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


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