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AFM ROUND 5, Sonoma Raceway September 1st and 2nd
Funny how some old or new songs pop in your head at particular moments……..“Three wheels on my wagon and I’m still rolling along….” Getting the trailer fixed by Marvin and Pete in Williams was amazingly painless other than spending 10 minutes inhaling brake clean and cleaning the wheel and tire so it could be reinstalled.
That put the jinx on the Thursday evening Sacramento Cycle Gear event (rescheduled for 9/11) so it was onward to Sonoma Race way for the Keigwin’s Friday track day prior to the race event. This track day is A+/A/B for obvious reasons and as this was the only Sonoma Race of the year for AFM.
Friday was flat out for me and a brilliant day for almost everyone except those that rushed to get their fastest lap times WAY too early in the day. Sonoma will catch you out if it can, so mornings need to be 2 – 3 laps to get the wheels hot so the tire settles down.
Saturday morning was flat out as answering a non stop tsunami of questions and helping riders who had never been to Sonoma – and – on top of that, doing new rider evaluations (almost needed the oxygen mask).
By the afternoon break, Steve Palella of Pop Shadow Vinyl and Decals (https://www.popshadowdecals.com/) and I had the borrowed bike ready that belonged to Greg Clouse. I’d been partly lucky and partly very focused to acquire track records in the 450 class on his bike so he was hoping for a Sonoma record as well. At the end of the first warm up lap as I accelerated on the front straight I felt the engine start to let go so I pulled the clutch in and dived to the inside of the track as quickly as I could (there’s no traffic in that area just in case you were wondering what I was thinking).
As I pulled the bike to a stop by the concrete barriers, I managed to get the bike around the end of hot pit wall and ride it back up the hot pit area where people walk and bikes are not allowed. I thought that would be the best way to get the bike back. As I rolled into the pit I noticed the rear tire was coated in oil – so I made my way very quickly to race control to let them know it was me that oiled that section of the track. I’ve only done that once before in 23 years of racing in the same area with my Daytona 675 back in 2007.
Greg’s engine was a blueprinted Meen Motorsports/Vance and Hines special, so I knew that 5 figures were involved and as I was riding the bike and broke it, it was on me to fix it. That put my mind in a different place indeed. It was no surprise therefore that for a couple of minutes my mind wandered back to the trailer wheel, then this, so what will the third incident be??????
As Greg’s bike was done, Steve and I very quickly turned the warmers on for my A bike and heat cycled the engine to get that ready for the next round of practice. I started very carefully with a full engine warm up at idle then a few laps at 70% staying away from high rpm’s. All seemed to be well so for the final 3 laps of practice, the engine rev’s went into the power zone with no ill effects. I was very happy and shall we say relieved that there was nothing to worry about.
Next up was F4 qualifying so as the front row is 4 bikes wide, I wanted to make sure that I got on the front row. That cannot be done with cruising around so I put the bike under duress over three laps and managed P4 on the front row. That was a huge relief!
Saturday, Race #2, F40 Lightweight:
Riding the crest of an A bike working well in F4 qualifying and the engine making good power, Steve and I set tire pressures on the Bridgestone V01 soft front and 31psi and the V02 medium rear at 32psi after 30 minutes on the warmers.
I was ready to launch away from pole position and win the race. A good start left me with the hole shot but there were a slew of good riders behind me that had every intention of showing me a wheel should I make a mistake. One of those riders was Peter Hively on his SV650. Peter is very fast at Sonoma and sure enough off the last turn at the end of lap one he pulled alongside me on the front straight. Who was going to lift first? Not me, as I had Peter on my outside into a left turn. Managing the brakes I had to make sure I did not over brake or Peter would pass me on the approach to Turn 2, so perfect execution was needed. I didn’t see Peter again in the first half of the next lap, so I knew he was saving an attack for Turns 9 and 11. That didn’t materialize.
Mike Canfield was on the wall with the time gap board, so I slowly chipped away at a gap by being as perfect as possible. That paid dividends as the gap slowly worked up to 3 seconds which gave me a comfortable margin to really ensure all reference points were hit in sequence. Now I needed to make sure that I managed the gap to keep it around 3 seconds.
As usual in this race, we had 300’s to manage and pass in very interesting ways, so traffic was of course going to be a nightmare or heaven sent. For this race, I was mostly VERY lucky with timing and passes and when the checkered came out, the gap was just over 5 seconds. Getting a win in this class was a milestone for me so with 5 races out of 6 counting for Class Championships, to date I have acquired 5 wins in 5 races. So technically, that Championship is secured. That does not mean that I won’t go for 6 wins in 6 races in the final round!
Sunday, race #6, 450 Superbike
I was ready for the race and Steve helped me make sure the A bike was too. I left for the warm up lap feeling very strong after the F40 lightweight win and knew that I had to make sure if a podium, preferably a top 2 to keep the excellent finishes going for this class.
Off the start I was in 3rd place and buried the throttle to climb the hill towards turn 2. The rear stepped out about 8-12 inches and brought a sense of dread to me instantly. I didn’t check tire pressures before I left. Ugh. So, this was going to be about the podium, not the win as the rear tire was sliding a lot under 80% throttle. Easy to manage but difficult on timing and lean angles and to that end the first couple of laps were all about getting the timing right.
Mike Canfield was on the wall again, and the gap to 4th place was 2 seconds by the end of lap 2, so I could relax and focus on the laps ahead to ensure the podium finish.
Coming around the final turn #11 on every lap, the front tire folded so at that point I was now preoccupied with both tire pressures. Every time I approached turn 11, great care was taken not to trail brake. As the laps went on, I started to gain on Brandon and Paul, so of course a mental slip was going to happen as my mind was already full with managing the sliding front and rear tires. As we came into turn 11 for the third time, I closed right up on Brandon in second place and needed just a tiny bit more brake to not collide with him.
Yes, the front folded and at 20-25mph, there’s not much momentum to pick the bike up on your knee. You just simply and oh so slowly fall over. This was my first DNF in this class, so I burned my get out of jail free card BUT that means that I need to go back and check points to see where I am in the standings. No matter what, I will be racing for 1st place in Round 6.
Race #9, Formula 4
As the A bike needed some urgent repairs and the B bike was ready minus a brake lever guard, Steve, Marcus Zarra and myself swapped bars over from the A to the B bike. Why? The B bike is just there for emergencies, so handle bars etc are stock. Marcus loaned me his brake guard as my Dion Device snapped in half from the crash. With the B bike finished at the start of race 8, I fully intended to finish top 5 and learn the bike as F4 was a mismatch of results through the season.
From the start, I slotted into 5th and managed the gap behind me taking every lap to learn the B bike as I had never ridden it. I needed to know how it would respond, what settings needed changing and how the brakes performed as Sonoma is a very heavy braking track as I had one race to “fix” everything prior to 450 Superstock.
I also had to find a new line in Turn 11 and stay away from the sink hole that took me out, so each time through was a different line until I found a relatively smooth line between two epoxy patches close to the curb. A different line would have meant less acceleration time, so what I figured out was going to have to do.
Race #11, 450 Superstock
This class is one that I had a DNF in last round due to an electrical failure (turned out to be the newly installed Quickshifter wiring), so I had to win this race to make sure I had the best possible points advantage going into Round 6.
I was ready, Steve gave me the thumbs up, the B bike was as good as it could be and I had my line through Turn 11 figured out. All I needed now was a good start and then lap by lap decrease my lap times. We were once again out with 300’s, so traffic was going to be a factor one way or the other.
Ian Smith bolted away from the start into a 2 second lead by the end of lap 1, so I settled in and managed the gap for the first couple of laps and then chipped away at it during lap 3. By lap 4 it was down to a second and I was closing Ian down in Turns 7, 9 and 11. As we round turn 7 I knew I would catch Ian in turn 9 if we both got a clean run through the esses and down to turn 9. Behold, it was a clean run so I hammered the throttle in the middle of the esses to launch it over and down the hill into turn 9. Ian caught a violent headshake cresting the hill so my pass was a little more difficult while he got the bike under control.
Exiting turn 9 I knew I had the line through to turn 11 and accelerated as hard as I could to get to that turn first. Do you think my mind was just a tad full again? My line into 11 went right back to default and the front folded. Thankfully I felt the bars go and hammered the outside peg to stand the bike up and just caught it. That bit of drama caused quite a stir behind me so everyone instantly closed up for a 3 way drag race into turn 1. I managed to hold 1st place and then set about clearing off with two laps left!
As luck would have it, we started getting into the 300’s by lap 3, so in lap 5 of 7, traffic was going to be a huge factor in the race. For the most part, I was very fortunate with traffic other than in two instances where I had no room to make a clean pass so I timed the pass with a steady approach and later acceleration to maximize the passing opportunity which would not allow my pursuers a better opportunity to catch me while being held up.
Mike Canfield showed me a gap of 3 seconds at the start of the last lap (what was it with 3’s all weekend long????) and I managed the gap all the way to the line to take the checkered and acquire the absolutely essential win.
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