Saturday, November 16, 2013

Masters of the Mountains Round 6: 2013 Season Finale

So this was it.  The last race of the season.  At the previous round, I locked up the Middleweight Superstock championship (which was awesome), but today, given I had a mechanical DNF in Round 2 and a crash in Round 3, I didn’t really have a chance at winning the King of the Mountain-GTU championship.  I was 13 points behind Scott Decker, so mathematically I had a chance, but it would mean that he would either have to  1)not show up or 2)have a problem and finish last—oh, and option 2 would only work if we had a record number of racers show up for the race.  So, really, he’d have to not show up.  But, he did.  So, with any sort of championship hopes flattened my focus shifted entirely to finishing the season on a high and winning the race.  

Also, Chad was back for this round; so, after I blew it in Round 5 with a bad call on a suspension setup, I was looking forward to racing him.  I’m usually pretty chill during the last round of the season and just want to get through it uninjured so I can be ready for snowboard season, but yeah, this time, I was totally fired up and wanted to race.  And race hard.   

I also had the addition of my dad to the crew this weekend.  Each year, he usually makes an autumn trip out from his home in Chicago to visit, so he’s attended a few of my races—and, thankfully, he seems to actually like it!  Over the years, Carrie and I have dialed in our racing program, so it runs pretty smoothly, which allowed my dad to experience the weekend without a ton of stress. 
Friday was supposed to be a trackday, but we had a bit of a cold snap and I didn’t feel like going out to ride around and destroy a set of tires.  So, practice for the weekend was once again going to be done exclusively during the Endurance Race on Saturday.  Which was good—as much as my dad enjoys watching me ride my bike, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the track might be asking a bit much of his attention span—and I needed him focused for Sunday!

Saturday Practice/Endurance Race.

As is becoming customary, our Saturday started off pretty relaxed with a late start and a stop at the bakery.  Once at the race track, we set up the garage, the bike, etc., and killed some time by taking a walk around the paddock to say hi to friends and give my dad a chance to check out the scene. 
This round’s Endurance Race was extended to 2.5 hours, and since I was only planning on testing a couple things and didn’t need to ride a million laps, I brought on some teammates to share the track time.  I asked Aaron Nourbakhsh and Jarvis Hoffhines if they’d like to join me and they gladly accepted.  We’d basically run a three person team and switch every 5 laps or so—kind of like a mini-trackday that was compressed into 2.5 hours.  My dad had the job of air traffic controller and communicating with us via pit board while we were on the race track, and Carrie kept tire warmers and fuel managed for each bike while it was in the pit.  This was definitely going to be more effort to keep things organized than when I did this thing solo, so I was especially thankful they were there to help.  

Since I love race starts, I was going to take the first stint out on track.  As per the usual, I hit my warmup lap pretty hard to get the tires warm and my brain up to speed.  At the end of the warmup lap, all of us racers gathered and took our spots on the starting grid.  When the flag dropped, I got a good launch and got the holeshot with a nice move on the brakes into turn one.  From that moment, I put my head down and put in some solid laps to get a gap out front.  My dad was counting laps on the pit board and once he showed “5”, I pulled in to let Aaron head out.  After five laps, he came in to let Jarvis go out.  We went on like this for about 40 or so minutes.

Then, unthinkably, Aaron has an accident!  It was a one in a million kind of thing: Aaron was in a battle with our friend Danny, when coming into Turn 1, Danny lost his front brake and smashed into Aaron who happened to be on the outside of him in the turn; basically, inadvertently using Aaron as a berm.  Aaron fell down, but was uninjured and his bike wasn’t badly damaged, so he was able to pick it up and finish the lap and come in to the pits for repairs.  Amazingly, Danny was able to keep his bike upright and not fall down.  It sucks that Aaron had to fall, but I do think the incident could have been quite terrible for Danny if Aaron wasn’t there to slow him down.  

Aaron was able to repair his bike and ride a couple more stints before the end of the race, so all was not lost.  After the race, I rolled the bike back to the garage, got it set up for Sunday and we all went home to have a chill evening.

Sunday.  Race day.

This morning was cold.  Really cold.  But, we had to go out in the morning for the King of the Mountain-GTU qualifying session.  I really didn’t want to ride, because I was afraid there would be zero grip on the racetrack and I’d never be able to get my tires up to temperature.  I skipped all of the practice sessions that precede the qualifying session, because I was afraid I’d either, a)crash or b)cold-tear my only rear tire that was still in good shape.  Once we were called out for the qualifying session, my plan was to go out with the tires super hot off the warmers and try to get in a few good laps before they cooled down and destroyed themselves.  I managed to qualify 2nd, behind Chad, and in front of Scott.  After qualifying, I took the bike back to the garage and we got it ready for the afternoon’s races.  

First race of the day: King of the Mountain GTU.  This was the one that I really just wanted to win.  There weren’t enough people gridded up, so even if Scott Decker had a problem and DNF’ed, I wouldn’t be able to win the championship.  My strategy was to ride as hard as possible and be as aggressive as possible, make an absolute scrap of it the whole race distance if necessary.  Plus, I wanted to put on a good show for my dad, and my friends that had come out to watch.     

After the warmup lap, we lined up in on the starting grid to await the green flag.  Scott, Chad, and I looked at each other, gave a quick thumbs-up, put our visors down, then turned our attention the starting marshal.  When the green flag dropped, I got an excellent start, getting the holeshot to Turn 1.  All I thought about was opening the throttle as fast and as much as I could.  Get the power down and propel the bike around the track.  Chad came with me, and we gapped the rest of the field, including Scott Decker.  This race was going to be between the two of us.  For about 4 laps, Chad followed very closely; within striking distance the whole time and I could feel it.  

At the end of the 5th lap, Chad made a classic move in a left-right sequence of turns where he ran wide exiting the first so he was positioned on the inside of the next turn and took the lead from me.  I almost attacked immediately, reversing the move on the next left turn, but reconsidered and changed my line to get maximum drive down the front straight that followed.  Which I did.  I got on the gas hard, ran wide on to the rumble curbing, but kept the throttle open.  I was able to close up on Chad down the straight and line him up for a move on the brakes into Turn 1.  Normally, I have reference points on the race track (cones, cracks, signs, etc.) that dictate where I brake, where I turn in, where I apex the corner, etc.  But as I planned my move on Chad, I didn’t even look for my normal brake reference, I had an easier plan—I just had to wait for Chad to brake, then brake after that.  So, as we were approaching Turn 1 at somewhere around 120mph, I pulled slightly to his inside and waited until he braked.  When he did, I took a half breath, and grabbed the brakes super hard, and slid the bike right in front of him to reclaim the lead.  From that point on, I just pushed as hard as I could and rode ridiculously defensive lines to make sure that if Chad wanted to pass me, he was going to have to work really hard for it.  

I was able to hold him off for the rest of the race and take one of the best wins of my career.  We were never more than .4 second apart the whole race, and finished within a tenth of each other.  I was so psyched!  I really enjoyed that cool-down lap, hooting and hollering in my helmet and yelling to the corner workers (even though there was no way they could hear me).  When I finished the lap and rolled down pit-lane, Carrie, my dad, Megan, Alex, Kevin, Tarik, and a bunch of other people were there to welcome me with applause, thumbs up, high-fives, and hugs.  It really was an awesome feeling and I was proud I could win a race in front of them.  Especially a race like that.  I still had one more race to go, though.

Since I already had the Middleweight Superstock championship locked up, I was going to skip that and race my 600cc bike against the 1000cc bikes in the King of the Mountain GTO class.  I’d never raced against the big bikes, but I’d ridden around them during trackdays and knew they were super hard to pass because they had so much more horsepower than I did.  Regardless, I was psyched to be out on track with some friends that I’ve never had a chance to race against.

I was gridded on the third row, because of my KOM-U qualifying time.  I rolled a little before the start, so when the green flag dropped I paused a second to make sure the marshals knew I didn’t gain an advantage and black flag me.  But, that meant I got a terrible start and had to pick off all these dudes on bikes with 50% more horsepower.  For the first two laps, it was a bit frustrating because it was so hard to pass these guys.  At one point, I made a super hard move on a dude and sort of punted him off line so I could get through and get away.  But, once I made that move, I had quite a bit of clear track in front of me, so I put my head down to reel in the rider up the road, Ryan Brand.  

After a few laps, I was able to get on his back wheel and take a breath.  The rider in front of him was completely out of sight, so I figured Ryan was the last guy I was going to have a chance at passing, so I could take my time.  So I did.  I waited, pressured him in the corners by pulling up alongside and falling back when he opened the throttle of his BMW on exit.  It was particularly impressive watching him wheelie up the hill into a complex of turns called “The Attitudes”.  Impressive or not, I was still going to pass him.  So, with three laps left, I made my move in a place where he wouldn’t be able to come right back by me on the gas and pulled away to a 5th place finish.  

This weekend was an awesome way to wrap up the 2013 season.  These past 4 years racing with the UtahSBA have been an absolute dream and words cannot describe how fortunate I feel to be able to race motorcycles with this club.  A huge thanks to Tarik, Roger, and the rest of the crew at Honda Suzuki of Salt Lake,  Scott Larsen at Fastline Race Tire, Jason Eldridge at Corporate Suspension, Andrea Onida at Dainese and AGV, Kory and Rick at Moto Station, my parents, my friends, the UtahSBA board, my fellow racers, and most of all, Carrie.  It’s been an amazing experience and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you all next season!   

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