After a great riders reception at Apex Sports in Colorado Springs, we all got a little sleep and were up well before dawn to make it to the race course. The riders meeting gave another opportunity to acknowledge Sonny and Bill who basically ARE the motorcycle division, who both announced their retirement the day before. They are a nice couple of people who worked hard for a long time to keep bikes relevant in an event dominated by cars. A lot of speculation is floating around as to what will happen to the class structure and who will take the reins.
For us, there was no time to speculate, only time to give the bike a final once over and head out for practice. The bottom section we ran today is actually about 1/2 the course distance, and incorporates the final 3 miles of dirt left on the 12.42 mi track. The first run is a spotting run and control riders keep a slow pace. It worked out fine until we hit the dirt section. The bike was impossible to control and had only minimal rear wheel traction. Solo bikes were flinging rocks and dirt everywhere. We were more than a little worried when we got down to the bottom for our first high-speed run. We figured the bike would handle better at higher speeds, allowing it to slide over the dirt instead of wallowing over it. fortunately, we were correct.
We steadily increased our speeds in the next 3 runs, gaining confidence with the pavement as well as the dirt. The bike would do some really fun slides, but it was very hard to get much throttle on since the bike has such a short wheelbase, and the grooved racing slicks weren’t ideal either. Still, the bike was controllable and our fear of looking like total idiots was unfounded.
The final run of the day was our qualifying run. We lined up with my friend and last year’s winner, Dave Hennessy. his street-based TL1000 machine had a lot of modifications this year, including automotive wheels and a revamped front end. The slipping chain killed us off the line and we just managed to sneak in front of them. Once clear though we were able to slowly walk away on the asphalt, using our bike’s power and low center of gravity to the best advantage we could. I didn’t look back and just charged as hard as I could, still only using about 80% traction so that there was a slight buffer. My passenger this year is Chris Rizzo, who was up to speed and only was late on one transition, which we corrected before getting more than a few inches off-line.
Into the dirt we felt really good and I was just having fun at that point. I was trying for bigger slides, drifting around entire corners with the bike pitched sideways at a steady angle. It was still difficult and the long straightaways were unnerving. When we got to the long sweeping, uphill right-hander I crashed in last year, I took a smooth line to the inside and just made it into two separate corners (not as fast, but safer). Unfortunately I was going too slow and when I gassed it to climb out of the corner we spun out!!! After spinning backwards and not getting the clutch in, the engine stalled. Fortunately our Suzuki engine isn’t a hard starter (one good thing about leaving them stock) and our battery is fresh. Facing downhill I couldn’t just whip the bike around by spinning the rear wheel, and it was too narrow to make a U-turn, so Rizzo had to pull us back a few feet. At this point I could hear the sound of Dave Hennessy’s engine and was getting panicked. Rizzo had to push the bike as I spun the tire, but we slowly got our momentum up and continued at about 70% of our comfortable pace, finishing without incident. We still ended up as fast qualifier and will be attending FanFest this Friday night, though I hope Hennessy will bring his machine too, so fans can see the drastically different designs.
Stay tuned for more,
-Team Johnny Killmore