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Tommy Hayden looks to close the gap at VIR

Tommy Hayden understands that time is beginning to run out in his attempt to chase down Josh Hayes for the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike championship. However, Hayden says it’s not time to panic as he heads into the AMA SuperBike doubleheader that headlines this weekend’s Suzuki White Lightning AMA Pro Nationals presented by Foremost Insurance at Alton’s VIRginia International Raceway.

“I don’t feel like it’s time to panic being just nine points behind,” said Hayden who rides the No. 22 Rockstar/Makita Suzuki.

“Obviously, it’s not the best position to be in, but it’s not too bad. I don’t feel a lot of pressure. There are six races left and over 200 points up for grabs, and I’m only nine points behind. There is still a lot of time left. We’ve just got to keep on doing what we’ve been doing and try to keep the pressure on.”

Hayden has recorded five straight top-three finishes that include two of his season’s three wins. Hayes, who rides the No. 4 Team Graves Yamaha, also has two wins in the last five races.

The pair has waged a tough battle all season, and that battle will continue this weekend when they take to the 2.25-mile VIR North Course.

“It’s been a tough battle all year, but I’ve enjoyed it,” Hayden said.

“Josh and I have traded wins the last several races. It has allowed us to keep the lead to less than 10 points. We’ve been see-sawing back and forth and trading wins. That’s what championships are supposed to be about – going back and forth and fighting – one day one person getting the better of the other one, and the next day the other guy fighting back and taking those points back. From a challenge standpoint, it’s really been a lot of fun.”

Hayden said VIR has typically been a good track for him and that he is confident coming to VIR.

“I like VIR, and I have won a lot of races there,” Hayden remarked.

“I always look forward to going there. It’s a little bit tight on our SuperBikes because we have a lot of power. It’s a flowing track. I think I’m a pretty smooth rider. The technical sections kind of flow together, and that works pretty good for me.

“You look at the track, and it looks like that’s one turn there,” Hayden continued, “but when you’re out on the track, you find that a lot of this track is three corners in a row where they all pretty much go hand-in-hand. One corner, the first part of it, sets you up for the next one, and that one sets you up for the next. You have to do all three corners correctly to really get through that section well and get a really good lap time. I feel I’m pretty smooth rider and can put the bike on the line I want it to be consistently.”

Qualifying today and Saturday will play a key role towards success this weekend. Hayden said he doesn’t feel that he necessarily has to be the top qualifier. It is important, however, to be fast enough to make it to the front row of the starting grid.

“You want to be in the top four, for sure, and be on the front row to put yourself in a good position to get a good start,” Hayden pointed out.

“The start is definitely more important. In order to set yourself up for a good race, you have to have a solid qualifying run. You want to get on the front row so that you can hopefully get down to the first turn and start the race off clean and take it from there.”

Finding the right setup and tire combination during practice today will also be a big factor, especially with the hot weather that is anticipated for this weekend.

“Tire choice is critical,” Hayden noted.

“You have to pick the right compound of tire. You don’t want to use too soft a tire and overheat the tire. Yet, you don’t want to use too hard a tire either and then not have the grip.
“It’s a balance as far as that goes,” he added.

“That’s something that we usually face every year at VIR. It’s nothing new, but it’s another challenge of the weekend.”

Soaring track surface temperatures will pose a challenge to every team competing at VIR this weekend.

“Typically, VIR is one of our hotter races,” Hayden noted.

“The track temperatures are typically one of the hottest we see all year. We call the track greasy because the track gets a little more slippery when it’s that hot. It’s more challenging. You have to be careful. It’s easy to make a mistake.

“VIR is one of the more challenging tracks, for sure,” Hayden added.

“All of them have their own kind of challenge, but I’d say VIR is right up there at the top.”