Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report #6 – With Video
With another WERA race coming up in July (video below), I really wanted to get reacquainted with the track, as I had not been there since my first Novice race with WERA in January, 2013. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to dust off my GSX-R1000 track-day bike and put in a few serious practice sessions.
The problem was that despite being a third-year Expert racer, me and the Gixxer were still not getting along. There is nothing wrong with the chassis. There is nothing wrong with the running gear. It’s the ergonomics of this bike, (and most all sportbikes of a similar kind), that I take exception to. This bike’s combination of clip-on handlebars, rearset footpegs and tank/seat positioning take all the natural and instinctive man-machine dynamics out of the equation for me.
Fortunately, I had brought the YZ450F with its familiar and proven ergonomics. I felt instantly comfortable on the bike and the track after just a few laps. In fact, things went so well that I was able to spend the rest of the afternoon dicing it up with my friend Joe (on his Aprilia RSV4), and slicing through the Level 2 field with ease.
I ran some pretty good lap times, and I even got a thumbs up from racer Eric Bostrom, who had been instructing a pack of intermediate students when I slashed my way through. It had taken three years to get here, but at last I had found my sweet spot with this bike and this track after only a handful of sessions.
Maintenance for the upcoming race was fairly routine: check the valve clearances, replace the cam chain, change the oil and filter, clean the air cleaner, and general cleaning. The cam chain showed no sign of kinking, but with two race weekends already, I decided to replace it. Cheap insurance at $20. Other service items included a new drive chain and sprockets. It had been 18 months since I installed the existing Vortex sprockets and D.I.D. chain. Even though they were still serviceable, I felt that new parts would provide better performance.
Saturday, July 25 Practice Day – Adverse Conditions
Weather forecast for Saturday practice was 110 degrees F. Sunday race day would not be much better at well over 100 degrees F forecasted.
Anybody who has road raced in Southern California, from Chuckwalla to Willow Springs, has raced in the heat. Everybody holds up well for a few sessions, but it takes a diligent effort at hydration to maintain your performance and not get heat-stroke or cramps. I drink 1-2 pints of water along with an electrolyte capsule after every session, and at least a pint per hour after that. No heavy lunch, just a balanced protein bar and some fruit. Keep a wet towel on your neck and head to lower your core body temperature. Your brain function and coordination suffer when your core temperature rises.
Practice on Saturday went very well, aside from me being black flagged for riding “too aggressively.” Gosh, how did that happen? I promised to behave, and they let me back out onto the track for the next session. My bike still had on the used race tires from the last WERA round at Buttonwillow, and they were still working quite well. I shared one of the track garage spaces with my friends Dave, Angelo, and Travis.
Dave and Angelo rode in Level 3, but being on a smaller bike I rode in Level 2 along with Travis riding his Yamaha R6. It was a perfect preview for the Superbike D race on Sunday, as I battled Travis everywhere on the track. I stopped practicing about 3:30 p.m., and turned my attention to getting a new set of Dunlop race tires mounted.
Late in the afternoon Austin Guinn showed up looking for a place to pit. Austin is current the AFM #9 Plate holder, and won (4) class championships in 2015 in his premiere Expert season. He is a quiet young man and a talented racer, riding a Yamaha R3 sponsored by Spears Racing (Greg and Lisa Spears), of Manteca, Calif. He races hard, and usually has his wife and baby girl with him to cheer him on. However, this weekend they wisely stayed home and avoided the heat. Dave was already packed up and ready to leave, so we put Austin in Dave’s garage spot.
Sunday July 24 – Race Day
Since Austin had never been here, I offered to drag him around the track during the morning practice sessions. In the first session I slowed my pace a bit so that he could stay with me. I soon realized how quickly he was learning the track when he went rocketing by me out of Turn 5, so no need for me to be holding back any longer. We both went about our business, and headed back to the garage after a few more laps.
We went out again in the second session, and immediately found ourselves in close quarters with our competition for the weekend. Jesse and Zeke both ride Yamaha R3’s under the “YamahaR3Racing.com” banner.
I was very familiar with both of them, having battled with them at the last WERA West Round at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. I rode with them for two laps and pulled off the track, having seen what was needed to formulate my race strategy for the weekend. And besides, I was still feeling the physical effects from riding in Saturday’s extreme temperatures. Best to save my strength for the upcoming races.
Race 8 – Clubman Expert
The Clubman class is a mixed bag of lightweight bikes (singles, twins, multis, 2-strokes and 4-strokes). It is one of those classes where a variety of different sizes, designs, strengths and weaknesses all somehow even out in lap times. Depending on who shows up, it can make for some really good racing.
Both of the YamahaR3Racing.com R3’s were in this race. I got a good start and led the first lap. I may have seen Jesse’s white R3 a couple of times in Turn 9, but was told later that he made a few mistakes, letting Zeke get by for second place.
I just kept my head down and errors to a minimum, and won the race without being seriously challenged. Margin of victory was about 4 seconds. It was a good warm-up for the upcoming D Superbike race.
1st place Clubman Expert – Rittner
Race 11 – D Superbike
This was the race I came for. I was pretty sure that Marcus Zarra (current class points leader) would be there, as he is defending his 2015 championship. He rides a Yamaha R6 with one injector disabled, which rules allow to run as 450cc bike in several classes. We’d already raced together, as he was part of that same battle at Buttonwillow with the R3’s. I had also expected to race against Jack Baker on his potent Suzuki RMZ-450 SuperSingle, but some things came up that week which prevented him from being there. Nonetheless, I was here to race whoever lined up on the grid.
This was a multi-class, 1-wave start: C Superbike, D Superbike, E Superstock, in that order on the grid. There was a single Yamaha FZ-07 C Superbike gridded on Row 1, then me and Marcus in D Superbike on Row 3, and finally Austin and the other R3 boys behind us on Rows 5-7. The flag dropped, and it was no surprise that the FZ-07 immediately checked-out, running lap times several seconds quicker than we were capable of. But I was in front of everybody else, so now it was ON.
Practice had shown me that morning that the R3’s were very strong in the first half of the track with their great cornering, but not as strong on the second half of the track, which favored speed. Strategy wise, I wanted to catch the front early for a clear track, and do my best to keep the competition behind me to act against each other as a “rolling roadblock.” Tactically, I felt that as long as I stayed close to my rivals entering the back straightaway, my Yamaha YZ450F Supermoto would get me to the finish line first.
Even though the D Superbikes and E Superstock bikes classes were scored separately, you would swear that we were all in the same race and that there was a Factory ride with a million dollar contract (plus signing bonus and umbrella girls) awaiting the winner.
From my seat, I could sense that these guys were hot on my heels. Jesse rode with great skill and determination to make up the speed deficit between our bikes, and Marcus lurked, waiting for the opportunity to exploit the speed advantage of his 450-R6.
Jesse would consistently outride me in the slower chicanes, grabbing back great chunks of the distance I had gained under acceleration. He also had the measure of me in Turn 9, (a decreasing radius right hander that dumps onto the back straightaway), going inside or outside at will. But having seen him in practice, I expected it, and conceded it, because regardless of all the work he put in clawing his way to the front, I would snatch it back within 3 gear changes on the back straightaway. “Later, bitches!” I thought to myself. The only problem was that half a lap later he was right back on my tail.
Honestly, I was more concerned about Marcus on his 450-R6 than the R3s. Marcus had run two seconds per lap faster than me in practice, and that is a lot to try to make up. What saved me here was what I got exactly what I had planned for: every time he tried to make a run at me, an R3 would get in front of him and spoil his drive.
How perfect is that? (Refer back to my last report where I wrote about “Racing Luck”). However, luck can be fleeting, as mine took a hit when my quickshifter stopped working on the warmup lap (loose bracket). I quickly reverted to manual shift mode, but that ended up losing valuable ground on every shift…ground that I needed to win this race.
After five laps of unrelenting racing chaos, the white flag was out and it was time to pull the pin. I willfully braked deeper into every corner, and wound on the throttle just a little bit sooner. On this last go around, I led out of Turn 9 onto the back straightaway, so it was my race to lose. I made my deepest effort yet on the brakes into Turn 12 at the end of the back straightaway, flicked the bike back left in Turn 13, gassed it hard, and looked ahead to Turn 14, and….WTF? There was Jesse, barging through the track marker cones back onto the track just ahead of me. He had totally blown his braking at the end of the back straightaway and just rode straight through, skipping turns 12-13.
No time to think about this now. There was another bike on the track between me and the checkered flag, and I needed to get to the front quickly if I was going to squash the ‘who beat who’ discussion afterwards. I gritted my teeth as I drove as hard as possible through the connected left Turns 18-20. Coming onto the front straight, I caught his draft and blew right by him just before the finish line. Boom! Marcus finished between 1-2 seconds behind, with Zeke a few seconds behind him.
All of us ran lap times in the 1:46 range, but how each of us did it was very different. It would have been a perfect battle for the Clubman class. I know the other guys would have preferred a clear track ahead of them to improve their lap times, but they’re going to have to get around me first and make it stick!
1st Place D Superbike – Rittner
Other than having to deal with the extreme heat and a few minor difficulties, this weekend was all about executing the plan. Both of my races were hard fought. Twice I fended off a hungry pack of determined racers, and twice I prevailed for the win. Ultimately, all that we racers can do is prepare ourselves and our machines to the best of our abilities, line ’em up, and sort it out on the track. But when it all goes right and you find your sweet spot, you’ll take the checkered flag and know that there was method to your madness.
AFM/WERA Expert #129
Photography by CaliPhotography (facebook.com/caliphotography & instagram.com/caliphotovideo)
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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
- Racing Past 60 | Luck Holds Up for 2 Wins at WERA West, Round 3