Racing Laguna Seca (Part I)
Laguna Seca Raceway has its ups and downs from the infamous 10-story fall from the corkscrew through Rainey corner to the crest of Turn 1 where you feel weightless for a split second before trying to get the bike stood up and stopped for the Turn 2 hairpin. It was only fitting then that our first race back from the crash at Buttonwillow would have its own ups and downs as well!...
We started the weekend's events unloading into a busy garage with about 5 other racers, including Nick Lambert on his own Lightfighter. Luckily, the garages at Laguna have sufficient 208Vac / 30A outlets to keep the 2 bikes charged up between sessions. We made it all weekend without tripping a circuit breaker, so that's a win by itself.
First sessions out on track were about Troy getting re-acquainted with the bike and adapting to the new riding position courtesy of the lower clip-ons and new bodywork. Overall, his response to the changes was positive, although he admitted they added up to a bigger re-calibration than he had anticipated. Still, by midday, the feeling was coming back and the times began to tumble... and then so did Troy.
With Bobby Loo's (of Motorrev Suspension Tuning) help, we had been reducing the preload and damping settings on the fork and adjusting tire pressures to help improve Troy's front end feel on the Dunlop slicks. Just as Troy was gaining some confidence, he had a bit of bad luck hitting a barely visible bump on entry to the Turn 2 hairpin while nearly bottomed on the front fork. The front end tucked in response and bike went down on the left-hand side. Luckily, Troy's Alpinestars Tech-Air airbag immediately deployed and saved him from any major injury other than a bruised left hip.
After confirming Troy was OK, we surveyed the damage to determine if we still had a weekend of racing ahead of us... the new carbon fairing was a bit worse for the wear, the left clip-on was bent, and oddly only the clamp on the rear brake master cylinder had sheared off with no fluid loss or other damage to the brake system. Bummer, but all fixable with a walk through the paddock to hunt for spares. Special thanks to fast 600 racer Harm Jansen and Kramer racer Yuri Barrigan for the parts to get us back on track! With the CRA race schedule, we still had some time for practice and qualifying on Saturday before races on Sunday. While unfortunate, it was nice to see that the bike faired so well in the low-side and the powertrain remained well protected by the frame from any damage.
After much debate, we did elect to make another major change to the bike setup during the repair - we swapped over to Pirelli tires. While other teams and racers were obviously able to go very fast on the Dunlops, we struggled to get the bike setup to the point where Troy felt confident enough to push. We don't have a ton of track time to test, so we decided to try a switch back to Pirellis to see if we could improve Troy's feeling and gain back some confidence after a couple of successive crashes. As a team manager, you've got to make some tough calls from time to time, and this was one of them. Knowing that we could set off a cascading ripple of set-up changes needed to adapt to different geometries and characteristics of the carcass between the two tire brands, I made a call that it was better to have a rider comfortable in the tires even with a bad setup.
Our primary competition for the weekend was from MotoAmerica Pro rider Stefano Mesa, who typically races in the Stock 1000 and Supersport categories (and wins). However, this weekend, he was riding a race prepped Engerica Ribelle with the "Corsa Clienti" kit derived from Engerica's MotoE experience. Energica were using the race as a test prior to racing the bike the following weekend in MotoAmerica's RSD Superhooligans race. While we watched lap times during practice and qualifying, it was clear it would be a tight race in CRA's Formula E class. Troy edged Stefano in qualifying by a few tenths, but since he qualified with the gas bikes, timing got confused and listed him as "no time" for qualifying. We didn't realize this until the grids were set and so once again, Troy started at the back. With a 4 bike grid for the electric race (including Kenyon Kluge on his Zero SR/F and Patrick Mcbride on his Energica Ego), it wasn't too big a deal and Troy easily managed the hole shot into T2.
What followed the start was a good battle between Troy and Stefano, with Troy using the superior power-to-weight of the Lightfighter to pull several bike lengths on the straights and Stefano capitalizing on our setup struggles (and Pro level speed) to gain it back on the brakes and with corner speed and the heavier Energica. While Troy lead the first 2 laps, it was clear he wasn't shaking Stefano, with the aggressive rider showing him a wheel in a couple of turns.
At the end of lap 3, Stefano pushed past through Turn 10 and lead down the front straight. No problem... Now Troy could see where Stefano was faster and set up a move to use Lightfighter's superior acceleration to make a pass. Right? Wrong. On the next lap, a rider in the other class that was on track at the same time crashed in the corkscrew with his bike laying in the middle of the track at the bottom of the hill. This brought out the red flag. Since the race had made half distance, the officials called it complete with the finish positions as they crossed the line the prior lap - i.e. the one that Stefano lead. Many expletives crossed my mind at that point. Looking back now, I realize the real downside was less data and learning to improve our setup for this track. We've spent so much time getting dialed for Buttonwillow, we're relatively light on figuring out what works best for us at Laguna.
Stefano Benatti, CEO of Energica NA, sent me this on-board footage from the race. It won't play embedded, so you'll have to watch it over on Youtube: https://youtu.be/X0g1-htCfEc
While it wasn't quite the weekend any of us had hoped for, there were still alot of positive take-aways. I feel fortunate that we've had a lot of these race weekends go our way, and sometimes the pendulum swings the other way.
- We got back on the horse after the crash repair and confirmed the bike is back in good running order.
- We were able to respond quickly to a fall on Friday and finish our race weekend.
- We saw some stronger OE participation in the Formula E class with both Energica and my own company, Zero Motorcycles also fielding entries.
- We collected some data that will help point the way to further improvements.
- We left the weekend with the bike intact and the rider regaining confidence.
- Nick found some feeling with a better setup after a spring rate change on his personal Lightfighter and started posting some strong laptimes. He took that momentum into the AHRMA race weekend and I'll cover his successes in that post.
- We had a good time with our garage friends and family in attendance!
We were back at Laguna two weeks later for the AHRMA Motofest event with the plan to challenge their fastest fire-breathing unlimited twins classes. Stay tuned for Part II to hear how that went for us.