ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (June 2) — GEICO Suzuki rider Martin Cardenas found another way to win a GoPro Daytona SportBike race Saturday at Road America, playing it safe early before riding through the top half of the field from a mid-pack position to take his fifth victory of the season and class-record 21st of his career.
Cardenas had qualified third but encountered problems at the launch, which allowed a large group of trailing riders to pull alongside heading into Turn 1, a sweeping right-hander that is almost as wide as the straightaway. Rather than trying to make back all of his lost ground at once, he fell into line, eventually anchoring the lead group in 12th place.
“My start was not good,” he said. “Actually, it was pretty bad. It felt like it took a moment for it to engage when I released the clutch so I fell back a little bit. The first turn it seemed as if there were 100 bikes around me. I decided to be cautious and wait for the field to thin out a little bit. Then I had to get to work.”
The 29-year-old Colombian found his groove by Lap 3 and started picking off riders in front of him, sometimes in large groupings. By Lap 5 he had moved into third place, where he realized he needed to bridge a fairly sizable gap on leaders Jason DiSalvo and Cameron Beaubier, the two riders that had qualified ahead of him.
“I tucked in as tight as I could to move towards the leaders and (Dane) Westby came with me,” Cardenas said. “I pushed very hard because I was looking at the skies and I thought the rain may start at any moment. I wanted to be in the lead position if that happened.
“The GEICO Suzuki guys gave me a great bike once again. It was very, very fast and I was able to take the lead position on Lap 6. I didn’t want to give it up after that because I was still worried about the rain. I guess someone (Beaubier) made a little mistake and from there I was able to open a small gap with about 3 laps to go and that was all I needed.”
Cardenas’ weather predictions weren’t far off as rain began falling almost as soon as he crossed the finish line, making the cool-down lap an adventure. Eventually, everyone made it back to pit row safely, with Cardenas pulling into the winner’s circle for a raucous welcome from his crew.
With the win, Cardenas extended his championship points lead to 41 over DiSalvo. The total includes the bonus point he earned for leading the most laps in Saturday’s race. The GEICO Suzuki crew also was honored as the No. 1 Team of the race, an award that was accepted by crew chief Frank Aragaki on behalf of team owner Chris Ulrich.
The Subway Superbike Doubleheader schedule now turns to Sunday with Cardenas going for another trophy at 2:15 p.m.