It was short notice, but my dad and I decided to go to VIR. At the outset of the season, we hadn't planned on going, but that had changed. I had a list of pros and cons to going and the pros ultimately outweighed the cons. Doug and Aaron couldn't make it (it was short notice), but we were prepared and ready to go. As an added bonus however, Eric Johnston was coming up from North Carolina to hang out with us for the weekend, which was great. He and wife Shelley moved out of Michigan last year so it was good to have him around all weekend. I had text'd him once we hit the road – just curious how far he was from the track and within a couple more text's, he would be arriving Thursday and spending the weekend at the track with us. Nice.
We left Wednesday morning, narrowly avoided totaling the van and trailer into a collided semi and car along a wet, winding and slippery I-77 (which was the highest pucker factor of the entire week). We arrived that night to a paddock full of fast riders, which included a few AMA regulars. Josh Hayes, Ben Bostrom, Jason DiSalvo, Taylor Knapp, Dane Westby and Chris Ulrich were just a few of the names. This didn't include the guys who were arguably just as fast, if not faster – like Rob Jensen, Lee Acree, Jeff Wood, Cory West, Tray Batey, Opie Caylor and a number of others in attendance. This was the WERA Cycle Jam, which is basically very similar to the WERA Grand National Finals held at Road Atlanta every year. Every region is present and it's not just a regional event, but a National as well. Throw in the fact that the AMA races would be happening the following weekend, and a lot of guys were here for the added track time. Needless to say, we were in for a competitive weekend – at a track we were just learning.
Wednesday night rained. Jeff (Wrobel) and Rob (Hancock) crashed in the hotel with us. We were staying in one of the rooms that sits above the garages, looking onto the front straight. Very cool, and affordable to boot. Thursday morning started off damp. With a limited practice schedule, I tried to learn the track as quickly as possible. Times started at 1:38's in the first session and dropped to 1:35's and 1:34's in the following sessions. I had a small crash in the last session of the day going through T7. I had been going well through there – as it's after the "snake" esses which are fast – up to 5th gear and back down to 2nd for T7. I had been getting comfortable with the back end stepping out as I was braking and setting up the right-hander. I could carry a lot of speed into the corner and because the turn was uphill and banked, I could scrub off a lot of speed on entry. I think I went in a little too hot, as the front tire simply gave out once past the apex and I slid off into the grass. It probably didn't help the front tire had 98 laps on it. We had been preoccupied with figuring out the rear end of the bike throughout the day (as it was wearing irregularly), so we lost sight of the front and should have changed it earlier.
The damage was minimal. The break-away brake lever and frame sliders did their job. Aside from a few scratches on the bodywork, we put on a new fairing bracket, new sliders and a new foot peg – and were essentially ready to go. We were planning on having Ohlins revalve the forks at the end of the day anyway, so we asked them to make sure the forks were straight. We also took the front wheel over to Rick at the Pirelli truck to make sure it was straight as well. All was good so we mounted everything back up and the three of us headed to dinner. VIR has this nice little tavern at the track with awesome food. We ate and moved into our new accommodations at the Lodge – another hotel also located at the track near turns five and six. It was nice having everything at the track so we didn't have to leave and drive 25-30 minutes to Danville.
Friday morning arrived and we had just one round of practice before the endurance stuff started up. It was hot and in the 90's early on. We knew the front end would be a bit different, given our new valving in the forks. We went off what Ohlins told us as a starting point and started getting after it. First practice of the morning and I was quickly able to drop a second and get into the 1:33's. The front end was stiffer, but felt good. It also helped to have a fresh outlook on the track after riding it on Thursday. We made some changes to the bike for the second session, with about the same times. We were still having some issues with the rear end of the bike not treating the Pirelli tire quite as nice as it typically does, but with the limited practice, we were now done for the day. Over lunch, we decided to have the shock freshened up, since it was long overdue to be serviced. Not our normal operating procedure to let something go that long, but hey, when you've been doing well – who wants to touch anything.
The rest of Friday was spent watching the endurance race. Vesrah was flying, Jason DiSalvo caught and passed them for the overall lead in the first hour. Sammy had Josh Hayes and Ben Bostrom riding with him, which was big news. Talk about a great experience for him. Overall there were a lot of teams and riders getting seat time. I wished I had been able to do the race, as I could have used the extra track time myself.
Saturday was the big day. Morning practice was decent at best. We had two rounds of practice, so four sessions total. It was another hot day and again warm early on. Without the rear tire wear issue sorted, our newly revalved front end – and shock now with fresh oil (compared to the previous gunk), and we had plenty of directions to try making changes in. We tried a few things, with the only real improvement being that softening the front end was a good thing. I was going to sit out the last practice, but after wanting to try another round of softer setup, I went out and dropped another half second. Glad I went out.
600 Superstock was the first race with nearly 50 bikes on the grid. With a good grid position, I was starting next to Sam and Jeff. The bike didn't pull quite as well off the line, but I think that was because of the taller gearing we were running. I still had a good launch and was 2nd into T1. Once off the line, the track is narrow and you're always leaned over – rarely ever straight up and down, so passing occurs in pretty close quarters. Jensen, West, Parkerson, Knapp, Wood and Lynn all went through and I was sitting in 6th or 7th after the first couple laps. Westby came by, but I think he jumped the start, as he was docked a lap after the race. I was pushing and feeling pretty good, but the race ended early as a couple crashes caused a red flag. We finished in 7th place, dropping a bunch of time from practice and getting into the 1:31's, which I was stoked about. The top guys were in the 1:28's, but to finish in the top ten with this field was good. You can see the final results here, which are worth a look considering how deep the field was:
750 Superstock was next. I bogged slightly off the line and bikes were all over the place heading into T1. Jeff told me after the first race it was good I couldn't see the chaos that was happening behind me. This time I had a good view of it. With almost 40 bikes in this race, I was rubbing elbows with guys and came around in 11th after the first lap. I was able to make up ground and pass several bikes to finish 8th. The track was again, tricky for passing, as I wasn't fully confident in where I could aggressively pass people. One hesitation through say, T3 or T4, and you're held up all the way through the esses and down the short straight leading into T7. Lap times weren't any faster, but I was able to make up ground and finish with another top ten – which with this field wasn't all bad:
With several more riders crashing out in the previous race, the day was becoming more about survival than anything. 40-50 bikes on a tight track, with only six laps to move forward isn't a good recipe for clean racing. We only had a few minutes to get ready for the 600 Superbike race that was coming up. Something had happened and Jeff registered for the wrong class accidentally, so he would be gridded at the back of this two wave start. Without much chance for gaining points in the size field we had, he decided to sit this race out. The point lead we had wouldn't change, so we elected to skip this race as well and save our tires for the last race, which was the most important one of the day in terms of championship points. We still didn't have a great feel for the tires and the last thing I wanted was for the tires to go off in the last race when it mattered. At the start of the race, there were 42 bikes scheduled to grid up for the 600 Superbike race and 14 of them either DNF'd or DNS'd, if that gives any idea of how the day was going.
The 750 Superbike was our last of the day. Careful to slip the clutch a little longer because of the taller gearing, I had a great launch and got the holeshot into T1. A couple turns later Rob Jensen and Opie Caylor went by on their 750s, but I was able to see after a few laps that I had a decent gap and could just sit and finish in 3rd. With over 30 bikes in this race, a good start and consistent laps helped get our best finish of the weekend. And I was happy with the end result, even if the times weren't any faster than the first race.
Once all was said and done, it was a sigh of relief that we escaped VIR relatively unscathed. Lots of heat, crashes and some real aggressive racing. It's all part of the game at this level though, as you could have basically considered this an AMA event when looking at the top 10 or so guys present. If it wasn't a current AMA rider, it was a former AMA rider, a WERA National team/rider, or a number of the younger guns running the AMA Supersport series this year. My dad and I left Virginia happy with the results, as it was good experience to compete at an event like this. I would have liked to have gotten into the 1:30's in our first visit, but all in all, we didn't do too bad.
We didn't stay for the National races on Sunday. This weekend was already an expensive one and with our sights on finishing out our schedule and hopefully doing a couple races outside the region at the end of the season, it was time to prioritize and we elected to get back home. The drive back to Michigan was about as exciting as a twelve hour drive can get. We did alternating two hour stints and got home at around six in the morning with another round in the books.
A huge thanks to my dad for everything. I really would have been on my own if I had elected to go without him and things wouldn't have gone nearly as well. Also a thanks to Eric for coming along and adding to the good times for the weekend. Rick Kroger from Pirelli gave us great trackside support all weekend, as well as the Ohlins truck for handling all we could throw at them - thanks to them also. Lastly, the great photos you see are from Jeff Kovack – www.viphotography.ca.
It's a good thing to go and ride a different track that's not in the normal rotation. With how technical and challenging VIR is, I think that will help when we go back to Grattan in a couple weeks for the next WERA round.Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 | POSTED AT: 5:19 AM
FILED UNDER: Race Reports
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- You're currently reading "WERA Round 6: VIR Cycle Jam Recap (Survival of the Fittest)," an entry on Witchkraft Racing.
- Published: 08.11.09 / 5am
- Category: Race Reports