Cue the Music!
Pittsburgh International Race Complex – Wampum, PA
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 ¾ through the film and our hero would still be getting knocked around. We’d be anxiously awaiting the transitional scene where 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 they 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.
Pittsburgh International Race Complex is a new (to MotoAmerica) circuit that is situated in Wampum, PA. Set in the stunning country side of Western PA, this facility is actually quite mature but has never held a national level event such as MotoAmerica. Earlier in the season, the series conducted a two day test wherein the suggestions for improvement were provided to the facility in order to increase rider safety. The facility having made those improvements meant that Jake and the team were eager to get the weekend going.
The mood ahead of the first practice session was one of complete optimism. Scott Jensen, the team’s crew chief, was confident that the intermittent electrical issues have been resolved and whatever popped up this weekend could be dealt with. Jake was feeling good following the performance at Sonoma Raceway and knew that if given the chance, he could ride with the main group at this fast and flowing natural terrain circuit. It was immediately clear that all that optimism and confidence was well placed. From the start, Jake was on the gas on flying around the track. Coming over the crest of T1 was a sight to see. Jake was taking the wider line and catching Josh Hayes, closer and closer each lap. That entire session, Jake looked like the Jake of 2014 – 15. Experiencing no issues what-so-ever, Jake finished that session in P4 after topping out in 3rd at one point.
Everything was set for Free Practice Two, and once again, Jake was immediately quick. With an hour 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 Jake had managed P6 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.
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 heads out for the three laps that his Dunlop Pre-Qualifying tire will give him. He’s on a quick pace, again inside the top 5, and then he comes 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, Scott kept his cool by stating, “There’s plenty of time… there’s plenty of time.” Tire goes on, Jake hops on the bike and heads out for about three and half 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 would catch a tow and drag him back. He would cross the line in P8, obviously not where he or the 32Crew wanted to be. The bright side, however, is that for the first time, the team has a bike that other riders are wanting to use for a tow.
We are at that moment, that impactful moment we’ve been waiting for. Race One. The stage has been set. The riders have taken their marks. The anticipation was palpable. Jake would go out for his warm-up lap and signal that everything was feeling good. There was nothing to do now but watch and hope that everything is indeed, “good”. The starting line on the Pittsburgh track is actually on a downhill slope with a slight bend towards the first corner. When the revs come up, the brakes are being squeezed extra hard to hold all that horsepower at bay while fighting gravity that wants to pull the bikes forward. Lights out! Jake made an ok start, not great but good. He would get crowded through T1 and down the straight leading towards the chicane. Soon he would begin moving back up through the pack and by half distance Jake was in 7th place catching on the leading Superstock bikes. It would take a few laps for him to get up and around the 6th place bike of Danny Eslick, but once he did, he was quickly able to dispatch with Mathew Scholtz and Jake Lewis. Now, Jake Gagne had his Genuine Broaster Chicken / Honda in a solid 4th position with about 6 laps remaining. His times were faster than those riders ahead of him. With roughly three laps to go, Jake was on the rear wheel of Roger Hayden who was sitting in 3rd. The gap between the top four was minimal, with no rider clearly having an advantage over the other. As the laps clicked down, Jake was doing all he could to get past Roger. At the line, Jake would grab his highest position of the season, 4th, and with it a feeling of victory. His time was a little over 4 secs behind the winner but his massive wheelie down the front straight accounted for about 3 seconds of that gap. In what has been an incredibly difficult season, this fourth place felt like a win.
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 cliff hanger that leads to a sequel? It would be a mixture of both. For the start of this race, Jake would notice 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 would find himself well in the main group and have to fight through the pack. He 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 towards the leaders and was in 6th when Hayden Gillim would suffer a horrifying crash into Turn One. This brought out the red flag and with it, a plot twist. As Jake entered the pit, he looked at Scott and said he had lost the quick shifter again and.. the clutch was slipping. This would mean that the clutch may not last another start. Without knowing how much time there would be during this red flag 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 Steal had already begun removing the clutch cover bolts and Danny Anderson was rewiring the shifter. With an unknown time limit, it was all hands on a burning deck! The engine temp was somewhere around, “Surface of the Sun” and without hesitation, the clutch was exposed and plates began flying out. The 5 minute call was made and there was a sense of impending doom. The track public address 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 1 minute call went out and still the 32Crew hadn’t finished. The suspense was building. As time was expiring, the pit was at a feverish pace to get body work back on. Then at exactly T Minus 0.0 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.
As exciting as that was, there was still a race to run. Jake retakes his place and all he has to do is make it for a six lap sprint race. Lights out again, this time the start was not good. Jake would end up towards the back of the pack heading into Turn One. With only six laps would he have time to work through the pack again? The drama wasn’t over.. Jake would work through the pack again. His times were getting faster and faster but time was not on his side. Despite his best efforts, he would cross the line in 7th place. Not where the team believed he would be, but way better than the DNF had they not changed the clutch.
Looking back on the weekend, it couldn’t have been better. The result in race one is 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.