Monday, March 31, 2014

AFM 2014 Round 1 Race Report

AFM 2014 Round 1 Race Report

Round one at Buttonwillow Raceway promised to be an exciting challenge for me long before I even showed up at the race track.

Challenge One

To start off with, Round 1 was scheduled for March 22 and March 23 of this year. Immediately after I saw the announcement from AFM, NSConference announced their dates: March 17th through March 19th. For those of you who do not know me, I do not miss NSConference, ever. Whether I am speaking or not, I am at NSConference. This year I was a speaker. I decided to make this work. This involved flying to England on Saturday, March 15th, speaking at the conference on March 18th, flying home on March 19th, driving to Buttonwillow on March 20th to practice on the 21st and race on the 22nd. On paper that sounds fine right?

Jet leg is an evil demon. I knew it was going to be a factor this round but I simply had no time for it. Therefore, for the entire trip I forced myself onto the “local” schedule. Waking up at 6:00 am no matter what timezone I was in and refusing to take a nap, go to sleep early, etc. I had to make it work.



Challenge Two

In addition to my time pressures, I had another exciting challenge coming to this track. Prior to this race weekend, I have logged exactly four days on this track; ever. Therefore, Friday practice had a double importance for me; get the bike dialed in and get more seat time at this track.

Friday practice started off quite smooth. I mounted a fresh Bridgestone R10 hard compound rear tire that was provided by Jeff at Viet’s Performance. I am extremely fortunate that Chris from CT Racing and Pirelli Tires was at the track on Friday to mount the rear. Otherwise I would have been stuck waiting on the other track vendors. Chris is always there to support the riders.

With Dave Moss of FeelTheTrack on hand I was able to get the bike dialed in for this track. Which was fortunate because I ran into a new problem that I had never faced before. When I came in off the track the back tire was well over it’s operating temperature. With a partial cool down lap and waiting for Dave to help another rider, the tire was still reading in the high 190F range! Way too hot and probably explains why my last tire only lasted me three days.

Dave Moss was able to sort out the problem (an issue in the front end) and got the temperature back down into the 170–180 range where it belongs.

By the end of the day we had the bike dialed in and my lap times were dropping to below what I was running on my 1000cc test bike last year. That is an indication that the bike is right and time for the rider to get faster. With the help of Dave Wallis, we walked the track Friday night and explored some alternate lines. Not necessarily “small bike” lines but a different approach to this track. Something new for me to practice Saturday morning.

With that Friday practice wrapped up and I was ready for Saturday which is the first official AFM day.

Saturday Practice

Saturday with AFM always starts with a riders meeting and then practice. In AFM, there are five practice groups with the fastest riders on the fastest bikes being in Group 5 and the slowest and/or newest being in Group 1. I was assigned to Group 2 which is appropriate for the bike that I race. The really fast 250s are in that group and some of the slower 600s as well.

Each practice session runs for about 20 minutes and all five are rotated through 2–3 times before lunch, then one more rotation after lunch before the Saturday afternoon races start.

Before the practices I started with stretching. No matter your age or fitness level, stretching before a physical event is vital. It warms you up and helps to protect you from muscle fatigue and injury. Suzanne Morrissey from Trackside Massage agreed to join the 450 club for this first round (normally she is a vendor at AFM but I was able to secure her massage services exclusively for the team) and helped me with stretching. Unfortunately, towards the end of my stretching routine, after I put my leathers and boots on, I pulled my left ankle. Something that is common for me since I broke that leg but still quite painful. Another bit of noise to add to the weekend :)

My practices went well with some additional minor tweaks to the bike settings looking for that elusive “perfect” feel. By the afternoon I was feeling good about the bike, the track and the race that was coming up.

Formula 40 Light

While saturday races start with Clubman (races for Novices to participate in to prove their lap times, etc.), there are a set of races that non-novice races can participate in as well. The one that I qualify for is called Formula 40 Light. The only qualification for Formula 40 (F40) is that you be over 40 years of age at some point in the season. The race is further broken down into bike sizes with my bike qualifying for the light category. The biggest challenge is that I am not riding the biggest bike that qualifies for this category. The 650 twins also qualify and while they are comparable on paper to my 450, in practice that comparison tends to come up short.

Despite doing a massive wheelie on launch I got a decent start to the race and was quickly up to pace. My wheelie launch gave me a chance to go through the first two corners faster that those in front of me as they were battling with each other while taking the corners. That allowed me to pick off a few passes fairly quickly and start going after the 650s in front of me. By the end of the race I finished mid pack with only one 450 ahead of me in the roster. That made for a very pleasurable race.

Sunday

Sunday morning started off with a single practice session which I tend to use to double check reference markers and warm up my brain for the day. I never go fast in this practice and don’t even take a lap timer out onto the track. It is not about speed but about waking up and getting everything into race mode.

Stretching and getting into my leathers was a challenge on Sunday as the ankle that I injured the day before decided to act up by swelling just enough that it was impossible to get my normal boots on. Even with Suzanne working on getting the swelling down the boot was not going on. I bring a backup set of boots to the track for just this situation and was able to get them on for practice. My backup boots (Dainese Torque RS Out Air) don’t have as good of a tactile feel as my primary boots (Alpinestars Supertech R) but are still excellent boots. Just means I need to devote a little more attention to locking my foot and leg into place than normal.

With the Round 1 schedule the way it was I got 15 minutes in the morning on a very cold track (below 60F) and then my first race wouldn’t be until about 3:00 pm. However I did get to see some excellent races and share in other people’s joy at competing and winning.

I also took this opportunity to get my boots off and get some ice on the leg to try and reduce swelling before the afternoon races although I continued to run my back up boots for the rest of the day.

Formula 4

Formula 4 is a category that I race in for experience (aka seat time). It is a grab bag of bikes and as far as horsepower goes I am on the lower end. But since all of the 450s qualify for it, it is a good chance for the whole team to go out and race against each other. We almost don’t care who comes in first in the race but rather who comes in first of the 450s.

As you can see by the race results, I did not fair as well in this race as I had in others. Everyone else stepped up the pace (as is common from Saturday to Sunday) but I did not. By the end of the race I knew that the jet lag had finally caught up with me and I was dragging badly.

However, finishing is winning and I was able to finish the race and come in with a respectable lap time.

450 Superbike

This is the race we have been waiting for all off season. This is the important one to us. 450 vs 450. Horsepower doesn’t count for much when the delta is maybe 5 horsepower across the entire grid. It is all about the rider. I left the line strong with only a small wheelie and didn’t let off the power until Turn 1. I started last on the grid and was able to pick off a rider immediately. From there I started to reel in the next rider and knew I had the pace on him so I started watching for passing opportunities. Sadly about half way through the race I lost focus and lost pace. I was able to regain my focus in the last lap but by then it was too late and finished towards the rear of the pack.

When we race there are typically 3–4 races going on at the same time. Race direction generally separates them by 5–10 seconds so that there is a gap between the waves and lets the club maximize the track time. From the perspective of a spectator it can be confusing as hell. From a racer’s perspective it is simple:
  1. catch the guy in front of you
  2. pass him
  3. go to 1
When I am racing, I don't care if the guy in front of me is in my race or not.  The goal is still the same.

I mention this because towards the end of the race a couple of the guys from the next wave caught me. Three really fast guys on 250s. I ended up having a fun battle with them in the last lap when I got my focus back. I don’t think they were too happy with me getting passed and then passing them back but hey; that’s racing :)

Wrap up

This was a great first round and I had a tremendous amount of fun. A lot of lessons were learned and I am enjoying Buttonwillow more each time I go out there. I find it to be the most challenging track on our circuit but that may be due to my lack of familiarity with it. Time will tell.

I want to thank my sponsors:
and the AFM for a fantastic Round 1. I went home exhausted, in pain and planning the next round.

See everyone at Sonoma Raceway!