9/2-3/2006 @ NHIS: a full gamut of racingWell, it was quite a weekend. This time, my friend Ty was with me helping out in the pits. First and foremost, a big thank you to him for coming through on what proved to be a pretty busy and rainy weekend.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day. The forecast for the weekend was for showers late Saturday and rain on Sunday. My schedule called for the last race of Saturday and 3 races on Sunday. I figured this was gonna be the weekend for me to try full rain tires for the first time. It is New Hampshire after all. You can only avoid rain for so long.
Given that Friday was supposed to be dry all day, I wasn't too worried about setting any lap records. I just wanted to get some laps in and get my head in gear. But just as I thought it was going to be an easy day, I found out that the track configuration had been modified with a new chicane. In the old configuration, bikes came down the hill in turn 10, usually with some maintenance throttle, made a transition to the right and ran wide across the NASCAR pavement. This constituted turn 11. In the new configuration, cones were set up along the edge of the NASCAR pavement at the bottom of the hill and instead of running across, we now had to go slow and tight, staying on the NASCAR track for a couple dozen feet and then go through a little chicane, which then put us back onto the old track again. Lots of people were complaining in the pits, though supposedly this was not a new idea and was something that the experts liked to do from time to time.
Given this change, Friday's goal became to figure out my way around the new section. It was somewhat strange riding through it. As people advised each other, one had to remain as tight as possible coming down the hill and not apply any throttle whatsoever. I wanted to avoid using the brakes between the left and right handers, but it was causing me to run out all the way to the cones and then bring back the bike to the right before the chicane. The whole thing felt extremely awkward. But so it appeared to be for a lot of people. I never really did quite get a hang of it by Friday's end. I mounted a new rear Dunlop D208GP and a used matching front, figuring this was going to be the setup for Saturday.
I was excited to come out on the track again and work on the new section. Everything appeared to be going alright. The lap times were difficult to judge. Some people thought the track change added 2 seconds to your times, but looking at my own times and the super-fast folks, it did not appear to be the case. Knowing that the fastest people were likely to go on the old configuration was 1:14, maybe 1:13, and only seeing 1:20 as the fastest time we got, appeared to show the real difference was to be around 6 or 7 seconds. I was running about a 1:33 pace in the first practice, passing a few people, but mostly being left to my own devices. At one point, I was passed into turn 1. I decided to see if I could keep him in sight for a bit. He was pulling away from me, but not at a rate that would have told me to back off and ride my own ride. I got a good drive out of 2 and made a little ground on him toward 3. We went through 3 fairly evenly and I tried to match his drive and line out of it. Coming into the bowl (turn 6), I made a mistake and put the bike on too tight a line going in. That spat me out too wide on the drive out of the bowl and I completely missed the apex of 6A. I found myself going in a totally wrong direction into 7, which is a more of a high speed kink, though at times people get their knee down there as well. No biggie, I figured, as I found myself off the racing line and I knew I lost the guy I was trying to follow. At that point, I figured a quick tug on the bars would tighten up the line and put me back on course.
Unfortunately, as soon as I applied some steering input, I immediately found myself on the ground, sliding headlong on my back with the bike somewhere in front of me. I could hear the engine rev up, probably as the tires touched the ground. I slid long enough for me to gather my thoughts, spread my legs a bit to avoid tumbling and put my hands on my chest, away from harm. I started to worry about where I was headed, but soon after, the slide ended as abruptly as it began, but I didn't feel a thing. It was as though someone grabbed me very gently and brought me to a stop. All appendages seemed to be working, so I got up thinking maybe I slid into the bike, but it was nowhere near. Instead, I was surrounded by the airfence. From the looks of it, it must have gotten moved by my impact. I noticed another spot that looked like it was disturbed. I walked over there and saw the bike on its side. I could immediately see that the exhaust was bent in and the right side clip on bar was broken. Before I could do anything else, I heard the cornerworkers yelling for me to get behind the wall and out of the crash zone. I realized I was standing against the airfence in front of one of the highest speed sections of the track. Spending any time there unnecessarily was definitely unadvisable. I had to leave the bike where it was and came behind the wall.
The session went on, luckily without me causing a red flag. But that also meant that I couldn't get to my bike, or even back to the pits until it was over. And as luck would have it, they made me stay there for another session. I knew Ty was probably getting worries, but there was no way for me to let him know what was happening. I just hoped he'd listen to the cornerworkers' communications on the scanner of one of our neighbors and know that I was unhurt. After my session finished, one of the workers came out with me and we picked up the bike and wheeled it out of harm's way, but there was still no time to get it into the pits. I had to sit there for another session. Finally, I was given the go-ahead to scoot across the track with the broken bike, which of course didn't fire up. I had to lean up against a trash can and walk back to the pits. Luckily, Ty had figured out where I was by then and met me half way on his bicycle. He gave me a ride back to the pits, where we hitched up the trailer and so as to retrieve the bike. After the initial moments of swearing at myself, we had assessed the damage, which wasn't as bad as I originally feared:
- right side bodywork rashed up (like I needed that) with some small pieces missing
- broken right handle bar
- bent front fairing stay
- golf ball sized dent in the tank
Fortunately, we had time because my only race that day was race 13 out of 15 total. So there was quite a gap, which I originally thought we were gonna spend being bored. We replaced the handle bar, cleaned out the airbox, straightened the pipe, and taped up the plastics. There was road debris that got wedged between the front tire and the rim, so I had it replaced for another front that looked to be in better shape. At that point, we had a bit of time to rest and get a bite to eat before the race.
The race went fairly uneventfully. The conditions had worsened and the pace wasn't what it was in the morning. I was having some difficulty with the throttle having too much slack. I've come to realize I'm fairly sensitive to excessive slack in the throttle causing me to stay off the gas too long midcorner, overloading the front and making me get off the line. Looking at the times of the race, I was doing 1:30's, while the true race pace was 1:25's. I just didn't have it for that one.Sunday
I had 3 races, inlcuding GTO -- my first "endurance" race (20 min). GTO, was the first race of the day, which I've really come to like: you can actually hear the pre-race calls and not worry if you're early or late for the grid. The weather was cooperating in a sense that it after morning practice, the day settled into a more or less constant rain. Ty and I were miserable changing wheels in the pouring rain several times before the weather stabolized. Canopy or not, everything was getting wet no matter what.
The night before we had gone out to dinner with Todd and Chris of Team Incomplete. Todd is an extremely fast rider and something he told me stuck. To paraphrase, "I just accept that I'm gonna get wet in the rain and after that, I just ride." I decided to adapt the same attitude and stop complaining and feeling sorry for myself and "just ride".
The races were all a bit of a blur, as the wet day went kinda quick. In all 3, I got decent starts, jumping into the lead for a few corners in heavyweit superbike. In each race, I was left to my own devices shortly after the start. All in all, they were fairly uneventful. I'd say GTO was my favorite one. It really gave me an opportunity to reaxamine some of my lines over a prolonged stint. It felt more like a relaxed testing session than a race. At the end of the day, I was surprised to get 3 trophies: 2 3rds and a 2nd.
In retrospect, the weekend was a bit of everything from crashing to some decent finishes. I'm still unhappy with my riding. Despite the rain, I felt like I should have gone faster, and having gone over race lap times, I can see that I was consistently off the leading pace by several seconds. The way it felt riding confirmed that. I remember telling Ty it felt like the bike wasn't the same. I will probably take the chassis to get examined for straightness after the end of the season, but in fact, I believe my headlong visit to the airfence tweaked my back out that weekend. Last week, I was feeling particularly stiff and sick, but after a visit to a cranial-sacral therapist, she confirmed that she was able to make all kinds of microadjustments. I'm looking forward to seeing if the feeling improves in the upcoming event. Due to some unforeseen expenses, I may end the season one event early. That is something I'll determine after this weekend. Until then, see you at the track!