My final [big] track weekend for 2023 was at Buttonwillow, Config #13 (typical motorcycle config) with Carters at the Track. The Daytona is still awaiting reassembly so I brought the Tuono V4 Factory, initially fitted with some barely scuffed Super Corsa SP v3 tires (DOT) and on the spare wheels, I had my used SC1 Superbike tires (125/70 & 200/65). The rear had a half day on it at Laguna and the front had a Sonoma day, a Laguna AFM race, 2 days at Thill East, and a full day at Laguna. I’d also brought my Ninja 400 in case I wanted to run a session or two.
I went into the weekend without specific goals but wanted to really just work on getting a sense of what I’d put together over the season. I had last been there in early March 2023 and I don’t go there often so my experience is limited. My frequent track buddy Christian and I both planned to go and several of the Fun Track Days crew were there so we had adjoining garages with a total of 5 riders and 7 bikes.
Other Bikes – I ended up doing a a couple of sessions on the N400 running chase video in intermediate and on day 2 I rode his R6 (older model). That took me a couple of laps to get a sense of it and without a gear position indicator and the peaky power delivery it wasn’t immediately familiar. It was definitely sprung too stiffly for a 2:20+ pace and felt much better once I was in the 2:12 – 2:17 range. I felt like I could have gone faster easily but once below 2:20 I ran into substantial brake fade so I lost confidence in running faster. Even though it lacked a quickshifter/blipper, the shifting on it was exquisite, even better than my Daytona (and that says a lot). Another friend let me take his RSV4 out. This one, like the first one I had ridden at Laguna, had a too-loud pipe and rear sets, it also had clip-ons. The ergonomics would not be how I’d set up the bike. This one was in engine map #2 which was far more to my liking, the bike was nowhere as aggressive this way. Again though, it was the last session of the day and I was tired so that didn’t help. I really would like to ride a completely stock RSV4 to build an opinion.
Star Sightings – A highlight from Saturday was being on track with Melissa Paris and Josh Hayes. They had just rolled up with a couple of bikes in the back of their pickup for the day. Josh’s passes were so clean and swift, just inspiring. I chatted with them briefly at the end of a session when Josh had passed me and told him how much I respected his riding and appreciated the tidy pass. Melissa said he passed her dirty. They’re great people.
Preparation – The last time I was here with the Tuono the bike’s torque and the bumps were daunting. Having that knowledge going into it again definitely helped and I did think about tactics for dealing with that mix. One of the things that’s characteristic is that there are so many turns where the degree of throttle application (both rolling on rate and amount you roll out) is a bigger component than most of my other usual tracks. Sonoma has this too but not as much and not as fast as BW. I really feel that riding dirt and the bumpy kart track (with the N400) have done wonders for me being able to trust the chassis and tires to get through this kind of stuff as long as my technique is fundamentally sound.
Subjective bits first – I am in love with the SC1 in the 125/70 & 200/65 profiles on the Tuono. The wear is astounding for being a softer compound too–even at Laguna with the fresh pave, it was awesome. I burned through the DOT Super Corsa SP rear by the end of day 1 so I switched wheels Saturday night and that felt better on the bike and gave me more confidence.
Day 1 – I was able to go a second faster (compared to March 2023) by a second (meh) while I was mostly able to put the bike where I wanted. I did run into the bike’s electronics interfering with forward momentum in a few areas and on day 2, when I switched to the SC1 tires, I turned WC to 2 and TC to 2. On the last session, I took TC & WC to 1, which further reduced intervention. At smoother tracks, TC at 3 is fine but bumpier tracks I think I’ll dial it back to 2 or 1. It’s taken a while to find this information but for every rider it may be different based on your riding. If you’re prone to getting on the throttle with a lot of lean angle, you probably should use a higher setting.
Day 2 – Started with a bit of a rocky start with a few crashes and rescheduled sessions so I wasn’t able to put in a full session with some pace until the afternoon. First session after lunch I felt like I was putting the bike where I intended with a decent amount of consistency so I started extending things a little. This takes me a while sometimes at tracks where I don’t have a ton of experience so I need a good 4+ laps to warm up. In this session, come the end of lap 7, one of the Carters control riders apex bombed me into Sunset (he waved, he knew it) but I passed him on the front straight and tried to put things together more on that lap. He did pass me back in Riverside (I still have a lot of room there, though I’m getting more comfortable letting the bike run a bit higher than I have in the past, again, greater familiarity). All the same, I gave myself permission to push my degree of application a bit more and was able to maintain precision while turning up the volume. I’m sure my coach will have some suggestions but broadly speaking, I felt pretty good about it. I didn’t realize it until part way into day 2 but Turn 2 (On-Ramp, I think), is almost a mirror image of T11 at The Ridge. It’s a corner where you want to carry as much speed into it as possible, light on the brakes and adding brake pressure once you enter it. The exit of T2 is quite a bit different and anything from a twins bike and up will see very similar acceleration as you’re balancing acceleration with grip because you spend so much time vey slowly reducing lean angle while accelerating. I felt the rear slip a couple of times exiting T2 so I played with the throttle in less than 5% increments trying to get maximum drive out.
Buttonwillow Character – Buttonwillow, regardless of bike size, is a track that, to go quick, requires that you turn in on throttle. The bigger the bike, the harder this is. As you twist the throttle on any bike, the more it wants to stand up and go straight. Under fairly steady throttle turning the bike requires bar input and doing this with liter bike acceleration requires considerable effort, particularly if you’re trying to not upset the bike’s dynamics. There will often be a degree of throttle reduction but finding the right amount is tricky. I think this is the magic of Buttonwillow. It definitely requires more of certain skills than the other tracks I ride. On a big bike, Sonoma has a couple of spots, Thunderhill and the Ridge have very little of it, but it’s a big deal at BW.
What will be different next time:
I generally felt pretty good about the weekend at Buttonwillow. Red flags are inevitable and for some reason I was twice mis-identified as passing unsafely. I got the meatball, came into the hot pit, and then they realized it wasn’t me. I can’t do much about that but.
- The last right before full exiting Cotton Corners – I can carry a bit more speed into it and try to find the right amount of throttle reduction to turn the bike.
- Grapevine – carry more speed through there, I’m turning in slightly too early for my pace or I can up my pace and use the same turn-in.
- More track – I felt like I was pretty close to the edge of the track in the straights but in looking at chase video, I can still be over another foot or two.
- Exiting Riverside – I need to better anticipate where I want to be on track to turn-in for the left kink, reminding myself that I should be using more throttle (so lots of turning while on a good amount of throttle).
- Last left in the esses – again, a partial throttle to get the bike turned and I need to better anticipate it because I’d feel myself focusing on getting through the earlier bits as straight as possible but set up for the last left a little late, resulting in a faster turn-in than I’d like.
- Overall – remember to stay light in the seat in bumpy sections (front straight, wheelie bumps, just past Riverside apex, etc.).
- Move my butt earlier in Cotton Corners. I didn’t really start working on that until day 2 and it wasn’t as smooth as I’d like. I can work on this off-season at the kart track and on street rides.
- Throttle – even if for a split second, try to get to wide-open throttle whenever possible as long as I have proper throttle decay. Because so much of this track is dependent on partial or complete throttle roll off to turn, it’s difficult to build consistency (for me). Perhaps working toward this goal of even a few milliseconds of full throttle will help me build greater consistency.
- Wheelie, Aron, wheelie! – Toward the end of day 2 I started to wheelie the bikes a bit more over the 2 wheelie bumps. I have electronic wheelie control n the bike, I shouldn’t be so timid. On my fastest lap I had a nice wheelie over the first one (in the video).
- 100 mph + into Riverside – I want to get to the point where I’m busting 100 mph on the way into Riverside, ideally fast enough going in that I actually need the brakes. In previous visits, I was afraid of going more than half way up the bank but it was no big deal this time and dropping in to the apex is supremely satisfying.
Looking at some base things, in March (blue), I ran TC at 6, end of October I used 2, and that definitely helped my acceleration over the bumps. It did still get in the way in a couple of sections and I’ve reached out to Aprilia USA as I’m still trying to get a better understanding of how the electronics work on the bike. To note, the bumps on the right edge of the front straight were significant enough that the front end kept coming up, even near 130 mph.
My average throttle use went from 31% to 35% so that’s a substantial increase. I also used more throttle longer in several areas, which would indicate greater comfort in how the bike responds and my increased confidence in being able to slow the bike from higher speeds. My average [front] brake pressure increased from 1.1 bar to 1.2 but for a 3.5-second improvement, that’s not terrible. I did not use the rear brake.
Tuono Upgrade – Now that I have a few days in with them at different tracks, I think my favorite upgrade to the Tuono has been the carbon front brake caliper ducts. These are the Aprilia OE parts and I have yet to experience any brake fade, even with the pads worn down further than I normally let them get. On the Daytona, with the same pads, once I use ~2mm of material, I run into noticeable brake fade. I use the same master cylinder, same brake fluid, etc. The Daytona only has 310mm rotors and I’ll encounter confidence-sapping brake fade quickly. On a hot weekend at the Ridge, even with barely used pads, I’d find myself reaching for the remote brake adjuster as often as twice per lap (when at pace). The Daytona has Stylema calipers, the Tuono V4 has m50 calipers and based on past experience, the difference is negligible, in fact the Stylema calipers should have better airflow but I still encounter brake fade sooner. I’m planning some brake cooling upgrades for the Daytona but the brake ducts on the Tuono have been awesome. Because the brake pads are still usable (without fade) far longer, the ducts should pay for themselves quickly because I can use the brake pads longer. The installation is super simple and doesn’t interfere with wheel changes. This is a very high ‘recommend’ from me for V4 Aprilia bikes.