MotoAmerica champ Jake Gagne gets WorldSBK wildcard - is 2023 deal on the way?

Jake Gagne will make the trip across the pond to wildcard at the Portimao round of the 2022 WorldSBK Championship; Is a 2023 WorldSBK deal on the cards?

Jake Gagne - Attack Performance, MotoAmerica

MotoAmerica Champion Jake Gagne will make a guest appearance in the 2022 WorldSBK Championship later this season after it was announced he will wild-card during Round 9 at Portimao.

The 28-year old, who is currently locked in a fierce tussle for the 2022 MotoAmerica title with ex-MotoGP rider Danilo Petrucci, will make the trip with his Fresh N Lean Progressive (aka. Attack Performance) team aboard its Yamaha R1 in October, shortly after his season stateside concludes.

The wildcard call comes in the wake of a similar bid made by Gagne’s British Superbike title-winning equivalent Tarran Mackenzie at Donington Park, raising speculation Yamaha is also considering the Californian for a move onto the international stage in 2023.

Unlike Mackenzie, however, Gagne does have prior WorldSBK experience having contested a full season on the Ten Kate Honda in 2018 following a handful of wild-card outings the previous year.

While his WorldSBK campaign yielded only modest results on an uncompetitive Fireblade package, Gagne has since flourished on his return to MotoAmerica, finishing runner-up to the dominant Cameron Beaubier in 2020 before romping to the 2021 title with a remarkable 17 wins from 20 races.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to line up on the World Superbike grid. Portimao is a really cool track; it’s awesome to be going back, and I look forward to the challenge. 

“I couldn’t ask for a better team and motorcycle, so we’ll go over and do the best we can and enjoy the process!”

In a year that saw Yamaha sweep the board in motorcycle racing with titles in MotoGP, WorldSBK, BSB, WorldSSP and MotoAmerica, Yamaha Motor Europe Road Racing Manager Andrea Dosoli is delighted to be giving another domestic champion the chance to test themselves on the world stage.

“We are looking forward to welcoming Jake back to the World Superbike paddock. After an amazing season in 2021, he’s once again fighting for the title this year, confirming his high level of performance. 

“We are always looking to give riders who have been successful in their national series the opportunity to race on the world stage. After we had the winner of the British Superbike championship, Tarran Mackenzie, wildcard at Donington Park, we’re glad that the reigning MotoAmerica Superbike champion will be able to join us at Portimao. 

“We know that it won’t be an easy challenge, but we are ready to support him during the event and wish him and the Attack Performance team all the best for the weekend.”

Yamaha spoiled for 2023 WorldSBK rider choice

While there haven’t been many riders making the transition from MotoAmerica to WorldSBK in recent years, it has not been through lack of trying with Beaubier repeatedly turning down Yamaha’s eager efforts to get him onto the world stage.

However, considering the podium-winning exploits of Garrett Gerloff before him and his efforts against a MotoGP race winner, Gagn appears well qualified to make a splash in WorldSBK at the second time of asking. 

Indeed, if it was up to Yamaha and Yamaha only, then there is a high chance it wants to bring Gagne back over to WorldSBK for 2023.

The manufacturer - and especially Dosoli - is proud of Yamaha’s broad reach in production-based competition, whether it’s contesting feeder categories like the WorldSSP and WorldSSP 300, talent scouting via its own R3 Cup one-make series or supporting the likes of McAMS (Raceways) and Attack Performance in domestic Superbike series’.

Ultimately, it views a seat in the WorldSBK as a reward for those that have represented Yamaha successfully around the world, as demonstrated by Yamaha’s current WorldSBK contingent, which features 2020 WorldSSP champion Andrea Locatelli, Garrett Gerloff from MotoAmerica and Kohta Nozane from the All-Japan series.

However, Yamaha’s ambitions to flood the grid with its own talent have been restricted by having only two factory and two satellite GRT R1s on the grid, plus the odd self-sufficient privateer entry.

It is for this reason that Mackenzie thought better of a 2022 WorldSBK deal with Go Eleven, which had planned a switch to Yamaha machinery before deciding to stick with Ducati.

The waiting game has not come without its risks though given the depth in Yamaha’s talent pool, with Gagne’s wildcard outing in Portimao likely to be measured against Mackenzie’s at Donington Park, where he managed a best of 14th and 15th place results.

Then there is Dominique Aegerter, who has made no secret of his desire to move into WorldSBK, especially if he continues to dominate on his way to back-to-back WorldSSP titles.

It’s an embarrassment of riches that could potentially create a headache for Yamaha if it comes down to a direct ‘one or the other’ decision, with Gagne’s American passport surely more attractive to it than Mackenzie’s British one.

Fortunately, however, it appears Yamaha will be expanding its footprint (or tyre mark) on the grid in 2023 with GMT94 set to graduate from WorldSBK, while Gil Motorsport has expressed a desire to double up its entry too.

Moreover, there is a good chance two seats will be up for grabs in the sister GRT GYTR outfit with the underperforming Kohta Nozane unlikely to be retained, while Gerloff - whose rising star status as Yamaha has dulled since the start of the 2021 season - has been linked with a move to the Bonovo BMW squad.