Ups and Downs
After a rocky start at Buttonwillow I came into round two full steam. My hopes were running high as I had some fresh track time recently and the bike was re-wired and running 100%. Unfortunately the 600 would not survive the weekend in tact however all was not lost.
In the weeks leading up to the race weekend I spent most of my time overhauling Laura’s ninja 250. This involved a GSX-R rear shock, new fluids, valve adjustment, bodywork respray and so on. She shoe’d on new rubber and put on her determined face for the weekend. Due to the change for Formula III to be on Saturday Laura had not qualified well enough to run so I took this opportunity to play on a small bike. Saturday practice went well and I got into the groove dropping down to near my personal best. I was unable to beat my best time however I knew that I would find an extra push in the races on Sunday. Before we knew it the national anthem was playing and it was time for race 1. I decided to head out for the warm up lap to get a feel for the bike. I had only ridden the bike once before for a few laps at Thunderhill. Lots had changed since then on both the bike and me. I only had one lap to get the feel before I went out into race two. As I was dicing through a pack of clubman middle and heavy I felt the bike wallowing all around underneath me. Not as if I was at the limit of traction or a flat tire, but as if the chassis was made of wet spaghetti. I was also immediately reminded that this bike had 70 some-odd less horsepower than the 600. Everything just felt wrong… it was exciting…
I pull in and head back to the pits to mentally prepare myself for FIII. For me this was supposed to be a fun race, nothing serious. Besides the fact that I was under strict orders not to crash the bike. It was after all; not my bike. I rolled out to the hot pits and got one more lap to acquaint myself with ‘Santiago’. I find my grid position lined up next to the other three entrants in the novice race. As the the 1 board goes sideways I raise the RPM to some level I think might work and work the clutch as the green flag flies. “Nope” I thought to myself as I trail the field into turn 1. Clearly it is not the same as launching the 600 and I was far too gentle. This was shortly lived however as the field piled into turn 2 I ran myself right into the pack and was back in the fight without much loss.
Each lap brought new revelations in how to negotiate braking zones. Namely how much to avoid the brakes at all costs. Turn 7 is usually a heavy braking zone, however once you realize that the end of the drag strip is actually uphill and the little 250 fails to gain speed in top gear, that braking zone gets much shorter. After getting passed or nearly passed a few times I worked on braking less and less until I settled for just three downshifts with no brakes at all. This worked surprisingly well! I was able to get a good drive down into 8 and then as I crest the hill towards 9 I found myself repeatedly trying to find a missing 7th gear. Tapped out in 6th was all I had. This again resulted in braking as little and as late as possible into 9 even with traffic in the way in order to maintain momentum. This lead to the next revelation which cost me a first place. Not to loose that momentum. Failing to downshift or botching an apex is all it takes to loose steam and get passed. This happened on the last lap in 9a. I came in hot but only grabbed two downshifts AND ran wide. This allowed the 300 I was battling with to pass me back. Never-the-less a 2nd place on a bike I had never ridden in competition against newer faster models was respectable. I managed a 2:03 that last lap which isn’t too shabby. And it was fun enough that I may bribe Laura to let me run it again.
Sunday: over too soon
Laura’s race was postponed on Saturday and moved to race 0 on Sunday. This made for a busy morning and a packed schedule. I was up at race 2 for 750sb. I had failed to start this race at Buttonwillow so my grid position was from the third row. I knew that I would have to pick my way through the field to get a decent position. The green drops and I get an OK start diving into 1 and up through 2. I start picking my way through the field at a conservative pace. I knew that I just needed to get points so I shouldn’t try anything too risky or hasty. Two laps in I wound my way up past familiar competitors and began my third lap. I was picking up the pace and riding a little more like I had on the 250. Braking later and carrying more speed into corners. I was on fresh tires and the bike was feeling good. Upon entry into the Carousel I was carrying a lot of speed. I had set up for this with a wide entry to get the best drive onto the drag strip as possible. In my mind this was what was needed to make a pass under braking into 7. As I tip into 6 however the front tire reminds me I was getting impatient and slides out from underneath me. I tried to put my arms out to keep myself from tumbling. This was a futile effort as I left the pavement. The next thing I remember is paramedics asking me if was sure that I was ok. I gave them a vague answer as I tried to convince myself that I was indeed un injured. The feeling of joining yourself mid conversation is unsettling and I can only imagine that this must be what dementia or alzheimers feels like. I am released however disoriented and covered in blood from a bit lip my day is done.
My race was red-flagged, something I had hoped I would never be the cause of. It was re-started. Laura’s race was up after that and after finding me; got on the horse and headed out to set her fastest laps of the weekend. For that I am super proud of her! Other than solemnly watching the races that I should have been part of the rest of the day goes smoothly. The damage to me was far worse than the damage to the bike. Some fairing repair and I will be back for Thunderhill.