In late September, the final event of the 2022 MotoAmerica National Championships took place at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, the popular venue just outside of Birmingham with multiple layouts and a world class moto museum.
When the dust settled on a mostly dry weekend, Jake Gage won his second straight Medallia Superbike title for the Fresh N Lean / Progressive Attack Yamaha group, fulfilling his pre-season favorite status.
However, for much of 2022, Gage was locked in a points battle for the title with series newcomer and Grand Prix veteran Danilo Petrucci.
Piloting the unique for the series Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati New York entry, Petrucci dominated the opener in support of MotoGP in Texas, on one of the few tracks he knew – or would like.
After a torrid opener, Gagne frequently set the pace, but had a couple of unforced errors that set him back in the standings – and showed just how hot the pace was at the front in 2022.
Last year, Gagne usually ran away, and while that happened this year, it was more complicated and less frequent.
Petrucci was mostly in a funk with injuries, concerns about equipment, dislike of the spec Dunlop rubber (MotoGP is on Michelin and the Ducati was developed for World Superbike and Pirelli) and the fact he was the sole Ducati entrant in a sea of fast Yamahas.
Not only did Gagne have support from new-for-2022 team-mate Cam Petersen, but there was another Yamaha on the lead pace – the Westby Racing entry of Matthew Scholtz.
The only other rider to occasionally threaten this group of top guns was PJ Jacobsen, the veteran leading the impressive mega effort of new entry Tytlers BMW.
As the season progressed over ten rounds, and interesting fact emerged – at no time did Gagne and Petrucci race wheel to wheel.
Frequently, Gagne managed to grab an early lead and put the race away with a string of impressive laps, as was his norm in 2021. If there were concerns over track conditions, especially weather, then Petrucci came to the fore.
Often, the Ducati was dicing with the non-Gagne Yamaha crew of South Africans Petersen and Scholtz.
So, heading into Barber, the hope was that the see-saw battle for the Championship lead would swing back Petrucci’s way with a little bad weather. Rain at Barber for a National is not unusual, and monsoons connected to major coaster weather events have happened more than once.
Prior to the weekend, the multi-dealer backed works Ducati Superbike squad announced the addition of a second rider, newly crowned Supersport middleweight Champ Josh Herrin.
Riding for the same team as Petrucci’s V4 Superbike on a newly homologated Ducati twin, some insiders wondered how dependable a tail gunner Herrin might be. In the end, the Warhorse HSBK Ducati NYC effort put Herrin back in Supersport, where he walked away on Sunday’s drying track.
However, the track wasn’t wet for the Sunday Superbike counter, Petrucci’s final shot at cutting back Gagne’s points edge. In Saturday’s first Superbike final, Gagne got clear early, and Petrucci was penalized for a jump start, winding up fourth behind Petersen and an on-form Jacobsen.
However, an evening official review after a protest overturned Petrucci’s penalty, moving him back into third in the results. Given that officials had access to start line cameras to make the initial decision, some wondered how this had played out behind the scenes – Petrucci voice the concern that some race staff had previously worked for Yamaha.
Sunday’s final event turned into an anti-climax. Gagne let Petersen by early and simply rode on his teammate’s tail, confident that he was on his way to the title.
Petrucci stayed close for a while, clearly more comfortable with his much-revised set-up.
The Ducati dealt with a challenge from Scholtz, but in the end was passed by the charging Jacobsen. Rumor has it Jacobsen was making a point to the team, who might dismiss him; Petrucci also hasn’t confirmed his return to MotoA in 2023.
“Last year was cool winning all those races,” started Gagne of his amazing 17 successes in 2021. “But this one feels good to bring it all the way down to the last race. It was incredible. Petrucci is a world class racer; I don’t think there has ever been anyone I wanted to beat more, just because of his resume.”
Now Richard Stanboli’s Attack team, headed by Canadians John Cornwell (Crew Chief) and Darin Marshall (Data), takes Gagne to the Spanish World Superbike event at Portimao, October 7-9.
The team has changed the spec of their bike to match the World rules and tested on the spec Pirelli rubber, and it will be exciting to see how this potent squad makes out against the best street bike-based competitors, in late season form.
Petrucci did get some good news; right after the last U.S. event, he got a deal to fill in for the injured Joan Mir on the works Suzuki MotoGP in Thailand, October 2.
He started 24th in his first ride on a Japanese works bike, and then managed 20th in the rain on the Ecstar Suzuki he had never ridden prior to Friday; a decent result given the circumstances.
Also, in action on the smaller, but no less impressive mini track, was the fourth and final round of the Mini Cup by Motul.
Top gun was Nathan Gouker, who featured in all three classes (110cc, 160cc and 190cc Ohvale bikes) and will lead Team USA at the FIM MiniGP World Series Final at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain, November 1 thru 3, right before the final MotoGP race at the same location.
Canadians joined the top Yanks for the first time at the final Ohvale Series round, and both Canuck MiniSBK Champ Vincent Lalande (age 14) and his arch-rival Ben Hardwick (13) showed well for the Northern contingent.
Both riders had to adjust from the typical spec Pirelli rubber to the mandated-for-the-USA Dunlops. Lalande, of Boisbriand, QC, is scheduled to move to the big bikes in CSBK in 2023, had a best result of fourth, while Sudbury, ON’s Hardwick netted a seventh.