Updated: Jun 6
Last weekend, we kicked off our 2022 season with the AFM season opener at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in central valley California. We ended last season with a strong showing at the same track, so hopes were high that we could carry that momentum into this event. Add to this, the fact that our first customer bike would be racing alongside, albeit detuned for Twins classes, and we had a recipe for a fun weekend... or so we thought.
Given this was the first event of the season and we've had no time on track prior, we opted to run the racer's only track day (courtesy of CT Racing) on Friday to get some extra time getting the bikes and riders dialed in. Troy was mostly knocking the cobwebs off with very little changed on the bike since last season. Nick, however, was very busy chasing a baseline setup with the help of suspension guru Bobby Loo of Motorrev Suspension. It turns out that the fork that we had built the bike with was a transplant from a race bike that competed at the Isle of Man and Pikes Peak and was running a much stiffer spring rate than I remembered. With a change to "normal" spring rates, Nick was finally able to make some progress getting more comfortable with the bike.
Having both bikes and riders on track at the same time was pretty awesome to see and forced me to get a bit better at multi-tasking to ensure both bikes were performing as expected. It certainly helped that Nick is one of the most patient human beings I've ever met, which makes him a joy to work with.
With practice completed, we headed into Saturday with everyone checking their phones for the most recent weather report as it was clear that rain was imminent. We got a couple of morning practice sessions with a continuing focus on suspension setup, this time trying a 5mm drop on the front forks to get more load into the front tire and help both bikes steer quicker. We confirmed the positive direction for the change before that weather finally rolled in and shut down all the track action for the rest of the day. Our afternoon was spent covering the bikes, getting any non-sealed electronics out of the open, and ratcheting down pop-up tents so they wouldn't blow away in the storm.
So... No qualifying or races on Saturday and Sunday morning got started with a delay as the rain was gone, but the track was still drying out. AFM decided they could cram the full 2 day race schedule into 1 day if they simply dropped a lap from each of the races - down from 6 to 5. Worked for us...
Troy was up first for 750 Superbike, gridded on the 3rd row based on last season's points. We had the bike cranked up to full power and were feeling pretty good about our chances, even with the tricky conditions (rain overnight, track cold, low grip levels). Troy got a decent start, rolling into the power to avoid a wheelie, and slotted into 3rd heading into T1. The next time we spotted him from the starter's tower, he had moved up to P2 and seemed to have good pace. The leader had put a solid gap between himself and the rest of the field, but with clear track ahead, maybe Troy could make a dent in the lead. Unfortunately, we'll never know... coming into the quick flick left at over 90mph, Troy lost the rear and went down hard, tumbling as he entered the dirt with the bike coming after him. The bike flipped end over end before coming to rest. Troy was visibly shaken and took a moment to gather himself, but it was soon obvious that he escaped any serious injury. Fortunately (or unfortunately) we have footage of the full event from Troy's embedded helmet cam...
The crash itself was all over in less than a second. Reconstruction of what happened over through data analysis points at cold tires and a cold track coupled with the positive changes we made during testing to move some weight forward and increase torque. In hindsight, we also realized that we had a different compound on the rear tire than we thought. So... lots of opportunity to reflect and learn. I could have read the conditions better with the bike settings and double-checked the requested tire compound. I can't fault Troy for pushing to the bike's limit. He had no warning ahead of the crash that he was this close to the limit of traction. There was a golden opportunity to put Lightfighter on the box in 750 Superbike and he went for it. Crashing sucks, but I'm glad that Troy walked away mostly unhurt from this one.
When we got the bike back to the pit, I was able to peel off the obviously broken bits and make a better assessment of the damage. There was no breakdown in isolation between the battery and frame, and the main contactor had been disconnected when Troy flicked the bike off after the crash. So... I knew the bike was safe to work on. For added safety, I went ahead and disconnected the main DC connection between the battery and inverter. Luckily, the major components of the bike - i.e. the main frame, swingarm, and electric powertrain (ESS, MGU) faired well. We lost the rear brake fluid when the reservoir got fit by the fairing, but there was no other spilled fluid. Our day was done, but the bike was repairable... whew!
While I was busy figuring out what the damage done was, Nick got on with his race weekend and competed in both the Open Twins and Formula 4 class races, finishing as the only electric competitor from the full field that weekend. We've got our work cut-out for us to get him feeling comfortable and trusting the bike setup as we never reached a solid baseline. I suspect that we may have also overshot the performance limitation settings, leaving him without a power:weight ratio to be competitive with the other bikes in class. That said, he left with his first race weekend under his belt and some strong ideas about how to close the gap. I suspect we'll see him dicing with the front runners by the end of the season.
Things don't always go to plan. The racetrack is a dynamic environment where you're constantly trying to maximize your performance. Little changes can compound quickly into big ones. Success is never a given. But, this is why those successes are so meaningful when they do come and why there's always a reason to go back... and we will be back.
Thanks to all those that continue to follow and support our effort! Couldn't do it without amazing family, friends, and sponsors.