A rough return for Tomy Puerta
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – Monterey, CA
There is a lot to be said about the potential this past weekend had. Jake was making his World Superbike debut, Tomy Puerta was returning and the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda was showing signs of strength. So, coming off an extremely disappointing weekend at Utah Motorsports Campus, the team was eager to hit the famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with one of their favorite riders making his return to the US. Tomy Puerta received the call to help the team out as Jake Gagne was called up to the World Superbike squad of Red Bull Honda. This round also marks the home race for the primary technical partner of American Honda.
With all these signs that were pointing to a potentially incredible weekend, what could possibly spoil this occasion? As it turned out, quite a bit. The weekend started off with a different feel. Maybe it was the lingering feelings that the crew had from Utah? Maybe it was the anxiety they all felt for Jake? Whatever it was, there was a difference in the air and only getting on the track and focusing on the normal tasks of racing would help the crew to shake those feelings.
Knowing that Tomy rides with a completely different style from Jake, Scott, Danny and Evan got to work immediately on establishing a baseline set-up for Tomy. The entire first practice session was dedicated to exactly that goal. With Tomy’s style, the chasis needed to adjusted in order to suit his aggressive body position. Once the crew established that baseline, they were to get to work on helping Tomy get used the new motorcycle as quickly as possible. The challenge, when there are combined events like this weekend, was (WorldSBK) the track time is often greatly reduced. Compounding the problem is that only FP1 (Free Practice) and FP2 on Friday are used to determine whether or not a rider gets into Superpole. With so much to adjust to and figure out, Tomy had a difficult time turning consistent laps on the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda. The best time he was able to manage during those two critical session landed him outside the Superpole rankings and forced him to a starting position of 16th.
Starting back of the grid is certainly an obstacle that can be overcome. Fortunately with Tomy at the helm, he’s just the “Head Down” rider to attack the starts. When Race One was set to go, it was really anyone’s guess as to where Tomy would finish the race, but everyone knows he’s capable of riding the wheels off of a motorcycle. So as the lights went out, all that could be done was to watch him do his thing. And he did! He managed a decent start and was running up through the pack. However, by the third lap it was apparent that something was wrong. Tomy came into the pits with an electrical issue that he couldn’t resolve while riding by manipulating his settings via the on-board system. The crew was quick to address the issue and get Tomy back out to at least get some more laps and therefore more data. This didn’t last long, in fact, not even a full lap out. Tomy was forced to retire from the race with intermittent electrical issues. Scott and the crew had a lot of work to do before Race Two the next afternoon.
Over the night, the team worked to hunt down the electrical gremlin and prepare to put on a great display for the home crowd. With only a 15 minute warm-up session on Sunday, the concern was whatever the issues was would there be enough time to definitively ensure it was gone? The answer would only be revealed in the upcoming race. Once again, Tomy made his way to his starting position and awaited the lights. This time, however, he was a little more apprehensive on the start and that uncertainty was well founded. Once again, before he had even a chance to really get into the race, he was forced to come into the pits and retire from racing action. The frustration clearly on his face was bested by the anger on the Crew Chief’s face. With a frustrated rider sitting in the pit watching the race on TV and a solitary walk back to the transporter for Scott, the weekend was over.
The team heads into the summer break desperate for answers and seeking solutions to their problems. The first half of the season has been exactly what a development year is all about, but that does little to console them. The main positive that they keep focused on, is that this is leading somewhere. Each issue, each mechanical, all data is working towards developing a motorcycle that will be a championship contender. They all know that this is positive but that age old adage of “It’s tough to see the forest through the trees” is proving true. With this break, the team will be testing new parts that have arrived. They will be working with their partners to ensure that the second half of the season is strong and the new machine is capable of running up front.