Jake Gagne (32) leads Mathew Scholtz (11), Bobby Fong (hidden) and Cameron Petersen (45) on the opening lap of the HONOS Superbike race on Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway. Photo by Brian J. Nelson
Fresh N’ Lean Attack Performance Yamaha’s Jake Gagne has now won 10 races in a row in the 2021 MotoAmerica HONOS Superbike Championship, but this one was different. On Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway, Gagne crashed and still managed to win the first AMA Superbike race held at BIR in 17 years.
Leading the race on the second lap, Gagne crashed in front of the pack and was stuck in the middle of the track as the field motored by on both sides. He finally ran to safety and, with his bike still on track, a red flag was thrown, stopping the race. Fortunately for Gagne, his Yamaha suffered only minor damage and he was able to ride back to the hot pit for repairs prior to the restart.
From there it was typical Gagne as he grabbed the lead and pulled away, ultimately besting M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Bobby Fong by 4.675 seconds to win his 10th race of the year and extending his championship points lead to 74 points. The win, which was also the 10th of his career, moves him into a tie with Mike Baldwin for 19th on the all-time AMA Superbike win list.
“That was the highest my heart rate has probably been in a while,” Gagne said of the crash and the panic that ensued while dodging his fellow racers. “We sat on the grid for a long time both times. I know we were all kind of wondering what was going on. I know there was a crash on the warmup lap or the sighting lap. I saw the guy right next to me in the grass go flying by. So, that was just a weird start. I know all our tires were a little cold there at the beginning. I think with that quick of a heat fluctuation, you put so much heat in these tires in turn one and two especially, so from going that cool… I even spun the tire off the line, which I’ve never done in my life. I just lit it up. So, it was just weird.”
“It caught me by surprise,” Gagne said of the crash. “I went into turn three and was barely on the gas. The thing came around on me and I just kept going. I was wondering if it was going to highside me. Luckily, it didn’t. I just kind of lowsided and then I’m sitting there in the middle of the track watching Superbikes fly at me. Luckily, everybody is looking ahead. We can see something is going on, so nothing bad happened. I’m just fortunate that that Yamaha slid. We bent a little lever. We had to mess around with the bars. The only thing that was wrong, we were just a little tweaked during the race, but it was totally fine. Hats off to the team because they hustled. We got that bike together right in the nick of time to get back out for pit lane. Again, thanks to Alpinestars for protecting me. I had a long slide, and the bike was really just sliding on top of me, so it was like digging my butt in the ground. We got a new suit on and went out there and did it again. So, I’m pumped I got another good start. I knew these guys were coming. Tomorrow will be another show. I know it’s tightening up every time. We’ve just got to keep doing our thing and focusing on our part.”
For Fong the race ended a podium drought that dates back to the very first race of the year at Road Atlanta in May.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Fong said. “Before the restart, I felt like I had some pace, for sure. At least to try to see Jake (Gagne) from a distance, just to kind of latch onto him. I’m struggling pretty bad in turn two. I’m losing literally a half a second a lap just in that one turn. I felt pretty good through the infield, but I had a solid machine underneath me today. It was good. The pace was pretty good. I just tried to manage it at the end. I’m looking forward to tomorrow at least to try to be a little closer to Jake. I know (Loris) Baz will be there tomorrow. It was definitely slick out there the first few laps. It was weird because I was in the back of the train, and I just see everybody just coming out of the seat and tucking the front. I had my moments back there, too. It was really weird. But I’m happy to get second and move forward to tomorrow with a positive attitude.”
The battle for third was fought out between the two South Africans – Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz and M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Cameron Petersen. At the completion of the 15-lap race it was Scholtz grabbing third for his seventh podium of the year, though it still allowed Gagne to pull farther away in the title chase. Gagne now leads Scholtz by a whopping 74 points, 250-176. Petersen, meanwhile, made a big move to third in the championship, moving past Josh Herrin, who missed the race after testing positive for COVID-19.
Scholtz described what was a hectic race from start (and restart) to finish.
“The first lap, I’m not sure,” Scholtz said. “I turned into the first corner. I got hung up with (Loris) Baz, with Jake (Gagne). Then I think through the first lap everyone was slipping and sliding. I know Baz had a couple highside moments. Then (at the) start of the second lap, Jake crashed coming out of corner three. It was just chaos from there. I think Baz kind of thought someone was trying to pass him into corner four and he braked super late and tucked the front there. I was behind Cameron (Petersen). He tucked the front, too. He ran wide, and we got up again to first. Then the red flag came out. So, I knew it was absolute chaos, but it kind of sucks when you get to the front and the two guys that are beating you in the championship… I mean, Jake. Obviously, lucky he wasn’t hurt, but I kind of knew that he was going to get back in there. But the start of the second race it was very slippery, and I didn’t have any grip on the edge of the tire. So, I just kind of struggled for the first five or six laps. Once Cam passed me, he’s a very, very smooth guy. Kind of helped me fix my lines slightly and focus on that more. I could see that the lap times dropped. Then maybe with five or six laps to go, I could see Cam started struggling with his grip out of the corners. I kind of just put my head down and turned a few quick laps so I got past him. Then tried to focus on catching Bobby (Fong), but kind of ran out of laps. The arm pump was getting severe. It’s kind of something we have to look at for tomorrow’s race. Try to make it easier to kind of hold on and not veer so much out of the corners. So, we kind of know what we have to do now. Hopefully, we can get up there and challenge Jake tomorrow.”
Petersen held on for fourth, some 2.5 seconds behind Scholtz and 14.2 seconds ahead of fifth-placed Hector Barbera on the Scheibe Racing BMW.
JD Beach battled early in the race with Barbera but ended up sixth on the second Fresh N’ Lean Attack Performance Yamaha in his replacement ride for Herrin.
Altus Motorsports’ Jake Lewis was seventh and that put him at the top of the Superbike Cup, a class within a class for those riding Stock 1000-spec motorcycles in the HONOS Superbike race.
Franklin Armory/Andrew Lee Racing’s Andrew Lee was eighth on his Stock 1000-spec Kawasaki ZX-10R ahead of FLY Racing/ADR Motorsports’ David Anthony and his teammate Bradley Ward with the Suzuki-mounted pair finishing ninth and 10th, respectively.
Notable among the non-finishers was Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati New York’s Loris Baz with the Frenchman crashing out of the race on the second lap with his Ducati Panigale V4 R too damaged to repair for the restart.
Superbike Race 1
Jake Gagne (Yamaha)Bobby Fong (Suzuki)Mathew Scholtz (Yamaha)Cameron Petersen (Suzuki)Hector Barbera (BMW)JD Beach (Yamaha)Jake Lewis (Suzuki)Andrew Lee (Kawasaki)David Anthony (Suzuki)Bradley Ward (Suzuki)