I really blew it in Round Two. The guys were rising to the occasion. They did everything I asked. Only problem was I asked for the wrong things. Like I said before, numbers can be cruel. And no matter how hard we tried, they just weren't adding up for us at Infineon. We had cut some really fast lap times there in 05 when our 999R was running well. But that bike's heads were milled, we had a valve job, some porting, a cut crank and high compression pistons. Those little things add up, and they do help you get going pretty good. We had gotten our hands on a 999R for this second weekend, and our plan was to keep this motor bone stock. Reliable and consistent were our goals. But you can't tell a racer that and expect him to lie down while everyone else goes by on one wheel. I still wanted to go fast, so I thought to try shorter gearing. Maybe the bike would pull up the hills better. Maybe get out of turns with more grunt. First rides out there with the new gearing and I was happy as hell. The thing wheelied everywhere. It would drift the rear out of the carousel, and send you back in the seat on acceleration. We were definitely movin'. Or at least that's what I thought.... But after a weekend of absolutely fighting the track as hard as we could, I finally took a look at our time sheets. My heart sunk when I learned that our fastest laps turned out to be FOUR whole seconds off the FP pace?!

It's one thing to be off the pace when you're having problems, but to be slow when you feel like you're flying out there is nothing less than humiliating. That weekend left me questioning my abilities. I doubted I could go two seconds faster, never mind four. At weekend's end I saw a dog laying on the ground all on his own. He looked like I felt - defeated, confused, and slow as all hell. So I went over to him and proposed a deal. "I'll give you a biscuit if you give me the answer to Infineon Raceway."

He said nothing in return so we were left to figure it out all on our own. Instantly I went on a diet - not that I was fat. I began running every day - not that I was out of shape. It was painfully obvious that I was searching for answers where there were none. And lucky us, our next round was to be at Infineon, again...

Although most of the dealers in this Bay Area are some of the most competitive that I've ever seen, the dealers that are not so close to each other seem to get along much better. And luckily for us, Jason is great friends with Balz Renggli, the owner of a Ducati dealership down south. Balz also happens to be one of the guys who is behind Kenny Kopecky. Kenny is a very successful Ducati superbike racer from Willow Springs. And after feeling the effects of Balz Renggli on our race efforts in Round Three, I do understand why Kenny does so well down there.

Balz had a very simple solution after he'd spent the morning watching our front wheel loft in the sky as we blazed down the front straight. "Dude, your gearing is too short. Change it back three teeth taller." I frowned for a moment because I really didn't want to lose all that power, but then I gave the guys the nod and by mid way through our next practice we had dropped three seconds. Either he is a genius, or I am a moron.

Later that day we finally got a chance to run our 749R in a 600 superbike race. We were gridded about 25th. If that sounds bad, don't be fooled. The AFM 600 superbike grid is ridiculously HUGE. 25th was actually closer to the front than it was to the back. From the grid I looked down at our Yoyodyne slipper clutch and smiled inside. We had a new clutch pack in there, which always spells "Lunatic starts!" We came out of the hole real hard on both re-starts of that race. 25th to 5th by turn two, both times. We got into a real good battle for second with an up-and-coming star that you'll be reading more about in the AMA next year, Bobby Fong. Chasing that kid around Infineon was an eye opener. We could get our 749R around the tight front section faster than he could manage on his Yamaha, but I have to admit I've never seen someone get on the gas as early as he does coming out of turn four. Thankfully Dunlop had our back covered, once again, and we were able to not only match his pace, but to get by and build a gap as well. We took a second in our first 600 superbike race ever, to Jeff Tigert.

Going into Round Four is where we started having problems. Thunderhill Raceway is one of the few places on earth that actually gets hotter than hell at least two times per year. And both of those two times just so happen to land on AFM weekends. In our first practice on Saturday things were happening real nicely. Going into turn ten, a hard braking left hander, the rear end stepped out so far I felt like superman. Our 749R felt light and fast. But then the back end came ALL the way around on us going into the fast off-camber right hand turn three. For an instant in time we actually faced turn two again, only we were going backwards at 75mph at the time. A real spectacular high side followed shortly, after I came to the early conclusion that there was no saving this one. Thank, you, Vanson Leathers. I spiked my elbow so hard that I'm sure it would have shattered if not for the great armor they put in their suits.

Although we did ride again later that day, and we did win again that following Sunday, my elbow was actually swollen for literally an entire month after the crash. It turns out the bike had overheated, our catch bottle burst open, and water covered our rear tire.

That'll boost your confidence next time you head into turn three.

I have to say, quite selfishly, that it's pretty cool to know the people who you care about, care about you back. As I understand it my little Matthew gets pretty upset when we hit the pavement. Turns out it was father's day that day, and instead of giving me the present he planned on, the poor guy had to go out with Tracy for bandages, in an air conditioned car I might add, while our MotoItaliano crew got themselves through their first experiences of pulling rocks out of what only moments ago was beautifully polished bodywork..

No doubt. Crashing sucks. But it also teaches you what you're made of...

It was quickly becoming apparent that although this MotoItaliano team was very new to racing, MotoItaliano was not a team that was new to hard work. And that realization couldn't have come at a better time, because things were about to get much harder...

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