Wayne Rainey: Circuit Of The Americas Update

Jake Lewis is one of several former middleweight-class riders making the transition this season to open-class machinery, in his case a factory Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000.

All the work we’ve been doing at MotoAmerica came to fruition when I arrived at Circuit of The Americas last month for two days of testing. Part of the entry road overlooks the paddock and as I drove into the facility, I saw all the team trucks parked behind the garages and that gave me the assurance, “Yeah, we did it!”

I went to COTA the first time last year for the MotoGP race. Like everybody who sees that facility for the first time, I was amazed. Everything is modern and looks like it was built for world championship events, yet there are so many other facilities inside the track for concerts or X Games or a board meeting in a big, fancy media center. It’s great.

The front straightaway past start/finish and up the hill is probably the part of the circuit that most says, “COTA.” The hairpin corner at the top is also unique. When I took a lap around the track, I was impressed. I don’t get all the first-gear corners, and I might have rethought the esses, but, hey, those things are there to provide challenges.

I always felt COTA was the right place for our first race. I just didn’t know if we would be physically ready, organized, and down the road far enough to pull that off as a series. It was a tall target, and we didn’t have much time to get everything organized.

Wayne Rainey: “We’re starting with a clean sheet of paper, and we have a lot of pretty cool ideas.”

The series was announced very late, last September. There was some indecision about the rules, so the teams were kept from preparing for what we were planning. To have the teams respond and make the changes necessary to comply with the rules and actually get bikes on track for the test was incredible—a big effort.

In most cases, this was the first time the riders and teams had been at the track in a competitive environment. They treated the test in the same way I would have, which, for me, was important. They had no distractions to keep them from doing their jobs properly. The lap times continued to get faster, meaning the test was going as designed.

We were testing our new timing and scoring system. When we first got there, the system wasn’t performing as we had intended, but by the end of the first day, it was working well, and I think the teams were happy. We expect more improvements when we go back later this month for the first race weekend.

There was a lot of that going on at this test. Many riders were working with new teams and personnel for the first time. They were not only learning the track and their machines but they were also getting to know their technicians. The quicker you can make those relationships work, the quicker you go on the track, and the better your results will be on race day.

For this particular test, Dunlop only brought slicks. So Joe Roberts was riding his Superstock bike on slicks. Although this wasn’t the intent of Superstock 600, for the test, it was the only way possible, and he was able to run similar times to what the top Supersport guys were doing.

Based on those two days, Joe looks like he’s comfortable with his new team and bike, at least on that circuit. This series is made for guys like Joe. If you can do impressive things on a stock bike, you’ll get attention. That’s what we’re trying to do with MotoAmerica. We want to see that with every class.

America’s future? Fast teen Joe Roberts (27) leads his Wheels In Motion/MotoSport.com/Meen Yamaha teammate, former AMA Superbike Champion Josh Herrin (2), at COTA.

We feel every class is going to have a headline grabber. He could be a current guy that we think is going to dominate Superbike or one of the new riders who is moving up from a 600 into Superstock 1000 and competitive against factory Superbike riders—like Dane Westby and Jake Gagne were at the test.

I made a similar transition in 1981. I was riding Kawasaki GPz550s and 750s in AFM club racing, and I was offered a ride on a two-stroke 250cc Kawasaki at Loudon, New Hampshire. Back then they had a 250cc Novice class. That was the first time I rode a two-stroke competitively, and I won the race, which was held in the rain, probably because of my dirt-track background; I felt comfortable riding that bike in wet conditions.

That performance got the attention of Gary Mathers at Kawasaki, and he signed me to a contract the next day. There’s no reason that can’t happen to these guys. With a good result at the right time, they could have the same career that I had.

Superbike was a big jump for me. At the end of 1981, I went to Daytona for a pro-am race. Eddie Lawson was down there along with Wes Cooley and Mike Baldwin, I believe. I didn’t have a license to race in Superbike, so I rode the amateur portion of the race. I remember rolling around the banks on that 1000cc Kawasaki, and the faster that big Superbike went, the tighter I held on to the handlebars and the more that thing shook its head. Coming on to the main straight, it almost bucked me off. One of my mechanics finally told me, “Why don’t you just let go of the handlebars a little bit? It probably won’t shake its head so bad.” I went out there and did that, and he was absolutely correct.

AMA Pro Daytona SportBike Champion Jake Gagne posted the second-quickest Superstock 1000 lap time at the COTA test.

I imagine the guys going from 600s to 1000s are also learning their bikes. Those bikes are a handful, even with the electronics we have and the grip Dunlop provides. They’re faster. They accelerate harder. They’re heavier. They’re more difficult to stop. These are some of the things those riders have to think about as they make that transition.

I went out on the track and watched practice. In general, the new guys looked like were getting comfortable on those bikes pretty quickly. They looked aggressive. They weren’t holding back like the machines intimidated them. That impressed me.

We spent a lot of time at COTA filming our preseason TV show, and it was good to see the new crew at work with Colin Edwards, Jonathan Green, and Cristy Lee, the three who will be the talent on our shows.

Colin just retired from MotoGP last year, so he has the clearest perspective of what it takes to ride these modern bikes. Plus, he’s an old-school guy; as I was stopping my career, his was starting to go with his. I think we have a real jewel in Colin. He’s experienced, knowledgeable, a good guy, and well liked.

Jonathan has a lot of experience calling World Superbike. And Cristy Lee does everything from work on trucks to interview endurocross riders. She asks unique questions, and all the riders want to talk to her. I think we have a good TV team, and I’m excited to see what they’ve put together. I know it’s going to be entertaining.

I’m also excited about the opportunity to have our series start at the MotoGP race at COTA. We feel fortunate for the relationship with Dorna and its CEO, Carmelo Ezpeleta, and how they see MotoAmerica, how it needs to be competitive and organized and run in a way that we can produce opportunities for Americans to come back into the world championships as they did in the past.

I feel like I’m back in the limelight again but in a different way than having my helmet on and going out on the track and doing the job that way. Now I’m on the other side of the fence where I’m part of the team producing the championship in which these riders will compete. It’s a whole other side of the business. Every one of my partners—Richard Varner, Terry Karges, and Chuck Aksland—is an expert in what they bring to the championship.

The teams were happy to see Richard at the test. They’ve heard and read about Richard, but they didn’t know him. He was at the test, walking into garages, talking with riders, parts guys, and wheel cleaners. He was like a kid in a candy store; he loved it. Seeing Richard in that space was new to me. He has a genuine interest in the sport and is happy to be part of it. The teams thought it was really neat they could meet him.

MotoAmerica partners and longtime friends Chuck Aksland and Wayne Rainey pose together on COTA’s long, uphill front straight.

MotoAmerica wouldn’t exist without Chuck Aksland. He’s the heartbeat of this series. He’s not only a very good friend, but there’s no way we could be where we are without him. I feel like I’m in good hands because Chuck is there.

We’re not completely where we want to be. For the test at COTA, our goal was to get there, be organized, and have everything in place so the teams could show up and test as they normally would with no distractions and focus on performance. And I believe we pulled that off.

The date for the first race, April 9-12, is coming at us fast, and we have to be ready because that date isn’t going to change. We think we’re going to be prepared in such a way that the teams and racers can go out there and do their jobs like it was any other day at the track, except now we’re in charge.

Jake Lewis is one of several former middleweight-class riders making the transition this season to open-class machinery, in his case a factory Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000.

All the work we’ve been doing at MotoAmerica came to fruition when I arrived at Circuit of The Americas last month for two days of testing. Part of the entry road overlooks the paddock and as I drove into the facility, I saw all the team trucks parked behind the garages and that gave me the assurance, “Yeah, we did it!”

I went to COTA the first time last year for the MotoGP race. Like everybody who sees that facility for the first time, I was amazed. Everything is modern and looks like it was built for world championship events, yet there are so many other facilities inside the track for concerts or X Games or a board meeting in a big, fancy media center. It’s great.

The front straightaway past start/finish and up the hill is probably the part of the circuit that most says, “COTA.” The hairpin corner at the top is also unique. When I took a lap around the track, I was impressed. I don’t get all the first-gear corners, and I might have rethought the esses, but, hey, those things are there to provide challenges.

I always felt COTA was the right place for our first race. I just didn’t know if we would be physically ready, organized, and down the road far enough to pull that off as a series. It was a tall target, and we didn’t have much time to get everything organized.

Wayne Rainey: “We’re starting with a clean sheet of paper, and we have a lot of pretty cool ideas.”

The series was announced very late, last September. There was some indecision about the rules, so the teams were kept from preparing for what we were planning. To have the teams respond and make the changes necessary to comply with the rules and actually get bikes on track for the test was incredible—a big effort.

In most cases, this was the first time the riders and teams had been at the track in a competitive environment. They treated the test in the same way I would have, which, for me, was important. They had no distractions to keep them from doing their jobs properly. The lap times continued to get faster, meaning the test was going as designed.

We were testing our new timing and scoring system. When we first got there, the system wasn’t performing as we had intended, but by the end of the first day, it was working well, and I think the teams were happy. We expect more improvements when we go back later this month for the first race weekend.

There was a lot of that going on at this test. Many riders were working with new teams and personnel for the first time. They were not only learning the track and their machines but they were also getting to know their technicians. The quicker you can make those relationships work, the quicker you go on the track, and the better your results will be on race day.

For this particular test, Dunlop only brought slicks. So Joe Roberts was riding his Superstock bike on slicks. Although this wasn’t the intent of Superstock 600, for the test, it was the only way possible, and he was able to run similar times to what the top Supersport guys were doing.

Based on those two days, Joe looks like he’s comfortable with his new team and bike, at least on that circuit. This series is made for guys like Joe. If you can do impressive things on a stock bike, you’ll get attention. That’s what we’re trying to do with MotoAmerica. We want to see that with every class.

America’s future? Fast teen Joe Roberts (27) leads his Wheels In Motion/MotoSport.com/Meen Yamaha teammate, former AMA Superbike Champion Josh Herrin (2), at COTA.

We feel every class is going to have a headline grabber. He could be a current guy that we think is going to dominate Superbike or one of the new riders who is moving up from a 600 into Superstock 1000 and competitive against factory Superbike riders—like Dane Westby and Jake Gagne were at the test.

I made a similar transition in 1981. I was riding Kawasaki GPz550s and 750s in AFM club racing, and I was offered a ride on a two-stroke 250cc Kawasaki at Loudon, New Hampshire. Back then they had a 250cc Novice class. That was the first time I rode a two-stroke competitively, and I won the race, which was held in the rain, probably because of my dirt-track background; I felt comfortable riding that bike in wet conditions.

That performance got the attention of Gary Mathers at Kawasaki, and he signed me to a contract the next day. There’s no reason that can’t happen to these guys. With a good result at the right time, they could have the same career that I had.

Superbike was a big jump for me. At the end of 1981, I went to Daytona for a pro-am race. Eddie Lawson was down there along with Wes Cooley and Mike Baldwin, I believe. I didn’t have a license to race in Superbike, so I rode the amateur portion of the race. I remember rolling around the banks on that 1000cc Kawasaki, and the faster that big Superbike went, the tighter I held on to the handlebars and the more that thing shook its head. Coming on to the main straight, it almost bucked me off. One of my mechanics finally told me, “Why don’t you just let go of the handlebars a little bit? It probably won’t shake its head so bad.” I went out there and did that, and he was absolutely correct.

AMA Pro Daytona SportBike Champion Jake Gagne posted the second-quickest Superstock 1000 lap time at the COTA test.

I imagine the guys going from 600s to 1000s are also learning their bikes. Those bikes are a handful, even with the electronics we have and the grip Dunlop provides. They’re faster. They accelerate harder. They’re heavier. They’re more difficult to stop. These are some of the things those riders have to think about as they make that transition.

I went out on the track and watched practice. In general, the new guys looked like were getting comfortable on those bikes pretty quickly. They looked aggressive. They weren’t holding back like the machines intimidated them. That impressed me.

We spent a lot of time at COTA filming our preseason TV show, and it was good to see the new crew at work with Colin Edwards, Jonathan Green, and Cristy Lee, the three who will be the talent on our shows.

Colin just retired from MotoGP last year, so he has the clearest perspective of what it takes to ride these modern bikes. Plus, he’s an old-school guy; as I was stopping my career, his was starting to go with his. I think we have a real jewel in Colin. He’s experienced, knowledgeable, a good guy, and well liked.

Jonathan has a lot of experience calling World Superbike. And Cristy Lee does everything from work on trucks to interview endurocross riders. She asks unique questions, and all the riders want to talk to her. I think we have a good TV team, and I’m excited to see what they’ve put together. I know it’s going to be entertaining.

I’m also excited about the opportunity to have our series start at the MotoGP race at COTA. We feel fortunate for the relationship with Dorna and its CEO, Carmelo Ezpeleta, and how they see MotoAmerica, how it needs to be competitive and organized and run in a way that we can produce opportunities for Americans to come back into the world championships as they did in the past.

I feel like I’m back in the limelight again but in a different way than having my helmet on and going out on the track and doing the job that way. Now I’m on the other side of the fence where I’m part of the team producing the championship in which these riders will compete. It’s a whole other side of the business. Every one of my partners—Richard Varner, Terry Karges, and Chuck Aksland—is an expert in what they bring to the championship.

The teams were happy to see Richard at the test. They’ve heard and read about Richard, but they didn’t know him. He was at the test, walking into garages, talking with riders, parts guys, and wheel cleaners. He was like a kid in a candy store; he loved it. Seeing Richard in that space was new to me. He has a genuine interest in the sport and is happy to be part of it. The teams thought it was really neat they could meet him.

MotoAmerica partners and longtime friends Chuck Aksland and Wayne Rainey pose together on COTA’s long, uphill front straight.

MotoAmerica wouldn’t exist without Chuck Aksland. He’s the heartbeat of this series. He’s not only a very good friend, but there’s no way we could be where we are without him. I feel like I’m in good hands because Chuck is there.

We’re not completely where we want to be. For the test at COTA, our goal was to get there, be organized, and have everything in place so the teams could show up and test as they normally would with no distractions and focus on performance. And I believe we pulled that off.

The date for the first race, April 9-12, is coming at us fast, and we have to be ready because that date isn’t going to change. We think we’re going to be prepared in such a way that the teams and racers can go out there and do their jobs like it was any other day at the track, except now we’re in charge.

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