Trail by Fire
Austin, TX – The 2017 MotoAmerica season officially kicked off with flare and all the right pomp and circumstance. In what is becoming a tradition, the season opener was held in conjunction with the third round of the MotoGP championship. While that’s cool and all, we care about our business.. and this season, our business is all about developing a new race bike. This first round would signify some very important key milestones for the new project that is the Genuine Broaster Chicken / Honda (GBCH) team.
The biggest milestone is obviously the addition of the newest team member, the 2017 Honda CBR1000rr SP2. With limited testing time and even more limited parts, the 32Crew had their work cut for them. The team approached this task with the same methodical approach that has won them two championships. The idea was to take every opportunity to zero in on race settings that would allow Jake to maximize the potential of the new CBR. With no weather issues in the forecast every lap was going to count towards race set-up.
The first session was held on Thursday afternoon under typically cloudy yet bright Texas skies. Jake was able to stick to the plan of 5 laps out and then pit, then back out for 5 -7 laps and in.. rinse and repeat until the end of the session. While the timing sheets didn’t show it, Jake was making some serious strides on the Honda and with his relationship with crew chief Scott, every detail, bump and sound was scrutinized. After pouring over the notes and data, the crew went to work on establishing a new baseline set-up for Friday’s qualifying session one. The weekend’s schedule called for abbreviated sessions compared to when the series is on its own. This didn’t equate to a ton of time to really dial in the bike for a true race feel prior to qualifying. The goal is getting into Superpole.
Regardless of the limited time, the crew did their thing and tweaked and adjusted and modified all they could until Qualifying Session One. Jake got out to a great start and throughout the session kept making faster lap after faster lap. Going into the second qualifying session, the team was really excited to see how the bike would react to more adjustments that had been made. Following the second qualifying session, the team was ecstatic to learn that Jake had made it into Superpole. For their part, Dunlop had brought in a new Pre Qualifying tire to allow teams to get up to speed quicker during Superpole, and they worked brilliantly. After only three flying laps, Jake entered the pits to put on the super soft qualifying tires. These allow for one out lap and one flying lap. It was during the flying lap that Jake experienced a lowside and was unable to complete Superpole. At the end of the day Jake would have to start the races in P11.
Working through the night to prepare the Honda for race one, Scotty and the 32Crew were very pleased with Jake’s feedback from the previous sessions and they felt that they had a chance to make some big steps forward during the race. As the bike lined up on the starting grid, the fact that Honda was back on the Superbike grid was not lost on the crew or the media. A lot of buzz had been circulating about how this new CBR would do in a race situation. Jake was his typically calm and jovial self. Focused on the task at hand and not concerned with media hype. Under almost ideal racing conditions, the grid was cleared of support crew and the riders closed their visors and prepared for the first race of the 2017 MotoAmerica Season.
As the lights went out on the starting grid, the symphony of race engines harmonized to create the most beautiful sound in all of sport. The riders ran up the hill towards turn one which can be the most disastrous corner in all of racing, this time everyone made it cleanly through. Jake was right in the thick of the leading group having improved upon his starting position. On lap two however, there was an incident and Josh Hayes was taken out of contention. Jake stayed the course, didn’t get collected in the mayhem and begin to settle in. By the midpoint of the race Jake was part of three / four rider group battling the last spots in the top five. As he’s known to do, Jake began going quicker lap after lap. Soon he made his way around Josh Herrin and began tracking down Jake Lewis. In the closing laps, Jake made his move around the Suzuki of Lewis and was on the hunt for Mathew Scholtz. It was looking like Jake was going to catch Mathew but as they say in racing, “He ran out of laps.” This is a terrible description but true. Jake would cross the line in 5th place overall and claim 3rd place in Superbike. Not a bad way to begin writing the new story of racing for Honda in the US.
Hopes in the GBCH pit were at an all-time high overnight as the weight of the first race was finally off the crew’s shoulders. All that remained was a brief warm-up and then race two. Unfortunately, the feeling of excitement and hopefulness would be replaced by doubt and confusion as the race was over almost before it began. When Jake made it back to the starting grid after his sighting lap, he informed Scott that there was an electrical issue and the bike was cutting off. Quickly the team began to try and diagnose the issue. Checking all connectors and harnesses the problem couldn’t be fixed in the few minutes remaining. Uncertain of what would happen during the race, Jake literally faced an uphill battle as the lights went out and entire field left the starting line. The electrical issue persisted and Jake was forced to come into the pits. After a few laps had passed, the team sent Jake back out but in that out lap, the problem proved to be too much and Jake had to call it a race.