Race Report – CVMA 2016-2017 Round 5 – Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (CCW) – Yamaha R3

Since I had to miss CVMA Round 4 in January, this past weekend was my welcome back to racing after the short winter break here in Southern California.  It’s so nice that we have such amazing weather here and get to race motorcycles while the rest of the country is buried in snow.  So nice in fact, that a bunch of fellow racers made the journey to Socal from Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona to come join us this round, and once again, we had record or nearly record attendance with 160+ racers signed up!

I came out to Chuckwalla Thursday evening to get ready for a track day Friday to do some testing.  Over the winter, my good friend Hammer (Jason Madama) from the Syndicate racing crew built his new bike for this coming year, and he and the rest of the Syndicate guys will all be running my Race Spec. shock along with the Traxxion Dynamics damper rod kit in their forks (Package Deal: NortonFab Race Spec. Shock and Traxxion Dynamics Damper Rod Kit – Yamaha R3).  I tested the Traxxion Dynamics damper rod kit way back in the beginning on my bike, but I only tested it a couple times and my lap times weren’t at podium pace yet.  Since then, other riders have won plenty of races with this kit and it has proven to be the best bang for your buck front suspension upgrade you can make by far.  However, with Hammer and his team on board, we wanted to do a little more testing and see if we could fine tune the settings a little more.  My Race Spec. shock has been put through the ringer and performance is incredible, especially for the price.  I’m currently running one on my own bike as well and sold my Penske shock to another CVMA rider.  Hammer came out to race in January also and was testing a little bit thicker fork oil in the damper rod kit.  Traxxion calls for 15 weight, but we wanted to see what happened with 20 weight and how much difference there was.  It turns out, it was a HUGE difference and the forks were incredibly stiff and slow to rebound.  When I arrived Thursday night, I pushed on Hammer’s bike once and laughed and we immediately pulled the forks to put 15 weight in.  Hammer also prefers very soft rear suspension, opposite of my personal firmer preference.  He had run a Race Spec. shock with an 1100 lb spring in January, and while it worked very well, he wanted to test a slightly softer 1050 lb spring this round, so we swapped his shock as well Thursday evening to prepare for Friday practice.  With the 15 weight oil in the forks and the 1050 spring on the shock, we checked the setup by pushing on the bike and it felt pretty dang good.  Well balanced, and just a tad slow in the forks, but it was 11pm and pretty cold out.  It should be great for the next day.

I also brought a set of Pirelli Supercorsa 120 front/150 rear tires that I wanted to put through the ringer and check out geometry and tire pressure with.  I wasn’t planning on switching back to the Pirellis, since the Bridgestones work so well and pay good contingency for us, but some race organizations require DOT tires, and the Pirelli are by far the best DOT available at the moment.

Friday morning I was up early and made it out for first practice while the rest of the Syndicate guys slept off the Whiskey from the night before.  I was taking it easy and just loosening up.  The bike felt good and easy to ride, just the way I remembered.

When second session was called, Hammer was up and ready, and we headed out to dice it up with some B group riders (A group was sold out, oops).  After a warm-upish lap, Hammer started hitting it and I followed, hot on his tail.  A couple laps in, I passed him and pushed the pace a little faster, then we exchanged a few passes and really started terrorizing the poor B group riders.  Braking super late and diving into the corners 2 at a time.  At some point Shannon Deane and another Syndicate rider latched on for some fast laps.  My lap timer battery was dead, but we both estimated to be doing 2:02-2:03s, which is a decent pace even for a race.

Man I love riding motorbikes!  It was so nice to be back out at the track.  We came back in, both ecstatic after such a fun session on our little R3s.  Hammer said the bike never felt better.  He had no complains of traction, all of the front chatter from the previous round of racing on the 20 weight fork oil was gone.  The softer rear shock was perfect.  I had preset his shock to my baseline settings and at this point we installed his fork kit exactly per the instructions.  This just goes to show that Dan and the guys over at Traxxion Dynamics really have these damper rod kits figured out.  To be able to drop in a fork kit and shock without making any changes and have the bike rip the way it was is pretty incredible.  I can’t stress enough how good of a purchase this fork kit and shock package is for anyone who just wants their suspension to work without having to fuss with adjustments and knobs to try to get it just right.

Here’s a few shots of us ripping up the slide after coming out of the bowl.  This is one of the many sections at Chuckwalla where you can hold the R3’s throttle pinned all the way through the corner.  Watch out camera man, the fast line is on the apex!

 

After that session, I decided to pull my Bridgestones off and throw on the Pirelli Supercorsa 120 front and 150 rear for some testing.  The Pirelli and Bridgestone 120 fronts are about the same diameter, but the Pirelli 150 rear is about 7-8mm smaller on the radius than the Bridgestone 165 rear I was running, so I lowered the front of the bike 7mm (from 18mm of fork tube showing, down to 25mm showing) to compensate and keep the geometry about the same.  My other friends Kris Lillegard and Erica Muse were out this round from Texas, and Kris runs the Pirelli 120/150 setup, so I asked him about tire pressures and started at 30 psi front, 25 psi rear, hot off the warmers.  The bike felt pretty different with this tire setup, so I was just cruising around, trying to get a feel for it.  It felt like the rear was squishing on corner entry and traction didn’t feel very good.  I was thinking pressure was too low in the rear.  It was pretty cold in the morning, but starting to heat up by now, and Kris’s 25 recomendation was for the colder days.  I got back and asked the Pirelli guy about the rear and he had the same conclusion, go up a few lbs in the back and try 27.  Kris confirmed that now it was warming up a little and he was going up to 27 on his bike also.  I went up to 27.5 for the next session and headed up.  BAM!!  nailed it, what an amazing feel it had now.  The Pirelli tires cut like a knife and the bike just wanted to flop to the edge of the tire on corner entry.  I picked up my pace and the tires felt great.  This is definitely a great tire selection for the R3, and I much preferred it to the setup I used to run on the R3 when I had the smaller Pirelli 110 front and 140 rear.  If you have to run DOTs, this is the setup.  The Pirellis I was testing were take offs and the rear was about done, so I decided the day was a success and I’d save my energy for racing.  I pulled my wheels back off and put my Bridgestone slicks back on for the next day’s races.  I had noticed that Hammer was running his bike with much steeper geometry with the front considerably lower than mine and he liked it, so I decided to leave the front lower even with the larger Bridgestone rear and see how I liked it for racer practice in the morning.   In theory, I could see how lowering the front would help the bike turn in for the faster corners at Chuckwalla where we literally turn the bike in with the throttle still pinned, and after feeling how easily the larger Pirelli setup turned, I wanted to try to get the Bridgestones closer to that.

During one of the sessions in the middle of the day, Shannon had a nasty highside in turn 16 and was unlucky enough to not only be thrown from the bike, but then have the bike tumble over her, breaking her humorous in the process.  We’re close friends, and usually close in lap times so it was a major bummer that she’s be spending the weekend in a sling instead of battling on the track.

Another friend of mine, Russell, was pitted near me.  Russell has improved dramatically every time out at Chuckwalla, and his previous PR was down 2:08, but he was struggling a little to find more time.  I knew he just needed a little tow to realized there was a whole new level of lean angle he hadn’t felt yet, so I headed out with him for the first racer practice.  We cruised around at 2:11-2:12 to get warmed up and so I could see how he was following.  After the short 10 minute session, he said he was pumped and feeling good, he had no trouble staying with me and could already see a bunch of line improvements when following me.  I agreed to tow him out for 2nd practice also and just increase the speed each lap until I lost him since I needed to get myself ready for qualifying.  First lap was around a 2:08 or 2:09, 2nd lap was a high 2:06, third lap was a low 2:06, and Russell was still right with me, although traffic was starting to make it a little difficult.  I decided that was good enough and made a few quick passes to get myself some open track and get my brain up to speed before the 10 minutes session was over.  I think I did a couple 2:03-2:04 laps and then we came in.  Russell had an eye opening couple laps, a new PR of 2:06.1 and a big ol’ shit eating grin on his face hehe.  Awesome.

Russell followed me out for Qualifying and I fell in behind a rider that I knew usually ran 2:05s.  We followed for a couple laps to make sure Russell got a good qualifying time, then I passed and searched for clear track.  Just as I cleared around a couple riders a red flag came out and the session was stopped.  All the riders were called up to hot pit to be sent out again after the down rider was picked up and track clear again.  I pulled up to the front of the pack with Gray Pham to get some clear track and hopefully a good qualifying time.  Hammer had pulled a low 2:01 already and decided that was good enough and went back to the pit.  We were sitting there idling, ready to drop the clutch and head out, but it was taking longer than expected and my bike started to overheat (it has no cooling fan on it).  So at precisely the wrong time, I shut it off to cool, and the grid marshal waived everyone on to the track.  Blast!  I started the bike and headed out, buried deep in riders once again.  I knew we only had a few minutes left of qualifying, so I put my brain in overdrive and started diving through the traffic, making passes I wouldn’t normally try, and shoving the bike through.  Once again, I had just cleared the pack, and could see my teammate, Seth Hauer, just ahead, and a second red flag came out!  That was the end of the session.  Damn!  I came back into the pit, a little bummed, thinking I probably only ran 2:03 or 2:02 at best trying to get through traffic and I’d be gridded up pretty far back from the front.  Hammer came over from his pit all excited, “Dude you beat me!”  Apparently I had miraculously put down a 2:00.898 while dicing through traffic to find clean track, and I would be starting the races from the middle of the front row, between Gray Pham and Hammer.  Wow!  Didn’t see that coming at all!  I’m proud to have joined the few riders who have put down a 2 flat on an ultra lightweight bike at Chuckwalla, and a new PR for me by nearly a second.  Aside from Shannon’s crash, it was a great weekend so far!

CVMA 350SS Qualifying

 

Saturday 350SS

Our first race was 350SS, and it was just as exciting as qualifying.  I got a great jump and led the race into the first corner, but I knew Gray and Hammer would be right on my rear wheel, and I’m usually a little off pace the first couple corners.

Yamaha R3 Racing CVMA Jesse Norton Gray Pham Hammer Jason Madama

By the second corner I think Gray came through, followed shortly after by Hammer.  I stayed with these 2 for a bit, and made up some ground a few times, but I didn’t quite have the pace and soon they started pulling away, then Kris Lillegard came through as well.  I was running slightly different gearing than Hammer and Kris.  I had a 58T rear sprocket and both of them were on 57Ts.  I know Zeke ran a 57T when he set the lap record also.  But I was liking the good starts of the 58T and my pace wasn’t quite enough that I would run out of gear with the 58t.  Well, now it was.  The 58T was great up to about 2:01.5, then I started running out of gear at almost every corner entry and my shift points suddenly became a little awkward.  I’d have to try the 57T next race.  Hammer battled with Gray a little and worked his way to the front when a red flag came out.  I thought they were going to call it since we were well into our fourth lap but I guess the back of the pack hadn’t finished the third lap yet so they lined us up for a restart with 3 laps to go.  I was a little too excited by my first start and I revved it a little too high, pulled a nasty double wheelie, nearly taking out the 2 bikes coming by me, before getting my shit together and driving toward the first corner.  I lost a little ground on Gray, Hammer, and Kris, but apparently Kris had a little too good of a start, as he led through the first few corners, but was later meatball flagged for jumping the start.  This weekend was Kris’s first time at Chuckwalla, so he struggled a little while leading and slowed the pack, which gave me a chance to catch up and actually I was pushing hard to catch up and nearly rear ended Hammer a few times.  The last time, I had to run out wide to avoid him and it killed my exit and I lost a bunch of ground on the lead group coming out of crash mountain.  After I fell back, I struggled again and couldn’t quite get the pace to catch them.  Gray won the race, with Hammer in second, and Kris was penalized for jumping the start, so I technically finished third.  Not bad.

My teammate, Seth Hauer, had a good race as well.  He was still an amateur so they started on a second wave, but Seth killed it, won his amateur race, and caught a bunch of the experts.  Seth is still running his bike with the stock exhaust and power, no fuel controller, so his bike is only making 36 or 37 hp compared to the 39-41 of the KTMs and R3s ridden by the rest of the top riders, but his skill and corner speed are amazing.  He’s great to work with and like the great Valentino Rossi, extremely sensitive on the bike, so we can play around with small changes to geometry and suspension setup and get excellent feedback.  I’m very excited to see how he does with a little more experience and power.  I’m sure he’ll be at the front, probably in front of me 🙂

I love this shot of Seth and his stepdad getting ready for race 2, Ultra Lightweight Shootout, where he’s be gridded together with all the experts and could really push himself.

 

Saturday ULWS

I was pumped for race 2 (actually, it was race 11, late in the day).  After some fun battles in race 1, and seeing that I can run the pace of the guys at the front if I’m in the zone, I wanted to get started and push myself.  I wanted to stay with the front group and battle it out.  I was gridded up 2nd again, in the middle of the front row, and I was told there were 46 bikes on the grid for ULWS!!  Now that’s some fun racing!!

CVMA ULWS Round 5 2016-2017 Yamaha R3

The sun was setting and it was race time.  The race had been shortened to 4 laps due to light.  When the flag dropped, I got a decent start and followed Gray into turn 1.  I was focused and intent on staying right on his wheel.  However by turn 2, Kris passed me and Gray was pulling away a little at a time.  I kept Kris close, almost passed him in the bowl, and was able to pass him back coming down the back straight into turn 10.  Gray wasn’t too far ahead but I made a mistake in turn 9, ended up in the wrong gear and off line and lost a bunch of time to Gray.  I made a few more mistakes, but I was a little surprised that I kept Hammer and Kris behind me for the rest of the lap and was still in 2nd until we came down the back straight on lap 2.  Then, out of nowhere, Ruben Casarez tries to out brake me into turn 10.  He passes me on the inside, then runs the corner a little wide, but not quite wide enough that I can get back by him.  I have a good line through 10 and my entry speed into 9 is hot.  Ruben is off line and has to slow down a lot in the middle of 9 to try to make the corner and as I rip up the hill behind him I have no where to go.  I check up on the throttle and touch the brake super carefully to not tuck the front, but I run out of track with Ruben’s rear wheel right in front of me.  I make a last second dip to try to go around the outside of him but slam his rear wheel and fold my bars to the right.  My bike bucks and then shoots out to the left, straightens up, somehow stays upright, and I ride off into the dirt.  WOW that was close!!

I don’t know how I didn’t crash, but thankful to be upright, I slowly make my way back to the track and rejoin the race near the back.  Ruben stayed upright too, so that’s good.  I take the rest of the lap pretty easy to shake off the dust and clean the tires, then finish the race.  Gray won the race, even though he apparently jumped the start, with Ruben taking 2nd by only a couple tenths to Hammer (third) and Kris (fourth) in a photo finish.  I wish wish wish I could have finished that race, but oh well, that’s racing…

What an awesome day of racing.  Besides my dirt biking session, I couldn’t have asked for a better day.  I forgot the GoPro for the first race, but here’s my wild footage of ULWS:

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay to race Sunday and had to leave Saturday night to help my wife take care of her father, who’s staying with us and pretty ill.  But I’m very excited to come out with these guys in March and see if I can give them a run for their money again!  Gray won both races on Sunday and reset his own lap record in 350SS, with a 1:58.461.  Hammer finished 2nd in ULWS with a blazing 1:59.5 lap time and third in 350SS to Kris Lillegard by only .04 seconds!!  Man this was some good racing!  I’m excited that Hammer and the Syndicate boys will be back in March, we should have some good battles again.  Aaron Hersh, another of the Syndicate crew, was riding his R3 for the first time this weekend.  And while he started out mid pack, by the end of the weekend, he had put in an impressive 2:01.4 lap time.  He will surely be part of the lead group next round.

Thanks for reading!

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