Daytona International Raceway, Florida
What can you say.... Daytona has to be the most trying event of the season for both the bike and rider. With the track having such long periods of time when the throttle is wide open plus the extreme loads that the bike endures in the banking, you tend to break anything that is remotely weak.
For safety reasons the Daytona 200 is based on the Formula Extreme class instead of the usual Suberbike class. I managed to borrow a bike to race in the 200, a 2003 Yamaha R6 from Eric Ebert. I also planned to race in Superbike on my own 2003 GSXR 1000 (until my 2005 shows up). The track layout was changed during the off-season in an attempt to curb some of the tire wear issues experienced in the past few years. In an attempt to gain more track time, I went to Daytona a week early to compete in the CCS/ FUSA events.
The CCS/ FUSA events were something that I wasn’t taking seriously, I just wanted to learn the track and to not crash either of the bikes. In the Unlimited GP event I managed to get in a situation going into turn one and was pushed wide off the track. I gathered up the bike and wound up running off the track onto the Nascar oval. After turning around I found myself about 5 seconds behind the last person in the second wave. I managed to work my way up to approximately 10th place. In the Supersport race I was 4 seconds late getting up to the grid for the pre-race activities and was placed behind last position (something like 60th place) and began the trek forward ending up in 10th place again. By the end of the weekend I accomplished my goals - I learned the track and got some track time on the new layout.
The AMA weekend started on Wednesday, so on Monday and Tuesday I was prepping bikes. Which meant swapping in a new motor into the GSXR and painting the R6. After wandering around trying to find a place to paint the R6, I found an empty gravel parking lot across from the racetrack, I managed to finish painting shortly after sunset.
On Wednesday, the work began. In the morning and afternoon practice sessions I concentrated on learning to ride the track aggressively. Thursday was qualifying day for me. The Supersport and Superstock races were also held that day, but I was not competing in them. Qualifying for Superbike was slightly less than ideal since the clutch went out on the second lap, causing me to qualify with a 1:44. The time was slower than I had hoped for but under the circumstances, it would work. Formula Extreme qualifying went better, but still not what I had hoped for with a 1:47. Having completed both qualifying sessions I was done until Saturday, leaving Friday to finish the bikes and complete all final preparations.
Saturday morning came entirely too early but nonetheless we were ready to go racing. The morning warm-up was positive with matching qualifying times on both bikes and the new clutches in both bikes working flawlessly.
Superbike was up first, we finished up the normal pre-race activities and headed to the line for the start. The race went green and upon shifting the bike into second gear I realized something was wrong since the tach was at redline and the bike was not moving at the appropriate speed: the new clutch was slipping already. After babying the bike around the banking at 1/2 to 3/4 throttle for 5 laps, the bike would not even hold speed, much less accelerate. I pulled into the pits and our race was over.
The 200 was up in a matter of 2 hours. Before I knew it we were lining up for the start of the race. The race went green and we were off. The basic plan for the 200 is the same that we used with the old layout: run one front tire for the whole distance, change 2 rear tires, and use 2 tanks of fuel. The "quick change system" I had made for the rear tire of the bike was finally finished at 1 am the night before the race. I had also made a "quick fill" fuel can out of a normal fuel jug. By looks of things our pit stops were going to be around 35 seconds. From the rider’s standpoint you try to be as consistent as possible and just raise and lower the level of aggression you ride with. You start the race with the normal mind set of an AMA race, after the second stop you just try to ride smooth and not get into a race with anyone, the final leg you let it all hang out. The first stint we found ourselves running around 10th in a group of 4 bikes, made our first stop flawlessly, and were in 8-9th for most of the middle stint. The final stop of the race was a little bit slow due to my lack of signal. The laptimer on the bike had began to miss laps, so I was unable to use it to correctly determine which laps to pit on. I was attempting to use the leader boards in the infield of the track, which was working until on lap 48 when I was going to signal and pit on lap 49. I went into turn one and looked at the leader board and it said lap 48 so I was going signal but exiting the infield the leader board said lap 49. The leader had gone past the start line while I was in the infield and I could not remember if I had not been out for 21 or 22 laps. Because of the lack of long distance practice sessions I had not had an opportunity for fuel distance testing. Unsure if the bike would make 23 laps on a tank of fuel, I decided to pit without signaling my crew. When I pulled in, the crew was not ready and therefore the pit stop took twice the time it should. It was an unfortunate mistake, every extra second in the pits equals lost positions on the track. On the last lap of the race Alex Gobert drafted past me on the banking, slotting me into 12th place.
As usual I really need to say a huge thanks to all my crew: the Longbottom brothers, Jeff, John, and Joe; Charlie Horton; Travis; and Jeff Norman.
Also I would like to thank the main sponsors who made this happen GPR, JQ Moto, and SOCAL Trackdays.
See you at the track.