How do you make up for two non-finishes in the first three rounds of the MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike Championship? Well, you win seven of the 10 races that you do finish. And if you accomplish all that, your name is Jake Gagne.
For the first time in 2022, defending MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike Champion Gagne is atop the championship standings, albeit by just three points over Danilo Petrucci, as the series heads to Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota this week for round seven of the 10-round (20-race) championship.
Gagne took the lead in the title chase at the last round at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. He did so with a sweep of the two races on the Monterey Peninsula, his third and fourth race wins in a row and his sixth and seventh wins of the season.
Gagne’s Fresh N Lean Progressive Yamaha Racing teammate Cameron Petersen has coined the phrase “Jake doing Jake things.” And that’s exactly what Gagne did at Laguna Seca. Although he failed to get pole position for the first time all season (that went to Westby Racing’s Mathew Scholtz), Gagne was perfect in the two races. “Jake doing Jake things” is basically leading into the first corner, throwing down two to five really fast laps, then maintaining his advantage to the finish. And having a bit of fun to boot. Then, in the post-race press conference, Gagne tells us that the next race will be closer and that the “boys” will be fighting with him for the win. Liar, liar, pants on fire… at least so far.
Unfortunately for the rest of the MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike field, Gagne is now as comfortable or even more so with his Yamaha YZF-R1 than he was a season ago. The change came at Road America but didn’t pay dividends until round five at the Ridge Motorsports Park when Gagne swept to two race wins. Gagne being comfortable is a bad thing for the competition. In case you’ve been living in a cave, a “comfortable” Gagne won 17 races last year en route to the title.
So, what will it take to stop the Gagne train? It will take someone stepping up. Ironically, it will take one of the Big Four (which obviously includes Gagne) to start doing “Jake things.”
So far, the man most likely to do that is Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati NYC’s Danilo Petrucci, with the Italian just three points behind and the only rider other than Gagne to win more than one race. Petrucci has won three, though those three came in the first three races and seem like a distant memory to the former MotoGP winner. Most thought Laguna was going to be Petrucci’s best hope of winning again. After all, it was a track he knew and a track where Loris Baz, the rider Petrucci replaced on the Ducati Panigale V4 R, finished a fighting second to Gagne in both races a year earlier at Laguna.
Petrucci finished third and second in the two races at Laguna, but he was 4.6 seconds behind in race one and 5.5 seconds behind in race two. Petrucci, however, is still firmly entrenched in this title battle, thanks to an amazing run of consistency that has seen him land on the podium in 10 of the 12 races.
Thus, Petrucci goes to Brainerd, a track he has yet to race on (he did a track day there earlier this year) and a track where Gagne won both races a season ago, trailing by just three points and knowing that stopping Gagne needs to happen quickly if there’s any hope of taking his championship away.
Petersen moved to third in the championship point standings at Laguna Seca, the South African on a current run of five straight podiums that pushed him past countryman Mathew Scholtz with the Westby Racing rider crashing out of race two for his second non-finish of the season.
Petersen has the advantage (or disadvantage?) of watching how Gagne goes about his business from close-up. So far, he’s taken advantage of being on the most successful team in the paddock with his best season to date, but like the others he’s trying to figure out how to stop his teammate – especially in the early laps. Petersen also gained confidence by beating Petrucci in a straight fight in race one at Laguna.
Scholtz hopes to bounce back from a less-than-stellar performance in California where the Westby rider was fourth in race one prior to the aforementioned crash in race two – scoring 11 points to Petersen’s 36. Thus, Petersen now leads Scholtz by five points heading to BIR.
The first of the non-Big Four is Tytlers Cycle Racing’s Hector Barbera, the Spaniard scoring sixth- and fifth-place finishes at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Vision Wheel M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Richie Escalante is coming off his best Superbike weekend to date with two fourth-place finishes as the 2020 MotoAmerica Supersport Champion continues his impressive rookie season of Superbike racing. Escalante trails Barbera by 18 points and leads PJ Jacobsen, Barbera’s Tytlers Cycle Racing teammate, by 12 points.
The injured Jake Lewis is eighth in the championship and hopeful of being healthy enough to race at Brainerd. The Vision Wheel M4 ECSTAR Suzuki rider suffered a broken thumb that required surgery in his crash at Ridge Motorsports Park and was forced to miss the Laguna round. Lewis is just six points ahead of Aftercare Hayes Scheibe Racing’s Ashton Yates, the Georgian having an off weekend at Laguna and leaving California with just three points from the two races.
The battle for 10th in the championship is heated with Yates, Tytlers Cycle/RideHVMC Racing’s Travis Wyman currently holding the spot but just four points ahead of his teammate Corey Alexander and 10 points ahead of Disrupt Racing’s Hayden Gillim.
The first of two Medallia Superbike races at Brainerd International Raceway will take place on Saturday, July 30 at 3:10 p.m. Sunday’s 20-lap race two will also take place at 3:10 p.m.
BIR Pre-Race Superbike Notes…
Last year marked the return of AMA Superbike racing to Brainerd International Raceway with MotoAmerica bringing the championship back to Minnesota after a 17-year hiatus. The winner in 2004… Jake Zemke, who serves as rider coach and manager for several riders in the MotoAmerica paddock.
In addition to AMA Superbike racing, Brainerd International Raceway (nee Donneybrooke Speedway) also hosted the World Superbike Championship for three years – 1989, 1990 and 1991.
History Lesson: Three-time 500cc World Champion and MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey never lost an AMA Superbike race at Brainerd International Raceway. In 1983, Rainey beat Mike Baldwin and Wes Cooley to take victory on his Kawasaki; in 1986, he beat Fred Merkel and Gary Goodfellow to take the win on a Honda; and in 1987, he topped Kevin Schwantz to take his third AMA Superbike win at BIR, again on a Honda.
With his two victories at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca a few weeks ago, Jake Gagne now has 24 career AMA Superbike wins, which puts him seventh on the all-time AMA Superbike win list. Gagne is four wins behind former AMA and World Superbike Champion Ben Spies. The Texan is sixth with 28 wins.
Jake Gagne won both MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike races last year. Gagne beat Bobby Fong and Mathew Scholtz in race one and Scholtz and Loris Baz in race two.
In addition to winning both races, Gagne also earned pole position via his 1:29.898 in qualifying. Gagne was joined on the front row by Baz and Scholtz. Since 2021 was the first visit of the MotoAmerica series to BIR and the first on the layout that differs substantially from the one used in 2004, Gagne’s qualifying lap was also a lap record.
As for fastest race laps, Gagne nailed that as well with his 1:29.922 from race two the fastest from his two race wins and almost as fast as his qualifying record.
Thirty-seven Superbike riders will attempt to qualify for the two Medallia Superbike races at BIR.