|Mass confusion reigns on the starting grid.|
So there I was. Sitting on the pre-grid, rain pouring down, heart beating at redline, as the ASM official dressed in a swanky green garbage bag conferred with the riders in front of us as to whether to give it fifteen minutes or have them start – now.
“Fifteen minutes,” I muttered, even though I was not being asked.
After a vote of three to four, the bag man stood to the side and waived us onto a slick track more suitable to Wayne Gretzsky than some wannabe racer on a 500lb motorcycle.
After an entire summer of preparation, organisation and an adopted chunk of bravado, I was at the project’s crescendo, the final race – and feeling about as at home as a bible-thumper in an Afghani jail. Bugger.
FRIDAY 24th AUGUST – PRACTICE DAY
|Editor ‘arris posses with the Team CMG R1100S (#264, CMG – check your phone pad) before the big race.
Photo: Touseef Mirza
Everything seemed to be going to plan. Mr. Seck and I had arrived at the track after a superb tour of the Charlevoix region of Quebec, refreshed and eager to take what may come at the race. The BMW truck had prime position in the pits, our R1100S was prepped and waiting outside and the sun was shining.
After several coffees and some nervous banter with Ian (from Wolf BMW, who was there to also race one of BMW’s Ss), and J.P. (the only privateer S rider), we were called over for the rider’s meeting, which although relaxed, was all in French. JP translated the important bits, like what the flags meant (still having trouble with these). Soon after we were hoisting the Beemers up onto the Tech ramp, where the inspectors took great interest in the expensive sounding servo assisted brakes.
With bike and helmet approved, it was time to suit up and get out there.
By the second session, I began to realise that taking this track at the ‘gentle school pace’ of last weekend was very different from the more furious pace of practice. Where at Mosport it was a matter of getting the right line and braking points (albeit at quite a clip), St. Eustache had the added danger of bumps. It wouldn’t suffice to find where the bumps were located and then avoid them, since they literally existed in the millions – each of different magnitude and location. It was more a matter of trial and error of various racing lines. Following what might be the theoretical ideal could very well turn out to be the bumpiest route. A slight variant on that line often proved to be considerably smoother and therefore faster. I guess this is what is known as a technical (and just plain nasty) track.
It was during this session that some inconsiderate sod caused the officials to pull out the red flags. Okay, I know what that one means – pull over and make your way to the closest official. They in turn waved me on to the pits.
Thankfully, the BMW truck was equipped with a lookout on its roof where you could see a considerable part of the track and any potential carnage. It was here I could see the ambulance tending to some poor sap, lying in the middle of the track between corners 3 and 4.
“Hey Richard, get up here and see this!” I shouted down the hatch.
There was no answer.
Could it be him? Since I couldn’t see the rider clearly and the bike was not in sight, I figured it might be prudent to walk over and see what was going on.
A group of riders and officials stood at the pit exit. One turned and matter-of-factly told me that my buddy was down.
“Oh shit. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”
Apparently he was okay except for a lot of pain down one side – this meant that they would transfer him to the main hospital in St. Eustache for further examination.
As the ambulance left the track, I ran behind and caught up to a battered-but-cheerful Mr. Seck at the track exit. He was strapped onto the stretcher tighter than a nutter in a straight jacket.
“Richard, are you okay?”
“Yeah, take a picture.”
Eh? What kind of mercenary editor type am I to take a picture of my fallen comrade in his hour of despair? And besides, I hadn’t brought the camera with me.
But then, Mr. Seck is a professional photographer, and in the spirit of all mad professional photographers, started to insist that he not be transferred to the hospital ambulance until I had run back to the trailer to collect the camera and take a picture. The paramedics looked confused.
I should have picked up an old box and pretended it was a camera. Mr. Seck wouldn’t have known the difference in his state anyway. Instead, I stood and watched as the ambulance loaded a mad protesting anglophone aboard and disappeared to the sounds of, “Take a picture, take a fooking picture.”
Goodbye Mr. Seck. At least I wouldn’t finish last now.
After that, I felt a bit disconcerted and decided to take it easy and miss the next few practice sessions. I also had to work out how to tell my stressed out girlfriend back in Toronto, that although racing was not particularly dangerous (as I had reassured her prior to departure), who’d have thunk that half of Team CMG was presently in hospital after only 15 minutes of track time?
Once I’d mustered up the courage, I re-hit the track and was quickly back in a groove, exploring how far I could push it. The answer came quickly and was basically, “where you are now, but back off about two turns.” In actuality, the answer came in two parts.
Part one was a long lurid slide coming out of the hairpin (corner 11). Although predictable, it made me realise that powering out wasn’t limited by the Beemer’s available power, but more by the track’s available friction (which was low to middling).
Part two was a little bit more dramatic (and forceful). Coming out of corner 2 and into 3, is a quick and purposeful flick of the bike from a tight left lean, straighten up and then immediately into a tight right lean. I thought I’d gotten this one about sussed and was practising raising my speed through it. Apparently, there is a minor bump right at the apex of corner 3, which somehow I managed to hit with the bike’s right cylinder.
|How do you do this and not crash?|
“Thwack”! The bike momentarily bounced back up and then dropped back down with even more force.
I was positive that my right foot never came off the peg, so when I felt the asphalt hit against the whole outside of my boot I naturally thought that I was down. At this point the front end decided to join in on the fun by going into a death-roll tank slapper, and I could feel the bars pulling away from my desperate hands.
If you’ve ever crashed before, you may be familiar with that weird, “oh dear, I believe that I’m about to wad it” feeling. It happens too quick to be fearsome. In fact, it’s a rather calm thought, as the mind braces all systems for impact.
Then, without rhyme or reason, the tank slapping stopped. I grabbed the bars without any thought and guided the S out of the corner and back into the land of the living. Wow.
After that, I accepted what the track was trying to tell me and slowed down.
|Editor ‘arris looking mildly confident.
Photo: Touseef Mirza
This and a couple of other moments were highlighting the limitations of what the S Tourer could cope with. The S Sports comes with taller suspension front and rear and a steering damper. I didn’t miss them at Mosport, but I really would like to have to have them for St. Eustache … please? But we were not endowed with these niceties and the only answer was to not lean the bike over as much. The obvious solution would be to slow down, but this is a race, you can’t slow down.
The practical solution is to adopt the pose and get yer stinking knee out and yer bod off the bike as far as you possibly can, in every corner. That way, the bike doesn’t have to come down as far to get around the same corner at the same speed, and so it’s less likely to ground out. All the racers do it, but then they’re probably in good shape as well. Until you’ve tried hauling your lardy ass from left to right to left to right at scary speeds on a scary track for many laps, you don’t have the full appreciation of what a work out it really is.
With a bit more of an understanding of how bad this track truly was, I called it a day and recruited the able services of Ian McQueen (and his rental car) to drop by the hospital and see how Mr. Seck was doing. Still in good spirits, but with a sprained hip and broken rib, we wheeled Monsieur Crutches out of the emergency and straight to the pub.