Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report #7
I had raced WERA West Round 4 at Auto Club Speedway (ACS) in Fontana, Calif., less than two months ago, and had done pretty well. Due to this, I was not overly concerned that I had not attended a regular track day in the interim. For mental practice, all I really needed was to ride 30 minutes from my house for some of the best canyon riding in Southern California.
The weekend before the races I rode my street-legal Yamaha WR450F Supermoto from Sunland to Wrightwood and back with some of my “SoCal Twisters” moto buddies, getting in some quality seat time. Riding a street bike that is nearly identical to my race bike has always been a good way stay tuned-up when away from the track. We enjoyed some spirited riding that supported my confidence ahead of race weekend.
The prior week, I went through my normal preparations of pre-race bike maintenance: check the valve clearances, replace the cam chain, change the oil and filter, clean the air cleaner, and general cleaning. What I don’t get about ACS is why the hot race tires pick up such a large amount of rubber that has been shed from every type of race tires out there.
Doesn’t this modern, high-priced facility have a tracker blower machine like most of the rest of the tracks we race on in Southern California? The sides of my tires remain clean, due to high lateral scrubbing action in the corners, but braking and acceleration just pack it on down the center of the tires like you rolled through a parking lot littered with freshly discarded chewing gum.
It takes about an hour at the end of the day to pry off those rubber wads using a sharp, flat-blade screwdriver. I do it to keep my tires well balanced, and the make sure I am using the rubber from MY tires, not the rubber from everybody else.
I arrived at the track around 6:45 a.m. and looked for an open garage. Most of the other garages were already filled with riders staying over from the Friday track day. However, I overheard on the way in that the last row of garages (which is normally reserved for facility vehicles and ambulances) had been opened up. I zoomed down to the far end of the facility, backed in my fully loaded van, and unloaded my gear into an empty half of the cavernous garage. Used tires cordoned off the other half to save it for my buddy Jack Baker, who was scheduled to arrive later that afternoon from Las Vegas.
They say “Practice Makes Perfect,” and so does practicing on race weekend. It’s just like any other type of athlete warming up before their competition. Loosen up, warm the fluids, gather your bearings, and repeat what you have practiced before. I signed up online with Fastrackriders for their Saturday track day, and breezed through registration and tech without any delays. So I put on the tire warmers and waited for my track rotation.
I usually ride in the B group, not the A group or “Racers Only” group, as the B group riders present a greater variety of speeds and lines. Racing is rarely about riding the perfect line. You must learn to deal with any situation on track, including other racer’s strengths, weaknesses, strategies, and tactics. B group is perfect for that at the speeds I can go.
Saturday, September 17 Practice Day
Fastrackriders have certain rules for passing, as do most trackday organizations. One rule for the B group is no passing in the braking zone for turn 12 at the end of the back straightaway, once past the #2 cone. They do this for rider safety because it really takes a fair amount of skill to pull off an inside pass there without creating issues for the other rider.
By now you can probably see where this story is going. I spotted a sportbike rider ahead (my favorite target) and sensed by his riding posture that at the end of the straightaway he would be rolling out of the gas and braking early. I mentally calculated that if I stayed on the gas, I could make a ‘legal’ pass as he slowed before the #2 cone, and once past continue on my merry way.
As I flashed by him I knew I had passed a few feet too late, so I did not attempt to complete that pass, checked-up and let him go by. No harm, no foul I thought. I pulled in a lap early, and grid control stopped me as I was exiting the track. I received another stern talking-to, as apparently I had again been riding “too aggressively.” ☹ When I explained what had happened, they just politely asked that I take it easy on the B group riders. Bad Doggie.
By this time Jack had arrived at the track and unloaded his stuff into the garage. He had not planned to ride that afternoon, so he just helped me and did some visiting.
Earlier in the day I had visited with the vendor for Push, Inc., SmartGauge performance technology. They have an innovative GPS logging device that interfaces with an app (Harry’s Lap Timer) on your iPhone or Android phone for analyzing lap times. And they have a creative extra where they take your lap data and compile a “Drone View” video where you can study your exact lines and speeds around the track. You can check out my footage by visiting Push here.
I had used it for the a few practice sessions, and it worked very well. My lap times were very slow due to all the B group traffic. However, the Drone View helped me identify where I could improve my lines around the track.
Now 40 minutes past the hour, I pulled into hot pit lane to go out in the next B session. The same grid control guy immediately came over to me and said “It would be nice if you would take it easy on these younger guys this session.” I laughed and suggested that they take it easy on me!
Perhaps he feared a repeat of the prior session’s aggressive riding, but whatever the reason was he moved me to the head of the line and sent me out with a clear track. It was a great practice session where I could really open it up and see where I was at. Later review of the PUSH lap timer data showed I had dropped 5 seconds per lap, and was only 1 second off of July’s best race pace lap. I called it a wrap and turned my attention toward registration and tech inspection.
Let me digress for a moment about an equipment problem I had. My quickshifter stopped functioning during the last WERA ACS race in July. When I got home, I found a loose bracket, which was easily fixed. All that was needed now was to adjust the sensor switch sensitivity and all would be good. Not.
I fought with it for 3 sessions early in the day on Saturday. Adjustments made no difference. I swapped out the ignition box and flashed it from my PC. No difference. So I made one last attempt at checking the wires. Good, good, good, good…wait, what is this one for? I traced its path and saw it heading toward the handlebar.
What? Then I remembered that I had mounted an override switch on the handlebar in case it ever misbehaved, so I could turn the quickshift off. The switch WAS OFF. DOH! It must have happened during handling in the garage at home. So I safety wired it in the ON position, and it worked perfectly for the rest of the weekend.
As Ren (of The Ren and Stimpy show) would say: “You Eediot!”
Sunday September 18 – Race Day
Since Jack had never been here, I offered to drag him around the track during the morning practice sessions.
We were waved on from the hot pit lane, and I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Jack was coming. Off I went, at about an 85% pace. I looked behind me after a few turns and Jack was missing.
I feared he had crashed or had a mechanical, but he was simply not ready to follow at that speed yet. So we agreed that the next session I would follow him to see his pace, and then go to lead him at that pace. That worked better, as Jack was only a few seconds per lap pace behind, but he had a major mechanical engine issue, leaking oil onto his bike and tires. Fortunately he felt his boot getting slippery, looked down and saw it was wet, and pulled off before he crashed. Inspection in the pits determined that his engine cases had cracked. Jack was out for the weekend.
Race 4 – D Superbike Expert
This was my big race for the day. It was supposed to be a 3-way battle between me, Jack Baker, and Marc Zarra. Both of them had axes to grind with me: Jack, due to bike issues at Big Willow and Buttonwillow preventing his best performances, and Marc because of other circumstances during our races that did not work in his favor.
Neither Zarra nor I had stellar qualifying times, but were gridded next to each other on the front row. As expected, I got the holeshot, and had a good lap pace from the first lap on. I knew that my biggest challenge was to not let Zarra gap me on the straightaways with the 6-8 mph advantage that his 450-R6 has over my YZ450F Supermoto.
I led the first lap, but knew Zarra was hot on my heels, and as I glanced back on lap 2’s back straightaway I saw he was only 4-5 bike lengths back. It was imperative that I maximize my drives onto the front straightaway, because by the time we crossed the stripe halfway down the straight he would be closing fast.
In fact, my instincts were good, as he passed me before the stripe to lead at the end of lap 2. As I followed him, I was a bit surprised at his good corner speed. Apparently he was making the most out of having a clear track ahead of him, and I was losing ground…fast! It was clear that just matching his pace was going to result in a loss unless I did something different. So knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his bike and mine, the obvious strategy was to stay on the gas longer and brake later every place I could.
I was still hanging on halfway through lap 3, and passed Zarra under braking into turn 12 at the end of the back straightaway. I led onto the banking, but had not pulled enough of a gap and he passed me back before the start/finish line stripe. Not Good. 2 more laps go by, and I was a full second behind at the stripe at the end of lap 5. Not Very Good.
White flag was out as we flashed across the line. I held the gas on as long as I dared going into turn 1 chicane, and closed down some of the gap. A little more ground was recovered on the entrances to the turn 3 / 4 chicane, and at the turn 5 entrance to the double apex sweeper. As we approached the final turn leading onto the back straightaway for the last time, Zarra was guarding his inside line… getting a little cautious…making a few mistakes. Not big ones, but they were costing him time. I closed the gap a little more.
I got a good drive onto the back straightaway, and closed to about a 6 bike deficit as we approached the braking zone before turn 12. Once again Zarra moved over to half-track to guard the inside line, BUT he braked early, barely past the #3 cones. I was now desperate, and knew that I had to get by RIGHT NOW or it was over.
I stayed on the gas until I passed him, and focused on my deepest braking marker. As I flashed by on his right side I simultaneously jammed down three gears and mashed the Brembo radial master brake lever as hard as I could. The bike stopped like the Titanic hitting ice, but for a split second it looked like I may not be able to keep it on the track. But my Hinson Racing slipper clutch performed to perfection, allowing me to gathered it up, and flop it on its left side into turn 13, simultaneously blocking Zarra’s line and holding the lead.
There was no way to know exactly what Zarra was doing behind me. But I was pretty sure that my banzai braking maneuver might cause him to lose a little of his drive. So now it was my job to wring out every bit of speed I could and drive it to the line before he could get spooled up and pass me again. Turns 17-20 are a series of interconnected lefts that demand precision and a heavy right hand.
Any mistake here that would cause me to check-up would most certainly present an opportunity for Zarra to get past. I laid into the throttle, and smeared my Dunlop slicks across the apexes like big black pencil erasers. My bike ran wide toward the last rumble strip, but snapped back just in time to clear the last rumble strip exit, now at absolute maximum drive to the flag. I stayed low on the track, just outside the white line, taking the shortest line to the flag. I crouched low on my bike, just underneath the paint and fully behind my windscreen for maximum aerodynamics. It was just enough, as I beat him to the line by 21/100ths of a second FOR THE WIN!
Every lap of this race was a good lap for me, including 3 personal bests with the final lap at 1:44.522, fully 2 seconds faster than my race winner in July.
1st Place D Superbike Expert – Rittner
Race 8 – Clubman Expert
There were only three races gridded for this class. Jack Baker was a DNS for reasons previously discussed. There was another young man on a KTM RC390 that I knew not to be a threat, as I had dispatched him easily in practice.
It was a multi-class grid, so the Formula 2 guys were also there: My rival Marc Zarra again, and Andy Edwards on an Aprilia RS250. I discussed the race beforehand with Jack and decided that it would be better to just cruise around and take the points than to get into a meaningless battle and thrash my bike. I followed the KTM around on the warmup lap, and decided that I would try to stay up front as long as I could, but would let faster racers go.
The flag dropped and I got another trademark Rittner holeshot, and had a lonely ride out front for several laps. I kept waiting for somebody to come around me, and then it happened. Curses, it was Zarra again! So off I went to chase him, (so much for letting him go ☺ ), and it was pretty much a duplicate of the D Superbike Expert race.
Last lap we encountered a waving yellow flag in the turn 5 / turn 6 sweeper, causing me to hesitate slightly and lose some ground. Marc kept his head on that last lap and hit his marks, keeping his lap time in the 1:44’s and holding me off at the line by 33/100ths of a second. Nicely done.
1st Place Clubman Expert – Rittner
Race weekends are always a series of ups and downs. It’s often useful to take time to reflect on your failures and success, and to look at who you are, and whether you have the right stuff to be a racer.
This weekend I had to live by an expression that I have used for many years: “Desperate Men Make Desperate Moves.”
I felt that desperation on the final lap of the D Superbike Expert race. And when it was time, I had the right combination of skill, experience, and mental toughness to do what had to be done. I feel pretty good about that.
But I am also humble enough to recognize the effort and sacrifices that those I race against also make, and that on any given day the tables may be turned. And to them, I offer my greatest respect.
AFM/WERA Expert #129
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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
- Racing Past 60 | Two Wins at WERA West, Round 4