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EVOLUTION
AFM round 1, 2013

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It is one thing to look back, to trace our steps through life and measure what with hope we call our evolution.
It is another to look forward, to evolve purposefully.

It’s Thursday night and I am still in pain from last weekend. Although I have been logging miles cycling, my body was not ready to race. My mind either. This year came up so quick on me. I have to thank Dannyboy, Keith and Mike. They worked hard prepping our new bike for this round. After officially retiring our old steed from 2010, 11, and 12, we faced quite a few new choices about the evolution of our 2013 efforts. What about our motor, our chassis, our suspension? What can we do, what will we do? What about our people from 2012– who gets the “good egg” treatment and who gets the “bad”? Then of course there’s the other end of that question – who gives us the bad egg treatment for 2013..?

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Despite the fact that we still haven’t fully answered most of these questions for 2013, round 1 is already behind us. Parts are one reason we couldn’t find our answers, timing is another. Trust me building an Austrian KTM RC8R is much more difficult than building a Suzuki, or even a Ducati. Your first hurdle is learning what you can do, your next is acquiring the parts to do it. It’s ok, we knew going in that our round 1 would be a compromise. Our plan-B was simple; “survive”. Get points rather than lose points. Be the pack, rather than lead the pack. But decisions like those never sit well with me. I know myself too well. It’s my nature to fight.

I am seriously down on track time right now. For one hell of a stretch now work has been excellent for me. Consistency like this is rare for me because I don’t have a job with security. In fact sometimes it feels like I don’t have a job at all. So when I do, I get pretty focused. It’s like everything else around me fades into a blur and all I see are the things taking shape in my hands. This is excellent for work, but tragic for racing. The last time I even sat on a motorcycle, before this past Saturday, was the last round we raced at Infineon in September, 2012 – the weekend we wrecked Saturday and clinched the Open Twins championship the following day with a broken arm.

Rusty, cold, and out of riding shape is no way to go racing. Not in the Bay Area at least. People are crazy here. And their money is even crazier. I visited the pit of our arch-nemesis, Tiger Boy, Saturday. Holy shit his toolbox is bigger than my Ford van this year. It was parked just in front of two impressive looking Ducati superbikes. To top it off some professional looking uniformed tech was tethered to them downloading data. It was like a scene from a superhero comic book. Only this was not a joke. Apparently Tiger Boy is on a mission this year. I mean he’s always been on a mission – he’s had riding coaches for years, he’s run three different Ducatis in one season, and he does enough track days to finance a small country. That’s not new for 2013. What is new is the scale of his effort. Rumor has it he hired Boulder Ducati to build him a World Superbike Spec 1198R, to run in the AFM with us. I assume that tethered tech was one of the Boulder Ducati crew. Will this be a regular thing? Are we now flying techs in and out of the Bay Area to help us run AFM race weekends? If this is true I have to say this is nothing less than completely impressive. I have watched him rise up and past so many mechanical setbacks during so many AFM race weekends that I am sure anyone else would have quit years ago. The far too regular all night, mid-weekend drives back and forth from the track to the shop and back again, to repair blown motors, failed relays, and broken transmissions would be enough to ruin any mortal man. Yet Tiger Boy never quit. In fact each time he returns, he returns stronger, which apparently he has done again for 2013. He raised the bar for this year, which effectively parked another choice squarely in our Cal Moto Racing lap; do we raise our own bar a few notches and continue racing to win, or do we stay where we are and hope to make podiums? I don’t know about you but I’d rather take a class in advanced basket weaving this year than show up to get beat.

David Raff is another one on our radar this year. He showed his face (I mean elbows) a couple of times last year. I considered them prequels, flashes of brilliance to come. And judging by what he showed us Sunday, that brilliance has arrived for 2013. David is a lot like me, he shows up to fight. We rode elbow to elbow at full lean more than once this weekend. The closer you get to David the more he seems to like it. He pushes back at you, which is kind of twisted actually. But I get it. I am just the same.

We had plans to make a track day three weeks before round 1, at Infineon this February. Bike wasn’t ready. We tried again two weeks ago. Still not ready. This left us with one last chance at a track day, the Friday just before the race. Not ideal at all because there would be no time or resources to make any major changes if we needed them. But, whatever. I was desperate to ride so we planned to do our best with what we had. In a triumphantly tragic turn of excellent events I literally could NOT break away from my work. Not on Thursday mid-day like I had planned. Not even on Thursday night. In fact I had to work most of Friday as well. This was devastating to our round 1 race plan. We finally showed up at Buttonwillow on Saturday morning, totally blown out from a late night “man-cation” drive the night before with all three of us, Dannyboy Keith and myself, packed into my truck. What’s a man-cation with these animals like you ask? Somewhere near route 5, at 1am, I woke to the alarming feeling of Dannyboy driving our truck and trailer down a dirt road at 85mph! I jumped up for a view out the windshield and found Keith gripping the dashboard with his jaw wide open, praying that the cow filled 18 wheeler about four inches from our side view mirror, which Dannyboy was trying to pass, would leave room enough for at least two of our four tires to stay on the pavement. Dannyboy’s back was off his seat, his hands wrapped around the wheel like he was Danica Patrick on the high banks at Daytona. It was a little hairy for a moment there but once Dannyboy had gotten us through it, I sat back down and apologized for drooling on his pillow. His response came quick and natural, “Oh don’t worry about it dude, my dog humps that pillow all the time.” Keith held his forehead in his hands making crying sounds while I tried to erase the mental picture of a droopy-eared Hound Dog pleasuring himself on the only pillow in the truck – which I desperately needed right then.

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Needless to say we all showed up to round 1 sleep deprived, and crooked.

With some prep still left we missed Saturday practice 1, then practice 2, then practice 3. I could feel my heart sinking in my gut. Nothing messes with my mind more than listening to my competitors practicing at full speed while we fumble in the pits. By the end of Saturday we had done only two full practice sessions for a grand total of eleven laps. ….Eleven laps of practice, on a brand new bike, with a brand new suspension, after six months not only being dormant from racing motorcycles, but from even casually riding them. Not good.

At this point I decided to enter a race I swore I never would – Saturday’s Formula 40 race. This is a race designated by two things – the size of your bike, and the age of your old ass. It felt disgusting signing up for it. I don’t want to be 40. No idea how I got here. Never mind the fact that I got here long ago. Whatever, we needed the track time so I modified my personal boundaries and ran it. I pulled us out of it about two laps from the checker. The new bike is surprisingly stable, moderately powerful, and shows great potential for the future. For this weekend though, I could tell we were F%(^*ed. We couldn’t get the electronic shifter to work, we had stock gearing, pump gas, zero motor work, and had not even mapped the fuel mixture. All in all we estimate we had about 150hp, at best. More likely 140, being that a 600cc motorcycle motored by us on the front straight like we were painted on the pit wall. Most of our competition is at, or over, 200hp. That’s a deficit I doubt I can ride us beyond.

OPEN TWINS: As we lined up for the Open Twins race Sunday, I motioned for Tiger Boy’s visor. I wanted to be sure he heard me tell him “Dude, we are no where. I will not fight you.” Tiger gave me the nod and we sprang from the line all anxious to get this season started, but me. I made a promise this year – no more chasing our ass around the pits seeking out answers from others about our setup. This year we will find our own answers, which we had started to do Saturday but this process takes time. Far more time than we had taken so I felt guilty leading the charge for turn one, instead of excited. Sometimes I blow starts, but usually I launch a bike hard from the line. I hear we led by a few bike lengths by turn one. I knew it wouldn’t last. We led that first lap until David Raff motored by us on the front straight. I heard the motor coming from behind us but honestly I expected it would be Tiger Boy, not Raff. David led the next lap. He had great pace. He looked smooth and in control. Happily we were not very far off his pace but I was a mile from riding smooth or in control. I could tell our setup was far from right. We had new Michelins mounted for this race so still there was a chance. Sometimes even when your setup is crap your tires can make up the difference. Thank you Michelin, that’s exactly what they were doing. We were matching Raff’s pace, almost.

http://gotagteam.com/KTM_Days/images/racing_2013/AFM_round-1_2013/VP2_8186crp.jpg

Photo by Vanhap Motorsports Photography

On our second lap Tiger Boy shot by us in a rather impressive display of horsepower rarely seen in the AFM. He passed us so fast it felt like our KTM would spin three times – like a dancing paper cup on the shoulder of Route 5. I pushed through my fears, slowly re-adjusting my reference of speed to enter turns from that of a cargo van full of tools, to that of a KTM RC8R in a battle for a roadrace championship. Six months is too long not to ride. Next lap Tiger Boy’s Ducati ate Raff’s bike up like a mid-morning snack. This left us with a choice – stay on pace and take third, or fight our way back to what had become a semi-distant Raff.

This is the part about myself that I fear the most. The part of me that has it’s own mind. It’s like an animal locked in a box. Either the animal is in there and everyone is safe, or he’s out and everything’s in jeopardy. There is no in-between. This part of me would throw a bike cartwheeling off track in a desperate fight to win because second place is after all, losing. But this is also the part about myself that is finally evolving. Finally maturing.

I measured our distance to Raff in my sights. I felt our bike, where it struggled and where it was strong. I saw the places we lost ground on him, and did my best to lose less. I saw the places we gained ground on him, and did my best to capitalize on them. With one lap remaining I tested our strongest asset against Raff – braking into the last corner before the front straight. I tried to keep it secret so he wouldn’t catch on to my plan for a last lap pass there. It would be tough going though, I could gain us ground in there but whether or not it would be enough to make the pass on the final lap was unsure. I kept us close as I could through the last section on the last lap, leading up to that final turn. There was a lapper up ahead. Best I could figure we would all converge in the exact same spot I was planning to make our pass. This would either ruin my plan, or help it. Too early to tell. I broke later than I had before, which upset our bike. We came up Raff’s inside drifting our rear to the side. I thought to myself, “Great, now watch the animal take all three of us out..” Our bike straightened out just in time to safely slide under Raff’s inside. We did not own the turn, he was still half a bike ahead, but he knew we were there. The lapper was now less than a bike length ahead of Raff. As we all fought our way through the turn, Raff on the outside, us on the inside, the lapper half a nose ahead, I knew ours was the choice spot to be in.

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Photo by Erich Stiegler Insurance Agency

Everyone exits the last turn all the way to the outside of the pavement. Even though his initial exit was tight, I knew this lapper would do the same. I drove up under Raff and pushed him out toward the opening I figured was about to close. The lapper drifted perfectly wide which wrecked Raff’s drive, it forced him to hesitate, to adjust. I had our bike at full throttle but we were still coming from behind. Now it was a horsepower war – a straight up and down race to the checkered flag. Normally we would lose such a war, but this time we had momentum on our side. With my head straight down tucked into the gas tank I could see his black Ducati edged up on our outside, but slowing drifting backwards. We drove our way past him with only inches left in the race, and took the checker by no more than our KTM’s front wheel. It was fantastic. What racing is truly meant to be. Looking back at the timesheets we did not have David Raff’s pace, but we had found our way in front of him regardless. That, is racing.

We ran two more races Sunday – Formula Pacific and Open GP. I knew we were dog meat in our current condition so I made an executive decision to run the remaining races with our now-used tires. We had some issues out there which I wanted to learn from, by making changes for each race. I knew mounting new Michelin’s would erase those chances to learn, so we ran the rest of the day in testing mode. We finished Forumla Pacific in the middle of the pack, which is disgusting to me but whatever – the animal was locked back in the box. The changes we had made for FP were atrocious, we lacked rear grip desperately, so we went the other way for Open GP. Same tires, again. Surprisingly, regardless of the fact that the same tires were now in worse shape, we found better grip. This is perhaps the best news of the weekend. To me it means we are indeed evolving. We can actually tune our way into better setups, all on our own, rather than desperately chasing our own ass around the pits begging for setup help. That’s an excellent sign of better things to come for us in 2013.

Now it’s time to take our new steed apart, down to the crank shaft, in what will be a new quest for us – real horsepower. Stay tuned, this could be fun!

Thanks for reading,

GoGo