Thursday, July 24, 2014

AFM 2014 Round 4 Race Report

This was an interesting round for me. This was my third round without my 450. At this point, I am not in a position to threaten the points leaders even if I got the bike back and took first in the final three rounds. Therefore, I decided to dedicate my track and racing time to my ZX–10R.

Originally, I kept this bike as a track bike. Something to learn the “feeling” of speed so that I could translate that feeling and perception to my 450 when I raced. When I was unable to ride my 450 at Round 3 I elected to run the ZX–10R. Better to race something than nothing I told myself. I had a blast.

Now at Round 4 and my 450 ride still not available, I looked towards my ZX–10R and asked myself. Why didn’t I go faster? I was actually slower on my 190 horsepower machine than I was on my 70 horsepower machine!

First thought was fear. That is an incredible amount of horsepower on a motorcycle. To test that theory, I put her back into low power mode which reduced her to about 60% of her potential output. In theory, it makes her feel like a 600. In reality it makes her more tame but still way more than a 600. Nevertheless, I spent the two days at Thunderhill in June playing with the new 5 mile course with her in low power mode.

I felt more comfortable! While I could not do direct lap time comparisons, I felt faster. My lap times for the 5 mile course slowly dropped through the weekend. I thought to myself; if I can race faster in low power mode than in full mode, then I will do just that.

Towards the end of the weekend I was discussing my discomfort on the bike with Dave Moss. I discussed the possibility of her being too tall. She felt taller than my 450 in the saddle and I couldn’t put both feet flat on the ground with her which I can with all of my other bikes. He reminded me that we had raised her 6mm in the rear when we were trying to get as much life out of the rear shock as possible. Did I remove those 6mm of spacers when I installed the Elka rear shock? Hmmm…

After the weekend at the track I took her back to the shop and tore her down. Both for routine maintenance as well as to check on the shock. Once the maintenance was done (change the oil, clean and lube the chain, etc.) I checked the shock. Sure enough, the 6mm of spacers were still on the top of the shock. I removed them, lowered the front by 9mm and resolved to test her balance at the Friday practice before the next round.

Zoom Zoom Friday Practice

I was really looking forward to this practice day. We arrived Thursday night, got our pit set up for all 12 racers in our group and spent the evening at Casa Ramos which is just about tradition at this point. We slept Thursday night at the track which makes for a perfect Friday morning.

My first session Friday morning began with my normal routine. No pressure, no speed, just run the bike around the track. Get the suspension warmed up. Get the brain into track mode and “speed” mode. Get loose, get comfortable.

Unfortunately, after two laps I knew something was wrong. The ZX–10R felt off. By the third lap, I knew what it was. She was hesitating at around 8,000 RPM. I brought her into the pit and immediately went over to speak to Eric Dorn of EDR Racing. His suspicion was that something went wrong with the map. We then spent a fair amount of time trying to find the software for the Leo Vince Fastbox and get it installed on one of several machines. All with no luck. After missing the second session I decided to take her back out in the third session to see if the warmer air might change the hesitation.

It certainly did. Things got worse, a lot worse. She basically would not go about 10,000 RPM at all. I could sit in second gear, WOT and she would calmly buzz down the straight. I then pulled her in thinking I was going to need to run home (200 miles round trip) to get the software for the map. While sitting there thinking about that I also ran through my head what had changed between my last track day and this day. Finally my slow brain caught up with reality. I had torn her apart to remove the spacers from the shock.

I put her back together wrong.

Having that realization actually made me smile. I just need to tear her apart, find what I missed and set it right. No 200 mile trip in my near future.

As soon as I lifted the gas tank the problem was clear. I had kinked the fuel line. I confirmed my findings with Eric and put her back together.

I then begged Zoom Zoom to let me out with the C group so that I could confirm the fix (otherwise I would be sitting through lunch hoping). With a solemn vow not to buzz anyone else in C group, do only outside passes I went out on course. I only needed two laps. I decided not to do ANY mid-corner passes and just pass on the longer straights. In A group, T2:T3, T4:T5, T5a:T6 are straights. In C group, not so much :)

After my two laps I was happy with how she was running and pitted looking forward to the afternoon.

The rest of the afternoon was spent dialing in the suspension and finding a little bit more speed around the track. My lap times settled down and I found comfort on her back.

Saturday Practice Sessions

I spent the Saturday morning sessions working on lap times. I used every other racer out there for a tow and studied how they attacked the corners. I confirmed what I need to do to go faster. I need more mid-corner speed. In the slow corners I am as fast or faster than those around me. I have confirmed that on track and with data. but in the higher speed corners I am significantly slower. I exit the corners fine but I enter them much much slower. Something for me to work on.

I ended the practice sessions happy with my progress. I am not breaking lap records yet but my lap times are falling.

Saturday Formula 40 Heavy

My races are against the clock. I am not competitive against the other expert racers on this bike. Therefore my goal in each race is to set a personal best. Sometimes that will require experiments that don’t work.

In the F40 race I worked on some lines. Through my Saturday practices I realized I was still running lines like I was on my 450. Lines meant to maintain speed and not shorten the time on the edge of the tire. The wrong kind of lines for a 190 hp machine. By the end of the race I had not improved my lap times but I had drastically improved my lines. I knew what the right lines were and I just need to get them programmed back in.

By the end of the race I felt comfortable with the changes even though I had not improved my times. The good news was that I had consistent lap times. Consistent means when I change something it will have an effect because it will change that consistency.

Hard to measure improvement if you are not consistent.

Sunday Open Superbike

Sunday morning started with Open Superbike. Of all the races, this one is the most challenging.

Not because The grid is huge or because there are so many other riders but because the best are out on grid with me. My goal, other than going faster, is to not be lapped. Last thing I want to be doing is getting tangled up as two of the fastest riders in AFM are using me as a chess piece.

Fortunately that did not happen. It was a great race for everyone and I had some clean fun with a few of the slower novice racers while I worked on beating the clock. I was pleased to see that I set a new personal best on my ZX–10R and even more importantly I knew how I did it.

Through discussions with some other racers I realized that I am shifting a lot. More than I need to be. I had gotten so used to the “10K RPM or you are dead” rule of the 450 that I was trying to keep my RPMs up. My ZX–10R has incredible torque all the way round in the 7500 RPM range and even lower depending on track conditions. Based on that realization I removed a few shift points from the track. I decided to start taking T5 a gear higher than I do on the 450.

Huge impact.

First, I started coming into T5 even hotter. Scary hot. Since I didn’t need to back a gear I had more time to just ride and brake. Big improvement.

Exiting T5 was even smoother. Being in a higher gear, she didn’t want to lift the front wheel anymore (thankfully) and I could apply more power going down the hill. Less to think about so more time to go faster.

End result of the race – I was not lapped and I set a personal best.

Sunday Open Production

Of all the races that I can enter with my ZX–10R this is my personal favorite. I like running on DOT tires. I like the fact that we are all running on basically stock machines. I also like the smaller grids.

The interesting change to this race is that the Open Twin race was going to be in front of me and not behind me. That gives them a 10 second head start on lapping me and if anyone can do it, Steve Metz can.

I got a decent launch from the flag and held onto the tail of the Open Production group for longer than I have in the past. Another sign of improvement.

I worked on a couple of other gearing changes through the race and even though half way through the race I knew they were wrong I kept with them and made sure I had a solid 6 laps of data with the change. When I review the data later, I want each race to test one thing, not each lap.

After four laps of the race as I was approaching T14 I heard the sound of a big twin coming at me. I knew the Open Twin leaders had caught me. I held my line going into T14 and kept my vision open. Sure enough, it was a tight race between Steve Metz and Eric Gulbransen. They passed me cleanly between T14 and T15 and I got a front row seat as they raced to the finish line. A great performance by them and I could not have gotten a better view.

End of the race I was slower than OpenSB, my gearing change was wrong but I was happy. I teased Steve about stealing my final lap (since I caught their checkered flag) and rested in the pit with a smile on my face while I contemplated what to change in the last race.

Sunday Open GP

Next to Open Production, Open GP is my second favorite race. A good sized grid and an interesting mix of bikes. I had a new plan to test, again on gearing, for this race and was looking forward to playing with it.

I got the best launch yet on my ZX–10R. I was solidly with the pack of experts in front of me and kept the front pack in sight for most of the first lap. Even better, there were a few stragglers to the rear that were rip for the passing!

However, my pace was still not quite there and there was no passing to be had. However, I worked on my plan and watched my lap timer to see how I was progressing.

This race was not as smooth as the rest. It was my third race of the day and I was tired. Fatigue had start to set in and I was not consistent around the course. I came close to my personal best but my lap times started swaying by nearly a second.

In the end I finished the race and confirmed that the latest gearing change was a net win. I will need to play with it more next time I am at Thunderhill.


At the end of Round 4, my standings are as follows:

Open Production: 8th place
Formula 40 Heavy: 10th place
450 Superbike: 11th place
Open GP: 15th place
Open Superbike: 30th place

Wrap up

I am a novice expert. This is my sixth race round ever. I became an expert by a catch in the wording of the AFM rulebook.

Having said that, I am having the time of my life.

I don’t see any podiums in my immediate future but I will be battling the clock every time I go around the track. Searching for another second, another tenth, another way to go faster.

I dropped a second this week and was more consistent than last round. I got comfortable running her in full power mode and at WOT going down the straights. This was a fantastic amount of improvement in one weekend.

I look forward to the next round.

Hope to see you all out there.