Friday, July 15, 2011

AFM Round 5 - Leave nothing out there

In-between the rained out round 4 and round 5 I squeezed in a trackday at Thunderhill. It was some much needed time at that track but didn’t really give me much of a feel for the recent engine tuning we’d worked on prior to round 4. It had been a busy period at work (when isn’t it) and I was not very focused on racing until the day before having to pack up and head to the track.

One of the many great things about racing at Sears Point is how close it is to home. Getting up early Friday morning to head to the track isn’t much worse than getting up to go to work on a normal Friday. Once at the track I only partially set up my pit area knowing I’d have to make some adjustments once the AFM took over. Friday practice was a trackday put on by ZoomZoom not an AFM practice day. Recently I’ve been pitting with KC and his BRG trailer on Vendor row which has been a great experience, but we don’t get to fully set everything until all the vendors are in place. As a side note to that I have been working with Dave Wallis of the AFM on laying out the AFM paddocks. I’ve been volunteering my CAD skills to help get the vendor area sorted, and try to add a bit of polish to the look of the AFM. The AFM board is all elected volunteers, and not very many have much experience with events, although they have lots of history with setting up the races. So to them things like doing a floor plan is a big task, but for me it’s a few minutes of the day so I’ve been glad to help out. For whatever reason I have to always stick my nose in it.
My Plan for Friday was to slow things down a bit and try some new approaches to some of my weak spots. By not trying to go fast I could take a different line, or maybe brake later and get used to the new location, or feeling before trying it at full race pace. One area of particular attention was my entrance to Turn 6 “The Carousel” I had a decent line into the turn but I was always applying the brakes too soon, and I knew to get under the 1:50 mark I’d need to start digging deeper and pushing those boundaries a little further. By deliberately coming out of Turn 5 slower I could brake later entering turn 6 and teach myself that it was OK to start braking at the top of the hill, and slowly let off the brakes as I began the downhill left hand turn. I worked on this all day and slowly taught myself how to trail brake deep into the first apex. I wouldn’t really get to test this tactic at full pace until race day but by practicing where I would release the brake lever I was mentally much better prepared for when I would be pushing myself. The other thing I was mentally working on was opening the throttle sooner coming out of corners. Later on the brakes, and earlier getting on the gas is how to go faster around the track. I got 7 practice sessions in and was feeling good about Saturday which is AFM practice and when I would up the pace and start pushing the areas I was working on. I was struggling a little bit getting on the gas. The rear tire just wasn’t hooking up. I thought maybe the rear shock needed some tuning, but a close inspection of my rear tire showed that it was in fact roasted. I’m still trying to understand when these Michelin Power One tires are done. I’ve been changing the rear tire when I thought I needed to, but this tire I wanted to push to the limit. Well I wore the tire down to the point that it started delaminate. That is the outer rubber started separating from the carcass. That would explain the lack of traction, and the occasional slide. There wasn’t any rubber on the tire. Note to self:  When the tire starts to slide replace it. Kate joined me Friday night and we bbq’d some chicken she had prepped. We made fajita burritos, and was some damn good eating for camping bbq.

Saturday morning I put on a new to me front tire. My new track buddy Peter Fry had bought a new slick front tire to test at a trackday he’d done last month but since he runs in the Production classes he isn’t allowed to use the slicks, and gifted the tire to me. My budget was getting mighty thin so I was thankful for such a generous gift especially since my front tire had 10 days on it and was past do for changing. After my lesson with the rear tire I didn’t want to push it too far.  While I had the front wheel off I did a quick inspection of my brake pads. I’d been feeling some brake fade on longer runs and was suspicious the pads were getting thin. The thinner pad allows more heat to transfer into the caliper and heat up the brake fluid which allows the fluid to compress under pressure from the brake lever. I’m talking about compression that is fractions of a millimeter but this compression translates into less feel in the lever, and that feel is crucial to pushing the limits of the front tire while trail braking into a turn. I can’t complain. A set of the very expensive super stopping power Vesrah SRJL pads have lasted me a season and half. I skipped the first session to take the time to make sure everything was cleaned and assembled properly and the brakes were bled thoroughly with brand new super blue brake fluid. Yes even the brake fluid on my bike is blue! 

deburring the brake rotors
intense brake bleeding


             Saturday practiced sucked. I was slotted into group 3 which is frustrating because many riders are on larger displacement bikes which can make a fast laptime only because they can motor away in the straight sections, but the smaller bikes like mine keep our speed up in the corners. I wasn’t able to practice any of the things I had been working on at full pace and wasn’t feeling full of confidence one practice was over.
                I quickly put that all behind me because I had a lot of work to do still for on this Saturday night would be a margarita bash. One of the great perks of having Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant as a sponsor is once a season we host a margarita party on Saturday night. Kate and I had to get the bike tech’d for Sunday’s races, make dinner, and set up for distributing hundreds of cocktails.  The cocktail bash was an absolute blast. It’s a great opportunity to do some local advertizing for the restaurant, the Tommy’s Margarita mix, and meet new people.  Kate took pictures with her new camera and fun was had by many. With much of the paddock well lubricated by delicious margaritas skillfully crafted by yours truly the stage was set for the debauchery to really begin. You see the pit right across from me was the Twisted Racing team and their sponsor Horny Toad BBQ Sauce. They had a very well put together fund raiser. $40 bought you a bbq, dinner and access to a strip show. Yes they had fully enclosed part of their pit area, set up a stripper pole with lasers, and smoke machines, and had a full on strip show. God bless their ingenuity. Why hadn’t anyone thought of that before? The music thumped, lasers flashed, and the men hooted and hollered as the girl worked her pole. The good times lasted until finally Barbara from race direction told everyone they had to wind it down and get to bed. Yes mom, I’ll put my stripper away and go to sleep. There was a great festive atmosphere in the paddock that night something we hadn’t seen at all this year. 

margarita time!

tire guys


        Sunday morning dawned clear and warm. It was time to get serious about racing.  Werstatt had sent a new employee to help in the paddock with any set up stuff we needed. Although Kate and I have developed a pretty good routine it’s always nice to have an extra hand around to help when things get hectic. I ran my one practice session and warmed up my bike and body. I don’t like to push really hard in the morning warm up, but I was trying to get into the right mindframe. During the riders meeting Barbara our race director stated that the AFM was a family place and we should all leave our strippers at home. The AFM has been around for over 50 years and I bet no one has ever said that before!

Race 1  (Race 2 on the schedule) Formula IV
   I had gone down to the hot pit to do some practice starts. The engine was feeling great after the new exhaust and tune from KC, and I wanted to see how that would affect the launching of the bike. My normal procedure is to rev the bike up to about 7k rpm were peak torque comes on, and just slightly engage the clutch until a little friction is felt, then when the green flag flys dumps the clutch and twist to full throttle. I tried that in the hot pit and just about flipped myself over. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled such a big wheelie for so long. OK I thought maybe I’d applied too much throttle too quickly so I tried it again with the same result. OK the new tune changed the power delivery and I needed to start in a lower RPM. I dropped down to 6k rpm and tried a couple of practice launches and they felt good.
   I had a great grid spot on the outside of Row 2. When the green flag flew I got a great launch and drove deep into the first row. I was determined not to chicken out as I had so many previous times, and when a challenger came up the inside on my left I kept the throttle pinned and rounded Turn 2 in 5th place. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it forever but it was great to be so far forward. I stayed with the lead 4 almost the entire first lap, but I couldn’t hold onto  them and started falling back. My race strategy became not to makes mistakes and try to ride as smooth and fast as I could knowing that 5 or 6 guys were right behind me waiting for any opportunity. Something new for this race was Kate working the hot pit wall. Every lap she would come up to the edge and give me hand signals informing me of where my competition was behind me. Pretty much every lap her signals were  ”they’re up your ass”.  Towards the end of the race we started getting into the slower traffic of the dreaded Ninja 250’s. I did not do a good job of managing the traffic. I allowed #555 Scott Reavey  to get past me on the last lap because of yet another poor traffic decision. I had half a lap to get it back. I wasn’t close enough to try in turn 9 so I backed off a little into 9 so I could get a good drive out of 9 and try a braking maneuver into 11, and that worked great. I pulled up alongside Scott on the gas in T10 and I knew I had the line to out brake him. As I got on the brakes I saw the standing yellow flag in the apex of the turn. NOOOOO! Under the AFM rules there is no passing under any flag condition. I had to pull over and let Scott by. I finished a frustrated 7th. I had made poor choices which allowed me to be put in that place and I should have finished 6th, if not even 5th.

Race 2 650 Twins (Race 11 on the schedule)
   The race preceding my second race had been stopped twice do to crashes. Just as they were starting it for the 3rd time I could see the helicopter landing just across and up the hill from us. That’s a sickening sight. Someone had life threatening injuries and needed to get to the hospital immediately. As I write this I’m on a plane to Hawaii for a much overdo vacation. I could tell seeing that helicopter made Kate a little pensive. Like me she was worried I might get hurt, 2 days before going on our vacation. She watched me watch it, and was also worried I would let it get to me. I watched the helicopter take off hoping it was no one I knew, hoping I wasn’t going home in one either, and then I completely put it out of my mind. I put on my head phones, and practiced my start in my head.
Once again gridded on the second row and another great launch I charged up the hill in 5th place, but quickly lost a position into T3 to #206 James Strauch. Determined I charged hard out of T5, and got to put into practice the late braking into the Carousel I had been practicing on Friday. Back into 5th I once again tried to stay with the lead pack, but knew eventually I would lose them. On the following lap while beginning the second apex of the Carousel I had held too tight of a line trying to stay with those guys and found myself too far inside way too far leaned over, and I hit the series of ripples that exist there. My front wheel started to slide out from under me. At that point I was crashing. I could hear something scraping on the ground, but I stayed on the gas and as we crested the next ripple the front wheel came back to me, only to start to slide and scrape again as it fell away on the downside. Still holding the throttle open hoping I didn’t get run over by the bikes I knew were right behind me the front wheel came back to me as we crested the next ripple and again slid, and scraped as it dipped past the crest.  I can’t really explain how I saved that. I was crashing. Maybe a little skill, a little balls, and a whole lot of luck. I kept the throttle pinned expecting someone to pass me going into 7 but there was no one.  I lost a position to a visiting fast guy from another club, and had a hell of a dog fight with # 206 for a couple of laps, but I put a little gap after awhile. I lost another position to an exotic custom Ducati 649 which was damn fast.  I ended the race in 8th place feeling I had left nothing out there, and had gone as fast as I could. I never gave up even when I was on the verge of crashing.

I posted a best time of 1:49.6 almost a full second faster than my previous best from the last round. I would like to have dipped in the 48’s but I need to do some more work on my riding. The bike is still capable of more than I am. I haven’t found its limit yet. One limit I did find is me. I have been doing OK at getting to the gym, and when I was fighting for 15th place I think my fitness was good enough. Now that I’m consistently fighting for single digit finishes I’m getting tired, and making mistakes. It takes an amazing amount of physical effort, and mental focus to push a racing motorcycle to its physical limits. I need to step up my training if I’m going to get any faster.

Below is a series of photos from the 650 Twins race taken by amateur photographer Erich. They tell a great story of how my race went. Thanks for the pics Erich!

No comments: