AFM 2019 Round 5 at Sonoma Raceway
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.
It is against this backdrop that round 5 takes place. The fastest club racers on the west coast set out to duel, but their battle is not just against each other, but against the circuit’s treachery as well. Friday practice was spent memorizing reference points and planning contingencies. In a race, you can’t count on being on the optimal line, and Sonoma presents hazards in abundance to the unprepared.
In Saturday’s practice I focused on setting up the bike, trying to play with different settings to squeeze any extra confidence out of it. Jim of Catalyst Reaction was able to set me up with some A/B tests on the suspension which enabled me to control the bike better on exits, and to mitigate headshake.
In qualifying Saturday, I did as well as I hoped, gridded up next to #768 Nick Lundquist on the front row for F1, and right next to #5 Jordan Edginton on the 3rd row for FP. With that out of the way, all that was left was to mount up a fresh rear tire, eat some hot sausages with the Carters crew, and get a full nights sleep.
600 Superbike Red Flag
I get an OK launch, but the race is flagged on the first lap.
After the previous race was red-flagged, I set out for the second start of 600 Superbike. I enter turn 2 behind #130 Braeden Ortt and #130 Valentine Debise. #2 Brandon Crawford passes me up the inside in the Carousel (one of my big lessons this weekend was to not leave that opening available).
Crawford seems to experience a mechanical issue in the final lap, and I overtake him there to take 3rd overall. I set my PB for the weekend in this race, a 1:42.2
Coming into turn 2 on the first lap, I am at fault in a collision with #586 Dan Riser. I was looking for a block pass into turn 2, but did not pay close enough attention to Riser’s direction as we exited turn 1. If you slow down the video, it’s easy to see that Riser already has direction to track right up the hill, and that I would run out of space attempting a move into 2. Luckily nobody goes down, and nobody is hurt. I give chase to Riser and #15 Berto Wooldridge until lap 4, when I lose the front coming into turn 2.
This crash occurred because I got a sloppy exit from turn 1, and tried to compensate for the lost direction by maintaining the left turn too deep into turn 2. Some combination of brakes, lean angle, and the cracks in the pavement caused the front to lose grip as I was just about to begin the transition to the right. Luckily the bike was not badly damaged, and I just had a small scrape where my leg was pinned under the bike. Thank goodness for those Spidi leathers!
FP launches are always an event, and this one was no exception. I hurtle out of turn 1 to the outside of #765 Giya, and he is happy to help himself to turn 2 when I express some hesitation. #5 Jordan Edginton moves past me into t3, and from here I get to watch the two of them battle it out!
What you can’t see is that this entire race has #108 Kevin Murphy and #115 Garrett Pacheco right behind me the entire time! They finished just 2 and 3 seconds behind me, respectively. I should run a rear cam!
My best lap in this race was okay given the crash in the previous race, although I would have liked to have been more consistent. My pace in the morning would have put me in the fight with Giya and Jordan. As it was, I was happy to make it to the checkered flag in one piece.
I launch in behind #823 Robert Brittain’s holeshot, and lead the race from turn 3. #153 Valentin Debise picks me off on the inside of the Carousel. I run in 2nd until the 3rd lap, when #15 Berto Wooldridge passes me on the inside of the Carousel. I’m starting to notice a pattern…
On the next lap, #586 Dan Riser is able to block pass me into T7. It’s close but clean, I appreciate the wave anyways Dan! I return the favor going into T9, and we’re back to hunting Berto! I finally learn to stay tighter in the Carousel, which is just as well with Riser barking up my tree.
At the end of the second to last lap, I botch my exit to the final corner. As I drag race Riser to the line, I see a flag out of the corner of my eye… and I think it’s the checkered…
Turns out, it was a white flag.
Amidst the battle with Berto and Dan, I lost count of the laps! I cross the line and back off the throttle. I wonder why none of the corner workers are waving, why are my competitors riding off with such dispatch?
By the time I realize the mistake I’ve made, I have fallen back to 7th overall, and I feel like a complete dunce. As Steve Rue puts it, that’s a mistake you only make once.
The final race of the weekend sees me take the holeshot into T1. I lead the race until the 4th lap, when #15 Berto Wooldridge is able to come under me in the Carousel to take 1st.
For those of you keeping track, that make 4 times this weekend that I left that door open in the Carousel, and either Wooldridge or Riser was happy to stroll right through. Definitely a learning experience!
I chase Berto for the rest of the race, and I’m to exhausted to threaten him with anything more than oaths uttered in my helmet as he rides to a clean 1st place, with me somewhere behind him. Just like that, round 5 at Sonoma raceway is in the books!
CT Race Tires For always having my back with the stickiest Pirelli tires, hot off the truck!
Jim and Nickie at Catalyst Reaction for providing so much suspension support and a calming voice
Spidi USA and Roseville Motorsports for hooking me up with new Spidi gear, which ended up saving me from injury in my crash this round! I can’t thank you guys enough! The suit was barely damaged after being dragged under the bike, and will be fully repaired by Johnson Leathers