Tuesday, August 12, 2014

AFM 2014 Round 5 Race Report

The 5th Round of AFM was again held at Thunderhill parkway in Willows, CA. Many AFM racers

moan about having three rounds in a row at the same track but it has been great for me.

Since I am focusing on getting up to speed on my ZX–10R, having the track be the same round to round has reduced the number of variables that I am dealing with.

Between Round 4 and Round 5 I got to spend two scorching days at Thunderhill during a Keigwin’s Track event to practice on my lap times. I spent those days working my lines and working the 450 out of my head. The improvements have been extremely pleasing to me.


Friday Practice

As with most AFM weekends, the Friday before is a track day put on by one of the local providers. This round the Friday track day was put on by one of my sponsors, Pacific Track Time. PTT always puts on a great day but they went above and beyond for this Friday.

Since Thunderhill can now be configured as two tracks, they split the track with a simple rule:

Thunderhill East (aka old track) was devoted to racers. Two groups (instead of three) with 30 minute sessions. Both groups were for racers with the A/B split being based on lap time. If you were moving under 2:00 then you belong in A; otherwise go to B.

Thunderhill West (aka new track) was devoted to non-racers. Specifically it was requested that no-one with an AFM license sign up for Thunderhill West.

The theory was that all non-racers would go to Thunderhill West and Thunderhill East would be only AFM racers practicing for the weekend.

While great in theory, it had a few bumps. Apparently some people didn’t get the memo, email or Facebook post and signed up for Thunderhill East B group and expected a normal track day.

I kind of felt bad for them; kind of.

They ended up being good passing practice.

The day went great for my entire racing group. We worked on lines, worked on our pace and no one had an issue. We only had to battle some heat and humidity. By the end of the day I was shocked to learn that I had consumed 9 liters of water through the day. I don’t remember peeing more than once…

I worked through the morning on lap times, trying to get below my best time from my last race weekend. At lunch I was able to touch my previous personal best and was feeling positive. If I can touch that on a track day I should be good for at least another second during a race.

After lunch I had a moment of clarity while on the track. While heading towards T10 I watched another rider go through before me. I was about half way between T9 and T10 so had a perfect view of the corner. I finally saw the corner. I mean really saw it. It clicked in my head that I was approaching it wrong and immediately started carrying more speed through the corner.

That revelation followed me through the rest of they day as I applied what I learned from T10 to many other corners around the track. My lap times started dropping. I got an unofficial (aka on my personal GPS lap timer) lap time 2 seconds better than my previous race best.

What did I discover?

The corner is your line, not the curb.

Some will read this and think “of course”! Had someone walked up to me a month ago and said that, I would have reacted the same way.

The difference is that I went from knowing that to grokking that.

The difference is incredible.

The difference is moving from “trusting” your bike by going into a corner hot to knowing the corner is faster than you have been taking it.

I finished Friday practice with a smile knowing this was going to be a fun weekend.

Saturday Practice

For Saturday practice I decided to bump up a group. I was previously in group 2 and I bumped to group 3. Why? Because being the fastest person in your group doesn’t teach you very much. Being the slowest (or nearly the slowest) in your group will teach you a ton.

It isn’t too useful when everyone is just flying by you but when you are practicing with people that are a little faster than you the opportunities are there. You can watch where they brake, where they turn in, you can follow them into corners, feel the speed and learn.

I spent the morning learning. I watched, I followed, I imitated.

I am too far off the pace for my races to be able to do this during a race right now so practice is my best opportunity to learn.

By the end of practice I was ready to meet my goal for the weekend; shave another second from my official lap time.

Formula 40 Heavy

Being one of the lucky experts that is over 40, I get one race on Saturday afternoon.

I launched in this race better than last round. No wheelie and a strong pull all the way to the first corner. Once I got to T2 I settled into the program and focused on entry, exit, lines. Go faster.

A race against the clock.

A race against the slower me.

It is amazing how time slows down when you are on the track. It slows down even more when you are racing. I now find it quite comfortable to glance down at my lap timer as I am finishing T1. There is just so much time between when you pitch in from the right hand side of the track until you apex and then hit your exit point that it is silly not to.

During each lap I would glance down at specific points to see what my lap time was. It lets me know how things are going, whether I am off pace or on pace. It lets me push myself.

First lap was a 2:09 off a standing start. Better than ever before.

Last lap was a 2:06. Better than I have every done before in a recorded event.

I exceeded my goal for the weekend and it is only Saturday!

Open Production

First race of the day on Sunday was Open Production. My favorite race of the weekend.

The grid is getting smaller and smaller as we approach the end of the season. Some people have decided not to run production any more. Some people are still putting their bikes back together.

Even with a shrinking grid (it will fill out again at the start of next year I am certain) it is still a fantastic race.

In addition to being followed by a wave of Open Production novices, the Open Twin classes were behind us. Lots of people to get a quick tow from during the race. Maybe even some people to race against.

While I did not get anyone to race against, I did get a few tows and continued to push myself through the race. Using the adrenaline of racing to up my pace.

Daring myself to go faster.

Daring myself to hold that throttle at wide open just a little longer.

By the end of the race my son, who was flagging for me on the wall, noticed that I was coming out of T15 on one wheel. Yee ha!

All I noticed was my lap times dropping:
  • 2:11 (standing start, bad start)
  • 2:07 (there we go, met my Personal Best)
  • 2:06 (ding, goal for the weekend met again)
  • 2:06 (hey I like this)
  • 2:05 (oh yeah, there we go, one more lap)
  • 2:04 Hell Yes!
During my cool down lap I was screaming in my helmet like I just won the MotoGP.

I crushed my goal. Dropped 3 seconds off my personal best.


2014 AFM 727 R5 Open Production from Marcus Zarra on Vimeo.


When I came in from this race one of my pit mates commented on how smooth I was on the track and how easy I made it look. Thinking back, it did feel easier than previous races.

Hmmm…

Open Superbike

I no longer fear being lapped.

I know the best are out there. I know I am now fast enough that lapping is not a concern. If they lap me now they damn well earned it.

This race was to cement the lap times into my head. Get out there and do them again.

My initial lap was still a 2:11 and in reflection that is something I will need to focus on soon. However, I immediately dropped to a 2:06 and stayed between 2:06 and 2:05 for the rest of the race.

I spent the race working on smoothness. Making what I am focusing on into muscle memory so that I can push the envelope next time.

Open GP

Last race of the day for me and a long gap between Open Superbike and Open GP. Normally this is my second favorite race of the day but heading out to the track I was tired. The day was wearing on me and I could feel it even in my warm up lap.

After a delayed start due to bike clean up, I hit the grid and focused on making the best of the lap.

I got a great start. I was on the tail of the group heading into T3. Closing on a few people into T5. This is going to be interesting…

As I hit the brakes for T5 I huge amount of sweat dropped from my forehead into my eyes. I have already learned how to keep my eyes open while burning but I just couldn’t see.

I went through T5 by feel. I felt the seam in the pavement. I had a blurry view of the turn worker station, I turned.

I made it down the corner and my vision started to clear. If anyone was watching me from the wall they probably were wondering what was going on.

After my vision cleared I worked on picking up the pace. Forcing myself to go even though I was spent. I knew this was not a race about time, this was a race of persistence.

I finished the race. I felt slow. I knew I was slow.

I finished the race with a 2:06 and averaged around a 2:08.

Yes I was slow but that felt slow. Not too long ago 2:10 felt like I was screaming.

My mental pace is increasing…

Standings

At the end of Round 5, my standings are as follows:
  • Open Production: 5th place
  • Formula 40 Heavy: 11th place
  • 450 Superbike: 11th place
  • Open GP: 13th place
  • Open Superbike: 31st place

Changes

During my races this weekend I noticed I was braking harder than before. I a few times I lifted the rear wheel heading into certain corners (most notably T10). After Saturday when I switched from slicks back to DOT tires I marked the sidewalls of my tires and my rims. A simple line to see if they line up at the end of the day.

At the end of Sunday I expected the rear to turn on the rim. It happens on bigger bikes.

What surprised me was to see the front tire had rotated nearly an inch on the rim. Definitely braking harder.

During the hard braking I noticed a low speed vibration in the handlebars. Only at high speed and only at the beginning of each braking zone.

I consulted Dave Moss of Feel The Track and suspected that I needed to refresh the oil in my forks. While he agreed that I need an oil refresh, he suspects that I was deforming the tire. His prescription was to go through a tire pressure exercise at my next track day and see if I can increase the tire pressure and get rid of the vibration.

An exercise I will be performing at the next Pacific Track Time event and one I will be reporting on here.

Wrap Up

I have two more track days before the next round. Those track days will be spent at Thunderhill to further improve upon my pace and race craft. I am looking forward to spending the weekend with Pacific Track Time and learning from Tim Scarrott as he runs us through the Rider Racer Development Program.

Round 6 will be at Sonoma. My favorite track when I was riding my GSXR 450. I look forward to seeing how well the ZX–10R performs on this tight and technical track.

My heart felt thanks to my sponsors as always:
  • MartianCraft The best mobile application development shop to be found.
  • Feel The Track The only suspension expert I will trust with my motorcycles
  • Pacific Track Time Fantastic track provider that will make you feel right at home whether it is your first track day or your 1000th.