Round 6 had new challenges, despite being the third round of the season at everyones favorite track. Highly variable winds and temperature brought a challenge to practice, as morning warmup was complicated by a stone cold track and sudden gusts. In the afternoon the sun would come out and the winds would settle, but this would require further adjustment to compensate for braking points moving around.
Sonoma is a favorite track of mine, a winding course set in the hills among vineyards. Its sweepers, kinks and chicanes would present a challenge if they were flat. The addition of elevation change turns up the difficulty considerably: now you are doing an endo into a valley to make a left-hander. A previously trivial exit to a chicane now has a crest, throwing the steering head into the air, and with a wall not 50 feet away.
A challenging track, now made moreso by the continuing degradation of the paved surface. Cracks which were large enough last year to warrant concern may now swallow a front contact patch entirely. Frost heaves threaten to bottom the suspension in Carousel, and a shelf drop-off in the middle of turn 7’s first apex turns trail braking into a heroic affair.
This round stood in contrast to round 3 due to the far higher temperatures which reached up to 110F. I kept an eye on the pavement temperature, and saw it rise to almost 165F during racing! For me, this round was all about consistency and survival.
Two weeks before this event began, I burned out the motor in my R6 at a Carters@thetrack trackday at Thunderhill East event. Faced with an engine swap in just 9 days, and without any engine to swap in, I thought of this excerpt from Kevin Cameron’s “Sportbike Performance Handbook”:
“When in the course of your hard work, you become overtired, under motivated, and on the point of giving up and going to bed, you are confronting racing’s Big Question, the one that confronts every single rider and crew member many times a year: Are you in, or are you out? There’s no halfway in this game. So do it. Yes, it’s 4 a.m., and the engine isn’t in the chassis yet. Just keep on doing everything the best way you know how, carefully and one step at a time, because that machine has to roll out on time for practice”
This round started off relatively uneventful, but I became plagued by motor troubles as the weekend wore on. In Friday and Saturday practice, I struggled to drop below my round 1 best lap of 1:51.7, even after employing some new tips and tricks learned from Jordan Edginton, as well as my own experience in Round 1. I had chalked this up to being more cautious in corner entrances, but this proved not to be the case.
Prepping for my first expert round of AFM was the usual medley of making rash decisions, then barely clearing timelines to get the bike ready in time. In the weeks leading up to the first round, I opted to change from the FlashTune system that was on my R6 to a Woolich reflash with Woolich’s Race Tools.
This package would allow me to use a strain gauge on the shift linkage for quick-shift, allowing me to tune the sensitivity of the ignition-kill for smoother shifting. Furthermore, the system enables auto-blip for easier down-shifting, as well as programmable launch control. All good stuff for racing fast bikes!
A return to Chuckwalla Raceway brings a new set of challenges! This time we ran the track counter-clockwise, so it was almost a whole new track. Due to the assymetrical nature of the track’s corner complexes, I had to completely refamiliarize myself with getting into and out of the corners at speed.
This was a weekend of beginnings and endings. It was my first weekend ever riding, much less racing, at Chuckwalla Raceway down south in Desert Center California.
Desert Center is a dry area, which enables the track to be used by motorcyclists all through the winter. Consequently, the Chuckwalla Valley Motorcycle Association (CVMA) runs their winter series there.
This was my first time learning to race on a brand new track, and Chuckwalla was no letdown! The track is deeply technical, with very few visual reference points. The motorcyclists who race there have all the skills required to haul ass around that track, and provided me with no shortage of challenge or excitement!