Round 9: New Jersey Motorsports Park
Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by Brock Imaging
MILLVILLE, NJ, SEPT. 9-11, 2016
The Weekend That Typified the Season…
It’s perhaps one of the most clichéd storylines in sports: “The Fall of the Titans” – the team that goes from dominance to struggling in one season. The scrapper that continues to fight against all odds. The tired ol’ adage that “through the adversity, we all learned, and isn’t that what sport is really about?”
Literary tools aside, what happened in one weekend in New Jersey is as perfect a representation of this team’s season as you’ll ever see. The team started strong with great optimism, ran a decent pace, and then faded back to slip quietly off the track.
The 2016 MotoAmerica season is tough to put into words. After a season full of highs and lows, the mindset within the team had shifted to “Prepare for next season.”
Coming into New Jersey, the guys were hopeful that the continued testing conducted during the break would yield the sought-after leaps forward that could propel Jake Gagne toward the front while making him feel more comfortable and planted on the bike. Gagne himself was also optimistic about the improvements and his chances at the NJMP circuit. This is a track that Jake knows well, and considering he has won two straight championships at the Millville, New Jersey, venue, he was anticipating a solid weekend. With no rain in the forecast, the team prepared for a consistent baseline setup heading into Free Practice 1 on Friday morning.
As Jake took to the track for the first session, the crew noted that further adjustments would need to be made to the front of the motorcycle to complement the changes achieved on the rear during testing. He finished the session in fifth position.
During the break between sessions, the “32Crew” took to the task of making those front-end adjustments, hoping that it would optimize the overall feel of the bike. Jake powered through the second free practice session and would close out the day in seventh. This would bolster the team’s spirits for a solid Saturday of qualifying.
The final practice session on Saturday morning came and went without any issues or problems, and Jake was feeling confident that he could put together a strong qualifying performance. Jake has a way of playing down his emotions, so when he smiles and says, “Yeah, I think we should be okay for qualifying,” you can be assured that he’s pumped about his chances.
As Superpole began, Jake went out for about two laps to get himself and the bike prepared for the Dunlop Qs. These tires give Jake three laps, max, to nail it. One lap is an out lap, so the second lap must be a flier!
And it was!
Jake was in the zone with his Broaster/ RoadRace Factory Yamaha, and it was awesome to watch the live timing screen fill up with green and pink times. He was on a blistering pace, and when he crossed the line as the 15-minute session came to an end, Jake had put his bike in second position, smack in the middle of the front row, splitting the factory Yamaha duo of Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier. The stage was now set for some incredible racing on Sunday…
On Sunday, September 11, 2016, following a very emotional and fitting tribute to the first responders from that fateful morning 15 years ago, the grid was set for the finale of the 2016 MotoAmerica Superbike season. The riders took to their starting-grid spots and impatiently awaited for the lights to go out.
Revs soared and the lights went out, and race one got under way!
Jake made a good start from second on the grid and was able to maintain a top-five position as the herd maneuvered through the first lap. After a quick battle with the factory Yamahas and Suzukis, Jake found himself circulating just behind the lead group but ever so slowly losing touch with them.
By midrace, it was clear that Jake wouldn’t be able to catch them, so it became a matter of keeping the charging Bobby Fong and the pack of SuperStock riders behind him.
At the line, Jake was bested by Fong and finished in sixth overall. It was a difficult race, but there was one more to go.
Race Two was over just about as soon as it began. While waiting for the lights to go out and start the race, the stress on the clutch was too much. Once the lights went out, Jake immediately knew something was wrong. By turn one, he was already midpack, and at end of the second lap of the race, Jake brought his bike into the pits, ending the day – and the season.
“We were feeling good, [the] team was pretty pumped up!” Gagne said. “One more round, and after the year we’ve had, we wanted to go out with a bang. It started all right; we put it on the front row and we were looking good, pretty awesome. We hadn’t done that since the first race at COTA.
“In the first race,” he continued, “we made a bit of gamble and went with the softer of the tire choices, and all the other guys were on the mediums. It was nice; I got to hang with the front guys until the tires went off. So that was a bit of a bummer.
“We got pumped for race two and threw on the better tire choice so we could run with those guys. Unfortunately, I fried the clutch, and that was it. Only made it about two laps, then pulled it in.
“You know, that’s 2016 for us!
“Thank you to Scotty [Jensen], Danny [Anderson] and Evan [Steel] for all their work; the whole team for their support; and all my sponsors for sticking with us this year. It’s been tough, but we are looking forward to the off season and getting back to testing.”
“The season has been a test,” said team principal Danny Walker. “I’d like to call it that. It was a test. It tested our crew, our equipment, our durability, our patience and, most importantly, our resolve. I’m very proud of the crew and Jake for what they have done this season. They did something that we knew was going to be difficult. It proved to be massively more difficult than we anticipated, but they stuck with it.
“You know, Scotty is such a competitor and when Danny and Evan are with him, the three of them are like pit bulls when it comes to attacking a problem. They spent every moment possible working to improve the motorcycle for Jake.
“And as for Jake, he never let up. It’s hard for a racer, especially one of his caliber, to stay the course and keep the mindset positive despite so many setbacks.
“We leave this season behind,” Walker concluded. “We probably left it behind after Road America; that’s when we really decided that we would spend our time developing the bike for next year.
“Our sponsors have been great and their continued support through this difficult season has been amazing! We came here to put on a good show for them in the final round, and I think that we were able to do that. We put the bike on the front row, and Jake did a great job. Unfortunately, the clutch got us in race two, and we left the race as soon as it started. It’s a bummer and not how we wanted to finish this season, but we move forward from here and we begin to build for next season so that we can assault the series firing on all cylinders.”