Round 4: Virginia International Raceway
Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by Brock Imaging
ALTON, VA, MAY 13-15, 2016
In a season that has been full of ups and downs, this past weekend at Virginia International Raceway was no different.
The team arrived in Alton, Virginia, eager to get the bike out of the rig so that they could begin prepping for the weekend’s action. After they had spent the time between New Jersey and now to analyze the data and determine a corrective course of action, the “32 Crew” immediately dug into the Yamaha Superbike to make their tweaks in anticipation of nailing the first practice session.
Hours of work were scheduled to be put to the test first thing Friday morning. Mother Nature, however, decided to provide a little reminder that she is the one in control. Come the first practice session on Friday morning, the wind picked up, the temperatures dropped, and the rain appeared. The decision was made to not go out and risk potential damage on a session that would provide no helpful data for the remainder of the weekend, as the weather was predicted to be clear and warm. Testing of the new settings would have to wait until the afternoon and practice session two.
The sun came out, and so did the remainder of the paddock for free practice session number two. Jake Gagne was quick to be on the pace, and from all trackside appearances, he was really gelling with the bike. For the first time this season, it was clear that rider and machine were moving as one. While he finished in sixth overall, he came into the pits feeling happy with the bike and ready to charge toward the front on Saturday.
Saturday morning arrived, and the near-perfect conditions remained. An overnight storm had cleared off the rubber on the track surface, making it a little slick, but by the halfway point in the session, all the riders were flying around the narrow, natural-terrain circuit.
Gagne, despite his feeling on the bike, didn’t make much of an improvement and finished the session in 10th – making the cut for the fastest of the Superpole groupings, but only just barely.
As we’ve mentioned before, Superpole is a crazy throwback to when riders and teams would play games that would culminate in a one-lap, show-your-cards, leave-nothing-on-the-table scramble. Needing to improve from his 10th-place standings, Jake took off on his qualifying out lap. Needing to be careful to not burn the tire on that lap, Jake found an open spot among the riders and came off the final corner and went flying down the front section of the track bent on laying down a quick time. Sector by sector, Jake was on a leading pace. At the line, he had improved by almost two seconds on his previous laps and put himself in fifth for the beginning of the races on Sunday.
Race day. Sunday. The day where it all comes together. Everyone in the Broaster Chicken/ RoadRace Factory pit was beaming with anticipation. Jake was smiling and excited to ride, as he knew he could race up front. When Jake is in the zone and feeling the flow, it’s almost Zen-like.
Zen was the feeling throughout the morning warm-up and into the first-race sighting lap. Jake lined up in his fifth position and was back to his calm and jovial self. Jake knew that he had to get a great start in order to make his run for the front, because behind him was four-time National champ Josh Hayes, in 10th, who would be making a charge through the pack. Jake wanted no part of that, and he knew he had to leap off the line and be up front from the beginning.
The grid was cleared of all personnel; the riders made their last sighting lap and took their positions. Under absolutely ideal conditions, the revs went up, and the lights went off, sending the Superbike and Superstock field into the Virginia hillsides.
Jake didn’t make the start he needed to. He got caught up in a dogfight through the first couple of turns. After a few laps, there was a gap between Jake and the lead group. That gap was closing, however, and Jake was in fourth and making his way toward the leaders, with Josh Hayes hot on his exhaust.
Entering turn one, Josh Herrin and Roger Hayden made contact, sending Herrin into the grass and causing the leaders to check up and Hayes to run into the back of Gagne. Jake stayed up and rejoined the race, behind Claudio Corti and Bobby Fong. Jake would make the pass on Cameron Beaubier, Bobby Fong and Claudio Corti and claw his way back to fourth.
There is a saying: “If it wasn’t for bad luck, you’d have no luck at all.”
It was at this point that Jake’s bad luck this season made a spectacular reappearance. With seven laps to go, as he worked through the chicane just before the roller-coaster corners, Jake ran over the curbing with the front wheel aloft. When he set it down, that induced a head shake. The shake caused the front-brake pads on his superbike to open up and break contact with the rotors. As Jake was entering the top of the roller coaster, he had no front brakes. With no options, Jake rode the bike into the grass, where he was quickly running out of real estate, so he had to lay the bike down in the grass. He was absolutely dejected: There was no possible restarting of the bike to continue his run.
Unfortunately, there would be no second race for Jake. When he laid the bike down, he hit his head pretty hard while tumbling through the grass. During the break between races, Jake opted to play it safe and not push through the headache that had consequently developed. Jake and the 32 Crew would only watch the final race of the weekend.
Now there is an almost-three-week break before Road America. The team is in high spirits, and with Gagne well rested, the expectation is that he’ll be up front in Wisconsin.
“I was really looking forward to VIR,” Gagne said. “I like this track. It’s got a great flow to it. It’s just a cool place. We kind of had an up-and-down weekend through Friday and Saturday. We were working hard. We had a lot of things figured out. I feel like we’d really figured it out, especially in there in the first race.
“I got off to a decent start,” he continued. “Everything was feeling great. I was happy finally with the bike – happiest I’ve been with it all season so far. So that was really refreshing.
“Unfortunately, I got pushed off the track in turn one,” he lamented. “I was able to get back on the track and get my way back towards the top. I was cresting the hill on the back side of the track and I pulled a little wheelie and got some big head shake when I set it down. My brake pads got pushed apart, so I had no brakes going into that right turn. I went off into the grass, and I knew I didn’t have a lot of run-off, so I just put her down. I kind of just hit my head when I hit the ground. I just had a little headache – nothing major, but you’ve got to be smart when you’re racing. I decided to opt out of the second race and just recover and get ready for Road America.”
“VIR was another big step forward for us with our Superbike program,” said crew chief Scott Jensen. “Unfortunately, come race time, we were bumped off in race one and had a minor incident while trying to work back towards the front of the field. Jake did a fantastic job for us this weekend, as he always does. We as a team are all now champing at the bit to get back racing and build on our progress we made and start challenging for wins!”
“There are many oddities in racing,” noted team principle Danny Walker. “For example, if you were sitting at dinner with the crew Sunday night in VIR, you’d notice the mood was strikingly different from the same moment in Atlanta. Atlanta is where we earned our first podium in Superbike, and VIR we had DNF’s. That makes sense, right? But you would be wrong if you thought Atlanta was joyous, jubilant, and VIR was somber and down.
“You see, our bike and rider are finally one again,” he pointed out. “Getting on the podium or winning races that you’re dominating in is not our thing! We thrive on the challenge and the positives that come from a good fight. The knowledge that Jake and his bike are working as one again – that’s cause for us to celebrate and look forward to the next round.
“We’ve had to deal with a lot of curve balls this season,” Walker said. “The list is almost too long to actually list. But Jake and the entire RRF crew have finally worked through most of the things we have been dealing with on this crazy Superbike adventure. We’re not bummed by this weekend; in fact, it’s the opposite. We’re excited. We’re excited, as you are, to finally see what Jake can do in this competitive class and how he’s overcome the adversity that has come his way.”