5/21/06 Sonoma California's Infineon Raceway,
AMA Superbike Weekend.

"Pro Lashes"

Before you enter a pro race, like AMA Superbike, or Formula Extreme, you really should ask yourself "What are our goals?" Especially as a regionally based team with minimal backing, you're going to have to face the fact that while winning a pro race would be phenomenal, if not even unbelievable, it's probably not a realistic goal to set for yourself (YET). The opinion of at least one of the fastest guys in Superbike today is, "If you're not entering a race to win it, then what are you doing there?" Well, I can see his point - to a point - which segues nicely into mine. "What are you doing there?"

I have raced against some of the same regional guys for years. Sometimes we would get the upper hand, sometimes they'd take it. But then one of us would do a stretch of nationals on our own and once we came back everything would be different. It's amazing, really, and it always happens. The nationals make you faster.

Pro riders re-define your understanding of "Fast." Getting passed by them can be one helluva' reality check. I remember going into a turn last year in Superbike qualifying. I was trying extra hard and suddenly found myself too far beyond my brake marker for turn seven (a tight right hander that we typically downshift three times for). I immediately got that sinking feeling that I was just not going to make the turn. I squeezed the front brake as hard as I could, the rear tire stepped out, and the motor over-revved as I downshifted through the gears. As my turn-in marker approached, and everything was still sideways, I actually began to imagine that I might be able to survive this moment - and maybe even make the turn after-all. Just then Aaron Yates slipped underneath me while drifting just about everything, and motored his way through the turn like it was business as usual. THAT is what it's like at the nationals. Those guys "Go!"

We had two main goals for this weekend's AMA race: Get MotoItaliano into the "Show." And get FASTER.. We showed up on Friday with a bike that was all new. Our tried and trusted 749R got stripped down to a pile of parts by the guys at MotoItaliano last week, who had their sites set on creating a new image for effort. I have to say, they achieved exactly that. Our new machine is now totally different looking, running, and handling. The silver metal flake "Paul Smart" paint job looks pretty exciting when the sun hits it. I can't say I've seen another bike like it since I've been racing. I also can't take any credit for it at all. The whole project is the brain child of Jason and the crew at MotoItaliano. We'll have to get some good close-up shots of the frame and body. Just amazing. And as for the motor? Basil got down and dirty with the heads on this motor and somehow found a few more VERY key horsepower. Great job, and many props to the boys!

With five minutes until what would have been our first practice of the weekend, on Friday, we actually looked set to go - minus the fact that our new PowerCommander fuel management system had not been programmed yet. We looked up at the threatening sky, down at the PowerCommander, and then over at the DynoJet truck parked nicely in the pits to service anyone using their products. We decided a session of practice with the bike running like a garbage truck wasn't going to help us a whole lot, so instead we headed to the DyonJet truck. Three minutes later it began to rain and the entire practice session was cancelled. In fact the entire day ended up being rained out, because they don't run motorcycles in the rain at Infineon. This actually worked out nicely for us, because now nobody was getting practice time, and as a result nobody was out there getting faster than us.

Scotty wheeled our 749R down the ramp with a big grin on his face. The thing has more hp now than it ever has... 128.5hp! And it runs smooth as butter.

Saturday looked much clearer, and what was supposed to be a pre-race practice, now became our unofficial qualifying session. We completed eight laps, and in that time I realized our footpegs were mistakenly mounted in the lower holes, so we were left dragging them on the ground just about everywhere, our shifter was too high, the bars were a click too far in, and the levers were too high. Talk about anal retentive... "Just ride the damn thing," you might say. Well, those little things add up, so after eight laps we were done. Turns out we were eighteenth fastest. Oh, crap...

photos by Tim Huntington, of Webnectar.com

No worries though. "Remember our goals." I kept saying to myself. The only problem we could see for the race was a slight oil leak coming from around the clutch basket. This is a problem we've had before, so we replaced the seal behind the clutch last week. It was still leaking though, but not so bad (only a trace was visible on the clutch cover after eight laps), so we lined up just like that. I had my sights set on getting past the entire front row, but when the light went green and I got into the clutch, we didn't really launch so hard. In fact I believe we lost a bit of ground (as it turns out there was more oil IN the "dry" clutch pack than anyone had realized). Turn two was horrible. Bikes were everywhere, some was coming off someone's leg as another bike rubbed up on him, and even Craig McClean run up our inside going into two. Bastid! I guess I was being a bit too conservative. It took us a bit to get used to all the new settings again, but once we did we were back in business. We got back by McClean by rolling through the carousel turn and moving up his outside, with a plan to square off our exit and power underneath him down the next straight. Oddly enough, though, we rolled a little faster than I had planned on so I changed our plan to just power around his outside through the exit and down that entire straight. The best part of that race was when McClean sensed us on his outside and let his bike run wide to pinch us off. I kept the throttle pinned as he moved us into the marbles and the rear tire began to lose traction - in a fun sort of way - and we did finally get by him. Then on the brakes for seven I blew my mark and he went right back by on our inside. "Does it get better than this?" Dicing back and forth with another Ducati 749R really gives you a good idea of what others are up against when they take you on....

We did get by McClean again, this time on the front straight, but by now most of the field was pretty far ahead. We kept in it, each lap getting quicker and quicker, until about the tenth lap when the rear tire began moving around quite a bit. It took a little more work, riding fast with a slippery tire under us, but we managed to close in on a few of the regular national guys like Nicky Moore, and Grant Riggs, with only a few laps to go. When a bike up ahead just keeps getting smaller, that gets you down a bit. But when it keeps getting bigger, that makes you HUNGRY. Going into the last lap I thought we had a good chance of catching at least one of them, but suddenly the bike began to lose power. I thought twice about it as we went down the front straight, but kept in it, and just at that very moment Jason turned to Tracy on the hot pit and said "Oh crap... Did you hear that pop? I don't like that sound.. It sounds like he's running out of gas!" Tracy turned back and slowly said, one word at a time, "Don't..... even..... tell me...... after all that work out there, on the sixteenth lap of a seventeen lap race, he's gunna run out of gas....?"

Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. I put my hand up coming out of turn two and rode through the grass to park my best little buddy behind the tire wall - while Jason Disalvo and Eric Bostrom burned up their tires heading for the checkered flag.


Some might expect we'd be pissed. Maybe even disappointed. But no, not this time. We came with two goals, and we left with two accomplishments. MotoItaliano made the show their first time at a national, and we just went faster on our little bike - on the slower AMA layout of Infineon (AMA changes the course a bit to slow the superbikes down going through what they consider a dangerous turn one), than we had gone the weekend previous with the faster layout, on our faster bike! THAT is progress. And now we're feeling pretty damn good about our next AFM round this coming weekend...

Stay tuned, and stay safe




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