What is GP racing to me? Those close will say an obsession, but I like to call it a passion. You see, in my eyes, there is no other sport in the world that requires so much from an individual. From courage, to skill, to fitness, you name it. If...
What is GP racing to me? Those close will say an obsession, but I like to call it a passion. You see, in my eyes, there is no other sport in the world that requires so much from an individual. From courage, to skill, to fitness, you name it. If it's a quality humans embrace, motorcycle racing requires it.
The highest level of motorcycle competition is MotoGP, there is nothing above it. All other series/classes are nothing but pre-requisites for MotoGP.
Having followed the series since its inception in 2002 and as 500GP since the late 90s, when I heard the MotoGP boys would be returning to American since 1994 I was ecstatic to say the least.
Because I had attended last year's WSBK event at Laguna, I was offered tickets even before they went on sale to the public. Within hours I had booked our hotel for the weekend; thankfully, because within days all hotel rooms were booked.
The next item on my master plan was to book a track-day at the famous circuit. For the first time in my life I was going to not only watch the "Big Boys" ride Laguna Seca, I was also going to be able to ride that very course.
After wisely spending money on Christmas gifts for my "better" half, I was given the green-light for a track-day. To my disappointment, most Laguna Seca track-days were after the race. I wanted to be ride the track before they did. I wanted to truly appreciate their speed when I watched them in July. Luckily, a local riding school/organization was holding one at the end of February and I jumped on it.
For the past few months, I have been very busy, too busy to ride my bike. But I didn't want to be too rusty during my first time down the corkscrew so I rode as much as I could two weeks before the big day, which was highly limited by the very-wet weather this winter brought California.
The week before the "date" was filled with WSBK and AMA races from Laguna Seca which I had recorded from past seasons. I studied Eric Bostron as he leaned his bike so far over turn two that it looked like was falling. I watched the way Ben Bostron rode down the corkscrew, almost effortlessly. Then I realized, I am not a racer. Who am I kidding? I was going to be lucky to keep it on two wheels, much less follow their lines.
After returning from our weekly mini-bike ride with my son, I tore the bike down and replaced its shiny fairings with my "track" fairings. Nothing fancy, just old, crashed plastics I've kept as reminders of how dangerous our sport is. Better crash with my rashed-up plastics than the pretty ones.
By Saturday night, the forecast for Monterey was showers all day for Monday, the big day. Although I had already made up my mind that I was going to ride rain or shine, I still was praying for the latter.
All day Sunday I browsed the internet for a forecast of hope and by Sunday afternoon I found it; early morning showers, clearing in the afternoon. Yay! there was a God and he did not want me to ride in the rain.
Full of anxiety, I went to sleep at 10:00pm. The alarm went off at 4:50am, but I was quite awake well before that. We left home at 5:45am in an econoline van; my bike, son, wife, friend and owner of our transportation and myself all packed inside.
We arrived at Salinas at 7:00am, with plenty of time to spare and a nice surprise. Not only did it smell beautiful, but there was not one cloud in the sky. By 7:45am we were done unloading the bike and setting up our tent, and by 8:00am I was registered and my steed had been tech'ed.
Pitted next to us was a rider that had traveled all the way from . Pasadena just to do the same thing I was doing. I was in heaven. His . bike was a brand-new Aprilia Mille R What a beauty .
The riders meeting took place on-time at 8:30am. As usual, the organizers went through the rules for the different groups, A, B and C, the meanings of the flags and what to expect from the damp surface of the track. If the God-sent sun was not enough, group B riders had the same rules as group A, we could pass at any turn, inside or outside.
By 9:00am group A was on the track and I was putting on my leathers getting ready for my 9:20am Laguna Seca wake-up call.
Because it had rained in Monterey the night before, the organizers told us that our first two laps would be in a single file, following one of the instructors. After that, we were open to ride as hard as we wished, or dared to.
The first time down the infamous corkscrew was a surprise to say the least, even on the first lap and at the very sensible speed our instructor set at the front.
Because of my limited time riding and my brand-new front tire, I decided it was best to take it easy on the first session.
The second session I picked up the space, albeit to a real racer my pace was probably their cool-off pace. At any rate, it was fast enough to see God as I crested turn one and realized I didn't know where it went. All the races I've watched, in person and on TV, cannot describe how blind turn one really is. As you speed up the front straight, you go past the start finish line, a bit past that you get to turn one. Turn one is a fast left-hand turn that you cannot see until you have gone over the hump, at that point you eyes tell your brain you should turn left, but at those speeds, a 400+ lbs motorcycle tends to want to remain on its previous trajectory, which is the wall.
For my third and last session before lunch break, I decided to ask around how other riders were dealing with turn one. To my surprise their answer was, "I don't know, I just go over the hump and begin slowing down." I suppose that is what you get when you ask other people as inexperience as yourself. But I was not worried; I had placed my name next to Chuck Sorenson, former multi-time GP 250 Champion, and our session was right after lunch.
After a nice hearty lunch, which was one of the best I've ever had at a track-day, my session with Sorenson arrived. I geared up and got ready to learn how to go around Laguna Seca the fast... er, way.
I rode to pit lane and waited for Sorenson to pull up, until I realized he'd been waiting for me all along. Somehow, I thought he would have been aboard a 250cc GP bike, after all, he was a 250cc GP champion. Instead he was aboard a GSX-R 1000.
For the first couple of laps, he signaled him to lead him around so that he could better understand what my weaknesses were. After the second or third lap, he took the lead and pointed to his bikes tail; he wanted me to follow his lines.
You never know how fast, or slow in my case, you really are until you have to follow a very, very, fast rider. Right away my brain told my brake and throttle hand there was no way I was going to go as deep into the turn as he wanted me to go. After a quick mental conversation I decided that if I was going to learn, I needed to trust him. Within a couple of corners I had caught up to him and was following his lines.
Here I was, chasing a former AMA Champion and I was keeping up with him (yes, I know he was instructing me, but this is my dream). Because instructors were limited, there were two riders per instructor, so after a couple of laps leading, Sorenson fell back to help the second rider.
For the next laps, I kept practicing what I had just learned. Not only was I going deeper into corners, but I was also getting the hang of turn one. Half a session in the books and an orange-vested rider pulled in front of me and signaled me to follow him. Was Sorenson back? No, apparently this instructor did not have any other riders to help out and he picked me. Two different instructors showing me the fast way around in one session, under bright blue skies, at one of the best race tracks in the world; please kill me now.
The session ended much too soon, but what I had learned in those 20 minutes was priceless. I pulled into the pits and shared my experience with my friend, and former AFM top- ten finisher. Low and behold, five minutes later, a Mr. Chuck Sorenson came by our tent and introduced himself. To my surprise, my friend and Sorenson knew each other. In fact, both raced around the same era, Sorenson in his early days of racing, my friend on his last. We talked for a bit about what he felt I could improve upon, primarily turn one, and turn six.
With the new found knowledge under my belt, I ventured out for my penultimate session of the day. For the last few sessions I had been "racing" against late-model hyper- bikes, but not this time.
To my delight, much of my session was spent passing and getting passed by a rider aboard a full-fledged TZ 250 GP bike, shod with full racing slick-tires. I, on my old 900RR on 208ZR Dunlops was plenty pleased to be able to keep him in sight, let alone be able to stay so close with him. Our "battle" was intense enough for my right-hand frame slider to fall off. After I pulled into the pits we noticed the slider's and engine mount bolt had fractured, leaving half of it still inside the engine.
I was concerned about the stress that may have caused the bolt to break, but my friend said to run it smooth and check for additional or odd vibrations emanating from the engine, if I felt anything, I would play it safe and pull in. For the first few laps of my last session, I paid close attention to my engine and when I felt nothing, I decided it was good enough.
The rain from the night before had been heavy enough to create a small waterway that made itself across the exit of turn five. As the day progressed, the water dried and I began to get more confident. On all the previous sessions, everyone in my group slowed down on the exit of turn five, not this time. For about two or three laps, I began to gas it on the exit, until I gave it enough to get the bike sideways and my heart to skip a beat.
By far, this was one of the best track-days I have ever done. The food was excellent, the people matched it and the track... what can you say; Rossi and Co. will have fun.
Go to www.alonso.tv/dottextweb/gallery/21.aspx for event photos