Ever since my injuries in 2012/ 2013 I have not been at full speed. I definitely have improved my mechanics of riding, but still the lap times have not been there. This has everything to do with confidence and feeling. The more comfortable you are on the bike the farther away the "feeling" of fast is. What I mean by that is that when the bike vibrates and pushes the front tire, or the rear tire is sliding, or lifting the rear wheel under braking these are all items telling you that your are "feeling" fast. Last time we were at Sears Pt I had lots of moments where the front tire would begin to chatter and push, and I was "feeling" fast only to find out I was running a 1:53. That's not fast. Pushing the front end into the Carousel, or Turn 7 is not where you're going to pick up a ton of time. I needed to analyze what I was doing and really think through where I could get better and find that time.
But before I could do all this analysis I still needed to address some fitness issues. I've dug deeper into mountain biking which has paid off in my lung, and heart fitness, and it's been fun. Like I told my wife I found a whole new way to break bones! But really doing some long MTB rides and doing extended climbs has given strength to my legs that gym exercise just can't touch. The downside is I'm not very good at MTB and I keep falling down. On an extended ride (The Tamarancho Loop) with novice racer Alex I had 3 solid crashes landing on my left knee. That left me bloody and swollen for a couple of weeks to follow. So much so that when we did a track day at Sears Pt the next week I could barely bend my knee getting into my leathers. That made for some not fun laps around the track until it would warm up each session. My take away from that was not to ride really hard single track trails just before a race or trackday.
The first weekend of September and we were again at my favorite race track Sears Pt (Sonoma Raceway for new people) I did a couple of practice sessions on Friday just to give my mind some data for analysis. This really helped. I spent Friday afternoon and Saturday morning with some quiet time really thinking through each lap looking for places I could be better. This is not the easiest thing in the world looking at yourself and finding where you are not good at something. I know I need to work on carrying more speed through a corner, and more importantly opening the throttle sooner. This would be my focus on Saturday. I wanted to get the bike settled so it wasn't moving around so much and get on the gas sooner. I spent a good amount of time after each session with Jim my suspension tuner at Catalyst. We had added some fork oil at the previous race weekend to help with bottom out while under braking, but we added too much and this weekend on Friday we took the forks apart and removed 5mm of oil height. This really helped. Adding the extra oil in the first place allowed the fork to be more "supported" at the bottom of it's travel, and not bounce off the bottom, but removing the little bit gave us more adjustability in the preload setup. At the last race I was having issues with the bike "chattering" as I released the brakes into a turn. Gerry from GP Frame had spent some time in my pit measuring my brake rotors to see if they had any uneven wear. Gerry was suspicious that something was amiss but couldn't pinpoint it. I sent the rotors back to the Braketech for a deeper analysis, and they discovered the float buttons were worn, and replaced them with slightly oversized buttons to firm up the amount of float. The new buttons are like .1 or .2 mm larger. So here I made a 5mm fork oil change, and a .2mm change to the brake rotors and it was like riding a completely different motorcycle. I found myself consistently braking deep into the corners lifting the rear wheel slightly off the ground and setting it back down just before turning in.
|Start of F40 on Saturday afternoon|
Saturday evening at the second Sears Pt round is when we typically doing our margarita party and this time we'd elevate the whole experience. Now re-branded as Margaritas and Motorcycles. Chips and salsa were supplied by Jim and Nickie at Catalyst Reaction , and fresh margarita mixed provided by Tommy's Margarita Mix. New this year was support from Lunazul Tequila , who provided us with some great swag that we gave away during the event. And of course a huge thanks to Julio Bermejo from Tommy's Mexican Restaurant for continuing to support me, and amateur motorcycle racing. The turn out was great. We put out a tip jar with all proceeds going to our AFM turn workers. For those reading this that don't know the people in white that work in the corners waving flags, and scraping broken riders off the ground are volunteers. They get a small stipend to help cover costs of getting to the track, and lunch. At the end of the year riders donate money to the turn workers fund, and that money gets dived up among them. It's a tear drop in the ocean by compared to the support they give us. This year we've raised $586 donated to the end of year fund. I'm proud of that fact alone.
|Always smiling when handing out 100% agave cocktails|
|Pouring some Lunazul|
Sunday's first race was 650 Twins. I got a good start and stayed with the leaders for a couple of laps then the shit show started. 450 Production had started in front of us and it took us a lap and half to catch the back of their grid. We would spend the next 4 laps dodging slower bikes, and taking bigger and bigger risks. I ended up losing several positions and got tired of taking such big risks passing slower bikes so I slowed down and cruised around the last lap. It was lame. But the fight up front gave me some motivation for the race later in the day. A fellow racer told me "at one point the 3 of you looked like you were riding the same bike" I'm pretty sure he was talking about this moment in T7.
The second race of the day for me is always Formula IV. I was gridded 3rd and got a great start. I battled for 6.9 laps for 3rd place. Why 6.9 laps and not all 7? well on the last corner of the last lap I a gap had developed to the guy in front of me (because of lapped traffic again) and I knew he was too far away, but I also knew there was a bike close behind me so I decided to brake a little later to make sure the rider couldn't come underneath me. Like has happened so many times before the rear wheel lifted off the ground, but this time since I was later on the brakes I didn't have the distance to set it back down before turning, and so I began to turn. Let me tell you unless you're Marq Marquez that doesn't work. The rear end began to pivot around the steering stem, and the handle bars went all the way to the lock as the front tire began to skid. Amazingly I let off the brake and set it back down after leaving a 5' black line. I gathered myself up and finished the turn just as the guy behind me came through. I finished 5th again, but I was OK with that because I just had the save of my life. The whole thing lasted so long (in my mind) that I was already counting the hospital bills before I got it under control. That was a hell of a race.
|An effected shot by Kate of me before the FIV race|
|Fast through turn 10|
Here's the FIV race if you're interested in watching
The last race of the day was literally the last race. Now I've missed the last race most of the season. Earlier in the year I kept packing up my friends pits after they went to the hospital, or I was hot and tired. This time I was mostly ready for it. I did not get a great launch like I had in my previous 3 races. I'm blaming it on being on the outside of the first row. It's really hard to see the green flag. I had a great battle for the win with Justus on his Ducati 649. I was not running the same pace I had earlier. Chalk it up to late in the day on the 3rd day. I was tired. I led him for a little bit when he made a mistake but he came back by, and I never really had a challenge. My fitness is definitely better, but still has room to get even better so I'm not tired at the last race of the day.
|Briefly leading Justus through 9|
|Over the top of 3A|
So there we have it. A great weekend of racing with friends and family. Thanks to so many people for coming out, hanging out and supporting us.
Special thanks to my wife Kate for being such an amazing pit crew. She's gotten really good at hand signals I now know not only how close the rider behind me is, but how many there which is a huge help in planning my in race strategy. Thanks to Mr, and Mrs Fry for having us stay at their beautiful home in Sonoma. I'm pretty sure Alex and I should not have drank the entire 12 pack of beer on Friday night, but it didn't seem to slow me down so it's OK. Thanks to Max at Oxymoron for taking so many pictures.