At the Laguna Seca WorldSBK Race Weekend

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It’s always good to come home. That’s how I feel every time I return to Laguna Seca.

Driving off of Boundary Road, and onto the perimeter of the track, then cresting the big downhill that descends behind Turn 2, towards the green parking area, I always get a big smile knowing that a great weekend of racing is about to begin.

This weekend was no different, with bright, sunny skies, a good crowd, and lots of great racing in both the World Superbike and the MotoAmerica series.

One of the highlights of the weekend was the fact that three Americans were racing in World Superbike. Both PJ Jacobson and Jake Gagne are regular riders in the series, but Attack Performance rider Josh Herrin entered WorldSBK as a wild card.

Not only that, but Herrin fulfilled his MotoAmerica duties as well, so he rode four superbike races over the weekend. Exhausting!

To say Josh Herrin faced a busy weekend is an enormous understatement. Racing in both series would subject Herrin to four races, two pole competitions, and multiple practice sessions.

Add public appearances, team meetings, and autograph sessions and the former AMA Superbike champion faced a truly challenging weekend.

Overall, Herrin’s results were a mixed bag. He started the weekend off strongly taking the super pole in MotoAmerica with a series lap record of 1:22.908; the only rider breaking into the 1:22s.

Saturday’s WSBK Race 1 didn’t go well though, with Herrin retiring from the race, but the MotoAmerica Race 1 resulted in an epic battle between Herrin and Cam Beaubier on the Factory Yamaha Racing bike.

Herrin came directly off of his WSBK ride, and went straight into the MotoAmerica race. He established an early lead, but Beaubier slowly chipped away until he passed Herrin at Turn 5 for the lead. Herrin finished second to Beaubier, scoring valuable championship points in the process.

On Sunday, Herrin finished the WSBK race in 16th position and crashed out of the MotoAmerica race at the bottom of the Corkscrew. To add insult to injury, Herrin was penalized three grid positions in the first race at the next round in Utah for not cooperating with the corner workers.

Trying to race four races in a single weekend was a herculean effort by Herrin, but maybe was just too much. Last year, Jake Gagne raced as a wildcard in WSBK, but did not ride in his MotoAmerica races.

I asked Gagne how difficult it would be to undertake such an effort. He said, “I’m sure that was tough. Having to make the setting changes for the different tires and this and that, and not only that, but a lot of laps around this place, it’s a physical place, so I’m sure he got a good workout this weekend!”

Jake Gagne on the other hand, had an excellent weekend. This has been a tough first season so far for the American, who currently sits 17th in the WSBK championship with 37 points.

Coming home to Laguna Seca seemed to resonate with Gagne, who posted a personal best 10th place in Race 1, and topped his own personal best with a 9th place finish in Race 2.

Gagne described the weekend saying, “we’ve had some setbacks along the way, but especially here at the home track with a lot of friends and family here, it’s great to bring home two good results. It feels good! It feels good for the team and I’m happy that we learned a lot this weekend.”

I asked Gagne if he felt that MotoAmerica was doing a good job of preparing racers for other international race series and if Americans can be competitive again, to which he replied, “I hope so. The MotoAmerica series is doing a great job.”

“Obviously the racing is good, and they’re going fast this weekend on similar equipment with different tires. They’ve showed some speed and obviously there’s some great riders in the series. They’re just trying to get some more support and some more teams and manufacturers back in the series.”

The final American in the WSBK paddock was New York’s PJ Jacobsen. Sporting bodywork on his bike that honored Nicky Hayden and riding for the Triple M Honda World Superbike Team, Jacobsen suffered through this weekend with crashes in both WSBK races.

It was a tough showing for the young rider who now sits in 19th place with 21 points.

Besides great racing, there were also some changes of note at Laguna Seca. First, the podium was turned 180 degrees to face the fans in the paddock. This was a welcome change that brought the post-race celebrations much closer to the spectators.

The old setup was only visible from pit lane or the back stretch grandstands. The new setup was much more intimate, with the racers rushing down to the crowd of fans to spray them with Proseco. Definitely a much better setup.

The focus on fans continued with Michael Hill and his Super Show. Hill kept the party going continuously, with racers parading across the stage all weekend.

In all, over 100 racers made it up on the stage to take questions directly from the fans, sign autographs and contribute to Hill’s continuous merriment. It’s a really engaging format and the fans seemed to truly enjoy Hill’s ever present banter and the interaction with the racers.

Overall, the weekend at Laguna Seca was excellent. The weather was just about perfect, the crowd was enthusiastic, and the racing was good.

With multiple opportunities throughout the weekend to engage directly with the racers in both series, it’s one of the few top-level racing venues that allows as much interaction. You would never have this much interactive opportunity at a MotoGP race.

The MotoAmerica racing is some of the best I’ve watched recently, with good, close racing deep into the lap counter. Though WSBK was more processional, it was still good to see some of the top racers in the world up close and personal.

There are only two opportunities to see an international level racing series in the United States. You really owe it to yourself to get out to Austin or Laguna Seca to see what all the excitement is about.

Photos: © 2018 Andrew Kohn / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved