Team Valvoline EMGO Suzuki looked set for strong showings in the Formula Xtreme and the Superbike races during the AMA National weekend at Road Atlanta, until disaster struck.
The trouble started when Tray Batey suffered a grinding crash in turn one during Thursday Superbike practice, his GSXR750 launching over the haybales and wall outside the corner and Batey hitting so hard that he suffered two black eyes. The incident occurred when Batey went for the front brakes at about 130 mph and didn’t have any–the brake pads in one front caliper had fallen out along the front straightaway.
Barely able to walk, Batey was typically stoic about the incident. “It wouldn’t have done me any good to come in screaming at my mechanic,” Batey said. “I know he didn’t do it (overlooking double-checking the pad retention system) on purpose, I have to work with the guy for the rest of the season, and I’m pretty sure he won’t do that again.”
Batey still qualified on the front row for Formula Xtreme on an 840cc GSXR750, as did teammate Grant Lopez. But Batey, third-fastest in qualifying at 1:27.263, didn’t have a repaired 750cc Superbike ready in time for the first Superbike qualifying session. When the second session was called due to thunderstorms, AMA officials decided to form the grid on the basis of the first session only, and Batey was out of luck.
Lopez, fourth-fastest on his 840cc GSXR750 for Formula Xtreme at 1:27.889, qualified 15th at 1:27.156 on his 750cc GSXR750 for the Superbike race–his first AMA event ever–in the first session.
Josh Hayes entered Formula Xtreme on Batey’s 1997 Formula USA racebike, an 1180cc GSXR1100, which mechanic Jerry Daggett pulled out of Batey’s basement–where it was sitting following its display at the Indianapolis dealer show last February. The team entered Hayes to get him ready for a full Formula USA/Formula Xtreme campaign planned for 1999. Hayes qualified sixth fastest in his AMA debut, at 1:28.225.
It looked good at the start of the Formula Xtreme race, Batey running a close third with Lopez right behind. Then, entering turn six, Lopez got a little anxious, ran it in too deep, and ran off the track into the gravel trap. Lopez frantically churned his way out of the gravel trap but rejoined the race in last place, well behind, and immediately started a charge up through the field that would see him match the lap times of the leader and ultimately end up in sixth place and gaining.
Meanwhile, Batey was closely drafting the two leaders on the first lap when they sat up and braked earlier than Batey expected at the end of the back straight, into turn 10. Startled, Batey swerved to avoid a collision, ran wide and drove out into the gravel trap. Batey rejoined the race near the back of the pack and would eventually end up ninth.
Hayes raced for fourth place for most of the race and ended up a close fifth.
In the first of two Superbike races, Lopez ran as high as 12th before his bike slowed; he finished 17th. In the second race, Lopez was up to 11th and gaining when his bike developed a fuel feed problem and started misfiring sporadically, and Lopez ended up 17th again.
On one hand, the team’s bike’s were proven competitive. On the other hand, the weekend at Road Atlanta was just plan frustrating, in that the team’s potential was not realized.