"Did you see the schedule?" I asked Troy sometime around the holiday season of 2019 when AHRMA typically announced their next season's schedule. Troy had and he was equally as baffled by what he saw - AHRMA, a predominantly East Coast racing organization, were going to open their 2020 season with a race at the world famous Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, CA in FEBRUARY. "Have they been to Monterey in February?" I asked. I distinctly remember participating in the first Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS) event there a few years back around this time of year and needing to practice braking drills in the paddock for 3 hours in the morning while we waited for the marine layer (read: fog) to burn off so the corner workers could see from one turn to the next. When we finally made it on track, the grip level was questionable... A question I answered by throwing my bike down at Turn 2 and owing the school some money for busting up their R6. As you can imagine, my excitement for seeing a "home track" on the schedule was tempered heavily by my knowledge of what conditions we'd be racing under. Troy shrugged... "It'll be the same for everyone though.".
As ambitious as we were about getting v2 of the bike completed for the 2020 season, even back then we knew it would be an impossible task to have a new bike ready to race by February. We had just caught our breath from the 2019 season finale at Barber Motorsports Park in October, were Troy bagged an overall victory in the very last Formula Thunder race of the season. So - we'd leave v1 intact for one more race weekend to attack that infamous corner - the corkscrew and see if we could continue our momentum from last year.
Luckily, the morning mist never became a problem, but it was quite windy and cold compared to events in the summer, when most of the action at Laguna occurs. We managed to score some garage space with our friends at Kramer Motorcycles, who brought an armada of EVO2 690 single race bikes to race. This made the event much more enjoyable, especially as we had easy access to a 220Vac / 30A outlet for charging! The tire warmers also came in handy to keep our hands (and Troy's gloves) warm in the morning as well!
The Lightfighter had last been raced at Barber Motorsports Park and was still setup for that track. In turned out that we needed immediately to switch back to our Buttonwillow setup as Barber is glass smooth due to the recent repaving as well as being higher speed. Despite my concerns for corner clearance over the curbing and down the corkscrew and Rainey corner, we didn't have any major chassis setup or ground clearance issues throughout the weekend.
In Friday's practice, Troy was consistently running around the top 3 in the fastest practice group, with times around the 1'38 - 1'40 mark. Remember - the track was pretty cold. Everyone was struggling to keep heat in their tires, so we even switched over to DOT versions of Pirelli's race tires based on their claim that they may be slightly quicker to heat up out on the track. Still... Troy was feeling confident and quickly found his speed and confidence with the bike that we had throughout the 2019 season. Saturday rolled around and we were fully charged and ready to race! Scroll through the images below and you will even spot the elusive Ely Schless, who came down with his wonderful wife Krista, to support and watch the bike kick some butt. I greatly appreciated the help! Photos courtesy of Morgan Vetter.
For those that weren't following us last year, a quick tutorial on the confusing world of racing class structure - AHRMA does have 2 classes for electric motorcycles, the one we are eligible for is called "Formula Lightning Extreme" (the extreme part separates high voltage bikes from low voltage production bikes like the Zero SR/F). However, Lightfighter was developed to take the fight to the gas bikes, so we got a special approval last year to race in the Sound of Thunder 1 (SOT1) class, which also qualifies us to race in the Formula Thunder class, the closest thing that AHRMA has to an "open" class for all-comers. Based on the schedule that gets published at the event, we often need to pick and choose our battles based on time to recharge between races. At Laguna, Formula Thunder raced right before Formula Lightning Extreme, so we knew that wasn't going to work for us. So, we went with the SOT1 class seeing that the level of competition was equal to that of the Formula Thunder class. Theoretically, we'd have just enough time to recharge before the Formula Lightning Extreme race, where we had one competitor in Peter Nicolosi on his Energica Ego street bike (the basis for the higher performance MotoE Corsa bikes).
In Saturday's SOT1 race, Troy was the class of the field, taking an early lead and then clearing off to a margin of victory of over 15 seconds to 2nd place. His fastest lap was over 3 seconds faster than the next fastest competitor. It was a great start to the race weekend!
Unfortunately, the combination of timing for the Formula Lightning Extreme race as well as the limitations of charging from the available 30A outlet left us slightly down on charge for that race. I informed Troy that his goal was just to finish in front of Pete on his Energica to earn a class win and not go for the overall, having already proved the bike's capability in the first race. Troy did just that and while we didn't set any lap records, we did earn our second win for the weekend! Woo-hoo.
My kids celebrated... :)
On Sunday, we headed out for the same set of 2 races, hoping to get more charging time between the SOT1 and FLE races. Unfortunately, we never got the chance as Troy encountered a rare mechanical problem on about lap 3 of the SOT1 race while leading. Video below is from one of the opening laps of this race. You can see the considerable lead Troy had over the rest of the field. (Thanks to Morgan Vetter for the video!)
Here's another short clip of Troy railing down the corkscrew and into Rainey (my favorite corner on the track)...
Back to that mechanical issue though - Troy started hearing a strange noise coming from the motor/gearbox that got worse as the lap went on. On about lap 3 or 4 he pulled off on the front straight, not wanting to risk doing further damage to the machine. That's a hard decision to make when you're leading a race, but that's why he's the guy on the bike! Going into this event, we replaced the motor's countershaft sprocket with a new unit having seen that there was significant wear on the teeth from the 2019 season. Unfortunately, we obviously did not receive a part with the same material properties as the previous one. The sound that Troy was hearing was the sprocket slipping within the chain as all the teeth had been worn clear off...
Plans were already underway to move to a hardened steel motorcycle countershaft sprocket welded to this jack shaft for version 2. We thought we could get away with this design for one more race event, but we were wrong. With no spares and no time, this put an end to our race weekend, so we weren't able to repeat the successes from Saturday. This dampened our spirits a bit and the biggest bummer was that Troy's family missed the racing on Saturday and made it to the track on Sunday only to see him retire from his race. I still need to make that up to him...
The good news was that this involuntary reprieve from the action on Sunday allowed me to watch a great Formula Lightning race between some colleagues at Zero Motorcycles.
Outside of the mechanical on Sunday, the Lightfighter LFR19 performed great and was easy to adapt to this very unique track under some tricky conditions. Next stop... Ely's lift for disassembly to start building v2.