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RoadRace Factory Race Report from Sonoma Raceway: “It felt like we had an entire zoo on our back!”

| 17 August 2017 11:33 am

MotoAmerica Championship Series
Round 7: Sonoma Raceway

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
SONOMA, CA, AUG. 11-13, 2017

MotoAmerica brought the National Series back to famous Northern California circuit Sonoma Raceway for the first time since 2012. The beautiful track, situated in the foothills of Wine Country, is a rider favorite, and this was the last of the West Coast rounds. Would this be the site of the team’s first race finish since Road America? It hurts this reporter to type that, and it hurts even more to realize that it’s been that long since the team has scored any points.

Jake Gagne (32) running with the leaders at Sonoma Raceway.

Jake Gagne (32) running with the leaders at Sonoma Raceway.

The summer break was something that the guys needed, probably more than most, and they spent the time building and testing the new Honda CBR1000RR SP2. Utilizing all the available resources at their disposal, the 32Crew was able to conduct two tests at their home track of High Plains Raceway in Colorado with support from their sponsors, some of whom made the trip east of Denver to directly support the testing.

At the conclusion of the testing, the team was confident that the electrical issues that have plagued them all season had been resolved. Several long stints without incident reassured the team that when they loaded the transporter and sent it to California, they’d be back to properly competing in the tightly contested Superbike field. So off to Sonoma the transporter went, carrying the hopes of an entire team for an eventful return to racing.

Jake Gagne in a reflective moment.

Jake Gagne in a reflective moment.

Friday morning arrived and, with it, the first sessions of the weekend. Now that the teams aren’t competing for track time with another series, regular schedules resumed, which meant a solid 60-minute session for the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda rider to get reacquainted with the Sonoma track.

Right from the beginning, it was obvious that Jake Gagne was comfortable on the bike. He quickly got on the gas and began turning some impressive lap times. Being able to put in laps without issue was a giant step forward, and when the session was ended, Gagne had put himself in ninth position, with less than a second covering third through ninth.

Without any major concerns, Gagne was able to take on the second 60-minute session with renewed vigor. Lap after lap, he was moving closer and closer to the front of the pack. As the top riders dropped their times, Gagne was able to keep the pace, finishing in a strong sixth position and securing his place in Saturday’s Superpole.

Were Jake Gagne and the 32Crew finally past their battles with gremlins…?

Were Jake Gagne and the 32Crew finally past their battles with gremlins…?

Saturday morning arrived, and the weather couldn’t have been more ideal: The sun was out and none of the infamous overcast moisture was in the air or on the track.

The Superbike field was given their 30-minute warm-up session, and again Jake was looking impressive. With a brand-new swagger heading into Superpole, Jake and the 32Crew had fitted the special Dunlop Pre-Qualifying tire for two flying laps before coming into swap it out for the super-soft Qualifier. With one flying lap as the tire’s life limit, Jake couldn’t waste any time getting the tire up to temperature. Jake threw down a time of one minute and 36:510 seconds, which was within a second of third place but would see him in eighth place. This was going to be a tightly contested race, with so much talent grouped closely to one another.

… Apparently not. A different gremlin had reared its ugly head.

… Apparently not. A different gremlin had reared its ugly head.

As the race drew close, Jake and the team were feeling great. None of the previous issues had resurfaced, affirming the fact that they had finally overcome the troublesome electrical gremlins. The funny thing is, when you’ve resolved one problem, other ones that had gone undiagnosed can rear their ugly heads up. This would unfortunately be the situation in race one.

As the lights went out on the grid and the field began to jostle for position, Jake was feeling something going wrong. By lap six, he had experienced brake fade, and within a few more laps it was evident that he wouldn’t be able to continue. Utterly dejected, Jake was forced to retire, thus handing the team their fifth DNF in a row.

This time it was brake fade that prevented the team from finishing the race.

This time it was brake fade that prevented the team from finishing the race.

After a late night of rebuilding and triple-checking equipment, crew chief Scott Jensen was again confident that everything was good to go. Obviously, there was some apprehension heading into race two, but the morning warm-ups and sighting laps had re-instilled confidence that everything was working well.

As Jake took the grid and waited for the lights to go out, the tension was high, and thoughts of another possible DNF were actively being suppressed. As Fortune would have it, once the field was turned loose, Jake would find himself in a strong group and battling for a top-five position initially. Jake eventually got caught up in a battle that would see him slip back to a top-10 position.

Jake Gagne (32) and the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda are back in the game!

Jake Gagne (32) and the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda are back in the game!

The laps continued to tick down, and Jake was still battling hard. With one lap to go, Jake made one more pass to claim ninth overall. As Jake took the checkers for the first time in a while aboard the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda, there was a collective audible sigh of relief throughout the team as the weight of the past few races was lifted off their shoulders.

Now the team can focus on round eight of the MotoAmerica Superbike Series as it makes its maiden voyage to Pittsburgh.

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

“It was great to be back here at Sonoma,” said Jake Gagne. “I really like this track, and I think it suits the new Honda CBR1000RR SP2 pretty well. I was happy with the tests that we conducted in Colorado over the break. [Crew chief] Scotty [Jensen] did a great job with the bike and figured out the cause of our electrical issues, so we were able to turn a lot of laps before coming here.

“I felt really good right away on Friday,” he continued. “I was pretty happy with how the bike felt during those first practice sessions. For race one, I got off to a great start and was battling within the top five. Everything was feeling strong until I went into a corner and the brakes started getting a little soft. Unfortunately, there are no places on this track to take a quick second and adjust the brakes properly. There aren’t any straights! Within a few more corners, I was losing my brakes, and I had a problem with my adjuster, so I had to pull in. That was a really hard one to deal with, because I was easily able to run with those guys.

“In race two, I got off to an okay start,” Gagne explained. “I got caught out and ended up a little farther back than I would’ve liked. I was able to make some moves, but then it felt like something was going wrong with the quick shifter. I just put my head down and was determined to finish. I’m super happy to have finished in ninth. It’s not where we want to be, by any means, but it’s good to get the finish and collect more data that can be used to help us in Pittsburgh.

“Thank you to Scotty, D.A. [Danny Anderson] and Evan [Steel], and to all of our sponsors for their continued support as we continue to develop this bike.”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“We had a monkey on our back? Only one monkey? It felt like we had the entire zoo back there!” exclaimed team principal Danny Walker. “I’m happy that we were finally able to bring the bike home after a hard-fought race. Obviously not finishing race one and then having minor electrical issues in race two is still frustrating. Even after the major issues have been resolved, we still have smaller issues to address that were probably masked because we were dealing with the bigger problems.

“For me, what’s important to take away from this weekend is that Jake and the crew are getting the bike to where Jake is happy on it,” Walker explained. “Through all the practice sessions, it was clear that Jake was happy on the bike, and when you see how he rode in race one, it’s very encouraging. We’re going to do a quick one-day shakedown before we head to Pittsburgh to hopefully put the remaining smaller issues to bed so we can finish the season strong.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“We were all very excited to get back to Sonoma Raceway, as it has not been on our schedule for the past few years and it’s always given us good memories,” said crew chief Scott Jensen. “The weekend started off very positive, as lap times were very competitive immediately in the first session and Jake was very happy with the motorcycle. By the end of the Superpole, we were not where we wanted to be on the grid, but we all were very excited to get some races going after the break.

“During race one, while Jake was running fifth place, we encountered a little bit of brake fade,” he continued, “which is not terribly uncommon on a track like this. There are no places for the brakes to cool down. After a couple of laps, due to a slight misstep with the adjuster, the brake issue escalated to a situation where Jake had little to no brakes at all, which caused him to pull in.

“After a frustrating end to race one, we were all anxious to get race two under way on Sunday afternoon,” Jensen said. “Following normal sighting and warm-up laps, more electrical problems raised their head. On the opening lap, we had a failure of our quick shifter, and Jake was forced to race with that issue. He did a great job to get the result he did despite the difficulty, as the gearing and the entire motorcycle are set up to work with a quick shifter.

“We’re going to High Plains Raceway in Colorado for a one-day blitz to shake down the bike before we arrive in Pittsburgh,” Jensen concluded, “and I’m feeling good that we can put these issues to rest during this test.”

Check out these video highlights of RoadRace Factory in action at round six of the series at Laguna Seca…

[For more from this event, please see “Beaubier Doubles in Return to Sonoma Raceway, Gerloff Supreme Again in Supersport” and also stay tuned for more coverage from Sonoma to be posted soon on Today’s Cycle Coverage… Editor]

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