Race Report: 2017 AFM Round 1 – Buttonwillow

I didn’t think I was going to make it to AFM 2017 Round 1 at Buttonwillow, but it turns out my plans with my wife were Friday night, not Saturday night.  So with only 4 hours of sleep, I got up early and rushed to finish packing the trailer.  Last week was so hectic that I forgot to pick up my Sidi boots from the shoe repair place where they were getting new soles put on, so I couldn’t leave San Diego until 9AM when the shoe repair shop opened.  I was signed up for the first race on Saturday which was at 3:30, about 4-6 hours away depending on traffic.  It was going to be close!

I pulled into Buttonwillow Raceway Park just before 2:00pm, signed the waiver at the front, and parked in the first spot I found on the second row back.  I ran over to registration and got checked in, then quickly rolled the bike out and took it and my gear over to tech inspection.  I was able to get the warmers on by about 2:30, just in time.  First race of the day was Formula 3.  Since I had no practice and hadn’t ridden Buttonwillow since a track day in August, I would mainly be using this race as a warmup with no expectations.  I was also testing my new prototype race throttle this weekend, so I wouldn’t be pushing it too hard right away to get a feel for it.  I got a good start, but my pace was pretty far, around 2:05-2:07s, so most of the pack passed me by the end and I finished in 9th.  It was a great warmup and got me back in the groove.

NortonFab Motorsports Adjustable Race Throttle Yamaha R3

By Race 3, I was getting pretty exhausted, the 4 hours of sleep starting to wear on me pretty good.  I needed to get closer to my previous PR of 2:04 to see how my gearing was since I was running a 57T rear instead of the 56T rear I ran the last time I was here.  When the flag dropped for 350 Superstock, adrenaline kicked in and I was ready to go.  I got a few passes in early and moved into 2nd or 3rd I think.  I couldn’t tell exactly, and I know Marc Edwards got around me at some point but then was pushed off track after 1 lap by a slower rider from the first wave.  Anyway, I was running in 3rd near the end of the race when Cory Ventura got by me on the brakes coming into turn 12 on the penultimate lap.  I got a good drive and he was a little off line from the pass so I was able to draft him down the front straight and come back around the outside on the brakes into turn 1, but my foot slipped off my inside peg on the brakes (new soles and a previously crashed peg, oops).  I slammed forward into the tank and barely kept the bike on the track.  Cory, Rafael, and Brian Bartlow all came by in turn 1.  I kept it on the track and got back on the gas.  I was right on their wheels for the entire last lap, got Brian somewhere in the last few corners, and was able to motor by Raf on the front straight as his electric bike starting overheating to take 5th.  I got my time down to 2:03.4, a new PR, but I knew I could do better tomorrow.  Sorry, I ran out of time to hook up my GoPro for Saturday’s races because tech wanted some extra safety wiring on it.

Sunday’s I was signed up for three races, but wasn’t sure if I’d have the energy to stay for the very last race, 250 Superbike.  My first race was the new class, World Supersport 300.  Again, I planned to use this race as practice.  I ran the previous day with a 57T rear sprocket and decided to try a 58T.  I also wanted to try a few new lines in a couple corners, and test out whether I liked dropping 1 or 2 gears into turn 1 and the sweeper.  With the 58T rear sprocket, it’s hard not to get a great start and I gained a few positions on the start.  I ran a decent pace and stayed in fourth most of the race.  Eric Kondo dove in once when I got slowed by a lapped rider, but I was able to get him back without too much trouble and finish fourth.  I was feeling good, smooth, and comfortably ran down to a new PR of 2:02.7, but I was running right up to the rev limiter in a couple spots at the top of 6th gear, and I knew I could go faster.  I also decided to drop 2 gears in a few spots instead of 1, so I could deal with a taller setup and still get good driver, so I decided to go back down to the 57T rear sprocket.  I think the 58T was great down to about 2:02-2:03, but I think to get into the 2:01s, the 57T would be the ticket.

This is the starting grid from the World Supersport 300 race:

 

Here’s the video of Sunday’s World Supersport 300 race:

 

I put the 57T rear sprocket back on and when the Lightweight Twins race came around, I was ready to party!  We gridded up, 18 bikes deep, and I was starting at the back of all of the experts I think on the 3rd or 4th row.  Marc Edwards was just to my right side.  I knew he was fast and we had to work to do to get up near the front as quickly as possible and see if we could battle it out.  I looked over at him and jokingly motioned that he should head to the right, so we could try to get around the outside in turn 1.  He laughed, and it was go time.  The flag dropped and we were off.

Here’s the video, it’s a nail biter to the end!

 

Marc and I battled it out as we ripped through the pack toward the front.  At one point, I nearly came around the outside of him at the bus stop, a narrow left kink in a 6th gear pinned section of track.  I ran out of room and panicked a little, my wheels ran off the pavement over the corner of dirt but slammed into the rumble strip before hitting the slick dirt so I didn’t lose it.  You can hear my fork smack as it bottomed out on the corner of the curbing.  My AK-20 cartridges soaked it up and I barely felt it even though you can clearly hear it in the video.  If I hadn’t panicked, I could have finished the pass, but instead I lost a little time on Marc again.  That was hairy!  I always seem to be fast in this section and it has to be the most terrifying place to attempt a pass.  That’s the exact spot Marc was pushed off track in Saturday’s race…  I was able to regain composure and catch back up.  When we caught the two lead bikes, Brett Voorhees and Patryk Buchcik, I was right behind Marc again.  Amazingly, he rode around the outside of both of them in Riverside to take the lead.  Dang his bike seemed fast through there, he pulled the same stunt on me in a previous race.  I closed in on Patryk several times but couldn’t find a spot to get by.  Then Paul Johnson snuck in under me in the sweeper and really messed up my drive out.  Now I was pissed, no way I said, I wanted that spot back, I knew I could run with the front guys if I could get by Patryk.  I started the second to last lap a couple seconds back from Paul and Patryk, but this was one of the first times this weekend that I actually got some clear track.  I put my head down and pushed.  I stayed pretty even with them through the first half of the lap, but started to close the gap on the back section, and really made up time in the last few corners.  Paul had passed Patryk in the last corner of lap 5 so they were side by side down the front straight and I was right behind.  Paul ran a little wide in turn 1 and I was able to sneak by.  I pushed to stay close to Patryk, hoping I’d find a hole to get through.  When we got to the sweeper again, a few turns from the finish, I pulled the same move Paul pulled on me a couple laps before and cut the corner short, cutting off Patryk and killing his exit.  The move slowed us both, but now it was a drag race to the final corner and I was in front.  I’m a particularly late braker and held him off, got a decent drive, and finished 3rd, Patryk only a few bike lengths behind me.  What a race!!  Marc had won, and when I came back to congratulate him, I pulled up the live timing to check the lap times.  What the crap!!!  4 of the top 6 riders, including me, had all beat the previous lap record of 2:00.9, and I had the fastest time by .001 with a 2:00.199, barely edging out Cory Ventura, who previously held the record.  It was the second to last lap when I put my head down and caught back up the two seconds I was down from Paul passing me.

Buttonwillow Lap Record Lightweight Twins Ultra Lightweight Yamaha R3 Jesse Norton

Here’s a shot of me chasing Paul and Patryk, I think this is from my record setting lap:

 

I was on a serious high from that race setting a new lap record.  I’d never even been close to one before.  In the next race, someone blew a motor and spewed oil through 3 corners, taking 6 bikes down with him.  Major bummer, but with the announcement of a major cleanup, and the fact that I had a 5 hour drive home still, I made the difficult choice to skip the last race, end on a high note, and pack up my pit.  The cleanup was faster than I expected, and just before I drove off, I parked to watch the 250 Superbike race that was sad to not be a part of.  It was every bit as incredible as the Lightweight Twins race, and once again, Marc Edwards started from dead last, and picked his way through the field, taking the lead on the final lap, and winning his 3rd consecutive race for the day.  I congratulated him again, and headed home.  Definitely keep your eyes on this kid:

Marc Edwards YamahaR3Racing.com Blucru Yamaha R3

 

I had an awesome time at Buttonwillow again.  It’s definitely one of my favorite, if not my favorite tracks to ride.  It was great meeting a lot of you Northern CA folks face to face for the first time and have some great times chatting and racing.  Testing on the new NortonFab Motorsports Race Throttle was perfect, I should have this available in the next month or two.  And thanks to the AFM crew and all the fast AFM racers for the good clean fun, I hope to see you all again soon!

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