Monday, March 23, 2015

AFM 2015 Round 1: Buttonwillow

Round 1 is an interesting point in the year. Some racers relax during the off season and find themselves going slower at the first round. Some racers work very hard on their race craft and come into Round 1 hotter than ever. One of the questions for me right off the bat is looking at my competitors.

Who was relaxing and who was working?

For me, this year is going to be challenging. As you may recall, I started last year on a 450 triple but had a nasty get off between rounds 1 and 2 and had to change over to my 1000cc ZX–10R for Rounds 3 through 7. This means I have a fair amount of seat time on the 1000cc but virtually none on the 450cc bike.

This year we are shooting for the fence. I am racing both my 2011 MartianCraft sponsored ZX–10R and my new 2008 AgileBits sponsored R4. What is an R4 you ask? It is another triple based off of a 2008 Yamaha R6. EDR agreed to do the triple modification as well as tune her for me.

To make it even more interesting, we are expanding beyond AFM this year and will be hitting rounds with WERA, OMRRA and CVMA. This will increase the exposure for my fantastic sponsors as well as increase my experience on the track and expand my knowledge of different tracks and race organizations. It is going to be a challenging year.

Friday Practice

We arrived at the track Thursday night just in time to unpack and get some sleep. Considering we landed back in the United States at 1:00 am Thursday morning I was happy to have just made it. We quickly unpacked and headed to bed. Absolutely no time for jet lag.

Friday morning is my first introduction to my AgileBits R4. I started the build but handed her off to EDR at the end of January and had not seen her since. Friday morning will be the first time I throw a leg over her as a 450.

First couple of sessions were all about set up. Adjust the bars, move the brake lever, move up the shifter lever, etc.

The biggest change was the throttle. When I built her I put a stock throttle throw on her, expecting to slowly reduce the throw as I got comfortable with her. Being out of time for comfort I jumped immediately from the stock throttle (longest throttle) to the full race throttle (shortest). This made her throttle far more twitchy but I was able to get to WOT nearly instantly which is exactly what these 450 triples need.

By lunch I felt that she was dialed in enough to start working on lap times. I worked on my lines, pulled up what I remembered from the previous year and started sorting out gearing and reference points. By the end of the day I was close but not quite there. I was consistently exiting corners about 500 RPM below the power band. 500 RPM below on a 450 triple is dead in the water.

Normally in this situation I would just go up a tooth or two in the rear sprocket and call it done. However, I didn’t have the right sprocket with me. I was at 45 and only had a 48 with me and not enough chain slack to go up three teeth. Fortunately EDR came through at the end of the day and gave me a 14 tooth front sprocket which would allow me to get the same relative ratio.

Saturday morning practice was the first opportunity to test the new ratio.

AFM Round 1 Saturday

The morning starts with practice until shortly after lunch and I put my head down in each practice to get my gearing and reference points down to muscle memory. By lunch I was feeling pretty good about how the bikes were feeling and was looking forward to the races in the afternoon.

Formula 40 Heavy

Saturday was the start of a long hard season. Because I am racing in two radically different classes I will have a number of back to back races. To add to the challenge, I will be doing bike swaps between those back to back races. Fun times!

My first race of the day was on my 2011 MartianCraft ZX–10R. As I gridded for the race I realized that I have had ZERO launch practice on her this year. I worked on the R4 but didn’t do a single practice launch on the ZX–10R. This will be fun.

Green flag drops and I try to launch the 200 HP beast smoothly. Unfortunately my hands said 80HP R4 and slipped the clutch too much with the front wheel heading to the sky. To add to the chaos the traction control pulled it back down only to let it go to the sky again and again. I spent the entire trip to Turn 1 bouncing from one wheel to two wheels. Fortunately I got her settled down before the first turn and then it was time to start making up all the time I just lost.

While my first lap was rough, I got her smoothed down and started stalking the prey in front of me. A few passes later and I had the number three position in my sights. Sadly I ran out of laps and crossed the finish line in fourth place.

No time to be happy about the race. I need to use the cool down lap to get back to the pits and switch bikes before they close the gates for the next race!

I get back with time to spare, get on the R4 and BREATHE!

Collect my thoughts…

Time to go!

Formula 40 Light

Much larger grid for this race, probably largest race grid on Saturday. I am gridded about mid pack, lots of people in front of me, lots of people behind me.

As the green flag drops we all jammed into the first corner. 20+ bikes trying to fit in to the space of one. We all make it through clean and then on to the pinch point that is T2. I get caught behind a couple of slower riders who make me slow down below my power band for second gear. Crap! I am on the R4; need to pay attention to that stuff; and struggle to get out of T2 and back into the power band as I watched the leaders fade into the distance.

I got back up to speed and started working through the slower traffic. Winning feels great at the end of the race but passing the guy in front of you feels amazing right away!

As I worked through the traffic I started recognizing a few riders and realized that I was getting back up to the faster guys. As the crossed flags were shown I saw another 450 triple rider in front of me and started working my way towards him.

White flag dropped, last lap, the other triple is still in front of me but he is in reach. I had been stalking him for over a lap and I knew where to take him. Sunset, last corner before we go for the checkered flag was where it was going to play out.

Through riverside, fastest corner on the track.

Triple digits, on my knee, no other feeling like it…

Half way through riverside I check the corner worker just like I do on every lap.

Red Flag!

Green and Black Flag!

Those flags combined means rider down, hurt and oil on the track. I can’t stand the bike up without going off track. If I “find” that liquid on the track I am going to be adding to the carnage. I hold my line and start scanning like mad.

Where is the oil…

Fortunately the wreck was two corners ahead and the liquid flag was a false alarm.

Once I saw the riders up and I was through the danger area I could let myself feel the disappointment. I won’t be catching that rider today. The race is over.

AFM Round 1 Sunday

On Saturday I noticed that my AgileBits R4 was sliding the rear tire on several corner exits. Something I expect on the ZX–10R but not something I want or need on the R4. Time for a tire change and get some softer rubber on her.

CT Racing was able to come through for me first thing in the morning and I had new rubber on the rear rim and the tire mounted with plenty of time to spare for the first and only practice session. This session was all about scrubbing in the tire. Nothing else matters.

450 Superbike

This is one of the two most important races of the weekend for me. This is the race that my AgileBits R4 was built for. Last year we had maybe 8 bikes on the grid. This year we have over 20 bikes and a nice grid to work with. I was towards the back of the grid having not raced very much in the previous year. While waiting for the flag to drop I pictured turn 1 and how I was going to hit it from this standing start.

One board goes sideways and I watch for the twitch of the elbow. The elbow twitches and I start to release. By the time my brain has conveyed the instructions to my hands the green flag starts to drop.

I get a great launch and am on the rear tire of the bike in front of me. I see that another rider got an even better start and from two rows behind me is right next to me. Going to be an interesting T1…

We all make it through cleanly and we jostle for position going into the pinch at T2. I again got slowed way down but this time remembered to drop into first gear so that I could launch properly out of T2 and catch a few people flat footed as we head to T3.

Push a couple of other riders out of the way through T3 and T4 and then we are off to the races!

By the first lap things have settled down to reel in the racer in front of you, block the racer behind you. Now comes the time to be smooth, consistent and fast. Lap after lap I watch my signals at the wall and see it is pretty clear behind me and I work towards the racer in front of me. I get about three laps with no passing, just smooth, fast, consistent.


On lap 5 I come into the final corner, stand up the bike off my knee; pin the throttle; nothing.

No power.

I check the gauges, no errors.

Turn the bike off and on, start the bike, she starts, sputters and dies.

Then I get a fuel light!

I pull off before turn 1 and watch as the race finishes without me. My first DNF (Did Not Finish)

Open Production

My first two races on Sunday were supposed to be back to back. 450 Superbike followed immediately by Open Production.

Another bike switch.

Unfortunately with running out of fuel I must wait out in the dirt for every bike to get off the track. Then I must push my bike back across the track and back into the pits.

100 degrees and full race gear does not make it easy to push a 300+ pound bike across the track. By the time I got back to my pit crew (who were standing there with the ZX–10R ready to go) I had missed the warm up lap and the grid for the race. My first DNS (Did Not Start).

Open GP

Just about an hour later I get ready for my next race. My last race of the weekend on the MartianCraft ZX–10R. All fueled up (checked several times by everyone) and ready to go; I grid up for my exercise in reality. OpenGP grids some of the fastest riders in the AFM and it really is a lot of fun to be on the grid with them. I learn something every race from these masters of the craft.

Green flag drops and my launch might have actually been worse than Formula 40 Heavy. The only difference is that I got bumped (physically bumped) while trying to get the front wheel back onto the ground. Definitely need some practice on launching her.

This race proceeded smoothly without much drama and I crossed the finish line in 17th place while setting a new personal best on this bike at this track.

Ever improving…

Formula IV

Formula IV is a bit of catch all and it is not uncommon to see two strokes out on the grid next to SV650s, 450 triples and even some smaller bikes. It is a bit of a catch all. Of course that is part of the fun. You never know where your competitor’s power band is.

The launch of this race went smoothly and I got a nice launch right on the flag and caught a few people right away. As we approached T1 another racer made an interesting line up the inside that disrupted a good chunk of the grid and caused a bit of an upset. Everyone got through ok but it definitely threw us off. With the upset at T1 it caused T2 to be a bit smoother and I got through it quickly in a full pack of bikes. The first two laps of the race were spent working through traffic and settling into pace.

Unfortunately after traffic I caught the tail of an interesting rider that proved to be extremely difficult to pass. I finally was able to get away from him on lap 4 and put my head down to finish the race. By that point the gap was too much and I was only able to pass one more rider before the checkered flag.

A good race and another personal best for me on a 450 at this track.

650 Production

My last race of the weekend and a new one on the calendar for the 450. AFM changed the rules on the 650 production class to allow a few other bikes and my 450 now qualifies. This is a much smaller grid than the Formula IV or 450 superbike as bikes must must meet production rules.

Another smooth launch and after the first lap I again found myself behind the same interesting rider. This time it took until lap 5 to get around him. I definitely need to work on my aggressive passing as that battle cost me a tremendous amount of time and I will wonder for a long time how well I would have done if I could only get by him faster.

Next Up…

If our schedule holds we will be traveling down to Chuckwalla in April to try our hand at the CVMA Race Club.

If we are unable to make that then we will be at Sonoma at the beginning of May for Round 2 of the AFM.

See you soon…

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