The timing loop start is a few hundred yards up the course… so no need to get a Dirttrack-type on-the-milli-second start-line blast-off. Just get her off the line in my own time… firmly. Start as you wish to proceed! I get her going without fuss and give her beans through first gear. Up to second then short-shift as I tip her into the first left-lander – the timing loop is just on the exit of this first turn –I try and get her smoothly in and drive hard out while tripping the clock.
It starts – thousandths of seconds flashing by so quickly they are just a blur. A thousand moments later, digital ‘1’ appears under the ‘sec.’… let’s try to get as few of those as possible. Tick-tock-tick-tock… I try get on the gas hard at the exit as I setup for the first fast right-hander just moments down the course.
Feck! This is hard. From standstill, with no warmup, then trying to push the limits around a fast turn within a few seconds. Imagine this: Arriving at a track you have never been to before. You go out on a road-bike you have hardly ridden before and go around in cold, early morning conditions for just 3 laps. Two days later, you roll up to the start line on the same bike, but now you’re in a race. No warm-up laps. No sighting lap. That first turn you’ve only done 3 times before, in different conditions. You’ve got to do 10 minutes of laps as fast as you can. Then it’s all over. This is what Pikes Peak is like. It’s hard!
I’m tentative on the throttle… trying to feel the traction. Seems okay… I get her upright and pour on the coals down the very short straight for the next right-hander. It should be nearly flat-out… but I throttle off way before and then feel my way to the entry. “What a knob! Go, go, go!” I chastise myself. Next right hander I’m only marginally better.
At the TT you go from zero to flowing, flat-out 150mph turns, downhill, lined with kerb-stones, poles and garden walls. It took me a year or two and many practice starts to get my head into that. Probably at least fifty stand-still starts before I could do the turning jump through St Ninians and Bray Hill flat-out. But once you ‘know’… you ‘know’. Your mind overcomes that feeling that you’re just about to get mashed into the stonework and it’s going to hurt like almighty-fuck. Your mind overcomes this in a fleeting moment and with ease… because you ‘know’.
Despite the hours of study and well over a hundred on-board starts, I still hadn’t got my head into these Colorado turns… or these turns into my head. I didn’t ‘know’ and my body closed the throttle and hit brakes way too early – it was involuntary. My mind was screaming at my self-preserving instinct… “Stop fucking around and GO FAST!”.
You got no second chance here. On circuits you go round in circles… if you screw it up one lap… soon you’ll have another go at it to get it right. I had one chance at those first three turns… and I screwed them up. Fuck.
Into the first of the left-handers. I set it up out to the right and turn in late… I pull the Big Duck over and start carving an arc to the apex. I cross the double-yellow line in the centre of the course. The bike has a little two-wheel slide. Shit! WTF? I don’t remember that in practice! A bit un-nerving. Out to the right again for the next left-hander… carrying bit more speed. Shit! She just slid over those lines again. This sucks.
I’m trying to get on the gas earlier and harder… but she feels as if the rear is just about to let go. I was warned about this all week. Practice is early morning, a lot cooler and surprisingly grippy. Race day is always a bit later, warmer but counter-intuitively slicker. Weird. There are theories of dust and spectator traffic pissing coolant on the course. The best I’ve heard is that as the tar warms, it sweats. It was sweating like a net-vested short-order burger flipper.
I slow things down in my head to try speed things up on the course. Keep focussed… ride to the conditions. “Remember where you are on this squiggly line to the clouds… what’s next? And what’s after that? Where do I need to be? Can I go faster? Give it more throttle? Get off those damn brakes! Don’t turn in too soon!” I just try and relax into it, make no stupid mistakes and keep it flowing. Despite struggling to know how fast I can get into turns, it starts to come together. Right-right-left-right-wide open-brake-down one-in deep-left-right-right… like a ticker-tape rattling through my head.
By the time I’m stretching the cables down the short ‘Halfway Picnic Grounds’ straight-away, lined with spectators, I’m really starting to enjoy it. I’m treating it as a fast blat on my local roads with no traffic to make room for or to think for. I can carve wide lines from white-line to white line. This is fun!
On some turns there are about three feet of tar on the other side of the white line… inviting… tempting. Despite the sliding on the middle-lines, I give it a go, hoping the white lines have a bit more grip than the yellow. Front end slides as I cross the line, I apex, then slip on the way out again. Nah – just as slippy, just not worth it.
Up through the fan-zones at Ski Area and through the beautifully cambered, one-eighty degree uphill sweeping turns. More crowds lining the course through Glen Cove. I take it easy through as I feel my tyres rumbling over the loose gravel on the inside of the turn. I give myself lots of room going into George’s Corner – “Late, late, late!” I get the best line through there all week and can get on the gas hard and fast. The full-race system on the Multi reverbing off the steep rock-face on the outside of the turn sounds awesome!
More crowds up through Cove Creek and I’m just loving the fast triple right-hander leading up to Elk Park. “Right… keep turning… right… keep turning… look through the turn… right…”. I approach Elk Park a lot faster than in Wednesday’s practice - this is the first time I’ve done this section on the Big Red Duck. I brake early – the heavy girl takes some stopping… “Whoooah, girl. Whoah.”. Remembering Carlin’s coaching, I run her deep into the outside lane for the switchback and drive a wide arc in the middle of the course, avoiding the steep incline at the apex. Nice!
Up the steep hill towards Ragged Edge - I’m unsure how fast I can get through this turn where the course just seems to end in an expanse of clear blue sky. I err on the side of caution and have loads of room through there and even more through the next fast Armco-lined left. Hard on the gas for the short squirt before more heavy braking for the first series of Double-yous.
One, two, three Double-yous… fast, blind, blue-sky right hander… just… keep… turning…
The Armco for the start of the next series of Double-yous pops into view. Nice! Switchback number one, number two, number three. The tall, heavy Duke is a bit of a handful through these switch-backs and I’m giving myself plenty of time and room on this very unfamiliar stretch. Careful on two… that’s the turn I screwed up a few times during practice. On the brakes into three I think I feel the brake lever coming back to the bar a bit more than before. “Huh? Are my brakes fading?”