Saddlemen

RoadRace Factory Race Report from COTA: Trial by Fire in Austin

| 28 April 2017 4:05 pm

MotoAmerica 2017
Round 1: Circuit of the Americas

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
AUSTIN, TX, APR. 20-23, 2017

Welcome to the Circuit of the Americas…

Welcome to the Circuit of the Americas…

The 2017 MotoAmerica season officially kicked off with flare and all the right pomp and circumstance. In what is becoming a tradition, the season opener was held in conjunction with the third round of the MotoGP championship. While that’s cool and all, we care about our business… and this season, our business is all about developing a new race bike. This first round would signify some very important key milestones for the new project that is the Genuine Broaster Chicken/ Honda (GBCH) team.

The biggest milestone is obviously the addition of the newest team member, the 2017 Honda CBR1000rr SP2. With limited testing time and even more limited parts, the 32Crew had their work cut for them.

The team approached this task with the same methodical approach that has won them two championships. The idea was to take every opportunity to zero in on race settings that would allow rider Jake Gagne to maximize the potential of the new CBR. With no weather issues in the forecast, every lap was going to count toward race setup.

Jake Gagne 32 takes the lead.

Jake Gagne 32 takes the lead.

The first session was held on Thursday afternoon, under typically cloudy yet bright Texas skies. Gagne was able to stick to the plan of five laps out and then pit, then back out for five to seven and back in… rinse and repeat until the end of the session. While the timing sheets didn’t show it, Gagne was making some serious strides on the Honda, and with his relationship with crew chief Scott Jensen, every detail, bump and sound was scrutinized.

After poring over the notes and data, the crew went to work on establishing a new baseline setup for Friday’s qualifying session one. The weekend’s schedule called for abbreviated sessions compared to when the series is on its own. This didn’t equate to a ton of time to really dial in the bike for a true race feel prior to qualifying. The goal is getting into Superpole.

Jake Gagne (32) stays cool in the shade.

Jake Gagne (32) stays cool in the shade.

Regardless of the limited time, the crew members did their thing and tweaked and adjusted and modified all they could until qualifying session one. Gagne got out to a great start and throughout the session kept making faster lap after faster lap.

Going into the second qualifying session, the team was really excited to see how the bike would react to more adjustments that had been made. Following the second qualifying session, the team was ecstatic to learn that Gagne had made it into Superpole.

For its part, Dunlop had brought in a new pre-qualifying tire to allow teams to get up to speed quicker during Superpole, and they worked brilliantly. After only three flying laps, Gagne entered the pits to put on the super-soft qualifying tires. These allow for one out lap and one flying lap. It was during the flying lap that Gagne experienced a lowside and was unable to complete Superpole. At the end of the day, Gagne would have to start the races in position 11.

Working through the night to prepare the Honda for race one, Scotty and the 32Crew were very pleased with Jake’s feedback from the previous sessions, and they felt that they had a chance to make some big steps forward during the race.

Jake Gagne (32) gets ready to roll!

Jake Gagne (32) gets ready to roll!

As the bike lined up on the starting grid, the fact that Honda was back on the Superbike grid was not lost on the crew or the media. A lot of buzz had been circulating about how this new CBR would do in a race situation. Gagne was his typically calm and jovial self, focused on the task at hand and not concerned with media hype. Under almost ideal racing conditions, the grid was cleared of support crew, and the riders closed their visors and prepared for the first race of the 2017 MotoAmerica season.

As the lights went out on the starting grid, the symphony of race engines harmonized to create the most beautiful sound in all of sport!

The riders ran up the hill toward turn one, which can be the most disastrous corner in all of racing. This time, everyone made it cleanly through. Gagne was right in the thick of the leading group, having improved upon his starting position.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed in race one.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed in race one.

On lap two, however, there was an incident, and Josh Hayes was taken out of contention. Gagne stayed the course, didn’t get collected in the mayhem, and began to settle in.

By the midpoint of the race, Gagne was part of a group of three or four riders battling for the last spots in the top five. As he’s been known to do, Gagne began going quicker lap after lap. Soon he made his way around Josh Herrin and began tracking down Jake Lewis.

In the closing laps, Gagne made his move around the Suzuki of Lewis and was on the hunt for Mathew Scholtz. It was looking like Gagne was going to catch Mathew, but as they say in racing, “He ran out of laps.” This is a terrible description, but true. Gagne crossed the line in fifth place overall and claimed third place in Superbike – not a bad way to begin writing the new story of racing for Honda in the United States.

Jake Gagne (32) flies in Texas!

Jake Gagne (32) flies in Texas!

Hopes in the GBCH pit were at an all-time high overnight, as the weight of the first race was finally off the crew’s shoulders. All that remained was a brief warm-up and then race two. Unfortunately, the feeling of excitement and hopefulness would be replaced by doubt and confusion, as the race was over almost before it began. When Gagne made it back to the starting grid after his sighting lap, he informed Scott that there was an electrical issue and the bike was cutting off. Quickly, the team began to try to diagnose the issue. Checking all connectors and harnesses, the problem couldn’t be fixed in the few minutes remaining. Uncertain of what would happen during the race, Gagne was literally facing an uphill battle as the lights went out and entire field left the starting line. The electrical issue persisted, and Gagne was forced to come into the pits. After a few laps had passed, the team sent Jake back out, but in that out lap, the problem proved to be too much and Jake had to call it a race.

Unfortunately, that is part of developing a brand-new motorcycle, and while Jake and the GBCH crew were upset by not being able to complete the second race, they were very happy with the progress they’ve made in the setup and overall readability of the bike. Despite the issue, the team is excited and confident heading into Road Atlanta for round two the next weekend.

Check out this video feature from preseason testing at the Circuit of the Americas…

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

“Man, what a weekend!” Jake Gagne said. “Up, down, and all around. The amount of work that has gone into this program over the last few months from all the guys and all our supporters has been unbelievable.

“I couldn’t be more thankful for this whole group of people I have around me and Honda for getting a red bike back on the grid,” he continued. “We learned a ton this weekend and made a lot of forward progress. To have a pretty good result in race one was great for us all and a good start for where we are with this motorcycle.

“It was a real bummer to have these issues and not make it through race two,” he concluded, “but we’ll take the positives and be ready for ATL.”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“The awesome Circuit of the Americas track not only had extreme elevations on the track but with our finishes and emotions as well,” noted team principal Danny Walker. “Once again, the GBCH crew put in a lot of hard work and almost more hours than there are in the day. I am super happy and very proud of them and Jake for the effort in the first race.

“As is typically the case with new machines, issues caused Jake to retire from race two,” Walker said. “So [we are] leaving COTA and our first race on the CBR1000rr SP2 with guarded optimism, knowing that we still have a lot of hard [work] ahead of us. My worries are always alleviated knowing that I have the best crew in the MotoAmerica paddock working tirelessly to get the job done. Couple that with the support we’ve received from our sponsors and technical partners, and I think we’ll be running up towards the front soon.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“COTA was our official first race event with the new 2017 CBR1000rr SP2, and we were all excited to get it into competition in the MotoAmerica Superbike class and showcase the capabilities of the new CBR,” reported crew chief Scott Jensen. “With this being a brand-new bike to not just our team but worldwide, there has been an extreme amount of work done by the entire crew and several of our sponsors. We’ve all been working around the clock getting the bike to race trim, and we were eager to show the bike off to the world.

“The first couple practice-qualifying sessions went well,” he continued. “We were constantly set up to make the bike work for Jake, and he was getting more and more comfortable. Going into Superpole, we were excited to put on the ‘Q’ tires and put the bike through its paces. When we came into the pits after the ‘pre-Q’ tire, our times were looking very competitive, and we threw on the final qualifiers and went out for our flying laps. Jake, as always, was riding the bike at its limit and posting great splits, but unfortunately, with the extra grip of the ‘Q,’ at about the halfway point of the lap, he lost the front tire and crashed. This relegated us to the fourth row on the grid.

“Race one, Jake rode the wheels off the new CBR, and we stuck to our plan of running the harder rear tire and running people down at the end of the race, ending up fifth, which was a great result for our initial race on the new Honda.

“Unfortunately, race two was over before it began,” he said, “with an electrical problem on the bike, and we retired after the first flying lap.

“From here,” he concluded, “we head to Atlanta and fully expect to build on our progress at COTA and bring the Honda to the front of the field!”

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