The Race Diaries, Part 4

(Read Part 3 here)


Waiting to get on the track – You can’t hear it but there was more than just exhaust noise coming from the rear of ‘arris’s bike (far right).
Photo: Colin Fraser

Suddenly, I’m there. Dressed in fancy new leathers, boots and gloves, perched atop a new BMW R1100S, I’m about to enter the infamous Mosport race track. “I don’t belong here,” I think to myself as the race official turns to open the track access gate. I can’t afford this bike. Even the gear is a stretch. Bloody hell, I can’t even race.

As the gate swings open my fellow racers rev their motors, slip their clutches and proceed forth into the great unknown.

I follow ‘cause there’s no turning back now, and besides, how bad could Mosport really be? It’s just a race track.

This was the weekend of major racing at Mosport International Raceway, Bowmanville, Ontario. It was also the one and only Ontario round of the BMW/Buell Cup and so it seemed like a good time to put our race school experience into practice and see just how the S handled what is arguably the fastest and meanest track Canada. For those who read the fateful article on how Piero managed to wreck our third ever test bike on this track, you’ll probably understand why I enter it with such hesitation.


The only thing this map doesn’t show is all the elevation changes.

Departing the pits, the track drops away to the right, guided by a ribbon of white wall on either side to allow a protected entry to the main circuit. As it straightens out, the wall to the left drops away and you’re on it now, whether you like it or not. Okay, here we are, all is well, happy times, happy, happy, happy. And then as you crest a hill the track drops momentarily and careens off to the left without a buy-your-leave.

I panic and grab a handful of brakes, which stands me up and causes me to enter the corner too late, all with the wrong line and still too much speed to be comfortable with. More braking would just cause me to sit bolt upright and plant me in the outside weeds on my maiden lap, fancy new leathers, gloves, boots, bike and all. No, it was now all down to leaning the thing over … a little more … just a tad more … that’s it Mr. Harris, keep leaning .. and hurray, I made it . Wow, bastard. I still find trusting tires hard, but it’s better than a guaranteed wadding in the weeds.

Bad memories of Mosport. Piero Zambotti notches up a CBR900RR for CMG.

My adrenal gland was in full flow as I rode up a short incline and threw the S sharply to turn 3. Okay, a perfect corner, sharp, but predictable and just requiring that you hold the one line all the way. With Piero and a CBR 900 RR firmly in mind, I cautiously accelerated downhill towards turn 4.

It’s a bit of a blind turn, but relatively mild and proved quite easy. What was all the fuss about? Had I missed something? Had I actually screwed it all up, died and got stuck in some afterlife that made everything simple. Was this heaven?

Corner five is a hairpin, with a small, straight bit in-between. Cutting the apex at the start seemed like a good idea until I came to the next ninety degree right and discovered that I was way too tight to do anything that resembled grace. I opted to resemble sad-bastard, jammed on the stoppers and wobbled like a big girls blouse along the worst line in Mosport history. Five bikes duly blew by.

Taped over clocks with enough of the tach showing to see redline.
Photo: Richard Seck

This was bad, but the silver lining was that this could not be heaven, therefore I was not dead and could go on a bit longer with this mortal coil – which actually worked quite well along the uphill straight (well it’s not totally straight as there’s corner 6 and 7 officially hidden in there).

This is the perfect place to hold the throttle to the stop and bounce of the rev limiter (which is almost okay because the dyno chart from part three said so, except you lose out a bit on power when the revs suddenly cut out thanks to the limiter). Since the clocks are all but covered with tape (any glass bits must be or you won’t make it through tech – although the rhs of the tach is exposed so that you can see redline) I have no idea what speed I’m doing as I pass the smaller SV’s and two strokes that passed me on the botched corner 5, and crest the hill that signals corner 8 is about to commence.

This is a luscious sweeping right hander, but I’m playing it cautious and rub off some speed with a quick jab on the front brake. Too much actually, and a couple of the smokies pass me once more on the inside. As corner 8 ends, corner 9 begins, allowing a gratifying flip off the bike to the left, a sweet cutting of the apex and a standing up on the small straight that proceeds the final corner, corner 10.

‘Arris gets the hang of the whole game after a while.
Photo: Colin Fraser

It’s sharp and abruptly swings to the right at close to ninety degrees, demanding a large drift to the left before dropping it in to take the apex line and a tuck-in-and-go-for-it posture up the home straight. Of course, I swing out too far (forgetting all my race license training of part 2 and am duly passed by two SV’s and another smokie.


Fifteen minutes later, the session is over and I toddle back to the BMW Canada truck, lean the bike against an axle stand (the bike’s stands have been removed for added clearance) and shakily light a cigarette. Oh my god, that was terrifying. I had survived my virgin round at Mosport, forgotten just about everything I had been taught and wouldn’t have been too upset if some bizarre sequence of events meant that the rest of the weekend was cancelled.



Our R1100S all prepped and ready to be raced.
Photo: Richard Seck

We were told that you want to get to the track early. With that in mind Mr. Seck and I booked a room at a local (and tad smelly) motel, got up bright and early and hit Mosport at 6 a.m. – on the dot.

It was quieter than a dead bug, only more serene. Tents, motorcycles and various trailers lined the lanes, nestled behind the pits, but no people. Our mission was to find ASM’s Jack Grammas, get registered and then locate the BMW Canada truck where we would find one race prepped bike, ready to go to tech and then onto the track.

Since this seemed to be a waste of time at this ungodly hour, we pondered our racing school instruction to walk the track and decide on the right lines, but quickly dismissed the idea on the grounds that Mosport is a frigging long track (about 4Km) and that’s a long way first thing in the morning!

After much dawdling and asking the few early birds where we could possibly find a man called Grammas, we were directed to the registration building (oddly located outside of the grounds), where we signed a waiver and were rewarded with a schedule of track sessions and a wrist band (to show that we were now part of the in-crowd and so not to be messed with). A quick glance of the Friday line up showed that our first session was 10 am and was combined with the SV650 Cup and AM/PRO 125 Grand Prix riders. Hmmhh.

‘Arris gets the all-clear from Tech.
Photo: Richard Seck

From there we picked up our race prepped bike from the BMW guys (who had finally seen it fit to show up) and rode it the the pit area to get tech inspected. Tech inspection is basically two guys and a ramp. You wait in line with the other saps and then, when signalled, haul the bike up onto the ramp and hold it there while the two inspectors … well, inspect it. If all is okay they slap a sticker on the front fender and your helmet (as long as it passes as well), and you’re set for the track.

Actually, there’s one more requirement – the compulsory rider’s meeting. This too was held at the pit area and consists of a race type official doing a quick roll call followed by any track procedures. This basically covered how to get on and then back off the track without causing chaos. I hate trying to get my head around this kind of thing. Early morning, and a lot of apprehension combined to make my normally logically brain into that of a senile, drunken Lord .. on acid.

“You enter the pit lane from Gasoline Alley but only when the Marshall lets you past the gate and then you go down pit lane and on to the track, but do not cross the yellow line. When you pass go you collect $400 but not if you’re on your way to jail, unless you have a get out of jail free card or have ownership of the police force” or something to that effect. He even went on to describe the flags, all of which made me think that I really shouldn’t be there as I’m an obvious danger to myself and all my fellow racers. Oh dear.


# 144 must be just shitting himself with the thought that ‘arris might actually catch him
Photo: Wilfred Gaube

By 9 am it started to heat up. I was joined at the BMW trailer by another R1100S racer, Steve Miller. Steve had managed to wad one of BMW’s own S’s the weekend before in corner 2 (he hit another downed bike) but BMW seemed to have forgiven him and duly supplied him with another S for the weekend. Steve was wearing a wrist brace and walking a bit funny, but otherwise all his parts were there. It was good to have somebody else there that I could share my fears with and get some reassurance from.

By 9.45, it was time to suit up in the leathers and fire up the bike. The P.A. system announced our class and a procession of two smokes, SV’s and the odd Buell trundled by to Pit Lane. Steve rolled off the axle stand and joined the others. I followed, trying to maintain an air of the’ well versed racer’, while at the same time crapping my pants.

Having survived session one, session two was given over to Mr. Seck to try, who came back in one piece but similarly traumatised. In the meantime, I tracked down the only other BMW rider at the round, J.P. for a quick interview on what he’d done to his S (details in part 5 – “sizing up the competition”). He too was new to Mosport, but his buddy (Costas – forgive me if I’ve misspelled your name) was familiar and gave me some advice for session two.

Basically, you only have to use your brakes in two places: Coming into corners 5 (the hairpin) and 8 (at the end of the back straight).The rest of the time just back off the throttle to take off a bit of speed. Using the brakes will just screw you up. Oh, and don’t pay any attention to the little (slippery looking) concrete strips that seem to be in the way of the perfect line in almost every corner. Trust your tires and everything will take care of itself.


Coming over the crest and into corner 2.
Photo: Richard Seck

My next session actually wasn’t as bad as I’d predicted. Although it had been delayed because some clown called Steve Crevier and his slapped together bike, blew its motor and dumped a whole load of oil on the track (bloody amateurs). Actually, it was a sweet time. After the initial angst of getting to be somewhat familiar with what the hell the track was doing, I found myself with more time to focus on my line and also apply some of Costas’s theories – like starting to lean into corner 2 even before you can see the thing over the top of the hill. Oh, and don’t use the brakes at all – just coast into the turn and accelerate out. Godzooks, it works (although my line was still nowhere near acceptable).

As I reach the back straight, I see a Marshal to my left waiving some kind of yellow and black flag. What the hell’s that, I pondered as I slowed down and wondered what exactly I should do. Then I see a streak of concrete dust ahead where Crevier had puked his RC51’s oil and realised that the flag was a cautionary one. It might as well have stood for “okay everyone, we’ve confused Harris, time to pass” as five bikes suddenly swooped by me, kicking up some of the concrete dust, just to add insult to injury.

‘Arris gets passed by a crowd at corner 1.
Photo: Wilfred Gaube

It’s then that I achieved my first Zen-like racing experience.

Taking corner 8 at full tilt and similar speed, with right knee out, I perceived a sea of asphalt opening out in front of me, the sensation of speed only betrayed by the blur of passing objects in my peripheral vision. My flow-stopping fear had gone, allowing me to ride a groove of concentration and absolute oneness with the track ahead. Was this why grown men risk life, limb and financial disaster?

I was no longer just trying to survive, it was time to kick (just a little) ass.

My chance came at corner 5 as I rapidly approached some guy, out-braking him into the start of the hairpin. He was going in all wrong and I knew that I could take him on the exit. Then, for some unexplained reason he stood the bike bolt upright and went straight into the sandpit, kicking up an appropriate plume of dust as he bit it. Suckeeeeerrrrrrr!

Okay, that’s mean, and I don’t mean any harm to the guy, but at that point I knew that I was at least better than one guy, albeit for one second. Time to sacrifice another tadpole to the Denmarkian Gods.

“You! I will kill you with my bear hands. And your mother as well!” Getting mad at the Rider’s Meeting.
Photo: Richard Seck


Wow, what a rider’s meeting. The official just reamed out everybody (still not quite sure why, but he said something about riders grouping up at a red flag, changing the numbers on the bikes, etc.) and then threatened to quit. Crevier promptly piped up and asked “Who needs a hug ?” which put Mr. Seck, who was standing behind Mr. Irate, into a laughing fit. Mr. Irate promptly spun around with one of those “Shut the fuck up or I kill you” looks, which in turn put a quick end to the fun and games.

The BMW truck was joined by Ian McQueen from Wolf BMW in Aisla Craig (it’s near London, Ontario), who was also privy to a loaner S and soon got into the swing of things (damn site better than me, but then, who isn’t?).


Left to right: ‘Arris, Ian McQueen, JP
Photo: Colin Fraser

The first session of the day was surprisingly good. I took the initiative to hang to the side at the starting gate and let everyone else filter on to the track first. This had two great benefits:

1) During the warm up lap there was no fear of having somebody rear end you as you wobble around each corner trying to remember that perfect line.

2) Once you got the hang of things and the rest of the field has found their natural order, you can start picking off all the slower riders just ahead of you.

I guess that then leads to a 3) which is: It makes you feel like a racing god ’cause you can actually pass people (big fish, small pond type of theory).

Looking good. Top to bottom: Ian McQueen, J.P and Darren James.

You may remember that passing was one fear that I mentioned in part 2 (the racing school). I’m still not fully assured that it’ll actually work in an out-braking and taking the line into a corner type situation, but I really quite enjoyed blasting past the other bikes on the straights (the S seems to just have the edge on the Buells here) and wider corners, although the gnarly stuff was mostly where I got passed in return. Hey, even that was fine – as I could just see them in my peripheral vision and allow them enough space to get by (hey, it’s only amateur racing folks).


With the end of the morning came the end of the practice sessions and the end of Team CMG’s first taste of nearly-racing. After lunch was dedicated to 5 lap heat races to determine grid position for each class, with the winner of each round actually being credited with a couple of extra championship points.

Each race consists of two warm up laps, after which the rider stops at their allotted place on the grid. Since there can be multiple classes per heat, the races may be started in five second intervals, with the first group being logically positioned at the front of the grid.

The Buell/BMW race saw the group located behind the 125 GP’s, with the SV 650’s at the back. Unfortunately (for the Buell guys anyway), a couple of them jumped the start – departing with the GP’s and getting black flagged as a result (which I think means report to the pits). Oh dear.


Darren James gets the winner’s trophy from Bar Hodgson while the guy on the right eats an ice cream cone.
Photo: Richard Seck


Apparently the Rider’s Meeting was a big disappointment after the reaming that went on the day before. The official even apologised! Oh well, we missed it anyway thanks to a golden opportunity to lay in and turn up at the track at lunch time (it’s race day after all, so no CMG sessions to miss).

FYI, the race was won by Darren James on the Buell, and some guy called Frank Trombino won the main event. All jesting aside, it’s quite amazing to have ridden the track and then to spectate as the PROs show you just how it’s done. They have my respect, but I still think they’re mad.

And that was that for the weekend. Considering we came away in one piece and a lot the wiser, I’d consider it a weekend well spent. It’s not long now that we pack up and head for St. Eustache in Quebec for the real thing. We’ve managed to scam a day at the ASM race school the weekend before, where we’re hoping to meet up with JP who can show us the right lines around this gnarly track.

Hey, maybe we won’t even come last!

(Read Part 5 here)

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