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The riders meeting is sun-drenched and starts at the civilized time of 9:15. As I managed to do half a track day yesterday, the only thing I really learned is where the pits are and that the hay bales that previously marked the track are now replaced with proper curbs. I'd seen those on my research for this track and figured they might be a liability
Most of last night was spent contemplating the track and reviewing my plan. As I promised to Jeff Lowe, I drew it out after my first session yesterday, marked my change points and annotated it. (picture). At times like this I wish I could draw
For old hands, this might be obvious. For those of you who have never tracked before, I can't recommend this highly enough. Don't use the official track map. Don't rely on something you've downloaded from the web (and certainly not my picture). Draw it yourself and draw it by hand. This act forces you to replay the track in your mind and remember what you are doing. Annotating it forces you to confront your riding style. I can't promise it will help, but the difference between my first and second practice was quite significant, and now it's been overnight, I'm hoping it's really sunk in
Just before heading out, I called Jeff and we talked through the video. We talk about relaxing on the bike and letting the grip be a little looser and also about the need to turn as quickly as possible. It's all filed away and mentally replayed as I sit in the pit lane. This superbike lark seems to all about waiting
We're scheduled to hit the track at 12:20, but I think it's nearer 12:35 by the time we roll out. It's baking hot in these leathers and I've drunk a liter of water in the past ten minutes and sweated most of it out. I still feel thirsty.
The practice itself passes quickly. I glance at the board as I pass and it reads five minutes of the twenty remaining. The session has flown by and i feel like am flying. Costa Mazouris did go past me on the back straight, but as he passed he turned, grinned and gave me a massive thumbs up. I figured i was doing something well and stayed with him for a half lap until i hit the front straight kink: Three quick turns, left-right-left. This is going to be my nemesis at this track and I can't seem to find a good line throught it. I can get the entry speed for the first left, but then I'm not flicking it over quickly enough for the right and missing the second left as a result. I spend the session trying different gearing (fourth or fifth) and trying to flick the bike more. I get quicker through there as the session progresses, but not enough to be happy.
I'm also aware of a dull ache developing in my lower calves as the session draws to a close. I wind up coming in a lap early. It's hot and I've pushed it reasonably hard enough to have a base to work from for the second session. I'm far too old and cowardly to push for that one last perfect lap if my bodies telling me not to.
Shortly after pulling off, the time is posted. 1.04.489. It's not stellar but it's not too shabby. It's five seconds off the pace of the leader (Costa) but only a second back from Sean smith and three seconds off the other journalists (costa, with all his experience, no longer counts at this point). I know I can go faster.
It's worth mentioning that St Eustache is a really fun track, in my very limited experience. It's quick and it's short. I can also imagine it's not entirely fun on the larger bikes, but it seems made for the 250. The surface is great, too. After the bumps, ridges and scars of Shannonville, it's amazingly smooth and gives a lot of confidence.
The afternoon drags on, mainly due to the heat. We're not due back on track until 4:20. I spend the afternoon drinking water and gatorade resolving never to have a race track cheeseburger again...
I exchange a number of texts with Jeff. He's reasonably encouraged by the first practice time and feels we can improve by a few seconds. He teases my concerns out of me. I am staring to feel comfortable with the faster turn ins, but need more work on the kinks. Thats all about getting the bike flicked over quickly and I know I need to push harder on the right bar. That and relax. In fact, that's a word I've heard more than most these past couple of weeks. It's mostly about getting the inputs (throttle/brake/body position) smooth and accurate. That and trying to ignore the odd shake/wiggle/etc as he bike really will sort itself out
Time eventually rolls around and I'm ready again. Twenty minutes earlier I was almost asleep but now I'm up for it. Jodi Christie is again out with us and I'd asked him if it would be ok to follow him for a lap or two. I'm now working n trying to get lower to the bike through turns and opening the throttle earlier. It feels like its working but I still am not 100% confident with that kink. A few times through I think I've got it and the bike is turning a little more easily and the next left does feel better. Following Jody, he makes it look so effortless but I guess that what years of practice and a championship do for you...
Back in the pits and off the bike, I think I am happier if not entirely happy. Even before the times are given to us Jeff has texted me. My time is officially 1.03.3. I've pulled almost 1.2 seconds off my lap time. Sean smith pointed out it was actually faster than his previous time. I'm happy with that, but he's not entirely happy that he's not broken the minute yet. He will. The other journalists are still at the 1.01 mark. Two seconds might be a tall order but I am going to try.
I got a chance to talk with Jodi afterwards, to see if I could figure out what was wrong. His key suggestions is speed is not a problem, but maybe I need to start a little slower and build up some confidence? I have another twenty minutes tomorrow. Why not?
I think I can carry more speed through the hairpin now and i really want to nail that kink. Tonight will be spent visualizing and reviewing the footage. But first I need a dip in the hotel pool.