AFM round 3, 2009
Infineon, Sonoma California
First off, we're ok. Thank you Vanson leathers. Not one scratch or bruise. Thank you Donnie too. My head hit the pavement pretty good and your Suomy helmet helped make the experience a gentle one.
After the very first lap I ever ran around Infineon I wrote one bold note to myself - "Never crash in turn 10"…
Sorry I can't write about a win in this report. Not a heated battle for third. I can't even say we finally have our Superduke R set up right. In fact we're still not even close.
Image by Eric Gulbransen
Image by Eric Gulbransen
I could instantly tell Friday morning that the new triple clamps are a huge improvement for this bike. ‘Job well done’ to the Nichols Sportbike guys. The increased trail gave us our confidence back in the Carousel, gave us feel back in turn nine, let us push the front a bit again everywhere and it also kept our belly pan off the ground. Everywhere it was better, nowhere was it worse. Finally now our out-laps, which far too often would end incomplete and back in the pits in the past, lasted full sessions. And also finally now my library list of issues was narrowing down.
Suspension tuning is a funny thing. Always has been, always will be. I’ve heard it called a “Black Art” in the past and I believe that name fits well. Think of yourself floating somewhere lost inside a black hole in space – no idea which way is up or down, without a sound or smell or even a breeze to guide you. Sometimes suspension issues can be as baffling as that. You don’t believe me? Read how Valentino Rossi and his crew chase front end chatter on Friday, with the aid of data acquisition, multiple years of racing experience, testing, rider feedback, teammates feedback, satellite efforts, miles and miles of data, and access to some of the best engineers in the business – only to find that on Saturday they solved it by going in completely the other direction...
Trust me, even the best in the business are clueless sometimes. Suspension tuning can definitely be a “Black Art”.
With the help of our new Nichols triple clamp, which allowed Gerry Piazza to set our chassis up to work within a more sensible range of numbers, I was actually able to ride around out there Friday with an open mind. Gone was the panic of mysteriously ditching the front in turn 9, or three. Back came our ability to focus on the task at hand:
4. The system of springs and other devices that insulates the chassis of a vehicle from shocks transmitted through the wheels.
Saturday’s registration paper came with a special note attached, basically stating the following – GoGo, you’re an idiot. You’re irresponsible and you ride out of control. After reading your team’s detailed description listing the post-race discovery of what lead to your crashes I am removing ONE crash (one was actually capitalized) from last weekend’s three. If you so much as sneeze for the rest of the entire year anywhere near an AFM weekend, you are done..
After completely changing just about everything in our forks Saturday night, we now had one practice Sunday morning to learn what turned out to be an entirely new motorcycle. The bike felt a lot better out there.
In what I wish could have been our first practice Friday morning, the chassis actually responded to more than just a handful of front brake. I could ease up on the lever going into turn one, gradually blending less front brake with more cornering force, and the front would stay down. Finally we wouldn’t get pushed out over the curbing on the exit. I could finish the turn in 4 sooner, and get on the gas earlier. I could push on the inside bar in the Carousel and the bike would head down low for the apex. And our side to side wallow up the hill to seven was all but gone. Things were definitely looking UP. They weren’t great yet, but they were greatly improved. In just that first practice on our completely new setup we got to within eight tenths of a second from our fastest race pace of round II. And in round II we had to crash to set that pace..
I only had two gripes after that practice. We still weren’t planting our rear tire in fast sweepers, and the strangest thing happened between turns two and three? When I tell you what, your head might spin. I know mine did. On what was our third lap in that one practice Sunday, as I pushed the bars to initiate our turn from slightly leaned right (finally finishing the exit of turn two) to our entrance approaching the hill and into turn three - our front tire came off the ground? I don’t mean like a wheelie necessarily. More like it wasn’t planted I guess. So when I counter-steered from right to left I guess the tire turned farther than it would have if it was planted on the pavement – so when it finally did plant itself it snapped the bars back to straight and sent a wiggle through the bike which almost knocked my right foot off the peg. No big deal we didn’t even lose our line, but it did make me wonder what in the love of shit that was all about.. The only other time it happened was out of nine and into ten – the same thing – the front tire not really planted which sent a wiggle through the chassis once the bike landed at full lean.
I did my best back in our pit to communicate this to Phil. With no practice time left we gave the problem our best guess.
In race one we settled into a comfortable pace. Decent start, single file through the first lap, no drama. No idea what place we were in. I missed a shift out of seven just behind Carmen and lost about five lengths. No problem, we just sat there and rode. But after a while, with the bike behaving consistently now, I made another one of those decisions.. Carmen wasn’t going anywhere up there and neither was O’Sullivan, so maybe I thought we’d step up the pace a bit. We pressed real well through the esses and into turn nine. This Superduke is pretty good on the brakes. I will admit I’m a little shy still in 9/9a so I didn’t press again until our exit. I upshifted once and flicked the bike from left to right. Just shy of clicking the next gear as our bike leaned in to ten I felt that feeling again – no pavement up front. Just then as our bike leaned in, the front planted itself with our bars about half lock to the right. If this had been last weekend we were done right then. One millimeter of tuck back then and it was break dancing time. But now, with the new triple and better trail numbers our bike fought to keep the front tire under us. It went from a wide dark black skidding right, to a wide dark black skidding left – kind of like a tank slapper. Only problem with this was my body’s momentum. My shoulders were heading right, for the apex, while our bike was having a brain aneurism to my left. I don’t know how many times our front end snapped from side to side painting the most bizarre darkies into turn ten, but I can tell you that each snap was more violent than the last. Finally I couldn’t hold on anymore, and our 09 AFM race career came to a screeching, asphalt tumbling hault.
1. A temporary debarment, as from school or a privilege, especially as a punishment.
Image by Eric Gulbransen
I never thought I’d say this but in our case today I actually support our suspension and the crash rule that forced it upon us. I am a racer and I was bread to do exactly this. Just because I will ever only be half as good as Rossi’s left tennis sneaker at it, doesn’t mean I can’t equal his passion. You put me in a race, I’m gonna race. Apparently we’re just not ready for that yet.
I have to say one final thing before I put the cave paint away. Our Superduke is not our problem. It’s a great bike and its loads of fun to ride. The problem so far is our inability to work together effectively enough to sort it out. We will work it out, and we will come back stronger.