Editor’s Note: We are almost caught up, but here is the race report from Team RidezLaw’s own Robert Pierce, from Buttonwillow in March.
Sometimes you come across a weekend that’ll make or break your entire year. Sometimes all your hopes and dreams are wrapped up into a very expensive package that resembles a motorcycle on a race track, and its time to find out if fulfilling those dreams will be a fun journey or a heart-breaking grind. That was last Sunday for me, the first test for my ‘2016’.
I’ve always had a life goal to qualify for a pro motorcycle race. When our national roadracing series AMA transformed into MotoAmerica, it seemed like a great time to accomplish that. Last summer I prepped, trained, and headed out to Laguna Seca in an attempt to qualify for the MotoAmerica Superstock600 race on my 2009 Honda CBR600RR. Everything went as well as I could have dreamed. I dropped my laptime, qualified P23, raced against the pros, and finished 19th out of 30 – definitely the highlight of my racing “career.” Of course I wanted to do it again, bigger and better.
But things went downhill a bit after that. In October at Buttonwillow Raceway during practice for a race weekend, I crashed in Turn 2 and broke my left hand – my first feet-overhead highside. Then I got word in the off-season that my old CBR would not longer be legal for competition in MotoAmerica. And MotoAmerica has since changed the qualifying rules for Superstock600 – now only the top 20 Superstock600 racers get to actually race… against the faster Supersport riders. I needed to step up my game to make it onto the pro grid again.
First things first, some new hardware. To Sy’s delight my new race bike is RiderzLaw colors blue and silver, a 2015 Yamaha R6 that I managed to take from bone-stock to race-ready in 3 exhausting weeks. But it’s a new bike, and there lies the issue. I’ve been riding Honda CBRs for every moment I’ve been on a roadrace track, all the way back to 2003 on an old CBR600F2. Every single one of my 100+ club races have been on a CBR600RR. Last time I switched from a 2004 CBR600RR to a 2009 model, it took 1 1/2 years and a handful of crashes to learn how to go faster. Could I build a brand new bike so inherently different from a CBR and go faster NOW? There are only 2 trackdays and 2 race weekends in between finishing that bike and trying to qualify for MotoAmerica. I needed speed right away with zero setbacks.
Of course, zero setbacks is impossible, especially with such limited time. After one trackday with Fastrack Riders at AutoClub Speedway running 2 seconds off my race PR, I show up at Buttonwillow to race with one of the most competitive clubs in America, the AFM. The mailman delivered my new quickshifter 10 minutes before I left to drive to the track. New gearing and a longer chain meant that the bike’s wheelbase was now ~20mm longer so it was going to handle very different. My practice tires were mostly bald. And the AFM only has 5 short practice sessions on Saturday and one Sunday morning. The grind is starting already. By the 5th practice, I had made 5 rear suspension changes. The quickshifter was still sitting in its box. I was babying the throttle through Turn 2, fearing the dirt that always gets pushed onto the track (and worse, another injury-producing highside). But my laptimes weren’t bad. I made it to within 2 seconds of my PR on shagged out tires. Were things really going to go my way?
There’s something about racing, about that competitive environment out on the track, that pushes normal riders up to their limits. Every race weekend like clockwork, I count on going faster in my races. New tires, adrenaline pumping while lining up on the grid, hammering the throttle and feeding the clutch at the start – I try harder and I go faster than practice. But how much faster? My first race of the day went well. I started P8 on the grid and was 4th by Turn 1. Someone went down on lap 2 about 100ft in front of me – not close enough to distract but you never like seeing those sparks and the cloud of dust. I battled with a few guys over the 6 laps and eventually brought it home in 7th in a field of 20. It was a race I seriously enjoyed. Then I looked at my laptimer – 1:52.65, a new PR in Race 1! Another 1:52.9 in Race 2 even with some crazy lapped traffic and a finish in 10th in a field of 25. Finally some validation of all that hard work.
There is just one thing I am great at on track, compared to my competitors at least – starts. With a starting grid position of P22 in Race 3, I knew this one was going to be tough. I was surrounded by a lot of slower riders on the 6th row so I needed to make the start count otherwise the top 10 would get away. The Yamaha clutch and the mid-range torque out of this engine doesn’t quite match the Honda’s. But the extra top-end HP should help some. A few practice starts didn’t go well, but the pressure of racing in Races 1 & 2 seemed to help. The starting board goes sideways and I start slipping the clutch and rev the engine to 8000 rpm. The green flag flies, I roll to full throttle and feather the clutch out as fast as possible. The front tire comes up a few inches and I see a hole to the right. I take that gap and see another hole to the left – in there too. Finally we all touch the brakes for Turn 1 and theres one more gap to the left again. 8th into Turn 1! That might be my best start ever. During the race, a known fast guy comes through, actually a kid with the last name Beaubier, and I try to hold on. He pulls me up to 2 other riders, we get buy them, and I just lose sight him. I finish in 8th of 22 with a huge grin on my face, hoping my GoPro recorded that start.
My last race of the day turned out to be my worst, a mediocre start from somewhere around 16th only gaining 3-4 positions and a race long battle with a rider about 0.5’s per lap slower than me. He was great on the brakes and my lack of quickshifter made it very difficult to pull up beside him. It’s a club race and the day went so well that I didn’t feel like ruining both our days just for one position. But now its obvious where I need to work on my riding – hard braking. Another 1:52.9 and finishing in 12th brought my race day to a close.
There were so many questions to be answered going into this weekend. How do I mix with Yamaha? Can I build a race bike in 3 weeks? Will AFM grind me up and spit me out like last year? Will MotoAmerica’s new rules keep me off the grid? Even my crew chief / girlfriend was worried about the potential results of all this offseason effort. After round 1, let’s just say that I think I’m going to do well riding in blue.
Just one week later, my MotoAmerica Superstock600 license is approved and my entries for pro races at Miller and Laguna Seca are all but finalized. This summer is going to be good.