Wednesday, September 6, 2017

AFM R5 2017 Sonoma Raceway AFemme

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

#302 AFM Round 5, 2017 Race Report

This early September weekend is historically a chance for us to cool off after the summer rounds up at Thunderhill. Typically, Sonoma has nice, cool weather that makes for a very pleasant weekend. The weather gods had other plans in mind this year, however, and the weekend started to look like a scorcher with temps well over 100 degrees.

Since it was a holiday weekend, things were pretty quiet at work on Friday and I managed to sneak out to get loaded and off to the track for the weekend a bit earlier than I originally had hoped. Even in where I live, where it is typically one of the coolest areas in the bay, it was hot. I was soaked with sweat just loading the truck!

I made my way through holiday traffic and got to the track a little after 4 and got started setting up for the weekend. I knew my suspension needed some help, so I headed over to Catalyst Reaction and paid Jim for some help for the weekend. He is familiar with me and my riding, so I figured it was a good place to go since he’d know what I, as a rider, needed in a set up. Sure enough, he tweaked things a bit, offered a couple suggestions, but the big things like spring rates were about where they needed to be with some minor changes – either way, it was close enough that we could work with it for this weekend.

Saturday was looking to be the hottest day of the long weekend, with predicted temperatures soaring well above 110 degrees. I skipped my first practice session to get a massage before starting the weekend, something that I have definitely needed but have been putting off. I made it out for my next practice session, and the bike felt pretty good, and while my times were immediately where they had been the previous trackday, they were still pretty dang slow even for me.

My third session got lost due to a red flag which delayed things and I decided to get my tires swapped while I could. I finally made it back out for the fourth and final session to scrub in the tires and make sure I was on point for the race that afternoon. By this time things were HOT – it was 106 degrees in the garage! Thankfully my Skratch Labs were doing their job, and I wasn’t feeling overheated.

Races kicked off on schedule, and after helping teammates make it out for their races, I got ready for my AFemme race. This year, this has been the only class I’ve been reasonably competitive in, and I was relatively confident I could make a fight for the win – I knew it wouldn’t be an easy win by any stretch, but it felt like it was within reach. Last call finally came, and I headed out to the grid donning my new AGV Pista GPR which I have fallen in love with.

We gridded up, and since I was sitting in second for the season, had my spot on the front row. The green flag dropped and I had a good start. For a moment it looked like Valentine might get the hole shot, but a wheelie on her part gave that spot away and I was able to take the lead. The other 3 ladies were all right on my tail though, and I knew I needed to work to keep them back there. Open track in front of me with competitors behind are always my best laps, so I knew this could be a good race. For the first couple laps I could see Valentine behind me as I was going through 11, and knew I couldn’t let up. Eventually we started to hit lap traffic from the waves behind us, and I had a chance to use some of the new techniques I had asked an experienced racer about earlier that day. Sure enough, I had a couple opportunities to use the slower bikes to my advantage and get the space between Valentine, Jennifer, Daniela, and myself, and I maintained my front position for the entirety of the race, coming home with the win. 

Photo by

Photo by

Saturday night had the usual shenanigans, and I eventually headed off to bed in hopes of a better night’s sleep. Sunday dawned hazy and smoky, and my blood shot eyes showed just how badly the smoke and heat had irritated them the day before. Thankfully wearing my contacts didn’t bother me, so no issues there!

My first race on Sunday was Open Superstock. Due to making most of the rounds this year, I actually had a grid spot on the second row (not because of any spectacular finishes). They launched, and since the grid was packed with those chasing championship points, they took off. My leg was, unfortunately, giving me some major issues on right hand corners, and I was really struggling through that. I still finished the race in similar laptimes to the day before, but I wasn’t able to squeeze more out. 

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

Next up was Open GP, which I had a fresh rear tire on for. Since Jennifer had moved back to an R6, I was without my “battle buddy” and figured it may prove to be a slightly boring race. I tried to hang with the front runners as best I could, but that leg just wasn’t going to let me do what I needed, and I couldn’t make up for on the few left turns this track has. I still had a couple bikes I was racing to the end, and finished my weekend as strong as I had started it. At one point during this race I had thought I had hit my right foot peg on the curb on the exit of turn 7, causing a near high side that had me cooling my jets in right handers the rest of the race. As it turned out, I hadn’t done that, but instead had been hit by another rider who nailed my rear tire – I and the bike were fine, he apologized, the only thing that bothered me is I had finished the rest of the laps thinking it was something I had done and was riding accordingly!

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

Oh well, it was a hot weekend at the track that has historically been my worst. I took home a win, and finished my other races. I had a good time hanging with friends, racing motorcycles, and getting more comfortable on my bike. I didn’t quite squeeze out that personal best I was hoping for, although I was within striking distance. I’m looking forward to Thunderhill where there are fewer rights (so my leg will have fewer opportunities to hinder my riding). Overall I had a good weekend, one I am satisfied with, even if I’m not “happy” with it.

Unfortunately, one of my fellow female racers had a bad crash on Sunday, and my thoughts go out to her as she begins what is sure to be a long and miserable recovery.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Break Between Rounds

This year has been a struggle on the track for me, I can’t lie about that. First off there was all that medical crap, which was more than just a small hurdle, and to some extent, continues to be another aspect that has changed. Then we have the new bike. Before getting the bike I was thoroughly convinced that there would be a transition period, but by around the 2nd or 3rd AFM round I’d be hitting my stride (with a fair bit of seat time over the winter included as part of that with a few trips to the SoCal region). Instead, breaking my leg meant none of the off-season training happened. I got back on the bike by round 2, but I was suffering from a complete lack of seat time (in general and on this bike), my decision to step up to expert, and a fresh surgery. 

Okay, I gave that and the next round up to “hey, medical, still getting used to bike.” Round 4, however, and I finally got the bike sprung properly, but it wasn’t making much difference. Between my own physical issues (which were significantly less, but still there on some level), and lack of useful time on the bike, I wasn’t set up for success that weekend. By this point I had managed to get intimidated by the bike, and things weren’t jiving very well. I knew the bike was awesome, and capable of being amazing, but I just wasn’t getting there, and I wasn’t sure how to proceed other than to keep chipping at it.

While discussing my issues with a fellow coach, I got given a piece of advice I had never heard before. It was simple – “go slower. Execute where you know you should be (such as start braking where you should, turn in where you should, etc), but just go slower. Add the speed back in slowly.” It was the first time someone had suggested I go slower – not to work on a technique, but to, literally, go slower. Combining that with the advice I had been given from Ken Hill (eyes, eyes, eyes), it proved to be rather useful. I finally left the track that weekend feeling like I had made actual, measurable progress on the bike. I was feeling more confident with what I was doing. Yes, I knew there was a LOT more to go, but I was much happier with the current progress.

I carried that over to my recent trackday. While I was still going slow, I was finding I was super consistent and very comfortable with what I was doing. No, I wasn’t getting on the throttle – but that’s NOT what I was working on. I’ll add throttle naturally as I get comfortable with the other actions. I was doing MUCH better on the brakes, which has been a huge pain point for me on this bike. I know myself, and I know that as I gain more and more confidence in that, I will be willing to add more throttle as well. 

Yes, I’m still slow, even compared to my best on my old bike, but I’m feeling a bit more content and feeling like I’m finally making forward progress. The main struggle for me right now is my dissatisfaction with myself and how long it’s taken to get to this point. The leg still offers some struggles, and I really noticed it at Sonoma where it was making it hard for me to lock into the bike and causing my other leg to fatigue – but, those things are going to be slow to fix. I’m back to working out, the leg is getting more use, but it’s not going to get better overnight. I was off it for months. They say 3 weeks of recovery for every week of non-use, with active rebuilding. I was completely non-weight bearing for a total of 15 weeks. That means I won’t be “normal” until the end of January next year at the earliest. FML, but that’s what I’m dealing with. I can only accept it and do my best to work with what I’ve got in the meantime.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Race Report AFM Round 4, 2017 Thunderhill Raceway

Going into this weekend my life had been fairly rushed, but, for the most part, things were clicking in to place and I felt ready to head out for what was looking like a rather warm weekend up at Thunderhill. This was going to be my first time riding the bike without some medical thing causing concerns – no fresh surgeries, no PICC line, no crazy med schedule. My leg wasn’t giving me any major issues, so that excuse was finally no longer valid.

On Friday, Pacific Track Time had a trackday, which a number of racers were making use of. All morning I handled the C group as I usually do, with plans to head out to some faster groups in the afternoon. I went out for the B group after lunch, and traffic was fairly light in that group, so decided to just stick with that. I was feeling out the respring on the bike’s suspension, and was very happy with the improvements, but now my brain needed to catch up. Since I had gotten the bike I hadn’t been very confident on the brakes, and now it was pretty obvious why, but I had already programmed myself not to trust what it could do. Oh boy, fix a problem with the bike, find a problem with me.

The heat was adding to the day, and I didn’t want to wear myself out for the upcoming weekend, so I wasn’t out setting any new records on Friday. I set up for the weekend, had some dinner with friends, then headed back to where I was staying to try to get a good night’s sleep.

Saturday dawned bright and promised to get nice and toasty. My teammate had arrived, and we got set up for the day. Due to the heat and my lack of fitness, I planned to only do two practice sessions in an effort to keep some energy in reserve for my AFemme race that afternoon. I was also going to be racing on take off tires I had picked up at Laguna, but they were in good shape, so I wasn’t too worried. My couple practice sessions went fine, and while I was still going way slower than I should be, I was feeling better on the bike, but something was still missing. I realized I wanted more feedback from the tires, and thought that, perhaps, the TC was being a bit too intrusive, so I moved it to the lowest setting and headed out for my race.

I was wanting to pull another win out of this, but my practice times were showing that my pace just wasn’t where it would need to be to make that an “easy” thing to do. Jennifer and I had been running very similar paces at the last round, and I figured she’d be right there this weekend too, but I hoped some of the changes would work to my advantage and I’d find something I was missing. Instead, I fubared my start by getting a nice wheelie. The only good thing is that the bike does have wheelie control, so it didn’t loop despite my desperate clinging to it. Since it wasn’t coming over, I just hung on, kept it moving, and (it had to be amusing to watch) spun my feet in attempts to get them back on the footpegs since I was nearly sitting on the tail of the bike.

That start let Jen hold her front position, and off we went. There were a couple sections where I was stronger than her, and I was able to make up a fair bit of ground on her in those sections, but they were areas where passing would be sketchier, so I was hoping to hang long enough to make a pass in a better spot. She was stronger in those places, however, so she managed to hold her lead for the race, leaving me holding Daniella off to keep 2nd place. Since Valentine didn’t make this round, at this point that will bump me up to 2nd for the championship.

That wrapped up our Saturday, and I wanted to hit Sunday with some ambition. I was much happier having more feedback from the bike and tires with the TC turned down, and I was starting to play around with some braking aspects since the respring had the bike responding much closer to what I would have expected. 

Sunday dawned warm. Really warm. It was going to get HOT. I went out for my practice session just to turn on my brain and body. I planned to swap tires after that and as I was putting on the “new” tires, I noticed my front brake pads were nearly gone. Dang, that seemed pretty darn fast for a set of brake pads to disappear! I ran over to Hustle Hard Racing who had some Vesrah pads to use. I’ve never used Vesrah as they didn’t make pads for the 675, so when I went out for my Open GP race I was going to be dealing with getting used to a new type of pad. Oh well, that’s racing for you!

Open GP came up, and Jen also runs this class, so I knew I’d at least have someone to race against. I got a much better start this time, and was feeling better on the bike. My lack of fitness was proving to be a major issue, and I was just doing my best to manage my endurance even in these short races. Nearing the end I put my head down and put down my best lap of the weekend, but I knew Jen was right there with me. I knew where I was better than her, but all I could do was hope to put enough gap between us that she couldn’t manage a pass near the end which seems to be her MO. I couldn’t put enough space between us, and she managed the pass in turn 14 just before the checkered. I wasn’t going to make up the gap since I was really struggling with the 14/15 combo and she had a nice advantage getting onto the straight.

I didn’t have another race until the afternoon, so relaxed until it came time for my Open Superstock race. There was a small grid this weekend, so I was sitting on the second row. I had a decent start again, but pretty soon the field left me. In the Formula Pacific race just 2 races earlier, someone had blown oil from turn 14 through the start of turn 1….since it was getting rather hot and I was only racing against myself I ended up just playing around with a couple of the things I was trying out and not really worrying about times. This reflected in my race times, but I wanted to go home in one piece with an intact bike, which I did.

We packed up and headed home, sweaty, gritty, and worn out. The heat took a big toll on all of us, and while I felt like I managed my hydration/electrolytes well, my lack of fitness from not working out the past 8 months was taking a lot out of me. By the time I left the track I was dreading unloading at home, but thankfully that wasn’t too bad – probably helped it was about 30 degrees cooler there than it had been at the track!

Special thanks to all of my sponsors, and especially those who helped make this weekend happen. I’m not meeting my expectations for myself, but that being said, I gained a lot of confidence in the bike and my ability to ride it (with a bit more fitness needed). That is actually a huge thing for me, by the end of the weekend, I wasn’t really feeling intimidated by the bike at all – and that will go a long way towards my willingness to start pushing things a bit more again.

Special thanks this round to:

DareDevil Motorsports for getting this bike set up, and keeping up with all the little changes and adjustments we’re having to make, dealing with the phone calls, ordering, schedules, etc.
RiderzLaw for helping make the races happen and for the tires to run this weekend.
Ken Hill Coaching for the homework and specific things to work on so my time on track is productive.
Dunlop for the tires themselves.
BARF Racing for the support in so many areas, including some special photos by Oxymoron Photography that are coming soon.
Skratch Labs for keeping me well hydrated.
And of course to all my sponsors who help me make this happen: Roseville Yamaha-Kawasaki;  Motion Pro; Woodcraft; Ace Custom Graphics; Pacific Track Time.