Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sonoma, March 29-30, 2013

What an exhausting weekend at Sonoma Raceway!

First, on Saturday during the very first session I heard a clicking sound coming from the rear of my bike.  I came off the track and checked everything but could not spot anything wrong.  Went back onto the track and was immediately black flagged (which means exit the track immediately, at speed, and return to the pits).  The grid marshall informed me that there was a VERY loud clicking sound from the rear of my bike and that I needed to investigate it.

Going through Turn 2 on Saturday; focusing on hitting my apex
I returned to my pit and could not find where it was coming from. I decided to pull the rear tire and check that I had re-assembled it correctly.  Axle nut came off easily but the axle refused to budge.  It felt completey siezed in the axle, not good.  Since I could not get it off and I was lacking the tools, I took the bike over to Chris of CT Racing.  Chris put the bike up on stands and started banging on the axle with a sledge hammer.

Chris gets the axle out and finds the problem, I had forgotten to install all of the washers in the rim (missed one) and had pinched the swing-arm causing the bearings of the rear axle to sieze. At this point I figured my weekend was done.  Fortunately Jose was working with Chris on Saturday and started making calls.  He found some in stock -- in San Francisco.

Lyndia and I load up the Jeep and headed to San Francisco.  The goal at this point was to get the bike repaired so that I could get back on the track Sunday.  We leave at 10:30, make it to San Francisco and back in 90 minutes.  Had the bike put back together before the afternoon sessions started.  Only lost the morning sessions, not a total loss.

First afternoon session we got a sprinkling of rain and it seemed like half the field crashed in front of me.  10 minutes into the session and we got standing black and yellow flags.  Translation, slow down and get off the track.  Session complete.

The final three sessions ran quite smoothly and I started turning fairly consistent 2:03 laps which made me question the GPS since I was not trying to go fast, I was working on other skills all day.  I went fast by accident!

Sunday morning started with a completely wet track (two corners were completely under water!). I was running slicks, a deadly combination. While walking my bike over for tech inspection I hear a squeek coming from my rear axle, more issues.  After tech I took her back over to Chris to see what is going on.  Jose determined it was a problem with the rear brake caliper and gets it temporarily fixed.  After that I pull the tires off and picked up a set of competition rain tires and have Chris install them on the rims.  Time to play in the wet!

Meanwhile, the other riders on the track have a fairly significant crash in turn 3 and drop oil on the track.  Dropping oil is the worst thing that can happen and the track is shut down. By the time they get the track cleaned up the rain has stopped and most of the track is now dry. This is bad for me because the wet tires only work in the wet. If you run them on a dry track they will melt; fast.

I decided to go out anyway and hoped there was enough water to keep them cool. I literally was running around the track looking for puddles to hit. Got over my fear of racing in the wet, got to play in the wet and had some fun.  Session ended fairly quickly as they were trying to get everyone back on schedule.  Meanwhile the track continued to dry out and the people running wet race tires were actually helping push the water off the track (part of the effect of the wet tires, they push a LOT of water).

Rain going down the front straight. Worried about breaking for turn 1
Next session the track was nearly dry with the exception of one corner. I went out again on the wet tires just to see what would happen, first hand experience is always better than potential myths.  I did not push the pace too hard, and at the end of the session I checked the tires. I can confirm first hand that wet tires wear out FAST on a dry track.  I did not destroy them but I could see the damage it was doing.  Time to go back to my racing slicks.

I skipped the next session while I waited in a long line of racers switching back to slicks. Finally got the tires back and broke my torque wrench installing them, yay. As I finished installing the slicks the rain came again. Definitely not my day! The track provider had been running sessions through lunch with the expectation that there would be some rain and called a late lunch as soon as the rain showed up. The hope was that the rain would stop before the end of the lunch hour and we could go back out in the dry.

Fortunately the rain was light and the track was dry-ish by the time we could go back out. Got another session in after lunch to play "dodge the puddles" on my slicks.  Spent the session still focusing on skills and not focusing on going fast (did not even take my lap timer out). Got most of the session wrapped up before the rain showed up again. At that point I decided to call it a day.  To much risk on slicks for very little gain and I was starting to get skiddish about being out there.

Overall I learned a lot this weekend.

* I made a costly mistake in reassembling my rear tire, a mistake I wont make again.  I still don't know the full extent of the damage as the calipar/wheel squeek has not been completely solved.

* I have a lot more confidence in my bike and my skills in wet weather. This will help both on the track and on the road going forward.

* I now know what rain race tires feel like and I now own a set. One set should last me a few years.

* I have decided to pick up a second set of rims to mount the wet tires on. This will allow me to switch tires between sessions if I want instead of having to wait in line for the tire guys to switch them back and forth for me.

* I walked (literally) the track on Saturday night with Lyndia and a friend. That was an eye opening experience and someting I need to do more often.  I saw so much more of the track and was able to feel the curbs, the paint, etc. I walked most of the track barefooted so that I could feel how sticky it was (or wasn't). That experience resulted in an immediate confidence gain in the track itself. After walking the track I was able to pass people in areas that I previously considered to short or tight; I knew I had room. It made a huge difference and it is something I will be repeating at every other track I can.

I now have three weeks before my next track day.  I need to disassemble the bike, find the squeek and order parts.