Intentional Destruction of Laboriously Engineered Artifacts
Part III

By Sam Q. Fleming

Victory is a double-edged sword.  Like narcotics, the sweetness of the moment quickly erodes to a dry craving for more.  After eight races with the BMW we had finally managed to take the final step up the podium from second to first.

Amidst the Denny's celebrations on the long drive home from Okalahoma we deconstructed the race and looked for areas where we could still improve.  We all agreed that we were getting close on the suspension but that we were still leaving outright speed and tire life on the table through a combination of static and dynamic geometry.

We sent one shock back to Marcus McBain at JRI for revised valving and internal geometry in an effort to keep the back end of the bike lower.  This was counter to every race bike any of us had ever tuned or ridden in the past but sometimes you just have to ignore personal anecdotes and go where the data take you.

 

Roebling Road Raceway
July 19, 2014

 

Foreground - Brunhilde.  From left, Steve Brunton, Ben Walters, Chris Peris, Anthony Consorte, Walt
Schaefer, Sam Fleming, Chris Manfrin, Melissa Berkoff, Tim Gooding, Katie Schaefer. (Photo by Liang Chen)

In a switch from Hallet, Chris Peris was able to attend this event and Taylor Knapp was not.  This was a little unfortunate as Taylor has Roebling wired and Chris had never seen the track.  Of course, the unkind would point out that given the state of Chris's vision, he still hasn't seen the track.

With Roebling being relatively local to Michelin North America, we had some extra technical advisors on hand to help us try to get the most out of our slicks.  We spent more time than usual monitoring tire temperatures and comparing that with various tire pressures and shock settings.

Tire temps and suspension changes.  Walt Schaefer, Rob Walker, Katie Schaefer, Ben Walters, Tim
Gooding (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

It was a new track for Chris but both he and Ben Walters were turning 1:14s with the bikes right off the trailer, with endurance compound tires.  Their practice times boded well and we were able to improve even further with additional tire and shock tuning.

The optimistic nature of our practice was tempered to some degree by the fact that, although it was going to be a fierce battle between the two top teams, there was hardly anyone else at the event.  A total of four teams had entered the race.  There was even some debate before the start of the event about shortening the race from four hours to two hours. 

I was personally opposed to shortening the event because I felt that, if this was going to be the last ever pure WERA National Endurance race, we should pay respect to the series and go out without compromise.  However, when the teams and WERA officials assembled on hot pit lane to discuss the proposal, the case I made was that AOD was going to be leading the race at the two hour mark and so we would win it either way but I wanted the full four hours so we could enjoy watching the rival team captain yelling at his team and generally storming around the pits.  I am not sure which rhetoric carried the day but the race was flagged off for the full four hours.

Anthony Consorte and Melissa Berkoff prepare for a bit stop. (Photo by Liang Chen)

In a bit of a farcical moment, half the teams jumped the start.  This included Sean Dwyer riding the rival heavyweight bike.  His resulting stop and go penalty gave us a 14 second lead on the track.

Unfortunately our bike started downshifting from sixth to fifth in an unpredictable fashion at the end of Roebling’s very high speed straight, just before the tricky front end scrubbing turn one.  Sometimes the bike would snick down through the gears with Teutonic precision; other times it would just hang in sixth gear until after the fourth or fifth attempt on the lever and a decent increase in blood pressure.  This shifting pattern led to some erratic laps and our lead had dwindled to a still sizeable 12 seconds before the first pit stops.

We pitted first and they pitted ten minutes later.  Our stop was a shade slower than theirs and Ben passed their rider on the track just as they were coming out of the pits.  We had a five second lead.

The Suzuki we were racing against was being co-ridden by Sean Dwyer and Reese Wacker, who were both DMG refugees for the weekend.  They had never been teammates before and were rivals in the DMG series.  Reese had to know that Sean's jumped start was going to be the subject of many sharp jokes at the team dinner that night.  So in one of the most selfless acts of teamwork ever witnessed in WERA endurance, Reese decided to step up and do something, anything, to shield his teammate from derision.

Pit stop on the way to a victory at Roebling Road. (Photo by Liang Chen)

Reese was pushing hard to try to catch Ben.  He gained a second and a half on Ben going into turn one when Ben missed the shift from sixth to fifth, and closed up a bit more on Ben into turn three.

And then crashed in turn four.

The bike wasn't too badly damaged so Reese was able to limp it back to pits but damage to the brake system meant they needed seven laps to make repairs. 

And we hadn’t yet reached halfway.

We spent the second half of the race stretching out the lead a little so as to validate our suspension choices. 

I took the last stint of the race because it is always fun to take a checkered flag in P1, and later that night at dinner, it wasn't Dwyer's jump start that everyone was talking about.

 

Sam takes the win for AOD at Roebling Road. (Photo by Liang Chen)

 

Barber Motorsports Park
October 23, 2014

Brunhilde had never handled better than at Roebling Road but we wondered what would happen if we kept going in the build direction.  Marcus at JRI concurred, so for the third race in a row we'd have another new rear shock to try.

The race was scheduled for mid-week but we would not have a practice day.  It would be a show and go type of affair.

It was also going to be the last round of the combined CMRA/WERA USNE series and, if Roebling Road was the last WERA National Endurance Race, this round might be the last endurance race at Barber.  Having raced the WERA National Endurance series to some extent from 1993 to 2014, it was bittersweet, to say the least, to contemplate the end of an era.

The author wearing out tires. (Photo by Lee Fields)

The championship points situation was complicated.  Although we had won more races than any other team this year, our mechanical issues earlier in the season were keeping the points very close.  There are also two ways of scoring endurance: Overall, and Class.  We were leading the Heavyweight Class points because of the tighter results; however, we were trailing in Overall scoring because some 600s finished between us and our rival at the NOLA round when the electrical gremlins hopped on our bike for a few stints.  When Reese crashed at Roebling and they lost seven laps, there were no other teams entered in the race to push them back in the Overall result.  As the French would say, such is racing.

Nonetheless, with two straight wins and a chance at an eighth national championship for the team and going down in history as winning the last WERA National Endurance races ever, we were feeling the pressure to perform.  We were fully staffed at the race , with riders Ben, Taylor, Chris and myself all in attendance plus a full pit crew mainly lacking in orthopedic injuries.  We also had Michelin support in attendance with both Walt Schaeffer and David Hirsch.

Taylor had been ripping up the track the week before at the Barber Vintage days so we were very fast in practice.  However, so were our rivals on their Dunlop shod Suzukis.  And, to kick it old school, they decided to enter both their bikes and field two teams so that if we blinked, they could push us further back in the points.

The tension was palpable for the race start as Taylor lined up next to Dustin Dominguez.

From the first twitch of the flag the racing was axle to axle.  We would lead five laps, then Dustin would lead for five. Sometimes the lead went back and forth in a single lap.  Both teams were on the wall watching the drama and the lap times.  We were particularly nervous as the clock passed 40 minutes as we feared a drop in rear tire performance which would give them an advantage.  However, the drop never came and Taylor maintained our position.

The first hour of the Barber race with no quarter asked, no quarter given. (Photo by Lee Fields)

Barber is a relatively low speed track.  Typical gearing sees bikes really only using 2-4 gears.  With so much of the time spent at high RPMs but lower MPH the fuel consumption is pretty high.  We had programmed fuel trims into the lower gears on our bike to mitigate that effect to some degree but the high powered engines were still drinking.

So in an unexpected twist, Dustin signaled to his pits that he was low on fuel and they pitted before the first hour mark.  This was portentous because it meant they might have to do a splash and go in the last hour which would cost them an extra fifteen seconds.  This race was close enough that an extra fifteen seconds would be enough to make a difference in position.

They picked up a few seconds on us at the first pit stop but we clawed it back on the track when Chris chased down Sean.

We decided to play it safe and change out the front tire at the second stop.  It wasn't really required but it looked like this race was going to be a knife fight to the end and I wanted Taylor and Chris to be able to ride the front as hard as they wanted without worrying about it folding up.  Although usually we can do the front wheel faster than the rear, this time we balked and it cost us another seven seconds.  Seven seconds usually doesn't make much difference in the third hour of an endurance race but this was the closest endurance race in two decades so we were despondent about the pit stop.

Taylor Knapp in a hurry. (Photo by Lee Fields)

Taylor and Dustin paced each other on the track with Dustin leading, but not by enough that their theoretical end of the race splash and go wouldn't hurt them.  Taylor dropped back a little early on but then found a rhythm and closed back up.  They were leading by about ten seconds going into our final pit stop.

Going into the fourth and final hour we pulled into our pits for our last stop.  We put the bike on the stand, pulled out the rear axle, removed the rear wheel, and a cry went out up and down the pits. 

"RED FLAG! RED FLAG!  TOOLS DOWN!"

We were stuck in the pits unable to finish our stop and, therefore, unable to take the restart of the race from the track.  We would have to wait for the green flag before putting on the rear wheel and then taking back to the track behind the rest of the field.

However, some of this pain was mitigated when we found out that the bike that had caused the crash was Sean.  He had lowsided in the last turn onto the front straight BUT the bike had stayed on the track, halting the race.  The bike was barely damaged but they would need to return to the pits and re-tech before they would be able to take the restart as well.

So, with the closest endurance race in 21 years, with the closest championship battle in 21 years, both leading teams would be starting the last 40 minutes of the race from pit road.

Endurance rules dictated that they couldn't touch their bike before the green flag, and one of our crew members took it upon themselves to provide some extra monitoring of that rule.  Tempers flared.

The re-start green flag fell.

We finished our pit stop and got out onto the track. 

It's good to be in the center for the last WERA endurance podium. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

They fixed their bike incredibly fast and wheelied past our pits to try to run us down on the track. 

They had put Dustin, their strongest rider, back on the bike, but we had returned Taylor to the seat as well.  Taylor was trying to balance our 45 second lead against the time left on the clock and massive amounts of traffic as we had started behind the entire field. 

Dustin put in a number of flying laps and began to close up the gap to us.  We were constantly running the numbers and we figured out that if he kept that pace and Taylor couldn't speed up, they could actually catch us.

Fortunately for us, Dustin’s crew was still tidying up after their repair work and it took them a few laps to get back to manning a pit board for Dustin. By they time they got a minus board out for him, his rate of change had stalled and he gave up the chase.

We won our third overall race in a row and with it, the Heavyweight Superbike Championship, for our eighth national championship.  We won BMW’s first ever US national endurance championship and won the first national championship for Michelin since our last championship win nine years before. 

In a nice twist of "everyone gets a trophy day," our rivals inherited the Overall scoring championship by less than a point because our bad races had some 600s in them while their bad races were lightly attended and/or they stopped the race when they crashed.

After officially retiring from championship chasing in 2005, we had tried to bring, if not our A game, at least our B game for 2013 and 2014.  Using the new platform of the S1000RRs had resulted in the opportunity for personal growth through frustration but it seems that we had finally cracked the code with help from Michelin and JRI to figure out a way to get the prodigious power of the BMW out to the track.  If 2014 is the end of National Endurance racing in the US, then it was supremely gratifying to be able to win the final three rounds after one and half seasons of struggle.

The sun sets on an endurance era.  Thank you WERA for all the great years! (Photo by AOD Ministry of
Information)

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