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RoadRace Factory Race Report from Utah Motorsports Campus: The Curse of Utah is Real…

| 30 June 2017 4:15 pm

MotoAmerica 2017
Round 5: Utah Motorsports Campus

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
TOOLE, UT, JUNE 23-25, 2017

What must a team do to exorcise the demons that haunt it? What more could they possibly sacrifice to the gods of two-wheeled motorsport to lift the curse that has become Utah?

Welcome to the Utah Motorsports Campus in Toole…

Welcome to the Utah Motorsports Campus in Toole…

Coming into the Utah Motorsports Campus this past weekend, the team was well aware of the past performances at the high-desert facility. In previous visits to Tooele, the team has experienced everything from their first-ever race win to complete disaster ever since. The past two seasons alone have seen championship leads cut significantly as they left with no points scored. It’s hard to admit, but there seems to be no real solution for the team at this track.

There were moments this past weekend that seemed as if the curse had been lifted, as if this was going to be the weekend that the team turned their Utah misfortunes into successes. After the pace that Jake Gagne displayed in race two at Road America, it was evident that 32Crew had found their missing mojo and that the bike was running strong. Jake was as ready as he’s ever been for this challenging course. During the practice and qualifying sessions, Jake was as far up the order as third, and he ran in the top five consistently. Things were going great – until they weren’t.

Jake Gagne and the 32Crew get ready to tackle round five of the MotoAmerica Series.

Jake Gagne and the 32Crew get ready to tackle round five of the MotoAmerica Series.

After strong showings in all three of the practice sessions, Jake and the team were really optimistic – cautiously optimistic, knowing that at any moment the demons could come calling.

Heading out for his first lap in Superpole, Jake was setting the pace for the rest of the MotoAmerica field. As he was rounding the final corner, those demons that were thought to have been banished reached up and grabbed Jake’s Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda. Just as Jake was getting onto the gas, his tire stepped out just ever so slightly, and in the midst of a recovery, the demon known as “Physics” took over and rapidly converted the potential energy into kinetic energy, which equated to Jake being forcibly separated from his machine. When the other demon called “Gravity” took over, Jake landed on his back while his Honda took the brunt of the impact. Rolling and sliding through the Utah silt, his bike came to rest in a cloud of dust and gravel. Jake was able to walk away, while the motorcycle was in need of some care.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed in Toole, Utah.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed in Toole, Utah.

Once the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda was delivered back to the team’s transporter, it was immediately pulled apart and assessed for damage, as race one was scheduled to start in just two hours. After a thorough cleaning and cosmetic disassembly, it was determined that the motorcycle had suffered too much damage to the custom parts that the team had built and didn’t have spares for, and there wasn’t enough time to repair them. It was a hard call, but the team had to decide to withdraw from the afternoon’s race one. This would give the team more time to work on the repair and be ready for the next day.

Speed demons had a say in how Jake Gagne (32) would do in Utah…

Speed demons had a say in how Jake Gagne (32) would do in Utah…

Overnight, the 32Crew did what they do best, and that is build a motorcycle. With the assistance of the custom fabricators themselves, the crew was able to put the bike back together, and it was ready to ride by the morning warm-up.

Jake arrived at the track a little stiff and sore but nonetheless ready to ride. Jake was able to get out and give the bike a proper shakedown during that short 30-minute warm-up session. Everything was in order, and so the debriefing between crew chief and rider and team principal began.

The main focus of the discussion was centered on risk vs. reward. Jake was confident that he could ride, and crew chief Scotty Jensen knew the bike was up to the task. However, the decision was made to once again withdraw from the race that afternoon and concentrate on a full recovery for Laguna Seca in two weeks.

The decision was made that the team would withdraw from the contest in Utah…

The decision was made that the team would withdraw from the contest in Utah…

The team has had a goal all season, and that goal would be measured at Laguna, in front of Honda’s home crowd. The desire to put on a maximum effort in front of the World Superbike audience became the overriding factor in the decision.

It’s never an easy call to not race. In this particular situation, the prevailing wisdom of “more to lose than to gain” became the team’s mantra. The team now looks forward to putting on that show at Laguna. Jake proved that the team has gone in the right direction with the bike. He was running his strongest sessions of the season. The bike was working the best it has all season. The team is confident that they will be running up front at the world-famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

…and focus its attention on what’s up next: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

…and focus its attention on what’s up next: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

“This weekend was one of those crazy weekends that happen every once in a while,” Gagne said. “We felt pretty good coming out of Road America. We knew the bike was going to be strong, and I was really happy with how the bike was working here. Immediately, I was feeling really good and confident on the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda. First session out, I was running near the top, and for the first time I felt like I could make the bike do what I wanted it to do.

“The rest of the practice sessions were awesome,” Gagne enthused. “Scotty, DA [chassis engineer Danny Anderson] and [chassis engineer] Evan [Steel] really put together an awesome bike! I was feeling good and was sitting in the top five going into Superpole. This was going to be a great showing for us. I went out for that first lap in Superpole and was flying. I came around that last corner and got a little sideways. Trying to recover the bike, I think I hit the paint and just lost it. I landed pretty square on my back, but nothing too big – but the bike was pretty banged up. Broke some parts we couldn’t fix right away, so we missed race one. That was a bummer for sure, because I feel that we could’ve run up front.

“Sunday morning,” he continued, “I went out for a few laps, and when I came in to talk with Scotty and [team principal] Danny [Walker], we felt that the best thing to do was to save ourselves for Laguna. I was a little sore and stiff, and with a big show coming up for Laguna, we just had more to lose if something else went wrong ahead of the next round. It’s a real bummer that we didn’t get a chance to really show what we can do here. I’d like to thank everyone on the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda team who helped to get the bike back together; I know they worked their butts off, and I’m happy to have them in my garage! I’m looking forward now to Laguna and Honda’s home race”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“Utah… yeah… okay, so we don’t really like this track too much,” team principal Danny Walker confessed. “That’s not to say that we don’t like the facility [or] track; it’s to say that we just can’t seem to get this place right. It’s a great track, but there’s just something there that we can’t figure out, and year after year we’ve struggled, to say the least.

“This weekend was a super-tough one for us,” he admitted. “We were running really strong all weekend. The guys had built this bike to win this weekend. I feel that for the first time, we had a chance. Jake was running a great pace, and I was watching him track-sliding the bike around like the old Jake. He was visibly having a good time riding the Honda. So I was confident we could’ve made a strong run with the leaders all weekend.

“When Jake had that high-side during Superpole, it looked more wicked than it was,” Walker continued. “Jake took a hit and was sore, as expected, but we just had too many custom parts broken or in disrepair. It’s never an easy call, but we opted out of the first race because we couldn’t have gotten the bike back together in time. As the team’s principal, I have to keep an eye on the bigger picture, so after Jake did some laps on Sunday morning, we had a good discussion. Jake was ready to race, but we talked about the situation over with Scott and together we decided to withdraw from the second race. We have a lot to put on display for our main sponsors at Laguna, on the world stage, and we need to be at our best for that weekend. We move on to the next round properly rested and confident about our capability to put on that show for our sponsors and our fans.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“Utah is always a mixed bag for us,” said crew chief Scott Jensen. “Jake tends to go very well at the Tooele, Utah, circuit, but it seems the past few years we have had some issues at the event. Unfortunately, this year proved to be the same.

“This event for the 2017 season is approximately our halfway point in the season,” he noted. “With us as a team being very eager to showcase what we learned about the new Honda CBR1000RR SP2, we all showed up very excited for some positive results. The weekend started off on a positive note with QP1 showing we had competitive lap times right out of the truck. Racing at this level means you are constantly trying to improve the bike, regardless of how happy the rider is and what lap times you are posting. Eric Trinkley from Penske Racing Shocks, as always, was up to the task, with a new shock for us to test in QP2, which was another step forward for us picking up some more full-lean grip on the rear tire.

“When Superpole came around, we were ready to put the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda at the front, as Jake seems to be able to get a little more out of the qualifying rear tire than most other riders,” Jensen said. “But then the event got a little sideways on us, literally. Jake had an uncharacteristic high-side exiting the final corner on his first flying lap on the new pre-qualifying tire. This turned out to be the end of the event, due to the damage to the bike and Jake being pretty sore. We turned a few laps on Sunday morning, but as a team we agreed it was best to sit out the remainder of the event and show up to Laguna Seca ready to run at the front. As my UK-based friends say: Roll on Laguna Seca!”

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