Mathew Scholtz currently only sits 1 point from second-placed Jake Gagne in the standings going into the final two rounds of the season.
Going into the final 2 rounds of the 2020 MotoAmerica Superbike season Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz is sitting in third position, just 1 point behind second-place Monster Yamaha/Attack Performance rider Jake Gagne. During the 2020 season, Scholtz has accumulated an already-impressive number of podium finishes. But Scholtz didn’t start the COVID-19 delayed season the way he wanted to.
“The season didn’t start off too good for me,” observed Scholtz. “I actually missed the pre-season test, having broken my collar bone in a motocross accident. I missed a lot of vital pre-season training.”
Could this be a breakthrough year for the South African rider?
“Going into this year, we kind of knew that Cameron [Beaubier] would be really, really strong. With all that went on over the offseason last year it made 2019 difficult. That was a bit of a disaster compared to where we thought we would be. This offseason we were just a lot calmer and didn’t set our expectations too high,” Scholtz stated. “With how the first race of the season went, we were like ‘we can actually do this.’ So, for us, finishing the season in second with a couple of wins would be a really good season.”
Like so many other sporting events in 2020 the MotoAmerica season was delayed but eventually kicked off in late May without fans in attendance. The first round at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin saw Scholtz take a surprising second-place finish in race 1 behind defending champion and championship-favourite Cameron Beaubier [Monster Energy Attack Performance Yamaha]. The Westby Racing rider was able to fend off the challenges of factory-backed riders Jake Gagne [Monster Energy Attack Performance Yamaha] and Bobby Fong [M4 Ecstar Suzuki].
“It was definitely a little strange not having the fans, my girlfriend and some of the team there,” observed Scholtz. “But, as far as the actual riding goes, I really didn’t notice too much. Even when there are fans and spectators at the race, you really just kind of focus on your own job; just riding and concentrating on your brake points.”
Race 2 of the opening weekend was a different story. On lap seven, Scholtz got tangled up in turn 5 with Fong and went down hard, ending his race. The timing couldn’t have been worse as Scholtz was comfortably in second position and on his way to his second podium finish of the young season.
“The weird part about not having the fans was more of the fact that after you finish, you go to parc fermé and there was like only 6 guys there; the 2 guys that work on your bike and the 4 guys from the other teams. That was a little bit strange, it’s definitely better having fans there. But, for the first race weekend of the season without a lot of pre-season testing or development on the bike, we were pretty happy with the way things went.”
Round 2 of the series took place once again at Road America, this time the fans were allowed to join in. The weekend saw some more great racing with Beaubier taking top honours in race 1 with Scholtz finishing a disappointing 5th after failing to get a clean start. Race 2 saw a new face atop the podium as Bobby Fong was able to put his Suzuki across the line ahead of Gagne, Kyle Wyman [Kyle Wyman Racing] and Scholtz for his first-ever superbike win. Points leader Beaubier hit a bump in turn 1 on lap 4, lost the front end and crashed out. The weekend didn’t go as planned for Scholtz and the Westby Racing team and they felt they had lost a little momentum from the opening round.
“We tried a new engine package for round 2,” stated Scholtz. “That really didn’t work out at all. We were actually slower than the first round at the same track. We ended up fourth and fifth, which was really disappointing.”
Having switched back to their original motor, round 3 at Road Atlanta saw improved results with Scholtz starting to close the gap on Beaubier ever so slightly in each race.
“It was really positive,” enthused Scholtz. “I was able to finish third in both races and we were just really happy with how the bike worked. I managed to close the gap to Cameron [Beaubier] and Gagne a bit. Those Yamaha guys are really strong.”
One of the many changes from the 2019 set-up was the switch to the new 2020 Yamaha R1 for the team. Although not a factory-backed team, Westby Racing does enjoy a great relationship with Yamaha. Along with the new bike came other upgrades in performance.
“The superbikes we race in MotoAmerica are pretty close to the WSBK specifications. Besides the frame, which pretty much stayed the same from 2019 to 2020, all of the other parts are specialized, custom aftermarket parts, like the swingarm, triple clamp, etc.,” stated Scholtz. “The biggest change for us was the software upgrade to our Magneti Marelli system. We went from a version 6 to like version 12 or something. Basically, the upgrade on the electronics has made the biggest difference for us.”
The fourth round at Pittsburgh International Raceway saw Scholtz and the Westby Racing team put together two solid races on the way to their best performances of the season to date. Scholtz finished second in each race and managed to close the race gap once again to Beaubier and Gagne.
“Pittsburgh was a really positive weekend for us,” stated Scholtz. “We again closed the gap to Beaubier at the front. We finished two-and-a-half seconds behind, and we managed to beat Gagne in both races too. I feel that every time we get on track, we’re getting quicker and learning a lot of new things. We are definitely still developing the bike, getting it quicker and handling better. At this point, we are pretty happy with how the season has progressed. The results from the last round has moved me into third place in the standings.”
Heading into the second half of the season, Scholtz and the Westby Team remained optimistic about how they will finish. The fifth round of the series took place August 28-30 at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington. This was the first time that MotoAmerica has raced in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
“I was really pumped to race at the Ridge. I’m riding as well as I ever have and the team has the bike working really, really, well. I feel like we’re right there, less than ½ second per lap,” enthused Scholtz.
The question that needs answering is can Scholtz and the Westby team catch, or stay in front of, the factory-backed riders the rest of the way?
“Things are definitely looking pretty good for us and we’re now coming to tracks that suit the Yamaha pretty well and bigger, taller riders like me.”
The 27- year old South African is feeling pretty comfortable with where he is in his career and the life he’s been able to build in America. Could a potential move to the World Championship make him change his mind?
“As things stand right now, I plan on riding in this championship until I finish my career,” observed Scholtz. “I could maybe try to go to WSBK but I’m a little older than most people there would like. They would probably prefer to invest in a new, younger rider.”
“I’m just really happy with the life I’ve set up here and the way my racing career has progressed. I’m really happy to be part of the Westby Team and hope to continue racing here in MotoAmerica.
Featured image – www.brianjnelson.com
Written by – Tim Allen