Monday, July 11, 2016

MotoAmerica: Laguna Seca 2016

7 seconds…

Three years of work comes down to 7 seconds…

Let's start at the beginning of the weekend.



Thursday: Move In


Move in starts on Thursday morning at 10:00 am.  Move-in goes in order of class and then points in class.  I was warned that paddock space was going to be very limited, and therefore I brought a small trailer instead of my travel trailer.

Due to the organization of the move-in, there turned out to be plenty of room but based on the number of riders it was surprising that they all fit, let alone that there ended up being room to spare.

Once move-in was completed we were allowed out on the track; walking, bicycles and even scooters!  We were cautioned to keep our scooters to a “reasonable speed” which was repeated several times while the racers were laughing.

We then spent the next hour and a half on the track, looking at how it has been repainted and how all of the bridges were changed for the event.

End result?

Auliya at the Corkscrew
Most of my reference points were gone.  While there is great turn in point references on the track itself and the apex markers can be seen from orbit, the exit markers are usually on a bridge.  With the banners on the bridge being covered for the event (to show the sponsors for the event instead of just the track sponsors) I had to quickly figure out where the old markers were and what to look for with the changes.

Also I was able to do a few laps with my family and show them the track and let them stand on The Corkscrew.  It is impossible to understand how amazing that corner is without standing on it.  Even going at speed through that corner you don’t appreciate it.

Friday: Practice


Since we were sharing Laguna Seca with World Superbike, the schedule was a bit unusual.  My practice group was able to go out for 20 minutes Friday morning and then 30 minutes Friday afternoon.

The first session in the morning was a bit on the terrifying side.  We started at 8:30, the fog had lifted, but the sun was covered still.  The track was *damp* and sandy.  It felt like snot under your tires.  Get on the paint on corner exit and I could feel the rear tire spinning to get grip.

I tucked the front twice in T11, not due to error, just due to snot on the track.

I did not perform well in the morning practice but confirmed that my reference point changes worked correctly.  There was no way I was going to risk pushing my front tire in that session.  If I had any doubts, all of the bikes in the corners reminded me.

The clouds/fog lifted completely in the afternoon and by the time our second session came up on the schedule the track was perfect.  I went out with fresh tires and started pushing.

This was when my mind decided to get in the way.

I had so much to process, so much excitement, so much to prove and absolutely no time to do it in.

Net result?  Poor lap times.

I came in at one point to reset myself and get some water, and I hear the announcer talking about me.

Cool!

“707 - Marc Zarra definitely has some work to do out there.”

Not cool!

I finished the session at 1:41.  Way off of where I needed to be and the groove was not there.

My crew chief and I sat down Friday night to discuss the track, watch some of my videos and come up with a plan for Saturday morning qualifying.

After some input from him as well as Szymon Dziadzia of Keigwin’s @ The Track I had some marching orders for the morning.

Saturday: Qualifying


I woke up Saturday morning and pondered the day.

What was my problem?  I know this track; I know how to ride it, the bike is great, what is wrong?

Whenever you are in doubt and can’t find the reason; look in the mirror.  The racer is the most adjustable and variable item on a race bike.  The problem was me.  My head was too far in the excitement of the event, and I was not in “racer mode”.

My head was in the party, not the game.

When we got to the track and were heading out to the pit I made a decision: I am going to hit the qualifying without a care in the world.  I am not going to think about lap times or how much time I need to make up or any of the other 1,000 items that are going on around me.

I am just going to ride and hit the points.

I let my crew know the plan so that they were not confused.  My crew agreed with my decision and would signal me on the track for only three things:
Catching my breath

  • Half time
  • Lap times are improving
  • Lap times are stalled

With that, I went out and just rode.

In the first eight laps, I kept getting a thumbs up signal, lap times were improving.

I decided to give her a push and see if I could scare myself a little bit.  The push worked, but I didn’t spook myself.  Instead, I lost my breathing rhythm and had to pit just to catch my breath.

That is when my crew told me I hit my goal.  I dropped into the low 1:39s.  Achievement unlocked for me.  I went back out and completed a few more laps, but my rhythm was lost and did not improve upon the 1:39.

I knew I was not going to be able to skip the LCQ (Last Change Qualifier) as my times were not close enough.

I was also looking forward to the LCQ as I have a habit of going faster in a race than I do at any other time.  I am usually good for a second or even two!

Saturday: LCQ


The LCQ is my first professional race, and I was super excited for it.  An 11 lap race with the top 5 finishers going on to the main event on Sunday.



We set up in the pit lane with all the cameras, crews and the excitement of a professional race event.

The clock reached zero, and we were out on our sighting lap.  I was again on fresh tires and was working them hard to make sure they felt right.

Around T11 and there is my crew chief showing me where my grid spot is.  I settle into the spot, and he confirms there is nothing wrong with the bike.  The crew gets waved off the grid, and we now do our “warm up” lap.  A hot lap around the track to get everything up to temp and then back to the same grid spot.

Flags go away, red lights go on and then off.

I launch better than I ever have.  Rider in front of me isn’t moving, and I miss him by inches as my front tire is not on the ground and I can’t steer the bike.

Second gear, front tire still hovering above the ground and I go under the bridge; third gear, the ground comes up to meet my front tire, and I finally get to turn to head down the hill for T2.  Fourth gear, wide open and all I see is 20 bikes in the middle of T2.  I stick my nose into the mess and try to grab a few in the chaos.  Then it is on to T3.

The race was a blur of excitement and desperation of trying to latch onto someone’s tail to get faster.

Unfortunately, my lap times were utterly consistent and stuck at 1:40.

What Happened?


I was so excited to be racing that I could not get into race mode; simple as that.  My conscious mind was front and center controlling all of the action.  As any racer knows, your conscious mind sucks at riding a motorcycle.

Needless to say, I did not make the cutoff.

In the end, I missed the cut off by 7 seconds.  When I tell non-racers that I was within 7 seconds of qualifying for the main race they congratulate me on being so close and that surely I will easily be able to make up that 7 seconds next time.

When I tell racers I missed it by 7 seconds they have that knowing look in their eye that I was not even close.  7 seconds might as well be on the other side of the moon.

Can I find it?

Absolutely.  It is there; I can do it.  Will it be easy?  Hell no.  7 seconds is an incredible amount of time to find.  When I was last at Laguna, I spent three days, 7 sessions a day, to find 6 seconds.

The next 7 will be harder.

The Take-away


Auliya and Lyndia in our pit
I learned a great deal from this experience, and I will be back next year with greater focus and skill.

I have pages of notes to go through, tools I didn’t bring.  Little tips and tricks about bike prep as well as gearing choices.  So many notes to put into place before next July.

There was so much to learn from this weekend and so many new experiences for me that I was simply overwhelmed and forgot to race.

That will not happen again!

Family

Motorcycle racing is about so much more than just racing motorcycles.  My family has never been closer than they are right now.  The support I get from my family is absolutely unbelievable and I extremely lucky to have them with me while I attempt these challenges in my life.

Without the support of my family I doubt I could have gotten this far.

Next Up


Laguna Seca was my first and last professional race for 2016.  The rest of this year I will be competing with WERA and AFM.

Having said that, I am already putting the pieces together with my sights set on racing at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah next year with MotoAmerica.  If the pieces fall in the right places, then I will be racing at two events next year.

Sponsors


I say this in nearly every race report, but it always bears repeating.  I cannot do this without the help of my sponsors.  I literally put my life in their hands when I am on the track, and I trust them and their products.  Please visit my sponsor page and review them.  If you have a question on any of their products, please do not hesitate to contact me.