AFM round 6, 2011 – LIFT-OFF

Posted: 1st September 2011 by GoGo in RACE STORIES - 2011

If the story of our year up to round 5 could be summed up in one word, that word would be “Lost”.  If the story of our round 6 could be summed up in one word, that word would be “Lift-off”.  (Ok that’s two words.  Whatever)  Would you think less of me if I admitted a tear came to my eye on the cool-down lap of this weekend’s Open Twins race?  Well go ahead and think less of me then.  It’s been a very long road.  The problems with our RC8R this year had haunted my confidence into submission, my skills into question, my drive into pause.  But all of that has finally began to morph itself back into a me I once again can recognize.  A me that’s not so afraid anymore – of anything and everything out there on the track.  And, for that matter, off of it.

Turns out we DID learn a bunch about chassis setup while racing our trusty Superduke in 2009/2010.  Turns out the triple clamps we made for our RC8R this year DID improve it.  We just botched one simple step.  Apparently the dust seal, which gets wedged between the steering head bearing and the upper triple clamp, lined up with the different shape of our custom triple clamps all wrong.  This caused the clamps to come loose after just a few laps, no matter how careful you were tightening/torquing the steering head together.  So basically we’ve been screwed all year by not only the bottom of our forks moving all over the place, but also the tops of them.  And I have had the baffling challenge of trying to force our bike to run at speeds it has no business running at.

Looking at my phone on the tool box Saturday, I could almost feel Mike’s curiosity burning through it’s screen.  A lot was on the line in our Saturday practice.  He really stuck his neck out there chasing John Starks down to make changes to our triples.  I could tell immediately the bike was different.  It was still far from perfect in the first practice, but it’s typically uncanny shimmies and wollows were all but gone.  Surprisingly though, with our new-found stability also came consistency.  I wasn’t looking for that.  Or even hoping for it.  But there it was.  And with our RC8R’s new found consistency also came, slowly at first, my confidence – like out from a dusty closet filled with forgotten treasures.  This got me to pushing a little more, which got us to discovering a little more.  By mid-day Saturday my mind was absolutely filled with new information.  And excitement.

I am not a great setup guy, obviously.  But, at least I used to be told, I am very good at giving good data.  This was another area which improved greatly Saturday.  Finally again my feedback made sense.  Finally I wasn’t contradicting myself with confusing information.  What was our bike like out there now?  “Have you ever driven a snow plow?”  I kept asking..  “Going into fast turns hard, it’s just like that…”  This prompted some odd responses – everyone here is from California.  No one drives snow plows.  So then I’d go into stories about snow plows..

When I threw the bike on it’s side heading into a hard turn, I could feel the pavement pushing back at me.  It was like something was dragging – the brake, the motor, I don’t know.  But something external of my inputs was slowing us down.  As I zeroed in on it I could also identify with a force not only pushing back at us as the bike turned in, but also actually pushing our front sideways – towards the inside of the turn.  This is where the snow plow analogy came from.  When you plow snow with an angled blade, you not only feel the snow pushing back at you, but the angle on the blade also pushes the front of your truck sideways – away from the snow.

It took a little bit of thinking but what we took that information to mean is we actually, finally, had TOO MUCH trail.  This brings me to my good friend Ben, from way overseas, who so graciously has been chasing down setup information from any KTM RC8R team he could make contact with over there.  All of Ben’s responses pointed at the same thing – more trail.  This is actually exactly what we figured at the start of this season, which is why we made the triple clamps we did – to reduce the offset which would give us more trail.  Ben’s information pointed at our rear link though, instead.  Everyone over there runs their rear ride-height concentric at it’s low position – which also gives you more trail because you are dropping the rear of the bike and therefore extending the forks outward.  But none of Ben’s contacts used different off-set triple clamps.  Maybe we are ahead of the curve there, maybe we are behind.  But definitely on Saturday, finally, we were aiming in the right direction.

In our previous quests for stability, we pushed our forks down into the top triple clamp to gain more trail.  Coupling this change with our 25.5mm off-sets (28mm is stock), meant we had even more trail.  And now yet again with our newly adjusted rear concentric at full low, we had even MORE trail.   All that turned our bike into a snow plow.  It steered slowly, went wide on throttle input mid-turn, and plowed into turns.  But now with the instability finally gone, we slid the forks back up 4mm and ran again after lunch.  I came back besides myself.  We had actually made a change to our RC8R which made a measurable difference.  In fact it even made it better.  In this case, LESS trail helped us greatly.  Apparently we had gone a bit trail crazy.  Thank you Alex Florea (Michelin) for suggesting that change.

Our KTM RC8R is a 2009.  The first year of it’s breed.  It shares a rear adjustable ride height concentric with the newer RC8R models, but being the first year of this bike they didn’t quite nail it right out of the gate.  The newer 2010/2011 models have more range of adjustability – ours is limited to just two millimeters.  So Mike, being on the charge like he has been this last month, dove straight into finding a newer model concentric for our bike.  Guess what?  No one had any in the US.  Sooooooo……

This is a 2011 KTM RC8R

 

And this is a 2011 KTM RC8R on drugs…

 

Mike showed up with the new link on Saturday night, which would allow us to run our rear even lower.  He also brought new 26.5mm off-sets which, think about it now, would allow us to maintain our new-found happy trail numbers WHILE running the rear of our bike even lower.  And that, my friends, is why John Stark’s triple clamps for this RC8R are so great.  It’s also why we have fought so hard to get them to work.  They give you endless options for chassis adjustment.  The only other way to maintain our happy trail numbers, while running the rear lower with the new concentric, would have been to slide the forks farther up the triples.  Why not just do that you might ask?  Ground clearance..  We are already dragging our bodywork, and my toes as it is.  Next up are our footpegs.  YIKES…

Open Twins was the first race Sunday.  This meant we’d get one practice to try our new changes.  I came back smiling ear to ear.  The bike was better than it’s ever been.  It turned in better, it held a line better.  We were ready to race.

We are second in the Open Twins points.  This means we line up right next to my least favorite person in racing – #54.  Really, I am actually thankful he runs Open Twins.  It pushes us to be better.  He is super dedicated to racing and as a result, really flies out there.  But the love between us ends there.  We don’t like each other at all.  On top of that there is history between us, so in our particular case he doesn’t just want blood – he wants my blood.  So be it.  I am ready to fight.

(the last paragraph was heavily edited by me.  Better I (re)think, to rise above the ugliness than lower yourself to it)

As the one board turned sideways I pushed extra hard off my left swingarm spool.  Got my chest as far forward as I could.  My helmet was over our windscreen, my finger on the front brake, clutch dragging and RPM’s ready for a jailbreak.  Instant that flag moved we had half a bike length on him.  I came out of the hole hard as ever.  But he’s got more power than we do.  Word has it they’ve got the KTM superbike kit.  So by the time first gear was out he’d made it back to even, elbow to elbow.  But I hit second before him, our front wheel clawing for the air – our two bikes only drawing closer as speed came to us both.  He started from pole, so he had the inside line for the still distant left-turn one.  Some say our elbows touched.  I say we leaned on each other.  Either way, no one was backing off.  Maybe it was my weight so far forward but somehow, of our two wheelies, I was the only one of us who could stay at full throttle.  Half way through third gear I had clear skies going into turn one.  No more #54, and no sign of Tiger-boy who had started just to our right.

We took the holeshot in the third re-start in round 5, too, so maybe my confidence was up.  But our lead in that race only lasted to turn 4.  Our lead in this weekend’s race lasted an entire lap.  I’ve raced with #54 a while, if he could have passed us anywhere on that first lap he would have – just to make a point.  But he didn’t.  On our first run up the front straight, which at Thunderhill is ungodly long for anyone down on horsepower, he did eventually draft past us.  But it’s interesting where it finally happened.  Not until the very end.  This spoke volumes about our progress.  Last year at Thunderhill we got passed, by many racers, at the very beginning of T-hill’s front straight.  Now it took #54 all the way to the end to draft by us.  And all without us ever going into our motor to find an ounce more hp.

Thank you Gary Rather (Garyratherphoto.com) for these pics

T-hill’s front straight is lined by a concrete wall on the right side, and open grass on the other.  Being that turn one is a left hander, the obvious line down the front straight is all the way right – which is where I was, hugging the wall to prep for our entrance to turn one.  When #54 finally drafted by us, of course he not only missed my left elbow by a fraction of an inch, but he instantly swerved across my bow and over my line.  I don’t mind stuff like that.  Hit me and I’ll hit you right back.  But he (hopefully?) didn’t think that move all the way through because while I am sure he did what he did on purpose, I am also sure he neglected to think what would happen to me once he shot across my bow at 165mph.  The ever increasing rush of still air beating against the front of our bike, and the face of my helmet, suddenly disappeared.  It felt like I inadvertently walked in front of a jet engine.  Turn one was now drawing me in like a super-sonic vacuum cleaner.  It felt like our bike actually accelerated – with me OFF the gas.  This drew me closer to his rear tire, and completely blinded my view of brake markers and turn-in points.  I pushed left of his tail section so I could see again and did my best not to clip his rear tire.  If our bike was not setup like it is today, we never would have made it through that moment.  But it’s actually lite years better now.  I was back in the gas before the apex, trailing just behind him, ready to see just how far off his pace we now were.

He drew away from us going over the hill toward turn two, but surprisingly we drew right back up to him once we were actually in the turn.  We yo-yo’d like that all the way through that second lap, up until turn eleven.  I tried to get in and out of that chicaine quick as I could because I knew his bike would pull us down that back straight – which would kill any chance of us drafting him down the front straight.  Unfortunately I tried too hard and got kicked out of the seat through there.  The rear came out hard but snapped back straight soon enough for us to only lose a second or so.  This put us about three to four bike lengths behind coming onto the front straight.  Like I said, I know this guy, so I knew he’d turn around and do something infantile once he was straight up and down and on the gas.  So I lifted my left hand from the bar and flipped him the bird – all the way down the front straight.  He did turn, to wave “bye bye” as he expected to leave us for dead like he has every race so far this year – so I expect he did see it.  Everyone on pit-wall did anyway, which is a success in itself.  But the real success story here is I was actually able to let go of the left bar for that long on the front straight.  I mean really, THAT is amazing considering what our bike was like exactly there in the past.  I used to have to lock both elbows around our gas tank, tuck my head in under the wind screen and hold our bike together while chanting church music if I had any hope of survival.

The next amazing thing to happen was he never left us for dead.  We never lost touch with #54 all race.  I didn’t count but I think by the end of the race we went through the checkered flag only about two or three seconds behind him.  That, my friends, is another sign of major progress.  I struggled to stay on the bike during that cool-down lap.  I was so excited I lost my voice from all the screaming in my helmet.  The corner workers must think I am crazy for being so excited about second place.

Truth is, considering everything, that Open Twins race was the best we have run in years.  We never gave up.  You never gave up.  We ran lap times five seconds faster than we managed in October.   FIVE SECONDS.  And all, mind you, while our rear axle was mistakenly adjusted 5mm out of line.  Yes, that is a “five mm” reference to a chain adjustment.  IE, the right side of our axle was 5mm rearward of the left side of our axle.  If that’s not bad enough, one of the custom offsets we installed Saturday night had the steering head hole drilled in such a way that our front tire touched pavement more than a quarter of an inch to the right of where it should be.  So yes, to you this may sound like one crooked bike to race.  Like, how on earth could you run high 1:51s at T-hill on such a crooked bike…?

It’s like I said before, even though I reached far as I could coming up with the analogies I did to describe what our bike has been like to race this year – I am sure I did not do the experience justice.  Trust me, our RC8R “this” crooked on Sunday, was a dream to race in comparison…

It’s Thursday.  I am still just as psyched as I was Sunday.  What a journey it has been.

Thank you for the support.  And thank you for reading.

 

GoGo

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