Why the BoxerCup
Some of you reading this report might not be familiar with
the BMW BoxerCup and what it entails so I will briefly describe
what this unique series is about. The BoxerCup is exclusive
in the fact that every rider is racing the very same machine,
the R1100S, with little to no modification being allowed other
than preparing the bike for track use (removal of mirrors,
signals ect.). There is even a spec tire used and the rules
are very clear about what can and cannot be done to the motorcycle.
What this creates is a series where the emphasis is placed
primarily on the rider and his or her abilities as opposed
to the advantage or disadvantage they might have because of
machinery or budget. The circuit is contested by riders from
all over the world and it just so happened that I was the
first Canadian to compete in this series. So I found myself
traveling to Valencia, Spain to represent Canada.
The trip over
After some thirty plus hours of traveling, Dan and I were
finally in Valencia, tired but both eager to see what the
weekend would bring and what the MotoGP paddock and lifestyle
was like. We weren't to be disappointed. Although I have been
to Europe several times for testing etc., it was actually
Dan's first time over the pond and I am so fortunate that
he agreed to come with me. Having Dan as a team owner, crew
chief, and personal friend has been a major contributing factor
to any success I have had on the race track. In this sport
you're only as good as the people behind you and as I am continuously
reminded, Dan is one of the best.
Motorcycles and the sport of racing them take on a whole new
form in Europe with Spain being particularly "bike mad".
There was advertising everywhere displaying MotoGP bikes and
their riders. Of course there was extraordinary attention
given to Spanish riders like Sete Gibernau and the Spanish
telecommunications sponsor Telefonica which were seen quite
literally on every corner.
Day 1 - The MotoGP experience
To get to the BMW paddock Dan and I have to walk through the
MotoGP village. There are few words I can use to describe
how grandiose everything is. Lush transporters with every
conceivable trick option are lined up in an endless row of
gleaming paint and chrome. Everything is immaculately clean
right down to the team pit scooters and riders' personal motor
homes. Hospitality centers for the specific race teams are
clearly an exercise in the extreme where one to two tractor
trailers are utilized to create a small exceedingly elaborate
and professional looking building. You have to see it to believe
it and also wonder about the logistics required to operate
this organization with the precision and efficiency that they
We finally made our way to the BMW BoxerCup paddock and were
greeted at the gate. Not to be outdone by the MotoGP teams
BMW had created a small city that included displays of current
vehicles, enclosed tents for the racing motorcycles, huge
trucks, and a hospitality tent larger than most school gymnasiums.
Everything in the BMW paddock is exceptionally organized;
all our needs were catered to with a full crew of mechanics
and technicians at our disposal. It was almost too much to
absorb in a short period. After brief introductions to key
people Dan and I were escorted to the garage area and shown
the bike that was assigned to me. Besides being perfectly
clean, the bike was clearly very well prepared and sported
a few trick items like a quick shifter and carbon fiber tail
As I had never seen the Valencia circuit before it was critical
that I get a first hand look at the layout to create a visual
map in my mind of where the track went and how I might navigate
a motorcycle around it. Now previous experience has shown
me that BMW do things more professionally than anyone else,
so when I enquired about the possibility of walking the track,
they far exceeded my wildest expectations. They escorted me
to the pit lane where a large group of people had gathered
around some BMW cars. It appeared that the MotoGP riders were
being given the opportunity to test BMW's latest creations
with a few short laps of the circuit. Sure enough Dan and
I were escorted through the crowd, taken directly to the front
of the line, handed the keys, and helped into the vehicle.
Here I was in the driver's seat of a brand new 545 with Dan
in the passenger seat looking just a little bit nervous. Hilarious!
I started the car and proceeded out onto the track. Once on
the straight I floored the big five series and was greeted
with a rush of serious acceleration and a "Holy S**t"
from Dan. This thing was a rocket. We took it relatively easy
on the first lap discussing each turn as we went through.
Exiting the last turn I put the pedal to the floor and continued
for a flying lap. I have never driven a car that bestowed
such an enormous sense of control even though it was sideways
going into almost every turn. I did take it somewhat easy
as I wasn't too sure Dan had the same level of faith in the
car and, more importantly, in my abilities to control it.
What an experience.
Back to business.
Despite the relative fun we had in the BMW car, we quickly
learned that Valencia was an extremely technical and demanding
fourteen turn track. Lack of experience here combined with
no previous experience on the R1100S meant that our learning
curve would have to be extremely steep and swift.
Qualifying session 1 (no practice sessions)
Both Dan and I were extremely impressed with the crew we had
working with us in Valencia. It was clear that they all had
experience racing and more importantly racing the R1100S.
Needless to say the bike went out every time with no issues
whatsoever. My plan for the first qualifying session was simple;
take two laps to see the circuit from a motorcycle perspective
while becoming familiar with the BMW's characteristics; from
there, build information on the consecutive laps for turn
in points and apexes and then spend the rest of the session
working on putting a lap together. For the most part I had
the track figured out (i.e. where I needed to put the bike
for a good lap time), however the character of the R1100S
was throwing me a curve. Two things in particular were causing
me grief, the first being the way the bike turned (or didn't
turn) on the brakes. Primarily I use the front brakes to turn
a motorcycle by applying them as I enter the corner. This
compresses the suspension ultimately shortening the wheel
base while it steepens the geometry enabling the bike to turn
more efficiently. The big Beemer just didn't want to turn
on the brakes and I was missing apexes, not the key to a fast
lap on a technical circuit I assure you. The second setback
was an inherent lack of ground clearance due to the cylinders.
Touching them down did nothing but lever weight off of the
wheels causing you to run wider yet. The key to riding this
bike came down to using my body and its position on the bike
to change direction and keep lean angle to a minimum. We ended
up getting in eleven flying laps during the first qualifying
session and posting the 25th fastest time. I wasn't happy
with my performance at all, which is why having guys like
Dan around is so important. He sat me down and reviewed the
lap times. On each lap we had progressively gone faster right
up to the eleventh lap which was the fastest. He told me to
relax and not expect so much on my first session on the bike.
He also pointed out that I only had eleven laps on a new bike
and a new circuit where the others had been racing the series
all year. I was also too tense on the bike during the first
session causing me to get severe arm pump in my right hand,
however BMW had a sports physician on staff specifically for
the BoxerCup riders and they escorted me to his mobile clinic.
He laughed when he saw me holding my right arm and in broken
English said "tight arm yes?" He worked his magic
and suggested that I see him the following day and before
Qualifying session 2
With a solid sleep and a good breakfast I was raring to go.
Dan and I came up with a plan for each corner on the track
in terms of brake markers, gear selection, turn in and exit
points along with apexes. I needed this mental picture and
plan to deliver good lap times. Dan also suggested I do nine
laps, come in for a soft rear tire, and go out for a few flyers
to see what I could do. The session started well and I was
easily going faster than my best time from the previous day.
Each and every lap I would knock off a few tenths of a second
as I explored deeper brake markers and turn in points. It
was coming together. I came in and grabbed a new tire, however,
traffic on the track became an issue for a really good lap.
I couldn't seem to get a break and I was running out of time.
I made a few rather aggressive passes but was only able to
get one decent lap in before the session ended. In the eleven
flying laps of this session we had managed to drop close to
three seconds off my lap time. Unfortunately, with everyone
else improving as well, we had only worked our way to 21st.
Although I was happy with our progress in terms of lap times,
I wasn't impressed with our starting position. 21st was not
where I wanted to be. The field was exceptionally close so
Dan and I looked into where I needed to improve for the race.
Race day was without a doubt the most surreal experience of
my life. During the course of the weekend over 220,000 spectators
came to watch. The sound of the horns and the fireworks going
off behind the roar of the immense crowd is something I will
never forget. You simply have to experience it first hand.
After my warm up lap I coasted to the starting line with nothing
but a great start on my mind. Again, the character of the
R1100S would be something different as a typical race start
with high rpm would see the clutch slipping for the first
two to three gears. What I had to do was fully disengage the
clutch at 3000 rpm and let the torque of the motor do the
work. I ended up with not too bad a start and risked a little
by going to the outside of turn one. Turn two was a sharp
left and I had projected that an overzealous rider might easily
get into this turn hot and take someone out, so I stayed relatively
right on the entry only to see two riders screeching off the
track clearly entangled with each other. I told myself to
relax and just ride the bike, hit my apexes, and the times
would come. With all the bikes being identical you can imagine
passing became a game of chess. What I had to do was quickly
judge where my strengths (or weaknesses) were in relation
to the rider in front and put together a pass two or three
turns in advance, all the while not leaving any room to be
passed from behind. Where I found myself having an advantage
was on the brakes as I could downshift and actually hang the
rear out going into some of the turns. I have to admit that
the big Beemer slid and handled remarkably well at the limit.
From here it became an absolute brawl to the front as I worked
my way through the field. I wasn't giving an inch. Sometimes
it took three laps to get by a rider only to have him and
a pack of riders draft me down the straight. I have never
raced so closely with that many riders. On the second to last
lap I took my first look back only to see five bikes running
nose to tail directly behind me. There was no way I was going
to let them get by me. What I had to do was somehow keep them
from drafting me down the straight. I left it so late going
into the last turn I can't believe I made it. Out of the corner
of my eye I saw a shadow of someone coming up on my left so
I out braked him going into turn one. The rest of the lap
was almost perfect and I managed to somehow get a few tenths
gap on the pack behind me. Although I had no idea how I had
finished, I was just happy with how we ran, I had given it
absolutely 100% every lap. On the cool down lap I experienced
yet another surreal moment. The corner workers all lined the
edge of the track motioning for me and the other riders to
come up to them. When we did it was as though you were their
best friend that they had not seen in years. They had to touch
you and the bike and they were so enthusiastic and such fans
of the sport that I almost didn't feel worthy of they adulation.
I have never seen people so inspired by motorcycles and the
people who ride them. Incredible! I rolled into the pit where
Dan and the crew were clapping. He came up to me on the bike,
gave me a huge hug and then a rather violent shake explaining
that I had come in 10th. That moment will stay with me forever.
No words can even describe the emotions I felt. The lap times
during the race kept dropping almost every lap to the point
where we were running the pace. If only I could rewind to
qualifying knowing what I know now.
This happened to be the last round of the series so there
was naturally a year end party with prize giving ceremony.
And as you might expect BMW spared no expense and put on one
hell of a show. Even the MotoGP riders came as it was apparently
the place to be.
So there you have it, my adventures at the BMW BoxerCup and
the MotoGP. As is always the case, none of this would have
ever happened if it weren't for the support of my sponsors,
friends, and family. I want to specifically thank a few key
players for this round. Tremendous thanks to BMW Germany and
BMW Canada, specifically Bettina Holweg, Andy Ederer, and
Gemma Roura Serra, along with Chris Duff & Norm Wells.
Thanks to Bruce, Adam & Kelly at Joe Rocket who always
keep me safe and sound. Thanks to Phil and Cindy at CLS West
for your undying belief in me as well as Mike Megson. And
last but not least to Dan Zlock for making me what I am in
racing. And to my family at home for everything.
Here's to dreams and the relentless pursuit of them.
Please click on image to enlarge
Action photos courtesy Thomas