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Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report #5

Racing Past 60 | 'Luck' Holds Up for 2 Wins at WERA West, Round 3
Marc Rittner aboard his YZ450F Supermoto

It had been a month since the AHRMA races at Willow Springs, but when it comes to racing, there is no rest for the wicked. Having four weeks between races is just about perfect – it provides just enough time to inspect the bike, diagnose any problems, make adjustments, order new parts, and get them installed.

In my case I found some expected engine issues, and some unexpected ones. I expected needing to adjust a few valves after the initial engine run-in at AHRMA. Also no surprise was the cam chain was starting to kink a bit, as it has happened before. Morse Hy-Vo chains are generally trouble free, but the Yamaha YZ450F Supermoto’s chain doesn’t seem to hold up particularly well under the high rpm racing conditions I subject it to.

There were a couple of unexpected issues as well. I routinely removed the stator cover for inspection and cleaning. What I found was that the flywheel ring welded onto the crank rotor had broken its welds loose and had been spinning around in-place. Luckily, the design of the ring and positioning within the cases kept it from causing any significant damage.

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All that happened was a little rubbing on the rotor and cam chain guide rivet. I use high-strength magnets in all the drain plugs and inspection ports, and they did a good job of collecting any steel particles that had been shed, so no damage done. All that was required for repairs was for me to install my spare rotor, button it up, install a new filter, add fresh oil, and the powerplant was good to go.

I did notice the last time I rode the bike that the steering head bearings felt a little loose. Inspection determined that the root problem was that I had not properly installed my custom Scotts steering damper mounting hardware. There was a clearance issue between the top triple clamp and the steering damper mount I had not recognized. Once I saw the rub marks, fixing the problem was a simple matter of providing some additional relief. I used a Dremel sanding wheel and fine file to fix it. I’m sure glad that I caught the problem early before the bike’s handling turned dangerous.

Racing Past 60 | 'Luck' Holds Up for 2 Wins at WERA West, Round 3 mark Rittner and Jack
Marc Rittner and Jack Baker

Jack Baker and I discussed continuing our racing rivalry here at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, resulting in plans to pit together and share a motel room as well. We met at the track late Friday afternoon, picked up the key to our garage, and unloaded my bike and gear. I planned to ride a few practice sessions on Saturday, but Jack decided to skip practice and just unload and relax on Saturday.

Fastrackriders was the trackday organization for practice Saturday, and they did a professional job. They had 3 groups (Racers, Level 3, Level 2) that were all sold-out. I was lucky to get into Level 2 from the waiting list, as a lot of other racers were shut out of practice.

After 2 sessions they accommodated moving me up to Level 3, which had more riders that could run at race pace. The afternoon was littered with red flags, so I was lucky to get in 2 sessions at speed. I spent the rest of the afternoon just fiddling with lubing the chain, draining race gas, and changing jets.

Sunday morning was to have two practice rotations (six sessions each) starting at 8 a.m., with racing to begin at 11:30 a.m. Things were running a few minutes late, but not much. Jack and I both put our tire warmers on early, and waited until it was time to fire up our bikes using my car battery-powered electric roller starter.

I’m sure you have heard many times that “racing requires a little luck.” I have also heard a definition of luck that has always stuck with me: “Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.” Without opportunity, you will not need luck. Without preparation, luck rarely appears. Luck is rarely passive.

And of course there is bad luck. Jack’s bad luck for the weekend started at 8:00am sharp. He went to fire up his bike on the electric rollers but the engine was having a hard time starting. It turns out that leaving oversized rubber plugs in the exhaust pipe and carb throat can make it hard to start. I’ll admit that I have done the same thing myself, once or twice.

After it finally started it not only ran rough, but gasoline was leaking from the carb into the bellypan. However the dribble of fuel was not enough to keep Jack from going out on track, so off he went. He was able to run a few laps before his ignition died and he had to pull off the track. The meat wagon hauled him and his bike back to the garage.

The carb was still leaking, in addition to the “new” ignition problem. So off came the bodywork, tank, engine mount, shock, and eventually the leaking carb. As soon as Jack had the carb in his hand it became obvious that the fuel leak was from a loose float bowl drain screw. Doh! The funny thing is that just the day before I had told Jack a story about how I had done the exact same thing at Willow Springs once, completely filling my belly pan with volatile race fuel until it sloshed over the sides.

Jack’s ignition problem appeared to be the same problem that he had at Willow Springs the previous month.  This was troubling, since he had already replaced his stator and ignition coil with ‘new’ used parts from eBay. All that was left now was to try swapping out the black box. Not sure if that was the real problem, but it started right up and sounded good, so at least it was running. Too late now for the second practice, but at least it was ready for the races.

Electrical problems can be very difficult to diagnose. I had almost the exact same problem as Jack during the 2015 race season, with at least 4 ruined track days/events from it. Ultimately I resolved the problem by replacing my stator with a brand new OEM unit. Jack did not have that option, as the part he needed was on backorder. Since then my luck with electricals has been pretty good.

Race 4: D Superbike Expert

Racing Past 60 | 'Luck' Holds Up for 2 Wins at WERA West, Round 3 Expert ResultsAt third and final call for the race, Jack fired up his bike and left. I quickly pushed mine to the rollers and fired it up, but got to the staging area late. Race Direction said I was too late for a warmup lap so they sent me directly to my grid spot. This race was actually three waves of bikes, launching together. First wave was Lightweight Twins Superstock Expert (two racers); Second wave was D Superbike Expert (three racers); and third was was E Superstock Expert (six racers). The first wave was a couple of baby Kawasaki Ninja 250/300s, and the third wave was mostly new Yamaha R3s and a couple of baby Ninjas.

The three bikes in D Superbike were me on my YZ450F Yamaha single cylinder, Jack on his RM-Z450 Suzuki single cylinder, and Marc Zarra on his 450cc R6 Yamaha 3-cylinder. This is one of the popular 4-cylinder 600s that have one cylinder disabled in order to run in the 450cc class. It is a full R6 racebike, but with only 75 percent of the power.

The gaggle of R3’s included a couple of bikes sponsored by YamahaR3Racing.com, ridden by the business’ owner and a sponsored rider. There were a couple of other hotshots in their wave as well. The flag dropped and we all bunched up in the first turn behind a wave 1 rider. I got in there second, but the rider had just parked it, making me wait to see what line he would take. I tippy-toed around turns 2 and 3 on my cold tires. Meanwhile, a couple of the fast wave three guys stuffed me in the Esses and I was now in fourth, but starting to pick up the pace.

Behind me was Baker and Zarra, with the two YamahaR3Racing.com riders on the move. The next five laps were a dogfight between me and the R3s, with Zarra right in the mix. Jack was off the pace and dropped back due to his lack of track familiarity. He is a quick learner, but zero practice after a 15-year absence to Buttonwillow was not giving him the confidence he needed.

There were places where the R3s were very fast and nimble, able to gain ground on me. And there were places where I was strong on acceleration and speed, with the rest of the track fairly evenly matched. Lap after lap I gapped the R3’s just enough that they could not quite make up for their lack of power with better riding and handling. Yeah, they were frustrated. Too bad…this is MY track. You want my position, you’re going to have to take it.

There is a small hill on track called “Lost Hill” that has a blind right turn at the top. The R3s would repeatedly go deeper than me into the turn and make a pass before the apex. But I would grab a big handful and drive back by them on the way out.

The pace on the white flag lap had picked up quite a bit. I knew the R3s were desperate to get by me, but I hit my marks perfectly and kept the door closed tight…until Lost Hill. Not sure why, but I left the inside wide open and one of them shot right through. I did not get back by until the bottom of the hill, and then it was a drag-race to the sweeper. I went low, the R3 went high. I could see him on my outside, both of us driving toward the exit. I kicked down a gear to get more drive, hit the gas, and got a big scare when the front tire started to tuck. I thought for sure I was going to crash. But fortunately I caught it and only lost about 5 bike lengths.

Back on the gas, full throttle through the Esses and short straight to the final turn leading onto the front straight (a 90-degree left). I closed the gap to about two bike lengths and got a great drive out, passing the R3 about 50 yards before the checkered flag for the class win AND the moral victory. Zarra and a couple of other bikes were a little less than a second behind.

1st Place D Superbike – Rittner

Racing Past 60 | 'Luck' Holds Up for 2 Wins at WERA West, Round 3 - trophiesI thought it was a very competitive race, although I rode conservatively and did not equal my best lap times. The other guys thought differently, and griped afterwards that I was holding them up. I shared my thoughts with them that “if you can’t pass a 60-year-old man on a dirt bike and make it stick, then you need more practice.”

Race 8 – Clubman Expert (final race)

There were six entries: Me, Jack, and four small bikes. Jack’s bike started acting up again halfway through the first lap, so he pulled off at the track exit road. The other bikes did not provide any meaningful competition, so I cruised to an easy first place. I don’t call it a win, because there is no honor in first place without competition.

1st Place Clubman – Rittner

This was another successful race weekend for me, but somewhat less than satisfying in light of Jack’s continuing difficulties. But I am confident that the Old Lion will get it resolved. It is eight weeks until the next race (WERA @ Auto Club Speedway) where we will again bang bars for bragging rights. I have a few ideas on things to try before then to improve performance. Other than that, I’ll just do my regular maintenance and stick to my training program. We’ll see how my “luck” holds up.

Marc Rittner
AFM Expert #129

Riding Style

Next report: WERA, Auto Club Speedway

Read previous reports from Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report, Racing Past 60:

Racing Past 60 | Marc Rittner Intro

Racing Past 60 | Rittner Preps for 2016 AFM Race Season

Racing Past 60 | YZ450F Mechanical Failure at AFM, Round 1

Racing Past 60 | Supermoto Spank, 4 Wins at AHRMA