AFM 2019 Round 3 at Thunderhill Raceway
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”
On the Tuesday night before race weekend, Grant Cowan helped me get the motor in, and I got it running that night at 12:30 AM (sorry neighbors!). That morning I schlepped the beast up to Factory Pro in San Rafael to make sure there were no issues with the tune or fueling system that could have led to the fragged motors. The Man Himself, Marc Salvisberg, gave the motor a clean bill of health, and even unlocked a couple more horses in the midrange!
After brainstorming a bit, we decided that the damage to the valves on the previous motor was likely the result of over-rev. The usual way this happens is by initiating downshifts too early in a corner. In my case it was a bit different, as the over-rev would occur mid corner, such as turn 7 at Thunderhill East, or the final corner in Esses at Buttonwillow config 13CW (the usual config run by AFM). In these corners, I would be at full throttle, and very close to the rev limiter (at the time, this was set to 16.4k RPM). The rear tire has a smaller circumference at its edge than at its centerline, with the consequence that it produces a shorter effective final drive as lean angle increases.
In laymans terms: engine RPM increases along with lean angle. So if you did something like enter a corner flat-out, at redline, then leaned the bike in… you could over-rev the motor considerably. My logs suggested over-rev on the order of 17.1-17.2k RPM in these corners! Marc reset my rev limiter to the stock 16k (the motor makes peak power at 14.7k RPM, so any revs much beyond that are just for making lots of noise). The principle issue, as Marc puts it, is that the gearing is wrong for those critical high-speed sectors, so in order to address the issue, I must either gear tall enough to avoid the rev limiter at lean, or gear short enough to make an additional upshift for that corner tractable. Time for more testing!
With the bike in hand, I hurried home to get everything prepped for the weekend. Saturday rolled around, and I got down to figuring out how to defeat my standing PB for the year, a low 1:57 on my 600RR the previous weekend (on shagged tires and a tired motor, no less!). I struggled with the bike all day, never quite able to settle into a rhythm were I could carry the corner speed I needed to really get below the 57 mark. After lackluster times in practice, I botched my tire strategy, and ended up with no time to swap for fresh rubber for qualifying! I rolled out for qualifying on rubber I’d spent the whole day beating on… and finally set a low 1:57 in Formula 1 qualifying!
This time would at least put the leaders on the near side of the horizon, but I was feeling a bit grim about my chances, since most of the top 10 in my classes had set sub 1:55 laptimes in practice. I had done all I could with the bike, so I turned to the usual Saturday night diversions of cold beverages, a hot grill, and good company. The races would sort themselves out Sunday, I reckoned.
I get a great launch and am able to secure first place coming out of turn 1… my first ever holeshot in any race! The sensation of looking out towards turn 2 and seeing only daylight and farmland was immediately tempered by the awareness that I had two of the fastest middleweights in AFM breathing right up my tailpipe… #164 Cory Ventura and #6 Brandon Crawford. I’m able to hold them off for a half lap or so, then settle into 3rd place.
#14 Stephen Rue catches up to me at the end of lap 3, and overtakes me at the end of lap 4. I stick with him but am unable to make any overtake attempt… Rue is crafty and an extremely precise rider! In the end I set a new Thunderhill PB of 1:54.6, so the R6 has finally earned its stripes!
Unfortunately my camera didn’t capture this race, but Rue’s did! He’s been kind enough to let me share it here, so definitely give it a watch and see how easy he makes everything look!
I move to 4th in the 1st lap, and begin what ends up being a race long battle against #152 Patrick Murphy, punctuated by a finish-line overtake by #768 Nick Lundquist. I’m able to out-roll Patrick out of turn 8 in the 3rd lap, and secure 3rd… but not for long. Patrick surges past me on the front straight right at the tower! He’s not able to make the pass stick coming into turn 1, but this continues lap after lap: Patrick gets me right before the line, and I take back 3rd in T1 or T2.
I quickly realize I have a problem: he beats me to the finish line, every time. and the number of laps is dwindling fast… I formulate a plan: I need more speed, and I’m not in a position to make a phone call to my tuner. On the final lap, I swing extra wide on the entrance to the final corner, and open the throttle completely earlier than ever before. I tuck in on the straight like I’m racing a 300, expecting Patrick to cruise past me at any moment. The finish line approaches so slowly, while the shift light flashes uselessly. I pass the line, and Patrick passes me up almost immediately… but he didn’t get me this time.
I beat him to the line by 0.064 seconds, setting by best lap for the race of 1:54.84! This 3rd place finish marks my first expert podium!
The premier race, the big one! The big bikes rule at Thunderhill, and the FP pack is densely populated with massive horsepower. I roll out onto the grid with a new Pirelli SC0 tire on the rear, piping hot and ready to dig in against these one-liter monsters.
In this race I get into what ends up being a 12 lap battle with #712 Nick Allison, a Carters instructor and consummate gentleman. I get a thrilling front row seat to his fire-breathing ZX10r leaving dark lines out of corners, accumulating tremendous speed in the straights.
We eventually reel in #251 Kaleb De Keyrel, and the more the merrier! I’m never really able to force an opening with either of the more powerful bikes, but I enjoyed looking for one regardless. We stayed tight to the end of the race, where I finished 12th and set a new Thunderhill East PB of 1:53.9, dropping nearly a full second from the morning! Maybe it was the SC0?
The first lap of this race is spent tangling with #823 Robert Brittain, then suddenly overtaking #188 Luke Luciano in the entrance of turn 2 on the second lap. at this point I’m in 6th, and #251 Kaleb De Keyrel is a distant 5th. I figure there is no way I’ll catch him, but I inch slowly closer, and in the final lap traffic presents a unique opportunity in the back straight!
I build enough speed to come up the inside of Kaleb into turn 14 (the ‘Nick Csik’ maneuver) and manage to hold the lead to the line, securing 5th overall.
An awful launch involving a mis-shift to second puts me in a bad spot off the line, but roll speed in 1 gets me back in the game. I’m able to scoot past #251 Kaleb De Keyrel and #823 Robert Brittain between turns 2 and 3, then get to lead the race for a little while!
Kaleb passes me again at the end of the third lap, and I’m unable to take the lead back. I finish behind him, my first 2nd place expert finish!
CT Race Tires for keeping me set up with the stickiest rubber
Marc Salvisberg at FactoryPro for turning around a same-day tune which made big-kid power and rode smooth as butter.
Jim and Nickie at Catalyst Reaction for always supporting me, even when I do really dumb stuff like use a clip-style master link.
Dave Moss for thinking of completely outside-the-box solutions to my ergonomics issues, making the bike more comfortable and easy to ride!
#383 Robert McCoy for getting me hooked up with an 11th hour Will Morton built motor!
#966 Grant Cowan for helping me install aforementioned motor