Opinion: Can Cameron Beaubier Revive the Stature of US Racing?

When opportunity comes knocking, it is a fool who does not open the door. That is especially true when the opportunity is as unique as the chance to race at a World Championship level event. Given the chance to shine on the world stage, you have to take that shot. So when Cameron Beaubier was asked to replace the injured Sylvain Guintoli inside the Pata Yamaha team for the Donington round of World Superbikes, I cannot imagine that he hesitated for very long before jumping at the chance.

As commendable as Beaubier's choice is, it comes with some considerable risk. Not just to the reputation of Beaubier himself, but also to the standing of American motorcycle racing in the world. As arguably the best motorcycle racer in MotoAmerica, the US domestic championship, his performance will be weighed on a silver scale, and used as a yardstick for the standard of racing in the US. The hopes and dreams of many a young American racer may lie fallow if Beaubier falls short.

Is it fair that the weight of responsibility should fall so heavily on Beaubier's shoulders? Absolutely not. Yet fair or not, that is what will happen. The reasons for this lie in the historical strength of US racing, and the important role it has had in the history of both the MotoGP and World Superbike championships.

The glory days of US racing

Once upon a time, American riders ruled the world. Between 1978 and 1993, Americans won 13 of the 16 500cc championships. Between 1988 and 2002, they also won 8 of the 15 World Superbike titles. Since the turn of the century, the strength of American riders has been in decline Kenny Roberts Jr, Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden, and Ben Spies have all won world championships, but they have become the exception, rather than the rule. Nicky Hayden is the last American in World Superbikes, while PJ Jacobsen defends the Stars and Stripes in the World Supersport class.

While both Hayden and Jacobsen have had strong results – for Hayden, especially since his switch to WorldSBK, where he is now once again on relatively competitive machinery – the plight of other American riders has not been good. Josh Herrin, who came to Moto2 as the reigning AMA Superbike champion, raced for 10 races in 2014 without scoring a single point, his best result a 16th place in Barcelona. Danny Eslick substituted for Efren Vazquez at Le Mans, and narrowly avoided being lapped.

Elias plays the spoiler

But perhaps the worst thing to happen to racing in the US is the arrival of Toni Elias in the MotoAmerica Superbike series. Elias joined the Yoshimura Suzuki team as a replacement for the injured Jake Lewis, and the 32-year-old Spaniard went on to win the first three races. Given a permanent contract in the Yoshimura Suzuki team, Elias is now fourth in the MotoAmerica Superbike championship.

Why would having a Spanish rider be so bad for US racing? Elias was available because both world championship paddocks regarded the Spaniard as being washed up. There were no seats available for him on either the MotoGP nor the WorldSBK grids, after Elias had failed to make much of an impression in recent years. Elias' career had been on the slide since he was forced into MotoGP after winning the inaugural Moto2 championship in 2010.

Rightly or wrongly, the consensus in both world championship paddocks is that the level of racing in the US is fairly low. When teams go looking for riders to bring into Moto3, Moto2, World Superbikes or World Supersport, they look at the FIM CEV championship, at BSB, occasionally at the German IDM championship, and at the support classes at both series (Red Bull Rookies, FIM Superstock). They don't really look at MotoAmerica as a serious source of top level talent.

Turning the tide

Cameron Beaubier has a chance to start to change that. If Beaubier can come in and be quickly up to speed, then world championship teams might start to take American riders more seriously. That does not mean that the Californian needs to come straight in and start scoring podiums. World Superbikes is a pretty tough class at the moment, with a fair depth of talent. But being close to his temporary teammate Alex Lowes, finishing both races, preferably inside the top ten, would go a long way towards persuading teams to take the MotoAmerica championship seriously.

There is hope that Beaubier can do just that. Unlike both Eslick and Herrin, Beaubier will be riding the same bike he rides in the US. The differences between the Graves Yamaha YZF-R1 in MotoAmerica and the Pata Yamaha YZF-R1 in World Superbikes should be limited, the biggest difference being the spec Pirelli tires used in WorldSBK. Nor will Beaubier have to learn the track, having raced at Donington during his year in 125s, racing alongside Marc Márquez in the Red Bull KTM team in 2009.

Beaubier is also regarded as the brightest hope for American racing at the moment. His name was bandied about when Yamaha announced they were returning to World Superbikes, though in the end, the Crescent team which runs Yamaha's WorldSBK effort went for Alex Lowes and Sylvain Guintoli. He has a chance to demonstrate that he can live up to the hype which surrounded him last year. Or some of it, perhaps.

If Beaubier does well, he will open the door for other American racers. There is a group of youngsters who look capable of making the switch, including Jake Gagne, Hayden Gillim, Joe Roberts, and more. There are more young racers on the way, coming up through the KTM RC390 Cup, and in reality, that could up being the pathway into World Championship racing. But there is also a generation of American racers which has been lost to roadracing, riders such as JD Beach* and Stevie Bonsey having switched to Flat Track, as a more viable way of making a living. Cameron Beaubier has a chance to put American racing back on the map.

* Since publishing this story, several people, including JD Beach himself, have pointed out to me that Beach is currently focused on the AMA Supersport championship in MotoAmerica, where he currently sits in third place with one race win. Beach told me he has cut back on his dirt track to accommodate his road racing.


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Total votes: 104
Total votes: 102

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Comments

When I heard the news about Beaubier at Donnington, I immediately had a flashback to hearing Spies would ride a wildcard Suzuki MotoGP bike at Indy. Same emotions as expressed above. Watching him finish 6th in the rain, and almost passing Pedrosa for 5th on the last lap, was incredibly exciting.

It's hard to beleive / hope that Beaubier will pull a "Spies" at Donnignton, but ater what happened with Herrin, it would be pretty awesome for all of us who suffer here in the US.

Total votes: 97

Sylvain Guintoli is a WSBK Champion & Alex Lowes is a BSB Champion, so both have won the No1 spot in two of the worlds toughest Championships, therefore have proved themselves. Good luck to Cameron Beaubier & his future moving out of the lower standard MotoAmerica.

Total votes: 87

I think he is going to have a tough go at it. For one the bike is completely different to his graves Yamana. I would bet the only thing the 2 bikes have in common is the same frame. Even the swing arms are different. All new electronics, new tires, new crew and in a lot ways the track will also be new to him since the line for a Superbike will be radically different than the line for a 125. Did I mention that the current WSBK spec R1 has not been competitive yet with the regular riders. Not only that, the level of the talent in SBK is at an all time high IMO.

I hope I'm wrong. I think if he can get in the top 10 in race 2, I would consider it a win.

 

Total votes: 103

After the races Sunday come back to this thread so I can tell you how wrong you were. 

Total votes: 92

What Anthony West did earlier this year is also a bit of a wake-up call to US racing.

Sadly, Australian domestic racing is in the same doldrums...

Total votes: 94

I think people often underestimate the jump in talent between GP/WSBK and the lower and national fields.

Look at what Ant West has been doing in all the various wildcard rides he's had this year - and he's considered an old washed up racer.  Ant is currently 18th in both the WSS and WSBK championships.  I recall he competed in and won a bunch of random regional events earlier in the year

Total votes: 99

David, yet one more thoroughly detailed and comprehensive article - I knew you were deep into all this, but wouldn't have guessed you were so aware of the American side of it. Yes. There is a lot of weight on Cameron, but he's fearless and professional - he took on the USA version of Shane Byrne in Josh Hayes beat him straight up for last year's championship. Will Cameron podium? Maybe not. But I'll wager a hundred bucks to ten quid he won't be the embarrassment that Herrin was. Side Note: Not the other way around... JD Beach quit Flat Track to race road, and won the MotoAmerica Supersport championship last year. I'd love to see JD and PJ head to head in WSS. Thanks for everything, 

Total votes: 94

I think he'll show well enough not to embarrass anybody. Watching his first session it appeared he was working on one section at a time in a very methodical way. Its a chance for him to measure himself against some very top riders and make adjustments as he learns. Probably the biggest challenge is getting used to those squishy tires, since comapred to the Dunlops he's used to, the bike seems unsettled. But he knows how to adapt. 

Total votes: 95

There is a series of articles on Superbikeplanet on different riders and breaking down there strengths and weaknesses. Cameron's article is really good.

http://www.superbikeplanet.com/2016/Apr/160404camron.htm

I agree with the article that if Cameron wants to be seriously considered on the world level, he can't just beat Hayes and the rest in MotoAmerica, he has to crush them. He has to demonstrate that he clearly doesn't belong in a domestic series. And when I saw Elias come in and beat everybody at his first shot... not a good sign.

Good luck Cameron. Man, it would be great to see him pull off something special. And remember when Spies got into WSBK? Record breaking pole positions, wins, championship... in his first try. So Cameron has really really big shoes to fill. It's gonna be tough. He's got my support... go gettem' kid!

Total votes: 79

... 9th fastest seems like a pretty good start to me. He's managed to outperform Hayden at this stage as well :O

Total votes: 74

It's an insurmountable task getting any excitement for Motorcycle racing here in the US that isn't MX.  There simply isn't the coverage on TV, and there is zero advertising/branding.  Not to mention, sportbike sales seem very low in this current 10-year span.  

Consider the amount of $$ and effort they have poured into media to gain excitement for soccer here in America.  I just read an article about a popular sportscaster whining about Sports Illustrated recently dedicating 11 pages to the Copa America in the latest issue.  The radio announcer was wondering why they did it, because proportionally to their readership base, nobody actually likes Soccer (his radio rant may have been a thinly veiled reference to the fact that of people here who DO like soccer, that they're all hispanic immigrants).  Anyways, there are 20 Major League Soccer teams in the US, seemingly mandatory coverage of the games on ESPN, yet you have to actively search out and find the fans who watch and/or go to the games.  That's with a metric planet's worth of money spent promoting and keeping it alive.  And it's a sport that me and countless other men/women actually *played* with seriousness back in secondary school/college, but have zero desire to follow it as a professional sport.  

Most Kids and even adults simply don't have the ability/resources/space to participate in motorcycle riding, let alone racing, at any level beyond those who find some rare, mythic spark and dedicate a large part of themselves to doing so.  Besides the Harley riders, here in the states most people have a poor opinion of motorcyclists as reckless, suicidal riders on the road, especially sportbike riders.  Racing would just be anathema to them.  

Finally, smoking tobacco is dead in the water here in the US, with kids all vaping these days.  From what I remember of racing advertisements back in the 80's/90's, it was all tobacco companies doing it.  US Motorcycle racing's simply not going to be able to enjoy those resources again.

Total votes: 91

. . . . . motorcycle riding is a lack of seriousness on the part of the average guy (and it is guys) who comes into the shop where I work looking to get started.  They'll take the safety course to get their endorsement, immediately want a CBR1000RR or R1 because a 600 is a "girl's bike"; and have no interest whatsoever in learning how to really ride that bike.  Just get the aftermarket pipe, matching leathers and helmet, and anything else that gives "instant street cred".

Very few of these guys ever bother to follow MotoAmerica Superbike, or any of its predecessors.  A bike is the current toy, something to have in your late teens and twenties, and usually discarded once age, or wife and kids, sets in.  And cruisers rule in America because a cruiser is an incredibly forgiving piece of machinery to ride if you don't have the experience and competence required to pilot something powerful, fast and twitchy.

Spoken as a 40 year motorcycle rider who currently owns a Harley FXR and a Honda 996 Super Hawk.  Also, I deliberately used the term "guys" above because, in general, I find a much higher level of seriousness in the females who come thru the shop looking to start out.  They want to learn, don't see a smaller first bike as something to be ashamed of, and give me the indication that twenty years from now, more of them will still be riding.

Total votes: 103

Pretty much sums it up for us 'Mericans

I used to race in the WERA series here, and nearly bankrupted myself just trying to have some fun. Had to live with my parents to afford it. MotoRacing gets zero advertising here and the MotoAmerica series still has not managed to make it to live coverage on any national TV stations. Its seriously pathetic. The people in charge of promoting bike racing here have been doing an extremely poor job. Even as a rider the incintives to go race are small as well. I won a supersport race at Roebling road and podiumed multiple times (Granted in the Novice class) and the reward is a small wooden plack. Highsides just got to be not worth the risk. I have to download torrents for Eurosport and BBC coverage because the WSBK and MOTGP coverage stateside is a joke, I could sign up to MotoGP.com but I much prefer the other commentaries. 

Total votes: 106

If you signed up for BEIN sports you could watch MotoGP, WSBK and MotoAmerica and wouldn't have to mess agournd with torrents or think the coverage is a joke.  Acutally most of the races are on without a commercial break during the race...pretty good if you ask me.

Total votes: 75

Huh...you haven't watched BT Sports coverage and commentary as I can learn more about what's going on in the paddock or what's happening out on the track listening to Keith and Julies or what's going through the rider's mind through either Hoggy or Edwards in 10 minutes on BT Sports than a full day of coverage with MotoGp's own commentary with Harris and who ever is with him (I stupidly purchased the MotoGp package...don't waste your money). I get BeIn Sports over there and I have to admit that their in studio hosts are very good (and enthusiastic). I'd rather let them cover the actual race than Motogp's horrible "chatter". Besides we only get the race over here....no pratices, qualifying or in depth "behind the scenes" stuff that BT Sports offers. I would gladdly pay for that but you can't stream any content over here through BT Sports (blocked)...As far as the orginal article about Cameron, I thought the same thing that Dave mentioned about a "washed-up" (he isn't) rider just spanked the best we have over here...Uh Oh!

 

Total votes: 79

9th quick after two sessions is OK, but you know he's going to get quicker all the way through the weekend! Meanwhile, PJ is getting closer but there are several right there with him... 

Total votes: 84

Josh Hayes rode at Portimao in 2008 and finished a very respectable 4th.
And he was considered too old then to hire for WSBK/WSS!
Here's hoping Cam does well.

Total votes: 81

A couple of things Elias…OK, yes, it does look bad--no matter what--that he came into MotoAmerica and won; however, Elias is a world champion and he’s riding for Yoshimura Suzuki which is the same team that employed Spies and Mladin. Make no mistake, that is one of the BEST bikes on the grid! While the Brits would likely disagree, give him the same caliber machine in BSB and he’d probably be doing about the same.

Total votes: 92

"Rightly or wrongly, the concensus in both world championship paddocks is that the level of racing in the US is fairly low." Wrongly...

While I greatly admire and enjoy your work David, you missed the mark a bit on this one. I hate to say it but one of the main things working against US riders currently is the attitudes and comments of most (if not all) of the European moto-journalists. I'm not trying to (nor do I care to) change anyones opinion but consider a few points related to this article:

*Toni Elias: Elias has proven that given the right set of circumstances that he is still a very fast rider. The Yosh team, the bike set-up and the Dunlop tires are proving this. To say he is a washed-up rider from the world championship coming in and waxing established American riders is simply not true (similarly with Claudio Corti as well).

*Josh Herrin: Josh has taken a beating and has been the scapegoat for American riders not getting the call up to the world stage due to his breif appearance in Moto2. He has admitted he could have done a few things better himself but it is no secret that the Caterham team ignored most of his requests to make changes to his bike when asked (basically if we want your opinion we'll give it to you) and focused most of their efforts on the more experienced Johann Zarco.

*Danny Eslick: Your only comment on 'Slick' was "he narrowly avoided being lapped". Considering it was his first time in Moto2, at Le Mans and on a new version of the Suter chassis, he did quite well in my sight as he didn't end any sessions in the gravel trap and provided the team with some valuable feedback and data. Any keen observer of our US series will tell you that Danny has an incredible amount of raw talent and bike control and has mainly been held back by some poor decisions he has made in his personel life.

Unfortunately, even if Beaubier does preform well this weekend (which so far he has), it still won't erase the stigma faced by American riders that to some extent, you and many of your colleagues, have helped to create.

The earlier comment about J.D. Beach seems to prove that unlike 99% of the time, you didn't perform the due diligence that we are used to seeing from you before posting this article. Whether anyone wants to believe it or not, the level of racing (and rider talent) in the US is at a much higher level than it is credited for 'across the pond'...                          

Total votes: 80

I was merely representing the way American racing is perceived in World Championship paddocks, not stating it as fact. Personally, I believe the standard is much higher than the general perception, for many of the factors you have stated. Also, Beaubier's results after the first day at Donington show that he is a talented rider indeed. He is in eighth, 0.4 off his teammate, in a position you would not be surprised to see Sylvain Guintoli.

As I wrote, there are a lot of exciting young riders in the US. But if they are to make an impression in World Championship racing, they need to get out of the US and to Europe as quickly as possible. Jayson Uribe, racing in the FIM CEV Moto2 championship has the right idea, just as PJ Jacobsen did when he went to BSB. Until MotoAmerica is back at the level it was 10 to 20 years ago, the future lies in Europe.

I would also like to add that I am a big supporter of the MotoAmerica series. The organizers have done a fantastic job with very limited means, and are well on the way to establishing a strong national championship again. But that isn't something which happens overnight. It will take a number of years.

Total votes: 106

From interviews I've read, I'm guessing Josh Hayes is probably a good mentor and teammate to Cam.  Hayes is an freakin' fast rider, and the fact that Cam beat him last year is all I need to put believe he can run in WSBK. if I recall, Josh Herrin was not so receptive to feedback from Mr. Hayes.

Total votes: 93

American racers should get themselves into BSB it is a better stepping stone to the world stage, PJ Jacobson, James Rispoli, even veterans like Hopper........also look how many BSB etc racers are in road racing, shows how good a Championship it is.

Total votes: 67

Unless MotoAmerica can turn things around, you're better off heading to BSB if you have any world championship aspirations. It's not because BSB is a more competitive series. It's due to it's current financial health compared to other domestic series, exposure (it's a pretty darn entertaining series to follow), and European base that make it an ideal WSBK feeder series. After all, motorcycle road racing is still largely a European sport.

Total votes: 91

A few of my friends and I were actually just discussing how terrible it makes our series look when "washed up" (and I don't really like saying that about him) Toni Elias can just waltz in and make us all look silly. It's a bit foreboding. Good luck to Cam but it feels like the dark days have only just started for us Yankees

Total votes: 88

It may be worth pointing out that Tony Elias is currently #4 in the MotoAmerica standings, on one of the two best bikes/teams on the grid. Cam got off to a slow start this season but has since been showing very good form despite being taken out by his team Josh Hayes in an uncaracteristic move during a race.

We're impressed with young Mr. Beaubier and hope the weekend allows him to show his potential. Do work Cam... 

 

Cheers

Total votes: 92

My general impression of Elias is that he's a bit hot and cold.  He seemed to have a lot of speed but whether it was due to 2nd string bikes/tyres, or latterly control tyres that did not agree with his unusual riding style, he didn't put it all together very often.  But one magic day in 2006 when it all came together he had the speed to out-race the worlds best, so there was a quick rider in there.  Thrown a life line like he has been, it's not hard to see that his motivation has been 100% 'hot', and in combination with a good team, bike, tyres that he can get along with, and the experience of someone who raced GP's for a decade or whatever, it's not all that surprising to see him winning.

I'll watch Baubier's ride this weekend with interest, but in reality the Pata Yamaha team has not lived up to the expectations of the new bike and the 8-hr win etc.  The riders seem well-credentialled, so maybe the bike really isn't up to scratch yet, or maybe the team is not able to extract the best from it.  Spies flattered the Yamaha in 2009 so maybe Baubier can do the same, but I think if he can even run top 10 then he'll have done a decent job. Remember Bayliss' return to WSBK, people expecting him to just stroll back to the top of the podium?  It didn't happen, the competition is pretty strong there right now - better than its somewhat reduced status sugests.

Total votes: 78