Round 2 of the 2015-2016 CVMA Winter Road Racing Championship happened this past weekend, October 17-18 at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. This was my second race weekend on my 2015 Yamaha R3. Round 2 was run counterclockwise around Chuckwalla’s 2.68 mile road course.
I am more comfortable running Chuckwalla clockwise, as I’ve ridden it more times on more different bikes, but I also really like the track counterclockwise too. Both directions have a unique feel and unique challenges. The track flows a little better counterclockwise. From the start finish, the turns get faster and faster allowing you to continually stay hard on the throttle until you come down the back straightaway into turn 10 where you jam on the brakes and drop 2-3 gears. Then the track accelerates again and flows through another fast section until you slow slightly and turn onto the front straight.
However, I haven’t ridden the track this direction for 2 years, and I skipped Friday practice and showed up on Saturday with only two 10 minute practice sessions to warm up before qualifying. I wanted to try some different gearing with the R3 and see how it matched with Chuckwalla and see if I could get a little better drive since I knew I would be a little slow. Stock gearing is a 14T front sprocket and 43T rear sprocket, so I picked up a 13T front sprocket and 44T and 45T rear sprocket, and a few extra master links to extend the chain if need be. I had some extra time Thursday night and decided to throw on the 13T front sprocket which I figured wouldn’t require a change to the chain length and would be the largest change from stock.
The other major change I made for this weekend was installing the new Hotbodies tank cover/race seat, which I picked up Thursday night. I’ve been working with Hotbodies for a few weeks to design this new seat. It’s a one piece tank cover than flows down to where the stock seat was and fits into their standard tail. The top of the fiberglass seat is at the same height as the top of the stock seat. Then I added an 18mm foam pad for a seat. When you consider where your butt ends up when you sink into the stock seat, the new race seat and foam pad is probably 2″ higher than the stock seat. I couldn’t wait to try this new riding position on track. Sitting on it on stands and the bike feels completely different.
I hurried to get to the track on Friday and was able to catch the last 20 minutes of racer practice at the end of the day. I threw on my leathers and headed out on cold tires, I was a little worried that I would run out of gears coming down the back straight and I wanted to check before wasting a precious 10 minute practice in the morning and then having to rush to change sprockets and possibly chain length.
Surprisingly, I didn’t run out of gear on the back straight. The bike pulled a little harder and ripped through the gears. It was hard to gauge where my shifts would be since I wasn’t nearly up to speed, but I put in a couple of laps and decided that was good enough, I’d leave the setup for practice in the morning. The new Hotbodies race seat was FANTASTIC!!! Oh man, if you have an R3 and want to track it, you HAVE to get this piece. It’s such a great fit and the position is perfect. I couldn’t be happier, Hotbodies did a fantastic job with this. And now my rearset risers, which are a tad high for the stock seat, are positioned perfectly for the taller seat. The riding position is great, very aggressive. This was the last missing piece of the puzzle to transform the bike. The Vortex clipons, the higher footpegs, and now the race seat. The bike feels like a supersport now, not a scooter. Awesome…
Back at the pits, I met up with a few of the folks from last round, Shannon Deane, Seth Dowling, and Shane and Kit Liberty were all pitted nearby. Josh Fogle wasn’t arriving until Saturday morning, and Ari Henning wasn’t planning on showing up this weekend. Jason “Hammer” Madama and the crew from Syndicate Racing were visiting from Colorado. I was excited to get to ride with Hammer and shoot the shit, as he is also racing an R3. Hammer is a well known fast guy who has been racing small bikes for years and has been setting track records all season on his R3. He’s been to Chuckwalla before, but not for a few years. We were all very curious to see how he would do with his R3 against the locals, Shane Liberty (Ninja 300), Josh Fogle (Ninja 250), and Ari Henning (CBR300).
First practice Saturday morning was ok, not great. I wasn’t feeling super comfortable for some reason. Second practice was a little better, but I knew I was way off race pace. I was feeling very awkward turning left and it was killing my corner speed. On a brighter note, I followed Gray Pham for a few laps and was pulling on him pretty good on the straights with the gearing change (he’s on a KTM RC390 cup bike with the restriction in place, dynoed at 38hp), so that gave me some hope.
I spoke with Hammer after morning practice. He was riding with Shane on Friday and was doing times around 2:06, not very fast to him and Shane, but not shabby at all to me. He said on Friday he was having trouble getting the bike to turn at speed and couldn’t keep up with Shane’s Ninja through the fast corners. He said it seemed like Shane’s bike was on rails and his R3 would start slipping and sliding if he entered the corner at the same speed. He was still riding the Alpha 13 Dunlop tires and was considering a change before this weekend. After the turning and traction issues Friday, Hammer decided to switch to the Dunlop 125GP slicks for Saturday, which Sean Corbin has been having excellent luck with up in Northern California on his R3. The Dunlop GP slicks are very narrow, 95 profile in the front (compared to stock 110), 115 in the rear (stock is 140) and subsequently, are extremely lightweight and provide a big reduction in rotating unsprung mass. On paper, this should definitely help the bike corner faster, and accelerate faster. I’ve been eyeing the similar Bridgestone 125GP slicks (90 front, 120 rear). After practice Saturday, Hammer was ecstatic. He immediately dropped 4 more seconds off his lap time down to 2:02. Wow!! He said the difference was undeniable. The bike cornered like a dream, obviously, if he was able to drop 4 seconds off his time in just a few laps. Now he was dead even with Shane’s pace, this would make for a good race weekend.
Next up was qualifying, I made sure I was ready to go waiting at hot pit so I could follow some of the faster guys out and try to get up to speed. I pushed it a little harder, but was still feeling awkward when turning left and my corner speed was nowhere close to the faster guys. Hopefully I could get my head out of my ass for the race. I qualified with a 2:11.317, definitely not awesome, but fortunately, most of the grid was a few seconds off their usual pace, so I would be starting from the 4th or 5th row, just a couple spots worse than last round. Shane decided to give the Bridgestone 125GP slicks a try for qualifying, which was an even bigger change for him, since he had been having great luck with a larger 120 front and 160 rear on his Ninja 300. Dropping down to a 90 front and 120 rear completely changed the front and rear ride height, but Shane had no time to readjust anything, so he gave it a try. It’s hard to say if the huge change in his bike’s geometry had anything to do with it, but 3 laps in, with Hammer right behind him, Shane had a gnarly highside in the bowl, and brought Hammer with him off track. Josh Fogle was behind both of them and said it was quite a sight to see. Shane’s so tall, that Josh said when the rear wheel went out from under Shane, he pretty much slid off the back and sat down on the track, then the bike flipped off the track with Shane sliding behind it, lol! Glad I wasn’t in the middle of that! This obviously ended Shane and Hammer’s qulifying session a bit early, but they still qualified 1st and 4th with Shane at a 2:02.372 and Hammer at 2:04.529. Fogle was put in a 2:03.694 and Duncan Mardling did a 2:03.411. For the races, Shane decided to go back to his usual 120 front, 160 rear that he was comfortable on, so I bought his slicks for a good price with only 3 laps on them. I’ll test these out in one of the upcoming rounds, once I’ve stabilized on my geometry setup with the current tires so I’m not changing too many things at once.
Both of Saturday’s races went about the same for me. My R3 already felt fast off the start last round, and with the sprocket change, it was even better. I was able to fly past 2 rows of riders off the start and enter the first turn just a few bike lengths behind the lead pack. Awesome, considering the awful qualifying position I earned.
Unfortunately, my pace still sucked, so the faster guys I passed at the start, caught back up and passed me in the corners. My body position felt especially awkward turning left at speed. This was nothing to do with the bike, just something I was doing different from when I turned right. I figured it out Sunday (read on). But even the right turns, which felt much more comfortable, I felt like I was fighting to get the bike all the way turned in on corner entry when I was at speed, and I was having trouble getting it to finish the corner unless I either jammed hard on the throttle, or eased up, neither of which felt smooth and controlled. Near the end of the first race, my front sprocket nut somehow worked itself loose and came off. Nothing bad happened, just the sprocket slid far enough down the shaft to disengage the teeth and I lost my drive. I didn’t really like the fact that the R3 front sprocket nut doesn’t have the little locking flange to press into the groove to lock it on. I put it on with an impact gun, I didn’t have my torque wrench handy, but maybe it wasn’t tight enough. But, the good news is that I discovered that the nut is the same as the R6, so I was able to score one from another racer for my second race. The R6 nut has the little locking flange, so I don’t expect this one to ever come loose. I finished the second race about where I started, 11th or so.
Hammer and Shane had some epic battles on Saturday. The first race came down to the two of them side by side in the last corner and Hammer’s R3 able to outdrive Shane’s Ninja 300 to the finish line to grab second. I wish I could have watched it. Shane came back in the second race and took second. Josh Fogle checked out in front an won both of Saturday’s races. I talked to Hammer a little more Saturday evening before everything turned into a party. I knew Sean Corbin had changed the bike geometry slightly, and I wanted to see what Hammer had done with his. He had also raised the rear of his bike to help it turn and increase the R3’s incredibly flat swingarm angle. This is what I had spoke to Shane and Andy about last round, I’ll do a separate writeup on swingarm angle later. I decided I would pull the shock and increase the adjustable ride height as far as I could to see how different the bike felt on Sunday. I pulled the shock and loosened the lock nut on the ride height screw and backed it out as far as I felt comfortable, leaving about .5″-.6″ of thread in the shock. This raised the back maybe 10-11 mm at the shock and increased the swingarm angle a little. Combined with the taller race seat, the bike felt totally different than Round 1. I liked it a lot, it felt like a race bike now.
Ari Henning surprised everyone and showed up for Sunday’s races, but without qualifying, he would be starting from the back of the grid. I always love it when one of the front runners starts from the back because I always learn something when they blow by me and I get to watch them for a couple of corners.
I had spent some time in the pits sitting on my bike and trying to figure out what I was doing differently when turning left, and had a few people look at me to help get an outside perspective of how I was holding my body. We came up with some ideas, so I spent my whole first race on Sunday playing around with my body position while cornering. The bike was definitely easier to turn, raising the rear had a positive effect for sure. Then, near the end of the race, it was like a light switch, BING! I figured out what I was doing weird on the left side. When turning left, I wasn’t turning my shoulders all the way into the turn. It’s hard to explain in text, but this small change was keeping a little more of my weight forward on the bike, and when I leaned it, I would end up leaning on the left bar a little. As soon as I twisted my shoulders into the turn, I was able to relax and take all pressure off the bars. My left turns felt good again. Now I couldn’t wait for my last race, Sunday’s Ultra Lightweight Shootout. It was just a couple races away.
CVMA 2015-2016 Round 2 – Ultra Lightweight Shootout – Sunday
Game time! I was starting 14th on the grid. I got a good start and again blew through a bunch of riders before the first turn. I should have taken 1 more pass on a guy on a Ninja 300 as you can see in the video, but I hesitated. I ran a little wide in the bowl as Ari came tearing by, working his way through the pack toward the front. I stayed with him through the roller coaster and my bike kept up with his and even pulled him back a little down the back straight as we both gained on the horde of Ninja 300s ahead. Ari has way bigger balls than me and dove into turn 10 into the pack of people to make some passes while I again, hesitated, to wait for a cleaner pass. I caught Duncan coming into turn 10, and was able to make the pass on the drive out of turn 8 (they count the turns 1-16 going clockwise, so when running counterclockwise, the turns go from 16-1). For the next couple laps, Duncan and I had a great battle which is much better viewed from his camera. I’ve posted both videos below. Duncan carries wicked corner speed, but somehow had a bad first half of his first lap and I was able to get in front of him. My bike could out drive his on corner exit, and now that I was feeling more comfortable, my lines were better than before and my corner speed was increasing, so he had a bit of trouble getting around me and it makes for some great viewing and a good education of where I can be faster and where I had the advantage. We both weave through a little and after he gets away, I continue dropping my lap times and gaining on the riders in front. It was an awesome race, I started 14th and was in 8th chasing down Gray Pham on his RC390 when I crashed out in turn 9, the slowest corner on the track. The trick with turn 9 going counterclockwise is to hold turn 10 a little longer and turn the bike back to the right before you crest the hill so that you aren’t at max lean angle when the road turns off camber and falls away from you. I was still getting the hang of this corner and was a bit off line trying to stay with Gray and gave it a little too much throttle and the rear tire slid out and I lowsided. Fortunately, I got it on video, and it was right in front of the camera man, so I got full coverage of the whole crash for your viewing pleasure! 🙂 Ari Henning was able to work his way to the front and check out in both of Sunday’s races, Shane took solid 2nds, and Hammer took a 3rd in both (he claims hangover for not battling as hard with Shane on Sunday hehe).
Aside from not having a stellar first 3 races, I feel like this weekend was a huge win. I gathered some extremely valuable information about the bike’s setup. I tested and thoroughly enjoyed the new Hotbodies race tank cover/SBK tail. I played with the bike’s geometry a little, and I picked up some tires to try out in a couple of rounds. I also got my first R3 crash out of the way before I painted the bike, woohoo! Damage didn’t look too bad at first, but upon closer inspection, both forks got bent, and I still have to check if the triple clamps are straight, so I have a little work to do before going out again, and unfortunately, I have to miss the last round of AFM I was going to attend this weekend at Buttonwillow with Gregg Spears and Sean Corbin. I also have to miss November’s CVMA round because I’ll be getting married the following weekend, YAY! But I’ll get everything put back together and I can’t wait for January’s races.
Thanks for reading!
Here’s Sunday’s Ultra Lightweight Shootout race from my camera:
And here’s the race from Duncan’s camera:
And here’s the awesome shots of me crashing out in “crash corner” as it’s called, if you were wondering why the photographer was right there hehe:
The bike seemed to take the crash pretty well at first, it was a pretty low speed crash. Broken clipon, broken stock foot peg, rash on the exhaust, bodywork, and right side case cover, and broke my exhaust hanger bracket. However, upon closer inspection, both forks are bent, and I have to see if the triple clamps are bent also. There’s also a big gash in the front rim. Likely, when the front wheel came off the ground, as seen in the photos, it came down pretty hard, causing the front end damage. Either that, or while it was sliding it somehow hit the rumble strips pretty hard. But in any case, that’s racing motorcycles 🙂 I’ll get it all tuned up for January.