The sequel to our thrilling closing trilogy
New Jersey Motorsports Park – Millville, NJ
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 and his 32Crew rejoicing their incredible 4th and 6th place finishes from Pittsburgh. 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 is set for a continuation of the story line. Arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport, the 32Crew left their beloved media guy 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, Danny and Evan hunted down the team transporter. Once they found it they unloaded the “A” bike and began working under an Ez-Up on the electrical system. Would this fix the issue? Can this be the beginning of the end of bad starts? Only track time will 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 there were some suspension adjustments needed as he was looking like a rodeo rider through a few corners. But 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 those around him and he would finish that first free practice in P6.
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 6th place was merely the beginning of what he could do with the bike.
Saturday’s during the race weekend’s 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 set-up. After 30 minutes, the set-up was verified. Jake and the 32Crew were confident that Superpole would be solid.
Superpole arrived by mid-morning and everything was in place. The pre-qualifying tire was toasty and the track was just about ideal. Jake climbed aboard his Honda CBR1000RR SP2 and began his three flying laps. Looking good and planted through 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 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 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 4th place start. However exiting the final corner, he had a small wiggle which cost him a few tenths and relegated him to 6th. Still, a second row start. All that’s needed now, (flashback to earlier in the movie) is a solid start which would depend on the electrical fix that Scott and the crew had conducted on that rainy night.
Race One is 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 crew. 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’s the excitement of what is 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. Horns sound, time to clear the grid and take some deep breathes.
As the engine revs go up, the roar echos all over and can be heard from the furthest reaches of the track. The riders hold the revs for just a seconds and then once the lights are turned off, the entire field rushes down the long main straight towards turn One, the hardest braking zone on the track. Jake made a good start. Gaining one position into T1 and holding it for the entire first lap. The first few laps actually. Jake was able to maneuver himself into 4th place before the first few laps were completed. Again, it was an impressive display to see Jake running up front with the factory machines. The difference this round? The level of confidence that the issues have been resolved and that Jake was free to ride as hard as possible for the entire race distance. Which he did. As the laps we’re counting down, Josh Herrin had moved right up on Jake’s rear. Lap after lap Josh was showing Jake a wheel here and there. Always able to pull along side of Jake on the main straight only to have Jake out brake him. This duel was feeding off the electricity 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 Josh on corner exit. That wider line was all that was needed as Josh came through. The rubber on Jake’s leathers tell just how close it was. Jake would cross the line in a hard fought 5th place. Disappointed for sure, but thrilled to once again be able to run up front with the full Superbikes.
Over the night, 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 since the title was 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 ok 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 5th going into the corner.
This time, the leaders would break off into two distinct groups. Roger Hayden up front being chased by Kyle Wymann. The second grouping was Josh Hayes and an ever speedy Jake Gagne. Within a few laps, the newly crowned 2017 Superbike Champion, Toni Elias came from no-where on a hard charge to the front. Toni’s 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 Josh, locking him into fourth position. As the drama up front heightened with Toni 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.
The sequel ends with a solid performance from our hero and his crew. A fifth and fourth to add to the fourth and sixth from the previous round. With the average placing being fourth since the massive turn around, the team heads to the final chapter with the aim to continue to improve and finish this epic saga with a podium! Stay tuned..