Well the first two races of 2012 are in the books. I was literally putting the final touches on the bike, minutes before putting it on the trailer.  The tail section could not be painted in time, so it went to battle with a fresh coat of black primer.  The last minute antics would continue, as we made it through the gate at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Classic Course, just minutes before it closed for the night.  By “we” I mean myself and Kevin Kautzky, passenger on another team.  Gina had to come up in the middle of the night, and actually arrived shortly before practice began.  Making it through registration and tech was no problem, but still we managed only 1 lap in the first session; the checkered flag coming out on our warm up lap.  We had not even scrubbed the sticker off our new front Hoosier slick, so there was no telling if the extensive mods done over the off season had any impact.

Session 2, we stayed out the entire 20 minutes, but still didn’t truly know how the bike was working. The rear wheel had been moved over about 2 inches, widening it’s stance, and I was hoping for it to try and stay on 3 wheels a bit more often. The bike seemed to be a bit more stable, but the lap times were the same as last year. We also were having problems with the front brake overheating.  We changed the fluid with what little clean fluid I had left, and set out for the race.

Gridded at the front we got the hole-shot and set about trying to build a gap. Becker Moto Works was starting from the back row as they had been last year, and the only hope was to get far enough ahead, that they couldn’t catch up after they worked through traffic.  This means going as fast as possible immediately, cold tires be darned.  The other important factor in this plan is Wood Brothers Racing.  Ironically, driver Chris Wood was using Aaron McEwen as his passenger, and not his brother. Either way, Aaron was a fast learning novice and- although I have been faster than them- they are learning each other and a new bike.  That means they could have an “ah ha!” moment at any time.  Best to not let them get too close.

However it was the light-blue of their machine, I first saw in my mirrors.  This was during lap 2, meaning they had broken through traffic and caught me.  I was already giving it all I had, but I looked for more.  Brake less here, hold the throttle open there.  It was holding them about 3-5 bike lengths back, but I was not pulling away.  On lap 3 we broke from them, finding out later Chris had accidentally disabled his electric shift with his elbow, and it took him quite a while to recover.  That was fine because I was having problems of my own. The front brakes kept going away. They were boiling the fluid while braking for turn 1, and there were none left for tight turn 4.  I made do with the rears only, but there’s a curb I jumped over, which momentarily made it impossible to use the back brakes.  Sketchy.  From then on, I could reach up and feel to see if they had come back, which they had to some degree, allowing me to dive into tight turn 5. Really, all of the 9 turns are tight except for turn 6, a fast sweeping right.  This course is like an oversized kart track, and it requires a lot of heavy braking.

The blue in my mirror gave way to the red/yellow of Becker Moto Works, and there were still 2 laps to go. They had been lapping almost 2 seconds per lap faster than us, so I was expecting a pass at any spot. Usually it will be in a left turn, where their long-wheelbase chassis can turn flat on 3 wheels, cutting a tighter arc and driving out harder. The only substitute I had, was to brake and turn in early.  This pops the chair wheel up, but you can get back on the gas and set it down.  By turning in early though, you actually spend more time turning and it spoils your drive out of the corner.  You’ll never get away from someone doing this, and it’s purely defensive, but it’s all we had. The move came first in turn 4, but we got a good enough drive out.  I had to leave the outside open into the next turn though, because we hadn’t fully cleared them. T his sets us up for the “high-low” pass, where the approaching rider simply brakes early and waits for you to try and turn, then dives from the “high” (outside) part of the turn, to the “low” (inside) part and takes the position. I kept the throttle closed, which made the bike pivot on its chair wheel, allowing us to turn tighter, but scrub off yet more corner speed. It worked, but the front tire wouldn’t bite as we exited.

With myself out of the seat and Gina leaned fully forward, the front tire would finally bite, but then the rear would break loose.  The short wheelbase and narrow width of the bike is a huge hindrance, but it is admittedly, at least slightly improved after moving the rear wheel outboard.  Down the back straight and Becker is glued to us.  We hold him off in the next few turns, but in the next slow left, he shoots to the inside while Gina and I wrestle to get the bike turned.

We took off after them, and actually caught back up on the brakes into turn 1, less than a length away.  Then it became easy to see where we were losing time… corner exits.  Leaving right turns, the front tire would just push and push.  Leaning forward would get it to stick, but almost immediately the back-end would break loose.  The tires still had grip to spare, but the chassis just couldn’t keep enough weight on both tires at the same time.  I also could see Becker was making much cleaner exits by the line he was taking.  They didn’t need as much front-end grip because they were exiting at a shallower angle than we were. I tried adjusting my line, but we were picking up the white flag and we ended up taking 2nd place, about 2.5 seconds adrift.  Tomorrow…

Rear facing video of Race 1:

Morning practice allowed us one session to work on lines. We dropped down to the 1:33.7 range, which was our fastest lap at that track.  Still, Becker is able to do 1:32’s without pressure, so things did not bode well.  We got a flying start as usual. I could see Wood brothers in the mirror but I needed to race the track in front of me, so I ignored them.  The front-end traction was still horrible, but Gina and I had discussed it and were trying some new tricks during the race.  It was helping, but again rear traction became a problem.  Also, the chain jumping on the back sprocket had become worse.  This was not just killing drive; it was killing equipment.

Sure enough Becker had an easier time through traffic and had closed the gap at the end of the 2nd lap.  We fought throughout the lap, but in tight turn 8 he set up an outside move.  I had to hold steady throttle in the short-chute between it and the immediate right that follows, which gave Becker the time to cleanly dart around the outside and take the lead.  He put his head down and began to charge away, actually pulling off a 1:31.  Our times actually were slower than the previous day, probably a combination of our experiments with front/rear traction and the increased amount of drive chain jump while exiting corners.

While two 2nd place finishes are great, the amount of gap we closed on the leaders, hasn’t proven to justify the cost of our upgrades.  This could be simply our lack of time to dial in the new rear suspension, and not having enough laps to learn how to exploit the handling, and I’ll leave it at that. It’s a long season and there are some serious advantages possible, especially at Pikes Peak, where our massive amount of gearing options will really help out.

RACE 2 video: