It was a bit of a mad dash, but we finished Zeke’s bike in time for the WERA West event this past weekend. Sergio installed his forks Friday night, so not exactly a lot of breathing room 🙂 but we made it. I did the paint (writeup coming soon on my budget painting technique, costs about $120 in paint/materials), and Owen from 5Zero4 Designs did an amazing job, again, on the graphics.
I arrived at Buttonwillow Friday night and setup the pit, Sergio and Zeke arrived Saturday morning. We practiced on Saturday at the Fastrack Riders Track Day. Zeke finally had his full suspension setup with the AK-20s in the forks and Penske shock, so we had some fine tuning to do with that. I installed a stiffer spring on my shock, manufactured my own prototype super short throttle, and I wanted to test a few tire setups. I had also installed an Alien Motion lightweight lithium battery, so I wanted to make sure there weren’t any issues with that before listing them on the site for sale. I brought my Bridgestone 125GP slicks back out, the 90 front/120 rear setup I bought off Shane Liberty last fall. I also picked up a 125GP Pirelli front slick which is a 100 that I wanted to test, and had a new set of Supercorsas in the tried and true 110 front/140 rear setup just in case. But I started the day off with the same used Supercorsa 110 front and 140 rear from last round that was working so well so I could dial in the suspension before changing anything.
On a side note, I ran into another R3 racer on Friday night, Kris Lillegard, an accomplished AMA guy who was traveling around with some friends doing racer training and racing a borrowed R3 to qualify for the WERA R3 cup at the end of the year and try to win a free bike and some contingency money. Kris was actually borrowing a bike from another customer of mine, so it was setup pretty similar and was also running the Penske rear shock and AK-20 cartridge setup. He would certainly provide some stiff competition.
First session out, I just cruised around to get warm and feel out the stiffer spring and new throttle. Everything felt pretty darn good and I was smooth on the bike. The throttle was amazing, what a difference. It was now a true 1/8 turn with a lighter return spring to match the shorter throw. It worked beautifully. I came back in to push on the suspension a little once the bike was warm and inspect my tire wear. Shock rebound seemed a little slow and the tire had some indication of the same so I added a tad more preload and backed off the rebound damping slightly.
Zeke’s only complaint was that the front might be diving too much and the back skipping around a little when dropping gears quickly and braking hard into turn 2, which is a hairpin. Mine did this too, and these were the lightest springs he had run in the forks (.70s), so I felt it was pretty normal considering the amount of speed you have to scrub off in such a short distance for turn 2. We compared preload, sag, and travel in our forks after a session and his bike was relatively a little stiffer than mine in the forks already so we left it alone to see how it felt as he picked up speed. I examined his shock and rear tire as well, and it showed signs of rebound being off a little and the rebound felt a little fast, so I slowed it down 2 clicks.
My second session out I picked up speed a little, but didn’t feel like I was pushing it anywhere, just ripping out some smooth laps. Everything felt awesome. I came back in and was down to 2:06 already, a second off my race pace from the AFM round and totally relaxed, so I decided it was a good time to test the Bridgestone GP slicks again.
I threw on the slicks, set pressures to 30/30 off the warmers and headed out. The bike definitely turned easier with the smaller tires. The rear is relatively smaller than the front compared to the Pirellis so it changes the geometry a bit, but it didn’t do anything negative to the handling at the speeds I was going. Under hard braking into turn 11, the front skipped a little, something I wasn’t getting with the Pirelli front, but it didn’t really bother me since the bike was upright when it was happening. However, as soon as I put in a fast lap, I felt the rear slide in the fast left hander before the bus stop, a surprising part of the track to feel a slide. It’s a pretty gradual left but you are leaned over with the throttle wide open in 5th or 6th. I have never had a slide there before. I came in on that lap and went to talk to Sequoia, the Bridgestone rep, to make sure my pressures were close. He had me drop down to 26 hot on the rear, the front was close, I dropped to 29 hot on the front. I went back out, started picking up speed, and again, felt the rear slide pretty bad in the same fast left, so I came in. After chatting again with Sequoia, it seems the the issue is the wider R3 rim. A lot of people have been very successful stretching the baby slicks on to the Ninja 250 and Honda 250 rims, but the R3 has a bit wider rear rim, and when the 120 rear tire is spread out on the R3 rim, the edge isn’t quite as steep, and when you lean the bike to the limit, at some point, you roll right off the edge of the rear tire and the rear slides pretty bad. That was enough testing for me, I’m ruling out these Bridgestone slicks as a serious tire choice for the R3, at least for me. I’m sure you could go fast with them, but the risk isn’t worth it for me. I was a full 3 seconds slower per lap on the Bridgestones and it didn’t seem worth it to push the limits to try to go as fast on them when the Pirelli’s made it easy to go fast. The next thing I was going to test was the Pirelli 140 rear with the little Pirelli 100 GP slick, but after much deliberation and talking with Chris Maguire, the Pirelli distributor, I decided to scrap that idea and just stick with the Supercorsa 110/70 front and 140/70 rear. The grip and stability was great. I was using every bit of the rear but the front still had a tiny strip of unused tire at the very edge so I felt like there was a little in reserve without being a waste hehe.
Kris Lillegard sweared by the larger Supercorsa 150 rear and 120 front, but when I looked at his tires, his 150 had a considerably large unused strip at the edge, and his front was actually a 110. Apparently he forgot he had borrowed a different tire at the last track he was at and forgot to switch back to the 120, oops. The 110 was working well for him in practice, so he stayed with a 110 for the rest of the weekend. Our teammate, Chris Woods, had tested the Supercorsa 140 rear with a Supercorsa 120 front the previous weekend up at PIR in Portland and was having trouble keeping enough heat in the larger 120 front tire for ideal grip. He even tried running pretty low pressure in the front to spread it out more and heat it up more. The 120 is so big that on a small bike like the R3 where you aren’t generating a ton of braking forces and smashing the front tire to spread it out on corner entry, you end up with a large ring of unused tire around the edge, like .50″-.75″ wide. This extra tire is not only extra weight you are towing around and not using, but it acts like a heatsink and can cool the edge of the tire too fast. The larger tire also slows the steering a little. But take this all with a grain of salt, because Kris Lillegard is pretty dang fast and so is Zeke, who has been running a Bridgestone R10 120 since last round.
Zeke hadn’t been to Buttonwillow in awhile, so he spent the day just getting comfortable with the R3 and the track. We weren’t tracking his lap times, but I knew he’d be plenty face when the flag dropped as long as the bike was working well. He was still running the Bridgestone R10 120 front but the same Pirelli Supercorsa 140 rear that I was running. It was working for him, so he didn’t want to change it yet until he had a reason to.
Zeke is always so quiet and humble, it’s hard for me to tell how he’s feeling and how well the bike is working until we can see the lap times hehe. On Sunday morning during practice we finally got to see the transponder numbers, and of course, in second practice, Zeke threw down a 2:03.6 like it was nothing. For reference, the top 4 finishers in last month’s AFM race were in the 2:03.1-2:03.9 range. Not bad for morning practice 🙂 I wasn’t pushing as hard in the morning and was around the 2:09 mark, but the bike felt good, I wasn’t worried about going fast when it was time to race. Kris Lillegard of course was near the top with a 2:05.1. And seeing how he had never been to this track before Saturday, it was looking to be a good race. There were a few familiar names from the AFM race on the grid as well.
I don’t particularly like how WERA and AFM handle the multi-race starts. They gridded the D class racers a few yards in front of us E class racers, and another group behind us. The D class are slighly larger displacement bikes that should go reasonably fast through the corners, but there’s always slower riders on every grid. When the flag drops, everyone goes at once. At CVMA, multi-wave race starts always have separate flags to allow the groups to spread out a little. The faster guys will always catch the lower guys of the previous group, but at least with a little delay, they generally catch them one at a time instead of all at once. Anyway, they dropped the flag and I totally blew the start, still had my hands on the tank and almost got rear ended, oops. However, I’m not sure it made any difference, because the first corner was the biggest clusterfuck I’ve experienced in a race (the CVMA grids are 30+ bikes deep and the first corner isn’t this bad). Apparently all of the E class riders were faster than all of the D class riders… We all charged ahead until the bigger D bikes in front jammed the brakes for the first corner while all the smaller bikes are still wide open throttle. It turned the entry of turn 1 into the 405 at rush hour. I felt like I could have pulled off to get a snack and jumped back in the race without losing any spots. I tried to weave through and go around the outside but ran out of track and had to fall in line. Turn 2 wasn’t any better, I was chomping at the bit to get some clear track. By turn 3, I had enough and started diving through the slower big bikes, trying to find a few inches to make a pass. I passed a few ninjas and Zeke who were stuck in traffic around the outside of turn 4 as we went up the small hill to 5, and could finally open the throttle by the fast back section. I could see that Kris had made it clear of the D group and was getting away at the front along with another guy on a Ninja. I came up on an R4.5 (Yamaha R6 with 1 cylinder disabled to make it a 450 so it could run in D group), and a 450 Supermoto. They have a good 20+ horsepower and who knows how much torque on the R3. When we reached the narrowest part of the track, the left hand kink called the bus stop, the big bikes slowed and after trying to squeak by on the right side, again I ran out of track and had to slow. This killed my momentum for the fast right hander called Riverside. The D bikes pulled away on the gas and I gave it everything I had to catch them again, but it was the same story, just as I caught them to make a pass, they slammed the brakes and clogged the entry of the right turn over the hill. Now I was getting frustrated, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The rest of the race was much of the same. Zeke and I fought and fought to get past the R4.5 and the supermoto but couldn’t quite get a large enough gap to keep them off through the straight and they would clog the corner entries again and kill our momentum. I went off track at the end of the first lap trying to get around, and was able to catch back up within 2 laps.
It’s a great video to watch from Zeke’s bike. I definitely got better in a few places and picked up some more corner speed trying to get around. I also discovered some sketchy places to try to pass lol. Our bikes are running awesome and handling beautifully. I was able to get around Zeke on the last lap and finish 3rd with Zeke behind me in 4th, but it was a frustrating race to say the least. Kris checked out at the front with clear track and put in a 2:02.something lap time, and the other guy who got ahead of the D bikes was just able to stay ahead with his 2:05s. Zeke, myself, and Gordon Pull were all putting in 2:04s while struggling to get around the slower D bikes. It’s too bad we couldn’t get clear track and have a real race. But I guess that’s racing. Everyone stayed upright and the bikes ran amazing, so we’ll take that as a positive weekend. I also got to do some tire testing and I’m happy to have settled on the Pirelli Supercorsa 110/70 front and 140/70 rear. That works very well for me. And it satisfied one of our two required WERA entries to qualify for the National R3 cup in the fall if we decide to go. Good job everyone, great racing!