Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Race Report: MotoAmerica @ Sonoma

I was not expecting to be able to race at this event.

With my injuries from last year and the fact that those injuries threw me significantly off pace, I expected to miss MotoAmerica this year completely.

Fortunately, plans change and the event was fantastic.



Move-in


Thursday was move-in day and I expected it to be a significant challenge given that Sonoma is situated right against a highway but it went quite smoothly. There are always delays and things always take longer than we hope, this move in was no different.

Credit where it is due, this move in was smoother than I feared and we ended up with a nice location in the paddock and plenty of room for our pit.

John Knolles (AFM/MotoAmerica #520) shared my pit location so that we could support each other for the weekend.

By evening we were situated, fully moved in and relaxing while waiting for the show to begin.

Galen of Rolling Hospitality was in the pit near us and he prepared one of his well known, fantastic pit dinners.

Good friends, good food and racing; the event was off to a fantastic start.

Friday


On the MotoAmerica side of the event, Friday is a practice day. A day given to testing the bike (and the rider) at speed and get everything dialed in.

The AFM elected to have a short practice in the morning and dive immediately into a “heat” race to start setting the grid for Sunday’s main event.

I elected not to participate in the AFM morning practice and instead focused on the 600 SuperStock MotoAmerica race. Even with the focus being on my 600 race, I needed to compete in the heat race to set my grid position.

A few riders got caught by Sonoma’s morning chill during practice and gave themselves a larger challenge by needing to put their bikes back together before the heat race.

Just a normal race day...

AFM Formula IV Heat Race 1


After finishing morning practice on my 600, I jumped onto my 450 and gridded up for the race. We started with a warmup lap which gave me 11 corners to switch my brain from 600 mode to 450 mode.

The race went off in fantastic fashion and gave a great showing of the close racing that AFM offers. I suspect there were more than a few conversations in the paddock about coming out and witnessing a full AFM event.

There were some truly quick racers on the grid representing the AFM and I was quite impressed with the lap times that were being performed. I had a couple of great battles with my fellow AFM racers and finished the race with a smile on my face.

Saturday


Saturday morning started with qualifying for me on my 600. There were some concerns from the local racers as we are very familiar with how "exciting" Sonoma can be first thing in the morning.

Due to the location of the track, the mornings are usually cloud covered and damp. Saturday morning was no different. Temperatures were low and there was definitely dampness in the air.

Fortunately the track was in good shape after all of the riding that occurred on Friday and traction was much better than Friday morning.

Unlike Laguna Seca last year, I decided to approach this qualifying like a practice session.

Go out and throw down my best lap.

If the bike feels off, come in and make an adjustment.  If the bike feels right, stay out and give it everything I've got.

After 6 laps I decided to come in and have Dave Moss check my tires and make final adjustments to my suspension.  I could feel the front pushing a bit and knew that the set up was close but not perfect.  Fortunately Mr. Moss had agreed to help John and I in the hot pits and was standing there waiting to assist.

After a quick assessment and adjustment I was back out on the track.

16 laps, nearly race distance and my laps got progressively faster throughout the session.  Not fast enough, but faster.

MotoAmerica Last Chance Qualifier


Due to the scheduling of the AFM race and the LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier) I was on the track for over an hour straight Saturday afternoon. The first phase of this endurance test is the LCQ for MotoAmerica.

While my pace has improved on the 600 at Sonoma, I was still a couple of seconds off of the other riders in this race. I had a decent start but by the end of the 10 lap qualifying race I was lapping alone.

Even though I was lapping alone, I was using the race for improvements my race craft. It is fairly rare to get clear track at Sonoma and I was determined to make the best of it.

I crossed the finish line with my best lap time yet on the 600.

AFM Formula IV Heat Race 2


Immediately after my LCQ on the 600 I was scheduled for a warm up session on my 450 which would then immediately be followed by the Formula IV race.

I jumped off my 600 and onto my 450 and headed back out to the grid.

I think I had a minute or two for some water.

Immediately after the the warm up session was the second heat race for grid placement in the final race.

I dropped nearly two seconds from the first heat race but unfortunately so did everyone else. A few racers put down some absolutely incredible lap times. When I looked at the times after the race I was truly amazed. Some of these times would have put the race at the pointy end of the 600 MotoAmerica races!

A great showing by the AFM again on Saturday and a great ramp up to the final race on Sunday.

Sunday


For me, Sunday was going to be quite similar to Saturday. I started the day off with a warm up on the 600 and then another LCQ on the 600 and wrapping up with the Formula IV main race. Another busy day!

MotoAmerica Last Chance Qualifier


Coming to this event I gave it even money that I would be able to gain enough confidence on the 600 to qualify for the main event. This means that I needed to plan for both success and failure.

By Sunday morning I knew that it was highly unlikely I was going to make the main event. While the qualifying times were reasonable with the new rules change, my confidence on the 600 was insufficient.

What does that leave? Go as fast as I can in the LCQ!

According to spectators, I got quite a bit of "air time" from the commentators during the LCQ race. What I remember from that race is finding a bit more time each lap.

I followed a few people, I tried a few new things, I pushed my limits just a bit more.

I ended the race with my personal best lap time at Sonoma and another big grin on my face.

I didn't make it to the main race but I improved dramatically and took another step closer to qualifying. I finished the race with a 1:52.899 and the confidence that I will get faster.

AFM Formula IV Main Race


The main event for the AFM.

10 laps and I am already exhausted from the weekend...

I was gridded towards the back of the race based on my performances in the two heat races and got a decent start. Fellow racer Cliff slotted in front of me going up the hill towards T2 and I knew that if I did not get by him quickly that the race would leave me.

I spent a blurred 10 laps trying to find a way past him and fighting my own exhaustion at the same time.

10 laps of looking for a mistake that I could capitalize on.

10 laps of probing for an opportunity to get in front.

In the end I was not able to get by him. If I had not done the 600 LCQ race could I have done better?

Probably.

Wrapping it up; what was this weekend about?


The goal of the weekend was to have fun, be a part of the national race series and race with my mates in the AFM.

At the beginning of this year I did not expect to be able to go to MotoAmerica round. There were HUGE questions about my ability to race after my injuries last year.

I am not 100% fit yet, but I am further down the road than I thought I was.