Fresh N Lean Progressive Yamaha Racing’s Jake Gagne looked to be having the same sort of race that he had 17 times last year in the first of two MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike races at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Saturday. He’d started from pole position after breaking the track record in qualifying, he led into turn one, and he looked to be settling into the sort of pace no one else was going to match. Everything was going to plan. Right up until the point that it wasn’t. Gagne crashed his Yamaha YZF-R1 out of the lead on the sixth lap in turn five, handing a third-successive victory to Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati NYC’s Danilo Petrucci.
Petrucci, though, didn’t have it easy as Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz piled race-long pressure on the Italian former MotoGP winner. Once he passed South African countryman Cameron Petersen, Scholtz was able to put a dent in Petrucci’s lead and even whittled it down to within a second. But he couldn’t quite get close enough to strike and championship points leader Petrucci was able to close it out with another near flawless performance.
Petersen, meanwhile, added to the Yamaha team’s Saturday misery in Georgia when he crashed out of third place just two laps after Gagne’s miscue.
Scholtz knows Petrucci has a bit of an edge at this point and he’s hoping a few tweaks to his Yamaha YZF-R1 overnight will get him closer to the front on Sunday. Still, he’s off to a good start to the season with three second-place finishes.
Vision Wheel M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Jake Lewis made a return to the Superbike podium after a four-year hiatus, the non-defending MotoAmerica Stock 1000 Champion keeping his nose clean and holding Tytlers Cycle Racing BMW’s Hector Barbera at bay by 1.2 seconds. Road Atlanta was also the site of Lewis’ first career MotoAmerica Superbike podium when he finished third in 2015 on a Yoshimura Suzuki.
With Barbera fourth, fifth went to Vision Wheel M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Richie Escalante with the former Supersport Champion fighting back after an off-track excursion on the opening lap.
Kyle Wyman found out on Friday that he would be replacing PJ Jacobsen on the second Tytlers Cycle Racing BMW when Jacobsen was forced out of the weekend after testing positive for COVID-19. Wyman made the most of the opportunity and finished sixth, barely besting pseudo-teammate Corey Alexander on another Tytlers Cycle/RideHVMC Racing BMW.
Disrupt Racing’s Hayden Gillim was eighth with Aftercare Hayes Scheibe Racing BMW’s Ashton Yates and Tytlers Cycle/RideHVMC Racing’s Travis Wyman rounding out the top 10.
With his third-straight victory, Petrucci now leads Scholtz by 15 points going into Sunday’s race two. Lewis is third in the title chase with 36 points, three better than Barbera’s 33. Escalante rounds out the top five with 31 points. Gagne, the defending series champion, is now 59 points in arrears of Petrucci after three races.
The top four in the first of two Medallia Superbike races at Road Atlanta were mounted on four different makes of motorcycle: Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki, and BMW.
Danilo Petrucci – First Place
“I studied a bit of video on YouTube on the onboard video. I watched some races. But I thought it was easier. The track is really not for boys but for men, because it’s a really different compared to our European standards. There are plenty of bumps and even high curbs. The walls are so close here, but the track is so good. The first corners for me is really, really difficult to approach. I lost a lot of time. Let’s say I’m struggling a lot with the traction. I don’t go out of the corners with so much speed. I need to gain everything on braking, but today the heat was really, really high. I was struggling. Then I thought it was easier, but a lapped rider was stuck in the middle. Mathew (Scholtz) gained a lot of time there. Then I pushed as hell for finish the race. Was very, very difficult. We need to do something with the lapped riders because we respect them. They need to respect us because we are racing, and we are fighting for the top position. I don’t think it’s fair to do like this, stuck in the middle. But it’s racing. Tomorrow will be tough. I tried to stay with Jake (Gagne) as much as possible, but I was a little bit faster on some braking areas. He was definitely faster in the first sector. But I tried to stay there and tried to hold him but unfortunately, he crashed out. We need to fix a bit the bike. We have some solution for tomorrow. I hope it works.”
Mathew Scholtz – Second
“Once I got past Cam (Petersen), they had about a second or two-second gap. I just tried to push harder to try to catch up. I was over-charging corners, pushing the front everywhere. Our morning practice it was probably about 68 degrees Fahrenheit and we’re racing in like 85 something now. So, the setup just kind of seemed a little bit off. The front end was pushing everywhere. I didn’t see how Cam crashed, but exactly where (Jake) Gagne crashed, I had a lot of front-end moments there too. I think it was just with the heat and the softer-compound front tire, it just wasn’t working well. I could kind of see that I was catching Danilo (Petrucci) slightly, but then I would run wide in one or two corners. He might have done something wrong, and I’d catch him. I don’t think I would have caught him before the end. Maybe with four laps to go, one of the back markers kind of held him up going into corner five, which I kind of thought, ‘Maybe I can do something here.’ But then, unfortunately, going into corner six, I had a massive front-end moment and I kind of ran out wide there. So, just had to settle for second place. I feel like the mid-race pace is pretty good. Just need to maybe sort out the first couple laps and see if we can be a little bit closer to the front guys there so I don’t have to work so hard and maybe over-push trying to catch up. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy to be up here in second place. Our pace was a hell of a lot better than it was last year here. We seem to be making steps forward. Closed the gap a little bit. Kind of sucks being second place for the third race straight, so hopefully tomorrow try to go one better. But Danilo is riding awesome. The bike definitely seems to have legs on us. So, we might have to look at trying to get out of the corners better. Just looking forward to going back to the pits now and working on setup and just trying to figure out how to come off corner seven and the final corner better so we’re not losing so many bike lengths. Well-done to these two guys. It was a long 19 laps out there. Hopefully, tomorrow goes a little bit better for us.”
Jake Lewis – Third
“It’s nice to be up on the box instead of in the gravel. It’s better for the team and better for the points. Like you said, it’s definitely frustrating. It sucks getting smoked that bad. Even the first few laps, I didn’t get the best of starts and was back in seventh. It was poor qualifying and then a poor start. I didn’t really even get a chance to try to go with those guys, which I was planning to do. I was in fifth there for a while until Jake (Gagne) crashed, and then a few laps later I saw Cam (Petersen) down. I knew I was in that third position and Hector (Barbera) was behind me the whole race. I just kept seeing plus zero, plus zero. I kept plugging away. Obviously, my pace needed to be a little bit faster and definitely still need to find some time to get to these guys. I was trying to ride with them this morning, follow Danilo (Petrucci) and follow Mathew (Scholtz) and just pick up on a few things where they were better at and where I need to improve. I feel more comfortable and confident than I did at COTA. Just keep plugging away and try to get closer to these guys.”
Superbike Race 1
- Danilo Petrucci (Ducati)
- Mathew Scholtz (Yamaha)
- Jake Lewis (Suzuki)
- Hector Barbera (BMW)
- Richie Escalante (Suzuki)
- Kyle Wyman (BMW)
- Corey Alexander (BMW)
- Hayden Gillim (Suzuki)
- Ashton Yates (Honda)
- Travis Wyman (BMW)