This last time out in Thunderhill Raceway was my second time back on it on my 2002 R1, since bringing it out of retirement from the track after selling my 2007 R1.
During my last Thunderhill outing, I surprised even myself when I managed to turn in laps on the 2002 R1 in my first trackday back on it, that were knocking on my personal best that took me all of last year to achieve on the 2007 R1. I had been looking forward to this return to Thunderhill, as I wanted to know if I can build on the great start I had with my return to the bike I’ve been most familiar with.
There have also have been changes to the bike itself since the last time out. The bodywork swap itself isn’t much of a difference in weight, but no longer needing things like the headlight and taillight meant that some discernible weight was shed. Where weight-shedding that really matters occurred though was at the wheels; whereas I used to run the OEM cast aluminum wheels for my track tires, this time I opted to finally run my Marchesini forged aluminum wheels at the track, which are lighter and stronger than their cast aluminum counterparts.
And speaking of braking, while it’s never been a strong suit of mine out on the track, I felt as if I was also conquering this shortcoming this time out. Much like the engine able to spin the lighter rear wheel faster, my brakes also had less rotating mass to stop from the front wheel. This meant that I was able to brake later than I usually do, and stop in shorter distances. A couple of occasions I found myself lifting the rear wheel off the ground as I braked for a corner (Turn 14), which was not something I could/would typically do. I may have looked more chaotic than I normally would, but it was controlled chaos from where I was.
By the second half of the trackday after lunch, I felt I was acclimated to my bike’s new behavior, and the track condition had been stable, so it was time to run my lap timer to see where we were at. Though I had been running in the Advanced Group for the day, it was one of our most packed trackdays as far as attendance, so there was still traffic to negotiate, but at least the speed delta was not too bad.
I turned on my lap time and did a session. There was some traffic to be negotiated, but none too troublesome. When I returned to the pits at the end of my session and checked on my times, hoping to be where I left off three months ago, I was pleasantly surprised:
I did pick up right where I last left off, but even better, I bested my new personal best overall!
But before the day was over, I had a feeling I could even go faster for the day. It was a Friday trackday before a club racing weekend, so a lot of fast club racers were in attendance using the day for practice. Even the fastest of the fast racers were there in my group, as they would come flying past me out on the track. I devised a plan to be able to get a tow from them; I couldn’t just follow them right out of the grid, as their warm-up lap would be blazingly faster than mine. But if I could start my warm-up lap as they would be halfway done with theirs, they should be caught up to me just as I’ve finished warming up, and can therefore turn in my hot laps. This meant that by the time they came to pass me, I can comfortably push to try and stay with them.
And it worked, having timed it perfectly, they passed me one at a time, and though each one would pull away after passing me, they would be within my sight for a corner or two, allowing me to replicate their lines and approach. By the time one fast guy was too far out, another had passed me to give me a tow. For about a lap and half or two, I had numerous fast guys to follow in the different sectors of the track.
When I pulled into the pits and checked my lap timer, my jaw dropped.
A 2:05 lap time is the fastest I’ve ever gone around Thunderhill Raceway – I have a new personal best! I would’ve been fine with and only expected incremental improvements on this bike since returning it to the track, but I’m making leaps and bounds! I don’t know if I can get to lap times of 2:00 flat around Thunderhill Raceway before this season’s over, and I certainly did not set such a goal for myself and the bike this year.
There is just nothing quite like riding on something you have full confidence and comfort in to do what you want to do, when you want to.
Action shots courtesy of Dito Milan (GotBlueMilk.com)