Round 3 at Thunderhill raceway turned out to be my most successful time at Thunderhill to date. For a number of years I never really spent much time at this track, as I had Sonoma so close to my back door. It seemed silly to drive so far and spend just as much on a track that is hours away when I could drive 20-30 minutes and be at a national circuit. Now that I’ve moved into racing with AFM and we spend 3-4 rounds a year at that track, I regret that decision but we’re making progress.
Previously at this track I had been on a 2003 R1 that I just never could get comfortable on. With my larger frame and long torso I just never felt like I was able to get down low enough and behind the bars enough to power into the turns and I always felt like I was standing on my head, which resulted in rather poor results. That changed this year when I switched back to a 600. I’m running a 2009 R6 and loving it! This is the feeling a rider is supposed to have while racing!
Saturday morning we arrived back at the track after dropping things off the night before and realized that it was going to be a warm weekend for sure. It was already in the upper 70s before 8am. Scorcher setting in! First thing that needed to be done was get a new Dunlop slick put on the rear and adjusting the suspension for this track, so I missed the first 2 practice sessions getting things settled.
When I went out in practice session 3, I found myself getting wrapped up in slower traffic that was providing a bit of a challenge, but being relatively new to this specific track and it being just practice, I didn’t want to be too aggressive. I was still able to get some info on where the suspension needed adjustments and I could tell that my previous best on the R1 was going to get destroyed! I was doing the same times I had been doing on the R1 but feeling I was on a Sunday cruise. Practice session 4 was fairly similar, but now I felt the bike was dialed in for my current speed so we could work with that.
I have been getting some pretty horrible starts lately, and I have no idea where they came from. They have been so bad that I have been getting passed by riders several rows behind me and then have to make up all those positions throughout the race. This was landing me lower at the finish than I would have been otherwise. As they say, practice makes perfect, so I performed a few practice starts before going out to grid up for clubman middleweight.
I got a fairly good start compared to what I have been getting but rolled back 1 position to 20th place which I held for the first 2 laps. Second lap, just as I suspected, I beat my previous best by 4 full seconds. My third lap I made a mistake and got passed falling back to 21st. I regrouped and got my head back in the game pulling myself back to finish 18th but by the end of that race the heat was taking its toll and I hadn’t pulled in enough salts, so I knew my F40 Middleweight race was going to suffer for it.
F40 Middle weight started fairly well. I was mixing it up with a rider on a liter twin for awhile and I felt I had better times than he did but I was having trouble getting around him early enough on in a lap to pull a gap that his power couldn’t counter in the long straights of Thunderhill. As is what I expected, the heat did get to me and I found myself gassed by the end of the race, which was red flagged and called. I finished 4th and didn’t really improve my lap times.
When Sunday came around it was a whole new day. I felt rested, hydrated and the morning was promising to be much cooler. I did get the morning practice session in but it was difficult to find any clear track without having to dodge lightweights in group 2, so I chalked that up to getting my equipment, my body and my mind all warmed up for later races.
Novice 600 production went fairly well. I shaved another second off my best time and moved up to 12th from my start of 13th but made a few mistakes and ended up finishing 14th. I found quite a number of areas where I can still get a lot of improvement too. I also was getting a bit of brake fade that I believe is being caused by a small amount of DOT brake fluid still in the system and it boiling under race conditions. Now I need to get my rear tire flipped during lunch before the next race!
Novice F1 really got me going and let me see where my path going forward will need to be. I found myself getting a fairly good start and let everything settle down for a few turns before trying to make any moves. I ended up getting behind a much lighter but slower rider and pretty much spent the entire race trying to get that handled. Each time I would pass, I would end up providing a tow for a few turns. And because I outweigh her by at least 80 pounds, she would be able to drag past me at any area where there was a straight forcing me to start over again. It was actually a bit frustrating as I feel like I could have gotten down into the 2:03 range during the race, but spent the entire race trying to find a way to get enough gap to counter her drag speed up to turn 9, down the back straight, and certainly the front straight. I ended up finishing 14th less than a tenth of a second off of my nemesis that race. She nicked 13th from me right at the line!
All told it was a great weekend and I would have loved to gotten down to 2:03 lap times. That would have been 9 seconds off my previous best time! I’m happy with 6 seconds as that is still a drastic improvement. I owe that to the confidence that I’m getting from the profile and grip of the Dunlops and the Woodcraft rear sets that are allowing me to know that were I place my foot it will stay. The sound and power provided by Yoshimura with a full race exhaust certainly gave it some extra punch! I’m walking away from this weekend knowing that I have some work to do on a number of things. Everything from my confidence and drive to get passes done on the track as well my own fitness so my R6 doesn’t have quite as much to drag around and I don’t get worn out as easily. What I’m doing now is clearly not enough but even still, it was a great success and I’m looking forward to round 4!
Photo courtesy of Oxymoron Photography