AFM Round 4 - Thunderhill

Wednesday, June 18, 2006

20mm makes all the difference...

Wow! This has to have been the most intense and challenging weekend ever!!!! It all started over a week before the race...

June 8: T-Minus 9 days to Qualifying

I drop the bike off with Phil at Aftershocks Suspension to have the stock front end swapped out for a GSX-R front end. With this I should be getting better brakes, and high speed and braking control. The stock front end has always seems kind of mushy when stressed. I've been looking forward to this upgrade from quite some time, however, it took quite some time to get everything together. I finally had all the parts, or so I thought...

June 10: T-Minus 7 days to Qualifying

Phil calls me up and informs me that the stock steering stem locknuts don't fit the new front end and I need to get them. I should have known this. But where the hell am I going to get these parts in such a short time on a Saturday?!?!

A friend of mine suggests calling Dave Stanton, a fellow racer wearing the #1 plate this year, who also happens to run a Suzuki Dealership. Dave hooks me up and has the parts overnighted and will be in on Tuesday.

June 14: T-Minus 3 days to Qualifying

The parts came in the day before (THANKS AGAIN, DAVE!) and delivered to Phil. Phil had everything ready to go so that when I showed up, the finishing touches were made and the bike loaded in my truck to take home and finish assembly.

Nope, it doesn't end there. I get it home and start installing the brakes. (just a heads-up to anyone reading, the challenge of this round was 'brakes' you're going to hear a *lot* about them...) Nope, won't fit. WTF? Oh, the tubes were installed backwards. I call Phil up to confirm to confirm and he offers to come to my garage to help sort it out. It was awesome. One of the Bay Areas premier motorcycle suspension experts is working on my bike's front end in my garage at 11:00 at night. Phil's awesome.

Ok, so we get the front end squared away, the new brake lines installed and the calipers on. Things are looking good, or so I thought. One thing I notice was that when installing the calipers, the pads/pistons had to be really spread to get on the rotor. Hmmm, "Odd", I thought, but with the list of things I had to do, I put this in the back of my mind. This mystery will be solved at a later time...

With everything all assembled except the bodywork (Phil had left by this time) and the clock approaching midnight (remember, I've still got a day job), I think it is time to take the bike out for a test ride.

Whoa! The front end feels tight! But what the hell is that scraping sound? Putting the bike back on the stands, there's a steady scraping sound when turning the wheel. "Hmmm," I thought, "Old pads? I'll get some new ones tomorrow."

June 16: T-Minus 1 days to Qualifying

Oops, couldn't get out of work the day before the get new pads, so it had to wait until today. However, I was able to get everything else together so that was all that remained. When installing the pads, I had the same problem of them being too tight, but fortunately, after bedding them in, the horrible scraping sound went away. Now, it was a normal dragging sound ;) but not so bad.

I can't wait any longer, it is Friday and I'm qualifying tomorrow. I have to load the bike up, pack for the weekend and start the 3 hour drive...and it's 9:00 at night already. Aargh, I'm getting tired and I technically haven't even started yet.

I pack up all my stuff, load, and I'm ready to go by 11:00. I figure, there's no way I'm going to be able to drive the 3 hours, set up the tent, and get enough sleep to be of any use the next day. I make arrangements to stay at a friends house, and in fact, she wants to be my pit crew for the weekend. I drive the half hour there, pack up some of her stuff and finally get to bed at around 12:30. The alarm is set for 3:00AM and we need to be there by 6:00AM for unloading, setup, and tech inspection.

June 17: T-Minus 0 days to Qualifying

Up at 3:00AM was tough. I did *not* want to get all. But today's the day. What I have ahead of me is the following:

3:00AM to 6:00AM - drive from San Ramon to Willows
6:00AM to 7:00AM - unload, set up the pit
7:00AM to 8:00AM - register, tech, and rider's meeting
8:00AM to 3:00PM - ride 4 20 minute practice sessions
3:15PM - Qualifying. I think I need a 2:18 or better to race on Sunday.

Jeez, I ought to be able to *walk* around the track in less than 2 minutes 18 seconds.

The day does not start well. I put in yet ANOTHER set of brake pads, supposedly the best possible and go out for my first practice session.

Wow! The new front end feels great, and despite all the things I think are wrong, the brakes feel pretty good, too. So far so good...but not for long.

I come in from the session and throw the tire warmers on. Doing this I notice that the front brakes are dragging HEAVILY, as in it is really hard to turn the front wheel. Not good. I go over to my buddy Chris and ask for some possible suggestions. He says that maybe the calipers are dirty and not releasing as they should. He give me some directions and I go to do what he said. I take the calipers apart and clean the pistons. Everything seems ok. I go to put the pad back in and notice, hey, only have the pad is being used!! I pull it out, take it to Chris and say, "Is this right?" He drops his breakfast and says, "Hell no. There's something really wrong." He stops in the middle of his meal and rushes over to my bike, takes one look and says, "You've got the wrong rotors on there. You have 300mm and you need 320mm." Just at that moment, talk about luck, Zoran from Twin Works Factory happens to be rolling by on his pit-scooter. Chris turns to him and says, "Zoran, he's got 300mm rotors, but needs 320mm rotors. Do you have a set?" Zoran immediately says yes and I follow him back to his pit to grab them from him. Wow, the *TOP* team's leader just hands me a set of brake rotors to use for the weekend. Just awesome.

I pull the front wheel off, throw the new rotors on, and reinstall. Things are looking even better!! Unfortunately, by this time, I'd gotten my lap times from my first practice session. 2:22-2:20 Horrible.

This is where I really screwed up. In putting the wheel back together I went to reinstall the calipers. The whole wrong-rotor-size-epiphany happened after I'd cleaned only one of the calipers. So, in putting the other caliper in, I figured, I have a few minuts, might as well clean the other one while I have it out. Bad idea. As I was pushing the caliper pistons out I wasn't paying attention to the one my hand was hiding. I ended up popping the piston all the way out of the caliper! I'd just spend several hours bleeding the brakes of all the air, and here I just dumped more in, in the worst way possible!

Oh well. Bleed, bleed, bleed. I got it feeling firm again, but I knew there was still air in there.

Once out on the track, I can *really* feel the awesome-ness of the brakes, until they heat up. I had to cut my session short because I lost my brakes after about 6 laps. 2:19 when the brakes were working.

Bleed, bleed, bleed.

Practice session - 2:18 Getting closer, but no room to spare.

Bleed, bleed, bleed.

Remember, all this on 2.5 hours sleep.

You might ask, what has become of my pit crew during all this? She was absolutely fantastic! She forced me to eat and even more importantly, she forced me to drink. It was 90 degress by 9AM. Not only that, but she set up most of the pit, got really good at putting tire warmers on and off, and kept all my tools in order. (I tend to put them on their sides and they roll away.)

Practice session - 2:16 and consistent. Brakes are getting better with each session and bleed, but they're still fading after 5-6 laps. I'm now within qualifying time, I just need to make sure I can maintain it for the 6 laps qualifying race. Coincidence?

Ok, time to race. There were about 35 or so bikes in the qualifying race. I don't know what position I need to finish in, but I need consistent times of 2:18 or better. I go out for the warm-up lap and the brakes feel great, but the question is for how long?

I'm gridded up mid-pack or so, which isn't too bad.

2 Board...
1 Board...

GO GO GO !!! Up through the gears to fourth into turn 1. What a cluster-F into turn 1. My aggression waned dramatically and I went into cautious/survival mode. Not the ideal state of mind for a racer. I end up maybe 18th or 20th going into turn 2. My grandmother could have pushed my bike through there faster. I find a steady state and and just sit there. In laps 1 and 2, I gained maybe 3 or 4 positions to 14th or 15th place and that seemed about it. I wasn't getting any faster and there was no one else within immediate chasing distance.

Then I saw him. KTM guy.

The KTM guy is kind of like my arch-nemesis, except we don't hate each other. It's a long story... We just have a healthy rivalry towards one another.

But there he was about 3 turns ahead of me. Too far to catch in the remaining 3 laps? Probably but I've got to at least try. Dude, put your head down and go for it!

All through laps 3 and 4 I'm reeling him in and overtook a couple of other racers in the process. It didn't matter. KTM guy was my goal. Miraculously, by turn 5 of lap 5, I'm right on in his ass. I stayed back there, though, I knew my strong point on him was horsepower and braking, I must bide my time.

I considered taking him on the outside of exit of 7, or the inside of 8, but considering our history (again the long story) for the sake of our lives, I thought that to be a bad idea. No problem, I had a plan for between 9 and 10. I let him get a little away from me (maybe 6 feet or so) between 8 and 9, but I came into 9 with huuuuge corner speed setting up to rail between 9 and 10. Coming down the backside hill of turn 9 I'm banging up through the gears (4..5..6..) and revving the motor out! Front end comes off the ground for a bit and wobbles as it comes back down. F'ing pin it, dude! Before I knew it I'm by him!! Wahoo!

Oh shit, here comes turn 10. Heeeavy braking to bring my speed down. My rear wheel's coming off the ground and then skidding and fish-tailing as it comes back down. Back on the gas to stabilize and turn in. Once again, the bike just took it like a champ. (Gotta love that new front end! Thanks Phil!)
Now I'm thinking, "That's like smacking a hornet's nest. I'm sure it just pissed him off." Head down and race. There's nobody within reach in front of me, so just ride a clean ride, but faster. I tried to recall all the advice I'd been given:

Zoran: "Turn 1 is high speed. Scrub speed using air and engine drag all the way to the apex and then back on the gas."
David: "You're good at turn 2. You should be dragging your knee through the whole thing, but not too heavily."
Chris V: "When in doubt, gas it."
Chuck: "You should be WOT from turn 6 to 9"
Phil: "The bike is capable. Now go be lightning quick."

So that's what I did. Twice through this lap I pushed the front end. These tires were done. But somehow, I kept the bike sticky side down.

Never once did I look back. Not once. I just put my head down and rode to the best of my abilities. Coming onto the front straight with the checkered flag out, I was amazed I was still in front of KTM guy. Amazing. I pinned the throttle and said, "Savannah (my bike's name) it's all up to you now. Go, baby, go."

I cross the finish line still in front! Wow! I go to look back to see where he is, and he's nowhere to be seen. Finally, about 20 seconds later, he finishes. In the words of Alan Sapega (Sportbike Dynamics), I spanked him!

I come back into the pits absolutely exhausted. They grab the bike from to put on the stand and I start getting out of my leathers. What an unbelievable race. I'm pretty sure I qualified, but I won't know for sure for a little while. It doesn't matter. That was the best race of my life, yet. I have the biggest smile on my face. People who know about the rivalry between KTM guy and me are coming by to congratulate me and all. That was really cool.

Then, the times come in.

CONSISTENT 2:13 and in 11th place of over 30! For my first race at this track, not too shabby. I'm in for Sunday!!!

I really need to thank some people:

David, how long ago was I in C group? Thanks to you I'm hanging with the big boys in A.
Phil, for dealing with missing parts, short timeframes, bleeding my brakes (how many times?) and knowing better than I do what I want/need adjusted.
ChrisV, for your wealth of knowledge, especially when it comes to the correct size rotors.
Zoran, for not a moment's hesitation in lending me a set of rotors.
Angel, for your support and assistance with, well, everything
Alan, for crash repairs and upgrades.
Gregg, for building one hell of a bike
Matt, for mooching off your generator. Riding without tire warmers would have sucked.
Savannah (my bike), for always being more capable than I am, and even when I throw you to the ground, for getting back up to do it again.