been awhile since I ran an endurance race and, to be honest,
I have really missed it.
This weekend was a little different for the team as it was
the first time they were running the 2004 R1 they received
a little over a month ago. What this meant for me was that
we had an underdeveloped, unproven motorcycle to sort out
and set-up before the race. Thankfully a number of things
fell into place before the bike even left for the track. One
was that they shipped the bike to Zlock Racing several weeks
beforehand so that quick change assemblies could be fabricated.
As usual Dan and the Zlock crew came up with a system that
saw rear wheel and fuel stops taking only 20 to 30 seconds,
while even front and rear wheel and fuel changes took only
about 90 seconds. The other thing that fell into place was
GP Suspensions' Dave Hodges re-valving of the rear Ohlins
shock and working his usual magic.
Notes on practice.
I soon as I turned my first corner with the bike I knew we
had some set-up work to do. The R1 required an extraordinary
amount of effort to turn which didn't bode well for a six
hour endurance race. An adjustment in rear ride height was
the answer and by the end of practice we had the R1 turning
in quite well. Good stuff!
Notes on the race.
Our team strategy was fairly simple. Each rider would do a
40 - 45 minute session, which happened to be our fuel window,
and pit for a rider change. The rear tire would be changed
every other session with the front and rear being changed
at the half-way mark. I climbed aboard for my first stint
as the team got me our in record time. The rider I had just
taken over for was Keith Pinkstaff, who happens to be over
6 feet tall, and had placed the front brake lever at its outermost
point which, considering his large hands, worked for him.
However, for me, this was causing a great amount of frustration
as the lever was just at the end of my reach. I attempted
to just "ride around it" as I couldn't easily re-adjust
the lever. What I ended up doing was straining my forearm
in the process. Not a good thing to do while in an endurance
race. I gritted my teeth and pushed to finish the session
turning low 32's and a few 31's. When I climbed off the bike
I knew I had done some damage as I couldn't even make a fist
yet alone consider another stint on the bike. Thankfully a
good friend of mine Katie Bladon (massage therapist) was there
and saw that I was in pain. Sure enough with a little work
she had my arm in usable condition in less than 40 minutes.
Thank you Katie. With my arm feeling somewhat usable and the
team in position for another good result, I readied myself
for the last stint. Everything was working. My arm was okay
and the bike and tires were also working well. That was until
there was 10 minutes left in the race. I came out of turn
11 and shot down the long front straight just as I had done
countless times before. However, as I approached the 120mph
mark I suddenly noticed a vibration that only worsened as
the speed increased. Now I had some decisions to make. Was
it a tire issue? Was it part of the bike? Whatever it was,
it wasn't good, and I didn't want to crash because of it.
I simply couldn't diagnose the cause and with only a few minutes
left in the race I had to make a decision. One was to pit
and examine the bike to ensure nothing was critically wrong,
and we would surely lose a position or two. The other option
was to just stay out for the last 5 minutes, limp around,
and try to maintain our position. I decided to stay out because
we had been running for just under 6 hours and there was no
way we weren't going to finish. Also I trusted that the vibration
wasn't a chunked tire issue. Pirelli's don't chunk so I was
confident that I would not be having a tire failure of any
sort. In the end we got second overall with a relatively stock
04 R1. The vibration was sourced to a large amount of balance
weight that had flown off the rear wheel. I can't believe
how much it affected the bike at speed. Thankfully it wasn't
anything more severe.
A big thanks to the team for all their efforts and for inviting
me to ride for them. I am glad we could deliver a good result.
Thanks also to everyone that supports my race program. Without
your help I would not be racing.