Home race for Genuine Broaster Chicken concludes in positive progress
Elkhart Lake, WI – Road America, The National Park of Speed was the setting for the fourth round of the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship. The only way to really understand the grand scale of the track is to be there. It’s a tired cliché, but it’s the truth when referencing this massive facility dedicated to those willing to push their machines and their own bodies to the limits. It is the longest track on the schedule and its perhaps the most idyllic; if open green spaces set in a lush rolling landscape surrounded by hiking trails through the trees is your kind of scene. However, when things are this good, there must always be a downside. For Road America, the downside can be the weather. At the track, it is completely possible to have all four seasons within the same day sprinkled with a persistent threat of tornadoes. Soooo… you take the good with the bad and twist the throttle to full stop and just enjoy the splendor of Wisconsin’s Cathedral of Racing. From a fan’s perspective, it is a complete experience.
The team rolled into Road America after a much need break. The crew was able to have the bikes back in their own shop and conduct some critical maintenance and upgrades. These upgrades added some desperately needed horsepower ahead of the largest track in the series. While it was great to have the bikes home and being worked on, there is still the element of testing these parts under race conditions. Until that can happen on a regular basis, the crew will continue to play the guessing game and hope that they can get a fast machine right off the truck.
However, in what is becoming the norm, the first session of the weekend is more about wrenching than riding. So far this season Jake and the 32Crew average roughly 10 laps in Free Practice One. This is an issue that is the result of a few compounding issues. The short version is that this is still a very new motorcycle with very few hours on it, almost no testing, parts continue to come in and parts continue to be fabricated. All that to say that the first practice session has become the “test” for new electronic settings and components for Jake. This weekend was no different. Jake only completed eight laps and wasn’t really able to develop a solid feeling ahead of Free Practice Two later that day. It’s extremely critical that riders maximize their time on the track during these first two sessions as they set the grid for Superpole, so the sense of urgency is real.
Free Practice Two was more like the team is used to seeing. During the break, the 32Crew led by crew chief Scott Jensen, worked to solve the problems that cropped up in the morning. Jake was turned loose to set some fast laps around this massive 4 mile circuit. Knowing that the bike would be down on horsepower, it was more important to establish consistent laps at a pace where Jake could push the new CBR 1000rr SP2 to its limits. And that is what he was able to do. With a more rhythmic pace of 5-7 laps out then in, 5-7 out then in, Jake was able to climb from the bottom of the timing sheets to grab a solid P8 in the closing moments of the session to snag a ticket to Superpole.
Saturday arrives with an ominous distant thunderclap. The ride to the track was a feat in and of itself with the rain falling so hard the locals were pulling over on the highways into the track. As was mentioned above though, if you don’t like the weather wait a minute and it’ll change. Sure enough the weather did change. By the time Free Practice Three was set to go off, the rain had stopped but was still lurking about. The track was wet/dry/damp/slick/meh. Not ideal for a final push before Superpole to see if things were sorted out in the overnight maintenance. The decision was made to go out for that session on wet tires as the conditions were mixed. It turned out that wasn’t the right call as Jake had completely shredded those rain tires three or four laps into the session. When Jake came back into the pits, the decision was made to just not risk any damage to Jake or bike when the track would be completely different for the race. Save it for Superpole.
Less than an hour later, it was time to make the magic happen. In the hurried atmosphere of Superpole, riders and teams only have a few laps to make their mark on the starting grid. When the track is as big as Road America, a 15 minute session yields no more than 7 laps so everything counts. With the weather “iffy” but holding at dry, Jake went out for a few laps on the Dunlop Pre-Qualifier to really shake down the settings. Coming into the pit for the tire change there was no time to make anything more than the tiniest of suspension changes before roaring back out. Jake got his flying in at the last possible moment and was able to secure P11 on the starting grid. Not where he wants to be, but given the circumstances of the weekend, it was the best the team could manage.
Race one was slated for later that day and as luck would have it the weather decided to fully cooperate. The sun came shining out from behind the clouds and the temps soared back into the 80’s. Taking his place on the gird, Jake was eager to get the race started. The horns go off indicating to all personnel to clear the track and once the umbrella’s are folded and the crews are safe behind the barriers, it’s visors down for one last lap before the symphony begins. The grid rounds the track and return to their starting positions. Engines revving and all eyes focus on the lights. Lights hold, hold, hold, then go out and the field lunges forward down the straight towards Turn One. Jake made a decent start but was never able to break from the mid-pack and had to fight for some space through the next series of corners. Jake was able to hang with the tail end of the chase group for much of the first half of the race, but by the midpoint, he would be riding alone in P8. It was evident from watching him on track that there was an issue with his set-up that couldn’t have been flushed out in the limited time the team had on track leading up to the race. Despite this, Jake was setting good solid lap times and was gaining confidence on the bike around this circuit. Jake would finish in that solitary ninth position but more importantly he had gained a clearer understanding of what the Genuine Broaster Chicken / Honda wanted and he was able to effectively communicate that to his crew.
Sunday’s are always big days. Even though there is racing on Saturday, Sunday’s still feel bigger! Hard to explain, but there’s just that sense of “This is the day we’ve all been waiting for!” The teams were given an extended warm-up to try a new compound of tires for Dunlop and those extra 15 minutes were precious to the 32Crew and to Jake. The changes based on Race One data seemed to be in the right direction. Jake was confident that he could make a jump in the standings for Race Two. Following an amazing turnout for the Dunlop Fanwalk, it was time to suit up and head out for Race Two. Same protocol as always; crews on the grid ushered out by air horns and track officials, umbrella girls running in heels to get over the barriers and riders oblivious to it all as they center themselves on the task at hand. Once Jake made the warm-up lap and took his position on the starting line everything faded away. Again, the lights are on and then they aren’t. Signaling the start of race two.
Everything was going great until the bottom of Turn 5 where Jake Lewis had a massive high-side. His bike stayed on track and was hit by Bobby Fong who was then thrown to the track and run over by Mathew Schotlz. It was brutal to watch and when the red flags came out all anyone could do was wait to see if everyone was ok. Luckily there were no injuries and only Bobby was unable to make the restart. Race Two was re-staged and all the riders had to find that adrenaline again for a full race restart. This time Jake would make a better start and remain in the main pack for the first couple of laps. Jake’s pace was holding steady until an uncharacteristic mistake entering Turn One caused him a few positions. He snagged the double draft and got into T1 a few miles an hour faster than he had previously and missed his braking markers. Jake would have it all to do over again as he lost about four places. However, a flash of the real Jake he recovered and was soon climbing back up through the field. His pace was actually on par with those fighting for podiums. He had clawed his way to P6 and given his pace, P5 wasn’t too far from reality. Just as soon as he was clear of the group and had open track ahead of him to hunt down P5, Josh Herrin’s Yamaha exploded going down the front straight with three laps to go. The race was red flagged which took all riders back to the previous lap and that put Jake back down the order to P8.
That was a tough one, but that happens in racing. For all his and his crew’s hard work, the reward was the show of speed and pace at the end of Race Two. When you’re developing new machinery you have to take the positives and drive forward. In this case, it was clear that their changes had given Jake a bike he was more competitive on and that is massively encouraging going into Utah in two weeks’ time. From here the team will go home to Colorado. Hopefully there will be boxes of more go fast parts and time to install them.
2017 MotoAmerica – Round 4 – Road America from GeoCrash Productions on Vimeo.