Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz got the soaking-wet monkey off his back with his first dry-race HONOS Superbike victory today at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, the South African leading 18 of the 19 laps for the perfect start to his 2021 MotoAmerica Superbike Championship.
Scholtz, whose previous two Superbike wins came in wet conditions in 2017 (Circuit of The America) and 2018 (Barber Motorsports Park), won this one from the front and under bright sunshine in Georgia. The victory also came in Scholtz’s first race since he suffered serious leg injuries at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October.
Scholtz led every lap but the 14th when he was passed by Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati New York’s Loris Baz, the Frenchman fast in his MotoAmerica debut. Scholtz, however, struck straight back and dove under the Ducati rider going into the chicane that is turns 10-A and 10-B. Baz didn’t brake until well after Scholtz after the run down the backstraight, Scholtz let off the brakes and both were in hot and wide, with Baz tucking the front and crashing.
“I got off of the line good for once, which kind of gave me confidence there,” Scholtz said. “It is definitely harder than it has been through the Friday practice and the morning Q2. I was sliding more than I had been previously, so I kind of wanted somebody to actually pass me so I could kind of latch onto them and be able to ride decent, like I’m feeling a groove. Jake (Gagne) passed me and then, unfortunately, I think his engine popped. So, I kind of knew that the next guy should be (Loris) Baz. I looked back with a couple laps to go, and I saw Baz following, and that kind of scared me a little bit. So, I kind of knew I had to pick the pace up. I could see that Baz was catching me slowly. He actually caught me a couple of laps sooner than what I thought, and I just knew that I had to pass him back as soon as I could.”
As for Baz’s crash…
“He kind of saw me coming,” Scholtz said. “He let go of the brakes, and so did I. Unfortunately, the track turns up in corner 10, and I think he might have tried to brake slightly harder knowing that we were both running pretty wide there. Then he crashed and I kind of knew that (Bobby) Fong would be the next one back. Then I think he kind of closed in on me to .7 (of a second) or something. I kind of put my head down for two laps after that. I opened it up to 1.2 seconds. That kind of gave me confidence that I could hold on. I think the last two or so laps, both of us just kind of settled in and took what we could. I’m just really happy to be back up here. The off-season was really difficult for me, kind of seeing that the first two or three months that the injuries had been healing up pretty good. Then for a while it didn’t seem to be actually getting better. The last two or three months I’ve been cycling a lot. It’s still not fully there, but I don’t think that hinders me too much while I’m actually riding the bike. It’s more just training purposes. It’s just nice to be up here for the first race of the season and to kind of get that dry victory off my back. All of the past times that I’ve had really good races, whether it be in the Rookies Cup, Spanish Championship, Moto2, the World Supersport… they’ve all been wet races. So that kind of gives me a lot of confidence that I can actually do it in the dry, too.”
Scholtz raced to victory, 3.044 seconds ahead of M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Bobby Fong, the Californian having fought through to third place and within striking distance of the top two. Fong was there to capitalize on Baz’s miscue to finish second.
“I had to catch up from probably a second or two back, but I felt pretty strong in the first sector and the last sector,” Fong said. “In the middle sector, I don’t know what I was doing. We need to work on the wheelie control, traction control going onto the back straightaway because I could come out with the guys, but I have too much intervention going on. So, we’re going to work on that for tomorrow, but it was good. The bike didn’t feel bad at all. I kind of settled in at the end after seeing (Loris) Baz crash. Besides the 600 (Supersport), I never really thought about the championship so early. Usually, I always just try to go for it and try to get the win, but it’s a long season and second place is decent money and a decent amount of points. It’s good bringing it into tomorrow because now we have something to work for tomorrow.”
Fresh N’ Easy Attack Performance Yamaha’s Josh Herrin completed the podium, almost 13 seconds behind Scholtz, but was pleased considering his rough start to the weekend with mechanical problems wrecking his Friday.
“I’m definitely happy to be up here just because of championship reasons,” Herrin said. “I’m no dummy. I know we’re super lucky and we wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for the two DNFs from the guys in front. Friday hurt really bad (with his mechanical troubles cutting his day short). Even this morning we were having problems with the wheelie control. It wasn’t on the whole session. I thought it was me the whole session, but it ended up being that. So, it’s just been an up-and-down weekend. But no better way to get the motivation for tomorrow than with a third-place finish today. Whether it’s lucky or not, we’re happy. We get to celebrate. We have a complete race of data to look at, so that’s the most important thing. That’s the most laps I’ve strung together the whole time I’ve been on this bike. The R1 to me feels like home, but the bike is a lot different than it was in 2018. It’s hard to tell Richard (Stanboli, his team owner and crew chief), ‘I want the bike to be like it was in ’18’ when Cam (Beaubier) was so dominant on it last year and (Jake) Gagne is doing so well on it this year. For me, and almost every other rider, it’s about how comfortable you are. Hopefully, we can keep working in a forward direction and get me comfortable like I was in ’18 to where I can just do whatever I want to do on this bike. That’s my goal. I think in ’18 we were struggling towards the end of the races because I had the bike set up to do one really fast lap, so if we can get it back to where it was in ’18 to do fast laps and then work on getting the consistency out of it, that would be great. So, hats off to the whole Fresh N’ Lean Attack Yamaha team for working hard all weekend. We had a lot of bad luck and they worked really hard to get the bike ready for today.”
M4 ECSTAR Racing’s Cameron Petersen’s debut with the team was a good one, the 2020 Stock 1000 Champion getting off to a good start and ultimately finishing fourth.
Kyle Wyman rode his Panera Bread Ducati Panigale V4 R to fifth well clear of Scheibe BMW’s Hector Barbera, the Spaniard making his MotoAmerica debut. Travis Wyman Racing’s Travis Wyman rode his Stock 1000-spec BMW S 1000 RR to seventh and was the top finishing Superbike Cup rider.
Tecfil Racing’s Danilo Lewis, Geoff May Racing/VisionWheel.com’s Geoff May and Michael Gilbert Racing’s Michael Gilbert, who won the Stock 1000 race held earlier in the day, rounded out the top 10.
The unluckiest rider in the race was fast qualifier Jake Gagne on the Fresh N’ Easy Attack Performance Yamaha. Gagne was at the front of the pack on the opening lap when his YZF-R1 imploded on the front straight ending his day and putting him in the same boat as Baz with 0 championship points to start the season.