My EMA-USA Track Day Experience--4/20/2006
So this is how the day went from my eyes:
It has been raining for the past month almost every day. We had a break in the weather and I was able to sneak in, getting the 2nd to last spot for the event.
Willows, CA is about 3.5-4 hours away from my home, depending on traffic and the route taken. Waking up super early the morning of the event and being tired for the rest of the day isn't all that much fun. Been there, done that.. Rather than be tired all day I stayed in a hotel up in Willows. I can recommend Ameri-Host. The bed was comfy, the rooms were fairly clean, and the entire hotel does have a recently updated feel to it. By sharp contrast, the Motel 6 where I usually stay features dirty rooms, whored-out mattresses, and the constant noise of the gas station located directly behind the rooms. The few times I've stayed at Motel 6 I've had to wear earplugs at night and woke up feeling like dog-doo. The only good thing I can say about Motel 6 is that it is cheap. The lobby usually smells like great tasting Indian food but it's really just a kick in the nutz 'cuz you ain't gunna get any. I certainly had a better experience over @ Ameri-Host. Slept great and woke refreshed for the fun to be had later in the day.
After a quick stop for gas, ice, and a few munchies, I was off. Well, off down the street to Starbucks to tank up on java. Gas, coffee, and Howard Stern on Sirius. Now I was ready to get to the track.
Arrived at Thunder Hill about 8:20. Met some folks around me and we got our stuff set up. I parked right next to a BARF'er ,01929r. He was nice enough to give me a hand with the canopy and gave me a hand w/ the bike as I unloaded it.
With the gear all set up I noticed that Dave Moss from Catalyst suspension had shown up and was getting his own stuff ready. My first task would be to roll the bike over to Dave to have my suspension set up for my weight. The bike had almost no rebound dialed into the forks. I'm glad I saw Dave because he set my sag and gave me a good baseline for the rebound, compression, and preload settings. On a less positive note I learned that I need a new rear spring for the Ohlins shock. The guy I bought it from was a real lightweight and it's just not going to work for me. Dave had to really crank down the preload and that's really not the way to do it, not to mention the 'Band-Aid' method is also not so great for tire wear.
Done with Dave I went about socializing and yapping it up until the riders meeting. The guys from EMA-USA introduced themselves and went over the guidelines for the day. This was a pretty quick meeting as there weren't really any rules. Don't be a jerk, give people lots of room, and have a great day. T-Hill staff went over the flags. Same stuff, new track day but good to get everyone on the same page.
They kept the track at a yellow flag for the first 15 minutes. This was a great opportunity to do some slow sighting laps and dust off the cobwebs from last year. The track then went green and someone went down on the first lap of the green session. First rider of the day was claimed by Turn-2.
Turn-2 was a mess. The entrance had water seeping up from cracks and that made the tar strips extra slippery. On my first green lap I had a giant rear wheel slide that really scared me pretty good. Being that I hadn't even completed 5 laps, I did not want to throw my new bike down the road. When I felt the rear start to give I let off on the throttle, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. I forgot hot to ride a twin. When you roll off the throttle mid apex it loads the front, the rear gets light and lets it come around, or, slide toward the outside of the turn. Luckily the bike straightened itself out when I rolled the throttle back on and I was on my way to T-3.
Next lap though there I was sure to be super smooth and consistent so avoid any extra excitement of another big slide. The plan didn't work. I had a very interesting two wheel slide where I lost the front for a second as well as the rear & that was it for me. From that point on I just parked it in Turn two and took the very wide outside line, just about in the marbles. I figured the fast guys out there knew there were slow people like me and would know how to get around. They did and I don't think I really got in anyone's way for too long.
After the lunch break the organizers allowed us to pile in trucks and take a drive out to Turn-2 to really see what the heck was going on out there. It was a lot worse looking than I had initially thought from the vantage point of the bike. The water was running perpendicular to the track at the entrance of the turn, right to the inside curbing. It was as if it was seeping up from the track and then just oozing out like a big oil slick. You could see the scraped tarmac of the bikes that hit it at speed and promptly hit the deck. It really sucks to watch your prized steed skitter and spark to the outside of the turn where they eventually came to a stop in the dirt so I was really feeling for these guys. I think this scenario repeated itself at least 6 times that day. At least twice I had a great view of the action from on-track.
I met a great guy name Martin who was also on a Ducati and a non-Barfer. I'll fix that soon 'nough.. We had fun riding around out there together and talking shop about Ducs. Now that I'm thinking about it, I met another really nice guy from Sacramento who was involved in the Ducati club up there. I'm still looking for the paper he gave me with the web address on it.
In addition, I was able to hook up with WrongWay (Mario) who was out there tearing it up on his massive ZX-10R. Now that's a quick bike if I've ever seen one. Those things ripping down the straight are downright fast and I imagine scary depending on how long you have the nuggies to keep the throttle on.
One of the big disappointment of the day was not meeting more of the folks I talk to via online forums. I did meet WildChild (Jason) but I thought he had said something else and I didn't even make the connection. I feel kinda dumb but you win some, you loose some. Everyone was quite nice and I really don't think anyone had problems with anyone being passed too closely or feeling harassed by the faster riders.
I made it until about 4 when I was totally out of steam. I didn't put in as many miles as I might have liked to but I really wanted to pace myself. If there is one thing I learned from racing ysr50's and that RS125/80 was that when I start to get tired I need to stop. Previously, I'd try and 'tough it out' and get in every last lap I could. Those days usually ended up in a crash and me having to purchase new levers and pegs or some variation of damaged parts. I like to think I'm getting smarter as I get older and decided to call it a day. Physical conditioning would have really made a difference. I've been working out my upper body and I'm glad I have been or I might have knocked off at 2! My thighs paid for it the next day, as did my neck and back muscles, well just figure everything was sore.
The Ducati 996S felt great. It was a huge improvement over the 2002 ZX9R I rode here last. The bike turns pretty easily and really holds its line. The Kawasaki would bobble and weave in the middle of the apex, it was hard to get it to hold its line, hard to get it to turn in, and hard for me to get the bike pointed in the correct direction for the exit of the turn. Those problems all went away on the Ducati. The Duke is going to take me a while to learn how to ride it correctly. It's much better than I'll ever be but I really enjoyed the chance to get it on the track where it belongs. I need to work on my body position on the bike. It seems the bike handles better the more aggressive your body position. The tank is cut just perfect to hold onto while in a turn. The outside arm and knee have a nice place on the tank to 'hook' onto while you rail the turn.
The STM slipper-clutch was great. One of the things I remember most about my Ducati 900CR was the engine compression breaking and the rear wheel hop on quick downshifts. That was all a thing of the past with the slipper clutch. I could bang downshifts from 6 to 3rd or 4th and not miss a beat. The rear wheel stayed glued to the pavement and the bike stayed very solid with no hint of rear wheel hop or weirdness. I did miss a couple shifts on the straight which I'll have to look into. I think that can be resolved with some fine tuning to the rear-set linkages to remove a bit of the slop that is in there.
A note about the AP Radial mono-block Brakes combined with a Brembo radial master cylinder.. These are very, very powerful brakes. The initial grab is a touch soft but then has a very linear feel as you pull back the lever. The more you pull the faster you stop. As in right away -WHOA!- power. This is another area I have to shift my brain. The ZX9R was a really heavy brike and took forever it seemed to really slow it down. I was having a hard time getting my brain to brake later with the Ducati. Toward the end of the day I started to brake later and harder and was pleasantly surprised at how much power was there. It's just going to take more time and experience on this bike to discover what I can and can not do with it. So far everything is 'can' and nothing is 'can not' with this amazing machine.