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Rider Spotlight: Jake Gagne

The international World Superbike grid features riders from 11 countries at the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship GEICO Motorcycle U.S. Round featuring MotoAmerica Championship of Monterey June 22-24. San Diego’s Jake Gagne makes his return one year after his debut on the World Championship stage with the Red Bull Honda team, completing part of a trio of American riders this year that also includes fellow rookie P.J. Jacobsen and wild card entrant Josh Herrin.

Gagne got his start in motocross at 4 years old. He was the Amateur National Motocross champion in 2005. He didn’t race on a paved circuit until 2008 when he won two events on the Red Bull U.S. Rookies Cup. In fact, his first time racing at Laguna Seca at 14 years old was at the same Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix where Valentino Rossi famously overtook Casey Stoner on the Corkscrew.

He was one of three Americans selected for the following year’s Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. At 15 years old, he embarked in competition across European circuits in 2009. As the only American representing the following year, he won the 2010 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup with four wins in 10 rounds. The experience in Europe jumpstarted Gagne’s road racing career and veered him away from pursuing the top levels of motocross. He continued his development domestically in MotoAmerica where he worked his way up to their Superbike category.

The 24-year-old rider took time to answer questions about his career and his history at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca before returning to his home track.

Give us a little bit of your background at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

I’ve had a lot of good memories at Laguna Seca. The very second time I ever rode a road race bike was at Laguna, actually. The first test for Red Bull Rookie Cup in 2008 was at Laguna Seca. I remember going down the Corkscrew in a 125. 10 years later, I’ll be going back down there on a World Superbike, which is pretty crazy. I’ve had a lot of good races over the years in the 600 class in AMA and MotoAmerica and a couple good years on the Superbike and Superstock there. It’s great. I’ve had a lot of laps around there and a lot of great times. Obviously, it’s such a unique track. I’ve got to see a lot of track in the last few years, and Laguna Seca is without a doubt one of my favorites in the entire world. I’m really excited to get back there again on a World Superbike for the second year in a row. 

How did those early experiences change the trajectory of your career from an accomplished dirt racer to a career on asphalt?

It was definitely a bit of a different route than most. I was racing motocross when I was 5 or 6. There were a lot of years of racing every single weekend with my dad and doing our thing. As I was getting older, I started doing the nationals and training pretty hard with some good results and good support from a lot of great people. We just showed up for the Red Bull Rookies Cup through our local dealership. We signed up not thinking much of it. My dad told me I got picked for “this Red Bull Rookies Cup thing” and had a tryout. At that point, we kind of scrambled everything together and got some leathers. Sure enough, we showed up. It turned out that I made it. A couple weeks later, we were out at Laguna Seca for the first race of the year.

10 years later, here you are.

Time definitely flies by. I’m happy with the path that I’ve been on now. This is definitely really special to go back to my home country and home state of California. I have a lot of family and friends that will be out there. 

What does it mean to have raced in MotoAmerica and having them get careers going in the U.S.?

It’s been great. Since MotoAmerica took over the KRAVE group, they’ve done a really good job of bringing the series back and growing the popularity every weekend. They’ve been getting fans to come to the track and have a great TV program and great sponsors. Their events have a lot of great things for people of all ages to do at the track. I think they’ve also done a great job with the classes and the rules structure. You see the 300 classes growing, which is a big thing, and the racing in the Superbike class is going really well. I hope it continues to grow and gets more manufacturers and teams involved and gets some kids going through the ranks as well.

Is it fair to say you and P.J. Jacobsen rarely crossed paths before your rookie seasons in World Superbike despite both being American riders?

Yeah. Before this year, I’m pretty sure we’ve never been on the track together. He raced in Europe and did a lot of that stuff over the years. I know he raced a little bit in the States, but by the time I got back there he was going racing in Europe. I didn’t know him that well at all until this year. We chat a lot. He’s a really good guy and obviously a heck of a rider. It’s good to see good progress for both of us. Both of us want to do well for America and the people back home and to try to bring some Americans back into the World Championship. We’re heading in that direction.

How has your season gone thus far and where do you see it heading?

This season has been OK. It’s been up and down. We all knew it was going to be a big step this year with a lot of new things to learn between the bike and the electronics and the tires and a lot of new tracks as well. I’ve been learning a lot, sometimes the hard way. It’s all part of the learning process. We weren’t expecting to go crazy right off the bat. I’m learning more about the bike. There are so many variables now as far as electronics, chassis changes, motor changes. Sometimes you have to step back and realize what we need to do and how I need to ride the bike better. Over these past couple weekends, we’ve started getting in a really good flow and going in a better direction with the bike. I’m just trying to take it in and learn as much as I possibly can, because those World Superbike guys ain’t no joke. It is World Championship level stuff. Hopefully, we can take another pretty big jump forward at Laguna Seca.

What kind of mindset does it take to get back on the horse after taking a spill?

All these guys that are racing on the World Superbike level know that there are sacrifices and bruises along the way. It shows that we all want to get back on the bike and be there for the team. We all do it for the love of the sport and want to be out there riding. Even those days where you have injuries or are a little bit in pain, it all goes away once you get back on the bike and get in the flow of things. You try to enjoy it the best you can. We are all happy to be there and have the jobs that we have.

More rider spotlights:

Chaz Davies
P.J. Jacobsen
Cameron Beaubier

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