(Transcribed and edited by Giorgina Gottlieb)
Day 3, Practice Day 2:
Practice day 2 incorporates the middle section of the course, starting from Glen Cove at 11,440ft and mile marker 13 to Devil’s Playground at 12,780ft just past mile marker 16. All asphalt as of last year, it also incorporates the famous section called the “W’s,” multiple hairpin switchbacks treacherously ascending some of the steepest parts of the course. In the early morning light, the sun glares over the guard rails — stunning for the casual observer but greatly inhibiting visibility and reducing speeds in certain sections to a crawl.
The lead-up session revealed a new problem for the team: an unknown culprit resulting in disabilitating headshake not only when braking for turns but even while just rolling off the throttle. Each session seemed to increase the violence of the headshake, preventing nearly any kind of steering, handlebars threatening to rip away into every turn.
Our first thought was that the steep incline was creating bad weight shift, which could be fixed by moving Rizzo more forward in the turns. Taking that to the track, we started session three howling up to the asphalt ready to initiate our new technique. As before, the front-end started to vibrate as we went into the first turn, and rather than roll off, I pitched into the turn with Rizzo having shifted his weight farther forward as discussed. Unexpectedly, this sent us into a 180 degree spin, stranded as we waited for a break in traffic to turn around. On successive runs, we ran slower with less brake, but even coasting through still resulted in the phantom crux that had entered our world. After multiple suspension adjustments with no change, we left the mountain without a solution, frustrated but nonetheless determined to solve this new, menacing problem.
Day 4, Practice Day 3:
The final day of practice starts at Devil’s Playground and ends with the famed finish line at the summit — a faster, freshly paved ascent of over 1000 feet in little over 3 miles. It has always been the fastest bit of track, Bottomless Pit screaming with speed even in the dirt, and now more like the canyon roads I used to ride before I started racing: sheer dropoffs, sweeping turns, and breakneck hairpins that are breathtaking bittersweet; stunningly pure thrill coupled with undeniable danger.
As a result, course memory is essential. Today, however, was a day for putting all our efforts into solving a more immediate problem, our headshake demon from day 2. Consequently, we spent all our time and ability there thus preventing any increase in course memory.
The headshake continued to plague us through our early sessions on day 3, and through steadily using trial and error, we discovered that the combination of putting Rizzo as far back on the chair as possible and dragging the rear brake while accelerating through corners muted the front-end vibration to a tolerable level. Despite this minor breakthrough, handling the bike was still unnerving at anything over 50mph, lots of fast corners with steep drop-offs inspiring our conservatism. No corner came with confidence, and even the respite we found was tainted with knowledge of its insustainability. Neither the bike nor Rizzo would be able to endure this technique for the entire race, and this further compounded the situation.
We again tried making more adjustments; any change was better that the lot we had. We increased and decreased preload in the shocks, breaking one of them in the process. With no spare on hand, our day ended disappointingly early. Still the fastest sidecar qualifier, our next task was to clean up the bike and get it downtown for Fan Fest. As we were loading up, through a series of fortunate events, we ended up talking to a fellow competitor: a crew member for a quad pitted behind us. A local welder, he looked at the broken collar on our shock and offered to help us fab a new one. Hopeful, we yet again trailered off the mountain with less than we’d hoped, but still determined, we made our way to Wagner’s in Colorado Springs. After brief inspection and measurement, and time closing in on us for Fan Fest, we made plans to meet early Saturday morning for the fix.
The photo gallery for this event is http://johnnykillmore.smugmug.com/Motorcycles/Pikes-Peak-2011/17693862_D5bG6Q#1349819366_b86mG6R and is still being updated. There are over 100 photos to add when we get back to California.