Wednesday, July 11, 2018

AFM Round 5, 2018 Thunderhill - A Somber Weekend

Races were coming quickly and furiously. With only two weekends between rounds, finances, time, and mental stability were all getting stretched. After Round 4 I had decided I needed to upgrade to the Race Kit ECU and harness, in order to eliminate problems and have the ability to adjust things on the bike that needed adjusting. I came across a screaming deal on one, and it showed up on Thursday. I installed it that night, the bike ran, so I headed up to the track early Friday to avoid traffic. I still had to work, and money was tight, so there was no riding to be done, but I took the bike around the parking lot to be sure it shifted and such. It seemed fine, so I looked forward to spending Saturday getting used to the new mapping and power and making any needed adjustments.

Going into the weekend, I knew there was a chance things wouldn’t work and I may end up scratching the weekend. Coming into it with that mental outset probably kept me from freaking out all day Saturday as things immediately plunged off a cliff.

I headed out for my first session of the day, and before turn 1, I knew I had a major issue. The bike wouldn’t get above 9-10K RPM, and twisting the throttle did nothing. Went around and pulled off the track. We started to take things apart, and I saw a fuel line looked bent, so we straightened that, and reassembled. I headed back out thinking that was the likely culprit – nope, same exact issue. Then we started trying to use a couple of the different maps – nope, same problem. Tore the bike down again to look for loose connectors – couldn’t find anything. Connected the computer to the ECU – couldn’t find anything. Had a pro (Fuzzy) take a look at the ECU settings – couldn’t find anything. Finally it was the last practice session and we still hadn’t solved the issue, so I went in and cancelled my races, planning to take Sunday to try to go through the bike and just help out with my pit mates' races.

As I was coming back from cancelling, Fuzzy was leaving the pits having dropped off a new fuel line – he thought there was a chance it was still kinked underneath the rubber cover. We pulled the tank up again, and pulled off the old fuel line – sure as shit, there was still a kink when we pulled back the rubber cover. We installed the new fuel line, my teammate ran back to registration and had my cancellation cancelled, and I went out on the warm up lap of Race 1 to see if the bike would GO – we zoomed all the way to turn 1, and went around the track with a normal throttle response.

Photo by

Typical motorcycle - chase problems all day for something stupidly simple.

I headed out for my AFemme race (Race 3), having yet to complete a full lap on the new electronics and maps. Valentine and Shelina had great starts, and while I wanted to chase them down, I was still feeling out the “new” bike. Some of the responses, especially in downshifting, were very different than what I was used to. Despite everything, I still managed to get down to what was around my best times the previous weekend, and I was feeling pretty good for the rest of the weekend, thinking there was a pretty solid chance of reaching my first goal on this bike, and finally dipping below the 2 minute mark.

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That evening was an enjoyable time as I savored some delicious tacos made by a fellow racer, watched the rather amusing slow races, and hung out with my friends, eventually tootling off to bed looking forward to what Sunday had in store.

Sunday dawned warm and bright, promising a toasty day ahead. I went out for a few laps of the morning practice session, then got ready to head out for Race 2, Open Superbike which has been my worst race all year, even simply comparing myself to myself. I had no expectations for this race, but knew I needed to see how I was feeling about some of the settings on the bike and keep figuring it out. I also decided to try the launch control on the start. Well, the launch control didn’t work too well for me, and my start was horrible. I decided to fight back anyways, and ended up coming in to find I was matching my times from the night before and my better times from the previous round. Awesome, as there was a ton of time to be made up in several places that I could see, and I was pretty stoked to head out for our following races.

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

Unfortunately, there was a crash in the race before ours, and the race got red flagged. The delay went on, and we could all tell something wasn’t right. As it turns out, it was all very bad, as word started to reach us that it seemed the rider had passed away as a result of injuries from the crash. Eventually the track was cleared, and our race was called, but all of us were wondering if the rumors were true. This was in the back of our minds as we gridded up.

I tried the launch control again, but again, it did me no favors whatsoever. My start sucked, and I was elbowing around for a spot. As we started to head through Turn 1 towards Turn 2 early in the race, there was a yellow flag out, and it smelled like a bike may have blown a motor. I had it in my head that if that was the case there were two things: 1) Watch out for oil on the track, there’s a good chance there might be some, and 2) that the bike was probably going to be on the outside of the track, so hold a tighter line. Even though I saw the bike in the middle of the track, it just wasn’t registering with me that was the blown up bike – and about the time I got all of that processed (all the while watching for oil) I realize my front wheel is pointed at a big oil spill and there’s no avoiding it. I was on the front brake, too, so I just tried to stand the bike up as best I could, very carefully control my brake pressure, and manage the slide that was almost immediate. My bike slid around, and I ended up shimmying to the outside of the track praying that anyone over there was paying attention and able to give me someplace to go. Thankfully Jeremy King was able to do just that, and I was able to control the slides and managed not to crash. By the time we were through the corner, the red flag was out and I cautiously went through a few more corners in case of any remaining oil on my tires.

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

The track got shut down again while they put the (engulfed in flames) bike out and then cleaned up the oil, and during this they called the lunch break since they knew we would be down awhile. A special riders meeting was called just as we were coming in, and I headed over as soon as I could. The rider’s meeting was to make an official announcement about the earlier incident and to confirm everyone’s worst fears – the rider had, indeed, passed away. It was discussed a bit, and one of the racers offered up a prayer. We then had a little down time before the afternoon was to commence, and needless to say, it was a somber lunch as we all pondered the morning.

A number of riders decided to scratch the afternoon, and while I considered that for a bit, I also felt like going back out there was the right thing to do, so when they finally called our restart, I decided to get back on that horse and focus on riding. We headed out, and gridded up. One last time I tried the launch control, thinking I was maybe beginning to “get” it, and my start still sucked. The first couple laps I just wasn’t feeling it, and just decided to ride my own ride, but then a couple other riders came by who’s pace wasn’t that far off of mine, and I started to get my fight back a little bit, making the last half of the race feel more like a race. I was still a second or so off my earlier pace, and I still wasn’t willing to push myself beyond what I was very comfortable with, but I was at least getting back into race mode a little bit.

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

I got back on that horse and decided to finish out the day.

Open Superstock eventually rolled around, and I thought I was feeling pretty good. When we gridded up I decided to say the heck with the launch control and just do my normal start, and it was quite good. I was comfortable and ready to go, but the track was feeling a bit greasy, and everything from earlier in the day plus a long day of being in the heat was quickly taking its toll. By the end of the second lap my legs were already tiring, and my arms were trying to pick up the slack, and then I started to get arm pump in my right arm. I tried to focus on forcing my legs to do their job, but it was a struggle all the way around. Rather than finding any pace, I just managed to keep doing what I had been.

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

I finished the race, and that’s about all the good I could say. It was a long, rough day for most of the paddock, and I’m pretty sure everyone is feeling the sting of losing a fellow racer, whether we knew him well or not. We’re a family, and losing anyone is always a painful experience. Between that and my little oil excitement, and the fact that I’m still having some issues with the bike, I didn’t consider the weekend a loss, but far from a win, too. I kept the rubber side down, kept my head in the game (despite a LOT to push it out), but I didn’t gain anything, either. I can probably thank my coach, Tyler O'Hara for giving me the tools to make sure my head stayed screwed on straight.

Thankfully, we have a bit of break until the next race round. I want to take a look at my bike’s transmission and see if that is messed up (my gut keeps telling me there’s an issue there, and I’ve tried enough changes with electronics and still have the same issues, so that feeling just keeps getting stronger and stronger). I’m happy to have the kit ECU in there, and want some seat time to tweak a couple of the settings that aren’t quite working for me.

I really feel like all the puzzle pieces are falling into place, and I’m not far from making a noticeable (in latptime) breakthrough. Teetering on that edge, where it’s right around the corner. I’ve been building into it slowly, with some breakthroughs along the way, some small, some huge, and I can just tell it’s not far off now.

My condolences to the family and close friends of #780, may you ride on in peace.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

AFM Round 4, 2018 - Progress, not Perfection

With only a few short weeks in between the third and fourth rounds of the AFM season, I was feeling the pressure. To make things worse, I ended up crashing a week before the fourth round while feeling a little too good and not accounting for weather factors (that I knew were present). Thanks to RiderzLaw I was able to afford to rush fix the bike, and DareDevil Motorsports more than earned their keep doing all the heavy lifting on getting the bike back together, fixed, and where it needed to go in the 5 days available.

Since the bike was rideable, I headed to the track on Friday evening to set up my pit and hang out with my friends. My bike wouldn’t arrive until the next morning, so it was an evening of hanging out and chatting with everyone until bedtime.

Saturday dawned warm and pleasant, and while it was supposed to warm up as the day went on, for Thunderhill Raceway, it wasn’t looking too bad at all. There was a threat of some wind, however, which ended up living up to its prediction. Saturday practices went okay. We were, yet again, chasing some set up, as we had gotten the bike pretty dialed in at Laguna, but those settings were NOT working for me at Thill. The first couple sessions were spent just getting things in the ball park, and while I couldn’t really put my finger on it, it never quite felt right, either. Catalyst Reaction does a great job of helping keep things heading in the right direction, and Jim does pretty well with interpreting my less than technical explanations!

Practices wrapped up and we started the afternoon races. Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up about this time, and continued to intensify as the races got going. By the time the AFemme race was headed out, the gusts were bad, taking down canopies and sending items across the paddock. Since I had just learned a hard, expensive, lesson about accounting for wind, I at least went out to my race with a strategy to deal with it.

This weekend it was just Valentine and me on the grid for experts, so it was going to be a fight for who got first. Valentine flubbed her start, giving me a great shot at the start. We hit wave traffic pretty early on, but I was in the lead and hoping to work on using my horsepower to motor past my other weaknesses. As I was coming in to turn 6, however, I went to go for my brake only to find the lever – well, not there. A brief moment of panic, as I started fishing for a “missing” lever, and I found it a good inch lower than where it should be. I managed to slow for the corner, but this situation gave Valentine the perfect opportunity to pass me. Unsure of what the issue was, I took the next several corners to be sure I could actually slow down, and that the lever was find-able. It was, and I could, so after that I started to chase Valentine back down. While I was reeling her in, the checkered came out one lap too soon for me to be in a position to pass her back, so she got to take home the win. It was still a fun race, and I’ve enjoyed getting to battle with her this year.

The evening was spent saying hi to various people and hanging out with some of my friends, and then off to bed at a decent time. Somehow, despite the wind, I still managed to sleep pretty well.

Sunday dawned calmer but a bit cooler. Warm up practice was fine (albeit slow) and races got started on time. First up was Open Superbike, probably my least favorite class of the weekend, but a good one to get my game face on and get into race mode. There were a couple of other riders in the Open classes this weekend who had a relatively similar pace to me, so as the race got going, I knew there were some people to chase down and keep behind me. After a few fun battles, the race wrapped up and I can say I wasn’t last.

Next up was Open GP. I’ve liked this race a little better than SB, and knew there were a few of us fighting for our back of the pack positions, and I looked forward to getting to duke it out with them. My start was meh, and I was in the group for a bit, trying my best to hang but not being too successful. Pretty soon it was down to me and my battle buddies, and we started to fight it out. One of the riders passed me on a flying lap he put in, and I tried to reel him back in but couldn’t quite pull it off. Still didn’t finish last though 😊 Throughout the race, I was VERY consistent, with every single lap falling into less than a second difference. Good information to have, because that means as I figure more things out on the bike, the time won’t be hard to repeat as I change things up.

Throughout the weekend I had been experimenting with some different seating positions on the bike. I was struggling to relax on the bike as much as I felt like I could, and I was really struggling under harder braking. I finally found that I much preferred to be up closer to the tank instead of pushed back. I like my heels under my hips, and since I have such a short torso I can still easily get into a full tuck. I also found this helped a lot with my confidence on the brakes as my legs could take up more of the load, allowing my upper body to free up. Being a girl, upper body strength is definitely an issue most guys aren’t dealing with as much, and I found this seating position was a significant improvement for me.

Then, it was a fair bit of down time until race 13, Open Superstock, which is my favorite of my Sunday races. I knew the three of us would be out there again, and I wanted to play to my strengths, part of which is my endurance. I also wanted to keep my seating position established as it made me much happier on the bike. We gridded up and I had another good start. I knew the guys behind me wouldn’t make this easy though, and sure enough, one of them managed a pass a couple laps in. I was right on his tail however, and there were definitely a few places where I was stronger, so I knew if I could hang close enough in my weak zones, I could get the pass done in my strong areas. Suddenly, however, he started to have a really odd slowdown in a place I wasn’t expecting it – I saw the open door, went for it, and then his bike kicked in and the door slammed. Dang! Okay, waited, and got another shot to pass, but seemed like he was really having some issues as it was way too easy (turns out he was running out of gas). He and the other guy were still back there though, so I had to keep fighting on! Managed to hold them off for the race, crossing the line successfully in front of them. 

While fighting for “not last” can seem anti-climatic for on lookers, having some other bikes to be out there fighting it out with made the weekend a blast. It’s also the first weekend since I started on this bike where I didn’t finish last in any of my Sunday races. Small accomplishment, but I’ll take it!

Coming off a pretty decent crash less than a week earlier, and having a blast all weekend made it a win in my book. Put in a couple more pieces of the puzzle on the bike, and am looking forward to the next one!

 And a special shout out to Oxymoron Photography for the great photos each race weekend!