Friday, 8 July 2016

PPIHC - Friday - Qualifying

The 2:30 am routine is getting tiresome. Not getting enough sleep is starting to wear on me. Last day of practice and the motorbikes are on the lower section from the Start line to just below Glen Cove. It's also our 'qualifying' day - our fastest times will determine our start order in class for the race on Sunday. Setting off at one minute intervals on the day, qualifying doesn't really give one any advantage. More for safety and the psychological effect.

Early morning setup.

We're all setup in the dark paddock just below the start line before the eastern skies start glowing. We go through the normal routine and I stretch and get warmed up for our sighting run. Ant and Travis have the Bug Red Duck's tyres all warmed up, engine warm, all fuelled up and checked over once more.
We start the sighting run about 15 minutes later than on the top section... it takes longer for the light to reach us in the low forest than it does higher up on the side of a mountain. In the dim glow of morning, we set off in single-file, carving a line of exhaust noise through the fast, flowing lower section.

Coaching from a PPIHC legend :-)

With only four real switchbacks on the section, there are over fifty faster turns. Some flat-out, some long, lazy, constant-radius 180 degree arcs. Combinations of lefts and rights... some double and even a few triple apexes.

It's a beautiful section of track... the biggest challenge is that through the forest, a lot if the turns look the same. I've been memorising the combinations in the onboard videos for the last six months... it certainly helps. I kinda know where I am and what is next... I'm thinking two turns ahead, making sure I'm in the right place to get through them fast and flowing.

Waiting at the top of the section with Tomasz Gombos.

We all wait at the end of the section as the sky fills with light... soon were carving our way back. Right, left, right, left, right, left, tight right... left, left... must remember that. I try a get the sequences burned in my mind going backwards too.

Debrief, tyres warmed, me warmed. "The 8 mile sign with the bear on it is your marker for the slower corners." Travis is giving me valuable advice. I'm taking it all in.

Gary Trachy and Michelle Disalvo.

Mark Miller and Marcel Irnie on thier electric bikes.

Next run I'm on my own... trying to get the sequence if turns and my pace right. The Big bike is lazy and I've got to man-handle it around. There is a delay and we're waiting at the end of the section for a while.
Back to the paddock. A Japanese sidecar team have been having problems with their Formula 1 outfit... problems started on Tuesday's practice. The machine wouldn't start. They have been working on it since Tuesday Angus hang yet get a single run in. They're at every practice. Manuals out, checking, stripping down, reassembling, replacing, scratching their heads, discussing, checking, trying different things. The motor didn't even splutter... just cranks over. They are based out of a motel just down the street from our cottage. Every time we drove past, we'd see them on the forecourt working to fix the outfit. They spent days on it. Never once being upset or pissed off... just diligently working away to try fix it.

They were in the paddock opposite us working away again. As we were waiting for my second run, we heard their outfit burst into life. The Suzuki 1000 motor was alive! The whole paddock burst out in cheering, clapping and whoops! High fives and big hugs from half of the paddock... these guys just had massive grins on their faces as they then scrambled to get the outfit back together in time for a few practice/qualifying runs.
On my second time run, I'm 8 seconds faster than the first. Masahito Watanabe arrives at the top with us in his formula 1 to more cheers and hugs. There is another long delay as we wait at the end of the section. One if the other sidecars has gone off. It takes time to recover the bent outfit but both the driver and monkey are OK. We're running out if time. It's almost 8 by the time we head back down. Curfew is at 8:30. 

Back to the start line and I turn the bike around and join the small queue... I need to get at least one more run in. Cold tyres, but getting track time us more important. Soon I roll up to the starter and am ready for my last practice run. 

A minute later, the starter shakes his head and holds up a red flag. Shit. We wait... the minutes ticking away.
At 08:25, the starter gets the all clear and I'm off for my final practice run. The section is only 5 or so miles long... barely enough time to warm the tyres up. I just gotta take it easy. Despite that, I cut another 8 seconds off my last run. I qualify 4th in class with a 4:52 on the section. I'm way off the pace of the top three. Just need more track time. Masahito qualifies as fastest sidecar with just 2 runs!
World-famous dirt-bike riding Baja

Practice was just over 3 1/2 hours long. 33 riders/sidecar drivers over a 5 mile run that takes about 5 minutes. We get only 3 runs at it... 15 miles on track. As a comparison, TT/Manx GP practice runs around the same length of time... but with anything from 100 to 200 riders on a 37.7 mile course that takes around 20 minutes per lap. On an evening's practice, one will normally get 4 laps in... 150miles on track! 

This is the biggest challenge for me at Pikes Peak... so little time on a bike I don't know and learning 156 turns I have never ridden before. I am not a professional rider and want to come home to my wife in Austria... this is no place to take chances. I have no hope of getting a podium unless one of the faster guys don't make it to the top. I just gotta take it easy, enjoy the ride and get to the top.

Record setter 747 at the Lone Duck

 Cowboy makes the best smoked brisket I've ever had!!

A bit disappointed with the limited track time, we pack up and head down the Hill to the Lone Duck campground where Lisa (the landlord) cooks us pancakes and sausages for breakfast. Where we make plans for the bike prep and race day on Sunday. More shit coffee but we're so tired we still get our heads down for a few hours after.

Bumper-to-bumper all the way back to Denver...

That afternoon, we were back at the Lone Duck feasting on some home-smoked brisket that Cowboy had brought. It was fantastic! Then I drove back up to Denver airport through rush-hour traffic to pickup my beautiful wife who is out for the weekend. Back to Colorado Springs to catch the last hours of the 'Fan Fest'.

A few blocks in downtown Colorado Springs is closed off and they had food stalls, some race-related stalls and a few of the race teams setup. All to fastest qualifiers are also all setup and signing autographs. There was a mini arena with displays and some Freestyle MX. By 10 we were cream-knackered and headed back to the cottage for some sleeeeeeeeep.

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