DAYTONA BEACH, FL – March 31, 2023 – (Motor Sports NewsWire) – FansChoice.tv is the live streaming home of Progressive AFT. Complete coverage of this Saturday’s ZO CBD Arizona Super TT presented by RideNow Powersports will kick off with the day’s first practice session at 2:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. PT).
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Event Rewind: Yamaha Senoia Short Track I Main Event Highlights
Can Anyone Beat TT Superstar Beach at Arizona Super TT?
The ’23 Progressive AFT season picks right back up with this weekend’s Arizona SuperTT. Read More
Last week, we discussed the increasing relevance of the mental aspects of the game as Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) threatened to upset the established pecking order.
A significant shift in the DEFCON level of any potential mind game war was avoided (or at least delayed) when Jared Mees (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing/SDI Racing FTR750) defeated Daniels in a spectacular duel in Senoia.
While that emerging rivalry bears continued monitoring, equally intriguing is how the pressure could impact two other title contenders this weekend: JD Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) and Briar Bauman (No. 3 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 890 Duke).
Beach has somehow lived up to unrealistically high expectations whenever the series has arrived at a TT in recent seasons, winning six of seven TTs dating back to his maiden Mission SuperTwins victory scored here at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in 2019.
That year also marked the last time Beach has been beaten in a TT, a feat accomplished by Bauman in the season’s edition of the fabled Peoria TT.
Every time Beach stacks up another TT win, he looks as much relieved as overjoyed, admitting afterward that he felt the weight of those hefty pre-race expectations – expectations that become heavier with each successive triumph.
Some of those wins came by blowout. Others were considerably closer, a couple of times because Bauman gave Beach all he could handle.
Bauman, meanwhile, has his own expectations to conquer. He came into the season well aware that it was likely to have its highs and lows as his team comes to grips with an all-new platform.
That said, understanding it intellectually is not quite the same as living it. And for a rider who previously viewed an extended string of seconds and thirds as a dry spell, those peaks and valleys may take some re-adjusting to.
Naturally, the peaks are easier to accept than the valleys, and this weekend stands a pretty decent chance of providing an upward swing following back-to-back runs to seventh at the DAYTONA ST II and Senoia ST.
When making sense of the premier-class power hierarchy, it’s only accurate to consider the current crop of elite riders as a collection of five as opposed to four: Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750) has earned his inclusion in that group.
While it generally took the independent Indian riders a little extra time to adapt to last year’s rule changes, once the Mission Roof System squad got a handle on things, Robinson produced at a championship level, particularly on ovals.
Over the last eleven ovals races – starting with Robinson’s Lima HM win and including last weekend’s Senoia ST (six Short Tracks, four Half-Miles, and one Mile in all) – only Mees boasts a better average finishing position than Robinson, and by a scant margin (3.18 versus 3.36).
Daniels isn’t too far off at 3.72, followed by Bauman (4.63), and Beach (5.18).
Those numbers shift away from Robinson’s favor, however, when you include the TTs, which have never been his strongest discipline. He’s worked hard on rounding out his game and hasn’t fared too terribly at TTs lately, logging finishes of 8th, 7th, and 11th this decade.
That said, Robinson’s title chances in recent seasons were aided by the fact that there have only been three TTs since the 2020 season, combined with an entry list that featured relatively fewer riders. Neither factor remains the case in 2023 with four TTs on the schedule and a significantly bolstered premier-class lineup.
Robinson has the ability to become a Grand National Champion. But in order to make good on that potential, he’ll need to deliver at a fairly high level around right-handers, over jumps, and on the brakes.
While some riders suffer at the TTs, others thrive. Beach and Robinson may be on the opposite end of the spectrum among the series’ elite, but there’s also opportunity for riders outside the list of expected title fighters to out- or underperform their usual standard.
One rider to keep an eye on is Ben Lowe (No. 25 Rackley Racing/Mission Foods Indian FTR 750). Lowe’s 10th-place finish last weekend didn’t fully reflect the impressive form he showed for the bulk of the evening. He’s also a pretty solid TT rider and could be in position to make some waves in Arizona.
Kody Kopp (No. 1 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) will find himself in the now rare position of being the hunter rather than the hunted.
Sure, he’ll still be expected to run near the front, but, for a change, he won’t be the rider tipped by most to win. That may be a mistake. The last time Kopp was free to ride relatively pressure free – at last year’s Volusia HM Finale I after locking up the championship one round prior – he snaked his way up through the field and ran away with his seventh win of the season.
Kopp isn’t the most decorated TT rider in the field, but he’s teased race-winning form in the discipline. He just needs a full race to come his way.
A national champion roadracer and boyhood amateur dirt track star, Hayden Gillim (No. Comstock Energy/Vance & Hines KTM 450 SX-F) has unique skills that translate perfectly to TT racing. He made that all too clear back in 2016-2017, when he took dominating Parts Unlimited AFT Singles victories at the Peoria TT, Springfield TT, and Buffalo Chip TT.
Gillim doesn’t just share a similar racing background as Mission SuperTwins race favorite Beach – the two are like family, having grown up and lived together for much of their lives.
A Beach-Gillim double victory wouldn’t go down in the record books the same way that the twin wins of Cory Texter and Shayna Texter-Bauman did at the 2019 Texas Half-Mile, but it wouldn’t be all that far removed either.
Beach’s six career Mission SuperTwins TT wins places him in a four-way tie with Joe Leonard, Bart Markel, and Ricky Graham for sixth most all-time.
Six wins also leaves him far behind the top spot on the list, with “King” Henry Wiles atop the order at 19, followed by Chris Carr (15), Steve Eklund (9), Dick Mann (8), and Gary Scott (7).
However, a shift in how those wins are counted does much to underline Beach’s complete TT mastery.
The huge numbers posted by Wiles and Carr were built in large part via their legendary Peoria performances. Overall, Wiles has won at three different TTs (Peoria TT, Castle Rock TT, and Springfield TT), while Carr won at two different TTs (Peoria TT and Castle Rock TT).
Beach, meanwhile, is tied with Eklund for taking wins at the most TT venues at five (for Beach, the Arizona Super TT, Buffalo Chip TT, Atlanta Super TT, Peoria TT, and Castle Rock TT).
Throw in his Parts Unlimited AFT Singles victory at the Springfield TT and Beach exists in a category all of his own.
Climbing The Ladder
While Kopp is still seeking his first TT win, his two closest championship rivals – Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 D&D Racing/Certified KTM 450 SX-F) and Max Whale (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) – rank as among the most accomplished TT riders in the Parts Unlimited AFT Singles field.
Both are part of a five-way tie for sixth all-time with two apiece. The only rider in the field with more is the aforementioned Gillim, who is tied for third all-time with three.
And unlike in Mission SuperTwins, there exists an opportunity to quickly climb the ranks. Should either Whale or Gauthier somehow sweep this year’s TTs, they would rank #1 on the all-time list, a position currently owned by Jesse Janisch at five.
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