- AFM 2005 round 8, Infineon California -

I was more nervous about this weekend than any other I have ever prepared for. We’ve been up against some baffling challenges this season. Some we took on ourselves, some we created ourselves, and others we could only do our best to solve mainly on our own. Mike Harmon deserves the mother load of any credit due to our successes this year. Through some twilight zone type adversity, Mike has always been there to face it head on. And even though our bikes were ready early this time, come Saturday morning we still met some set-backs. The 999R stopped charging, and the 749R sprung an oil leak. So all day Saturday, on both bikes, we only managed about fifteen laps of practice. For me, when I hear bikes running around the track all day and I’m stuck in the pits with my thumb up my nose, I get the earie feeling we’re falling behind the eight-ball, like everyone else is out there finding tenths of seconds, while we are busy losing them. And that’s exactly what we were doing on Saturday. So Saturday night at around 3am, I found myself staring at the ceiling of Craig Grantham’s motorhome. All I could think of was the problems we’ve consistently faced this year, combined with the fact that by tomorrow we couldn’t afford one single hick-up or the Open Twins championship would surely be lost. Sleep was no where in sight, so I went for a walk outside in the chilly night air. I thought about our team. I thought about commitment. I thought about the opportunities it’s far too late for us to realize now, and planned new ways to realize the ones we still can. I thought about crashing in Formula Pacific in our last Infineon appearance. I remembered the feeling of our front brake lever coming to the stop while breaking for the chicane so many races ago, falling to my knees in the dirt, and then watching Pfeifer strive on to take Aprilia’s first Open Twins win for 05. I pictured Barbara shouting into my helmet, and pointing to the smoke coming from our exhaust. I remembered hugging her, in thanks, for most likely saving my ass. I pictured that oil line bolt, torqued, and safety wired, but yet still pumping oil from the compression washer like a severed artery. Finally, I considered how fragile a championship run can be in a year, and yet how important they are for your year, to win.

Three o’clock became four o’clock, then four o'clock became five. I don’t even remember blinking, never mind sleeping. Sunday practice on the 749R went well. Mounting a new set of Dunlop tires on your bike is like throwing a new Superman cape over your shoulders. Their tires are simply inspiring to have beneath you. But the big bike never made practice. Still, it sat, waiting for the answer to another puzzling question.

Open Twins began with the drop of a flag, and the vision of Bud Anderson disappearing from my view. Schwannie too. But there was this one character on another Duc, that never went away. In fact he beat us to turn one. I love new sights, but this particular sight had yellow plates on it. I loved that even more. I remembered leading my first race. It felt lonely up there, with no one ahead of you. No one to follow. No one to hunt. His line into turn two was a little shaggy, but his bike came to life on the way to three, so we didn’t get by. In fact we didn’t get by until turn four. I don’t know his name, but I do know we’ll be seeing more of this guy. And I do know he was on a new Ducati. I love that the most. Schwannie kept himself pretty close. I could tell by Mike’s pit signals. When he holds his hands together, or pretty close, I know I’ve got to put the hammer down. And he had them pretty close for quite a while out there. I believe we’ll be seeing more of Schwannie as well. The bike ran flawlessly, thanks to all Mike's hard work during the weeks that led up to this weekend's race. Without his commitment we'd be running around aimlessly, and we'd never be winning.

The bike ran flawlessly, and the tires worked perfectly. We went on to win, after gapping Schwannie in traffic. Somehow, getting that checkerd flag seemed surreal to me. On the cool-down lap a tear came to my eye. I even rode off the track I was so relieved.

The victory circle was a welcome place to be again. Being together with Schwannie and the Cheeky Dragon up there was great. I wish the p-a system worked better. Usually all I hear afterwards is that no one could hear a damn thing. That’s ironic, because when you’re up there all you can think about is not forgetting anyone, and in the end it didn’t matter anyway. Our helmet still smells of champagne.

Formula Pacific had me shaking in my Sidi boots again. I hate the proposition of going out to do better than everyone else, when you’re the least prepared of any of them. Seems irresponsible to me. By second call the bike wouldn’t start. Dennis pulled his Audi to the nose of our 999R, and the guys jumped it with cables. Turns out the answer to the puzzle may just be the starter, so we might be better off by Buttonwillow. We started on the second row, got a pretty good launch, and went into turn two in sixth. Surprisingly we kept a decent pace with those guys. Not great, but it was promising considering we haven’t had more than thirty total laps on that bike in the last three months. On the fourth lap my right foot fell off the peg after I flicked it right for turn three. Since the bike was leaned over to the right, my foot and leg had no where to go. Because I push down real hard on the pegs to turn the bike, now, without my foot on the peg, my body simply fell toward the ground. My entire leg ended up dragging behind the bike, next to the rear tire, and my chest was pressed into the tank. The bike ran wide as we crested the hill, but we managed to stay together and press on. Coming out of the carousel I took a moment to curse myself for making such a stupid mistake. But on the next lap it happened again, in just the same place, at just the same time. Then I knew there might be trouble with more than just me, so I began to back off a bit. Mike’s signals said I should stay in it, so I was torn about what to do. The bike felt great, otherwise, and there was no smoke. Finally it was shifting gears with no trouble at all, and we had good traction. The third time it happened my foot only fell off a bit, but now I knew for sure it wasn’t me. Turns out it was a cut O-ring on the clutch drive shaft that was leaking oil onto my boot, peg, and some of the frame. It wasn’t a lot, but I guess it was enough to create a problem for us.

Toward the end of the race, the same guy who passed me going into the chicane with a real aggressive move a few laps earlier, ( by the way I love those kind of moves, and I compliment him. It was perfectly clean ) crashed in turn eleven. While under the brakes for that turn I saw both him and his bike on the ground. His bike was still sliding, but I knew a sliding bike would only be going farther away, so I didn’t fret it too much. I headed into turn eleven a click or two off pace, and on an inside line to be sure and not hit any oil he may have left on the track. Just at that moment I had to re-calculate my line again, because his bike didn’t end up where I thought it would. No problems. Everything was still cool. But then I suddenly realized his bike was now headed straight for me! Turns out the motor was still running, it was still in gear, teetering on its footpeg, and spinning in circles like a BMW would after it fell on its case. We got around the demon fine, ultimately, and pressed onward through what turned out to be our last challenge of the weekend. We finished the race in eighth place. Not a great effort at all, but still far better than we've managed in FP lately. I think everyone was happy.

This year has been a challenge for us. Our team has gone through some trying times, the likes of which are not nearly over yet. We have tried to represent Ducati well, but honestly I feel we can do much better. In fact we all do. Like Mike said so well the other day, “You don’t win races on Mondays. You lose them on Mondays.” We’ve got great bikes in our stable. Surely they are capable of more than we have managed to achieve with them so far.

Buttonwillow will be great fun. We’ll see you there.


Return to

For more, please Visit GoTagTeam.com

Please feel free to
Email GoGo

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