RoadRace Factory Race Report from MotoAmerica Round One: Deep in the Heart of Texas!

| 22 April 2015 1:56 pm

Round 1: Circuit of the Americas

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
AUSTIN, TX, APR. 10-12, 2015

Round one of the 2015 MotoAmerica season is in the books, and what a weekend it was! For the first time, the National road-racing series visited the beautiful Circuit of the Americas, situated in the heart of Texas. What added to the excitement was the pairing of MotoAmerica and MotoGP for a combined weekend of intense racing action. For the RoadRace Factory, this would be the first time that the new rider and crew line-ups would not only be facing the competition from other teams, but now they would find out what each other could do. For Jake Gagne and the new Yamaha R1 SuperStock mount, this would be the ultimate proving ground, in front of the international crowd.

Welcome to the Circuit of the Americas.

Welcome to the Circuit of the Americas.

What were Gagne and his crew’s expectations coming into this season? Well, to be honest, the expectations were pretty high. Coming off the 2014 season, which saw Gagne take the number-one plate in the Daytona Sportbike class, he and his crew are out to prove a point. That point is that Jake is fast!

With the weather forecast showing deteriorating conditions and possible thunderstorms predicted by race day, it was imperative that Gagne get off to a flying start. The test at COTA a few weeks prior helped identify the path the crew needed to take, but it wasn’t enough to solve all the issues with a brand-new motorcycle. Despite the lack of testing by the time Gagne took to the track for the first time on a special Thursday session, he did what he needed to do: He went fast.

Jake Gagne on his new Yamaha R1 SuperStock bike.

Jake Gagne on his new Yamaha R1 SuperStock bike.

He was doing so well, in fact, that by the time qualifying rolled around, he was actually leading factory Superbikes. If only for a brief time, Gagne and his crew had their SuperStock R1 on the provisional pole. As one would expect, with qualifying coming to a close, both Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier set out and took the top two positions on the grid, with Gagne taking third overall on the starting line.

When it was time for race one, the weather was playing games. Would it be sunny, or rainy, or a mixture of both? Immediately after the sighting lap, it became a full wet race, and the team scrambled to get rain tires on the bikes.

The green flag was waved as the rain came down, and the pack of Superbike and SuperStock riders charged up the hill to turn one. Gagne made a decent start but lost his third position as the factory Suzukis overtook him.

By turn three, Gagne was in fifth, but hanging with the lead Superbikes. The conditions made the race something of a procession, as the heavy rain gave way to a light mist, but the weather then turned partly sunny, which left the riders fighting a slippery track. Gagne is a bit of a wet-weather specialist, and his skills proved once again that he is force to be reckoned with in the rain. As the laps counted down, he would find himself in fourth overall and in first in the SuperStock class. Race one: position one!

It was looking like race two would play out in much the same manner as race one. Early morning weather conditions forced the postponement of the warm-up session until after the MotoGP race. However, the weather gods must’ve heard the collective prayers of all the teams and riders, as the skies cleared up, the sun came shining through, and race two was going to be held under a beautiful blue Texas sky. Now, for the first time this season, we’d get to see what the new R1 is capable of under ideal racing conditions.

Once again, Gagne lined up on the front row and waited for the start of the race. This was almost an identical repeat of race one. The horsepower of the factory Superbikes got the better of Gagne off the line and the run up to turn one. He once again found himself in fifth as the riders completed lap one. This race had been shortened due to the earlier delay, so Gagne would have to act quickly if he wanted to make his mark.

Soon after lap four, Gagne had gotten around Jake Lewis, on the factory Suzuki, and was chasing down the lead group, which was comprised of Roger Hayden, Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier.

By the midpoint of the race, Roger Hayden was having an issue with his front end, and Gagne saw this as an opportunity to make his move. Gagne made a pass as Hayden struggled and took the third slot. Still within respectable distance from Hayes and Beaubier, Gagne set his sights on the two factory Yamahas. At one point, he was just a couple of tenths of a second off their pace, and going into turn one, he was close enough to sniff the exhaust fumes. As the saying goes, “There’s no replacement for displacement,” and once the factory duo began to pull a gap, they would eventually clear off, leaving a recovering Hayden trying to catch Gagne. As they crossed the stripe, Hayden had overtaken Gagne for third place overall, but that still left Gagne in first position for his class. Overall, it was a complete victory for Gagne and his crew.

In front of the world stage, Gagne and his crew had put their stamp on the Circuit of the Americas and showed everyone what they are capable of.

Jake Gagne took the center step on the SuperStock podium.

Jake Gagne took the center step on the SuperStock podium.

“We all had high hopes going into the first round at COTA,” Gagne said, “and it turned out to be an excellent weekend. The weather threw a few curve balls at us all weekend, but to come out with a great race in both the wet and dry was awesome! The team and myself learned a lot and continued to make steps forward, and I think we showed how much potential this new R1 has. I just can’t wait to get back spinning laps at Road Atlanta next weekend!”

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The first round of the MotoAmerica SuperSport class was set to be a veritable who’s-who of established 600cc talent and up-and-comers, all vying for attention from the MotoGP establishment. Track time for this class was going to be extremely limited and only one race was on the docket.

The first practice session was held on Thursday afternoon – a rare event. Forty minutes had been was allotted for the teams to shake down their bikes, and the RoadRace Factory trio – Tomy Puerta, Ben Young and Cameron Petersen – were eager to get on track and finalize setups and continue to familiarize themselves with the new circuit.

Tomy Puerta ended up having an off weekend in Austin.

Tomy Puerta ended up having an off weekend in Austin.

As the initial session ended, it was clear that more work needed to be accomplished, both mechanically on the bikes and physically with the riders. This circuit is huge, and the 20 turns – five of which are almost stop-and-turn-the-bike-around-in-first-gear nightmares – take a toll on both rider and machine. Mixed conditions and limited time didn’t really allow for much time to nail down the ideal setup, so by race time on Saturday afternoon, it would be anyone’s guess as to who would take the victory.

The riders lined up as the rain began to fall. The grid would have to be launched in a downpour. The flag was dropped, and the entire field raced toward turn one.

Even under ideal conditions, turn one is a tricky corner to navigate, but the entire field of SuperSport riders negotiated it perfectly and the massive swarm of riders swooped down through turn two and toward the back S section, with Petersen and Young in midpack. Puerta suffered a mechanical issue off the line and found himself near the rear of the pack as they headed down the hill for the first time.

The battle up front was a five-way contest, and Petersen and Young sought to make it a seven-way scrap. The rain increased, and the riders began to struggle with grip as they continued to fight for position.

By midway through the race, Petersen was fighting for a solid fourth place when he lowsided. He remounted and rejoined the race, but now in the middle of the pack.

Meanwhile, Young was able to capitalize on other riders’ mistakes and had worked his way further forward. Puerta, unfortunately, was unable to ride around his issue and would have to come into the pits, surrendering his first race.

As the lead group fought, Young relied on his wet-weather experience and kept calm. Another rider fell victim to the elements, and at the line, Young finished a solid fourth.

For his efforts, Petersen would finish 15th after a very impressive show of speed and confidence in his first race on American soil.

“It was a tough weekend to start a new season,” Puerta admitted. “We’ve been a little behind of where we wanted to be in qualifying, plus the DNF in the race. I felt really strong on the wet conditions and was ready to start a strong season. But now I’m just really looking forward to Road Atlanta. I think I have an awesome team behind me, supporting me, and also the strongest crew I feel I can have. So I’m really excited to keep moving forward and keep riding hard.”

Ben Young sits in fourth in the series’ points standings.

Ben Young sits in fourth in the series’ points standings.

“[I’m] happy with how the race went,” Young said. “I feel if we managed to see through the closing laps of the race, we could have challenged for a podium, but for a fourth place for the season opener and to walk away in one piece – I guess I can’t argue with that.”

Cameron Petersen is 15th in the points.

Cameron Petersen is 15th in the points.

“[I] really enjoyed my first experience in America,” Cameron said. “I struggled a lot during practice sessions to get a setup I was comfortable with, but Sean [the crew chief] and the crew worked really hard to get the bike to where I wanted it. It felt good in the morning warm-up, even though it was in mixed conditions; it gave me some confidence for the race. I knew from the start of the race I could run with the front pack and I felt good on the bike up until the halfway point, when I crashed. I was pretty happy, though, as it was my first race in the wet. Massive thanks to the whole RoadRace Factory crew for all their hard work. Bring on Road Atlanta!”

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Wrap It Up with Danny Walker
We came into this first race with pretty high expectations,” said team owner Danny Walker. “You know, with Jake and his guys working on the new bike, we felt pretty confident that we’d be up there. After the test here a little while ago, we knew our biggest challenge was going to be from Dane Westby. We can’t express enough how saddened we are by his passing, and racing without him just leaves a huge hole, not just in the lives of those of us who knew him but on the track as well. So we focused on what we could do, which was build a solid motorcycle and let Jake ride the thing as best he could. Scotty and D.A. [Danny Anderson] really came through and built that bike to perfection and, well, Jake is Jake… he just got on it and rode the wheels off of it! I’m super proud of what they’ve accomplished, and we’re looking forward to round two.

“SuperSport, boy… we have ourselves a handful!” he continued. “Two new guys with Ben and Cam, and our returning rider, Tomy. I’m pretty bummed about Tomy’s ride this weekend, for sure. It’s not something that we expected, and I know he sure didn’t. But it’s racing, and sometimes these things happen, and we have the rest of the season to watch him run up front, where I know he’s capable of being. Ben, yeah… Wow! Nothing like a shot at a podium to boost his confidence! He rode a brilliant race and did exactly what he needed to do to be up front by the end of the race. That was awesome! Cam also ran a great race up until the unfortunate incident, but he showed great poise and character, rejoining the race and continuing to gain experience.

“All in all, it was a mixed weekend for us,” Walker concluded. “Some things went really well and others showed that we have room to improve. This track was amazing, and we’re really excited by what we’ve seen with respect to MotoAmerica and the kind of show they put on. This is looking like it’s going to be a great year for racing and for the fans. Can’t wait for round two. Oh, wait, we don’t have to – it’s this next weekend!”

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