2006 AFM round 2
Sonoma California

This weekend marked the second round of the AFM roadracing series, which was held at the well known Infineon Raceway, in Sonoma Calfornia. Infineon has an aggressive, tight layout with many elevation changes, all of which spare you very few moments to relax. In anticipation of this event we planned to bring two race bikes - our tried and trusted Ducati 749R, and also the latest addition to our MotoItaliano racing stable - the very well known Ducati 999R. We picked up our new bike about a month ago and since then we created our build plan, and ordered all the race parts we will use to make this machine as lethal a weapon as we can. Ultimately though, we only really left ourselves two weeks to take this new bike from stock street trim, to full-on race prep. As it turns out two weeks wasn't long enough, so for just this second round we came up with a very potent "Plan B."

We decided to rob the motor from our new 999R and stuff it into our tried and trusted 749R chassis. On the dyno these days our 749R has 118 hp. This 999R motor had 138hp stock, but once we put our Leo Vince exhaust system on it that number immedietly climbed to 149hp. Not a bad number for a bone stock Ducati.

We want to go faster this year, so I made a decision to alter our gearing quite a bit for this weekend. We went from 14-39 tooth sprocket set-up, to 14-42, which is a substantial jump, and as it ultimately turned out, maybe this would have been a better set-up move for a farm tractor pulling a float in the Kern County Fair. What a difference this made. It was like a totally different motorcycle. We had to shift much more, which created some challenges, but boy did that thing come off a turn.. Coming onto the front straight I couldn't keep the front wheel on the ground. Coming out of six, which is called the "Carousel" the rear tire would drift as it spun. Out of seven it would ignite the pavement and shake and shimmy all the way through the following section of esses. Over the hill out of the esses it would wheelie and shake like a caged wild animal. These differences had me convinced we were making things happen out there. I mean how could they not? It was a wild ride... I changed my riding style to more of a point and shoot style, to work with this new gearing. Our original gearing kept a much more flowing pace around the track.

By Saturday afternoon, after working all day with Dave Moss (from Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning), we felt we had arrived at a place we couldn't improve on until we made more internal changes in the forks and shock. Apparently Dave had adjusted our rebound to its maximum settings both front and rear - which is a scary thought for me.... Once a bunch of years ago I went into a a turn at just under redline in fourth gear on a Gixer 750 at Bridgehampton, back on Long Island. I got into the brakes pretty good and the rear tire went silly on me. The rebound was so slow that the tire wouldn't keep contact with the pavement, and as a result I went into a tire covered armco wall at a speed I'd rather not remember. That was the only bike I ever destroyed...

But Dave seemed pretty confident, and his reasoning made sense. In the end he was right, and finally I could go over that bumpy hill in the back section without ending up sitting on the transponder mounted to our tail section because the bike was shaking so violently. I could also now get the bike wheelieing over those bumps, like some of those other nuts we run around with out there do

The next big change we made for this weekend was our switch to Vesrah brake pads. Until our first round at Buttonwillow, when we lost two positions under the brakes, we used to be happy with our braking. But in racing if you're happy it usually means you're not going fast enough. So after that weekdend we began to investigate some of the rumors we've heard about Vesrah brake pads lately. All the feedback we got was positive, so this weekend we tried a set.

Some new brake pads require special break-in sessions, others are real strong out of the box but fade over time. Some never seem to be that strong at any point in their life. On our first lap out I could feel a difference. One finger stopped the bike like two used to. And two fingers could drive the nose of our 999R into the pavement so hard we had to re-set the preload on our forks. They are simply amazing, and actually helped create some new opportunities out on the track for us. Every single brake marker we used to use out there has now been moved closer to the turn because of our new stopping power. Our switch to Vesrah pads was a great move for us, and all thanks has to go to Alex Florea for helping us make this move.


Back in our pitsScott, Jason, Basil, Julio and the rest of the MotoItaliano family worked real hard this weekend, and deserve a boat load of credit. They covered everything I asked them to, and came up with a bunch of other things I would have missed. I really like the scene in our pits now. It's very comfortable there, and everyone seems to like each other... This is probably the single most valuable asset we posess as a team, and surely it will help keep us focused and driving forward.

We went into our first race on Sunday, Open Twins, feeling confident. After all I really thought we were riding the hell out of that bike, with all the bucking and sliding and wheelieing we were doing out there. But after a few laps I noticed Tracy's pit signals were telling me to go faster or our goose was about to be cooked!

None of us expected this race to be so tough, but I didn't argue. I began throwing lappers over my shoulder at whoever it was, timing our passes in what would surely be the most ridiculous places for our competition to deal with them. Thankfully there was a good deal of traffic out there to get through, and finally we made it to the checkered flag first. Turns out the bike and rider acting as our tail ornament was another Ducati! Craig McClean, on the Desmotosport 749R. Craig is a very near Isle of Mann champion roadracer. As the story goes, Craig came half a lap away from winning a singles race at the Isle of Man on his Ducati Supermono. With helicopters following him through his last lap, suddenly an electrical gremlin botched the whole moment for him, and he was forced to pull off. Craig is an amiable character, who decievingly looks at you in the pits with a very friendly grin - while he invisions you taking the shape of a juicy fourteen ounce T-Bone steak dangling from a bar-b-que fork

But in the end we won it, which makes this our second Open Twins victory of the season, making us two-for-two for the year. And thank the lord for that because Ducati's great contingency program is helping us fund our race program this year!

In our second race, Formula Pacific, we started from the third row, in position 10. To help make Formula Pacific a little easier to understand, consider its rules... Basically there aren't any. The AFM Formula Pacific race defines itself as the "Run what you brung, go fast or go home, the fastest guys on the fastest bikes in the AFM - and beyond..." Again we were confident on the line, and had our sites set on the front. When the flag dropped we came out of the hole pretty well, but not perfect. We cleared everyone on our row by turn one, and worked our way around the outside of our first victim going into two - an uphill blind right hander. By turn four we got by another bike by powering up the inside and outbraking them into turn 4. Things were going well so far. We were in seventh spot and on the charge with our next pass planned for turn seven. On our way out of six, which is a 180 degree - downhill carousel turn that leads you onto a long uphill climb toward turn seven, Our 999R pulled like a tiger. We kept the rear tire of Kim Nakashima's 1,000cc inline four right off our bow as the two of us powered through the gears. But then suddenly our bike began to vibrate and the motor revved free for a moment. Immedietely my heart sunk. We fell from Nakashima's rear tire, and Chuck Sorenson came by us going into seven - but kind of missed the turn and went way wide. Once we all got into the brakes I wasn't so worried about the revs. The only thing I wanted was that position back! Nakashima was just ahead of the two of us now (we were all three, tire-to-tire). Chuck must have been drafting us just before he passed because he and his bike went wide - past the entry apex of seven. I saw my opportunity to nip him back underneath, but with Nakashima right there, and Chuck looking determined to charge back on course for the second apex - I could see that the end of this turn could easily become the end of the race for all three of us. I relaxed instead, and bided our time - settling in behind the two of them - all the time wondering what the hell our vibration was all about. We all charged through the esses out of seven, and I snuck our Ducati under Nakashima going into the turn nine chicaine. Two turns later, coming onto the front straight, I discovered what the vibration was when our bike, for the first time all weekend, did NOT wheelie through each gear as we charged for the ultra fast left hand turn-one. It was our clutch pack - the only thing we HADN'T checked this weekend.

Sometimes you can over-heat a clutch, and if you're careful enough you can nurse it back to a good enough temperature to finish the race by backing off just a bit instead of letting is spin. This happend to us at Mid Ohio once, so I set out to do a repeat performance of that in this race. We got up the front straight, and through the tight, technical back section without losing any positions. But on our next rush up the dragstrip hill it was really tough to accelerate without it slipping, so we backed off even more. Somehow, through all this, we were still in the pack even though I was being gentle (which could be a lesson in itself), but by the third lap it began to get worse and I began to worry about getting torpedoed from behind. These guys in Formula Pacific don't screw around. When it's time to charge out of a turn, they do. And we simply couldn't anymore. I put my hand up and limped off to the side of the track, assuming our race was done, and feeling pretty sad about letting the guys at MotoItaliano down.

After we came into the pits, over the loudspeaker Tracy heard the leader, Dave Stanton, had high-sided and that the red flag was coming out. Now I don't really understand how she came up with it, but somehow all on her own she charged our MotoItaliano crew into a frenzy and got them to putting a new clutch pack in to make the re-start, which would probably happen in about four minutes time! All the while I had no idea about any of this, and was slowly making my way back to our pit with an overwhelming feeling of defeat glooming over my head. But when I returned to the pits, parts were flying, people were throwing tools, spares bins were on the floor, and when approached with a question that I'm sure he didn't even hear - all Jason could answere was, "I don't give a $%#&!T! JUST GET THE NEW CLUTCH PACK IN!!!!"

Among the distant murmer of John Fosgate announcing the drop of the green flag to start the second leg of the race, Scott quickly started the bike and handed it off to me on the fly - like we were in an endurance race. I have to say I usually follow the rules, but this one particular time we definitely broke the "walking pace though the pits" barrier! We got stuck behind the ambulance that transported Stanton as we went down the pit entrance hill. This thing was huge, and moving ever so gently manuvering itself into position again. AAAAAHHHHH! We needed to wheelie right over this thing! Once we did get around it, and made it to the hot-pit, all I could see was an empty race track in front of me. It felt so lonely all the sudden, like I'd just discovered everyone left for Disneyland without me...

I couldn't see another race bike on the track anywhere, but pressed on anyway. Once we finally made it to race control, near the end of pit lane, the race officials motioned to me that opportunity lay ahead - some fourteen miles up the track - so we set out after it, wheelieing through the cones and out onto the track...

I rode as hard as I could, and even got bucked out of the seat a time or two. But our biggest battle out there was keeping good focus when I could see the pack going through the esses out of turn eight - heading to the right at a cartoon-like pace. Of course we still had to head to the left for half a mile! That was a little disheartening, but we never gave up, and on the very last lap of the six we had remaining, we did finally find a friend out there on the horizon. Suddenly I began envisioning a juicy steak hanging from the tip of a bar-b-que fork of my own. We gave it our all, chasing him down, but in the end we went through the checker just one click off his tail section - in dead last place....

photo by Robert Redmond / n8i.net

On the cool down lap, with my hand over my face shield I noticed more than a few cheers coming from our cornerworkers, and even a few coming from the crowd. I guess people like under-dogs, and never giving up.

So that's racing. You can be there one second, right in the heat of battle, then suddenly some fruitcake of a gremlin sneaks up behind you and bites you in the ass.


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