No, it’s not quite a full factory effort again, but the fact the surprise announcement took place in the hallowed halls of American Honda’s old race shop behind Door #10 in Torrance shows Big Red is back and seriously behind the effort.
Jake Gagne won the Red Bull Rookies Cup in 2010, the AMA Sportbike championship in 2014 on an R6, the first MotoAmerica Superstock Championship in `15 on an R1 – and finished 10th in Superbike last year on anther R1. For 2017, his main Broaster Chicken sponsor is back but this time so is American Honda after a 10-year hiatus, and their new bike is the CBR1000RR SP.
Danny Walker of Roadracing Factory fame is still the team owner, and will continue to be based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Scott Jensen will continue to crew chief, Danny Anderson and Evan Steel will build chassis and engines. However, now they also have close ties to Ten Kate in Holland, who will help out with WSBK-spec equipment and expertise. (Also whatever HRC parts Honda’s Mike Snyder can smuggle out on his frequent trips to Japan.)
MotoAmerica principal Wayne Rainey is genuinely excited to have Honda back on board in any capacity: “My first bike was a Mini Trail 50, and I still look back on that  AMA Superbike championship on the Honda.”
Rainey had been trying to woo Honda (and other factories) back into the paddock for years with weekly phone calls, trying to put something together. “What have you got? Anything, I’ll ride it myself!” Finally the timing was right with the introduction of the new CBR. Furthermore, a change in MotoAmerica Superbike rules, dealing mostly with electronics and suspension, puts them right in line with World Superbike spec machines and made possible the Ten Kate connection.
What are the differences? Tires, says Rainey. Everything else is the same. Which only makes sense. “The rules package was really what was keeping them [Honda and other manufacturers] on the fence. They’d all say, `It doesn’t make sense for us to build two bikes’, in a sport that’s expensive enough already. The rules change is really what allowed this to happen.”
Which leads to, when will Ducati and Kawasaki and the other OEMs return?
“We keep them informed of what’s going on,” Rainey says with a smile.
“The vast majority of national series enjoy much broader manufacturer support,” adds Honda’s Jon Seidel, “and that’s what MotoAmerica is of course aiming for. We’re thrilled to be back. I can’t wait for April.”
One step at at time. “It’s quite incredible,” says Rainey. “That first year we just tried to stabilize and only had five races. The second year was when I was most worried, then we got the TV package last year. Now we’re up to 10 races and looking at ways to get the fans back at the races, including minimoto, stunt shows and combining local club races at some events. Having Honda back is another big step.”
Team owner Danny Walker couldn’t seem to be any happier, either: “It’s huge for me and the team to bring Honda back to roadracing. We’ve been trying to put this deal together for two years, and I’ve been looking to spend more time with Jake. He deserves it.”
The deal with Honda and Broaster Chicken is a multi-year one: Walker says having Gagne consistently in the hunt for the podium by end of this season will seem like success to him, followed by a serious run at the championship in 2018. Gagne interjects his own timeframe: “COTA” (Circuit of the Americas, the first round coming up April 21).
Gagne says he’s never ridden a CBR at all, and will be getting his first laps in next week at Chuckwalla in the California desert. Meanwhile, Honda also hooked up the San Diego native with a CRF450F, his favored training device.
Eat plenty of Broaster Chicken while you wait for the season opener. Founded in 1954 in Wisconsin, there are over 4000 outlets nationwide. And work it off at an American Supercamp flat-track school; Walker says he’ll have enough time to keep putting them on.