As you can tell from the picture (courtesy of Highside Photo), the weekend didn’t quite end as planned. But aside from that crash, overall a good weekend! Here’s the motorcycle race recap where you can find out why!
I went into this weekend with trepidation. Road Atlanta is a big, fast track, not suited for my little underpowered Ninja 250. The last time I rode this track was 2007, when the track layout was completely different. I came into the weekend thinking my best hope was to finish both races. When I saw WERA offer a practice day on Friday, I jumped at the opportunity.
Wow, was that first practice session surprising! We entered the track on the inside of turn 1. Last time I rode here you entered on the outside of turn 1. I cranked it up over the hill, and muscle memory had me setting up for the old turn 3… which was coned off. That was a bit of a butt-puckering moment! I went through the new chicane (!) at a crawl. Probably lucky nobody was behind me.
Another surprise awaited at the other end of the track. After coming through the 10A/10B chicane and under the bridge, what used to be pit entry was now the new turn 12! The big sweeper was now a 90-degree right turn at the bottom of a steep hill.
All day in practice I was slow. I got faster every session, but nowhere near race pace for the class. I struggled to get my head around the turn 3 chicane. The approach is blind. I couldn’t find a visual reference point. I asked a couple expert riders and they gave me some pointers. I still didn’t feel it.
The key to being fast in turns four and five was that chicane. Unless I figured out a plan, I was sunk.
At the end of the day we were given time to walk the track. I walked out to the bottom of the hill at turn 1 and stared up at the top. I couldn’t get a visual. As I climbed the hill, I discovered my line for the chicane lined up pretty well with one scraggly tree near a corner station. I went back to the bottom of the hill. I could see the tree from there like a beacon. This was a freakin’ revelation!
I was pretty pumped for Saturday practice to try my newfound reference points. They worked out beautifully! I was immediately 2 seconds faster! Got in two practice sessions. Everything seemed flow pretty well.
Saturday motorcycle race recap
The biggest surprise for Saturday’s race was my grid position in the middle of the front row for my class, which means WERA either positioned us by points or I had a great lap in practice.
Got out for the warm-up lap, felt good. I needed a good start. Green flag dropped. I dumped the clutch and got a little wheelie that took me off guard. I should have ridden it out, but instead I feathered the clutch to get the front wheel down.
Coming up the hill after turn 1 into the chicane, I came up on three other riders. I passed two of them in the chicane. Had clear track for the next lap or two, and then one of the riders I passed earlier took me in the back straight. I chased him for the next four laps, but he had a lot more power than I did, and any gains I made in the curves he made up in the straights.
At the finish line, I was in 7th. Not where I wanted to be, but not last.
I came off the track with a big grin on my face! Bike had run well, I felt pretty good about my performance, and I found out later, I’d dropped another second off my best time.
However, I knew I had a problem for Sunday. One of the guys I beat Saturday wasn’t racing on Sunday, and the other had a major mechanical problem that was going to keep him out of Sunday’s race. If I didn’t figure out a race strategy for Sunday, I was likely to finish last.
Sunday motorcycle race recap
Sunday was weird. Due to local ordinances, we had to have quiet hours from 10AM to noon, so we only had one practice session. Between that and being in the last practice session of the morning, I had time to kill. I packed stuff I wasn’t going to use again that day and generally just chilled. Got done with a fairly uneventful practice, then riders’ meeting and lunch. Since I was in race 5, I still had a bunch of time. I watched the MotoGP race on my phone.
All the while, though, I was thinking about the race. I looked at who was on the grid. There was one guy I had beaten once who I figured was the key to not being last. We were right next to each other on the grid. My strategy was to get in front of him on the start and keep him behind me. If he passed me, I was going to slipstream him so I didn’t lose too much time on the straights.
Race time arrives. I grid up next to my target and give him a wave. Green flag drops. I get a good start. He gets a better one and is right in front of me. I get in his slipstream and hold onto him through the first turns. I’m on his tail through turn 7. He gaps me in the straight but I make up the time in the corners. In what I think is the 3rd lap I’m on his rear wheel going into turn 6.
We’re getting ready to go into the corner when he seems to just come to a stop! I closed on him so fast that I don’t have much time to react! I hit his right clip-on with the outer three fingers of my left hand! I managed to keep the bike up and make turn 6. I took turns 6 and 7 a little slower than I could have as I was wondering if he managed to keep upright.
Apparently he had, because he passed me on the back straight again. He gave me a little wave as he went by that I took to mean “no hard feelings.” I dropped right back in behind him to get some slipstream, and off we went down the back straight. It must have worked because I was right on his tail and gaining through the rest of the lap. We got to the end of the front straight and I decided to test my limits going into turn 1. I didn’t brake. I didn’t roll off throttle. I kept it wide open and tipped it in, hoping I would make it.
It worked. I closed the gap even further, but got passed by another rider in the chicane. Now there’s three of us on top of each other going through turns four and five. We enter turn 6 within inches of each other. They both slow down for turn 7. I see an opportunity. I take an inside line and try to pass them both.
Little did I know the three-rider train was a four-rider train. Rider four was coming up on the inside of me. I had nowhere to go. I braked hard to try and make the corner and lost the front. I don’t know if I took out the 2nd rider of if he had the same problem, but we both went down. The first guy in line who we were chasing made it safely.
After a short slide and a single tumble, I got up. Race day was over.
Downside: I got another DNF, bruised both hips, and aggravated a shoulder injury. My presence at the next race at Carolina Motorsports Park is questionable at the moment.
Upside: before I crashed, I gained 3 seconds a lap, setting a personal best for me at this track on this bike! Oh, and this image, provided by Joe Murphy in the Facebook comments on the crash pic almost made it worthwhile.