‘A top-ten rider… unreal form… really high potential’ – American stars preview Gagne’s WorldSBK return

Tuesday, 4 October 2022 09:04 GMT

The American rider secured his second title in a season finale in the United States and will take part in his first WorldSBK round since 2018 at Portimao

As the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship returns to the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve for the Pirelli Portuguese Round, a familiar face not seen for a while will return to the grid. Jake Gagne will take part in the round as a wildcard rider for the Fresh N Lean Progressive Yamaha Racing squad just two weeks after securing his second MotoAmerica title in the United States. It will be the first time Gagne has competed in WorldSBK since 2018 and his first time on a Yamaha machine.

Gagne had a season-long fight with two-time MotoGP™ race winner Danilo Petrucci, racing on a Ducati, throughout 2022. The American was able to just edge out Petrucci over the course of the season by 20 points, taking the title with 376 points to Petrucci’s 356. It meant Gagne claimed his second consecutive title in MotoAmerca after he dominated the 2021 season. He won all but three races across the campaign and finished on 445 points to take his first title, going one better than his 2020 season: he finished second behind Cameron Beaubier with the pair racing for the same team.

After taking his second title at the end of September, Gagne will return to WorldSBK as a wildcard for the Portuguese Round at a venue he knows from his time in WorldSBK. The American made his debut in 2017 on Honda machinery at Laguna Seca and was immediately in the points-scoring positions. Returning for the French and Qatar Rounds, Gagne finished the season with a best of 12th place. His performances in three rounds earnt him a full-time seat for 2018, still with the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team, and he was able to consistently challenge for the points.

Ahead of his return to WorldSBK action, American stars in both MotoGP™ and WorldSBK, both past and present, have been discussing Gagne’s wildcard. These include five-time MotoAmerica champion turned Moto2™ star Beaubier, who said: “We grew up racing each other together. We raced each other on 600s for a lot of years and Superbikes for a couple. He’s actually one of my really good buddies back home. I’m really excited to have him come over to Portugal and see how he does after wrapping up the second championship in MotoAmerica. His form has been unreal lately. He’s been riding so well and he’s with my old team, we were teammates in 2020, and I’m really excited to see how he does. I think his potential is really high. I’d say his strongest point is getting up to speed really quickly. There’s been a lot of times when I was racing against him, in the first session he’s already under the lap record and all that. A big strength of his right now is getting out and putting the laps in early in the race and being able to pull that gap early and being able to manage the race.”

Wayne Rainey, Three-time 500cc World Champion and now president of the American Motorcyclist Association, which sanctions MotoAmerica, discussed Gagne’s wildcard outing. He said: “I’m very excited that he would want to do this challenge. I think Jake knows the track; I think he likes the track from the times he’s raced over there before. I think his real bonus is bringing his team, the Attack team with him. I think that’s what is really going to give him the best shot at trying to do well. Taking that all in, we’re really rooting for him. Jake going over there may be our best shot to really make a statement about what kind of level we really are over here, because in WorldSBK the bikes are all pretty similar from a national championship to the World Championship, a lot of the specs are similar. Every team has their own different architecture as far as the way the rider sets it up with his team, the electronics etc. Going in, Gagne’s got a lot of confidence. I think he wants to do well for himself first, but also for everybody else in MotoAmerica. For me personally, I think realistically he can get a top ten and anything above that is going to be all on him. I’ll clap whatever it is.”

2009 Champion Ben Spies added his thoughts on Gagne’s WorldSBK return, saying: “This will be interesting for me because Gagne’s been riding really well. He’s been in the paddock for a couple of years with Honda. He understands everything, how it goes, and, more importantly, has a little bit of time on the Pirellis which are a step better than what he’s on now. They handle quite a bit differently on the front tyre, which is good for the Yamaha. It’s all good. It’s nice that he has that feeling. It will be interesting because I feel when he was at Honda, he wasn’t riding at the same level he is now. Not saying he’s going to come over there and win the race or something like that, but he’s definitely riding extremely well right now and it’ll be interesting. He’s got all his stuff worked out so there’s no pressure on him. I don’t want to cast where I think he’ll finish, just because the competition is deeper now than when he was there. He’s got some fast guys to go racing with. I think he’s a top-12, top-ten, straight away and then it gets difficult from there. Pace wise, he’s definitely a top-ten rider right now in my eyes.”

Two-time WorldSBK Champion Colin Edwards believes Gagne will go well in Portimao, adding: “Jake’s been going well here in the USA. It’s definitely a bigger pond of fish over in WorldSBK paddock. I think everybody would like to think and say Jake’s going to be right there and be able to compete. It’s going to be tough for him, for sure. Those guys out front are running phenomenally well with blistering pace. I think if Jake can get top five, top six, that’d be something to be proud of.”

Watch Gagne’s WorldSBK return at Portimao in style using the WorldSBK VideoPass!