A pair of mechanical DNFs erased two potential victories and gave Hayes the unenviable yet not-impossible challenge of making the long claw back up the order. A repeat performance of his ’12 Wisconsin weekend would go an awfully long way to putting his championship campaign back on track.
However, it’s unlikely Hayes will find it quite as easy to escape this time around. The scenic 4.05-mile circuit offers a variety of challenges to both rider and machine and rewards talent, horsepower, and setup nearly equally. For a rider in Hayes’ typically dominant position, the goal is to break the pursuit of any challengers and ease off into the distance.
However, if his outright superiority isn’t quite decisive enough, the track’s three lengthy straights will immediately level the playing field, allowing his opponents to cling on and turn the race into a dogfight to the checkered flag.
It’s gone both ways for Hayes in recent seasons. Prior to his ’12 double, Hayes walked away in one race in ’12 while getting beat to the stripe on the last lap in the other. It was a similar story in 2011, when he won one race in a photo finish and was nipped at the line the following day.
While current title leader Josh Herrin wasn’t yet ready to challenge Hayes for victory at Road America as a rookie in 2012, he should prove a much more formidable adversary this weekend.
Armed with identical equipment, Herrin tangled with Hayes twice at Daytona. In the first race of the season, he took full advantage of Hayes’ misfortunate, capitalizing by securing the first premier-class victory in his young career. He then followed that up with a runner-up result the following day, a 1-2 punch that earned him a quick 56 points and the championship lead.
Herrin boasts a rather sparkling Road America résumé himself. Besides claiming two podium results last year as a class rookie, Herrin won three times at the track while competing in the AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike class.
Considerably more confident on the stomping 1000 with a full season of experience under his belt, following his superb Daytona opener, Herrin pointed to Road America as an excellent opportunity to prove his worth as a genuine title threat to any remaining doubters.