Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sonoma: May 28, 2013

Another single track day, but with Sonoma you take what you can get.

Turn 11, Sonoma Raceway
Copyright 2013
I arrived at the track early as I knew that I needed new tires, front and rear. The track was wet. Not moist, not foggy, but wet. Fortunately I knew the forecast for the day and was confident that it would dry out quickly. I got the bike off the trailer and up on her stands and removed the wheels before anyone else showed up at the track. Seems I got lucky and missed most of the traffic as even the track provider, Zoom Zoom, was running late that morning.

When Chris of CTRacing saw my front tire and learned that I had 8 track days on it, he recommended that I drop to the sticker SC1 front tire while keeping the harder SC2 rear. Considering I went through two rear tires and my front tire still looked very good it was a good choice and I was looking forward to playing with the super sticky tire.

The turnout for the track day was surprising low. Maybe because it was the day after a 3 day weekend, maybe because everyone woke up to a cloudy and wet morning, maybe both. I believe there were around 50 riders the entire day and very few people in my group.

The beginning of the day started different than any other track day I have been at before. Because the track was wet, Z2 asked if any of the A riders were planning on going out in the first session. Since all of the A riders (three of us?) were interested in going out they made a change. First session of the day we took our tow vehicles (in my case my Jeep) out onto the track for the first 20 minutes with the express goal of helping to dry everything out as well as get a look at the conditions. Afterwards, the A riders would ride the first session with the B riders so that we would still get our first session which is historically the warm-up session.

Taking the Jeep out onto the track was an interesting experience. I got to see the track from another perspective and got to experience how much energy it takes to get around the track. Energy in terms of horsepower and torque. For example, I could really feel the effort it took for my Jeep to go up from T1 to T2 and how T6 felt. Plus it was fun playing in the puddles :)

Once I was done with the Jeep I went out on my track bike and started warming up. I had the tires nice and warm from the warmers but I knew from experience that Sonoma was going to suck that heat right back out again.

I took it easy on the first session, warming up the body and the suspension, gradually going faster each lap as we warmed up. In addition to warming up I was sharing the track with the B group which means that their passing rules were in effect (6 foot bubble around each bike) and B group has the largest delta in skill sets. Plenty of reasons to be taking it easy. Even still the track was damp enough that my rear was getting moody as I went around the track. Nevertheless, a good first session and no one went down.

As the morning progressed I focused on the skills that Dave and I discussed the week before. Consistent, short and aggressive braking. Unlike Thunderhill which is a very flowing track, Sonoma is far more "point to point" so there is a lot more aggressive braking zones and less "flowing" corners.

By the end of the morning sessions I was pleased to see that my lap times started to drop. Even though I was not focusing on going faster the improvements to my braking were causing them to drop. By lunch I had reached my goal, I broke 2:00 at Sonoma!

Now I have proven that I can break 2:00, next goal was to be consistently below 2:00. Having one fast lap is great for getting pole position in MotoGP, but I need to consistently be below 2:00 if I ever hope to be competitive in AFM.
After lunch the schedule changed. Due to the low turn out Z2 decided to change the groups. A/B at the top of the hour and C at half past. 30 minute sessions but riding with B group passing rules. This increased the difficulty of getting consistent sub 2:00 lap times. Getting fast laps with no one on the track is definitely easier than trying to go fast and navigate through traffic at the same time. Game on!
First session out after lunch and my GPS decided to misbehave, refusing to turn on. Without the GPS I can't gauge lap times. So I toss the GPS on the charger and head out without it. Since I am running a video camera also I can get approximate lap times later. I go out and continue to focus on braking skills. I completed the full 30 minutes but I was sore! 30 minutes is a long time in the shape I am in!
Between sessions I got the GPS back on line and went out in the next session with lap times on my mind. I also wanted to work on smoothing out my riding so that I could expend less energy each session and be less sore at the end of the session. The results were pleasing:
The rest of the day went smoothly. Very few crashes on the track, no serious injuries and everyone had a great time. My only remaining issue was my front tire. After the 6th session of the day I noticed a strange wear pattern on the tire and took it over to Chris to get his opinion. He called it cold tearing and suggested that I increase the pressure in the tire a bit to get it to perform better. Adding another pound I went out for the last session.
While the tire performed fantastic, the tearing was much worse after the last session. Bad enough to be concerned about.
Since it was the end of the day and I knew I would be seeing Dave Moss at the next track day I didn't worry about it. Worst case I am out a tire.
This Tuesday was easily the best day I have had at Sonoma, weather was fantastic, the traffic was light and my skills are improving. I look forward to where I am going to be at the end of this season. I am definitely on target for racing in 2014. Big question now is what class do I race in? I am torn between the 450 class and the 650 twins. Both are very appealing.

Breaking my 2:00 barrier


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sonoma May 20, 2013

After my last two trips to the track, I can say that I was looking forward to this trip to Sonoma. The rear axle has been rebuilt. A new chain and sprockets has been installed.

With the rear end effectively new, she is ready for a good track day.

Arrival at the track, tech and sign up went smoothly. Keigwin's surprised me by allowing garage rental so I was able to get a garage instead of being squeezed out of my original pit space. I am always amazed that people would rather squeeze into your space then move 50 feet farther away from the track entrance.

Setting up inside of the garage was quite a treat. The garage stayed significantly cooler than the asphalt outside and having power was a lot nicer than needing to start up the generator each time I came back in from the track. I will definitely be looking for garage rentals in the future. It was a nice bit of comfort added to the experience.

The day was warm and the track looked to be in excellent condition. Fortunately I am familiar with Sonoma and know that she is deceiving in the morning and will bite you in the ass if you do not respect her. This was confirmed as I saw no less than two yellow flags on my out lap and during my first session of the day. She was biting hard.

On my last trip to Sonoma I was running fairly consistent 2:04 lap times so I signed up for B+ as I was slower than the recommended cut off for A group. I started off the day peeling off 2:08 laps as I started to warm up, both the bike and my head. The goal for the morning was to get the bike dialed in for Sonoma and to get my references set up in preparation for my afternoon with Dave Moss.

The morning proceeded smoothly for me and I was soon turning consistent laps with a few dips close to 2:00 when I could get a clear lap away from traffic. Unfortunately B+ was extremely busy and it was hard to get a clean lap. On the advice of Dave Moss I gave A group a try. First session goal was to make sure I could hold my own end was not creating a dangerous situation. Since I found myself pretty much in the middle of the pack I decided to stay for the rest of the day. A group was far less busy than B+ which is good news for coaching in the afternoon.

Unfortunately the day did not go as smoothly for other people. By lunch there were at least two red flags including ambulance runs which threw everything off schedule. Once the post lunch red flag got sorted, Dave and I went out for our first session. As last time at Thunderhill, I was nervous knowing that I was being watched and tried to focus on keeping my lines consistent. After four laps Dave passed me and started to show me some corrections to my lines. Unfortunately we were running short sessions due to the red flags and we did not get very long for him to correct me.

Copyright 2013

Being that I did not have very much seat time at Sonoma I expected my lines to be a complete wreck. Therefore I was surprised when that was not the case.

There was absolutely room for improvement! However, most of my lines were good or at least good enough.

Dave walked through the session with me using the video that he recorded during the session. He pointed out both my strengths and my weaknesses, asking questions and offering suggestions on how to improve my performance on the track. After our debriefing I was looking forward to getting back out there and implementing his suggestions.

Unfortunately, between our sessions someone had a serious get off which required not only a red flag but a helicopter. Hopefully the rider is ok but it caused a significant delay and caused everyone to lose a session.

By the time Dave and I were able to get back onto the track some of his suggestions were starting to fade and I found myself with my attention split between watching him (he lead in this second session) and trying to remember what we talked about an hour+ beforehand. During the entire last session I felt "rough" and really wished I could have gotten another session in with him.

According to Dave though I was picking up the changes in some areas and he offered additional suggestions for my next trip to Sonoma. Specifically some braking drills to improve my depth perception and then some corner specific drills once my braking is stronger.

Overall it was an excellent day at the track. However it also reminded me of why I prefer two day track events to single day. When the track is vicious one day you have the other day to help balance things out. When you are on a single day event it really throws off the entire experience.

Brushing up against 2:00 at Sonoma Raceway

Fortunately I will be back at Sonoma next week for another one day event with Zoom Zoom. WIth the videos from this week in hand I should be able to break 2:00,

Interesting Lesson Learned

As I was packing up for the day and putting my bike on the trailer, I noticed a new wear pattern on my back tire.

Wear through the carcass of the tire

I drove over to Dave's trailer to ask what it meant as I had not seen it before.

Those indentations are wear through the outer carcass of the tire. This means, not only is the tire done, but that it was done a few laps ago at least :)

So new wear pattern for me to watch out for. I only had 3.5 days on that tire and I got 5ish days out of the last one. Faster tire wear is a good sign :)