Team Vavoline EMGO Suzuki’s Mike Smith, Tray Batey, Grant Lopez and Josh Hayes made a strong start to the Formula USA season, at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California March 12-15. It is a wickedly fast 2.5-mile road course known for two right-hand sweepers that produce the highest tire temperatures–and are harder on tires–than any other corners in America. And it is a difficult track that rewards subtle home-track knowledge.
Battling a field packed with local riders who race monthly at the tricky Willow Springs circuit, Smith and Batey finished third and fourth in the first Formula USA race. Lopez was eighth after post-entering the race and starting on the back row of the grid after just 10 mintes of practice on a spare F-USA bike. Hayes was 10th on his Supersport-spec GSXR750.
In the second F-USA race it was a huge battle for second place involving Smith, Batey, Lopez and two other riders, and it came down to the last corner of the last lap when Lopez got sideways at the apex of the corner, then balked Smith at the exit. After the closely-packed group ran to the finish line, Lopez was fourth with Smith fifth and Batey sixth. Hayes was again 10th.
TV coverage of the two F-USA races at Willow Springs should be very entertaining since Smith’s GSXR750 carried an on-bike camera and recorded dozens of passes and repasses in the frantic battle for second. And one of the riders appearing most often in Smith’s camera view–along with a Valvoline logo–was Batey during their first-race duel.
Looking at championship points, Smith’s third is as good as a first since the locals ahead of him are not contesting the entire series. Batey is a close fifth in points with Lopez sixth.
In Pro-Tek Supersport (103-horsepower) action, for supersport machines on street-legal tires, Hayes was seventh and Lopez 12th, after leading early-on but chunking-out pieces of rear tire tread.
In EBC Pro Sport (126-horsepower), Hayes and Lopez finished fourth and sixth after leading early on but encountering traction problems with harder tires.
With the race at Willow out of the way, the team looks forward to the next F-USA event, scheduled for May 15-17 at Pikes Peak.