Our first weekend of the season started off quite good. Dad and I arrived to the track Thursday night and dropped off the trailer, with Jeff (Wrobel) arriving shortly thereafter. This was our first weekend with Jeff being part of the team. Extra canopy, team spare bike, new flooring, matching leathers, etc. It had been a stressful number of weeks getting everything together, but we finally made it to the track. Jeff and I would later look at our pits and the finished product and agree – it was worth the extra work and stress to get to where we were now at.
The weather forecast looked good for Friday and okay for Saturday, but Sunday looked like it was certainly going to be wet. There was good competition present as always, with Sam and the M3 crew present (with Mike Cerone and new rider Justin Holderman) as well as Rob (Hancock), Dave (Grey) and a number of other 600 guys.
Friday practice went real well. Beautiful weather certainly helped shake off the rust early and by the second session, we were down into the 9’s which is a respectable time around Nelson. With dad turning the knobs and making sure we were staying on top of things, we reviewed notes from last year and with some specific changes, made the bike better and were into the 8’s just after lunch. Barely through the first day and we were just under a second off our best time around Nelson. It makes such a big difference being prepared and having a well-organized plan of attack. When we’re scrambling, not taking notes, and just guessing at things to do, the results just aren’t there. It echoes volumes how much being prepared can make a difference over the course of a weekend.
Tom (Beagle) had arrived and practiced in the afternoon, with Doug and Marion arriving that night. Gina and Matt would be making the trip down Saturday morning with Aaron (Bagwell) showing up on Sunday to help out. Jeff, Rob, Bill (a good buddy of theirs) and I did a track walk that night to get a better visual of the track after not seeing it all winter. It was a good refresher for me.
Saturday morning arrived and I was ready to go. I put my head down from the start and we were into the mid-8’s right away. The bike was working well and we made small tweaks throughout the morning to get the bike increasingly better. Sam and I were unofficially the quickest with both of us turning fairly similar lap times – funny right? Like that hasn’t happened before. Doug was working with Jeff and enjoying getting him up to speed and trying different things with his bike to get him comfortable and fast. Jeff and I talked about some spots we could each go better in and worked to help each other out.
On the front row for the twenty-lap solo race, I had a good start, but Sam got the hole shot. Into T1 we went and I filed into line to chase. As the laps clicked off, the times immediately dropped. By lap four, I was into the 1:07’s and right behind Sam. The two of us gapped the field and were into lap traffic pretty early. Sam knew I was there and slowed the pace down approaching halfway, which allowed me to take over the lead. I continued pushing and at the halfway point, set what would be the fastest lap of the weekend at a 1:07.4. By now however, there weren’t many laps to be had that didn’t involve lap traffic, given WERA had combined both the experts and amateurs together to try and get all the races in before the potential forecasted rain could arrive.
I was trying to get through traffic as quickly as possible and the gap back to Sam would grow and contract with each lap. About two-thirds of the way through I was saying to myself, “this pace is too quick for my first race of the season!” I wasn’t tired per say; just not yet reacquainted with the mental pace of twenty hard laps.
As the white flag flew, I raced ahead and wanted to put in a solid lap. Additional traffic made it interesting though, as I caught it right into T12 and couldn’t make the pass into the final corner, T13. I sat behind, waiting to get on the gas, hoping the line I chose and the lead I had would hold to the checkered flag. As I picked up the bike and headed to the flag, we won – but just barely. Checking-up allowed Sam to get right onto my back wheel leading onto the front straight and the margin of victory was about a tenth of a second once all was said and done.
We finished 12 seconds ahead of 3rd place and lapped up to 6th place. Jeff finished 4th in his first race of the year, just getting edged out by Justin (Holderman, Sam and Mike’s new teammate) on the last lap. Afterwards, Jeff and I were both happy with how the lap times dropped – especially for Jeff who dropped nearly two seconds and got down into low 8’s during the race.
Also, my dad entered the Lightweight Solo 20 at the last minute after deciding to turn a few laps. Of course he won the race, battling mostly with another rider on an SV650 in a good duel for mostly all the laps. This was especially impressive, considering he's having knee surgery next Thursday on both his knees. He's been fighting through some significant pain lately, so the win was especially nice. After a good start to the weekend, we all hung out at the track for a bit and then all headed out to dinner. Rain was forecast at 100% Sunday, so we were mentally preparing ourselves for rain riding come Sunday morning.
Sunday morning was indeed wet. We had rain tires ready to go and into practice we went. Not everyone went out, but I was determined to get some good laps in the rain and find a good setup for the rest of the year that we could use in the wet. Sam crashed out in practice early on unfortunately, but was okay and able to ride. I did a handful of laps in the first session and came in, giving my feedback to dad. Aaron was now here, helping a great deal as well. Doug was working with Jeff, so my dad, Aaron and I worked on getting faster.
The second session was better after our latest changes. We weren't the quickest in that session, but as I rode around, I had an idea of why the bike wasn’t comfortable. I came in, gave my feedback and we made a pretty drastic change. Next session, I went out and felt immediately better. So much better in fact that we dropped five seconds and were right at the front in terms of times. By now the rain had stopped, which didn’t hurt the times I’m sure, but there was plenty of improvement to find at my end with more laps in the wet. I elected to sit out the last session because by now, mumblings were coming out that somehow the rain might miss us come race time and we could be riding on a relatively dry track. There was no need for more rain riding.
Lunch came and went, along with the riders’ meeting and it looked like we might get by without rain for the rest of the day. Jim (Sublet, Race Director) had been keeping a tight eye on the radar and things looked promising. That was the good news. The bad news was that WERA’s new online registration wasn’t setting the grids up correctly and we'd be starting further back than we had planned. Not a huge deal, but it would make things a bit trickier.
600 Superbike was first up. The track was still damp in a few places. Jeff had a great launch and got the hole shot, immediately taking off. I gave chase and followed him for the first few laps. He was going great. Faster than I expected we could go given the conditions, but it was good because it forced me to transition out of the “rain mode” mentality and back into “dry mode” – even with damp spots throughout the carousel – a spot where you’re in 4th gear at 115mph with your knee down – it's no joke. To take my mind off things such as this, I couldn’t help but think that our matching bikes had to look pretty damn sharp right now, running 1-2.
At around halfway, I was able to pass Jeff after the kink and on the brakes into T12. I put down a solid lap afterwards at a 1:09.6 and then had a good enough gap where I didn’t want to push harder than I needed to. We took the win, with Jeff finishing second. Sam had an issue on the warm up lap and had to start at the back of the grid. As Jeff and I rolled into the pits, everyone was excited at the overall 1-2 team finish. Great start to the day. The 1:09.6 was the fastest lap of the race.
750 Superbike was up next. Sam and Jeff got out of the gate quick and fought over the lead and hole shot honors into T1, with Sam getting it. From the third row, I snuck into third and latched onto the rear wheel of Jeff and gave chase. I followed him and made a pass on the exit of the carousel, leading onto the back straight. Into second place and within a lap or so, I was able to pass Sam into T12 and take the lead. By this time, we were into the low 1:08’s until lap six, when I did a 1:10.1. What?!
Entering the carousel, we were coming up on an orange shirt (new racer). The carousel (for reasons mentioned above) can be a sketchy place to pass. The orange shirt was mid track and I was going to go inside him. However as soon as I committed, he tightened his line and I had to roll out of the gas. Sam had an easy decision to make and simply went around the outside of both of us to retake the lead. I sat behind the orange shirt for what seemed like an eternity (about two seconds) and proceeded to make another attempt to catch up to Sam.
The next two laps I was able to get back into the 1:07’s chasing, on a track that was still somewhat green. The only problem was that Sam was doing 1:08 flat’s and I just didn’t have enough to catch him. I was hoping for a shot again in T12, but he knew that’s where I’d be looking and broke deep into there on the last couple laps. The gap at the checkered was again a tenth of a second. I think this was our third or fourth race at Nelson decided by a tenth. I was of course bummed by getting hung out by the lapper, but it happens. I’ve benefited from it against Sam before and it’s part of racing. Dave finished third and Jeff took home fourth.
With a bit of a time gap until the 600 Superstock race, I saw my dad placing jack stands under the bike. “Whatcha doing?” I asked. “Changing springs”, he said. “Changing springs?” I replied. “Why??” – Now with a hint of worry in my voice. “We need to see if this is better or not during a race day,” he replied rather matter-of-factly. “Yeah that’s a great idea,” I stated, panic now entering my voice – “but not *right before* the 600 Superstock race – a Yamaha paying one at that!” He sat there for a minute and paused, frustrated I could tell. I knew exactly his thinking behind the move and in a way, it made sense. We had talked about this change before the weekend had started. In order to get an accurate evaluation of a big change like this, it should happen during a race – not just during practice, which isn’t going to lend itself to the best feedback. My only point of contention was that things were going pretty well so far in the weekend and doing something this radical before a pretty important race might not be the ideal plan.
After a few moments, he relented and we left the spring as it was. Aaron was standing off to the side (with the other jack stand in hand mind you), ready to take whatever course of action we hashed out. He wasn't getting involved. Funny stuff.
600 Superstock started off with us back in the 2nd or 3rd row. I was fourth heading into T1, behind Sam, this guy I hadn’t seen before on a Kawasaki and Jeff. I was able to get ahead of Jeff in the first lap and then went off after Sam. The other guy (Ryan Jones I think) was ahead and took a couple laps to get around. Once past him, I chased after Sam, but just couldn’t catch him. We caught lappers again – actually I think one of them was the same one that held me up in the previous race. I don’t know for sure except for the orange shirt, but Sam got by him exiting T4 and entering the carousel, where I had to go outside of him through the carousel. I think I rubbed elbows with him on the way by and if so, sorry about that. Good initiation into racing, right ..
As the race ended, I just couldn’t make up time where I needed to. We set the fastest lap of the race (and the day too I believe) after getting past the Kawasaki, but had to settle for 2nd. Holderman finished 3rd and Jeff in 4th. Sam and I congratulated each other again on the cool down lap. I'd have one more shot to even things up against Sam …
With one race to go, I noticed the rear tire was starting to lose a bit of its grip in the previous race. We looked at it back in the pits and there wasn’t much we could do. We had another race and I didn’t want to put on another tire just for this one, so we were going to stick with it. The Pirelli’s had worked great all weekend – we were just going at a pretty quick pace, on a track with nearly all right hand turns, so naturally the tire wasn’t going to last like it normally would.
Gridding up for 750 Superstock, I started from the 2nd row. I had a good launch, but Sam and Jeff were again fighting for hole shot honors and this time Jeff came away with the lead into T1. I was yelling in my helmet for Jeff. Sam had fresh tires and if Jeff could lead, that was great. Plus that could possibly help me to get up there and dice it up at the front.
Jeff kept Sam at bay for the first couple laps. Sam was really trying to get around, but just couldn’t get by. Jeff was riding really well. I was trying to make a move right away, but I could feel the tire moving around. It caused me to blow a couple corners, but I was able to regroup and on the second lap, close onto the back of Sam and draft him on the straight before the kink, tucking into 2nd behind Jeff. I tailed Jeff for the next lap and really tried to get a good drive onto the back straight. I was just able to get alongside him before the kink to pass for the lead. I put my head down and hoped for the best, as this wouldn’t be an easy lead to keep.
I knew my tires were going to be a limiting factor. I tried changing my riding style to carry as much corner speed as I could without overloading the tire and asking it to do too much. It was a nice idea, but it only worked out to a small extent. I had one moment through T3 just past the apex (when leaned over and pinned) that the rear tire spun up pretty good. It didn’t do anything unpredictable – I just stayed in it and it regained traction and drove me into T4 like every other lap; but I didn't figure it was helping my lap times. I had an idea that Sam was behind me now and I just focused on running clean laps.
On the next lap, Sam made a pass exiting the carousel. He had the drive as I felt like I was spinning again, and outdrove me before we were on the straight-away. He ran it wide on the pass, forcing me to roll out of the throttle to avoid touching. I immediately got back into it and latched onto his rear wheel. I drafted him and threw the bike into the kink ahead, retaking the lead. I knew if I let him get away with fresh tires, I’d probably lose the race. With the lead intact for the moment, I kept pushing working the bike as hard as I could. As the white flag came out, I kept as much speed through the kink as I could to try and prevent a last-lap T12 pass. I had been going good through that particular section of the track and I got into T12 a little crossed up hard on the brakes, but without anyone coming by. As I ran through T13, I kept it clean and ran to the checkered flag just edging out a win over Sam – again, by a tenth of a second. Dave finished 3rd and Jeff 4th. All of us crossed the line within a second of each other. Great race – at least a lot of the spectators watching seemed to think so. Four bikes running that close all race long has to be fun to watch. Fast lap of the race for me was a 1:08.5. A bit off the pace, but good enough to win.
As the weekend came to a close, we ended up with three wins and two 2nd place finishes to finish out. I couldn’t be happier, all things considered. Sam’s extremely strong at Nelson and the way we’ve battled here and at other tracks like Beaver, any one small miscue can determine a race – whether it’s a bad start, lap traffic or one small mistake. I think we’re now at five races at Nelson that have been decided by a tenth of a second. That's pretty wild.
As for lap times, I always want to go faster and I didn't do that this weekend. Although I was less than a tenth off my best time around Nelson, I want to find more time and I know the spots I need to find it in. However for our first race weekend of the season, being at basically the same pace I was at last year is definitely a good thing. And overall the new team worked extremely well. Aside from some cuts and blood from setting up the new flooring, Jeff and I came out unscathed. We both had a great time and had solid results for our first event out. I’m sure we’ll have challenges throughout the season like anyone else, but hopefully this new team will make things easier for both of us.
Thanks to everyone for their help all weekend. Especially to Aaron and my brother Matt for coming down just to make things easier for us. It made a big difference and I’m glad we could make it worthwhile with good results.
Grattan is next in a couple weeks and we have some ideas on how to go faster, easier there. We’ll see how it shakes out come Friday practice ..
(Photos courtesy of Jeff Kovack – www.jeffkovack.com. Camera-photos courtesy of Matt Kraft).Monday, May 3rd, 2010 | POSTED AT: 10:14 PM
FILED UNDER: Race Reports
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- You're currently reading "WERA ’10, Round 1: Nelson Ledges (Hammer Down)," an entry on Witchkraft Racing.
- Published: 05.3.10 / 10pm
- Category: Race Reports