Article posted: Monday, July 17, 2017
1299S Grattan Race Report WERA Regionals by Brian Healea
“If you fade into turn one like that during this next race, I will not be here when you get back to the pits.” –Matt Carr
I wasn’t really going to leave. :) -Matt
I love Matt. He tells you like it is. He is an amazing coach for me and this is what showcases my weekend and feelings of having him there. But, before we get to that comment above, let’s recap the race weekend.
Matt Carr is a recognized figure in the world of Ducati as well as racing their amazing steeds. His background racing is all Ducati. He’s been around the world recognized, mark for almost his entire life. He’s raced when the brand was under powered, unfit to compete head to head with the Japanese. Well, unless you had super deep pockets… What always stood out in my mind was the fact that Matt was racing Ducatis that were essentially more stock than race. This means something and creates a confidence in my mind when he tells me something we need to try and do.
For him to come up to Grattan to help me is something he will never know as to how special that was and how much it meant to me.
Now enough of the mushy crap. Let’s go racing!!!
The venue was a cold and windy environment surrounding a well know track in western Michigan. Grattan Raceway Park is a track that has always held a fondness in my mind, but also creates anxiety when I know we are going there. I never got along with the track. I love the track, love the layout and love the people that are always there. But the track offers me a challenge and typically, it is mental more than anything. It’s rough, it has elements that you’ll never see anywhere else and the Ducati doesn’t seemingly want to learn the track without protest. But it is fun, it is fast and challenges the best racers that try to tame it. I love it. Wait… I hate it. No, I like it. Ok, I like it a lot.
The weekend starts out with practice. We got very little seat time. Knowing this going in that practice would be limited, we decided to race the Solo 20 on Saturday. A solo 20 with WERA is a 20 lap race or a mini endurance stint. We ran the HeavyWeight Solo 20 against some of the fastest guys at Grattan. Names like Taylor Knapp who you might recall has had a few notable results in AMA and Motoamerica races. He’s kind of fast I think. I’ve personally never heard of him and think he’s probably more hype than anything. Who am I kidding!!! I love the guy! He’s super quiet, calm and almost too friendly. But he is a demon on a motorcycle. So smooth and yet aggressive. It was an honor to be gridded with him. Jeremy Kolewski, a larger stature of a man. Friendly as a teddy bear and a solid racer that isn’t erratic and doesn’t take chances. It is the second race weekend racing against Jeremy and it has been awesome racing him. He is fast on a fast bike and makes it very tough to pass. Aaron Risinger. I have known Aaron for years. We raced several years ago and like me, he is back running as many rounds as he can. FAST. He was there behind Taylor and giving him some pressure through the weekend. He is too friendly also. I hate him. JOKING! I love the guy and he showcases the reason why I race. We all can be buddies and friendly off the track and yet be the strongest competitors to one another on track. Finally, Rob Scudder. I just met Rob this weekend and found he is a great kid. Really smooth and was genuinely a great guy to talk to and race against.
So now you know the guys I raced against. One thing to note outside the fact that they are all fast, all are on super fast 1000s, and are all locals with intimate knowledge of Grattan and have had several positive results there. However, they were all also experienced with their race bikes. We literally have a small amount of time on this 1299S. That time we have accumulated? All dyno time. YIKES! But, I have Matt Carr, I have knowledge I can try and dust off in my mind and I have friends there like Dave Grey and Eddie Kraft that are great to access knowledge from to try and get to speed quickly.
We didn’t get much practice time in Saturday before the Solo 20. We decided that since the tires only had 6-8 laps on them, we would use them for the 20 lap race. The idea here was simply to use the race as a time to find things out, do some changes if needed and to learn the track and those I am racing against. What better company to learn from than the four guys I mentioned above? Matt was critical in the preparation for the race. He plugged in some numbers he wanted to try out. His knowledge base for the 1199/1299 family is astounding. I challenge anyone to tell me that Matt doesn’t have some of the most miles accounted for at the track with the Panigale. He was one of the first to race it here in the States and has logged a ton of miles with the model family. So, he wants to try something? I know it is safe, will make sense and am comfortable with it. Again, I mentioned I get mental at Grattan and going out to start thee Solo 20, I had a sense of calmness and even confidence. How the hell that happened can only be credited to Matt.
Conditions were partly cloudy, windy and in the mid-50s. Track temps were not optimal. But, we were ready! I gridded up on the last row with Taylor directly to my right. When the green flag dropped, I was right behind Taylor who was right behind Aaron and Jeremy going into turn one. There was some jockeying around of riders. Taylor eventually moved into the lead with Aaron in tow as a shadow. Jeremy was in third and I was right behind. There was a freight train of four guys for about the first half of the race. Rob was holding firm albeit a larger gap from our group, but holding consistent lap times.
At around the halfway point, I started to have some issues with rear grip. It started as a squirm out of the turn prior to the bowl and progressed to being an issue out of the bowl, through the fast back sweeper, out of the bus stop and up the hill and of course, on to the front straight. These “spots” were starting to allow the top three guys walk away from me and bring Rob closer. I tried to be as gentle as I could on the throttle and pick the bike up, but it was just not allowing me the drive I needed. Dave Bavol from Sportbike Track Tire was watching off hot pit and noted the bike pumping and the sound of it trying to get grip. Sounds cool and probably looks cool, but isn’t the best way to get fast lap times.
We ended up finishing 5th in the race which wasn’t bad considering. When we got back into the pits, Matt noted the rear tire wear and we were a bit set back. The wear was extreme and hard to describe. We had some work to do!! The upside is we learned a lot and had time to make changes. The downside was we only would have one practice session in the morning Sunday and dive into the races. Matt had his thinking cap on (It’s very fashion forward) and started in on the ideas of what direction we needed to go. A lot of people came by and took a look at the tire and we had a lot of directions we could have gone.
Here is the most valuable thing I got from the weekend. YOU CAN FAIL and probably need to in order to succeed. Matt showed me that. I would have normally just started twisting knobs and rode until it sorted it out, but ridden around the issue all along and never really getting the best I could out of it. Matt challenged my mind a ton this weekend. We went out on the track after the races on bicycles and he helped me decide line choices as well as where to brake and pick the bike up. All good stuff. But we also went over where the bike struggled under me riding it. I was certain I was doing things poorly but we also had some setup challenges that didn’t help. But riding around the track, hearing what the bike was doing and knowing the track himself, Matt started formulating a plan. He was genuinely excited to take a look at the data off the bike at dinner.
As we sat looking over data at dinner, he came up with a few ideas. When your buddy starts the conversation of with “I think we need to do something really drastic and you probably aren’t going to want to do it…”, you start to build this wall up in your mind. But, as I told Matt, if HE would run the setup he was thinking, I am good what that and had comfort going into Sunday.
We arrived at the track with actually cooler temps and similar winds. The sun was out moreso and made it feel a little warmer than Saturday, but the track was shaded in the early morning so, we decided to run the second session and avoid session one of practice. Practice was decent enough. I went out behind Jeremy and watched a few things he was doing and built up my notes on him and where he was stronger and where I was stronger than him. The tire looked better, but had a similar pattern developing as we put on a new tire for practice and was going to use in the first of three races. After 6 laps, Matt felt we needed to try one more setting. We did the clicks and added some fuel and got ready for race 1 which was Heavyweight Twins SB.
I got to the grid of about 6 racers and took my position in the back row. We got a great start and took point going into turn one and held that lead through to the end of the race. I was in a very lonely first place and decided to maintain a consistent lap time each lap, but work on what Matt had me try in getting the bike up sooner and trying to manage the tire. When we got back, Matty took a look at the tire and was happy to see we were heading in the right direction. We did great and decided to slap on new tires for the second and third race. We wanted to have as fresh a tire for the Formula 1 race and wanted to be fresh with the new settings Matt wanted to try. And that’s what we did. Matt had some changes he decided we should try. The direction we were going proved to Matt that we needed yet a little more. Here’s where rider and crew chief can buck horns. The rider wants to work on what they felt was better and know they can use. The crew chief sees the changes and patterns and sees the future if change is done. So, it is a typical battle between comfort and safe against the unknown and unproven.
Matt was awesome. He told me that he would keep things the same, but he wanted me to hear him out and decide after he gave me his thoughts. He also was on me about fading into turn one. “If you fade into turn one like that during this next race, I will not be here when you get back to the pits.”. He was serious yet pushing me to try something that he knew was going to be hard. He’s raced with me for years now and knows my style. I like to square off the turns that are off a high speed run. I also probably have this mental block where it is a safety thing in my mind where I feel I have more ground to work if things go wrong. Whatever the reasons at doing this, Matt pushed me to stop doing it and to work on staying out wide at the entrance of turn one.
As for the settings, I felt whatever Matt thought we needed for success was what I was going to try! He was leading me to the right result and my confidence was solid. Plus, we had the Twins race first and if we needed changes, we had time. I also knew we had a chance to get the tires scrubbed and worked in and ready for the F1 race.
Race #2 was Heavyweight Twins SS. Essentially the same group, but we lost a few guys to the 600 SB grid that was placed in the first wave. Yes, I was in the second wave!!! It’s been a VERY long time that I have had to start from a second wave! We had the 600 SB experts with a row break and 600 SB novices behind them in wave 1. We had several rows behind and started well after the first wave took off. I talked to Rich and asked that we be started later so that we were not firing off a near 200 hp missile into a crowd of green novices hoping things go smoothly. We did get a good start again and came up on a few trailing novices. Two went off the track and one off the line. As we progressed around for lap one, several novices were showing signs of nerves and making mistakes. It was a game of patience. I heard William Caruso behind me on his 899 but just played it safe and remained patient. All for not as a novice lawn darted it into the grass at the top of the hill right before the front straight. Red flag!
So, we did the dance again, but only had 6 laps to work. We were launched a little later and prevented any novices from being in turn one. I could hammer for about three or four turns before we had traffic. Same as before, we just navigated through the heard and made good decisions. We ended about 20 seconds ahead of the next placed HWT SB racer in the 6 laps we had left.
After race #2, we pitted and slapped warmers on as we were back to back with our final race in Formula 1. We had some time before the race and had ol’ girl ready with warmers and fuel to be at our best for the race. We went over the second HWT race and the tire. What we saw was what we battled for the whole weekend. The tire looked AMAZING!!! Matt was super stoked and I was pumped! We reached our targeted tire wear and validated everything we had done to this point. It was an amazing feeling.
The calls came and I got geared up. Matt reminded me to stay on the line into turn one and to even set the guys up to the left vs wanting to dive in under them. He also encouraged me to attack hard and do what I have been doing. He praised me for being able to take something he threw my way and adapt to it quickly. The body positioning change, line changes, setting up wider into one, etc. That felt good!
This was our last race and we didn’t have any waves to worry about. All I had was Taylor, Aaron, Jeremy and Rob to be concerned with. We had 6 guys in our expert class with novices and some Vintage guys. The green flag dropped and we got a really good holeshot. Taylor got a hell of a start also. It was Taylor on point and my expectation of Jeremy being there either at point or in second was dead on. Jeremy fell into second and Aaron got off poorly and was in behind little ol’ me! Yes, I was in third!
I followed behind Jeremy for about 3 laps. I was able to make ground under braking and actually show him a wheel on lap 2 and start of 3. Jeremy had his points I referenced in the morning practice. The issue was that Jeremy has a super strong ZX10R. The bike comes off the corner HARD and Jeremy isn’t a small guy. Add to that, he’s damn good on a motorcycle. Those things combined make him a hard racer to pass. He’s clean, he’s controlled and he’s safe. I wanted to make sure I made a pass he would make and not bind us together and allow Aaron to pounce.
The start of lap 4 was my chance. In hindsight, I should have pounced sooner and it would ultimately be my downfall. In any case, I dove under Jeremy, got a good drive out of turn 1 and drove after Taylor. Taylor at this stage was a good clip away and was simply too far gone. But, it allowed me a carrot to try and maintain a lap pace. I was actually holding my own and making a little bit of ground on Taylor. On lap 5 and lap 6, I was able to draw him in as he slowed while I sped up. He was too far gone and wasn’t having to speed up due to zero pressure, but it was happening and keeping me hard on the throttle.
Then it happened… That damn lap #7… I kept my promise to not fade. I did exactly that. I was out wide into turn 1, pitched her in and started my drive. But instead of being smooth, I pulled the trigger a little too much. At the time, I thought the tire was fading like we had experienced all weekend. The rear stepped out and bucked me out of the seat. It blew my mark into turn 2 and essentially dropped my lap time over a second. Guess who took advantage of that mistake? YUP!!! Aaron and Jeremy! Again, my mental state was geared towards the rear letting go. I later after the race realized my throttle input and the fact that it was me that caused the issue. But in the heat of the race, I was worried we were losing traction.
Mistake #2 came working the last lap. I should have defended turn 1 on the last lap. Had I done that, I would have kept Aaron and Jeremy behind me. My drives and entries everywhere else was strong enough to hold them back. But, I stayed wide and saw Aaron’s wheel dive in under me into 1. I wasn’t shocked and actually was ok with that as I expected Aaron a lot sooner. However, that damn powder blue and Kawi green fender I saw was the surprise. Jeremy was on the tail of Aaron and made a bold choice to pass me and return the favor I did to him on lap 4. It was clean, fast and exactly what I would have done! I sat up slightly for Aaron and was out of line anyways. When Jeremy came under, I lost entry angle and of course, ability to drive as I planned. So, that put me back once again. Two laps being off by almost a second is enough to relegate one from 2nd to 4th in a blink of an eye. I thought maybe I could make a move on Jeremy into the bus stop, but it was too risky as I was behind too far. I tried to nail the entry to the bus stop and drive the best I could up the hill. But, Jeremy hit his marks, squirted out up the hill like a pro and left me for dead. 4th place. Hero to zero in almost 2 seconds if added up.
I was happy, though. Bill Carr came up just to watch me ride. He rode in near freezing temps and acted like I won the race. He was pumped for me. Matty was very much the same. He was slapping me on the back, telling me how great I did. He was so damn supportive and made me feel like I was the best rider out there. We came to showcase this Ducati and I think we did exactly that. We showed that it can be competitive with the big 1000s. I think had I not had the support of friends and the focus and support I got from Matt, I wouldn’t have done as well. Matt’s support and guidance was second to none. To have that person by your side bouncing ideas off you, pushing you to make changes, pushing you to change the way you approach something, knowing what will work and why, knowing that we need to go big on direction change and having the experience and knowledge base to work from and know we can get it better is PRICELESS!
Thank you, Matt. You have no idea.
In the end, we took a stock 1299S, added race plastics, some race tidbits like rearsets and clip-ons and an exhaust and took it to the track and succeeded against some powerful and well built race machines. We challenged ourselves to make changes that we were not expecting. We took a bike that we never spun a wheel on outside the dyno and did a great job. The bike is great. It changes direction almost too quickly as it is such a razor blade. It has the torque and power we need in the middle to drive hard out of corners. It was a great bike and at some point this season, we will gel and we will cross lines from it being so amazing and better than me and the line of my ability coming up to match that. When that happens, I think we will be hard to beat. I think we will be ready to race hard and well enough to be a contender for the win.
Sometimes, you have to fail in order to succeed. You have to be willing to take a chance and trust the knowledge and experience of the people around you. We did that this last race weekend and we got some hardware showing our success.
I want to thank the following people and brands that made this all possible:
-Matt Carr of Carr Moto
-Tucker Rocky Distributing -Spiegler USA
-Rapid Bike -Scott Bicycles
-Arai Helmets -Speed & Strength
-Pirelli Race Tires -M&D Racing (Mom and Dad!)