Saddlemen

RoadRace Factory Race Report from Road Atlanta: The Progress Continues

| 4 May 2017 4:30 pm

MotoAmerica 2017
Round 2: Road Atlanta

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
BRASELTON, GA, APR. 28-30, 2017

Patience is perhaps the mantra of 2017 for the Genuine Broaster Chicken/ Honda team this season. After an opening round that saw the newly minted Honda CBR1000rr SP2 snag a third place and a DNF, the team was cautiously optimistic.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Road Atlanta.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Road Atlanta.

With a yet-undetermined electronic issue that was believed to have been resolved during a Dunlop Wet Tire Test in Birmingham, Alabama, the first practice on Friday morning would be very telling. Had the gremlins been exercised? Would the data from the Circuit of the Americas show a clear path forward in the setup of the new bike? Would a track at which the team has typically performed well provide any positive feedback for the 32Crew? All these questions would be answered in one 50-minute practice session.

It didn’t take long to get those answers. What happened that session was something 180 degrees from history.

Jake Gagne headed out for his first few laps, and everything seemed okay. His pace was off, but that’s to be expected until his confidence comes back. After three laps, Jake pulled into the pits. It would appear that the gremlins had not been chased out; they had, in fact, relocated.

Laptops were plugged into the bike and Gagne waited while new maps were loaded. Gagne was sent out and immediately pulled back in. Rinse and repeat for almost the entire session.

By the time the first session was called, Jake had only completed a handful of laps and was down on the timing sheets.

The mechanical gremlins that Jake Gagne (32) fought at COTA had not disappeared.

The mechanical gremlins that Jake Gagne (32) fought at COTA had not disappeared.

There was a flurry of activity during the break before the second practice slated for the afternoon. It would be another 50 minutes, and this time, track time was the focus. Coming up with an intermediate solution for the electronics, it was decided to just let Jake turn laps and collect as much data as possible. This would prove to be a solid plan to move forward, as Jake got comfortable and his confidence came up. His lap times got quicker and quicker – still off the pace from where they would like to be, but it was enough for Jake to qualify for Saturday’s Superpole. With a chance to move up the starting positions looming, the hardest-working crew in the paddock worked through the night to continue to hunt for resolutions.

Jake Gagne (32) flies through a turn in Braselton.

Jake Gagne (32) flies through a turn in Braselton.

Saturday morning dawned dull and overcast. With the threat of rain for the afternoon, the goal for the free practice session was to ride, come in, make small adjustments, and head back out for a few more laps.

At the conclusion of the 30-minute session, there were no major issues – but also no major solutions. “Good” was the attitude going into Superpole – a super-quick, 15-minute, all-out sprint against the clock, wherein the riders utilize the new Dunlop Pre-Qualifier for the first few laps and then change to the super-soft Qualifier for a full-on flying lap. The goal is to go as fast as physics will allow and put your machine in the best possible starting position. Jake’s attempt at this landed him in the 10th starting position. Outside of the fourth row… smack center of the starting grid.

Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda rider Jake Gagne.

Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda rider Jake Gagne.

Race one was only an hour and a half after Superpole, so the time to make last-minute adjustments was precious and fleeting. The “middle ground” approach was again decided to be the best solution for the race. Jake would be left to his own devices in order to get his Honda around the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta circuit – meaning that the electronics had been set to Zero. Off. Null. However you want to say it. Jake would have to channel his inner motocrosser to finesse the big bike through race one.

As the lights went off and the grid raced through turn one and up the hill to head down the famous S-turns (turns three through five), Jake would be holding steady in that midpack grouping. For all the drama that was developing at the front of the race, Jake would find himself alone after the fifth lap and holding steady.

Navigating the esses at Road Atlanta.

Navigating the esses at Road Atlanta.

As the fighting among Toni Elias, Cameron Beaubier, Roger Hayden and Josh Hayes was going at a fever pitch, with bikes and riders bumping and bouncing off one another all the way to the finish line, Jake took the checkers in 10th overall, taking the final Superbike position.

That afternoon and evening, after the rider-and-crew-chief debrief, it would be a silent night in the pits. Only the sounds of ratchets spinning and tools clashing on aluminum workbenches broke through the quiet Georgia night.

Visors come down, gloves are adjusted for the final time, and then revs come screaming to life. The lights go out, and for the final time this weekend, the 16 riders all dash for the apex of turn one!

The entire group stayed close together for most of the opening laps. However, as the race progressed, another lead group developed – five main riders were pulling away from the chasing pack.

By the halfway point, Jake was once again riding solo. Josh Hayes sent his bike off the track in a manner more befitting of NASA than a Superbike, and two other retirements helped to move Jake up the standings. At the line, Jake brought the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda home in seventh overall and sixth in class.

Overall, Gagne and the 32Crew did make forward progress in Georgia.

Overall, Gagne and the 32Crew did make forward progress in Georgia.

While the results were not what anyone on the team had hoped for, or feel were equal to the amount of effort put into the event, all was not lost. Despite the issues, the general tone was optimistic. The difference between Saturday’s race and Sunday’s was more than 20 seconds in total time. That is a massive positive step forward, and when factored in with faster trap speeds and a more confident feeling on the bike, Jake and his crew are looking forward to VIR. Ever mindful that they are developing one of the rarest bikes on any national or international stage, they carry forward and remain determined to get closer to the top of the box before midseason.

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

“This whole weekend was a struggle,” Gagne confessed. “We kind of knew that coming into the event, because we didn’t really have time to figure out what happened at COTA. We thought we found the solution at the Dunlop Tire testing facility, but we couldn’t be sure until we got out on track.

“We lost a lot of time during practice,” he continued, “so we kind of fell behind heading into the races. Race one was a real struggle. I haven’t struggled like that for an entire race in a long time. So we regrouped and came into race two feeling more positive and believing we made some progress. I knew we had a better bike, and we proved it. While the result wasn’t what we had hoped for, we did find some extra speed, and I was over 20 seconds faster than Saturday. So we’ll take those positive steps and keep building and head into VIR with a clearer path forward.”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“This was a tough weekend for the team, to be sure,” admitted team principal Danny Walker. “I think, though, that it’s important that we all remain aware of what it is we are trying to do. We are working on developing a new race bike while racing. We don’t have the luxury that other teams have had with running a motorcycle that is further down the development path than we are at the moment. We didn’t get much testing in, so we are literally figuring this bike out as we go, which is difficult because the successes are overshadowed by perceived failures, which happen in front of everyone. There’s no hiding what we are trying to do. At this stage of development, even the mistakes are positive, as we learn from them and zero in on the correct path forward.

“What’s important for me is to keep that intent, the purpose of what we are doing, front and center when dealing with my crew,” Walker explained. “Scotty [Jensen] is that rare guy who is not only a top-tier racer but translated his career into the technical-crew-chief role. He’s probably even more driven to succeed than Gagne is, and it’s hard to temper the racer in him when the results aren’t there. For Jake’s part, I know it’s not easy. When you’re used to winning championships, to come off a season like we had last year, it can seem like an eternity since you last stepped onto the box.

“The reality is, we are doing well – not awesome, but where we sort of knew we’d be,” he summed up. “We are in constant contact with Honda and their partners, feeding them data and information that they are using to continuously develop parts and parameters for us to try. We all remain very encouraged by our partners’ actions and also by the fans that constantly come by to tell us how happy they are that Honda is back on the grid and to keep blazing a new trail. It’s only been four races, and we remain determined to sort out the problems and push through. That’s how you develop a winning machine. We have a goal: to be running up front by midseason. I’m confident that, with Jake’s ability and Scott’s insights, we’ll get there. Our partners are with us and our fans have been extremely supportive. With those things in mind, we move on to VIR and continue to improve, continue to develop this awesome bike, and continue to make positive strides.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“We came into Road Atlanta hoping to build on our opening weekend progress at COTA,” said crew chief Scott Jensen. “The team managed to get in a partial day of testing on the Tuesday between events to try to sort out our electrical issue from COTA. We were all optimistic leaving the test that we had it sorted, but we quickly found out at Road Atlanta that we had not rectified the problem.

“When the race weekend starts off with an issue in the first session, you spend the rest of the event playing catch-up,” he explained. “And this is, unfortunately, the situation we found ourselves in. Luckily, with a rider like Jake, the focus is always on going faster regardless of the situation, and this is exactly what we did all event. As we did at COTA, we learned a ton on how to make the bike faster and more competitive in the near future. Bring on VIR!!”

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