AMA Pro Daytona SportBike Race Report
Round 1: Daytona 200 Week
Daytona International Speedway, Florida
by Colin Gibbons
Photography by Winnie Liau, Mynds Eye
The 73rd running of the Daytona 200 kicked off the 2014 Daytona SportBike championship at Daytona International Speedway and if the weekend’s proceedings were any indication, we are in for an exciting season with some very close racing.
The second qualifying session on Friday proved frantic with almost all riders setting better times than they had in the previous sessions, all vying for pole position in Saturday’s race. It was Danny Eslick aboard his Rider’s Discount Triumph 675 who ultimately took the top spot, with a blistering 1:49.292, over three quarters of a second faster than Garret Gerloff on his Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha R6 who took second, Jake Lewis on his Meen Yamaha R6 in third, Jason DiSalvo in fourth, and Dane Westby in fifth position. Eslick was the only rider to go below a 1:50:00 lap throughout qualifying and was excited to claim the first grid position as well as the Rolex presented to the pole sitter each year.
The biggest race of the Daytona SportBike season came at the conclusion of an exciting weekend of racing, and did not disappoint spectators with the fierceness of the competition. Soon after the green flag was dropped, a group of about eight to ten riders quickly broke away from the rest of the pack and it was immediately clear that their pace would not allow many to catch up to them. Perhaps most surprising in the opening stages of the race was the aggressiveness displayed by the majority of the riders in the lead pack, with numerous challenges for the lead and top positions in a matter of just a few short laps. Spectators saw Eslick, Gerloff, Westby, Lewis, and Gagne trading positions in quick succession turn after turn during the first few laps the 200-mile event.
Pit stops, unique to this race out of the entire season, became a factor after the leaders had completed about 15 laps with groups of riders ducking in out of the lead pack over the course of laps 16, 17, and 18 for new tires and fuel. Eslick had been leading when this began, and chose to extend his first stint to 20 laps, much farther than the other riders who had been running up front with him. Eslick’s Rider’s Discount team performed gracefully under pressure and was able to get him in and out of his pole position pit box, with new tires and fuel, in under ten seconds which allowed him to rejoin the race with the leaders. Interestingly, by extending the length of his first stint prior to stopping, Eslick put himself in a position to have more life on his third set of tires at the end of the race if he could wait equally long for his second and final pit stop.
Disaster struck Dane Westby on lap 38 when coming into Turn 1 he down shifted too many times and the added engine braking caused him to lose control of the rear on corner entry, which he was unable to save and slid into the air fence in turn one sustaining only minor injuries and reporting later that he was “battered, but not fried”. Unfortunately Jason DiSalvo was tucked in right behind Westby when he lost control of his Yamalube R6 and in an effort to avoid colliding with Westby, DiSalvo lost control of his Castrol Triumph 675 and accompanied Westby into the soft barriers. Neither rider was able to rejoin the race and both retired early.
This, combined with another great pit stop and some very aggressive riding from Eslick was enough to give him a wide margin of victory, as he crossed the finish line nearly 11 seconds ahead of Jake Gagne, who led third place finisher Jake Lewis by 26 seconds. Bobby Fong finished a respectable fourth on his Latus Motors Triumph 675, and Garret Gerloff came in fifth on his Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha R6.
Eslick’s elation at winning the Daytona 200 for the first time was evident as he celebrated with fans, friends, and crew all around the track. His victory laps showed just how rewarding the endurance race was for him, and his reception from his team in the winner’s circle was a warm one. Celebration ensued with fellow podium finishers Gagne and Lewis, and Eslick solemnly dedicated his win to close friends who he had recently lost, including paddock favorite Tommy Aquino.
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