Saddlemen

RoadRace Factory Race Report from Virginia International Raceway

| 18 May 2017 12:51 pm

MotoAmerica 2017
Round 3: Virginia International Raceway

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
DANVILLE, VA, MAY 14, 2017

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Virginia International Raceway.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Virginia International Raceway.

There’s a feeling one gets when things aren’t quite going as planned – a sense of foreboding, the feeling of frustration at the universe for not giving you a break. That’s how it feels when you’re heading into a race weekend when all you need is track time, consistent dry conditions in order to allow for proper set-up and data collection, and the weather forecast is showing rain and cold.

If it were a solid, heavy rain, that would have been better than what the team was looking at when they pulled into Virginia International Raceway. After a muggy set-up day where the threat of rain was high all day, it looked as if the weather experts were wrong. The rain may hold off, until… well, until it didn’t.

On Thursday night, a storm rolled through the track that was one for the ages. Not quite the rip-the-canopy-off-the-transporter micro-burst that the series experienced the year prior, but a rain that seamed to drain the heavens.

Rain was just one of the problems faced by Jake Gagne.

Rain was just one of the problems faced by Jake Gagne.

Friday was a chance for the team to develop their wet setup. With the cold and wet conditions showing no signs of lifting for the day, the team was confident that, with the electrical issues behind them (for the most part), they could focus their energy on a proper wet setup, which they had started to track down during their test at the Dunlop Tire Testing Facility. Well, if everything went according to plan, this wouldn’t be development work.

The first time out, Jake Gagne didn’t even make it to turn one before he was seen pushing the bike through the wet grass and soaked red clay. Immediately, the crew ran down to meet Jake trackside and push the bike back to the pits. There was no time for a deep dive into the inner workings of the electronics; it was just a “grab and pull” bonanza, as connectors were unconnected and reconnected. With no data to help confirm the issue, a reset was conducted. Once that had been done, Jake was sent back out – only to meet the same fate. Within seconds, he was back to running through the trackside muck while pushing his bike.

In a scene straight from a Hollywood blockbuster, crew chief Scott Jensen directed the crew to make specific adjustments and, when completed, to push the bike behind the pit wall. Jensen ran down the length of the pit wall, discarded his clipboard and jumped on the bike to ride it through the access roads, to see for himself what the issue was. On a day that was more like the Isle of Man than Virginia, this former TT competitor, dressed in shorts and crew jacket, ran his rider’s machine through parking lots and access roads to diagnose an invisible issue. Jumping off the CBR and running back to the pits with a sense of urgency, Jensen and the crew were able to remedy the issue and get Jake back out on the track with minutes to spare.

That was all Jake needed! Having lost 80 percent of the track time, Jake got out there and made the most of his remaining minutes. Immediately fast and with an increasing pace, Jake finished the session as fifth fastest. In an amazing turn of events, the team had turned a possible lost session into a top-five performance. Brilliant!

It would be a weekend of turn-abouts for the Genuine Broaster Chicken/ American Honda team.

It would be a weekend of turn-abouts for the Genuine Broaster Chicken/ American Honda team.

As they headed toward the second practice session of the day, the crew knew one thing for sure: They had finally resolved the electronics for the day. Now they could really focus on speed.

With the weather holding steady at “who knows?” the final qualifying session started off with riders going out on wet tires. Within a few laps, the track had begun to show a dry line, so out came the slicks and down went the times.

Electronics were not to be a story line in this session. With a drying track, Jake was able to turn consistent laps and get a feel for the bike, only to have it start to rain again halfway through the session. It’s an odd feeling being at a racetrack during a qualifying session and hearing silence. The wind picked up, the temperatures dropped, and the rain returned to create an uneasy sense of things to come. One rider braved the rain, and a ghostly howl emanated from the far corners of an otherwise abandoned track. Though the session was not officially canceled, no riders – save that one – went back out to try to improve their times. Jake was in Superpole, sitting in eighth and feeling good about his chances to improve.

Jake Gagne (32) running in the mix in Danville.

Jake Gagne (32) running in the mix in Danville.

When the team arrived at the track on Saturday morning, Mother Nature had toyed with the paddock. Saturday was to be a colder day but without the wet. However, heavy overnight rains had left the track damp and with water seepage through two of the trickiest corners.

The morning warm-up was a toss-up but, more importantly, with no more rain in the forecast, Friday’s sessions, with respect to setup, were useless. Everyone would now be left to scramble for a workable dry setup with no data to work with. Superpole was going to be interesting.

By the time Superpole was set to start, the sun had yet to make an appearance and the track was now dry but cold. None of that mattered to Jake. He just got out on the track and rode as fast as the Genuine Broaster Chicken/ American Honda would go. With only one lap to set his mark, Jake would climb the timing sheets to position six for the races and be only six-tenths of a second off the leaders’ times. That was a huge boost going into race one, which was only a matter of hours away.

Jake Gagne (32) was doing well until he encountered a mechanical gremlin…

Jake Gagne (32) was doing well until he encountered a mechanical gremlin…

What a difference a few hours can make: By the time the riders took their starting positions, the Virginia sun was out in full glory and temperatures had increased considerably. Feeling good about his chances to have a strong showing and a positive race, Jake came back from his sighting lap stating that he was ready to get racing.

As the revs went up and the riders held their bikes at bay until the lights went out, Fate was already dealing its hand. As the field wound its way through the woods of Virginia, Jake was in a good positon and appeared to be holding strong.

However, by about lap three, Jake knew that something was wrong, and his new CBR1000rr SP2 was going in the wrong direction. It was visible on the track that he was doing all he could, but eventually he would have to pull into the pits and retire with a fried clutch. It was a hard pill to swallow, as Jake and his bike were showing great strides in race pace.

Jake Gagne (32) navigates a turn while running with the lead pack.

Jake Gagne (32) navigates a turn while running with the lead pack.

On Sunday morning, the sun was out and conditions were set to be perfect for a new race. Overnight, the 32Crew had rebuilt the clutch and were optimistic about being able to compete with leaders. After a quick 15-minute shakedown session in the morning confirmed their optimism, the team prepared for race two later in the afternoon.

Under ideal conditions, the riders were freed from the Hot Pit to make their sighting lap. Once again, Jake was feeling great and was amped to be racing. Having been moved up one position on the grid due to a rider penalty from race one, Jake was positioned for a cracking start. However, the start would be the most critical part of the race for Jake. Having suffered a clutch failure in race one, he would have to protect this new clutch.

When the lights went out, Jake didn’t make the best of starts. A little slower than normal to get off the line, Jake would be back in eighth by turn one. As happens at VIR, the riders formed a single file through the first several laps. This allowed Jake to move up the order and dice with the tail of the leading group.

After having a decent battle for much of the race with Mathew Scholtz and Kyle Wyman, Jake wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace. Feeling as if his clutch might be letting go again, he went into protection mode and maintained a solid pace and finished the race in a solitary seventh position. While it’s still not the position that the team would want to be in, it was a finish. It was more than that: it was another solid race wherein the new Genuine Broaster Chicken/ American Honda showed consistent pace and faster trap speeds than at previous tracks. Race two showed that the forward progress is still happening and that the team is moving in the right direction.

This was only round three, but when things aren’t going your way, it can feel like three years. But what is keeping the team going and motivated is the fact that they see the progress and they know where they need to go. The team sponsors stand behind the plan, and with go-fast parts due to arrive shortly, the development of the bike will continue at an increased pace.

Jake Gagne will now head to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for some testing and then on to Road America for round four.

Jake Gagne will now head to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for some testing and then on to Road America for round four.

As of the time of this release, the team is outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the MotoAmerica test. This test is desperately needed to give the team valuable information and provide Jake more seat time. Looking ahead to Road America, the team knows this will be a major challenge, as Road America is a horsepower track with three long straightaways where deficits in power can’t be masked. The only way to know how things will go down in Elkhart Lake is to get there and run it at full tilt – which is something that they know how to do well.

Check out this video feature from the Road Atlanta round…

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

“This weekend was a pretty good weekend for us,” said Jake Gagne. “I mean, taking the mechanical out of the equation in race one, we had a very good overall weekend. Once Scotty and the guys got the bike working on Friday, I was immediately feeling good on the bike. I was able to ride around and have fun again on this new Genuine Broaster Chicken/ American Honda CBR1000rr SP2.

“The bike is a lot of fun, to be sure,” he noted. “When I went out for Superpole, I was feeling really good and felt that we would be running up close for the races. In race one, I felt the clutch going by, like, lap three or four. I tried all I could, but I had to call it. But in race two, I knew we could be up there. I messed the start a bit and got crowded out into turn one. I felt great on the bike and was running well until about the three-quarter mark of the race. I could kind of feel the clutch going again, and I began to lose contact with the main chase group. I was stoked to be able to bring the bike home and complete the race.

“We’re still not at the front,” he summed up, “but I know we’re going to get there. I’m beginning to really feel confident on this new bike, and I just want to thank the whole crew and all the sponsors for just working so hard to get this effort going.”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“You know, it’s a strange thing to say that this was a very positive weekend when the results were so mixed,” said team principal Danny Walker, “but in all honesty, it was a very successful outing for the team. I’m not going to say that we have 100-percent resolved the electronics issues that we’ve had, but we did find solutions that worked well for the weekend.

“In the wet, we are right there in the midst of the battles,” he continued. “Jake’s times when the track was slick were very impressive and right about where we’re used to being in those sketchy circumstances. When the track was dry, we were clearly gaining ground on the leaders. Superpole showed us that we getting close. To be only six-tenths [of a second] off the leaders is awesome for us at this point!

“Obviously, having a clutch go in race one was a complete bummer,” he admitted. “We knew we had the bike that Jake was happy with, and we were certain that we could’ve put on a good show. Race two, while not quite great at the end, showed us that the progress is advancing. Prior to the end of the race, where Jake believed the clutch may be slipping again, he was running a very strong pace and showed great competitiveness.

“We’re now heading to the MotoAmerica test in Pittsburgh and there, we’re going to get what we need, which is seat time!” Walker concluded. “I’m very excited to see the continued progress of this new bike and to see how the team rallies around the entire effort.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“Coming out of VIR, we are feeling pretty confident in our progress with the 2017 CBR1000RR SP2,” declared crew chief Scott Jensen. “We are learning which areas we need to work on and which areas the bike is already good. Penske brought us a new shock for the event that was a pretty good step forward from what we were running previously, which gave Jake more confidence in the bike and more grip in the middle of the corner.

“From here, we go to the Pittsburgh test and hope to make some more progress on the electronics,” Jensen said. “After the test, the semi is going home for me to get some engine work done before the Road America round, so we are all excited to see what we can do with a little more motor!”

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