Friday, March 22, 2013

AMA Pro Flat Track: Zanotti Racing's Jake Johnson Talks Daytona Season-Openers, the Team's New Kawasaki Twins Series Effort & Testing

Jake Johnson on the #1 Zanotti Racing/Schaeffer's H-D/Southland Pro Suspension/Arai-sponsored Honda CRF450R during the final qualifying session at round 12 of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship season at the Springfield Short Track, and taking the overall fast-time out of the 48 riders who timed-in for the final National event to be held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Multipurpose Arena.  Johnson would go on to win his heat race, take a hard-fought 3rd-place finish in the Dash for Cash and then brought home a 5th-place finish in the 25-lap National main.

Johnson and the Zanotti Racing team had a great year by just about anyone's standards in the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship season, just not by their's.  After taking back-to-back Grand National Championships in the '10-'11 seasons, the team finished out last year ranked in the 3rd-place spot in the overall standings.  And for the first time in their three years together, also failed to win a National main, although Jake's string of podium finishes from round 3 until just before the Indy Mile in mid-August sure made it look like they were awfully close to knocking down the door.

During the off-season, the team went back to the drawing board, and with the help of one former 2-Time AMA Grand National Champion/3-Time 500cc World Champion by the name of Kenny Roberts, as well as engineering work from former grand prix stalwart Warren Willing, the team set out to right what they considered their wrongs from the 2012 season, by building a Kawasaki 650R-based Twins Series mount.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right!? 

And that's exactly what has been moving down the pike for the California-based team, with steps moving closer as the 2013 schedule takes a break after the Daytona season-opening rounds last week.  When the first Twins Series event rolls around in mid-May, this team will roll out their first-ever Kawasaki-based twin in order to lay claim to the #1 plate they rightfully feel belongs back on their machines.

With Jake leaving Daytona in the 3rd-place standings in the championship hunt, it's worth noting that they are off to a strong start.  Johnson rode like a man on fire during both rounds 1 and 2, and his efforts in his heat race, semi and the National main in round 2 on Friday night last week were stuff legends, and champions are made of. 

After colliding with the previous night's winner, Mikey Rush, in their heat race, Johnson was forced to line up for the restarted heat on the back row.  Although only making it back to the 5th-place spot and semi bound, his slicing through the field was amazing.  Coming back to win his semi to qualify for the 25-lap National main, Jake again set sail from the back row and a 15th-place starting spot, to work his way into a 4th-place finish by the time the checkers flew.  Possibly the only other rider with as stellar of a ride that night was put in by first-time winner Brandon Robinson.  And with 2nd-place finisher Brad Baker losing his points for the evening (although he has filed an appeal to try and get those re-instated), Johnson and the Zanotti team left Florida with some very solid points in their run to reclaim that #1 plate.

Check out the full press release below (with some in-house pics from the team of their new Kawasaki effort) and see what Zanotti Racing and Jake Johnson have up their sleeve and planned for the rest of the season, and check out what Jake has to say about their southern swing to kick-start the new season of racing in The Rolling Thunder Show, the best racing on two wheels in the world!

Press release courtesy of Zanotti Racing, 3-Time AMA Grand National Champions.

March 21, 2013

Hi, I am Jake Johnson and welcome to the Jake Johnson/Zanotti Racing race report.

After falling short of our goal of our third championship last year, we re-evaluated our race program from top to bottom during the off-season. I am both excited and flattered that the King, Kenny Roberts has taken an interest in getting us back to the top by helping us develop a Kawasaki for the season and bringing in the legendary Warren Willing to develop the chassis.

(Note all photos: right click, open in new window to view.)

I will be sure to keep everyone updated throughout the year on the progress of this project. This will definitely be a flat track machine that will move our sport forward.
Our team owner, David Zanotti and Ted McDermitt worked tirelessly during the off-season rebuilding all of the bikes in David’s extensive stable. Every bike was rebuilt down to the most minute detail. All shocks and forks were broken down and sent off to Jimmy Wood of Southland Racing and rebuilt with the assistance of Race Tech Suspension. After our test session at Perris Raceway in January with Jimmy and Race Tech I am very optimistic that we have moved in the right direction in regards to our suspension!
I was very excited leaving frozen Pennsylvania for the sunshine of Georgia and Florida for the season opener.
Testing began in Savannah on Wednesday. It was a full day of work as we put in over 50 timed laps with a variety of set up and suspension configurations. It proved to be an extremely productive day with lap times continuing to get better untill we ran out of daylight. Ted definitely had the Harleys prepared for optimal performance.
Thursday we drove to Neeses, South Carolina for 450 testing and once again we left feeling we moved forward and better prepared for Daytona.
Oglethorpe Speedway on Friday night was, as always, immaculately prepared and extremely fast. Our lLap times were faster than they were on our test day and but we were still looking for a little extra, so we tried one of Chris Carr’s Golden Tyres for our last practice. I was very pleased with the results. We dropped a second off our previous practice session’s time.
In the heat I got a solid start but Kenny Coolbeth had a better drive coming out of turn 2 than I did. I spent the remainder of the race trying different lines looking for an opening or the mistake that never came. Kenny rode a great race and I was relegated to second.
I felt very confident going into the main with a solid starting spot on the front row. Maybe I was too confident. I over-revved the motor and spun the rear wheel all the way to the first turn. In a non-national with only 12 laps to get your job done I had put myself in quite a hole coming out of turn 2 in 6th place.
I moved up to 4th pretty early in the race behind Kenny Coolbeth who in turn, was all over Jared Mees. Kenny made an aggressive move under Jared but I was just a bit too far back to follow by with him. With laps winding down Jared was freewheeling into the corners and protecting the bottom leaving me nowhere to go but to the top. On the last corner I decided to try to drive around him, and luckily there was traction up there and I was able to make a pass stick on the outside for a hard fought 3rd place finish. Brandon Robinson rode off with the race and looks to be a force to be contended with this year. He was fast all night.
Chris’s Golden Tyres worked great all night. We ran a Goodyear bald in 25 laps on test day but the Golden Tyre that we used in the heat and main (20) laps was still hooked up on the last lap, and the remaining tread looked like it could have gone another 50 laps. I think Chris has a winner there.
We left Georgia for Daytona feeling guardedly optimistic. I have had a bit of success in Daytona but I have also had some miserable nights. The teams that hit the set up properly have a big advantage at this track.
Night one on Thursday started out well, our lap times dropped in each session and I qualified 3rd overall with a pole position start in the heat. I got a decent start in the heat but was behind Brad Baker who was fast all weekend. I was fortunate to get by him late in the race winning my heat, earning a start in the Dash for Cash. As the past 3 years have proven, the Dash for Cash points are critical in attaining a championship. I got a subpar start in the DFC but felt good and was able to salvage a 3rd and some precious points towards the championship.
As we prepared for the main we felt confident a win was within reach. It took a few starts to get the National underway with Jethro Halbert going down twice. When we finally got underway I was fighting in the front of the pack and feeling good. About 10 laps into the race the bottom brushed off and the cushion outside the groove started moving higher and higher. This development left me with the wrong set up halfway through the race. I went from a high of running 3rd at one point, to holding on for dear life and barely holding on to a 7th place finish. We were disappointed with our results after being fast all day but we just didn’t foresee the changes.

Friday was a polar opposite of the previous night. We struggled a bit in qualifying, then got a great start in our heat going into turn 1 behind the previous night’s winner, Mikey Rush. Unfortunately, Mikey tucked the front wheel right in front of me and I couldn’t avoid him and went down. I was relegated to the 4th row for the restart and was only able to work my way to 5th place behind my good friend and brother-in-law Johnny Lewis. This forced me into a semi to qualify for the National. This ended up being a blessing in disguise as we were able to tweak our bike a little more and we were all of a sudden going fast. I got a good start and won the semi with Mikey Rush keeping the heat on all race long.

We made a few more minor changes to the bike and prepared for an uphill battle as I would be starting from the 3rd row in the main. As it was, the main event turned out to be somewhat uneventful. I got a solid start and kept my head down trying to put in solid laps and move myself forward at every opportunity. After 25 laps I was able to work my way to 4th and salvage the night.
The season opener could have treated me better, but I can’t complain as Daytona’s always a crapshoot. I am leaving Daytona a solid 3rd place in the points for the 2013 overall championship. I am looking forward to our next race at the new track in Stockton, California. Our Twins program has always been a strength and I don’t see anything on the horizon to change that.
I would like to thank David Zanotti, Ted McDermitt, and Jimmy Woods for their tireless support all week.
Thanks also to my sponsors and supporters at Arai, Silkolene Lubricants, Vortex, Schaeffer’s H-D, Pinit Motorsports, Southland Racing, Race Tech Suspension, Motion Pro, Sidi, Cometic, K&N Filters, NJK Leathers, Chickenhawk Tire Warmers, Bazzaz, Yoshimura, Moto Café in Sunnyvale, Works Connection, Millennium Technologies, G-2 Ergonimics, Mikuni, Mike Stauffer, Troy Lee Designs

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