Miller Motorsports Park
WERA National May 2012
Endurance Racing a Graves Built R6 for KATRA…
Coming into this weekend, I had the most phenomenal opportunity presented to me when I was invited to join Team KATRA’s all women’s endurance team that included AMA Pro racer Melissa Paris, European R6 Cup competitor Nadieh Schoots, and CCS standout, and team owner, Kat Zimpel.
We raced the Graves Motorsports built Yamaha R6 in the middle weight class for the 6 hour WERA National Endurance Series opener. Despite a mechanical in the opening laps, that forced us onto the back up bike, we put together a strong ride, and completed 151 laps. Although we finished last, we speculate that we would have been in podium contention had we not had an issue. Per WERA rules, you forfeit all laps completed when you switch to a back up bike, starting over at zero. We had completed less than 10 laps, and lost a lot of time awaiting the crash truck to return our bike. We couldn’t head out on the back up bike until the transponder from the primary bike was switched over.
Melissa was fantastic in taking me for a pedal around the track on Friday evening to help me out with my questions about the track, and provide pointers on how to rock the 600! Her advice helped me to hit new personal best lap times!
It’s been a few years since I’ve ridden a 600, a few times in 2010, and not since 2008 on my 2005 GSXR 600!
During my single one hour stint on the endurance bike, I used the Graves built R6 to increase my confidence getting around the fast Miller track. I knew the R6 could handle anything I threw at it; the increased corner entry and mid-corner speeds. Having the confidence in the equipment helped me to push out of my comfort zone. Although I know my bike handles incredibly well, I felt more confident knowing the 600 could handle corner speeds faster than a liter bike is capable of.
Coming into this weekend, my previous best lap time at Miller was a 2:09 with my “standard” lap times being 2:10. During the endurance race last year, I ran 2:10 lap times through an entire tank of fuel… twice. So, when I saw the pit board reading 2:10, I wasn’t surprised. A bit disappointed, but not surprised.
I got to work.
Soon the pit board read 2:09… several times in a row! It’s working! When it read 2:08 I squealed as I went by!! I wanted to shake my fist in celebration, but I was worried the crew would think I was motioning to pull in! Ha ha ha …
When it read 2:08 several more times, I was thrilled! The rear tire was starting to go off, so I figured I must be close to my one hour limit. I kept working on brake markers, corner speeds, and keeping corner exits strong.
The pit board read 2:07 at the very end of my stint!!!! New personal best!!!!!
Huge thank you to Charlie Grannon and his SGA Racing crew for being so supportive and helpful; and to Gigi for taking care of us so well with so much delicious food, and keeping our helmets cleaned, and just attending to so many small details!
Thank you to Tim Hunt’s team Apex, and Jonathon, Tony, and the guys for being so supportive, doing our pit stops, and helping to make sure I didn’t tip over on that R6 as I couldn’t touch the ground!
Liter bike fun….
Saturday morning was a single round of practice on my R1. This would mark my first time riding my Graves Motorsports refreshed – oh, hell, they basically rebuilt the whole damn thing! – 2006 R1. Thanks to M Racing I was well stocked with VP U4.4 to ensure the altitude didn’t rob all the Graves power!
Like many racers, my budget is very tight. I was unable to practice on Friday due to budget constraints as I desperately needed a new set of tires before turning a wheel on the track. I rode what was left of the life of my old tires – a front from Willow Springs in the summer of 2011, and a rear with three races on it – in Vegas in April.
Although the rear was decent enough for practice – given the phenomenal grip at Miller – the front was absolutely necessary to change before turning a wheel.
With a front fresh tire, and a rear with 5 races on it, I went out for my first practice. It became immediately clear there was a handling issue when I picked up the throttle mid corner and the bike just drifted wide. Going through the attitudes was like maneuvering a tank through a chicane.
The first time I rode the R6 through the quick left-right-left super fun chicane at Miller, known as the Attitudes (First Attitude, Second Attitude, and Bad Attitude are the names of the turns), I nearly ran off the inside of the second attitude on account of flicking this super light, well handling bike, so hard.
After my stint in the endurance race, I had the great opportunity to sit with Eric Knight, of Ohlins, and review my issues with my ill-handling R1.
Eric was there working alongside my usual suspension gyu, Lenny Albin, of Superbike Chassis, LLC. Lenny had recently revalved my forks, and serviced my shock, so the notes I had from last year were nearly irrelevant.
Prior to coming to Miller, I mapped out my suspension settings. In reviewing these with Eric, he noted my high speed shock compression was a bit biased to one side. Being as that was an as-left setting, and not set purposely, we adjusted it by several clicks. Eric then had me enter 1 millimeter of preload to the shock, as there was no preload on it, to clean up the wide issue.
Sunday morning practice resulted in shock and awe….
As a result of those shock changes, my R1 now handled like that R6… it just felt heavier, and went a whole lot faster!!!!
My best Utah pal Jasn Parkinson, is a local super fast guy, and he was gracious enough to sit down with me and review a track map. Just as MeliP went over how to ride a 600 around Miller, Jasn went over how to rock a liter bike around Miller.
There were a couple of key differences that allowed me to rock my R1 faster than I had ever dreamed I would…. But more on that later….
Jasn monitored my practice, and clocked me at 2:07 and 2:08s in the second round of practice… the same lap times I did on the R6 during the endurance race!!!
My Big Boy felt surreal… so easy to ride, so much more flickable, absolutely railed through the corners…. I was very excited for the races.
I was a bundle of nerves for the first race – not just my first race, but the first race of the day! My start was ok, but I quickly got out run down the looooooong run into T1. It’s got to be well over a quarter mile to turn one…. I quickly found myself in nearly last place – or so it seemed. And I quickly found myself stuck behind a guy who had hit me in Vegas at the previous round. His Ducati 1198 was impossible to pass on corner exits, and was so powerful, it made it nearly impossible to get close enough to attempt a corner entry pass. The most frustrating four laps of the day. I was so mad when I came off the track. I felt completely boxed in and held up from performing my best out there. I was held up on corner entry and mid corner. I found myself having to take difference lines to avoid hitting him mid corner, yet never close enough to attempt a pass. I suppose I could have attempted a pass, but being as he has no issues with hitting me, I was not willing to take that level of risk. One position at the back of the pack was not worth destroying my fabulous bike over.
Jasn could see how upset I was… but he was able to instantly cheer me up when he showed me what he clocked me at…. 2:04…. a three second drop from practice!!! Finished second to last.
This race was simply destined to be epic….
The four of us Team KATRA girls all signed up for this race… Being as I was the only girl on a liter bike, I planned to use my horsepower to get as far in front as possible on the start, and see how long I could maintain it. I certainly did not expect to win… but I hoped to battle for a podium spot.
We were gridded behind the Heavyweight Twins Superbike class –which was stacked with riders this time around! Usually there’s only four or five riders at most, but today there was nearly 15!! Thankfully, they sent the twinsie boys off on their own green flag.
They held us on the grid so long, my bike’s temperatures went into the 230 degree range, and I was beginning to smell coolant. This made me nervous. Off we went, and as we approached T1, I backed off a bit early, and carefully tipped in… just in case any coolant had actually vented from the system.
I still had grip, my temps were lower, and as one of the fast girls went underneath me I decided it was Game On… My plan was to latch on to her, and try to hang with her as long as I possibly could. She’s a damn fast girl, and I was going to learn everything I could from her while I had the opportunity.
As I launched out of T1, and into T2, I actually had to momentarily check up as I ran right up on her tail. It was so unexpected, I didn’t even think to go around… I wrote it off as a fluke, as a simple beginning of the race mojo finding or something… but I matched her corner speed for corner speed through the next few turns. As we exited turn 3 and proceeded to fly through the turn four, fast left hander, my horsepower allowed me to slide past her on the exit, nearly on the rumble strips, and I went as late as I dared into the first hard-braking hairpin called Blackrock.
At least ¾ of a bike length ahead of her – I turned in anyway… figuratively chopping off her front tire (no actual contact was made). I was back on the throttle like a mad woman because I knew she was going to be pissed, and I knew she was going to run my ass down! As she should! As I would if the roles were reversed!
I had a ton of horsepower compared to her little 600 and I was going to use it to my utmost advantage! Being as this was only a 4 lap race, I rode like hell!
By the end of lap two I was already catching riders from the twinsie class. I sucked the paint off a few little kids on their 125s down the front straight, and was able to quickly get around a few scattered SV650s.
I took the white flag with still no sign of any of the other girls. As I blasted down the front straight at the throttle stop I was trying to determine if I was going to make it past a lone SV650 before turn one. About 3-4 bike lengths in front of him was another twinsie boy, and 1-2 bike lengths in front of him was two twinsie boys battling it out, seemingly in slow motion.
I knew I was going to catch this SV right about the point of no return of turn one entry. A steam train traveling west at 120 mph, 500 yards away from a diesel freight train also traveling west at 180mph … at what point do they meet, and how large of an explosion happens when they hit….
Surveying the cluster I was about to encounter made me realize I had to make short work of these twinsie boys or that fast girl behind me was going to catch my ass! After being forced to slow my roll to avoid plowing into a poor little twinsie boy as we turned into one, I managed around him quickly, but those other three up front were making the ridiculously wide track feel like a goat trail! I followed behind them through the fastest part of the whole damn track!!! As we ran out of turn four, I was contemplating making a pass when that fast girl came flying up the inside and passed me under the brakes.
Oh snap! My inability to smoothly navigate traffic has gotten me yet again!
I was determined not let her get away… all of a sudden playing nice with these twinsie boys was not an option… I was prepared to punt anyone out of my way if I felt they were holding my back from hanging on to this girl.
Together, us girls tag-teamed through these twinsie boys so much so that they stopped battling and started looking around at us! It was rather hilarious!
I used my power to regain the ground I had lost to the traffic as we ran through witchcraft and into the attitudes.
As I ran up into the first attitude, here comes the other fast girl on the track in a Hail Mary pass that took her in so hot as to run her to the far edge of the track.
I held my line and shut the door on her as I flipped it over for the second attitude, and kept on my rundown of the other fast ass girl on her 600.
As we approached Tooele Turn (T11) I ran up on her, matched her corner speed, and used my super cheater horsepower to overtake her on the exit. The run to the next turn was so short, that if I didn’t do my own Hail Mary entry, she could stuff me into the turn, and get away to the checkered!
I went as deep as a dared, and did not see her in my peripheral vision when I initiated my turn in. I blasted out with the ass end of my Big Boy wagging under waning traction, held a tight line entering Wind Up; carried mad corner entry speed into Release (the last turn) and picked up the throttle, picked up the bike, and got to the throttle stop as quickly as I could…. To the take the checkered flag in front of some of the fastest girls in the country.
I couldn’t believe it….. I did not think for a second I would win that race….
The three of us girls finished 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively overall – meaning nearly all of the twinsie boys, who got about a 10 second head start, got run down by a bunch of girls
I finished 0.6s behind the final Heavyweight Twins Superbike podium finisher.
The nearest girl to the three of us was 1:01 behind. We put on a hell of a show…. a hell of a show!
Random people in the paddock came up to me to offer congratulations, and comment on how thrilling the race was.
That has never happened to me before… it was utterly surreal…. Unbelievable…
Open Superbike is one of the premier classes in the WERA National Challenge Series, so this race has double the laps – of eight.
On the start, I was able to get underneath my nemesis in T1, and I got hooked up behind a group of guys who run a few seconds faster than me. I was thrilled with my position, and excited to try to learn from them and hang on to them as long as possible.
Until my dumb ass friend crashed in turn one as we started lap two =/
On the restart I realized the momentary cut out on the initial part of my starts was not an error I was making, it was a legitimate issue! Because on this restart of Open Superbike, it cut out hard enough to jerk the bike forward, then loft the front end when the power came back on =/
As a result, my nemesis was able to get so far in front of me that I was stuck behind him again… and two other guys… oh I was so damn mad… you don’t even know….
On lap three I was able to get around the one guy on a Suzuki GSXR 1000 that was just stupid fast. That pass was made possible due to him missing a shift.
I ran down my nemesis and proceeded to spend the rest of the race trying desperately to find a way around his ridiculously fast bike. Another rider in front of him was holding him up as badly as he was holding me up!
As a result, I moved my brake markers into turn one from the 4 board to the 3 board and ran five of the eight laps at 2:03!!!! With a best lap of the weekend at 2:03.3!!!! 7 f*g seconds faster than the previous year… hell from Saturday morning practice!!!!
Huge Thank You….
Graves Motorsports (gravesport.com)
Scorpion Helmet (scorpionusa.com)
Lenny Albin (superbikechassis.com)
Pirelli Tires (CT Racing & Fast Line – Utah based Pirelli)
M Racing (mracingperformance.com)
Five & Dime Tattoo (fiveanddimetattoo.com)
Moonstone Cellars (moonstonecellars.com)
STAR School (starmotorycle.com)
Five-0 Racing (five-0racing.com)
Aussie Body Fitness (aussiebodyfitness.com)
Attack Performance (attackperformance.com)
Especially to Melissa Paris and Jasn Parkinson for the tips; Kellie Auld for being my bestie, and helping me in the pit; Greg Rand for sharing his garage with me; James Dellinger for graciously allowing me to put up my hammock in his trailer so Duke and I could stay warm on the chilly Utah nights; the amazing new people I met along the way; and finally… to Kat for taking a chance on me and bringing me on to her stellar team; and Tim & the Apex crew for the support and laughter =)