Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Race Preparation: Laguna Seca

Lots of people have “bucket list” items. Things they want to do before they die. I am not any different, except perhaps for the things that are on my list and my willingness to go for it.

The current item I am working on:

  • Race at the professional level in the United States

A very lofty goal for someone of my height, body mass and age. Any one of those three things can be overcome pretty easily. Combining all three of them adds to the challenge.

Earlier this year I applied for and received my MotoAmerica Racing license. When I applied for it, it was a “get this out of the way” type of thing. I did not expect to be approved my first time nor did I expect to be able to race this year.

The license got approved, and then I looked at the schedule.

There are two events that are on the west coast (ish): Utah Motorsports (formerly Miller) and Laguna Seca. Utah is/was scheduled for the same weekend as AFM, so that was out. However, Laguna Seca is scheduled on a weekend without a conflict.

I am now signed up to race at Laguna Seca in July of 2016. I will be competing in the 600 SuperStock class, and the competition is incredibly stiff.


Practice Weekend: June 17–19, 2016


Three days of practice at Laguna Seca.

For me, practicing on a track day is a bigger challenge than during actual race practice during an event.

I am nice at a track day. Hard to believe I know.
  • I do not do close passes.
  • I will not steal your apex.
  • I will not put you in the dirt.
  • I will wait for you to complete the corner.

That is not who I am at a track day.

Therefore, I cannot see my performance just by looking at a single lap time. I need to look at sectors, and I need to compare those sectors across the day to see what my true performance is.

Since I like data, I collected it through the weekend and looked at it in total to see what my performance is. The data from this weekend is attached.

Friday


Friday was about comfort. Getting around the track, finding reference points, getting comfortable going fast on a track that I have virtually no experience.

By Friday afternoon, I had exceeded my previous best lap time and was looking for more. I started the afternoon by watching Dave Moss’ excellent videos showing his line around the track. Now that I had the track in my head, his videos are more relevant than just watching them cold.

Next session I drop a little more. The videos help but comfort is still not there yet.

Dave Moss then took time out of his day to run a couple of sessions with me. We did his normal lead/follow pattern. He followed me for a few laps then I followed him for a few and tried to understand what he was showing me.

After each session, he handed me a video from the session that showed not only what he was seeing (which is incredibly helpful) but also has an audio track of his thoughts and notes while on the track. Watching and listening to that is worth a full day or more of just lead follows. Seeing what I am doing wrong and hearing his advice at the same time is incredibly valuable.

The day ended with a 30-minute race practice session. My goal was to complete as many laps as possible in the 30 minutes and make sure I could do the race distance.

After ten laps, sweat was pouring into my eyes. At 12 laps I was done and pulled in a few minutes early.

After discussing it with Dave, it is clear that my fitness level is … ok; but I am expending way too much energy around the track.

Saturday


A night of rest always helps cement what I practiced the day before. I started my first session expecting to be within a couple of seconds of my best time from the day before. I was wrong; I exceeded my best lap time from the day before by a second!

Even better, it felt slower. An excellent sign indeed!

I spent the rest of the morning working through the drills and hitting the marks that Dave pointed out on Friday. The goal was to get relaxed so that when Dave and I went out in the afternoon I would be more refined and he could start to dial me in.

Dave and I spent three sessions together in the afternoon. Two sessions were focused on improving upon my lines, brake markers, apex, drive.

We also had to adjust where I shifted on the front straight which turned out to be a funny story: The bike I was riding did not have a quick shifter. This required blipping the throttle through the gears. It seems that while I was blipping I was also backing off:

100% throttle; blip

95% throttle; blip

90% throttle; blip

Which resulted in me not being at the stops on the throttle when I crested the hill in T1 and therefore backing off even more,  as the bike lifted from the ground. This was costing me a significant amount of time once I reached T2.

We adjusted my shifting so that I finished getting into 5th gear before start finish and then I could focus on keeping the throttle to the stop as I crested T1 and the bike got light.

This resulted in about 12 mph more speed over T1 (touching 122 mph) and into T2. A significant improvement to my lap times!

The last session of the day was another 30-minute session. In this session, Dave went out with me and stayed on my tail. The goal was to stay out for the full 30 minutes, do as many laps as possible at race pace but not at 100%. The goal was to be fresh at the end of the session to simulate an end of race sprint after completing 80% race distance.

The result? 18 laps completed.

I was not winded at the end of the 18 laps; I felt as fresh as I did before the session and could have easily stepped up the pace.

Looking at the data, I got faster through the 18 laps. Last flying lap was 2 seconds faster than my first flying lap!

Did my endurance suddenly improve in 24 hours? No.

My comfort on the track improved, and I relaxed. I let the bike do the work and stopped fighting it.

Sunday


The goal for Sunday was to relax, have fun and cement what I learned in the first two days. When I come back in three weeks, I need to be at the same level or better than I am now.

No changes on Sunday just hit the numbers; all day.

The one thing that got added to the mix for Sunday was a new set of tires. I spent my two take-offs that I brought with me and put on a set of tires that are the same I will be running in the race. Making the bike as close as possible to race settings as I can on a track day.

Wrap Up


The weekend was an unmitigated success on all counts. I went faster than I have ever gone on this track before. That includes when I used to bring my 1000cc fire-breathing dragon to this track! I dropped 5 seconds from my BEST time on my ZX–10R and from Friday morning to Sunday night I dropped 9.69 seconds overall!

Combine that with the following facts:

  • I was at a track day (you simply do not go as fast on a track day)
  • There was a sound limit that was robbing me of drive and horsepower (I had to run an amazing insert from Jay Murray to get my bike below 92db)
  • I was running my 2008 bike which is significantly down on horsepower compared to my 2011.

Overall I estimate I was down about 20 horsepower compared to the bike I will be on in the actual race. Considering Laguna is a very fast flowing track, I expect those horsepower numbers to make a difference in three weeks.

Come out to Laguna and see!