Please forgive my delay in writing this!
I had my first race weekend with my Yamaha R3 on September 19-20 at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. I arrived at the track Thursday night and setup my pit in the “two fiddy” area near the back left corner of the paddock. This would be my new home for the foreseeable future as I groom my riding skills with my new 321cc baby. I was one of the early arrivals and it was still about 100 degrees, so I met my pit neighbors, Seth Dowling and Shannon Deane, and we cracked open a couple of beers to celebrate the start of a sure to be super fun race season. Thanks for the cold one Shannon! It wasn’t long before Shane and Kit Liberty showed up and the rest of the 250/300 racers started to pile in, Hayden Gerson, Ari Henning, Josh Fogle, and a few others all joined the crowd. We chatted and joked until about midnight, then it was off to bed to try to get a few hours of sleep before the Friday track day. I had a lot to learn in a pretty short time.
Here’s a map of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, Round 1 was running clockwise:
Nothing has really changed on the bike since the last time I rode it the week before. I still have the Traxxion Dynamics damper rod kit in the forks and the stock shock. Tires are Pirelli Supercorsa SC1 110 front, Pirelli Rosso 2 140 rear. I did go talk to Dale Kieffer, the Pirelli rep, about my front tire tearing. He said it must just be overheating the surface and I should drop my pressure back down to 31, the 32-33 I was using to try to reduce the tearing was getting too high and I would be losing some available traction. So I reset my front to 31 and rear to 28 hot off the tire warmers. I’m using my rearset risers with stock pegs set to the lower rear riser position, the stock seat, Vesrah RJL front brake pads, SS brake line, Vortex clipons above the triple clamp, Akrapovic full system exhaust, Bazzaz Z-Fi, and the Annitori Quickshifter Pro. I installed a homemade radiator guard which I’ll cover in another how-to post. It’s so cheap to make one from some expanded metal from Home Depot, take my advice and make one before you find out why you should make one. Trust me, you’ll only make that mistake once.
During the morning sessions on Friday, my times were still hovering around the 2:13-2:15 range and I was struggling a little to go faster. I wasn’t feeling super confident in the bike. When I reached a decent lean angle mid corner, the rear just didn’t feel planted and stable. It felt kinda jittery, not sliding around, just jittery. I was planning on racing the bike with the stock shock, and I probably could have gone faster with it, but since I was feeling iffy and I was way off the race pace with time running out, I decided to install the Penske 8983 rear shock Friday during the lunch break and see if it stabilized the rear and helped my confidence. Fortunately, the R3 is the easiest shock I’ve ever replaced, no struggle at all to fit it in, just a little bit of a challenge to stand the bike on the stock folding foot pegs. I ended up using my trailer stands on my rearset riser plates to hold the bike up. As soon as I geared up and jumped on the bike with the Penske, I could feel the difference. The Penske is built 275mm long, same as stock, but it did make the back of the bike felt taller. After a couple of laps around Chuckwalla’s 2.68 mile course, I knew the shock was helping a lot. The taller, stiffer rear end of the bike was much more stable from mid corner to corner exit. My little R3 felt like it was on rails, which definitely helped my confidence. My times started dropping again, 2:12, then 2:10 before the end of the day. Now we’re talking. I was hoping to break 2:10 on Friday, but close enough. I was excited for the races the following day!
That evening, back in the pits, I ended up talking bikes a lot with a few different racers, Shane Liberty mostly (he races a Ninja 300 and is one of the 3 guys battling for the lead each race). We chatted a little about the ride height, seat position, and bodywork of the R3 vs what he’s figured out with his 300. He modified his Ninja 300 bodywork much the way I plan to modify my R3 bodywork. He’s a tall dude, so he had to cut part of the tail section out and make the seat longer so he can fit on the little Ninja. His Ninja has K-Tech cartridges in the forks and a rear shock, I forget the brand. We decided to trade bikes for the first warmup session the next day to feel the differences.
The next morning, Shane and I swapped bikes and headed out for practice. When they sent us off he took off, and I got to figure out the hard way that something was strange with his clutch. There was no progression, just full clutch, then suddenly full engagement. I stalled the bike first try, then pulled a fat 12 o’clock wheelie on the second try heading out onto the track lol! (he failed to mention this at first, but did mention later in the day how fucked up his clutch was acting, Whoops! thanks Shane!). Anyways, I had planned to follow him but after the stall and wheelie, he was gone, so I took off and started riding. The extended seat definitely made the bike feel more spacious than the cramped R3. I may have to perform a similar surgery on my R3 tail section once I sort out the race seat height. Also you taller guys, keep this in mind, it may be a MAJOR upgrade for you. I noticed the next major difference as soon as I turned into turn 4 and 5, which combined make up a very fast open double apex left. I turned the bike in and it just planted into the turn. His Ninja was SOO stable mid corner compared to my R3. The difference between the two felt very reminiscent of the difference between my 2008 R6 (which I would call twitchy mid corner), and a super stable Honda CBR600RR if any of you have ever ridden both. This gave me something to strive for with my R3, I really liked this corner stability of the Ninja 300, at least Shane’s bike, which is very well setup. Other than that, the bike felt good, not a ton of differences. The Ninja 300 does have a slipper clutch, and I was surprised that I didn’t even notice it. This also made me realize that I haven’t missed a slipper clutch at all on my R3. I was assuming this would be a necessary upgrade at some point, but maybe not. Maybe there just isn’t enough back pressure and engine braking to make it a big deal on the little R3. So that’s good. What I did noticed was the two times that the Ninja jumped out of 5th gear back to 4th for no apparent reason. Fortunately, Shane warned me that this was an issue he’s been having regularly, so it didn’t startle me too much. I rode around at 80% pace for a few laps to get a feel for the bike, then the checkered flag came out signaling the end of the practice.
When Shane came back in, he had some great things to say about the R3. He said other than the fact that he could barely fit between the seat and the bars, it actually felt pretty damn good just the way I had it setup, which was cool, since I haven’t messed with the geometry yet. The suspension was very good and stable and the R3 handled extremely well. He also complimented the power, and from what I remember, the motor in his 300 isn’t stock and puts pretty good power. He said the R3 is fast. He also commented on the Quickshifter, which was still causing some extra kills if you weren’t very careful pressing it. He said riding it also reminded him that he really needs a race throttle on his Ninja. Re-gripping a stock throttle to reach pinned on every corner exit is super annoying. So all of that was some nice feedback to hear about my new baby from a guy who’s way faster than me.
I went out on my R3 for the second practice session and was back up to speed in no time, and put in a few 2:10 laps. Next session was qualifying, it’s go time! I managed to drop another second in qualifying and did a 2:09, good enough to start around 8th-10th position (depending on the race) out of 28 riders, I’ll take that! I couldn’t believe that I was the only person racing an R3 for round 1. Very surprising.
CVMA Round 1 – Ultra Lightweight Shootout – Saturday
My first race on Saturday was Ultra Lightweight Shootout. I was starting from 10th (fourth row). The usual fast guys were near the front (except Josh Fogle who had problems with his bike and was starting from the back), then 3 kids on KTM RC390 cup bikes and a couple of Ninjas, then me, then a bunch more Ninjas. They were having some problems with the timing and scoring so we got a pretty late start and they announced that all races Saturday would be 5 laps instead of 6 to save a little time. I got a decent jump and motored my R3 past a few guys on Ninjas and was in 8th going into turns 1-2 (my R3 and the KTM RC390 cup bikes dominated the Ninjas off the line all weekend). I always get a little wound up at the start of races with all the adrenaline so I get a little sloppy. I gained 2 spots off the start, but then lost them back in the first half of the first lap as well as Josh Fogle blowing through the crowd on the green/pink Ninja 250. I held 11th for the first 3 laps, my lines were messy. About the 4th lap I pulled it together a little and started making up ground. My bike felt great and I passed one guy on a Ninja and a second on an RC390. I ran down another kid on an RC390 and was all over his wheel the second half of the last lap, but I just ran out of time to pass him. If the race had been 6 laps, I probably could have passed one more. I finished 9th, 1 spot better than I started, but with a fastest lap of 2:06.529, which was faster than the next two guys in front of me, and I still finished first of all the amateurs and ahead of 5 of the experts, so I’m totally happy with that! I’m still rocking yellow amateur number plates. I’ve always missed a bunch of races each season and never gained enough points on my R6 to bump up to expert and I wanted to earn it.
Here’s the video of the Ultra Lightweight Shootout race from Saturday:
CVMA Round 1 – 350 Supersport – Saturday
By the middle of the day, the temperature was well over 100, probably 102-103, and the heat, combined with my being out of shape from not riding all summer, was taking a toll on me. I felt ok when it was time to grid up for the second race, 350 Supersport, but my performance was downright pathetic lol. I was starting in 8th because there were a few less riders. Again I got a decent start, though not as dramatic as the first race because there weren’t as many Ninja 250s to motor past. I gained a couple of spots off the start again, but I was even sloppier and lost them pretty quickly. My lines were garbage compared to the first race and I kept turning in early to turn 4 and turn 7 which was killing my corner speed and exit speed for the fast middle section of the track. I dropped back a little and they stopped the race short because there was a red flag near the end. I finished in 9th again (but less riders in this race) with a best time of 2:09.809.
Here’s the video of the 350 Supersport race from Saturday:
Even as exhausted as I was and with my 9th place finish, I learned a few things from race 2. One of the times when I turned in early for turn 7, I was headed off the track. While trying to correct it, I target fixated on the exit rumble strips instead of looking down the track and I felt the front tire start to slide. Fortunately, I was relaxed enough to feel it and I reacted, stood the bike up a little, eased off the throttle, and re-aimed the bike down track without going off into the dirt or tucking the front and crashing. I call that a success!
The other thing that I noticed is that the front suspension got a little worse in the afternoon heat. I checked out the forks after the race and the rebound was definitely too fast, where it seemed good in the morning. This is a downside to the damper rod kit, which uses cartridge emulators to control the compression damping, but only relies on the fork oil weight to control rebound damping. I was using 15 weight oil, which seemed great when it was 70-90 degrees, but when it got to 100+, had thinned out too much and wasn’t providing enough resistance on rebound. This was causing the front of the bike to rise too fast on corner exit and would cause the bike to not hold it’s line very well and run out wide. This was working against me even more because I kept turning in early which would cause me to run wide on the exits anyway and probably contributed to the front end pushing a little more than it would have normally. When the front rebounds too fast on corner exit, it takes weight off the front wheel and especially if you’re turning later than you should be (because you turned in too early), can cause the front to slide. This is one major advantage full cartridges have over the damper rod kit. Cartridges have separate valves and adjustment for compression and rebound and can be easily adjusted for factors like ambient temperature. I was chatting with Josh Fogle at the end of the day and he said when it’s hot out at Chuckwalla, most of the Ninja guys run 20 weight fork oil to combat the temperature. Good to know…
This weekend was also my first ever weekend riding 3 days in a row, so I was curious to see how that would affect me for Sunday, especially in the heat. I fell asleep at like 9pm on Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning ready to rock. First practice went about the same as Saturday. I was running around 2:10-2:11. I felt good, so I skipped second practice to save some energy.
CVMA Round 1 – Ultra Lightweight Shootout – Sunday
The first race Sunday again was Ultra Lightweight Shootout. Again, I was starting 10th on the grid, and again I jumped up to 8th into the first two turns. I did about the same as the first race Saturday, but I made a few more mistakes. Every time I would make up a little ground on the guys in front of me I would make a mistake and lose it. I ran most of the race in 10th, but finished 9th because Duncan Mardling, one of the guys near the front, ran off track and came back on behind me. He challenged me in the last few corners but I was able to hold him off. He actually passed me in the last corner but my R3 embarrassed his Ninja 300 in the drag race to the finish line and I took 9th. Woohoo! Go Yamaha 🙂 Again, I finished at the front of the Amateurs and ahead of 4 experts, very cool.
Here’s the video from Sunday’s Ultra Lightweight Shootout:
CVMA Round 1 – 350 Supersport – Sunday
And finally, the second race Sunday was 350 Supersport, and it was kind of a shit show for me lol. There were a few crashes, a red flag, a restart, I went off track and did some dirt riding for a little bit, and I was thoroughly exhausted and hardly remember any of it. My lines were a mess, and I almost crashed twice. I guess I need to get in shape if I plan to ride 3 days straight again in 100+ weather. But again, at least I learned something. This was the first time I really felt the front slide bad, to the point that I had to prop the bike back up with my knee to keep it upright (although I almost went off track). It happened twice in the same corner, once was the first lap after the restart if you want to try to catch it in the video. But, it was very confidence inspiring to know that the Pirelli Supercorsa SC1 front was so predictable and easy to read as it lost traction.
Here’s the video from Sunday’s 350 Supersport race with the restart:
I definitely had a blast racing the R3, what an awesome machine. I’m SOOOO excited to get back out next round and push myself a little harder. After seeing where I finished this round even with my messy lines and still learning the bike, I talked to the race director about moving to expert. There are separate championship points for Amateur and Expert and I don’t want to be challenging for amateur points, I’ve been racing at Chuckwalla for awhile now, that doesn’t seem fair. So next round I’ll have white number plates and I’ll be playing with the big boys 🙂