He deserves a ride and a team in 2022.
Does the old champ still have what it takes? Yes he does.
Does Toni deserve a ride in the 2022 season? Yes he does.
We’ll see what the future holds for this veteran, passionate racer. We’re hoping it involves a bike and a team in the MotoAmerica paddock next season. Toni deserves it, and so do the fans.
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*Photos by Brian J. Nelson Photography