The Race Diaries, Part 7

(Read Part 6 here)


Ian McQueen looking like he knows his stuff.
Photo: Touseef Mirza

Although I suspected that the rider’s meeting would be much the same as yesterday and still in French, I dutifully attended and as expected, left non the wiser.

Saturday consisted of two practice sessions in the morning, followed by lunch and then the heat races. Although this was meant to define the starting positions at the grid, in my case it would just be another practice session, with a confirmation that yes, my place was indeed at the back of the grid.

Back on the track and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I pretty well continued at the skill level from where I left off yesterday. However, with a good nights sleep behind me and a masterfully calming phone call to Daniela back in Toronto, I opted to play it safe, pull the speed back a bit and focus on refining my lines and braking points.

It’s actually quite an art to be able to go fast enough to give the impression that you’re not totally out of place on the track, yet be slow enough as not to slip into that danger zone that, with enough track time, will inevitably result in getting up close and personal with the grass, sky and a line of hay bails.

This seems like a good time to go through a typical (for me at least) lap of St. Eustache, especially since I was getting quite proud of my abilities to stay within the aforementioned safety window.

This is the track (red signifies the route we used/where the bumps are).

The start/finish line is about half way down the home straight, although we always entered the track from the pits at the start of corner 2. At the end of the home straight is the first corner, aptly named corner 1. It’s a mild right hander and signifies that you should start thinking about shaving some speed off, ’cause you’re going to hit the chicane any time now. This would be accompanied by dropping down a gear and the frantic shuffling of feet in order to get my toes up on the pegs in preparation of the knee down, haul left, haul right tango of corners 3 and 4.

The Buell guys show how to take corner 3.
Photo: Touseef Mirza

It’s a beautiful thing when it works, scary shit when it doesn’t.

Hauling the bike upright out of corner 3 also means hauling your own lardy ass back onto the seat. A combination of a light front end and a series of bumps into corner 4, makes the bars wobble, but after a few doses of this, you learn to not let it freak you out.

Once out of 4, there’s enough time to accelerate up a gear through 5, before a tight squeeze of the brakes and back down a gear for the start of 6, 7 and 8. This is an odd corner, in that it has two apexes, at 7 and 8. Cutting in tight at 7 means that you enter 8 all wrong, so you have to take 7 wide and cut in sharp to clip 8’s apex. Of course, there’s a ginormous bump right there, with the scarred track to prove its elevation. Once I tried to take it wide, and was quite proud of myself as I found a smooth exit. That was until I also found the outer edge of the track, and rode for what seemed like an eternity on the painted line between asphalt and trackside grass, before pulling it back in for the long straight ahead.

JP was looking good but ultimately was also having problems with braking times.
Photo: Touseef Mirza

This is a tuck-in-and-goferit straight. As you near corner 9, there’s a line of six brake markers on your right. After much trial and (much) error I opted to squeeze the panic lever early, at marker one. Leaving it till two or three meant that you had to brake real hard and would still be on the stoppers as you crested the camber of the main oval just before corner 9. This is also a major bump zone, one that is more civil without the brakes applied. The result is a slower entry, but a faster and smoother corner and exit. I don’t know which one gave the best times, but the earlier braking was a lot easier on the nerves.

From there, I would coast into corner 10 and often drop it down a gear to keep my revs up. 10 is not a difficult corner, but if you don’t get your line just right, you end up entering 11 all wrong and nobody wants to do that.

11 is a weird corner. I was never happy with my line. The trouble was, it was just too tight to get right and rather slippery, so that any exuberant use of the gas would leave you sliding haplessly towards the concrete wall on the outside. You just want to get round it, and whatever line you take is all right, as long as you’re still upright for the straight.

Oh yes, the straight. It’s the drag strip and has two lines of tire tracks and ripped up asphalt, leaving a narrow band of the good stuff down the middle. I did use the drag area to pass occasionally, but not until I was back fully upright.

And then you’re doing it all again, but hopefully a bit smoother and a tad faster each time. Well done, you just survived St. Eustache.

Editor ‘arris reluctantly joins the mini grid for the heat race.

After lunch, it was time to check my grid position for the heat race. Evidently, I was on the second row, just to the left of Mr. McQueen. Behind us were two empty rows and then the SV guys, followed by another two empty rows and the lightweights.

At the track entrance, they have a mini grid painted so that you can get a visual idea of the layout before the real one at the start/finish line. Once everybody has jostled their way to their allotted place, you’re given the okay from the ASM official and you’re on the track.

There are two warm up laps, where you go fast enough to warm up the tires and familiarise yourself with the track once more, and then a slow corner 11 to allow you to shuffle into place.

A green light would indicate the start, but since I hadn’t taken the time to find the lights, I had to make a snap judgement and pick something that looked like it might do the job. A sudden roar of engines and smell of slipping clutch was enough to convince me that I hadn’t picked the right lights, and so I instinctively dropped the clutch and shot forward. The bikes ahead were joined by Ian and one SV rider before I’d even reached corner 1, and then a couple more before 6/7/8.

Trying to look big in corners.

Exiting 8, I glanced back to see a group of SV’s on my arse. Sod ’em, I thought. In practice, I would hold off a bit to let them pass, but this was serious now and I wasn’t going to be Mr. Nice Guy anymore. I tucked in and held the throttle fully open. Two gear shifts later and I was at the end of the straight without being passed. The S seems to have the edge on the straight over the SV’s, but it’s the corners where they get you. The trick I found, is too look unfeasibly big. Think about it. Nature commands that an animal try and look as big as possible if it feels threatened. Either that, or lunge forward and sink a pair of poisonous fangs into the unsuspecting predator.

Fangless and low on poison, I opted to poke out my elbows and push my knee as far out as possible, even before the corner had started. This seemed to do the job, and to my ultimate surprise, I believe that I finished the remaining six laps without being passed again.

By the end of it, I had ultimately failed to improve my grid position, but I was absolutely knackered – and after only six laps. How would I manage in the twelve lap final? Oh dear.

(Read Part 8 here)

Join the conversation!