Another AFM round down, 3 more to go. I’m happy to report I came out relatively unscathed (a poked thumb and burnt finger due to playing unsafely with safety wire (oh the irony) and my left big toe hurts like hell from banging in my down shifts… time to finally get new boots I think. My muscles ache from not going to the gym in months, but my back which has been giving me problems lately feels great. With the important stuff out of the way, here’s how things went:
I went in to this round with high hopes. I consider Thunderhill my “home” track, even though it’s 3+ hours away because I’ve done so many track days there. It’s a great track with lots of variety: elevation changes, on and off camber turns, hard braking zones and fast straights. The weather was perfect- in the mid to high 70’s, rather then the 100 degree temps normal for this time of year. I figured this was my best chance of getting some decent points in hopes of finishing out the year in the top half in points in 650 Production.
Everything was seemingly going great until first practice on Saturday morning- my exhaust was clearly cooking my bellypan in the hot pits before I even went out on track. No point burning a hole in the fiberglass, so I went back to the pits and drove off to Walmart in search of a silicon hot mitt and some aluminum foil to create a heat shield. After no luck finding a reasonable insulating material at Walmart, I ended up getting some proper heat shield from Andre Benguerel (#951) and making my next practice session.
I ended up doing a 2:14 that session, not fast compared to the rest of the field, but within 2 seconds of my best at Thunderhill which was on my 748 during NRS. I was however having problems with the front end bottoming out (again) causing me to almost loose the front end twice at the apex of turns and my rear tire was having wear issues. Dave Moss made a few adjustments to the forks and rear shock which really transformed the bike and solved my front end problems. But before my next session, the entire back straight got oil all down the racing line when a bike blew its engine and I ended up doing no better then 2:16’s the rest of practice.
My clubman race was Saturday afternoon and I was gridded 4th on the outside of the front row. I ended up getting a good, but not great start and ended up 2nd behind Conan Dooley (#849). While I was mostly able to keep up with Conan in practice, in the race Conan seemed to find another gear and quickly put 10 bike lengths on me. I realized I wasn’t going to be challenging Conan so I concentrated on building a lead on the remaining bikes. That lasted until turn 3 when Robert Ababurko (#803) went around me on the outside on his 125. I can’t say I was too surprised- I know Bob is really quick (he ended up winning the race) and so I worried about the other two riders behind me also on SV’s.
I pushed hard, but Frank Shermoen (#825) ended up tracking me down and we swapped places a couple of times. Frank got me on the outside of 3 (hmmm… a pattern?) and I got a great drive out of 8 and got him back on the brakes into 9. Frank got me back in 2 when I went wide and I got him back on the brakes again into turn 14. I made another pass on the front straight on rider from the first wave, but Frank wasn’t quite as lucky and got held up while I was able to extend my lead to a comfortable 3rd place finish. Afterwords I found I had done consistent 2:12’s and got down into the 2:11’s while chasing down Frank- my best lap ever at Thunderhill! This was my 2nd time dicing it up with Frank and I’ve really enjoyed the start of this mini-rivalry.
During the race, I did notice my rear was sliding a bit again though. Same issue I was having at Sears, but while I had previously attributed it to tire pressure issues I started to wonder if it really was my tires going off. Sunday morning practice didn’t go that hot (2:16’s) and a conversation with Vik Anderson (“Wow, you’ve got a Metzler rear tire; that’s gotta be like 3 years old!”) convinced me to stop by CT Racing for some new Pirelli’s. Chris took *great* care of me and hooked me up with some new Dragon SuperCorsa’s (which worked absolutely fabulous and just like he claimed they would). While I’m sure all the tire guys are great to work with, I’d find it hard to believe any are better then Chris.
Of course, no race weekend of mine would be complete without the technical issue and so I had to forget to install the washer on the rear axle and ended up stripping the retaining nut when remounting the rear wheel. After yelling a few obscenities which no doubt half the paddock heard I set off in desperate hopes that one of my fellow SV racers would have a spare. Of course the first person I asked was Zoran who gladly traded me a new bolt for the promise of beer. (Zoran if you’re reading this, I dropped 3 ice cold Newcastle’s off later that day- hopefully one of them ended up in your hands.)
After scrubbing in the tires in some warm up laps, I got ready for 650 Twins. I don’t have many points, so ended up starting on the last row. I thought I got a decent start, but the door closed on me into turn 1 and ended up in last place. I knew my tires were nice and warm and so I had no problem going in deep into turn 2 and picking up a place or two. This time I ended up battling with Brian Paoletti (#791) for most of the race and he made a great pass on me on the inside of turn 14. I was finally able to get back around Brian (I think it was into turn 10, I forget really) on the penultimate lap and this time made sure this time to protect the inside line into 14. I made sure to get a good drive out of 15 and worked hard to keep up the corner speed through turn 1 where I thought I was a little stronger. Still pushing, I went a little too hot into turn 2 and had a problem keeping my line, but I had enough of a gap to keep Brian from making the pass. I got hard on the gas on the exit of 3 and went to grab the front brake for 4 only to grab nothing but air! A huge mental mistake on my part from pushing really hard, but I was able to quickly get things settled as Brian took the position away from me on the inside. I got hard on the gas up the hill into 5 and quickly closed on Brian’s rear, but I ended up having to grab a handful of front brake to avoid hitting him when he parked it at the top of the hill and almost tucked the front in the process. By the time I got the bike headed back down the hill, Brian had a 5 or 6 bike length lead and I knew unless he made a big mistake I wouldn’t be able to close the gap in the final lap. He didn’t and I ended up finishing 29 out of 32 starters. Not my best race, but congrats to Brian who ran a clean race and really kept the pressure on me to force the mental mistake. The good news was I put in a new best 2:10- another second off my personal best although my times weren’t as consistent.
My last race was 650 Production. Another small grid with only 7 riders starting. While ideally, this should be the perfect newbie class, it’s dominated by some fast experts and with the economy being what it is, there aren’t many novices. This round was no different and there was only two novices: Roger Gonzalez (#688) and I. I got a good start from the 2nd row and pushed hard the first lap (doing a 2:11) hoping to get a tow from the leaders, but they were going 5-10 seconds faster then me and I had no chance. This race wasn’t too eventful and I ran 6th for basically the whole race, although at the end of lap 4 I looked over my shoulder down the front straight to find Roger right behind me. That gave me a kick in the pants and I had to really focus to hold on to 6th at the checker.
Overall, another good weekend. Even though I’m battling it out at the back of the pack, I’m having a lot of fun and it’s encouraging to be dropping a couple of seconds a lap each weekend- it’s amazing how much time you can save when you just open the throttle earlier and harder. :)