RoadRace Factory Race Report from Road America

| 7 June 2017 3:19 pm

MotoAmerica 2017
Round 4: Road America

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography

Road America – “The National Park of Speed” – was the setting for the fourth round of the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship. The only way to really understand the grand scale of the track is to be there. It’s a tired cliché, but it’s the truth when referring to this massive facility dedicated to those willing to push their machines and their own bodies to the limits.

It is the longest track on the schedule, and perhaps the most idyllic – if open green spaces set in a lush, rolling landscape surrounded by hiking trails through the trees is your kind of scene. However, when things are this good, there must always be a downside. For Road America, the downside can be the weather. At this track, it is completely possible to have all four seasons within the same day, sprinkled with a persistent threat of tornadoes. Soooo… you take the good with the bad and twist the throttle to full stop and just enjoy the splendor of Wisconsin’s Cathedral of Racing. From a fan’s perspective, it is a complete experience.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Road America.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed at Road America.

The team rolled into Road America after a much-needed break. The crew was able to have the bikes back in their own shop and conduct some critical maintenance and upgrades. These upgrades added some desperately needed horsepower ahead of the largest track in the series.

While it was great to have the bikes home and being worked on, there is still the element of testing these parts under race conditions. Until that can happen on a regular basis, the crew will continue to play the guessing game and hope that they can get a fast machine right off the truck.

However, in what is becoming the norm, the first session of the weekend was more about wrenching than riding. So far this season, Jake Gagne and the 32Crew average roughly 10 laps in Free Practice One. This is an issue that is the result of a few compounding issues. The short version is that this is still a very new motorcycle with very few hours on it, with almost no testing, and parts continue to come in and parts continue to be fabricated – all that to say that the first practice session has become the “test” for new electronic settings and components for Jake. This weekend was no different. Jake only completed eight laps and wasn’t really able to develop a solid feeling ahead of Free Practice Two later that day. It’s extremely critical that riders maximize their time on the track during these first two sessions as they set the grid for Superpole, so the sense of urgency is real.

Jake Gagne (32) awaits his turn to take on the track in Elkhart Lake.

Jake Gagne (32) awaits his turn to take on the track in Elkhart Lake.

Free Practice Two was more like the team is used to seeing. During the break, the 32Crew, led by crew chief Scott Jensen, worked to solve the problems that cropped up in the morning. Gagne was turned loose to set some fast laps around this massive 4-mile circuit. Knowing that the bike would be down on horsepower, it was more important to establish consistent laps at a pace where Jake could push the new CBR 1000rr SP2 to its limits.

And that is what he was able to do.

With a more rhythmic pace of five to seven laps out, then in, five to seven out, then in, Jake was able to climb from the bottom of the timing sheets to grab a solid eighth position in the closing moments of the session to snag a ticket to Superpole.

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Saturday arrived with the ominous sound of a distant thunderclap. The ride to the track was a feat in and of itself, with the rain falling so hard that the locals were pulling over on the highways into the track. As was mentioned above, though, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute and it’ll change.

Sure enough, the weather did change. By the time Free Practice Three was set to go off, the rain had stopped – but it was still lurking about. The track was wet, dry, damp, slick… meh. Not ideal for a final push before Superpole to see if things were sorted out in the overnight maintenance. The decision was made to go out for that session on wet tires, as the conditions were mixed. It turned out that wasn’t the right call, as Jake had completely shredded those rain tires three or four laps into the session. When Jake came back into the pits, the decision was made to just not risk any damage to Jake or the bike when the track would be completely different for the race. Save it for Superpole.

Less than an hour later, it was time to make the magic happen. In the hurried atmosphere of Superpole, riders and teams only have a few laps to make their mark on the starting grid. When the track is as big as Road America, a 15-minute session yields no more than seven laps, so everything counts. With the weather “iffy” but holding at dry, Jake went out for a few laps on the Dunlop Pre-Qualifier to really shake down the settings. Coming into the pit for the tire change, there was no time to make anything more than the tiniest of suspension changes before roaring back out.

Jake got his flying in at the last possible moment and was able to secure ninth position on the starting grid – not where he wanted to be, but given the circumstances of the weekend, it was the best the team could manage.

Jake Gagne (32) in action.

Jake Gagne (32) in action.

Race one was slated for later that day, and as luck would have it, the weather decided to fully cooperate. The sun came shining out from behind the clouds and the temperatures soared back into the 80s. Taking his place on the gird, Jake was eager to get the race started.

The horns went off, indicating to all personnel that it was time to clear the track, and once the umbrellas were folded and the crews were safe behind the barriers, it was visors down for one last lap before the symphony would begin. The grid rounded the track and returned to their starting positions. Engines were revving and all eyes were focused on the lights.

The lights held, held… held – and then they went out and the field lunged forward down the straight toward turn one!

Gagne made a decent start but was never able to break away from the middle of the pack and he had to fight for some space through the next series of corners. Jake was able to hang with the tail end of the chase group for much of the first half of the race, but by the midpoint, he would be riding alone in ninth. It was evident from watching him on the track that there was an issue with his setup that couldn’t have been flushed out in the limited time the team had on track leading up to the race. Despite this, Jake was setting good, solid lap times and was gaining confidence on the bike around this circuit.

Gagne would finish in that solitary ninth position, but more importantly he had gained a clearer understanding of what the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda wanted, and he was able to effectively communicate that to his crew.

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Sundays are always big days. Even though there is racing on Saturday, Sundays still feel bigger! It’s hard to explain, but there’s just that sense of, “This is the day we’ve all been waiting for!”

The teams were given an extended warm-up to try a new compound of tires for Dunlop, and those extra 15 minutes were precious to the 32Crew, and to Jake. The changes based on race-one data seemed to be in the right direction. Jake was confident that he could make a jump in the standings for race two.

Following an amazing turnout for the Dunlop Fanwalk, it was time to suit up and head out for race two.

It was the same protocol as always: crews on the grid ushered out by air horns and track officials, umbrella girls running in heels to get over the barriers, and riders oblivious to it all as they center themselves on the task at hand. Once Jake made the warm-up lap and took his position on the starting line, everything faded away. Again, the lights were on, and then they weren’t, signaling the start of race two.

Everything was going great until the bottom of turn five, where Jake Lewis had a massive high-side. His bike stayed on track and was hit by Bobby Fong, who was then thrown to the track and run over by Mathew Schotlz. It was brutal to watch, and when the red flags came out, all anyone could do was wait to see if everyone was okay. Luckily, there were no injuries, and only Fong was unable to make the restart.

Race two was restaged, and all the riders had to find that adrenaline again for a full race restart. This time, Jake made a better start and remained in the main pack for the first couple of laps. Jake’s pace was holding steady until an uncharacteristic mistake entering turn one cost him a few positions. He snagged the double draft and got into turn one a few miles per hour faster than he had previously and missed his braking markers; he lost about four places.

Jake Gagne (32) was moving forward through the field until misfortune struck another rider, which affected Gagne’s results.

Jake Gagne (32) was moving forward through the field until misfortune struck another rider, which affected Gagne’s results.

However, a flash of the “real” Jake showed, as he recovered and was soon climbing back up through the field. His pace was actually on par with those fighting for podium finishes. He had clawed his way up to sixth and, given his pace, taking fifth wasn’t too far from reality. Just as soon as he was clear of the group and had open track ahead of him to hunt down fifth, Josh Herrin’s Yamaha exploded going down the front straight with three laps to go. The race was red-flagged, which took all the riders back to the previous lap, and that put Jake back down the order to eighth.

That was a tough one, but that happens in racing. For all of Jake’s and his crew’s hard work, the reward was the show of speed and pace at the end of race two. When you’re developing new machinery, you have to take the positives and drive forward. In this case, it was clear that their changes had given Jake a bike on which he was more competitive, and that is massively encouraging going into Utah in two weeks’ time. From here, the team will go home to Colorado. Hopefully there will be boxes of more go-fast parts awaiting them – and time to install them.

Overall, things are looking up for Jake Gagne and the 32Crew.

Overall, things are looking up for Jake Gagne and the 32Crew.

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

Superbike racer Jake Gagne.

“I was pretty excited to be coming back to Road America,” Gagne said. “The team and I have always run pretty well here. I scored a few double race wins here and I really like this track, so I was pretty pumped to see how this Honda would go around this big track.

“This weekend was pretty crazy,” he admitted. “We lost almost the entire first session, so we had to come from behind, but we made it to Superpole with a good second practice. I went all right in Superpole but didn’t quite get the flying lap I was looking for. Losing the track time hurt when getting the bike properly set up. So I qualified ninth, which wasn’t great, but I felt good that I could make up some ground.

“Race one didn’t really go as well as we had hoped,” he continued. “I made a pretty good start but quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to make a run with the leaders. I began to lose contact with those guys and did all I could to bring the bike home.

“Race two was a different story,” Gagne recounted. “The first start was pretty decent, but when we had to restart, I didn’t make the greatest launch. But I could tell that the improvements Scotty, D.A. and Evan made were going to work. I was running well but got into turn one a little hot and lost some ground. This was the first time, though, that I felt like I had the bike to make the pace I wanted. I was making passes and gaining positions and worked up to sixth. I was getting clear track when the second red flag came out. I was bummed, because I knew that I could get closer and I was feeling great.

“So in the end, the results aren’t great,” he summed up, “but we really feel that the improvements we found this weekend are going to carry this Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda further and further. I think we turned a corner in the development, and I’m looking forward to Utah.”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“This was a great weekend for us, when you look at it from the complete perspective,” said team principal Danny Walker. “First off, it was our title sponsor’s home race, and they really came out in an awesome show of support for our efforts. Genuine Broaster Chicken has been taking on more of an active role, not just in the team but the series, and we were thrilled to have roughly 30 of their corporate employees join us here this past weekend.

“With respect to the racing,” Walker added, “this place holds a special place in our history and in Jake’s personal records. He runs strong here, and we’ve typically kicked serious tail as a team at this track. This weekend, we knew we had a pretty big row to hoe. We understood that, but we were happy with the work the crew had done while at home during the break. We were playing catch-up again most of the weekend, and that was a bit frustrating, but, in reality, we weren’t too far off. Again, it’s little things that make a big difference, and what we saw in race two was the most encouraging aspect of the weekend, with respect to Jake’s pace after running wide. We saw that Jake was able to put his head down and hammer out some really fast laps. His times would’ve had him running within the top five! That’s awesome and shows we’re making great progress with this new Honda.

“Now we go home, hope to see some boxes from Japan, and get ready for Utah – which, if you know your RoadRace Factory history, is not our favorite track,” Walker confessed. “Let’s hope we can start a new chapter there and come out closer to the top guys.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“Road America is always one of our favorite stops on the MotoAmerica schedule,” said crew chief Scott Jensen. “From the great fans to the always challenging weather, the event is always memorable. We as a team have had some great success over the years at this track and always enjoy coming to this event.

“The weekend started off with us trying out some new clutches on the bike, which ended up taking most of the first couple practice sessions to get adjusted to the way we wanted,” Jensen explained. “Practice three, we came out on rains [tires], as it was looking like the rest of the day would be wet. We opted for that setup, and it wasn’t the right way to go. Superpole was on a dry racetrack, and with us struggling with a few settings on the bike, we unfortunately were only able to manage a fourth-row starting position.

“Race one and race two look like very similar results but were in reality dramatically different for us a team,” Jensen said. “Race one saw us with some setup issues and Jake doing a fantastic job riding, as always. Race two, on the other hand, saw us with a dramatically more competitive bike and Jake being able to run very competitive times. However, we were not able to show this in the results due to a small mishap [Jake’s running wide in turn one] and a couple of red flags that saw the race shortened, which hampered Jake’s ability to run closer up to the front.

“Leaving Road America,” Jensen concluded, “we are very positive and optimistic about the advancements we are making with the 2017 CBR1000rr SP2 and we are very eager to start showing how competitive this bike really is!”

Check out this video feature from round three…

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