The morning showed that rain had visited during the night. There wasn’t much, but the cooler temperatures of the fall event means that it took a lot longer for the water to evaporate from the surface.
Salt is a funny thing when looked at as a racing surface. This being the third time going to Bonneville I had a lot to learn about it. The first year it was damp and stuck to everything. Last year it was so hard you couldn’t pound a nail in it. This year, Wednesday showed us a course as hard as last year’s but rough enough to shake your teeth loose. Today we elected to run the same course as Wednesday, since we had a new rider and there wasn’t any specific advantage to either side.
A last minute change to the fuel map which involved taking out more fuel resulted in the motor sounding awful. Adding 10% more than the base map of Wednesday made for a much happier tone.
While getting Nick ready to go, I remember how the feeling is when there is absolutely nothing else in your realm of experience and all you can do is wonder what is going to happen next. Ice racing in Wisconsin is close, but there is a world of difference between looking at a ¼ or 1/3 mile oval and staring at 3 miles of racetrack. You are not allowed to operate the race vehicles except on the course so there isn’t really anywhere you can practice riding or starting out.
I tried to settle my mind on the task at hand as I rolled up to the starting line. It takes a lot of effort to keep from jittering right off the seat. Watching the other lane’s run take off, I checked the engine temperature and realized it needing a bit of a warmup. After getting the preliminary indication from the starter, the engine came to life and after a few seconds all the gauges showed things as they should be. Oil pressure at 60 psi, engine temp at 21 dgrees C, EGTs balancing out at about 800 degrees and the tach showing an idle of about 2100 rpm.
At this point there are a lot of funny feelings in your stomach.
The starter checks your gear and stepping back, waves you onto the course. Here is where it can get interesting. The motor sounded good and seemed to respond better than yesterday. Gotta watch the wheelspin as it can dump you on your butt before you know it. Once underway, you leave your feet out until the bike has enough forward momentum that it won’t be disturbed by you climbing in. Once you have your feet on the pegs you recheck the tach, see that you just went by the ¾ mile marker and settle down to business. As the tach approached 8,000 there was an absence of banging out the exhaust. Good sign. Shifting into second as you go by the first mile marker you have to get going. Shifting at the 1 ½ mile marker into third, you open it up to test the traction which seems pretty good and then shift into 4th. The 2 mile marker goes by at about 8,000 rpm and then a shift into 5th. It is usually at this point you try to glance at the EGTs and make sure the temperatures aren’t crazy one way or the other. They seemed to be about 1400 degrees F which is very livable. I say ‘seemed’ because you can’t spend a lot of time focusing on the finer details at this point in time. Any other gauge information is a bonus here. At that point you are wide open and at the three mile mark hit 6th gear. As you shift into 6th the bike starts to vibrate considerably more and you can tell you are going faster than you ever have before.
This is where you discover that the issue with distortion in the windshield rears it ugly head. Glancing through the screen or sitting still the ripples in the plastic aren’t really noticeable, but things aren’t sitting still out here at the moment, and you are looking through the screen, depending on it for your down-track view. You are looking through it down track and the distortion makes the side course markers move around, which is very disorienting. At this point I have to raise my head up to reestablish the perspective as the course markers are going by rather rapidly at this point. Now you are aware of the absence of the black line because they don’t use the marking dye anymore. As an alternative you could watch the line out the side of the bike or car and simply follow it. Personally I never felt confident in that approach to navigation. Peeking over the windscreen makes the bike unhappy and it begins to weave a bit. Tucking back down you feel the speed increase and you can’t see much due to the vibration. Focusing down the course, you hang on just a bit longer and there goes the 4 mile marker!
Gently rolling off the throttle (no sudden moves going this fast!) you wait until the rpms get down to about 5,000 rpms. Now you work on timing your exit as those markers are still every ¼ mile here. Getting ready, the turnout begins as soon as you go past the marker because you are still going 150 to 160 mph and don’t want to collect the next marker with too gentle an arc. They mentioned green turnout cones but I can’t see the damn things until I am by them, so I just go where there aren’t any foreign objects on the salt. Rolling off the course you hit the chaff and all of a sudden the noise is huge, like someone doing a drum roll on the bellypan, as you are running across ridges and loose pieces of salt. Keeping an eye out for the return road, you want to be sure you are past the marker cones so you don’t present an obstacle on the track and stop the runs, (endearing you to everyone waiting in line).
As you are rolling to a stop you have the clutch in and are trying to down shift and glance at the engine temperature. A reading of 94 degrees C is great. Keeping the motor running now allows a brief squirt of power in case you might fall short of the return road.
You kill the ignition as you approach the marker cones and roll to a stop. Precise location isn’t important here as there is a mile to work with. Now you wait. Your breath is loud in the sudden silence surrounding you. After the constant cacophony it’s a bit eerie.
Running on the short course, and turning out at mile 2 or 3, you get a chance to watch other vehicles while you are waiting for your crew to come and pick you up. Out at Mile 5 it gets pretty quiet. The safety truck rolls up to make sure everything is OK and as soon as you give them the “thumbs up” off they go. Every once in a while you will see a vehicle go by but it is usually a streamliner or lakester who has just shut it down.
Now that the run is over you replay it in your head and look the bike over. Smoke rolls from a couple of places that got thoroughly warmed up. The exhaust and engine tick while cooling down and the heat wrap has a bit of a tangy odor to it. You can’t hear your breath so much any more, maybe you’re not panting as much? You make sure everything is turned off so you aren’t wasting the data recording of the computer. Leave it on too long and it can begin to overwrite the data at the beginning of the file, destroying important information needed for tuning.
Another teams chase vehicle goes by, heading down the return road . Another team comes back up the return road after retrieving their driver. Today it is a rider on a new BMW S1000. They stop and we chat a bit comparing notes about the salt and how things are going in general. He was disappointed in only seeing 196mph and asked what I did. I told him I didn’t have a clue but it felt fast. I couldn’t figure out the GPS watch and let Nick use it as he had to license anyways. Off they go to try it again.
The suspense is killing me.
I keep looking back towards the starting line and finally the Suburban heaves into sight. As they get closer I see Louie bouncing up and down in the front seat. Through the windshield I see him holding up fingers. Two oh three. They all pile out of the truck and when I finally hear it, it is like a big weight is lifted. It seemed to feel faster than 203, but we loaded up and headed back to impound with the Triumph as Nick had qualified for a record and we were under time constraints here. You have an hour after you are timed on the course (the time is stamped on your ticket) to get to impound and then another four hours to service the vehicle.
Nick and I went to the timing slip booth and as it is on an elevated platform, felt like a couple of fledglings waiting for the mother to drop down a worm. The time tickets look like this. This time ticket also qualified for an “A” License. You are then eligible to run between 200 and 249 mph. That is the second highest license level for competition at Bonneville. The next license is “AA”. That is required to run at over 250 mph. Not an immediate concern at this point in time.
There is a lot of information on the tickets that can be helpful in tuning, evaluation and strategy.
The Triumph’s list of items to service is pretty extensive. Set the valves, check the plugs, refuel it, major adjust the clutch, in this case re-gear it and check for miscellaneous bits gone walkabout. It was during this time that a bit of paperwork needed to be taken care of and it kept everyone busy.
After completing the servicing we had to wash off the tires on the Ducati and get the tires inspected. This was mandated after every 200+mph run due to a few failures earlier this season and last. That was fine with me as we got a decal out of the deal. I also found out that as I qualified for the long course with the 177mph run yesterday I was eligible for another decal…cool!
We rolled the bikes back in the trailer, and after tagging it got ready to go back to town.
203.41 ….. Yeah!
That made us the first Ducati over 200mph at Bonneville and America’s Fastest Ducati.
You keep replaying an event like today’s run in your head to try and sort out the details and see where you can possibly improve tomorrow. Rider’s position, fuel map, gearing, tire pressures, any one of a number of things to try and do better.
Back to the Rainbow Casino buffet to stoke up and then unwind. Got another busy day ahead of us tomorrow.