RoadRace Factory Race Report from New Jersey Motorsports Park: Part Two of Our Thrilling Closing Trilogy!

| 15 September 2017 1:48 pm

MotoAmerica Championship Series
Round 9: New Jersey Motorsports Park

Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
MILLVILLE, NJ, SEPT. 8-10, 2017

If the previous round was akin to a dramatic movie, then this round would have to be the sequel that sets up the compelling third and final episode in a thrilling trilogy. Who knows how this movie will end? We certainly don’t, but we do know that at this point in the feature, things are going great for our protagonist.

In the last scene, we left off with Jake Gagne and his 32Crew rejoicing over their incredible fourth- and sixth-place finishes in Pittsburgh, with our hero being carried off into the sunset on the shoulders of his adoring fans and bolstered by the solid performances of his crew and machine.

Now the stage was set for a continuation of the story line.

Welcome to New Jersey Motorsports Park, site of the penultimate round of the MotoAmerica Championship Series.

Welcome to New Jersey Motorsports Park, site of the penultimate round of the MotoAmerica Championship Series.

Arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport, the 32Crew left their beloved media guy (yours truly) stranded while they headed directly for the track. In the week between rounds, crew chief Scott Jensen had an epiphany with respect to the quickshifter issues and needed his team to get to the bike as soon as possible. So, in the dark of night and under a persistent rain, Scott, team principal Danny Walker, and chassis engineer Evan Steel hunted down the team transporter. Once they found it, they unloaded the “A” bike and, under an EZ-Up, began working on the electrical system. Would this fix the issue? Could this be the beginning of the end of bad starts? Only track time would tell.

Friday morning, the rains had stopped and the big blue New Jersey sky was giving the “all clear” for dry track time.

Right from the first few laps, Jake was on pace. It was clear that some suspension adjustments were needed, as he was looking like a rodeo rider through a few of the corners. Despite that, he was running in the top three for much of the first session. As that first session wore on, Jake’s times improved, but not as much as the time of those around him, and he would finish that first free practice in sixth.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed in Millville, New Jersey.

Jake Gagne (32) at speed in Millville, New Jersey.

The time between sessions was plenty for a team conference. Eric from Penske Racing Shocks was tasked with making the bike calm down on corner exits, and there is no one else in the paddock who is better equipped to make that happen. A new shock was mounted, and the crew was eager to see what Jake could do in the second free practice.

That afternoon session would show a marked improvement in the capability of the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda. Jake was seen on track, throwing the bike out of corners and sliding it at will. Judging by his wheelies and goon-riding on the cool-down lap, it was pretty clear that his sixth place was merely the beginning of what he could do with the bike.

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Saturdays during the race weekends are typically the busiest of the four days. There’s a morning warm-up, followed quickly by Superpole – just enough time for the team to grab some delicious Genuine Broaster Chicken and get ready to race!

The program for the morning warm-up was to verify race setup. After 30 minutes, the setup was verified. Jake and the 32Crew were confident that Superpole would be solid.

Superpole arrived by midmorning, and everything was in place. The prequalifying tire was toasty and the track was just about ideal. Jake climbed aboard his Honda CBR1000RR SP2 and began his three flying laps.

Jake Gagne (32) flies around the NJMP course.

Jake Gagne (32) flies around the NJMP course.

Looking good and planted through the corners, Jake entered the pit for his tire change. What began by mistake in Sonoma has now become the routine. Instead of a quick change and immediately getting back on track, Jake sits for a bit and talks with Scott, and together they watch the timing screens. They’ve begun timing the session in order to give Jake the clearest track possible. With time winding down, the “Go” signal was issued and the tire warmers went off, and Jake began his long ride through pit lane. One out lap, and then it’s hammer down.

While setting green sector times (personal bests), it was looking like Jake had a shot at a possible fourth-place start. However, exiting the final corner, he had a small wiggle, which cost him a few tenths of a second and relegated him to sixth. Still, it would be a second-row start. All that was needed now (flashback to earlier in the movie) was a solid start, which would depend on the electrical fix that Scott and the crew had conducted on that rainy night.

Jake Gagne contemplates the coming contest.

Jake Gagne contemplates the coming contest.

Race one was upon us. There’s a certain feeling that permeates the paddock when it’s time for the big bikes to do battle -like an electricity that excites everything around. To be on the grid just before the race begins is an experience that leaves an impression. You feel that excitement. You see the routines of the riders and crews. You see into the eyes of the warriors who will soon do battle for your entertainment. In this case, for Jake and the team, it was the excitement of what was to come. They all knew Jake would make a strong run at this New Jersey circuit. The bike had been running strong all weekend, and Jake was pumped.

The horns sounded; it was time to clear the grid and take some deep breaths.

As the engine revs went up, the roar echoed all over and could be heard from the furthest reaches of the track. The riders held the revs for just seconds, and then, once the lights were turned off, the entire field rushed down the long main straight toward turn one, the hardest-braking zone on the track.

Jake made a good start, gaining one position heading into turn one and holding it for the entire first lap – the first few laps, actually. Jake was able to maneuver himself into fourth place before the first few laps were completed.

Again, it was impressive to watch Jake running up front with the factory machines. The difference this round? The level of confidence now that the issues had been resolved and that Jake was free to ride as hard as possible for the entire race distance.

Which he did.

Race one went well for Jake Gagne (32).

Race one went well for Jake Gagne (32).

As the laps were counting down, Josh Herrin had moved right up on Jake’s rear tire. Lap after lap, Herrin was showing Jake a wheel here and there, always able to pull alongside of Jake on the main straight, only to have Jake outbrake him. This duel was feeding off the electricity in the air and amplifying it.

On the last lap, the very last corner, Jake was setting up a wide line into the final corner to get a better drive than Herrin on corner exit. That wider line was all that was needed, as Herrin came through. The rubber on Jake’s leathers tell just how close it was. Jake would cross the line in a hard-fought fifth place. He was disappointed, to be sure, but thrilled to once again be able to run up front with the full Superbikes.

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Overnight, there were few changes made. The plan for Sunday morning was to try two different shocks and try to pinpoint which one would be best for race two later that afternoon. That plan was scrapped, as an incident during Supersport warm-ups cut short the already short 15-minute session. The crew would have to go with their gut feelings on the shock.

As the teams and riders took their places for the start of race two, the electricity had not diminished at all, even though the title had been clinched the day before by Toni Elias. There’s still plenty of drama every time the bikes line up. This time, the marker was another rung on the ladder. Fifth was okay, but Jake had been fourth almost all race, and that was where he needed to be again.

Race two started with a packed house on hand, crowded down into turn one to see Jake take a solid fifth going into the corner.

This time, the leaders would break off into two distinct groups. Roger Hayden was up front, being chased by Kyle Wymann. The second grouping was comprised of Josh Hayes and an always speedy Jake Gagne.

Within a few laps, the newly crowned 2017 Superbike Champion, Toni Elias, came from seemingly nowhere on a hard charge toward the front. Elias’ pace carried him a little wide, causing Josh Hayes to go offline. This miscue opened the door for Jake to take the position away from Hayes, locking him into fourth position.

As the drama up front heightened, with Elias catching his teammate and passing him for the lead, Jake was circulating at a consistent pace, ensuring him fourth place when he crossed the line. This would be equal to his highest position of the season, and more importantly, it firmly demonstrated that the issues that plagued the team early on are (at least for now) behind them.

Race two went even better for Jake Gagne (32).

Race two went even better for Jake Gagne (32).

The sequel ends with a solid performance from our hero and his crew. A fifth and a fourth to add to the fourth and sixth from the previous round. With the average placing being fourth since the massive turnaround, the team now heads to the final chapter with the aim of continuing to improve and finish this epic saga with a podium! Stay tuned…

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

Superbike rider Jake Gagne.

“We were all feeling really positive about New Jersey,” Gagne said, “especially after our best weekend at Pittsburgh. We made some serious progress last time out, and it definitely carried into New Jersey Motorsports Park. We’ve had some great races here, and I always have fun riding around this track.

“I’d like to give a huge, huge thank-you to the 32Crew of Scotty, DA, Evan, Eric, and Walker for always giving their absolute best,” he added. “It’s great to finally see the unbelievable amount of effort translate into results. We’ve learned a ton from both races and improved both times out. I’m really ready to get to Barber and do our best to battle for some wins.”

Team principal Danny Walker.

Team principal Danny Walker.

“When we left Pittsburgh, we were all riding pretty high,” Walker said. “Scotty and the guys have been problem-solving this new Honda CBR1000RR SP2 since the day it arrived, and their hard work, combined with Jake’s abilities, are really beginning to pay dividends. Of course, we had hoped for a more competitive season, but that’s how bike development goes.

“I’d like it if the season started now,” he laughed. “I had 100-percent confidence in our crew and rider that we would be competitive eventually. We were just hoping it wasn’t going to take this long. Probably the best part is how far we can still go. Our 2018 season starts Monday after Barber.”

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

Crew chief Scott Jensen.

“Coming into New Jersey Motorsports Park, we were all very positive, since this track has brought us a lot of success as a team over the years,” said Jensen. “As with Pittsburgh, the weekend started off well, and we rolled into qualifying confident in our chances to put the new CBR1000RR SP2 at the front. By the end of Superpole, we were sixth in a very tight field. The nimble but stable nature of the CBR was working in our favor on this flowing racetrack.

“Race one turned out to be a nail-biter between Jake and Josh Herrin on the factory Yamaha superbike,” he continued, “with Josh managing a skilled pass on the last lap, relegating us to fifth.

“After testing a new Penske rear shock in Sunday warm-up,” he added, “we were set for race two. As the race settled in, it was apparent the new shock was helping, as Jake was able to run more consistent fast times. At the end, we ended up a very competitive fourth place, behind Roger Hayden.

“Now comes Barber, the last race of the season,” he concluded. “My, how time flies!”

Check out these video highlights from round eight at Pittsburgh International Race Complex…


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