Round 7 of the CVMA 2015-2016 Series was unforgettable! The best round of racing I’ve had at Chuckwalla, and there are some awesome videos to watch below.
After missing round 6 of the CVMA series and racing the opening round of the 2016 AFM series, I was dying to get the bike back to Chuckwalla. The bike felt amazing at Buttonwillow with the new geometry and suspension setup so I was hoping it would feel as good at Chuckwalla. Some exciting stuff happened between round 6 and round 7, mainly the addition of Sergio “Zeke” Rodriguez II (who I’ll refer to as Zeke from here forward) to the YamahaR3Racing.com team. Zeke’s father (who I’ll refer to as Sergio from here forward) and I worked very hard to get his bike ready for round 7 so Zeke could start figuring it out before next fall. Amazingly, everything came together pretty well except that we couldn’t get his Traxxion AK-20 cartridges installed in time and would have to run the Traxxion Damper Rod kit with cartridge emulators instead. This would be a really good testament to what the damper rod kit can do, Zeke is an amazing rider. Zeke would also be rocking primer bodywork, as paint and graphics were pretty far down the priority list and the bodywork barely made it in time. We also custom ordered some .70 fork springs for his future AK-20 setup, but he would be running .75 springs for this round. Also going off what I had learned with my setup, we gave him the same shock spring I was using, even though he’s much lighter than me. Zeke was also going to try out a Bridgestone tire setup, using the R10 120/70 front tire and new RS10 140/70 rear. I was still using the Pirelli Supercorsa 110/70 front and 140/70 rear. We decided to leave Zeke’s geometry the same as mine even though he had a slightly taller front tire to see what thought of the setup.
My bike was mostly unchanged since the previous round, except for raising the front of the bike slightly, and adjusting the suspension at Buttonwillow. The other change I made was the addition of my prototype super short throttle, which is MAYBE 1/8 turn, maybe less. For reference, let’s call the stock throttle turn 100. Changing out the R3 throttle tube for an R6 throttle tube drops it to around 80. Changing the whole throttle assembly to the Motion Pro Rev2 throttle is probably around 70. My new prototype throttle is more like 50. The downside to cutting the throttle throw in half, is that the force needed to turn the throttle doubles. At this point, the throttle spring was pretty darn stiff, I will try to change this later on down the road, but for now, I was excited for my new super short throttle.
Thursday night Zeke and Sergio arrived at the track just before the gates closed at 11PM, I wasn’t arriving until Friday afternoon. They worked late into the night making final adjustments to the bike, installing the seat foam, adjusting footpeg and shifter positions so the bike would be ready for Friday practice.
In Zeke’s first session out on Friday, the bike felt a little awkward because it was a little taller than his Ninja 250R. After a couple of sessions, he started to get used to it and get up the speed, but he did notice the rear sliding a little driving out of the corners. The bike also started to overheat when he would come off track or pull into hot pit to discuss settings. As Zeke got to his previous normal pace for the Ninja, and even faster, he could feel the rear slide more often, and in more than one turn. I hurried to get suited up in time for Friday evening racer practice just to get on the bike and see how everything felt. When I headed out on track, it felt like I hadn’t ridden in a year. The bike definitely felt different from the geometry and suspension changes, but I couldn’t tell if it was good or bad because I was pretty exhausted from a few long work weeks and the long drive, and wasn’t riding very well at all. Everything felt pretty awkward, so I pulled in and decided to rest up and try again tomorrow without changing anything. Sergio and Zeke discussed the rear tire sliding issues with Sequoia, the Bridgestone tire vendor, and I took a look at his suspension setup. The rear was rebounding a bit fast, so I clamped that down a bit for Saturday, and we made some adjustments to the tire pressures. I was running my bike without the cooling fan and hadn’t had any overheating issues all year, even with the ridiculous September and October heat at Chuckwalla, but after talking with a couple other R3 racers who were running their cooling fans, we decided to put the fan back on Zeke’s bike. We also added some much needed, but temporary, YamahaR3Racing.com graphics.
Saturday morning it was nice and sunny. Zeke went out for his first practice and immediately felt really comfortable on the bike and was already faster than his usual race pace lap times from the Ninja. I went out and the bike immediately felt better than the previous day. I was rested and alert, and was feeling comfortable. Second practice Zeke dropped even more time into the 2:04s and I was down into the high 2:05s. The day was looking good and our bikes were running well. During qualifying Zeke and I went out towards the back of the group and start charging. We were pushing each other to go faster during qualifying and we were blowing by everyone. We both set new PRs in qualifying, and I rolled out with a 2:05.0 and Zeke put in a 2:04.2, fast enough to start both of Saturday’s races from the front row in 3rd, behind Ari Henning and Alex Dumas. I would be starting directly behind him in 6th, with Duncan Mardling and Gray Pham next to me.
Our first race Saturday was Ultra Lightweight Shootout. I got an unusually bad start, and went into the first turn a few places worse than I started. Zeke entered turn 1 in 3rd, behind Ari and Gray. Alex also got a slow start but caught back up to Zeke by turn 4. It took me a lap or two to get my head out of my ass, but then I started dropping time quickly, and picking off riders one at a time. I passed Arek, Ruben, Duncan, Gabriel, and was now gaining on Zeke and Gray, who were running in 3rd and 4th.
I managed to get past Zeke on the entry of turn 4, and a few seconds later, Gray slid the rear pretty bad between turns 4 and 5 and went off track trying to keep it upright. Suddenly I was in 3rd. I tried to push myself to stay ahead of Zeke. I know he’s faster than me in the corners, and I always run better when I’m chasing someone. I think I only held him off because his rear tire kept sliding and mine was planted, but nonetheless, I stayed in front and we finished 3rd and 4th. This was my best finish yet on the R3, and only the second time I’d finished on the podium. Even more exciting for me, was that I crushed my previous PR by almost 3 seconds put in a 2:02.9. 2:02s were always my goal, as you pretty much have to be in the 2:02s at Chuckwalla to get on the podium. I guess this was evidence that the changes I made at Buttonwillow were successful. My bike felt amazing, totally planted, and easy to ride fast. Zeke also PRed with a 2:03.4.
The video below is from Zeke’s bike and tells the story pretty well.
After the race we all discussed the rear tire sliding issues Zeke was having. Suspension can always be fine tuned, but there wasn’t anything majorly obvious wrong with it, and my bike was on rails with a very similar setup, so we decided to just try changing the rear tire to the same Pirelli Supercorsa 140/70 I was running and see what happened with the second race of the day. Unfortunately, the Pirelli rep was sold out of Supercorsa 140 rear tires, so I went on a mission through the paddock looking for an extra or takeoff that we could throw on Zeke’s bike. Luckily, Alex Dumas had a good stock of tires, and we bought a pretty decent set of Supercorsa takeoffs (110 front 140 rear) from him that would likely last the rest of the weekend. Zeke had no complaints from the front of the bike, so we left the Bridgestone R10 front on for now to isolate the rear tire change and see how it was.
350 Supersport was the last race of the day and most people were a little off pace, including me. I was running high 2:04s and finished 8th, but Zeke was on fire. Zeke started the race the same way as ULWS, entering turn 1 just behind Ari and Gray, and Alex got another poor start. Zeke was right on Gray for about half a lap until he managed to motor past him on the back straight. Ari had checked out, so Zeke had clear track in front of him. On the 2nd to last lap of the race, Alex caught up and the two kids scrapped it out. It was an awesome battle. Zeke’s favorite place to pass is in the bowl, the 10 degree banked turn 13, but he kept sliding the rear all morning there. This time, the Pirelli stuck and Zeke was able to come around the outside of Alex in the bowl and they entered turn 14 side by side.
Zeke pulled in front because he had the inside line. He pushed hard through the next two left handers and held a defensive line in the last corner and kept Alex behind him in the drag race to the finish to clinch 2nd in his second race on the R3. Only .1 second between them! What an amazing race! I guess that rear takeoff he got from Alex had just enough tread left!
Here’s Saturday’s 350SS from Zeke’s bike:
Sunday morning felt a little warmer and less windy than Friday and Saturday. Both practices went pretty well and Zeke and I felt good going into the races, but we had another racer to worry about. Rafael DaSilva didn’t race on Saturday, but his qualifying time put him on the front row instead of Zeke. Rafa is wicked fast and has a pro ride with Tuned Industries for 2016, but his 600 wasn’t ready yet, so he was racing Shane Liberty’s Ninja 300.
I chatted with Ari a bunch about the R3 Saturday night and he took my bike out for one of his practice sessions Sunday morning. Ari is a very consistent rider who is fast on anything he rides and has excellent feel and understanding of what is happening with the bike beneath him. I was dying to get some better opinions of my bike, the setup, the suspension tuning, etc. so I was very excited to hear his thoughts. His first couple laps he was getting comfortable, and then on his third lap he put in a 2:01.7, basically what he was running in the races on his KTM on Saturday, a second off his best from Saturday. He comments were pretty concise, the handling was very good on the R3, front suspension setup felt great, planted. I had a steering damper which he doesn’t use, so that took some adjusting to. He said the power delivery was amazing, but the rear suspension was soft, and in the bowl, he could feel it just wallowing deep in the stroke when he got on the gas. Ari weighs a little more than me at about 180 (I’m 160), but this was the same thing that was happening to me the previous round. It was better this round, since I added preload to the shock at Buttonwillow, but it was definitely still there. Good to know, time to go up in spring rate on the rear shock and try that. He had very good things to say about the bike and it’s handling compared to his KTM. He said he thought the R3 would likely become the fast bike out there at Chuckwalla. Fantastic 🙂 Now I just need to go faster lol!
Our first race Sunday was 350 SS. Off the start Ari led Alex into the first corner, Zeke was behind them but Rafa came by him in the corner. Ari, Alex, and Rafa charged down the short straight to turn 4 and Zeke tried to stay with them. He keeps them close for the first lap but then starts losing ground as they are all running very fast lap times, down into the 2:00s. Zeke still PRed again with a 2:01.9, which is ripping fast, but finishes a lonely 4th.
Like Saturday evening, I was a couple seconds off my pace from Saturday morning and my 2:05 lap times were only good enough for 10th. Everyone was running very fast Sunday and the nine riders in front of me were all in the 2:03s or better and I was a ways back.
*This list says Rafael DaSilva was on a Yamaha R3, which isn’t true, he was on Shane Liberty’s Ninja 300.
Here’s the video, but there isn’t much action past the first lap:
Sunday’s ULWS was a race for the books! Zeke was dying to get back on the podium and I was dying to get back to my pace from Saturday morning. The grid was tough, as Sunday morning’s race had shown, with 9 riders in the 2:03s or better. The top 4 racers were all on different bikes. Ari was on a KTM RC390 non-cup bike, Alex was on a throttle limited RC390 cup bike but with Supercorsa tires instead of the spec Dunlop Alphas (granted Alex probably weighs all of 80 lbs soaking wet, but his bike is still down on power compared to Ari’s), Rafael was on a well built Ninja 300, and Zeke is on a well built Yamaha R3. That makes this video a very interesting watch to see how the bikes compare in different areas when all piloted with excellent riders. Off the start, Zeke followed behind Rafa, Ari, and Alex who got the hole shot. This time Zeke kept the three front runners in sight. Ari and Rafael started tripping each other up and traded places a few times, which let Alex get away a little at the front, and let Zeke make up a little time. Then Zeke caught Rafa and Ari and started swapping places with Rafa. Rafa would pass Zeke in some corners and Zeke would close back up and then pass him on the power in the straights. The R3 clearly had a horsepower advantage over the Ninja 300, as both riders are pretty light weight. On the fifth lap, Zeke passed Rafa on the short straight between turns 7 and 8 and made it stick. Then he caught Ari going up the hill on the back straight and passed him and managed to stay in front of him going down the slide. Zeke is particularly fast through the bowl and the last couple fast lefts, and he gapped Ari just enough to be comfortable. Now he could see Alex half way down the front straight, a good 3 seconds ahead, with one lap left. I don’t want to spoil the last lap, watch the video below before you read on, it’s an amazing race:
Zeke put in his fastest lap of the weekend on that last lap of the last race, 2:01.0, and only .3 off the fastest lap anyone put in on an Ultra Lightweight during the weekend. He made up nearly 3 seconds on Alex on the last lap and finished a bike length away from first in a drag race to the finish line. Another 2nd place finish for young Zeke on his YamahaR3Racing.com R3, his first weekend riding it, with a damper rod kit no less, and springs that were too stiff in the front. What an awesome weekend we had! I did okay the last race, but was still a couple seconds off my pace. I ran most of the race in 6th but my corner speed was a little off and I had a group of guys nipping at my heals the whole race. Ruben was able to pass me in the last corner and I finished 7th with a best lap of 2:04.9.
But what a show for what the R3 could really do with a better rider than me as a pilot hehe. Between the two of us we earned three podium finishes in four races. We definitely made a splash that was noticed on our R3s. I can’t wait to get out to Buttonwillow in 4 weeks for the WERA race with Zeke’s bike finished.
This was definitely our best weekend yet. Watch for more from Team YamahaR3Racing.com!