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RoadRace Factory Race Report from Pittsburgh International Race Complex: Cue the Music!

| 30 August 2017 1:13 pm

MotoAmerica Championship Series
Round 8: Pittsburgh International Race Complex

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
WAMPUM, PA, AUG. 24-27, 2017

If this season were made into a Disney movie – with the typical plot line of “forged in the crucible of adversity and tragedy, a hero arises” – we’d be three-quarters of the way through the film and our hero would still be getting knocked around. We’d be anxiously awaiting the transitional scene in which the protagonist realizes his true abilities and begins to turn the tables on all evil doers – that critical moment when the music swells, your blood vessels dilate, and you watch with pride as the heroes assume their destiny. Explosions, crowds cheering, forest animals come clapping… all that feel-good stuff happening to let you know things are going to be okay.

Well, that’s a lot like what happened this past weekend at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, minus the explosions. Before we can get to the scene of triumph, let’s set the story…

Riders at speed at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum, Pennsylvania.

Riders at speed at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum, Pennsylvania.

Set in the stunning countryside of western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh International Race Complex is a circuit that is new to MotoAmerica. Situated in Wampum, this facility is actually quite mature, but it had never held a National-level event such as a MotoAmerica round. Earlier in the season, the series conducted a two-day test, after which suggestions for improvement were provided to the facility in order to increase rider safety. The facility made those improvements, which meant that Jake Gagne and the RoadRace Factory team were eager to get the weekend under way.

The mood before the first practice session was one of complete optimism. Scott Jensen, the team’s crew chief, was confident that the intermittent electrical issues that have plagued the team had been resolved, and whatever popped up this weekend could be dealt with. Gagne was feeling good following the performance at Sonoma Raceway, and he knew that, if given the chance, he could ride with the main group at this fast and flowing natural-terrain circuit.

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It was immediately clear that all that optimism and confidence were well placed. From the start, Jake was on the gas and flying around the track. Coming over the crest of turn one, he was a sight to see! Jake was taking the wider line and catching Josh Hayes, getting closer and closer each lap. That entire session, Jake looked like the Jake of 2014 and ’15. Experiencing no issues whatsoever, Jake finished that session in fourth after running as high as third at one point.

Everything was set for the second Free Practice session, and once again Jake was immediately quick. With an hour left on the clock, Jake wasted no time. The lap times were coming down, and again, Jake was inching closer and closer to the leaders. In the waning moments, the entire field was going faster and faster – including Jake. When the session was finally called complete, Jake had managed sixth, despite going faster than he had in the morning. Those combined efforts, however, landed the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda squad firmly in Superpole. There was a sense of relief as the team worked on the motorcycle that evening. Everyone was looking forward to Saturday’s Superpole.

Jake Gagne (32) in action in Pennsylvania.

Jake Gagne (32) in action in Pennsylvania.

Now would be that moment in the movie where you’d expect the hero to have that transitional moment – but there’s a hook, and it’s not quite that pivotal scene.

As the team prepared for the lightning-fast 15-minute qualifying session, everything seemed be perfect: The weather was ideal, a slight breeze blew across the paddock, and the crowd was beginning to build on the hillsides.

Jake headed out for the three laps that his Dunlop Pre-Qualifying tire would give him. He was on a quick pace, again inside the top five, and then he came into the pit for the tire change.

Knowing that time is a massive factor, there could be no room for any hiccups. However, there was a slight snag in changing the tire. Keeping a close eye on the clock, Jensen kept his cool by stating, “There’s plenty of time… there’s plenty of time.”

The tire went on, Jake hopped on the bike and headed out for the approximately 3 ½ minutes left in the session – just enough for an out lap and a flyer as time expires. Jake was on a quick lap when two other riders caught a tow and dragged him back. He crossed the line in eighth – obviously not where he or the 32Crew wanted to be. The bright side, however, was that for the first time, the team had a bike that other riders were wanting to use for a tow.

Jake Gagne at speed.

Jake Gagne at speed.

We are now at that moment, that impactful moment we’ve been waiting for.

Race one. The stage had been set. The riders had taken their marks. The anticipation was palpable.

Jake went out for his warm-up lap and signaled that everything was feeling good. There was nothing to do now but watch and hope that everything was, indeed, “good.”

The starting line on the Pittsburgh track is actually on a downhill slope, with a slight bend toward the first corner. When the revs came up, the brakes were being squeezed extra hard to hold all that horsepower at bay while fighting gravity, which wants to pull the bikes forward.

Lights out!

Jake made an okay start – not great, but good. He got crowded through turn one and down the straight leading toward the chicane. Soon he began moving back up through the pack, and by half-distance Jake was in seventh place and catching up to the leading Superstock bikes.

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It took Jake a few laps to get up to around the sixth-place bike of Danny Eslick, but once he did, he was quickly able to dispatch Mathew Scholtz and Jake Lewis.

Now Jake Gagne had his Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda in a solid fourth position, with about six laps remaining. His times were faster than those of the riders ahead of him.

With roughly three laps to go, Jake was on the rear wheel of Roger Hayden, who was sitting in third. The gap between the top four was minimal, with no rider having a clear advantage over another.

As the laps clicked down, Jake was doing all he could to get past Hayden. At the line, Jake grabbed his highest finishing position of the season, fourth – and, with it, a feeling of victory. His time was a little over four seconds behind the winner, but his massive wheelie down the front straight accounted for about three seconds of that gap. In what has been an incredibly difficult season, this fourth place felt like a win.

Jake Gagne came in fourth in the first race.

Jake Gagne came in fourth in the first race.

Unable to rest on the previous day’s results, the team arrived at the track early Sunday morning to ensure that the bike would be even better for race two. Would race two be the unbelievable climax to the movie that had been playing out all weekend? Would the hero go on to blaze a new path that leads to victory after victory? Or would it end in some cliffhanger that leads to a sequel?

It would be a mixture of both.

For the start of this race, Jake noticed that there might have been a slight hesitation in the clutch during the warm-up lap. But with no time to do anything about it, he would take his position and just do what he could to make the clutch last.

The lights went out, and again, Jake didn’t get the greatest of launches. Cue the music for a battle scene! Jake found himself well in the main group, and he would have to fight his way through the pack.

Jake Gagne (32) navigates a turn.

Jake Gagne (32) navigates a turn.

Jake was making progress – not as much as he had the day before, but he was going forward and passing other riders. He had worked himself back toward the leaders and was in sixth when Hayden Gillim suffered a horrifying crash heading into turn one. This brought out the red flag – and a plot twist.

As Jake entered the pit, he looked at Scott and said he had lost the quickshifter again and the clutch was slipping. This meant that the clutch may not last another start. Without knowing how much time there would be during this red-flag stoppage, the 32Crew only spent a split-second making the decision to change the clutch and repair the quick shifter. Before the words were out of Scott’s mouth, Evan Steel had already begun removing the clutch-cover bolts and chassis engineer Danny Anderson was rewiring the shifter. With an unknown time limit, it was all hands on a burning deck! The engine temperature was somewhere around “surface of the sun,” and without hesitation, the clutch was exposed and plates began flying out. The five-minute call was made and there was a sense of impending doom.

The track public-address system was commenting that the team may not have the time to get the clutch finished. This moment would turn out to be the transitional moment. The entire paddock was fixated on the team’s pit. Everyone was questioning whether or not they could do it.

The one-minute call went out, and still the 32Crew hadn’t finished. The suspense was building! As time was expiring, the pit was working at a feverish pace to get body work back on. Then, at exactly T-minus-zero, Jake was off and heading out for the warm-up lap. They had done it! The crew had pulled off a miracle and rewired a quickshifter and changed a clutch on a hot engine within the span of roughly 10 minutes.

The crew pulled off an amazing pit stop – but would that be enough…?

The crew pulled off an amazing pit stop – but would that be enough…?

As exciting as all that was, there was still a race to run. Jake retook his place; all he would have to do was make it for a six-lap sprint race.

The lights went out again. This time the start was not good. Jake ended up toward the back of the pack heading into turn one. With only six laps, would he have time to work his way through the pack again? The drama wasn’t over.

Jake did work his way through the pack again. His times were getting faster and faster, but time was not on his side. Despite his best efforts, he crossed the line in seventh place – not where the team believed he would be, but way better than the DNF he would have tallied had they not changed the clutch.

Looking back on the weekend, it couldn’t have been better. The result in race one was something that will certainly be highlight-reel material for years to come. It was an incredible weekend, and now the team is bolstered with confidence heading into the penultimate weekend at New Jersey.

Jake Gagne in a reflective moment on the track.

Jake Gagne in a reflective moment on the track.

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

“Coming off of Sonoma, we wanted to keep that momentum going,” Gagne said. “We tested here a few months ago, and I really like this track. The layout was fast and flowing, and it suited this Honda CBR1000RR SP2. I was really looking forward to seeing how much the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda has improved at this track since Scotty and the guys have fixed the major issues we’ve dealt with for most of the season.

“Right away, I was feeling really good around this place,” he continued. “After the free practice sessions were over, we were all feeling pretty confident that we had what it takes to run with the factory guys. I got caught out a bit in Superpole, and that was a bummer, as it knocked me down to [eighth]. I feel like I could’ve been on the second row, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

“Race one was amazing!” Gagne exclaimed. “I just put my head down and made some passes and kept to my own race. It took a second to realize I was behind Rog [Roger Hayden] and the leaders. It felt great to be right there, fighting with those guys. I know we have the potential to do that every race, and it felt really good to finally show that.

“Race two was a bit of a bummer,” he admitted. “I’m glad Hayden is okay. The problem was that I had lost my quickshifter again and the clutch was getting a little soft. My crew is amazing! They just jumped in and fixed the bike to give me the best chance following the red flag. I just got a bad start and had to fight through the pack all over again, but this time I only had six laps to do it. I got [seventh] but I know we could’ve done better. The guys really busted their butts to get me the best possible bike, so my hat’s off to them. It felt great to get that fourth place for everyone involved with the team: Genuine Broaster Chicken, Honda, Parts Unlimited, Motorex, Akrapovic, and everyone who helps us to go racing. On to New Jersey!”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“This weekend, it feels like a win,” said team principal Danny Walker. “[Fourth] felt like a win! It was certainly one of the best races we’ve had in a long time, and I’m very proud of Jake and the entire crew for their efforts. My hat is off to them.

“At this point, though, the setbacks are getting hard to stomach,” he confessed. “I know the guys are working so hard, and when something pops up, it’s like, ‘Ohh, can we get a break?’ Despite the setback in race two, there were so many positives this weekend. Those few little gremlins couldn’t put too much of a damper on what was an incredible weekend!

“We’re heading to New Jersey now with some solid finishes and feeling like we can continue moving forward,” Walker concluded. “Jake does really well at NJMP [New Jersey Motorsports Park]. He’s won two championships there, so we’re hoping that those gremlins stay away and allow us to show the true capabilities of our rider and this Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“The past few race weekends have been a bit frustrating from my end, as I have felt like we have had a competitive bike for the last three or four events but have not been able to show it due to a list of weird and unforeseen issues,” said crew chief Scott Jensen. “We have all been working very diligently to put the bike at the front of the field, and it appears we are making solid progress.

“Race one felt like a huge weight had been lifted from the entire team,” Jensen said. “It wasn’t quite a podium, but being able to run down the lead group and finish a very close fourth was a great result for us, and we are very excited to finally show how competitive this new 2017 CBR1000RR SP2 really is!

“Unfortunately, race two brought one more odd electrical issue and the clutch that kept Jake from performing to his ability,” he added. “Compounded with the red flag, we finished an unfortunate seventh place.

“I have to give a huge shout-out to the guys, Danny Anderson and Evan Steel,” Jensen summed up, “as they yet again performed the impossible and managed to get an unplanned clutch swap and quickshifter repair done during the red flag in race two. Both repairs were done perfectly! You really can’t ask for better guys to work with! Bring on NJMP!”

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