Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WERA West 2016 Round 3 — Buttonwillow

Buttonwillow is a racetrack that is in central California and has some history with being bumpy. Often referred to as “Bumpy-willow”. It has since been repaved, and the track conditions are much improved.

I enjoy Buttonwillow. It has a great flow to it; From T2 all the way to Sunset you are never slamming down on the brakes while frantically backing gears like some tracks. On the bikes that I race, you are at most backing two gears with relatively gentle braking zones.

That flow is what makes the track so enjoyable to me.

Saturday Practice


This round is a single day event, so Saturday was practice.

As you may recall, I have been chasing an electrical demon all season on my A bike. A demon that only shows up when it is hot and when I am running at or near race pace. Impossible to duplicate on a dyno or even at an average track day.

Fortunately, this track day/practice day had a group specifically for racers, and I was able to twist the throttle in anger. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as this story turns out, the demon appeared.

First, two sessions of the day ran great. By session 2 I was just over a second off my personal best at this track and feeling “comfortable” at that pace. I wasn’t pushing hard yet. A very good sign. Session 3 is when it started to get complicated.

In Session 3, while coming down off the one blind corner on the track the demon appeared. The check engine light came on, and the bike tried to stall. Since I was in the WORST place on the track I held on the throttle and begged her to get out of the way.

An odd thing happened, she restarted! I was able to get her back into the pits under power without having to reset her.

I finish the session to push her some more and see if the issue comes back, it does not.

Session 4, I go back out with the intention of trying to duplicate the issue. Unfortunately, it does but worse; she won’t restart on her own, and I am forced to pull off the track and restart her. Maybe the fuel pump?

I swap the gas tank with my B bike. Next session…

Session 5, I go back out, and she does it again. This time, she won’t restart on her own forcing me to turn her off, turn it back on and restart her as she ran out of gas. Good thing I have a solid Shorai battery in this bike that can handle cranking the engine for that long.

She restarts, back into the pits. Maybe the secondary injectors? I swap the top of the airbox that contains the secondaries.

Session 6, same issue, same result.

Since both of these bikes are 450s which means they have a set of dummy injectors, maybe the dummy injector is bad? Bad in the pits, pull the bikes apart and swap the dummy injectors.

Session 7, no issues! We found it! I am able to put my head down at this point and work on pace.

Session 8, the issue is back. Why did it take so long? Who knows, but it is NOT solved.

Back in the pits, the day is over. The last thing I am looking to swap has to do with the Bazzaz subsystem. Both bikes are running an identical system so perhaps just a bad unit?

I swap them at the end of the day and decide to test them in the morning.

Round 3 — Practice


I lay awake early in the morning as the sun is rising at the track and go through the electrical system in my head. I trace everything that is on the bike and everything that has been replaced so far this year.

I am running with the assumption that if a part has been replaced it is not suspect. The odds of this situation happening on two pieces of hardware should be very low. Therefore nearly every part of the electrical system is now out of contention for being the problem. We have literally replaced everything except the Bazzaz sub harness at this point.

WERA gives us two practice sessions each morning. I go out to warm up my A bike to take her out in the first practice session. She starts fine but her idle is completely off…

video


Hmmm, well the idle is bad but at 4K, she seems to be running fine. Let’s take her out and see if it is really just at idle!

Nope, she is completely unrideable at this point. Whatever was acting up as just gotten worse. Time to make the call and switch to the B bike.

My B bike has been set up for my son, Stephen, to ride so the suspension is for a much smaller rider, he is riding on different tires than I use (completely different brand!), and his gearing is set up for his style and not mine.

I go out to warm up the bike and get the suspension moving so that it can be adjusted for me. 6 seconds off my pace from yesterday, this might suck….

Take the bike over to Jim from Catalyst Reaction and explain the situation. He does his magic and tells me that she should now be “close” and take her out so that we can fine tune the adjustments.

Back out on the track, she feels better. More planted and I am down to 2 seconds off pace. Back to Jim and ask for a bit more roll-over speed and more feel on the front tire.

He makes some final adjustments, and I get one more shot before the races to test her out.

While out there I notice that the gearing is VERY wrong for me. So wrong that I ended up going a gear higher everywhere just to try and compensate for the three teeth difference between Stephen’s ideal setup and mine. A gear up is close. Maybe adding a tooth and going a gear up will get me in the sweet spot?

Back to my pit, change out the rear sprocket to make the gearing even more aggressive and back out and running a gear higher everywhere. Down to less than a second off pace.

This is as close as we are going to get with no time left.

D Superbike


My primary race of the weekend. I am the defending champion in this class. Fortunately, the one racer who is closest to me in the points is not here this weekend, so I do not have a major risk of falling back in the points as long as I finish the race.

Green flag drops and a supermoto roars ahead of me to turn one.

The primary weakness of the 450 triple is the launch. They are VERY hard to launch well.

I spent the entire race getting a solid look at his rear tire. I have not raced against this competitor before so I was unfamiliar with his lines and his supermoto was well built. Lots of grunt and just enough top end to keep me at bay in the fast sessions.

I finished the race in second, got within fractions of a second of my personal best and got another lesson in why supermotos are so frustrating to race against :)

Heavyweight Twins


I started racing in this class last year as practice at Miller since I had very little time at that track. I ended up finishing high in the points for the year so decided to give it another go this year.

Through a combination of mechanical problems for other people, racers not making every round, and all other sorts of luck; I am currently leading the points in the championship going into this round.

Lining up on the grid with a Panigale, a KTM RC 8 and a Triumph 675; I looked around and realized that my luck in this class had just run out. I have 80 hp, and the smallest bike next to me has 120. The others are near or over 200.

Practice race indeed!

I ended up getting clear track for the entire race, the person who is second in the championship just out of reach in front of me the entire race.

I ended up setting a new personal best; on the wrong bike, wrong gearing, wrong tires and wrong suspension.

A good race.

Formula 2


This is my secondary race of the weekend.

Triples vs. SV 650s.

Torque vs. Handling.

Green flag drops and the points leader and one other SV leap in front of me into turn one.

What followed was six laps of trying to get past the racer in second place so that I could challenge the race leader. I had the pace but just did not have the will to risk an unsafe pass on the second place rider. It nevertheless produced a great video:



I ended up third in the race by less than 2/10th of a second.

No one likes to lose like that, but I can say that I had fun even though I placed poorly.

My Sponsors


As always, my sponsors are a huge part of what makes all of my racing possible. I trust these companies with my life.

Some racers will seek a sponsor and then use the parts with the hope that they are good. I am the other way round. I will run a product, decide if I like it and then seek sponsorship. I won’t promote a product that I have not tested and trusted.

Please take a moment to look at my sponsor page and their products.

Support the companies that support the sport.

Monday, May 2, 2016

AFM Round 2, 2016 — Sonoma Raceway

I love racing at Sonoma Raceway (formerly known as Infineon Raceway; formerly known as Sears Point). Sonoma is by far the most technical track on either circuit that I currently run. There are very few flat spots on the track, and the front straight is incredibly short. A great track for small bikes.

The challenge for Round 2 is that there is no Friday practice before this round. Due to the scheduling of another motorcycle event, Friday is booked. Fortunately, there was a charity event held on Wednesday before the weekend that allowed me a chance to practice on the track before racing.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Off-Season Racing

Normally, in Northern California, the race season ends in October and doesn’t start again until sometime in March of the following year. That downtime is used to refresh the race bike, perform maintenance that can be extensive and risky mid-season and try and stay in shape for the beginning of the next season.

As the new year ramps up it is common to see racers flood the pre-season track days and test their race bikes to make sure that everything works, the maintenance was completed successfully and start to get back into shape (having usually failed over the off-season to maintain race fitness). The only way to determine if a race bike is fit (and if the racer is fit) is to get back on the track.

For me, there is a significant difference to a track day and a race day. I find most track days to be almost too relaxing. The first lap (or two) are leisurely, almost languid. I won’t push for that last inch, I will give up the pass — there is no aggression. On a track day, my best lap is usually when no one is in front of me.

A race day, however, is different. The first lap to the last is at maximum. I am nearly always the first one out on the track for the warm up lap so that I can run the warm up lap at 100%. When the green flag drops I am pushing with no quarter, if you want to pass me you need to earn it. During a race, my fast lap is always when I am chasing someone down. Pushing the limits, exploiting the weaknesses of the racer in front of me.

I do not find track days as useful for testing me or my bike.

Twisting the throttle in anger is the one true test.

January CVMA @ Chuckwalla Valley Raceway


My first off-season test was at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in early January. The goal of this test was to confirm my primary race bike was running properly and that it was better than it was at the end of the 2015 AFM Season.

Towards the end of the 2015 season, I had a motor fail on me in my primary race bike. I was fortunate in that I caught the failure early enough to avoid permanent damage to the motor but it did require a full rebuild. Eric Dorn of EDR completed the rebuild and delivered the bike back to me in December. While he is a fantastic engine builder, the only way to be certain that a bike is put together right is to test.

Friday


Practice on Friday went well enough, which means it did not go as well as I had liked but went well enough to race on Saturday. There was a hesitation at 11,500 RPM that was offputting and hurt my drive out of corners. After speaking with Eric (one of the things I truly enjoy about Eric is being able to reach him at nearly any time and get an answer back) he told me the bike is setup for a powerband starting at 12,000 and that while the hesitation didn’t show up on the dyno, I needed to adjust my riding and/or gearing to stay above 12,000.

The change in the rev range helped but the bike still seemed to lag a bit and despite my best efforts, I was not able to match my lap times from the previous year. Perhaps the temperatures at the track (being in the 50Fs instead of over 100F) were causing the difference in my pace. Perhaps it is the bike. Perhaps it is a track day and not a race.

Saturday


Saturday opened with 2 practice sessions and a qualifying session. The qualifying session would determine my grid positions for the entire weekend. While I felt great on the bike, I was not able to improve on my lap times from Friday. Weather, Bike or still not Racing?

All three of my races on Saturday showed no improvement to my lap times. However, my bike continued to feel “off” with the quick-shifter failing 2/5ths of the time and an occasional hesitation appearing at 12,500 RPMs. I had a few good races but I would not say I was in my rhythm and there were no podiums to be had.

Sunday


The problems escalated on Sunday morning. While doing the second practice session, the bike went into its safety mode (also known as limp mode) and the failure warning light illuminated on the dash. Fearing that the engine failed I immediately shut the bike down and coasted back into the pits to try and determine the issue.

Investigating the issue, the error code reported an open circuit on a secondary injector. Either the injector failed, the alterations to the wiring harness were wrong or the ECU failed. I had about two hours to fix the problem or race my backup bike.

I made the decision to run the backup bike and to switch my tires and bodywork. During this switch, I consulted with Eric and we concluded that the issue was most likely the ECU itself. I decided not to risk it failing in the race and ran with my backup bike.

The challenge at this point was to be competitive on a bike I had not ridden all weekend. To ride a bike with a different power band and different suspension.

My first race went better than I expected and I was able to settle into a decent pace fairly quickly. While I did not place well in the race I used the laps well, re-learning my backup bike and picking up my pace. I set my best lap time of the weekend so far.

My second and third races continued to improve. However, I spent both races fighting to get around a 250 two stroke that frustrated me. They are frustrating as their strengths line up perfectly with the weaknesses in my bike. A constant catching and losing around the track. Two races spent wonder if my primary bike would have made it easier to get past this smoker.

My final race of the day was Formula 40, a race only for racers who are over the age of 40. Fortunately, the rider of the smoker was not over 40 so my primary battle was with a new model FZ–07. A battle of torque vs top end.

Two laps into the race I knew I had the pace on him but needed an opportunity. I held onto his rear tire looking for that opportunity. Halfway through the third lap, he missed a shift going onto the back straight and I was able to pull alongside him. I had the inside line approaching “crash corner” and simply needed to wait him out. If he broke first I had the line.

He held off for a bit but finally gave it up and hit the brakes. I waited for another 10th of a second just to cement my line. As soon as I got past crash corner I dialed up the pace to try and break away from him and secure third place in the race.

For three more laps, I poured on as much as possible. I had to assume he was right on my tail the entire race since I didn’t have anyone flagging for me.

I crossed the finish line in third place, 0.02 seconds ahead of the FZ–07.

January WERA @ Auto Club Speedway


After the issues, I had at Chuckwalla I sent the ECU back to EDR to have it tested. His tests showed that the ECU was working fine. He sent it back to me and I reinstalled it but brought a spare ECU and spare injectors with me to Fontana.

Fontana was WERA’s opening round for 2016 and was a single day event. I had two goals for this event:

  • Gain points to defend my 2015 D Superbike WERA West Championship
  • Confirm that my bike was functioning properly

My working theory was that an injector had failed at Chuckwalla.

I replaced the injectors and kept the ECU in place.

Since this was a one-day event I only had practice sessions in the morning and then racing in the afternoon. All through practice, the bike was running well enough. She still had the hesitation but there were no error codes and I was able to get within a couple of seconds of my personal best. Time to see what I can do in a race.

The first race of the day was the race I cared about the most, D Superbike. I was gridded on pole position and had a 450 Supermoto next to me. Knowing how well those bikes launch I expected to be in second place going into the first corner and to attack him on the straights. Supermoto bikes rarely have as much top end speed as my bike does.

Green flag drops and off we go. The supermoto leaped ahead and to my surprise a KTM 390 also got ahead of me on the launch. Into the first corner, I was third. Normally I do not attack the first lap unless someone makes a mistake. Far too many crashes happen on the first lap by people being over eager. Best to keep them in sight, stay close, let the race settle then go after openings.

At the end of the first lap is the banked front straight up on the Nascar track. As I hit the embankment and the bike stalled. I look down and see the engine error light on again. I have no choice but to kill the engine and coast down off the embankment.

This time, the error reports an open circuit on the primary injector. A completely separate error from what happened at Chuckwalla and I earned a DNF for my efforts.

Moving forward


My primary bike now needs to go back to EDR so that we can solve this issue once and for all. My next opportunity to test the bike is at the end of February; at a track day. The next real test is at the end of March at AFM Round 1.

Sponsors


Nearly all of the sponsors I raced with in 2015 have come forward with me to 2016. As I have said many times before, I trust my life to these sponsors every time I go out on the track. They are that good.

If you are looking for race parts, an engine builder or someone to set up your suspension, please go to the sponsor page on this site and take a look. They will give you fantastic products and services.

A new sponsor is joining me this year. I am very happy to add Zero Gravity to my sponsor list. I have been running their windshields for years and they simply cannot be beaten for fitment, clarity, and consistency. Replacing the OEM windshield with a Zero Gravity windshield is one of the first things I do to a bike to make it race ready.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2015 WERA @ LVMS

In February, 2012 I attended my first on track motorcycle school. I attended Keith Code’s Superbike School, levels one and two. Why is that important? Because that was the last time I was on track at Las Vegas Motorsports Park. Until this past weekend.

I didn’t remember very much of the track. I remembered that it was flat, fairly slow and that there were not any amenities for trailers, etc.

And I remembered that it was hot; even in February.

Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 WERA at Miller

One of my major goals for 2015 was to get more track experience on as many tracks as possible. While going to track days on various tracks is fun, racing on those tracks is far better experience and a fire hose of knowledge compared to a track day by itself. Therefore, I signed up with a few different clubs in the western United States.

Arguably the biggest short circuit club in the United States is WERA and they were a no brainer to sign up with. WERA races as dozens of tracks around the United States and has both regional races as well as national races. As luck would have it, my schedule this year allowed for me to attend three rounds of WERA. The first round was a national round at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015 Round 5 at OMRRA

Portland International Raceway

When I started the 2015 Racing season, I decided I wanted to expand my experience by racing at other tracks beyond the three that AFM normally uses. Racing at other tracks means racing with other clubs. So far this year, I have had the pleasure of racing with:
  • AFM
  • WERA
  • CVMA
  • OMRRA
This has allowed me, so far, to race at the following tracks this year:
  • Chuckwalla
  • Miller Motorsports Park
  • Sonoma Raceway
  • Thunderhill
  • Buttonwillow
  • Portland International Raceway

Friday, July 24, 2015

Preparing for WERA

This weekend is my first round with WERA.  This is also my first time racing my 450 Triple at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.  Miller is an interesting challenge as the front straight is 3500 feet long which is easily the longest front straight of any track that I have ridden on.

To prepare for this weekend I scheduled two days of training with Rickdiculous Racing. Those two days were an eye opening experience and I highly recommend them to anyone who is interested in going faster while being safer.  I would say that I was doing less lean angle while going faster by the end of those two days.

Today is now Friday, normally a practice track day for me before a race weekend but I decided to take today off to make sure the bike was fully prepped and that I was as relaxed as possible for the weekend.  All of my gear is ready, the bike has been through tech and I am ready to go.

Should be exciting weekend and I will post the results as soon as I can!