This is the Way... AFM Round 2 at Buttonwillow Raceway
The best way out is always through. - Robert Frost
While there have been many awesome achievements for our little race program that could over the past season, we've also developed a fairly large, hairy monkey on our back - and its name is lap times. After a big crash at the start of last season eroded some rider confidence with the bike, we've been on the struggle bus trying to just get back to where we were at the end of the 2021 season, when we posted our best lap times in the season ender for AFM. More crashes a Laguna last year for both Troy and Rennie Scaysbrook seemed to point to some setup issues. We could run around in practice and set some strong practice times, but when it came time to push for that extra bit of pace in the race, we were struggling to keep the rear from spinning and spitting off our rider. Not cool.
With the goal of shedding the monkey, we charged into our weekend starting with the Friday practice/track day that's offered for AFM racers. Having given our traction issues some thought, I came up with a couple of possible root causes... 1. It was possible that after a couple of seasons of steady increases in torque (and power) and dialing back on traction control settings, I had simply gone too far. 2. Similarly, we had been focusing on gaining agility with the bike to match the lighter 600s, which precipitated shifting some weight forward, running lower clip-ons, and raising the rear end. Couple this with a switch to a 190 rear tire that Pirelli is now pushing for the 600s... and maybe we've just unloaded the rear a bit too much. The spins that are problematic occur after the rider has picked up the bike and is rolling into the peak torque on offer. Maybe chasing keeping enough weight on the front to finish the corner is delaying the load transfer to the rear enough to cause the spin if the rider gets aggressive a bit early or if the tire is not quite fully up to temperature (both crashes were on the opening lap of the race where both conditions existed simultaneously).
So... With little test time available to us, I made changes to address both possibilities, knowing that a wiser crew chief/mechanic would attempt to isolate the changes and test one at a time. I dropped the rear ride height at the shock to account for the profile change on the larger Pirelli and raised the front (i.e. dropped the fork legs in the triples) to ensure we had more static weight distribution towards the rear. I also reviewed prior notes and setup sessions on the TC system to derive some setting values that were at least relational to prior "known good" settings rather than the ad-hoc "how does that feel?" settings we had ended up with.
Troy rolls out to practice to test some setup changes.
Even after our first session, Troy was already feeling some positive effects from the ride height change in the rear, but needed another session to confirm that the change at the front was too far. We split the difference for the 3rd session and his feedback was extremely positive in terms of the balance we had found between the bike's ability to finish the corner as well as keep the rear loaded in initial acceleration. While Troy was happy with the settings, we still were running around at a practice pace, so we wouldn't know for sure until we had a fresh set of Pirelli slicks and sprinkled in some red mist for qualifying...
After a nice, optimistic evening solving the world's problems in the RV with my Dad, Saturday held some morning practice sessions and early afternoon Qualifying. There wasn't much to test other than a change to pre-load in the front end that we ultimately backed off on. Unfortunately, Qualifying didn't give us the chance we were hoping for as Troy got sent out with a large group of 600s that ended up keeping anyone from getting a clean lap. We qualified in 17th with a time that showed no real improvement from practice - in fact, it was slower. Poop.
We finished the day watching Kenyon Kluge hustle his production-based electric Zero SR/S to the Formula 40 Lightweight podium in 3rd place. Well done!
With the AFM schedule, we are typically race #2 in the morning and then the first race after lunch, which provides plenty of time for the battery to cool down and recharge. BTW - our new "CarbonTech" battery mentioned in the previous post seems to be working great. The morning race was 750 Superbike, which is a 2 wave start with the super-fast Open Superbike class taking the first wave. Troy got a decent start, making up a few positions on the opening lap, but eventually couldn't keep the advantage through the bus stop and entry to Riverside to keep them behind. He finished in 10th place, and a top ten is a top ten, but the lap times were just barely better than we achieved in qualifying... Still - we finished our first race of the season, the bike performed well, and there were no crashes or scary moments, so a good start to the year!
Feeling OK about our finishing position, but a bit bummed about the lack of lap time progress in the 750 Superbike race, I mentioned to Troy a couple of things I noticed in the race watching from the scoring tower - Once he got in front of a few bikes at the start, he was able to keep everyone behind him and even build a gap until the bus stop, a quick left, followed by the entry into the long right-hand sweeper called Riverside. "Oh yeah, I suck through there." It takes some real commitment to really throw the bike into these entries he explained. Keep in mind that while the Lightfighter is the lightest electric motorcycle competing at this level today (and possibly in history), it still gives up roughly 50lbs to a stripped down, race-prepped 600. Troy indicated that the suspension and traction control changes we had made during practice were still feeling great, so we didn't make any changes besides a fresh set of Pirelli Superbike slicks for the next race. Our key strategy... Suck a little less in bus stop and Riverside.
The Formula 1 race is the more competitive of the two classes we race in, essentially being an open class for 4-stroke, 4-cylinder bikes under 1000cc and Twins over 1000cc with no limitation on modifications for racing. A couple years ago, a Moto2 race bike even showed up for this class! True story. Proof below...
Troy completed his warm-up lap and took his grid position for Formula 1 in 15th position. This time, Troy got a better start and made up a few positions on the run into Turn 1. He made it past a trio of 600s that were running pretty close to one another and stayed pretty close. I held my breath as Troy approached the bus stop and then Riverside, anticipating I'd see the gap come down. But... it didn't! And then I got nervous that we'd lose power on the final lap and lose the position, but Troy went faster with each lap, with the very last as his fastest of the weekend, even as he rolled off across start/finish.
Yep... that's me yelling "Go, Troy!" as if he can actually hear me... Note the trio of 600s in hot pursuit.
When the dust had settled, we had shaved almost 2.5s off our best lap from the 750 SBK race earlier that day and were able to overtake some 600s and keep them behind us through the full race distance. I could tell Troy was having fun again out there and I thoroughly enjoyed literally watching him find a big piece of that speed we've been missing on track. Is the monkey gone? Well... not entirely, we've still got some time to find to get back to where we think we could be and bridge the gap to the podium positions. But... it's a journey not a destination and I love that we've made a big step forward in only our first real race weekend of the season. This is the way...