Alexey's Log
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
8/9-10/2008: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

I was waiting until now to get official race results from this date, but seeing as they are still unavailable, I'll do a quick update post later.

Originally, this was supposed to be our bike debut on the endurance scene with WERA at Summit Point, West Virginia. After the previous round, I was no longer comfortable committing to a 6 hour event, given that stability issues were not completely resolved. When we got home, I determined the bike still had too little trail, while steering head and wheel bearings appeared to be fine. I decided to cancel the endurance race until the bike was better sorted and instead go to Loudon yet again and see what we could do towards that goal after a few adjustments.

This time, Alix was my pit crew. Due to work-related issues, we were forced to skip Friday afternoon practice. We arrived at the track Friday night, set up the pits, registered and passed tech inspection, made a planned rear ride height adjustment and checked into the hotel.

After the initial ride height adjustment, the bike felt noticeably better. I was able to hold the gas wide open almost the entire length of the straightaway and I was getting less of a nervous feeling through the bars going over the hill towards turn 6. The biggest difference, however, was in how much more I was able to be aggressive. The main reason for this is likely the fact that, while I calmed the bike down by giving it more trail, I was able to back off the near-maximum setting on the steering damper, which freed it up considerably. I began to make passes at places I hadn't done before, as well as my usual spots. I knew it was still just practice, but things were beginning to feel like the old times. We made another rear ride height adjustment for the second session and, while it didn't yield as big of a gain, it was a bit better still.

Middleweight Superbike
It was quite the field -- somewhere around 38 starters. Given the improvement in the bike, I was really looking forward to seeing what I could do finally. Practice times were not as big an improvement on the previous weekend, but I knew the race would bring out some more speed from me, as it usually does. I got a pretty shoddy start, once again having forgotten to practice launching in the morning, and had to fight a little bit. There was quite bit of shuffling going on, but all in all, the action felt pretty clean until a red flag came out. With that, I discovered what appeared to be a new restarting procedure, which I rather liked. Instead of reverting back to initial grid spots, everyone, who made to pre-grid was given a new starting position based on last completed lap. To my disappointment, I discovered I netted a loss of 3 positions from where I started. I was determined to get a better start this time. Physically, I felt like I hadn't done a lap and was not the least bit tired, which would have been great if we were in West Virginia doing an endurance race, but oh well.

On the restart, I got a slightly better launch than previously, but still not what I wanted. It dawned on me that the clutch will probably need new friction plates soon. After the start though, things were much more orderly than before, seeing as everyone was theoretically ordered by pace. It was easier to keep track of your advancement in the field too. One rider came up charging through the field, but otherwise I was just working to see who I could catch. I did not have to make any banzai passes, instead it felt like certain people were coming back to me and I was making my way around them with minimal drama. At one point though, Kevin, one of my pit neighbors, caught me on the straight, where I was now mostly having issues with my Summit Point gearing, which was entirely too tall for Loudon. He went by me and I really wanted to get him back, as I knew I'd been able to pass him in practice. I focused on Kevin's entry speeds and lines and looked for anything I could exploit or incorporate into my own riding. It started to feel like I was able to get close to him, but he continued getting a very solid drive onto the front straight, as well as out of turn 2 -- my usual strong point. The turn 2 improvement caught me a little off guard. I thought I could still get him there if I just didn't let him get away on the straight so much. Unfortunately, when the white flag was out, I did not make much headway driving out of the final chicane and Kevin once again left me for dead. I knew the gap was too big to close in one lap. Lacking official results, Alix said we took 12th in that race. On Sunday, I found out Kevin was running an onboard camera borrowed from David, who graciously burnt me a copy right on the spot. I'll try to edit it down some and post online. It was the first time I saw my own riding in motion and was pretty educational.

Given that instability was still a factor, I decided to seek out some help and went to Mike of GMD Computrack NYC. He said forks were definitely on the soft side, both in terms of springs and damping. He tightened up the damping some and let me go with a suggestion that I give him the forks to redo for my weight later.

The very first thing that happened was the bike felt transformed since yesterday, which was obviously due to the damping changes by Mike. It was fantastic. Once again, it was easier to ride and closer to what I remembered it being like before the big crashes. We made a bit of an improvement in terms of lap times, but I felt like there should be more to come.

Out of my 2 new pit neighbors Steve and Kevin, I was the only one entering GTU, despite them both being novice license holders on 600's. The grid was not big and the weather was promising. I've really come to appreciate doing a long'ish race first thing after the lunch break: your body is fresh, the pits are quiet, you can really focus and relax before the event. Hearing the first few bikes firing up and rolling through the pits on their way to the pre-grid, about to open the new day of racing -- the only sounds in the paddock at that point -- is kind of cool too.

One thing everyone typically complains about as far as the GT races for novices is that they never really seem to go full distance without red flag interruptions. Luckily, this one went off without a hitch. I was still struggling a bit with the launch, but I began to consciously compensate for the clutch wear and was starting to get a hang of it once again. In a GT race, though, it really didn't bother me much being shuffled back a little at the start. After the initial first lap craziness, I settled into a comfortable pace. I was in touch with a group of riders I really wanted to stay with, when I caught neutral entering the final chicane, which killed the launch out of it, as if I needed any more problems there on top of my incorrect gearing. They took off, but I didn't get passed. I put my head down and tried to get a few clean laps together without fading, as can happen to me sometimes when left alone. Fortunately, I was able to catch the last bike out of that group, but by then the rest of the group had spread out away from him. I made a clean pass on him and soon thereafter we took the checkered flag. I am not sure what our results were for this race at this point.

Middleweight GP
In this one, Kevin and I were going up against each other again. For once I got a good launch and didn't let too many people get away. As I recall, Kevin was in front of me, but I just could not catch him no matter what. I was also beginning to feel some fatigue. At one point, I made an inside pass in the middle of turn 3 and just as I was getting on the gas, the rear stepped out a bit. This was most unexpected, as I never had traction problems there before. On the next lap I took a closer look at the pavement and realized I started to crack open the gas on a small bit of pavement that was different from the rest. It was a corner of a rectangle that the racing line went through and apparently it has less traction than the rest -- good old Loudon with its patchwork of asphalt. I'm sure the tire, which at that point had accumulated quite a few heat cycles, was past its prime. Before long, the race was over. I believe we once again finished somewhere around midpoint. We'll have to wait for the final results.
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