G-Man

Jake Gagne exits the Corkscrew in 2020. “Experience is the biggest difference,” he says of his record 17-win 2021 season.

A sharp drop suddenly flattens. Gravitational weight, which had lifted from the bike moments earlier, now compress hard and fast.

In motorcycle racing terms it’s known as G-out, when the suspension can sustain no more. It’s a big jolt. Meanwhile the rider is leaning left, right, left in rapid succession.

“There’s nothing like the Corkscrew,” says Jake Gagne. “You’re on the gas, the bike bottoms out – you gotta hold on.” Though the rider of the Fresh N Lean Progressive Yamaha has navigated the roller coaster of asphalt many times, he admits that the famed corner still inspires awe. “The first time out in practice it’s like ‘whoa, that’s a big drop.’”

Gagne returns to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as defending champion at the track and for the MotoAmerica Medallia Superbike series. He claimed both the Saturday and Sunday races on the 11-turn, 2.2-mile track a year ago. He also dominated the season, winning 17 times – 16 in a row – in a 20-race schedule.

Superbikes are the pinnacle of motorcycle road racing in the U.S. The machines are monsters, capable of speeds up to 190 miles per hour, although on the short straits of Laguna Seca, the emphasis is on cornering. Still, riders gather enough speed on the run up to turn one that the least imposing corner – more of a kink at the top of the slope – can cause all manner of misery.

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“Turn one on a Superbike is tough,” Gagne explains. “The bike wants to wheelie, the tires spin. It gets light – and it’s blind.” Getting it right is critical, however, because the tight hairpin corner looms at the bottom of the hill. “Laguna Seca has always been one of my favorite tracks with all the elevation,” Gagne says. “With the big G-outs the suspension has to be stiffer. We’re always messing with the geometry of the bike.”

Before his record-shattering year, Gagne was winless on a Superbike. Yet he performed well, especially after joining the Yamaha team in 2020. “The biggest thing was getting on that bike with that team,” he says. “I kinda knew I had the right package.”

This season has been a comparative struggle for the returning champion. But Gagne shakes off the past to focus on the present. “It’s motorcycle racing – things go wrong,” he adds.

Geico MotoAmerica Superbike Speedfest takes place Friday-Sunday, July 8-10 at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. motoamerica.com.

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