RoadRace Factory Race Report from Miller Motorsports Park, Take Two: SuperStock – Hard Times in the High Desert

| 2 July 2015 12:58 pm

Round 6: Miller Motorsports Park

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
TOOLE, UT, JUNE 26-28, 2015

First or Last.

That isn’t just a cool motto; it’s been a fact of Jake Gagne’s season. Coming into Miller Motorsports Park, that motto would be put to the test.

It would be an (ahem) interesting weekend for Jake Gagne at Miller Motorsports Park…

It would be an (ahem) interesting weekend for Jake Gagne at Miller Motorsports Park…

The test wouldn’t come from the heat or from the track conditions but from Jake’s own history with the Utah track. When looking back through his past races at this facility, it’s never really been a track that he can confidently say he’s going to own. Believe it or not, the calm and cool San Diegan has a track that he hasn’t been able to figure out. The Fates have given Miller Motorsports Park to Jake in order to keep him humble, and this year, they would be spinning their threads at a record pace to try to keep up with him and his R1.

Friday began as any Friday does on a race weekend: two allocated free practice sessions with a dash of solar radiation and thermal energy. It was during that first free practice session that Jake was determined to show the Fates that they don’t control his future. He was on a tear, as he was setting quickest section times and he was right on the heels of the factory Yamaha Superbike of Josh Hayes. Gagne was looking impressive, as he was able to stay in the draft of the Superbikes. When the first session ended, Jake was the fastest SuperStock machine and sitting in fourth overall.

Jake Gagne (32) was fast right off the bat at Miller. But it wasn’t speed that was the problem.

Jake Gagne (32) was fast right off the bat at Miller. But it wasn’t speed that was the problem.

The second free practice session was held later that afternoon, and this is where the story begins to get interesting. The Fates, having been defeated in the morning, were determined to not allow Jake to continue his progress.

Jake set out in the afternoon session with hopes of keeping up with the Superbikes again. Knowing that, on a track like MMP, the Superbikes had the advantage of the long straights, his plan was to use them as hole punchers through the thin desert air and maintain a draft in the straights to keep them close and then pounce in the corners.

As Gagne’s times dropped, the Fates cut the first string, and Jake went for a desert tour. While the incident was minor, the Utah desert is a mixture of talcum powder and rocks that eats motorcycles. His primary machine was now in the “used bin” and he would be left to his “B” bike to finish the day. That night, his 32Crew would be up late, washing, assessing and repairing.

On Saturday morning, there would be one more free practice before Superpole. The 32Crew had spent all night working on the primary motorcycle, and as Jake set out to shake down the motorcycle, a collective sigh of relief was given. Jake was doing what Jake does: He was hauling the mail and his times were dropping lap by lap. All was looking positive for a solid Superpole appearance, but the Fates had a different opinion. Jake would endure another off-track excursion, and this time there would be no overnight repairs possible. Fixes had to be done within a few hours, as Superpole was quickly approaching.

The 32Crew, being the exceptional duo of Scott Jensen and Danny Anderson, worked their mojo and, in defiance of the Fates, had Jake’s primary motorcycle back up and ready for Superpole. Jake left the pit in hopes of claiming yet another SuperStock pole position.

Superpole is a quick hit of motocross-style action. It’s a 15-minute, all-out, leave-nothing-on-the-table scrap to the line. Jake had just turned his fastest lap and was chasing down Aprilia’s Sheridan Morais, who had just captured provisional pole, when the Fates, clearly frustrated by their continuous lack of progress in stopping Jake, conjured a gremlin from deep within Jake’s R1. On Jake’s last lap, his bike became “unstarted” and he was left trackside, waiting for the truck ride back to the pits, where he would learn that he was indeed in SuperStock position two for the start of the races.

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The thing about electrical gremlins is that they don’t play nice. They can be detected in one area of the harness but then move to other areas at the speed of thought. The 32Crew spent another night and most of the morning chasing down the problem so that Jake would have the best bike possible for the races on Sunday. It was Jake and his crew vs. the Fates. After a short morning warm-up on Sunday, nothing would be revealed. Both bikes seemed to be working well enough, and as the races approached, the team had a guarded optimism.

As Jake lined up for race one, the tension in the air – like the desert heat – was on the rise. Once the crew cleared the track and the lights went off, it would be Jake against the Fates.

Jake Gagne (32) was thrown a few curves in Toole, Utah.

Jake Gagne (32) was thrown a few curves in Toole, Utah.

Jake made another incredible start, getting off the line and staying as close to the Superbikes as possible. He cleared away from Joshua Day early on, and as the race progressed, the gap between Jake and the Superbikes steadily grew as the gap between Josh Day and Jake shrank.

In the final few laps, Day made a pass on Gagne, and as Gagne tried to counter, the electrical gremlin reappeared. The Fates had cut their second string. Jake was left trackside yet again to watch his “First or Last” motto become reality, as Josh Day went on to win race one.

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When things start to go bad, sometimes they just seem to keep getting worse. For Jake and his 32Crew, that is exactly what happened. Jake’s bike was taken to parc ferme after race one, and as it sat there in the heat, it began to spew precious fluids, and by the time the bike was returned to the pit, Scotty and Danny had their hands full. During the Support-class races, they completely tore down Jake’s primary bike and backup bike to find solutions that would allow Jake to stay in the race and win in the afternoon. Scott and Danny employed all the help they could muster, and it was an all-hands-on-deck effort to restore the primary bike back to race condition. By the time the horns blew for the riders to take to their sighting lap, Jake’s primary bike had been repaired, and he cautiously left pit lane. The sighting lap gave no indication of any issues, so, with hopeful hearts, the team watched as the revs went up and the lights went out.

Again, Jake made a great start and was leading the SuperStock class in the early stages. What happened next can only be described as complete irreverence for fate. As Jake exited turn five, the Fates cut their final string, and the gremlin did their bidding. Jake’s bike went from a controlled slide to being shut off, which caused him to crash the bike.

He picked up the bike, fired it up and headed to the pits. After a quick evaluation, he went back out to finish the race. Jake re-entered the contest in dead last. However, he slowly and steadily increased his speed, and soon he was doing close to his fastest lap times of the weekend. He finished in the points, and he remains in control of the series championship.

What proves that Jake is no mere mortal wasn’t the fact that he remounted after a crash to finish the race, it’s that he accomplished this feat with a motorcycle in less-than-optimal condition. Postrace inspection showed that the front-brake reservoir had become dislodged from its mount. It was flapping all around the upper cowl, and an air bubble was introduced into the system. The front-brake lever could be pulled with ease to the throttle, meaning that Jake’s front brakes were less than positive. The crash had also destroyed his left-side rear-set. Spinning freely on its mount, Jake had no solid location for his left foot for most of the race. On top of all that, it was learned that Jake had been fighting a stomach bug all weekend.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Miller Motorsports Park.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Miller Motorsports Park.

Even though the Fates had sliced their strings and caused Jake to falter, he still prevailed! He didn’t accept his fate when it was doled out to him. He showed why he’s a world-class athlete, and he did it all with a smile on his face and appreciation for his crew.

Now it’s on to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and another track where the Superbikes don’t have a clear advantage. The 32Crew is already on the hunt to rid the bike of any electrical issues so that when they roll into Laguna, it won’t be up to the Fates.

Despite a less-than-stellar weekend, Jake Gagne is still first in the SuperStock points standings.

Despite a less-than-stellar weekend, Jake Gagne is still first in the SuperStock points standings.

“Utah was a rough one, just one of those weekends,” Gagne admitted. “Scotty and DA worked ’til 3 a.m. every night to clean up a few of my mistakes and scratches, so I have to give them a huge hats-off. It’s very encouraging to see how hard the whole crew works together to get the job done.

“Race one, I got off to a decent start,” he explained, “but I was struggling halfway through until we had some electrical gremlins that shut the bike off with a few [laps] to go.

“Race two, I felt a bit better off the bat, but [that] didn’t last long. I was sliding out of [turn] five when we had a little electrical hiccup, and it cut out when the rear was stepped out. I was done before I knew it. I’m glad we were able to pick it up and finish to get some points.

“I can’t wait to swing my leg over the R1 in a couple weeks at Laguna!”

Team manager Danny Walker.

Team manager Danny Walker.

“This was the toughest weekend we’ve had,” confessed team manager Danny Walker. “You know, there are certain places that just don’t go well with certain riders. We can go back and see that Miller just seems to have Jake’s number. I’m glad we got through this weekend, as I don’t really know how much more we could’ve thrown at his bikes.

“To take the positives from here, I’ll say that we’ve got the best crews in the paddock. I know these guys were here until the early morning every day, working on Jake’s bike. Electrical issues are tough, and when a bike goes down at a 120 mph, it’s the things you can’t see that come back to bite you.

“Jake also keeps my faith in him,” Walker continued. “He just rides and rides strong. He’s the most mentally strong rider I know of, and when there’s an issue or something’s not going right, he will ride around it if possible. Sometimes he’ll even go faster somehow.

“I think now, we recover,” Walker said in summation. “We have some time before Laguna, and we’ll get this bike sorted and come back better than before. We feel that Laguna is a track where we can put the Superstock R1 in a position to beat some Superbikes. So we’ll just focus on that and move on.”

[For more from the Supersport portion of this event, please see “RoadRace Factory Race Report from Miller Motorsports Park, Take One: Supersport – Set the Oven to “Utah” and Race for Two Hours… Editor]

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