Sonoma is the most technical and demanding track on the AFM calendar. I have always enjoyed this track as horsepower doesn’t count for very much. There is no real “straight away” at Sonoma. A couple of places where you can grab a gear or two but nothing like the front straight at Thunderhill or Buttonwillow.
Friday PracticeAs is usual for me, I attended the track day on Friday before the weekend. For this round it was put on by Keigwin’s At The Track. Keigwin normally puts on a pretty smooth track day but unfortunately this was not one of them.
Sonoma mornings frequently start off with fog and dampness on the track, Friday was no exception. As soon as the sun burned off the fog and dried up the track the crashes started. Due to riders in the A group being way to aggressive we ended up losing the next three sessions through the day and before we knew it we were down to two sessions left for the day and virtually no practice time. This was going to make the weekend a bit more challenging!
By the end of the day I got two clean sessions in and was able to settle into a comfortable pace to start the weekend. I was also able to confirm that my bike was set up and ready with tires and suspension.
Saturday PracticeSaturday practice went surprisingly smooth. The race director had everything running like clock work and the sessions went so smooth that it seemed like I barely had any time between them. During practice I was able to drop my time by a second from my previous best. Good news as I know that racing will drop it just from the rush of racing.
Formula 40 HeavyIt is always great to end a Saturday afternoon with a race. The Formula 40 Heavy race is a nice warmup for the Sunday races. I ended up placing 6th in the race and it was a great confirmation that the bike is running great and is ready for Sunday.
Open SuperbikeOn my best day Open Superbike is a reality check. At Sonoma it is a real eye opener. I got a good launch and noticed that there was one rider just in front of me. He was a great rabbit for me to try and catch through the race. Unfortunately I was not able to catch him but it was definitely a learning experience. My next race against him was definitely going to be interesting.
Open ProductionAs my favorite race, I was looking forward to Open Production. In addition to the normal competition that I race against, Joy Higa rejoined the grid with us. This turned into a great race as my launch was better than previous races and I was feeling the track, its pulse and rhythm.
I ended up placing 4th in this race, my best place so far in Open Production.
Open GPMy final Open class race of the weekend. When I took my position on the grid I saw my sparing partner from Open Superbike. This is going to be fun.
I got my best launch of the weekend and I entered T2 right on the tail of the rider I was looking to beat. Entering T6 I was looking for opportunities to pass him and started sizing up his riding style.
Approaching T9 (also known as the bus stop) I took an inside line just in case he decided to brake early. To my delight I saw him sit up, the universal tell that you are on the brakes. I waited until I had a wheel in front of him and then stood on the brakes through the first part of the turn. A trick a former mentor of mine taught me. It slows you down but it blocks the other rider.
Exiting T9 I was in the lead. My first pass in an expert open class race. Now to make it stick.
I pushed through the last couple of corners and through the start finish line still in the lead. My son who was flagging for me at the wall told me I had a small lead. Time to turn it up. I pushed through the next lap, focusing on turn points, apexes, exits. On the next pass through the start finish my flagger indicated a good lead.
Each lap after the first felt great. The rhytym was there. I fell into the zone where I was no longer thinking about each corner, but flowing through them.
About half way through the race I caught lapped traffic. I still have track day habits of being nice in my passing but in this race I was not in track day mode. I was passing as soon as I caught people. I wasn’t going to let them slow me down. I was convinced that as soon as I checked up to make a “nice” pass I was going to get caught by the rider I have been stay away from.
By the end of the race I had passed nearly a dozen riders and had a fantastic race. Easily one of my best races all season. The rider who I passed never caught me and in fact was no where near me at the end of the race.
To top it off, I set my best lap time of the weekend, a full 2 seconds faster than my previous best time at Sonoma.
What a race!
450 SuperbikeFor the first time since Button willow I was able to race in the 450 Superbike class. My bike was finally running right and at full power.
The interesting part is that I have not ridden a 70 horsepower bike nearly all season. I have been riding a bike with over 180 horsepower since Round 3. I knew the lines but how was I going to do?
I ended up finishing 7th in the race. My best lap time was 5 seconds slower than my best on the bike in the previous season. Overall a decent finish and I enjoyed the race. It was definitely interesting to jump off a 1000cc bike and get on a 450cc bike.
Round 7The final round of the year is going to be back at Thunderhill. I am looking forward to this final round and have already started preparing for next year.
My sponsorship package is put together and I have started contacting potential sponsors. I am hoping to expand my racing in 2015 to beyond just AFM.
I am looking forward to what the next year will bring.