2023-06-19 & 20 – The Ridge with Track Time

I continue to be awed by what great events Track Time puts on up at The Ridge. This is my second outing there this season and I had the privilege of sharing a garage with Ken, Phil, CJ, and his crew. I was supposed to spend the second day doing 1-on-1 coaching with Ken but the entire morning was wet and hardly anyone went out. On the first day I just worked on getting myself up to pace. Being that MotoAmerica will be racing in a few days, there were a few teams practicing and getting data. This included Stefano Mesa, Kayla Yaakov, and the Indian Super Hooligan team (Petaluma local Tyler O’Hara and Jeremy McWilliams). Some local Super Hooligan talent was out there coaching for Track Time on their requisite 890 Dukes.

I hadn’t seen Phil Horowitz since I worked with him in 2019 at the Rickdickulous School at Chuckwalla. Phil was pleased to see my development and he ran a chase lap with video on me on the first day and had some suggestions. I still don’t feel as comfortable with The Ridge as I do my local tracks but it gets better each time. If you haven’t been there, I can tell you that it’s highly technical and a track that affords few clean passing opportunities. They had just put fresh grippy paint was on the curbs and the MotoAmerica trucks and trailers were slowly coming in over the 2 days. Grip is great on this track and it’s very well maintained. You could feel the excitement in the air.

I’d flown up with my Pirelli Race Rains because the weather forecast was sketchy. It was my first fly-n-ride experience. Not transporting the bike and gear was nice, my air travel was not great–big airports are a PITA and the drives from my home to SFO and SeaTac to Shelton are very long. The door-to-door on the way up was over 8 hours, on the return, it was about 7 hours.

On Day 1, I was mostly riding solo, just hoping to build on my May visit. I had left my bike with CW Moto (also a MA support organization) and they delivered my Daytona from their shop Monday morning along with all my gear, stands, warmers, full gas cans, etc. Contrary to the forecast, it was mostly sunny even in the first session. The clouds thickened in the afternoon but it stayed dry. My hope was to build some pace so that I’d be in a good spot for day 2 where I’d scheduled to do one-on-one with Ken Hill. My pace was generally pretty good but my precision suffered a little as I had to adjust for the slightly higher pace than I’d had on my May trip to The Ridge. The 2:00 PM session was particularly fun. It started out with me just trying to get through traffic for the bulk of it but in the last third or so, I started to see some clear track and almost immediately after that Kayla Yaakov goes past me on her Twins Cup bike into T3. I’ve been on track with Kayla at Buttonwillow (where she repeatedly passed me, always clean and tidy) and I had a flash of a thought which was something like this: “There’s no technical/hardware reason why I can’t run that kind of pace, maybe I’ll just try to keep her in sight for a few corners.” Now she was running far from a pace that I know she can, but all the same, from that point on she never completely disappeared from my sight. My precision wasn’t as good because my turn in and braking points weren’t where they were at the former slower pace of the session, but it was inspiring.

I started the day with a well-used set of tires and told myself I had to be able to run a consistent pace before I ‘earned’ fresh rubber. I was able to do that by the end of the morning sessions so I swapped to fresh tires at lunchtime. While the old tires didn’t feel bad, the fresh front & rear felt really good! I normally like to have all my bike maintenance and prep done the day before a track day but by changing mid-day, I was able to appreciate the fresh rubber a lot more.

06/19/23 2:00 PM session, skip ahead to 11:14 to see Kayla go by me

On Day 2, I awoke to light rain at my Airbnb. When I got to the track, it was more of the same. I had rain tires and I was scheduled to work with Ken for the day. It didn’t really make sense for us to go out on the rains under those conditions and only a couple of riders from each group went out (on rains or DOTs) so we sat those out. Ken reviewed my data and his session from earlier and looked at suspension numbers. He decided he wanted to soften the front because neither of us had used a lot of front travel and nor did either of us feel we could use the brakes the way we wanted. We swapped out springs just a bit lighter and added some preload and took the bike out for a session and seemed pretty happy with it. He told me to go ride it next. I’m always apprehensive to provide feedback because I just don’t have a great sense of most of the suspension changes but I went out for a short session, short because though the track was mostly dry, the clouds were still spitting a little rain. Though I didn’t go very fast in that session, I could quickly tell the difference with the softer front. I hadn’t completely processed how to use the brakes with the changes but I was excited to get some more time in on it.

Because of the limited riding in the morning and a lot of people leaving early, Track Time scheduled an early lunch (11-12) and adjusted the afternoon schedule so that we had 2 groups with 30 minute sessions, this is my personal favorite format.

In the next session, I went out and got behind a very swift MotoAmerica-spec Ninja 400 and started to build some pace then. That was great fun, though he kept looking behind him, probably to figure out what the loud bike behind him was doing. I caught up on the front straight and thought I’d just try to do what he did in corners so I matched his speed then but couldn’t match his braking and lean for the chicane so I missed the first apex. That’s what’s known as sucking someone in. He got off track before I was ready so I just kept running and getting a feel for the softer front end. The phrase that came to mind for me is this: I can now manipulate the front end. The front felt a lot more like my street bikes where I can appreciably feel the front end compressing and that’s when I like to initiate the turn-in. I suddenly felt like it gave me another very significant tool to getting the direction for tun-in that I never had before, kind of a 3-dimensional sort of effect. For me, this was a HUGE bonus. It ultimately gave me so much more confidence not just at turn-in but everywhere. I felt like I could drive in toward turn 6 much deeper, drive out of it with more confidence, build brake pressure more gradually (where applicable, like T11, chicane entrance, etc.).

In the last session, I went out on my own, though Ken & Phil were behind me. The first couple of laps I got behind a friend on his R1 which proved a little challenging to pass but I figured out a clean opportunity and as a result, he got some nice follow video and I tried some different lines (not optimal, but it’s good to work that out too). Apparently Ken was running video on me directly behind so I’ve included that at the end of this post. I felt pretty good about my bike control and what I was doing and I know both from what I saw in my own riding some things to work on and I see some things I want to clean up from Ken’s chase video. I still have some learning to do with the front end revisions and I’m excited about that. As it turns out, I like a softer front end than some might.

Track Time puts on great events at a great track. The low-ish headcount format is awesome and the emphasis that Track Time puts on safety is part of the culture with them. I wish our Northern California providers would think about a format like this. I have to think there are other riders than just me who are willing to pay more for a safer and lower headcount track day. There wasn’t a single bike to be picked up at lunch or at the end of day 2, even with rain. I’ve never attended another track day that has so much one-on-one coaching available either.

I’ve never been to another track that is so proactive in track and facilities maintenance and improvements. The Ridge Motorsports Park is amazing. I was there less than 3 weeks prior and there were some only slightly questionable patches in a couple of turns and this time they were perfect. The surface is grippy, the configuration is highly technical and has excellent elevation changes (I love some elevation at a track), and the facilities are great, though a fuel station would be much appreciated.

Ken Hill knows his stuff, not just in coaching, but mechanically. He looked at the data on my bike (I have suspension potentiometers and brake pressure sensors) and checked out my setup sheet and knew just what to do. This was phenomenal for me, particularly since I’m normally numb to suspension changes.

In one session of following me, Phil Horowitz picked out 3 or 4 things for me to tune in to that make a difference in being cleaner and faster. His coaching skills are strong and his enthusiasm and positivity are contagious. I’m planning to spend a day of one-on-one coaching with Phil soon.

Being on track at the same time as national-level talent is a rare and exquisite opportunity. These folks executed super-clean and swift passes. The speed differential is significant but never scary. Kayla, CJ, Tyler, Mark, Sean, Rossi (Moor), and Jeremy are awesome to ride with on track–it’s an inspiration to share the same time and space with these professionals.

I wasn’t able to stay for the MotoAmerica round at The Ridge but it sounds like it will be an excellent one to attend in person not just for the racing but the carnival rides, the go-kart track there, and the weather should be perfect. I’ll be watching on MotoAmerica Live Plus all weekend.

6/20 4 PM session, rear tire was spent but I was feeling pretty good about things, probably my best session in terms of pace + accuracy
Same session, Ken following me, I see stuff to work on when I return in July
Lots of this was showing up over the 2 days at The Ridge
The Man!
Day 1 weather was a treat
Day 2 started quite wet
Ken testing out the new springs
Revised springs in the front
Tyler O’Hara (who lives down the road from me), photo by Gavin Powers
Suspension graph, look at that nice 105mm travel at turn-in for the chicane (3rd graph in red), the bike felt so good!