AFM 2005 round 1, Buttonwillow California

We arrived in Buttonwillow Friday morning - 4:00am. No sleep, no food, and no one could speak effectively without the help of hand signals. But we were there, and at the very least - the bikes were ready. Until sometime Wednesday afternoon no one was sure they would be, and most probably figured they wouldn't be. Simply finishing them in time was a major victory in itself.

Friday practice went very well. We broke both motors in, gradually going harder with each session. The 999R motor feels much more sudden than it used to. It revs up quicker, has a different sound, and pulls with a violent attitude. This thing commands respect at all times. The 749R is an entirely different animal. Almost another sport. Its motor is very smooth, very predictable, and much more user friendly. Both engines have their strong points, you just have to access them totally differently.

Eric GoGo

As we broke the motors in, we also dialed the 749R suspension in. Both bikes have identical suspension components, and chassis', but somehow they felt totally different on the track. Nick worked real hard on Friday at three separate challenges - setting up the 999R (which had never been run at Bottonwillow), setting up the 749R (which had never been run - period), and keeping his eyes open throughout the course of the day. How this man functions on one hour of bone chilling sleep is beyond human understanding.

We ran back to back sessions on both bikes all day long until finally we were at a happy place. Then we collapsed. All total we had run just under 100 laps. On Saturday we went at it again, this time WITH a stop watch. When we ran Buttonwillow last year we were on our race proven, 139hp 998. That old friend has come out on top of many race battles. Our fastest Buttonwillw laps on it were 1:52:0's. By Saturday afternoon we were at 1:51:7's on the 999R, and 1:54:0's on the 749R. Respectable, but not fast enough ( is anything EVER fast enough?). Nick set our goal for 53's on the 749R, but seemed comfortable with 51's for the 999R. In the last session of the day we ran the 749R in the fast practice, hoping less traffic would produce more opportunity. Apparently it did. That little bike proved it has amazing potential - bone stock. We came in at 1:53:16.

Now, tire strategy came in to play. We worked out our plan, did our changes at Dunlop, and began losing sleep after realizing we may not only be facing a bunch of 1,000 cc twins the next day on our little bike, but also a ringer. Ken Hill is consistently one of the fastest racers in the AFM series, and on weekends that Honda pays hefty sums of money for Open Twins victories, Ken runs a kitted RC51 that not only is fast, but somehow this year seems even faster. This late realization tempted a change in our TagTeamRacing race plan, and you better believe we clashed horns about it, but in the end we all decided to stick with our word - we would run Open Twins on our stock 749R, instead of our groomed 999R.

Eric GoGo

Our three races were 750 Superbike, Open Twins, and Formula Pacific:

750 Supebike We started 7th, which put us one spot from the inside on the second row. The new 999R motor revs up so quickly it is actually harder to launch, so we blew the start. Wheelied four times until the clutch was out fully. Kind of felt like a yoyo. And a bone head. Huge gaggle of riders into turn one that we were on the inside of. I figured this time of year, first race, first turn, this was the safe place to be. It was not the fast place to be. We worked our way into fourth through the technical turns, then settled into a good rhythm by the time we entered "Riverside." (I still don't see any rivers around there) John Bawden eventually passed us while we worked on Brian Campbell going into "Lost hills." This kind of woke me up a bit, so we followed Bawden by Campbell and proceeded to chase him instead. Somewhere around this time Steve Rapp did his best impression of Under Dog and shot by the both of us so fast I think I saw stars. He went on to not only win, but set a new lap record in the process. Finally I understand why Michael Jordan chose him to ride his bikes. That nut ball GOES.....

Eric GoGo

We set our new personal best time, a 1:50:5, and finished a close fourth behind Bawden. Hats off to Bawden - he ran a strong, consistent, fast race.

Open Twins We started 2nd, one spot from the inside. I was concerned about two things at this point: 1- getting this 749R off the line perfectly, and 2 - Ken Hill on that RC 51. Out of desperation I did an old Pee Wee Gleason trick on the line, and jammed my left toe against the spool on our swingarm which gave me leverage to force the bulk of my weight (my fat head) over the bars. Turns out Pee Wee was a genius. Yoyodyne's great slipper clutch too. That little bike entered turn one all on its own. Not bad for a stock machine. From that point on I bounced that bike off curbs, scraped its pegs, and nearly touched my elbow to the ground through Riverside as we lead the race for a lap and a half - but still, out of lost hills and through that fast section that follows, Ken ripped our bodywork off as he motored by. That thing must have some serious hp this year, because we had them covered last year on our 998 when all they could manage were 1:52:2's. Ken and I were now doing 1:51:1's (over two seconds faster than our previously celebrated Saturday practice times). Next time down the straight he lead us by a few bike lengths, but that little 749R didn't give in. We hit every mark during the next lap, taking advantage of this bikes exceptional cornering and braking abilities, and by the third lap we were within one bike length of that "rocket" down the entire straight. This gave us new hope, and for the first time I actually thought we could beat that monster pairing and give new meaning to the term "Undergdog." This is when I earned true "jack ass" status. We ran through turn one on a mission for a turn two pass, and charged for his inside through that hairpin. Both our teams Ducatis go through that section with sheer lunacy. Turns out though, our charge was a bit too effective in one respect, and not effective enough in the other. That RC51 was too fast going in for us to make the pass, but too slow through it for us to maintain our regular pace.

Eric GoGo

I adjusted my line to keep from hitting him, cracked the throttle to keep close enough once we were clear of his rear tire, and spun up our rear tire just enough to get us too far out of shape. In that madness my big flipper feet knocked the shifter into a false neutral. At this point I decided to do a very abusive test of Ducati transmission durability by breaking out my framing hammer and beating on the shifter until any gear was found again. By the time I was done screwing around with this we had lost a football field worth of time, and our goose was cooked (or should I say, our "Duck" was cooked). But we never gave up, and actually moved closer by race end, eventually finishing about four seconds behind first, and somewhere near fifteen seconds ahead of the vast field of 1,000cc twins that make up the rest of the AFM's growing field of Open Twins.

All "Underdog" credit goes to a truly great machine - the 2005 Ducati 749R. I thought I liked the old 748's. The way they ran around a track defined the joy of motorcycling. Now, the 05 749R has re-written that definition. Keep in mind that 1:51:1's are faster than many 1,000cc four cylinder machines run around Buttonwillow. Then remember this 749R is stock. This bike is destine for greatness.

Formula Pacific We only ran FP one time last year so our grid position was pretty much tragic - 24th. We all made a decision the previous week that we would set our FP goal to finish well enough to make the second row in the next round. John Fosgate stopped by Sunday and gave some good advice that we kept in mind as well. He said - basically - "Everyone's too revved up this first weekend. Just survive. Get points, stay shiny, and go harder next round." I took that advice and then proceeded to go into a panic about turn one with 23 bikes in front of us. In the end my concern about turn one was "off." I should have been concerned about the entire first lap. Memories of the Long Island expressway came to mind during that lap - Easter dinners thirty miles away that took hours to get to - and then finally taxi cabs in Manhattan occurred to me. Once the taxi visions kicked in we began moving forward. First lap we came by in fourteenth. On lap two, through the exit of Riverside, I lost rear traction so bad that the whole bike fell away in the rear. Thankfully my knee was still firmly planted in the pavement (well on its way to destroying the fifth Buttonwillow knee puck we were generously "lent"), so a quick natural reaction to simply push back on the pavement was all we needed to set us into a very enjoyable, gyrating, wheel bending, devil worshiping, ass in the air tank slapper that finally ended just before the turn in point of the following left sweeper. It took until the next lap for me to re-gain confidence in the rear tire we chose, but once we got that back we were on a mission once again. Our old friend Bawden was up ahead again, and once again we set our sites on his Suzuki. This time though, we had another second in our arsenal. A few laps later we passed both him and someone else to eventually take seventh. We also set our personal best lap times, 1:49:5's.

In the end we didn't win one race, but all left Buttonwillow on top of the world. And that's what racing is all about.

Eric GoGo

 

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Eric "GoGo" Gulbransen, Tracy Gulbransen, Matthew Pilla, Motorcycle racing, AFM, Ducati 749R, 999R, race story, MotoItaliano