ROUND 1 RACE REPORT
There were a lot of interesting stories as the 2009 SRA-West
season began at Willow Springs Raceway. Most of the field had played
“musical chairs” with their machines, each team upgrading to the next
fastest machine. Being a new driver, I slid in on one of the slowest, my 1997 Windle Formula 2 sidecar with a 1995 Suzuki 750 engine. The machine turned out to be very anemic in the power department- more so than expected- and the handling was very new to me. Having ridden a modern design Formula 1 bike I had become accustomed to
linkage-type steering. The Windle (like all Formula 2 machines) had a
conventional set up, where the handlebars are bolted right to the forks like a motorcycle. The difference though is motorcycles do not have 7 inch wide wheels! The bike shook and slid and wobbled everywhere, and after the first session I wasn’t sure if I could even do it. So many others could do it though so I knew it was
possible. I instructed my passenger Vanessa McClure to lean forward as far as she could to get weight in the front wheel. With both of us leaning on it things were much better, but my legs were really cramping up (the driver is in a kneeling position on his knees with the engine between his legs) sitting up like that. However we kept getting faster and I felt confident in a 4th place
finish come race day.
The race was anticlimactic. We grid up for the standing start in reverse order based on overall driver points from last year. Only running a few races last year put me on the front row, but I bogged the anemic engine and was lucky to enter turn 1 in 3rd spot. The fast cars almost immediately blew by us with power to spare, and I was stuck behind my closest rival Hans Schultz on the #69 Formula 1 machine. I have been Hans’ off-and-on passenger for the previous two years and new his GSX-R1100 engine was powerful, and I tried early to pass in several spots but could not get around him.
We were able to close on him exiting bumpy turn 2 and as we approached turn 3- the slowest spot on the track with the heaviest braking- I dove to the inside and was able to make a clean move. I started charging hard at that point and began to work out a gap until the next lap when the engine made a HORRIBLE sound. I rolled off the throttle but noticed it was still firing properly, just much too loud. Rolling back on the throttle the sound was tremendous. “The muffler!” I thought to myself. I had rotated itbefore the race to stop the exhaust from burning my right foot (it melted my shoe in morning practice), and must not have aligned it properly.The rest of the race was actually very difficult.
Sidecars are steered with the throttle, and with the engine tuned to have a muffler, throttle control became impossible. The engine sputtered and stuttered each time I tried to make an adjustment and my arm quickly got tired, forcing me to make some very ugly line corrections with the steering. This causes a weird sensation. When you steer with the handlebars, the front of the machine will turn in a violent, twitchy way. This is no guarantee that the back of the bike will follow you. The whole thing was sliding and bucking and protesting, making my arms even more tired.
On lap 5 I looked behind me and saw no one. I checked several more times and I appeared totally alone on the track. This let me slow
down to about 70% pace and I brought the machine in for fourth place. This is the same position I was finishing in the modern, 2002 Formula 1 machine I was using last year!!! Not bad at all for a first outing on a bike that is totally new to me. Like any racer I gathered a lot of data and will make some changes before the next race.
April will see us back at Willow Springs Raceway April 18-19
with WSMC, then running a two race schedule with AHRMA the following week of April 24-26. The later event should draw quite a crowd, which is great. It’s always nice to see fans in the bleachers when we go by. Yes, we actually can hear you cheering, even after our muffler falls off.
Thanks for tuning in,