MotoAmerica Racers Ride the Roller Coaster at Road Atlanta

 

The competition was fierce at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

For some years now, the MotoAmerica motorcycle road racing series has been exciting if somewhat predictable in several classes- Cameron Beaubier dominated Superbike, often in close contest with Toni Elias; Garrett Gerloff and JD Beach, then Richie Escalante and Sean Dylan Kelly, ruled the Supersport class; and in the past three years, we’ve grown accustomed to watching the young Rocco Landers destroy the competition first in Junior Cup, then Twins Cup.

What a difference a year makes.

The only race class with a defending champion in 2021 is Supersport’s Richie Escalante. Cameron Beaubier has moved on to Moto2, Gerloff and Beach have been dicing it in WSBK and American Flat Track respectively for the past few years, and Rocco Landers has vacated the seats of both Junior and Twins Cup.

The race classes are wide open this season. We find this very exciting.

The season kicked off at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta April 30-May 2, and the races on Saturday did not disappoint.

Shots around the two days of racing. Photos by Tim Lester Images.


Stock 1000
opened the racing Saturday, as long-time literbike road racer Michael Gilbert got the victory aboard his brand-new Kawasaki ZX-10R, prevailing over hard charging Jones Honda rider Ashton Yates, also astride a brand-new bike, a Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP. Good to see a Fireblade back on the grid. Both riders battled hard in the 13-lap event, as did third place finisher Travis Wyman, who raced his trusty BMW S 1000 RR to a coveted 3rd spot on the podium.

In Supersport, Richie Escalante renewed his battle against Sean Dylan Kelly, with Kelly actually dominating race one, leading from the pole and through a red flag restart, grabbing the hole shot both times and never letting go of the lead. Escalante had suffered a crash in qualifying, forcing him to utilize last year’s 2020 championship-winning HONOS Kawasaki, but it proved insufficient to keep pace with the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki of Kelly. Cycle Gear Racing Yamaha’s Nolan Lamkin survived the mayhem that led to the initial red flag and successfully reached the podium for his best-ever result in Supersport competition.

Twins Cup saw a podium filled with Aprilia riders, all three top finishers astride brand new Aprilia RS 660s. Robem Engineering’s Kaleb De Keyrel claimed the victory over Righteous Racing’s Jody Barry and Hayden Schultz, one of De Keyrel’s teammates. In this “Tuner class” previously dominated by Suzuki SV 650s and Yamaha MT-07s, the dominating performance of the Aprilias was stunning.

Stepping out from underneath the shadow of two Rocco Landers- dominated seasons, SportbikeTrackGear.com Junior Cup witnessed class newbie Tyler Scott snag Saturday’s win abroad his KTM, edging out Landers Racing Kawasaki’s Ben Gloddy. Veloce Racing Kawasaki’s David Kohlstaedt finished third, the first MotoAmerica podium of his career.

The premier class, HONOS Superbike, became the most exciting race of the day. With the departure of Beaubier and Elias, many predicted a front battle between a plethora of riders- Fresh N’ Easy Attack Performance Yamaha riders Jake Gagne and Josh Herrin, Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz, M4 ECSTAR Suzuki Bobby Fong and his teammate, 2020 Stock 1000 champ Cameron Petersen, with Frenchman Loris Baz threatening to crash the party aboard his Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati New York.

As it turned out, Jake Gagne suffered a blown engine under the Fox Racing bridge and Baz lowsided out at turn 10-A in pursuit of Scholtz, leaving the battle between the remaining predicted front runners. In fierce, fast competition, Scholtz took the checkered flag, followed by Fong then Herrin. Petersen took 4th. Incidentally, this was Scholtz’s first Superbike win on dry tarmac, his previous wins coming in rain at COTA in 2017, and Barber in 2018.

Some Sunday race action, captured by Dean Phelps Photography.

Sunday brought cloudy skies and cooler temps, and the day kicked off with Stock 1000 race 2. The middle Wyman brother Travis rode his Travis Wyman Racing BMW to victory one day after finishing third Saturday. Wyman caught up to and overtook early race leader Geoff May, who finished second aboard his Geoff May Racing/VisionWheel.com Honda. Meanwhile, Jones Honda rider Ashton Yates rounded out the podium after finishing second in Saturday’s race.

The highly anticipated Mission Foods King of the Baggers race ran next, and instantly renewed the ancient rivalry between Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle. Mission Foods S&S Cycle Indian Challenger rider Tyler O’Hara, who was last year’s King Of The Baggers invitational winner, battled MotoAmerica Superbike rider Kyle Wyman aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special throughout the first five laps of the race, trading first/second and nearly trading paint. O’Hara took the lead on lap 5 of the 8-lapper and never let Wyman by again, ultimately snagging the win for this first round of the now 3-round Baggers series.

Supersport race 2 followed, with the battle renewed between top contenders Sean Dylan Kelly, Saturday’s winner, and 2020 defending champ Richie Escalante. Since Escalante had severely damaged his brand-new 2021 Kawasaki the day before, resorting to his 2020 championship bike for the rest of the weekend, he still gave an admirable run, claiming 2nd again behind a double-winning Kelly. Class rookie (yet 3-time MotoAmerica champ in Junior and Twins Cups) Rocco Landers pulled off a final-turn inside jump on the remaining pack to claim the 3rd spot.

Next up came race 2 for the SportBikeTrackGear.com Junior Cup, and Ben Gloddy finally broke through with the race win that he’s been coveting for the past couple of years. A frequent visitor to the podium, but never on the top step, Gloddy, who races a Kawasaki for Landers Racing, took the checkers in Sunday’s race two by a scant .127 of a second over Scott Powersports KTM rider Tyler Scott. Third place on Sunday went to KERmoto Kawasaki’s Cody Wyman. Incidentally, Wyman’s podium result completed a rare road racing trifecta, with all three Wyman brothers finishing on the podium: Travis winning in Stock 1000, Kyle finishing second in King Of The Baggers, and Cody coming home third in Junior Cup. Quite an accomplishment, and huge congrats to the Wyman family.

The Superbike race 2 saw a renewed Jake Gagne take charge of the pace, with Mathew Scholtz, Bobby Fong, and Josh Herrin dueling for the lead around the famous track. Frenchman Loris Baz fought to hang with the leaders, until a broken shift linkage forced him to pit in for a quick repair. Fong, who had inadvertently rolled forward before the start, was penalized with a pit ride-through, forcing him to give up a temporary lead in the pack. Soon, Gagne seemed to find another level, pulling away from Scholtz, Herrin and the field. The win went to the resurgent Gagne, his first-ever Superbike victory, with Scholtz taking 2nd and Herrin climb the podium for another 3rd place finish.

Twins Cup race 2 rounded out the weekend and was quite eventful, with Kaleb De Keyrel, Teagg Hobbs, Jody Barry and Hayden Schultz battling for the lead through the first half of the race. With six laps left, De Keyrel’s bike started spewing fluids entering turn 1, and as Hobbs swerved to dodge, De Keyrel high-sided, lofting him into the air towards the center of the track. In the melee that ensued, Barry, Schultz then Toby Khamsouk all slid off track, riders and bikes tumbling into the gravel and air fences. Ironically, all four bikes involved in the kerfuffle were Aprilias, three being the podium dominators from Saturday. After a red flag restart, none of the crashed Aprilias reentered, and Pure Attitude Racing’s Trevor Standish got the holeshot, with Teagg Hobbs and 2018 class champ Chris Parrish in hot pursuit. Soon Hobbs pulled ahead, Standish in tow, with Parrish struggling to hang with the new race leaders. And so it finished, Hobbs, Standish, then Parrish taking the podiums, all astride Suzuki SV 650s.

Rob’s shots around the Fan Zone.

Thus ended the first round of the 2021 MotoAmerica racing season. We had anticipated and even predicted that each class would see intense competition and amazing finishes, and we were not disappointed. The season opener at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta was a thrill ride from start to finish. And speaking of thrills, the Fan Zone played host to some very enjoyable family fun, with stunt shows, games rides for children, great local food fare, and demos/rides by Triumph America and Indian Motorcycle as sponsors. Sources within Road Atlanta and MotoAmerica both told us they believed the attendance this weekend was 2.5x larger than the attendance last year, and the attendance rivaled the “heydays” of the late 90s-early 2000s at the track. Indeed, everywhere around Road Atlanta we roamed, the crowds were thick and the enthusiasm palpable. The perfect race weekend, in about every way imaginable.

Special kudos to our friends at MotoAmerica for such a fantastic weekend at the track, and of course the wonderful folks at Road Atlanta. We also wish to thank our friends at Triumph America and Indian Motorcycle for their hospitality. You made a great event even better.

For more on the MotoAmerica racing season (upcoming race rounds, tickets, standings, stats, merch, etc.), click the link here:

MotoAmerica

8 Comments

  1. Ted Edwards

    The save of the weekend goes to Ben Smith in the Supersport class. During race 2 on Sunday he saved a low side coming out of turn 12 that would have made Marc Marquez stand and applaud.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Oh my gosh, yeah, we watched him pull it off coming out of the last downhill turn toward the front straight. Herculean save. Major kudos to the “Boy Wonder”.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    This article says: “attendance this weekend was 2.5x larger than the attendance last year, and the attendance rivaled the “heydays” of the late 90s-early 2000s at the track.”
    That my friends is a crock. I was VERY disappointed with the attendance this past weekend. I have been to bike races where it took 2 hours just to get off the property. This weekend’s event at RA was an easy in and even easier exit. While everyone seemed to enjoy the racing, attendance was absolutely nothing like the “heydays” they refer to. Even the spectator hillside at the bridge (likely the most popular spectating site) was only about 10% full.
    I have come to expect exaggerations from current major media outlets these days, but I do not expect nor desire this type of reporting from sports journalists. Many more people are likely to show up if they hear that they won’t have to deal with large crowds, so no favors are done by lying.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Just reporting what we were told, not only by MotoAm and RA personnel, but two different motorsports photo-journos who’ve been shooting motorcycle racing at Road Atl for over 30 years. Heard it for myself up in the media center at the tower. Ease of ingress and egress on the property is not nec an indicator of attendance. They’ve naturally improved everything, facilities and processes, over the years.
      Yet I’d still love to see higher attendances at the motorcycle races, and I believe its going to continue to grow, with each successive year. MotoAm is doing all the right things to bring motorcycle road racing back to new “glory days”.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Philip,
      I would agree with both Rob and your comments but they come from different sources. Rob is reporting on what he is being told as a journalist which includes tickets provided for attendance and you are reporting what you witnessed, maybe only from turn 10 area? Not sure if you attended both days but Sunday crowd seemed smaller to my view as I moved around the track.

      Totally agree numbers are not like the late 90’s but I would say they rival or top the last 15 years at some tracks. One thing I noticed with the crowd this year, seemed like a larger number of people left earlier in the day and not one big rush at the end of Superbike or the last race of the day.

      Hopefully you enjoyed the races.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Good points, Tim. I know you shot all around the track, all three days, so I’d definitely take your observations as credible.

        Reply
    • Ted Edwards

      Phillip, we are all bikers who love racing and the racing community. However, three important points need to be made. One, we are recovering from a pandemic that restricted social gatherings. That should be considered when looking at crowd size. Second, the availability of MotoAmerica Live+ means fans can watch from anywhere at anytime. The rise in popularity of online streaming means large crowds can watch from home. Last, and most importantly, attendance is good where it matters the most: the starting grid. Here are the grid sizes for Sunday’s races: Junior Cup – 16, Twins Cup – 24, Supersport – 24, Stock 1000 29 (!) and Superbike – 23. Full starting grids, riders moving from America to Europe to compete with the world’s best and exciting competition sound like these are the good ole’ days.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Not only that Ted, but riders are coming here to compete. Loris Baz is but one of many recent examples. So you’re right-on, full grids, with an expanding worldwide audience.
        Still, I agree with Tim, the opening weekend at Road Atlanta was the largest in at least 15 years, if not more.
        I think American motorcycle racing is making a comeback- whether MotoAmerica, AFT, Supercross, or NHRA Motorcycle Drags. Good to see.

        Reply

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