Thursday, September 6, 2018

AFM Round 6, 2018 Sonoma Raceway – Disappointed to be Sure


All photos by Oxymoron Photography
 
To say that the last couple years of “racing” (I’ll use the term loosely) have been frustrating would be an understatement. First, there was the broken leg saga that lasted nearly all of last year (still hasn’t even been a year since my last surgery), trying to adjust to the new, completely different bike, and then the bike problems. Oh, the bike problems!

After the last round, when the bike really started to act up, I decided to go and pull the transmission out myself (after arguing with everyone about what was the problem and finally replacing nearly the entire electrical system) only to find it destroyed. Good thing was I pulled it before it tried really, really, hard to kill me, although I’m still fairly certain that was the primary cause of my highside back at round 2.

I ordered parts, and one gear was on backorder, and since I wanted to rebuild this right I decided to gut my street bike and put that transmission and clutch into the race bike for the time being. All of that had some interesting stories and fiascos that I won’t get into here, but end result was I eventually got everything installed, bike ran, and after all my issue chasing, I now had a legitimate race bike with the kit ECU and harness too.



I got one chance to ride the bike prior to round 6, and things went well enough that day. Bike ran beautifully, and I started to get over the mental hang ups I knew existed after riding around the problems for so long. I looked forward to getting out to Sonoma – it’s my least favorite track, but the one where, last year, my times were closest to what I had previously been doing, and I had high hopes that the bike running right would give me a chance to finally break into a new personal best and be able to move past constantly comparing myself to myself.

I failed miserably in that regard.

I couldn’t afford to ride on Friday, so that meant Saturday would be my one chance to try to get back into the groove and get the bike set up. I had only ridden here once this year, and that was back in February when it was like 50 degrees outside and was my first time on the new suspension. There was no baseline set up to even start from, and losing Friday really hurt me in that regard. Practices went well enough, but I started out slow, just making sure things were still working and remembering which way the track went. I had a plan of attack from my coach, Tyler O’Hara, so I was trying to stay focused on that.

After my first session, things were off on the set up, so I went over to Jim at Catalyst Reaction who I’ve been working with for years now, and we made adjustments. I went out, and dropped some time, and found something else that wasn’t working. We adjusted that, and then I went out and dropped 4 more seconds, and now something else wasn’t working. My entire Saturday went that way, and while I was finally enjoying my bike a bit (and more than a few wheelies), my times weren’t where I wanted them.

It was suggested to try a different TC setting prior to my race that afternoon, and I didn’t see an issue with giving it a shot, figuring the worst thing that would happen would be that the bike would be a bit underpowered. Oh boy, was I wrong.

I headed out to AFemme, with hopes of finding a couple more seconds off my practice times. We gridded up, and launched. My start was okay, but Valentine and Shelina took off, and then on our second lap, we got a red flag. Okay, my chance for redemption. We gridded up for the restart, and I had a great launch – woohoo! Aaaand, that didn’t last long. Valentine and Shelina again took off, as I began to realize that my bike was severely acting up. I was getting really bad “pump” coming out of pretty much every corner, and the bike was sliding badly due to it. I rode the race that way, fighting with Jennifer for 3rd place, but I wasn’t able to make my passes stick, and she took the checkered with me right on her tail. 



As I was rolling back to the pits, I realized how stupid I had been – I could have changed the TC back during the race – that could have been changed on the fly, I didn’t need to keep riding the bike that way! ARGH! Oh well, was what it was, race was in the books, and I learned another lesson about my “fancy” modern bike. The evening was spent hanging and chatting with friends, then heading off for a relaxing evening and some sleep.

Sunday I had moved the TC back – even if I couldn’t keep the front wheel on the ground (not that I really wanted to as I was kinda having fun with all the wheelies) – at least the bike was stable and predictable. The first race up was Open SB, my least favorite race of the weekend. It tends to be a meat grinder class, and it’s early in the day. We headed out, I rolled up to my grid spot and started to get focused on what was ahead of me – only to get bumped by someone screaming I was in his spot. I look over and my friend, Adli, who I’m always gridded in front of, is in front of me. I check my mark on my tank, I’m where that says, but see an open spot on the other side two rows up = probably about where I’m supposed to be. I roll out of the other guy’s way only to see the flagger moving forward to the 2 board, so I’m like “crap, guess I’m starting from right here between spots, better get a good start…..”

My start was good, so at least I knew I wasn’t going to hold anyone up behind me, and off we went. As usual the main part of the group takes off, but I knew at least one or two people were behind me, and I wanted to keep it that way. My times were still right where they had been, but I kept a few bikes from making passes and managed to finish the race in not last place. After the race I got called up to Race Direction where I got in trouble for my grid spot and found out the guy who’s spot I had been in threw a complete fit - like yelling and screaming and just in general a complete fit. Took my punishment, and found out my crew had given me the grid spot for Open GP, not Open SB, and I hadn’t looked close enough myself, either. They apologized to the guy who’s spot I was in on my behalf (I would have myself but to be honest, someone THAT upset over something like that had me a bit scared….).



After that, we had Open GP, where I’ve had a few friends I’ve been duking it out with, and I wanted to put in a good performance. I had a great start, and some fun battles, and I knew a few of my friends were back there, and I was determined to keep it that way. I put in my best lap times of the weekend, but still was over a second off from my old personal best, and that was really keeping an overcast to my day as I had high hopes of finally redeeming myself.



I had time to rest and relax before the final race of the day, Open Superstock, which was going to be my last chance to prove myself to myself. A couple of my Curve Unit “sisters” had shown up to support me, and I wanted to give them a good showing too. We gridded up, and instead of a great showing, I had my worst start of the weekend, and possibly since I tried using the launch control. Oh well, race was still on, and I still had bikes back there to keep behind me. My times were consistent, but near the end I knew there was a group behind me and I decided it was going to stay that way, dropping over a second off what I had been doing the rest of the race. Traction was starting to drop off by that point though, and my times were still slower than they had been earlier in the day.



Ultimately, I can’t lie, I was very disappointed with my performance over the weekend. Lots of folks working to help me get things sorted and the bike working the way it should, but I couldn’t seem to pull anything new out of myself. I had come in with high hopes that a properly running bike would be enough to propel me past whatever hang up is there, but it didn’t. I had fun hanging out with everyone, had a few fun battles, enjoyed many wheelies, and for once I wasn’t scared of my bike – just couldn’t seem to translate any of that into actually going faster.

There’s some time between now and the last round of the year, so I’m trying to focus on getting the bike set up the way it should be. There are a few track days, and I have some things I need to adjust/change on the bike, both electronically and on set up before then. I know I should just “trust the process” but that gets hard when time and races are ticking past, and things still seem stagnant. The bike is getting there, now I need to get with it too.


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 4theriders.com

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.

Photo by 4theriders.com


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.