Jake Gagne and Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda Making Progress in MotoAmerica Superbike

New parts for 2017 Honda CBR1000RR are coming, Team Principal Danny Walker says

jake gagne motoamerica race action
Jake GagneBrian J. Nelson

American Honda announced with great fanfare in February its backing of Team Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda. With just a few notable exceptions, Honda has been absent from the roster of MotoAmerica (AMA) Superbike since the 2009 season, citing the economic impact of the Great Recession.

Fans of Big Red hoped that the combo of up-and-coming star Jake Gagne and the new 2017 Honda CBR1000RR would bring Honda back to the prominence it once enjoyed in the championship with riders like Fred Merkel, Wayne Rainey, Bubba Shobert, Miguel Duhamel, Ben Bostrom, and the late, great Nicky Hayden.

But once on the track, the team found the road was not so smooth. Most importantly, with the bike so new and being raced in such limited numbers (rumors are that only seven exist in the world as of early June), very few racing parts were available from HRC or elsewhere. Team Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda hopes that situation is about to change, but meanwhile the squad has forged ahead, improvised, and managed to gradually find more speed from the new Honda.

“The test helped us a bunch,” said team principal Danny Walker of the Pittsburgh test. “Our guys are just putting in the hours and the time. The bike was a pretty good bike to start with, which helped, but we’ve had to come a long way with electronics, getting the electronics to work for us. Chris Gardell from FT ECU, I couldn’t count the number of hours he’s put in. I really couldn’t. There’s no way I could have afforded to pay him for the time that he’s put in to making that thing get around the track for us.”

Walker lauded his squad’s efforts of making the most out of what they’ve had to work with.

“We literally this week just got a motor that we could get a little more compression and do a valve job,” he said. “We got a couple clutches in. We got an STM and a Hinson clutch in. So, we got a clutch we can kind of maybe work with a little bit. So, it’s a really slow process. All of us, including American Honda, were hoping that we would have some parts from Japan way sooner than we’re getting them.

jake gagne surveys his honda cbr1000rr racebike
Jake Gagne prepares for Superbike pole at Road America with a red-striped pre-qualifying tire. That's Team Principal Danny Walker on the far left and Crew Chief Scott Jenson holding the Honda CBR1000RR SP2.Brian J. Nelson

“The stuff is really just trickling in, and it’s none of the HRC stuff. Everything we’re doing is just stuff that we’re building and we’re doing ourselves, so that’s going to be the key is how long we can continue to just keep that little bit of progress. That’s what I told everybody at the beginning of the season. I go, ‘Man, we’re starting at zero. Let’s just see how far we can get at the end of the year, and then see where we come out next year.’ Next year is going to be a different deal for us. Next year, we’re going to want to be competitive every round.”

Gagne, who dominated Superstock 1000 in 2015, is keeping a positive outlook, knowing that things are headed in the right direction.

“We’re all feeling pretty good,” Gagne explained. “We knew what we had in the beginning and we knew we had to be patient. We knew we had to kind of wait and really take it step by step. That’s what we’ve been doing. It’s just good to see that progress. Consistent progress is what we need and so we keep getting a little better, little better, little better. Keep learning more and more about this bike. I think we’re getting closer and closer to the front, so I’m excited.”

The biggest thing going into the season for Gagne was the unknown of the new machine.

“We never really know until you get on track what we’re really capable of,” he said. “Obviously, coming into the year, we want to win. We want to be on the podium. We want to be battling up there with those guys. Like I said, we’ve got to be realistic. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing. So, we’ve just got to keep being patient. We’re happy where we’re at right now for what we’ve got. We’re going to continue to get better and better as we get some more of the things that we need on that bike and keep learning more.”

Crew Chief Scott Jensen admitted it’s a process and they are methodically going through each item they need to improve on the CBR.

“I’ve got a list that’s several pages long, and you just kind of work your way through,” Jensen said. “You prioritize it as best as you can: the must haves, the want to haves, and the things that will make us faster. You just got to kind of keep it in that order and make sure you’re ready to go as best you can. This is the first time we’ve really had a chance to do anything with the motor for this event, so we found a good amount of power in it and the bike seems like it’s reacting pretty well. We’re still not where I want to be with the motor spec that’s in it, but we’re definitely getting closer every time.”

jake gagne motoamerica superbike race action
Gagne mixes it up on track with Yamaha-mounted Chris Peris, stand-in this past weekend for the injured Kyle Wyman. Gagne finished fifth in Superbike on Saturday and sixth on Sunday.Brian J. Nelson

Jensen also added that the entire burden of development in on Gagne’s shoulders. I wondered if he felt a two-rider team might have sped up the process.

“That’s very accurate, especially when you’re developing a new bike,” he said. “You get two different crew chief opinions and two different rider opinions on everything. You can go two completely different directions with every setting and come to a union better and a lot quicker than you would when you’re by yourself. You’re by yourself, you have to try something. You burn an entire session and maybe it’s the wrong way. Then, you have to go the other direction the next session. So it literally cuts your development time in half having two riders. But at the same time, it’s a lot more work for the crew and everything else when you have two riders because you’re building two bikes and maintaining two sets of equipment. So it’s kind of a toss-up, but just from a pure development standpoint, absolutely, it’s a help.”

The team is seriously considering expanding to two riders next season.

For the moment, the goal is to achieve the best results possible. “Every race we’ve been getting closer and closer,” Gagne said. “We’re getting a little bit happier and happier. I think we had a DNF at the last race in VIR in Race 1, but we had a pretty good Race 2—probably one of our best races yet. Then, we went to Pittsburgh and did the test and that was really, really positive for us. We had some pretty good speed there. That track seemed to like the Honda quite a bit. We’re getting there.

“Always we want to get on the podium, but I just want to keep closing the gap to the front. When we look at the time at the end of the race, how far back we are from first, we just want to keep closing that gap.”

“Mike [Snyder, from American Honda] was there right before COTA and they told him we would see HRC parts ‘soon,’” Walker said. “Not really sure what soon means in Japanese. I don’t know if they’re on the Zodiac calendar, quarterly, or century… At some point, we hope to see some pieces from them. We don’t need a lot from them right now, but we do need just some basic stuff—wiring harnesses and a radiator, some things to make the bike get around the track just a little better and a little cleaner. A little less work for my guys.”

Follow Hayden Gillim in his Quest for a 2017 Championship