|Portland International Raceway|
When I started the 2015 Racing season, I decided I wanted to expand my experience by racing at other tracks beyond the three that AFM normally uses. Racing at other tracks means racing with other clubs. So far this year, I have had the pleasure of racing with:
- Miller Motorsports Park
- Sonoma Raceway
- Portland International Raceway
Portland, known as PIR locally, is quite unique in its design. This track is built in a city park and features the longest straight that I have come across yet. A full 7/8ths of a mile according to the OMRRA president. Further, there is a back "straight" that is nearly as long; this changes the dynamic of the track considerably compared to other tracks.
For example, Sonoma has very little straight track. Turn 12 to 1 is incredibly short and therfore you focus on corner speed and maintaining as much speed as possible. However, at PIR, the locals focus more on straight line speed and far less on maintaining cornering speed.
One of the interesting twists is that they change the configuration of the track for two of the seven rounds. They add a "chicane" to the front straight that drastically cuts down on the length of the straight and adds three corners to the track. The local racers seems to hate the chicane but it works well for me.
The club itself is great and if you have the opportunity to race with them I recommend it. People are extremely friendly (to the point that tech is slow to get through due to all the chatting :) and the atmosphere is quite relaxed.
Due to the track being quite short (less than 2 miles) you get a large number of laps in each race. I am accustomed to 6 to 8 lap races and the races at PIR are normally 10 laps with an occasional race being 24(!) laps long. Lots of time to settle into your pace and start picking people off.
This weekend was my second trip to OMRRA and I was definitely looking forward to it.
Coincidentally, both times that I have raced at OMRRA they were running the chicane. Bad for them, great for me since my bikes are not designed for top end speed.
There is always something...
We arrived in Portland Thursday night at a decent time and settled into our hotel after a nice dinner.
We arrived at the track Friday morning for the practice day without issue. This should have been my first clue; everything was going smoothly.
While unpacking the truck, I was not paying attention and picked up the ice chest incorrectly right after we just finished filling it to the rim with ice and liquids. At 25 that would have been an opps. At 45 that was a very painful move. I felt a muscle tear and knew that I screwed up.
Lots of ice and anti-inflamatories throughout the day and I was able to at least find my race pace from my last trip to PIR. Since I am aiming to beat my last results I was not that happy that I made a bone head move before I even through a leg over a bike.
One of the things that are different at OMRRA is that they fold in a track day with Saturday practice and racing. There are four practice groups (one is slow, four is ultra fast) and then a track day session. This is repeated through the morning and then the track day continues into the afternoon between races. It definitely seems like a great way to get more street riders into the racing family and helps to make street riders feel like part of the event.
My practice went smooth enough. First practice was rough as I stretched my back out and tried to ignore the screaming muscle that I abused the day before. I normally use first practice to loosen up the bike, work the suspension, feel if anything is set up wrong, etc. This time it was more about stretching me out :)
The rest of my practice sessions improved through the day and I was feeling good enough to twist the throttle in anger later in the day.
After practice my goal was to keep moving, avoid sitting down, and keep my back flexible.
My first trip to PIR did not allow me to race on Saturday. After another group of 450 riders went up in July, the GP Twins race was opened up to us and I took advantage of the opportunity to get a race in on Saturday.
Since PIR is not accustomed to the 450 triple, we are not really in a class that is competitive yet. The clubs tend to err on the side of caution and only let us into superbike races. Eventually (if they follow what AFM did) we will be allowed into other classes that we are more competitive in. For now, we race against the bike in front of us and if we podium, great. If not, we beat the bike in front of us :)
For this race (and this weekend really) I was racing against some very interesting bikes. There was even a 1000cc twin on the grid with me. I knew that a podium was out but another 450 was on the grid with me. Valentine Welch, who races AFM, OMRRA, WERA and MotoAmerica was at the event with me. I have raced against her several times and was looking forward to the competition.
The green flag dropped and I got an unusually poor start. Heading into the "chicane" I was easily the last bike on the grid. Lots of work to do.
A couple of laps into the race and I got rid of the bikes that were between me and Valentine (who got one of her normal spectacular launches). Time to start reeling her in.
Just after the half way mark through the race I was on her rear wheel and looking for an opening when she was kind enough to make an error in turn 5. That opportunity gave me a chance to go by her and then hit the back "straight". Now my concern was to put some distance between us as I knew she had more top end speed and due to physics (i.e. she weighs FAR less than I do) she would be able to get up to her top speed faster than me. I was expecting the return pass heading into 7 which is the first braking zone after the back straight.
The return pass never came and I ended up finishing the race just in front of her in 11th place in the race. To add to the pleasure of winning against the only other 450 on the grid, I also set a personal best on this track. A great race for me and my sponsors!
Last time I attended an event at PIR I signed up for every race that they would allow me to run in as I simply had no experience on this track. I had signed up for the 600 Superbike race (most organizations will let you race *up* one class) even though I knew I was incredibly under powered.
This weekend I had signed up for the 600 superbike again as a practice session. With the chicane I knew I could even pass a few people.
Unfortunately there were a large number of crashes during practice and the first two races. So many in fact that race direction decided to stop using the chicane for the weekend. That was going to have an impact, I have never raced PIR without the Chicane...
Without the Chicane, I was not expecting to do anything very exciting in the 600 Superbike race. With every bike out there having 30-35% more horsepower than me, my goal was to not be lapped *too* much while using the race as practice on the non-chicane layout.
By the end of the race I was lapped by a few riders but I also had dropped my lap times down to 1:21 which is quite respectable and let me know that I was close to race pace for the rest of the day.
Middleweight Superbike is a rather catch all race class that covers hyst about everything above a Ninja 300 and everything lower in power than a standard 600cc in-line 4.
What this turns out to mean is that it is full of 650cc twin cylinder machines.
Unfortunately, Valentine did not join me in this race so I did not get to race against the exact same bike that I am on.
None the less I was able to take 10th in the race and set a new personal best on the non-chicane course. Down to a 1:20.66.
In AFM, SV650s are not allowed in the 450 superbike class. Unfortunately (for me) they are allowed at OMRRA. I suspect the class would have disappeared in the last decade along with the older 400s from the 90s if they had not allowed the 650s in. WIth the re-introduction of the triples perhaps things will change back.
In any event, another grid full of 650s but this time Valentine was on the grid with me. The only bike I was pitting myself against was hers. Equal bikes and she is a blast to race against.
Green flag drops, she gets a great launch and I get a decent launch. By turn 1 there are three bikes between us that I need to get past before I can try and get past her.
Three laps into the race and I had gotten past the racers between us. Time to reel Valentine in.
Two more laps and I found where I was stronger than her and passed her cleanly. Next job was to get enough distance from her so she can't pass me back.
Around to the front straight, giving my Agile Bits 450 all there is to give and I feel the RPMs drop, I am being drafted...
Just as we pass the start/finish line I see a blur of blue and white as Valentine passes me.
I get on her wheel into turn 1, follow her through turn 2 and wait for her to turn into 3. When she turned into 3 I waited just a hair longer, pitched in deep with the goal of going around the outside of her. I was able to carry enough momentum to pass her around the outside and then hold the inside line for Turn 4. Now to get that gap on her before she can pass me back!
Just as I was winding up for turn 6 I saw a red flag out of the corner of my eye. A crash somewhere else on the course is causing the race to end.
Unfortunately for me, the race was over half over and the red flag rolls everything back to the previous lap.
Valentine won by 4/100ths of a second.
Superbike vs. Supersport
As the 450cc triple is becoming more popular, I think we are going to have a bit of a battle with the clubs on our hands in the near future.
Out of the four clubs I have run with this year, 3 of them refuse to allow the 450 triple into production or super sport classes. The argument being that the triple conversion is an engine/performance modification.
I have explained in the past that it is NOT an engine conversion any more and that the entire triple modification is done externally to the engine. Nearly everyone who runs on a triple is running a production legal bike.
AFM has recognized this and allowed the 450 into the 650 production class (which used to be the 450 production class). I am hoping that after this season is over with and other clubs have seen the lap times and performance of these bikes that they will recognize that they are comparable with SV650s production trim.
Until then we will continue to battle against true superbness that are putting out significantly more horsepower than we are.
Or we end up building true 450 superbikes... Can you get 90+ hp out of a triple? We might need to find out next year.
Even though I injured myself at the start of the weekend, raced against bikes with significantly more horsepower than I have, I ended up having a great time with OMRRA. I look forward to returning next year for a round or two. With the distance and lack of race options (not being production legal limits the number of races I can do in a weekend) I doubt I will be at OMRRA for every round. But if there is a gap in my race schedule for 2016, I will definitely be looking North!
As always, none of this is possible without my sponsors. Please go to the sponsors page and take a look at who is supporting me. Each sponsor of my racing was selected by me because I believe in their product. In the case of most of my sponsors I trust them with my life every time I race. In the case of Agile Bits, I trust them with my finances (which I tend to value more than my life :)