Cameron Petersen has to pinch himself every morning when he wakes up at his home in Southern California. Suddenly, despite some potholes in the road from South Africa to a full-time racing career in America, Petersen has hit the motherlode – a contract to race a full-blown Superbike in the MotoAmerica Superbike Series for the M4 ECSTAR Suzuki team.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” Petersen said in a MotoAmerica interview. “Even when you said that, it got my blood boiling and my adrenaline going a little bit. This is something I’ve worked for so long for and worked so hard at it and I think everybody knows we’ve had our ups and downs and there were times there when it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. Honestly, I can’t explain the feeling that I’m feeling right now. I’m just so thankful that Chris and John (Ulrich, the team owners) and the whole team believed in me and gave the opportunity again. 2021 is going to be an exciting season and I can’t wait to get it going.”
Petersen landed the ride based on a few things. Namely, his performances in 2020, a season that saw him win eight of 12 Stock 1000 races to earn his first MotoAmerica Championship (and he also won the Superbike Cup and the $25,000 that came with it). He’s also shown since arriving in the series in 2015 that he has gobs of talent. All it needed was some refinement and that came in 2020.
“I’d only had win since I moved to America,” Petersen said, while owning up to the error of his ways. “When I first moved here, the pace was new to me and I crashed a lot and did a lot of stupid stuff. But I feel like there were a lot of races I was competitive in. I might not have always won or been on the podium, but I was always in the mix and I always believed I was able to do it.”
Petersen credits the Hayes family for a lot of the positives that came his way in 2020 as Melissa was his crew chief at Altus Motorsports and Josh Hayes his rider coach. Together they made a good team, and it came to fruition on the racetrack. On the personal side, Petersen had another positive change when he got engaged just prior to the Road America round to his now fiancée, Nina.
“It’s timing and placing and I think just having the opportunity to ride on a team like Altus and have Melissa (Paris) work on my motorcycle and Josh (Hayes) as my riding coach,” Petersen explained. “I think there were so many pieces of a puzzle that started to come together that painted this pretty picture. The main thing was that it was just fun. The whole season was fun, and it never seemed liked a job. I was excited to go to the track to be with my friends there and everything was just good vibes. It was just having the opportunity to perform on some machinery that was good. M4 has a lot to do with Altus motorcycle and it was reliable, and it finished every single race pretty much and I was able to jell with the bike and the team really, really well.
“There are so many pieces of the puzzle that are starting to come together. Like you said, I got engaged last year, just moved into a house in Southern California, so I’m kind of living the American dream right now. I’m pretty damn lucky and I’m definitely not going to take it for granted. I’m so excited at the moment and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
The 2021 season won’t be his first in the HONOS Superbike class for Petersen. He’s been there before on a mostly uncompetitive Honda CBR1000RR in 2018 and he was there in 2020 on his Stock 1000 Suzuki GSX-R1000 in the Superbike Cup. But this is the first time where he actually has a chance to show that he belongs.
“The nice thing is that last year I had the opportunity to race in all the Superbike races and there were a few of them where I was close enough to see the guys that I was racing with and kind of know what I was up against,” Petersen said. “Going into 2021, I know it’s not going to be easy and there are some fast guys and some big news with Loris Baz coming into town, but I want to win. It’s time. I believe I can, or at least be in the picture. I want to be there at the end of the races, even if I’m not winning all the time. I just want to be there. Having said that, I have to be clever and I know what’s held me back in the past. I can’t be throwing the bike down the road and if it’s one of those things where I have to slowly build up to it to be winning races at the end of the season, that’s what it’s going to take. I think with the opportunity I have and the team I’m going to have around me and the motorcycle I’m riding, I think there is good opportunity to get podiums and win.”
In addition to riding a somewhat-familiar GSX-R1000, Petersen will also be teamed with a rider with whom he is familiar. Petersen and Bobby Fong were teammates for half a season on the Broaster Genuine Chicken Honda team and they are friends off the track.
“I’ve really always enjoyed Bob,” Petersen said. “Obviously, our rider coach is the same guy, Josh Hayes, so that’s pretty neat and we can work on stuff together. We’ve always hung out and I’d like to think we’re pretty good friends. We’ve ridden some motocross together, Supermoto, and in 2018 when I was on the Broaster Chicken Honda, he came and joined the team halfway through the season and we were teammates for the remainder of the season. We worked together before and I always thought it was a pretty good dynamic. Obviously, we are all competitive and everybody wants to beat their teammate, but I think it’s going to be a fun year of racing. Honestly, I think with the way me and Bob ride, we may be able to develop the bike a bit more together as a package since we kind of ride more of the same way.”
Naturally, Petersen is champing at the bit at the prospect of riding a real Superbike.
“The Suzuki is known for its grunt and how it pulls the power, you know,” Petersen said. “I’m kind of excited to get on a bike that is probably the quickest bike in the field. I’ve never really had that feeling underneath me so… to have a bike that accelerates the way that thing does off the turn, it might change some things with my riding and might make my riding a little bit easier with the way I charge turns. I’m not too worried about the chassis. I know no matter what we do, we are going to find a pretty good base setup and get it reacting… I’ve never been on the same motorcycle two years in a row so now going back-to-back, I kind of know what the Suzuki likes and what it doesn’t like. I can’t wait to feel how that thing comes off the corner and what it does for my riding.”