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RoadRace Factory Race Report from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca: A Rough Return for Tomy Puerta

| 13 July 2017 1:47 pm

MotoAmerica 2017
Round 6: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
MONTEREY, CA, JULY 7-9, 2017

There is a lot to be said about the potential this past weekend had. Jake Gagne was making his World Superbike debut, Tomy Puerta was returning, and the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda was showing signs of strength. So, coming off an extremely disappointing weekend at Utah Motorsports Campus, the team was eager to hit the famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with one of their favorite riders making his return to the United States. Puerta received the call to help the team out, as Gagne was called up to the World Superbike squad of Red Bull Honda. This round also marked the home race for the primary technical partner of American Honda.

With all these signs that were pointing to a potentially incredible weekend, what could possibly spoil this occasion? As it turned out, quite a bit.

Welcome to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, site of round six of the MotoAmerica Series…

Welcome to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, site of round six of the MotoAmerica Series…

The weekend started off with a different feel. Maybe it was the lingering feelings that the crew had from Utah…? Maybe it was the anxiety they all felt for Jake? Whatever it was, there was a difference in the air, and only getting on the track and focusing on the normal tasks of racing would help the crew to shake off those feelings.

Knowing that Tomy rides with a completely different style than Jake’s, crew chief Scott Jensen, team principal Danny Walker and chassis engineer Evan Steel got to work immediately on establishing a baseline setup for Tomy.

The entire first practice session was dedicated to exactly that goal. With Tomy’s style, the chassis needed to be adjusted in order to suit his aggressive body position. Once the crew established that baseline, they would get to work on helping Tomy get used to the new motorcycle as quickly as possible. The challenge, when there are combined events like this weekend, was that the track time is often greatly reduced. Compounding the problem was that only the two Free Practice sessions on Friday would be used to determine whether or not a rider gets into Superpole. With so much to adjust to and figure out, Tomy had a difficult time turning consistent laps on the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda. The best time he was able to manage during those two critical sessions landed him outside the Superpole rankings and forced him to a starting position of 16th.

Still getting adjusted to the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda, returning rider Tomy Puerta (12) did not make Superpole.

Still getting adjusted to the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda, returning rider Tomy Puerta (12) did not make Superpole.

Starting at the back of the grid is certainly an obstacle that can be overcome. Fortunately, with Tomy at the helm, he’s just the “head down” rider to attack the starts.

When race one was set to go, it was really anyone’s guess as to where Tomy would finish the race, but everyone knew he was capable of riding the wheels off of a motorcycle. So, as the lights went out, all that could be done was to watch him do his thing.

And he did! He managed a decent start and was running up through the pack!

Right off the start in the first race, Tomy Puerta put his head down and went to work.

Right off the start in the first race, Tomy Puerta put his head down and went to work.

However, by the third lap, it was apparent that something was wrong. Tomy came into the pits with an electrical issue that he couldn’t resolve while riding by manipulating his settings via the onboard system. The crew quickly addressed the issue and got Tomy back out to at least get in some more laps and, therefore, get some more data. This didn’t last long – in fact, not even a full lap out. Tomy was forced to retire from the race with intermittent electrical issues. Scott and the crew had a lot of work to do before race two the next afternoon.

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Throughout the night, the team worked to hunt down the electrical gremlin and prepare to put on a great display for the home crowd. With only a 15-minute warm-up session on Sunday, the concern was, whatever the issues were, would there be enough time to definitively ensure it was gone? The answer would only be revealed in the upcoming race.

Tomy Puerta (12) in a rare moment of action at Mazda Raceway before the electrical gremlins attacked again.

Tomy Puerta (12) in a rare moment of action at Mazda Raceway before the electrical gremlins attacked again.

Once again, Tomy made his way to his starting position and awaited the lights. This time, however, he was a little more apprehensive on the start, and that uncertainty was well founded. Once again, before he even had a chance to really get into the race, he was forced to come into the pits and retire from racing action. The frustration clearly on his face was bested by the anger on the crew chief’s face. With a frustrated rider sitting in the pit, watching the race on TV, and a solitary walk back to the transporter for Scott, the weekend was over.

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The team now heads into the summer break desperate for answers and seeking solutions to their problems. The first half of the season has been exactly what a development year is all about, but that does little to console them. The main positive on which they keep focused is that this is leading somewhere. Each issue, each mechanical glitch, all data is working toward developing a motorcycle that will be a championship contender. They all know that this is positive, but that age-old adage “It’s tough to see the forest for the trees” is proving true.

With this break, the team will be testing new parts that have arrived. They will be working with their partners to ensure that the second half of the season is strong and that the new machine is capable of running up front.

Superbike rider Tomy Puerta.

Superbike rider Tomy Puerta.

“I want to thank Danny, Mick and Scott and for helping me get here this weekend,” Puerta said. “It was great to be back in the MotoAmerica Series for this race. I love to race here in the U.S., and Laguna is one of my favorite tracks, and I was excited to be racing the new Honda. It was great to be working with Scott, Danny and Evan again.

“I feel bad because we didn’t even finish the races,” he confessed. “I wanted to put on a good race for Genuine Broaster Chicken and Honda, as this is Honda’s home track. I felt pretty good on the bike once we got the chassis dialed in, but we just kept having problems with the bike’s electronics. I wish I had more time with the bike to help, but we didn’t get a lot of track time this weekend.

“Thank you to Genuine Broaster Chicken and American Honda for this opportunity!” he added. “Thank you again to Danny and Mick for calling me up and helping me get here so quickly. I hope I can work with the team again, and I enjoyed being back in the MotoAmerica paddock again.”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“You know, there’s not a lot that can be said about how this weekend went down other than, ‘It could’ve gone better!’” said team principal Danny Walker. “We were really excited to have Tomas back with us for this race, as we love what he brings to the paddock. We know he’s going to give 100 percent all the time. We knew the setup would need to be dramatically different, and I know that Scotty and the guys made that switch, no problem.

“But these issues are something that aren’t easily diagnosed, much less resolved, without proper time to test the systems,” he continued. “We just didn’t have that time this weekend. There’s no fault-isolation method, and so hunting and guessing is what it takes to fix the problems. The whole team is aware of the situation, with respect to where we are in points and where we are with the development of this bike, so I know they take these weekends extra hard. We are focused on the long game, and that’s what it takes when developing a new bike from scratch. I’ve never seen a bike come off the boat as a new model and win right off the bat, so we temper our expectations yet continue to believe that we will get these issues figured out and hopefully have this beautiful Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda up front by the end of the season.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“Coming into Laguna, we as a team were very excited to get another top rider’s opinion on our new CBR1000RR SP2, hoping with the help of Tomas Puerta riding the bike, we could learn even more about making the bike work to its full capability,” said crew chief Scott Jensen. “With the added excitement of seeing Jake Gagne make his World Superbike debut, it was shaping up to be a fun weekend.

“At this level, it is very surprising how differently riders want the feel of the bike to be, but after the first couple practice sessions, we were making huge steps forward, making the bike work properly for Tomas,” Jensen explained. “We were all optimistic going into race one, as we had made many changes and his confidence was up significantly with the bike. Unfortunately, after a great start by Tomas, race one ended early with an intermittent electrical problem. We tried to diagnose it during the race and send him back out to finish, but the problem remained.

“Sunday morning,” he continued, “after scouring the data, we thought we had the issue resolved, but after five laps, the problem surfaced again. Race two brought many other attempts at a repair, but again, after a handful of laps, the intermittent problem ended our race weekend. This weekend was obviously not what we had in mind and was very frustrating as, yet again, we were not able to showcase the capabilities of the new CBR1000RR SP2. Now we come into our summer break with a load of work to accomplish before we arrive at our next race at the technical Sonoma Raceway circuit.”

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