ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (June 5, 2014) – The 2014 AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike races at Road America will be remembered as a big step in the career of Jake Gagne.
The Californian had won a race and a pole before in the class and finished second in points last year, but this past weekend, the former Red Bull Rookies Cup champion dominated like never before.
Gagne, 21, won the pole at both races at Elkhart Lake and did so at a blistering pace.
“It was a perfect weekend and I’m really stoked,” said Gagne. “To come out of here with pole and two wins, I couldn’t ask for anything better for the whole RoadRace Factory/Red Bull crew. They have been working hard since Daytona.”
The former youth motocrosser who first raced on pavement in 2008, enjoyed a strong 2013, but his AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike campaign was overshadowed by the dominance of champion Cameron Beaubier. Gagne also enjoyed some solid performances in Europe before coming stateside for AMA Pro, so the paddock knew he was a contender. The twists and turns at Road America seemed to play into Gagne’s strengths.
Three riders bettered Beaubier’s qualifying mark from last year and Gagne, who qualified second in 2013, shaved nearly two seconds off his previous best lap in this year’s sessions. The RoadRace Factory/Red Bull pilot’s mark of 2:18.647 topped Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff by two tenths. Yamalube/Westby Racing’s Dane Westby joined them on the front row, lurking just under a second behind Gagne on the time charts.
Race 1 saw Gagne get the holeshot ahead of Gerloff and Castrol/Triumph/Sportbike Track Time’s Jason DiSalvo. Gagne built a strong lead, and by the time the first circuit was completed, was free to run clear laps.
However, his advantage disappeared with a red flag that waved while he worked lap 10 due to Joe Roberts’ crash on his M4 Motorcycle Road Racing Honda. Roberts suffered a hand injury and was unable to race Sunday. Essentially, Gagne would have to win the race twice.
The restart and resulting three-lap shootout made Gagne feel challenges from rivals who previously had seen their chances at a win slip away. Jake Lewis on the MotoSport.com/Meen Yamaha YZF-R6 jumped to the front, but Gagne was able to retake the lead and pull a bit of a gap to win it.
“The first part of the race we were just clicking off laps,” said Gagne on Saturday. “We were a little bummed when we heard it was going to be a three-lap dash after the red flag. I knew the guys would be back up there on me. Jake and Garrett both made some moves. Going into the last lap, I tried to get a clean, strong lap.”
On Sunday, Gagne continued his excellence. After the initial race was red-flagged early when Gerloff crashed, Gagne shook off Westby and JD Beach on his Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha to pull away to win by 12.209 seconds. Gagne did the “Superman” as he crossed the line the final time.
“We made some pretty significant changes for Sunday,” said Gagne. “I thought it improved the bike.”
Gagne finally made a mistake after the races were won. He dropped the bike turning around in the grass as he headed for victory circle.
“I jumped off the bike so it was pretty clean. It might have bent a clip-on. I think the guys are all right with it,” he laughed.
Beach had a great weekend, earning third and second in just his second weekend with the Factory Yamaha team. The dirt-tracker came up big to run in the podium positions. On Saturday, he seemed to get better as the race wore on. On Sunday, Beach fought an early battle with Gagne and challenged Westby late. He showed he isn’t content to let Gerloff position himself as team leader just yet.
“It feels good to get second here at Road America, but it would feel even better if I’d won,” said Beach on Sunday. “Jake rode a great race and pulled a pretty big gap on Dane and me. I’m glad to be on the podium. My team and I are improving with each race, so I’m really happy with our progress.”
Many of the top riders in the class saw a similar theme – one strong race, but another with struggles – in Wisconsin. Some class protagonists found themselves by the side of the track instead of in the action.
Gerloff had a wild weekend. The Texan had a big crash in qualifying that left his team scrambling to get his bike prepared for the race. Gerloff took the rebuilt machine to second in a gutsy ride.
“My Y.E.S. team had to totally rebuild the bike for me after my crash this morning, and they did a great job getting it race-ready in a very short amount of time,” he said after his performance on Saturday. “We weren’t able to get in any practice laps since the race followed right after qualifying, so I wasn’t sure what I had. The front-end felt a little different, so I had to adjust to the change and just concentrate on my lap times. The restart helped me because my team was able to adjust the front suspension and get me a little more comfortable. It was a big improvement, and I’m really happy to finish second, although I wish I’d won.”
On Sunday, an early crash netted Gerloff a trip in the ambulance, but he was cleared of a suspected concussion.
Westby had a similar event Saturday. The Oklahoman had made a push to second place on the final lap before he had a mechanical issue. It was tough to stomach after a Daytona crash thwarted another shot at the podium.
Westby was able to rebound to third on Sunday, charging after a so-so start to pass Beach before “calling off the dogs” when a few drops of the wet stuff began to fall.
“It is absolutely amazing and a huge weight off my shoulders,” said Westby after the weekend was in the books. “After pilot error at Daytona and a component conflict (Saturday) … when you put together a team like we have done, you obviously want to produce results. We were able to come through, and there is more coming in future races. Today, I felt the wisest decision was to stay on the podium and let the guys go when it started raining. I wish it had been a really good battle to the finish, but that’s how it goes. The team did a great job on the little Yamalube bike and I’m glad it paid off today. We have a really cool thing going and it was a super weekend with all the fans coming out to a great track.”
Danny Eslick had a similar one good, one bad tale to tell. Eslick had a scary crash early in Race 1, a rare occurrence for the Oklahoman.
“I’m a little bit beat up, banged up, bruised, but my pride’s probably hurt more than any of it,” said Eslick. “I think it was 2008 since I’ve last crashed out of a race. It’s a bit of a disappointment for me, that was a pretty good run I had going there.”
But, on Sunday, Eslick took a solid fourth on his Riders Discount Racing Triumph, unable to run with Beach and Westby but clear of the battle behind him.
“I was just trying to salvage the best finish I could and stay in line for the championship,” he said.
A similar fate met Jake Lewis. Lewis took full advantage of the red flag to lead briefly on the restart before eventually finishing fourth. That moved the fast teenager into a tie with Eslick in points. Sunday, however, saw him fall behind Gerloff’s crash. His team’s mad scramble to repair the damage got him back in the race but well behind the leaders. He moved up to 14th at the checkered flag, but it was an impossible task to earn much more for the Kentuckian.
DiSalvo rode in the lead pack on Saturday and earned a solid fifth, less than five seconds back. The New Yorker showed plenty of fight but couldn’t keep up the pace at the front. DiSalvo did not finish the race on Sunday, completing only nine laps.
RoadRace Factory/Red Bull’s Tomas Puerta showed impressive speed both days. The young Colombian fought in a tough pack inside the top ten both days, taking seventh on Saturday and his best AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike result yet when the reigning AMA Pro SuperSport champ earned fifth on Sunday.
Blake Young took advantage of the late red flag Saturday to gain positions. The GN Gonzalez Racing pilot and local Wisconsin favorite earned sixth after charging through the field following the restart. Sunday, he was tenth.
Kyle Wyman was consistently good in Wisconsin, earning two eighth place results on his Kyle Wyman Racing Yamaha.
Steve Rapp on his D&D Cycles/Castrol/Triumph machine earned seventh on Sunday after issues on Saturday. For Rapp and other Triumph pilots, such as Castrol/Triumph/Apex Manufacturing’s Elena Myers and Latus Motors/Castrol/Triumph Racing’s Bobby Fong, the weekend seemed to give mixed results after early promise. Triumph swept the second row of the grid at Road America but missed out on the podium.
Team H35’s Benny Solis earned two top-tens as a result of his battling in the pack that included Puerta and Young. Sixth and ninth were his results. That netted Solis tenth in points heading into Barber Motorsports Park.
Jake Zemke and Tuned Racing’s Bryce Prince also earned top tens at Road America.
“Of all the guys I was around, I think my bike worked better in the corners,” said the veteran Zemke. “We’re just fighting an uphill battle and are unfortunately down a little bit. We’re maximizing the positives of the bike currently. We have half the puzzle figured out, so we just need the other half now.”
Gagne now leads the championship standings with an even 100 and holds a 22-point advantage over Eslick, who sits at 78. Eslick will try to close that gap later this month when AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike heads to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., June 21 and 22. After the long straights and fast corners of Road America, Gagne and the rest of the field will face a much different challenge at another great circuit.
GoPro Daytona SportBike yearend point fund
- Jake Gagne
- Danny Eslick
- Jake Lewis
- Garrett Gerloff
- JD Beach
Sunoco “Go the distance” award
Leader – JD Beach (706.5 miles)
Saddlemen Rookie of the Year award
Leader – Tomas Puerta
Round 3 of the 2014 AMA Pro Road Racing season, the Triumph SuperBike Classic, will take place at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., June 21-22.
Source & Photo: AMA Pro Racing/Brian J. Nelson