The old guard returns to the MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike Championship this coming weekend, April 21-23, at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta for the opening round of the 2023 title chase and when they arrive, they are going to find the young guard standing at the gates with weapons drawn.
Leading the slightly grizzled old guard is five-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier, the Californian making his highly anticipated return to the championship after spending the past two years in the Moto2 World Championship. He’ll be joined by 2017 MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Toni Elias with the Spanish former World Champion returning to full-time action after a mostly idle 2022. The third of the former class champions returning to the premier Medallia Superbike ranks is Josh Herrin, the 2013 AMA Superbike Champion climbing back up to the Superbike class after earning last year’s MotoAmerica Supersport crown.
Leading the young guard is none other than Jake Gagne, the two-time and defending MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike Champion who has amassed 29 Superbike race wins in the absence of his former teammate Beaubier in a classic, while-the-cat’s-away-the-mouse-will-play scenario. Gagne will be joined at the gate by his Fresh N Lean Progressive Yamaha teammate Cameron Petersen and the third of the big three, Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz.
And how’s this for a stat? Nine of the last 10 AMA Superbike Championships have been won by men who will race in the opening round at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta – Herrin (2013), Beaubier (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020), Elias (2017) and Gagne (2021, 2022).
Additionally, Beaubier (54 wins), Elias (32 wins), Gagne (29 wins), Herrin (8 wins), Scholtz (5 wins) and Petersen (3 wins) have a combined 131 Superbike wins between them. And let’s also remember that one of the riders ready to battle, Elias, has a Moto2 World Championship on his resume.
That, my friends, is a stacked field of top-notch racers ready to fight in the opening round of the 2023 MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike Championship and that doesn’t even factor in the horde of hungry non-winners hoping to taste success in the class for the first time in 2023.
When Beaubier departed for Grand Prix racing in 2021, it was Gagne who took over the top spot on inarguably the most successful team in the paddock – the Fresh N Lean Progressive Yamaha squad and its well-developed YZF-R1 Superbike. Gagne has made the most of a long-awaited opportunity, securing two Superbike titles and winning 29 of the 40 Superbike races held in the past two years since joining the factory team. Gagne starts the season, as he should, as the favorite to win a third successive title.
Gagne will be joined on the Attack team for a second year by Petersen, the South African coming off a successful debut season on the team’s second R1, winning two races and finishing third in the championship behind Gagne and the now-departed Danilo Petrucci, the Italian scoring five race wins on the Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati NYC Panigale V4 R before heading to the World Superbike Championship.
Georgia-based Scholtz and the Westby Racing team also won a race in 2022, but Scholtz was the less consistent of the South African duo and he finished fourth in the title chase. Both Petersen and Scholtz, who again will be the lone rider on the Westby team, will expect more from themselves in 2023.
With five MotoAmerica Superbike titles and 54 AMA Superbike wins on his resume, Beaubier will return to the championship he owned until his departure in 2021. But he does so not on the familiar Yamaha YZF-R1 with which he won those titles, but on an unfamiliar BMW M 1000 RR for the Tytlers Cycle Racing team. Beaubier’s set-up experience should be a big boost to the team (and his teammates) on the relatively new squad. While we’ve accurately portrayed Beaubier as old in experience, the soon-to-be father is just 30 years old.
Beaubier will be joined on the team’s BMWs by incumbents PJ Jacobsen and Corey Alexander. Last year, Jacobsen finished sixth in the Superbike Championship with three podiums, including a fighting second in race two at Road America. Alexander, meanwhile, was focused on winning the 2022 Stock 1000 Championship, a goal he accomplished while also finishing 11th in the Superbike title fight.
Elias, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday, last competed in the MotoAmerica Championship in 2021 with a few fill-in rides on Kyle Wyman’s Ducati and Herrin’s second seat on the Attack Yamaha. His part-time season was highlighted by a second-place finish on Herrin’s Attack Yamaha in the Pitt Race round. Elias’ return to a full-time spot on the Superbike grid will be on the team he rode for in 2020 – Vision Wheel M4 ECSTAR Suzuki. In 2020, Elias ended the title chase in fourth on the team’s Suzuki GSX-R1000 and the Spaniard will be hoping for better in 2023. Let’s not forget that Elias is still the only rider on the grid to have beaten Beaubier for the MotoAmerica Superbike crown when he won 10 races en route to the 2017 title.
Elias will be joined on the two-rider Vision Wheel M4 ECSTAR Suzuki team by Richie Escalante, who will compete in his sophomore season in the class after ending the championship ninth in a rookie season chock-full of learning the ropes of Superbike racing.
The third of the returning Superbike stars is Herrin. Last year, Herrin dominated the MotoAmerica Supersport Championship, taking the title by 106 points, and the 2013 AMA Superbike Champion has been rewarded with another opportunity to join the premier-class grid. Herrin has gobs of Superbike experience, riding for the factory Yamaha team (twice) and Yoshimura Suzuki with eight Superbike wins on his resume.
With Petrucci’s departure, Herrin will go it alone on the Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati NYC team in the Superbike class with Spaniard Xavi Forés riding the ex-Herrin Panigale V2 in the Supersport class.
Others expecting to run at or near the front include Disrupt Racing’s Hayden Gillim, Aftercare Scheibe Racing’s Ashton Yates, Wrench Motorcycles’ David Anthony, Team Brazil’s Danilo Lewis, Thrashed Bike Racing’s Max Flinders, and Superbike rookie Benjamin Smith on the CW Moto Racing Yamaha YZF-R1.
In total, 27 Superbikes are entered for the season opener at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. The Superbike riders will take to the track for the first time in 2023 on Friday at 10:50 a.m. for their first 40-minute practice session of the year.
Race one at Road Atlanta is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. on Saturday with race two coming exactly 24 hours later on Sunday. Both races are scheduled for 19 laps of the undulating 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson