Birmingham, AL – April 21-24 -- Part of the reason I decided to buy a Ducati 749R for the 2005 season was the opportunity to race a couple of AMA Formula Extreme races. I raced AMA Pro Thunder a couple of times on my TZ chassied Honda 500cc single, and a couple of times on a Supersport-spec 748 (including at the AMA/WSB race at Laguna Seca, which was way cool). I have Formula Extreme a shot last year on a built-up 748, but huffed the motor in the first few laps of qualifying. The 749R would give me a competitive bike for both AHRMA twins classes as well as AMA Formula Extreme.
Since the Kershaw/Daytona AHRMA rounds, my engine builder JD Hord and I put our heads together and formulated a plan of attack. Ducati sells a World Supersport kit which consists of a Termignoni 57mm exhaust, new ECU, heads, and cams. It’s supposed to be good for 135 hp (stock is about 112 hp). After chatting a bit with Bruce at BCM, JD decided to port and machine the stock heads to match the kit heads, and stick with the stock cams for now. As the kit cams are built to World Supersport specs, they must retain the stock lift, so they only increase the duration. JD's thought was increasing the duration would simply added power “to the right side” of the dyno sheet. In other words, we’d probably pick up some peak power, but it would shift the entire power curve further up the rpm band. As the DP/Termi ECU’s rev limiter cuts off at 11,500 rpm, I’d need to buy both the kit cams and the kit ECU, a pretty good chunk of change. Plus, the power of the piped 749R was broad and linear, which is usually the path to quick lap times for all but the fastest of riders. I hated to mess that up.
We’d already added the Termi exhaust prior to Daytona, giving us 126 hp on race gas. We were hoping the 130 hp with the head work. JD decided to tear the motor completely apart in order to make sure everything was set up correctly. He spent quite a few hours porting and machining the heads, and – as usual with racing – we finished up without much time to spare. Ducati’s new collets and shims meant ordering up a stack of new-style shims. Thanks to sponsors Hind’s Motorsports for helping out with the last-minute Ducati parts orders, as well as Cycle Tech for all their help.
I ran my new bodywork in primer for the AHRMA Kershaw/Daytona rounds, but naturally wanted to look good for the AMA event, so the traditional Wounded Duc.com neon yellow and blue livery was splashed on the fiberglass. Larry Sheeter at Signature Signs came through with a bunch of nice decals in short order (yes, everything in racing seems to get done at the last minute), and the bike was ready to go. I’d been working with Barnacle Bill on a new set of custom leathers, which were slowed down a bit by his workload and my desire to get down there and get measured in person. My last set of BB leathers lasted through six years of racing and quite a few crashes, and they were definitely ready – perhaps a bit past ready – for replacement. Bill stitched up his usual excellent suit, and shipped my leathers straight to the track in time for Thursday’s practice day.
I was schedule to be in Florida from Sunday the 17th to Wednesday the 20th. So, I asked my club- racing buddy and one-man pit crew Doug McPeek to drive my van and trailer from Ohio to Alabama, while I flew from Orlando to Birmingham. Things went well, Doug arrived in plenty of time for us to get to the track and set up the pits Wednesday afternoon. It was then we discovered that Doug had lost the trailer keys somewhere between Ohio and Alabama. Can’t really yell at a guy that volunteered to drive your rig 600 miles and take five days out of his life to play pit crew. I did glare at him a bit, though.
Naturally, all the tools were locked in the trailer, so it was off to the store to buy a hacksaw and blades to about breaking into my own rig. The trailer locks are the type that you can’t get at with bolt cutters. Without getting into too many details (if you’re going to break into my trailer, at least you have to figure it out on your own!), it took a couple of hacksaw blades and about an hour of sawing to get in. Thankfully, I had a spare key in the trailer (yes, in hindsight, the van might have been a better place for it), so we didn’t have to cut off the back locks.
Thursday was promoter's practice -- no factory guys allowed. Formula Extreme was first out at 8: 30 am. I went out on tires that had done two sprint laps at Daytona just hoping to reacquaint myself with the track (I've raced here twice before) and get warmed up. Got in 17 laps, with my times dropping each lap, ending up with a 1:38.2, which isn't setting the world on fire (Haskovec won pole last year with a 1:27.8) but not bad for the first session at 8:30 am on shagged tires. My best time at a Barber club race is a low 1:37.
After the first session, the right side of my front tire was really torn up, but I wanted to do another session before changing tires. It already takes 3 sets of new tires to do an AMA weekend, and I really didn't want to buy a fourth set. It only took a few laps and a couple of big front end slides to realize that wasn't a good decision. Newly painted bodywork, brand new leathers, and shredded tires just wasn't a good combination. I pulled in and headed to the Pirelli truck for new skins.
Unfortunately, the skis opened up before my next session. It rained hard for about an hour at 1 pm. After it quit, a few guys went out on rains, but I wasn’t too hip on that, as the forecast was for clear skies on Friday and Saturday. I decided to hang out and see what the weather did. It dried up by late afternoon, but the practice was over, so we did AMA tech and registration and headed back to the hotel.
Unfortunately, the forecast for Friday was changing, with the Thursday evening news calling for heavy thunderstorms moving in after 3 pm. FX was scheduled for an hour practice session from 8: 30 am to 9:30 am, and then qualifying at 2 pm.
Friday started out a bit overcast, but our early morning practice session had a dry, although somewhat green, track to work with. I went out early and stayed out, clicking off laps, trying to find a rhythm and pick up speed. I dropped down to a 1:37.11, and pitted with about 20 minutes left in the 50 minute session. Got a splash of gas, a drink of water, and sat on pit wall a few minutes to chill and regroup for a late-session run. I went back out and dropped right back into 1:37 laps. I slowed down waiting for someone to come by that I could latch on to. One of the factory Buells roared by, and I tucked in behind him and did my best to hang on. Those bad boys fire out of the turns! The tow helped, and I did my best lap of 1:36.89 on lap 26 of 27. Haskovec had the fastest time of the session at 1:28.5
My qualifying session was scheduled for after lunch at 2 pm, but at about 10:30 the skis opened up. We watched it rain for about a half hour, then the AMA moved lunch up from 1 pm to 11 am. At noon, they sent the Supersport bikes out for practice in the rain. The rain tapered off during their hour session, and the Superbikes went out for their hour session on a wet track. The rain had stopped, but it was overcast and still, so the track wasn't drying. My qualifying session was at 2 pm, and my bike sat on stands with no wheels. Would it dry enough for slicks, or should I go out on rains? Watching the Superbikes practice on rains with big rooster tails behind them convinced me to mount up the rains. I have rains mounted on some stock 749 wheels, but I only have one set of rotors, so those had to be swapped as well. I got the wheels mounted up and the suspension softened up, into my old leathers and onto pit road with about 10 minutes already gone in the session. Just as I rolled out, the red flag flew, so I sat on the hot pit. They let us out with about 30 minutes left in our session. The track was very wet, and everyone was on rains.
I started feeling my way around in the wet track, trying to see where the limit was. My laps started out at 1:58, and started dropping about a second each lap. A dry line was forming, but it was still slick enough to catch you out if you weren't careful. There were several bikes that went down. I got down to a 1:51, and was stuck there for a couple of laps. We were under 10 minutes, so I decided it was time to do what I could before my rain tires burned up. The best I could do as a 1: 50.36 before time ran out. The guys on the new-style rains (with groves rather than blocks) seemed to be flying, as the new-style tires seem to tolerate a dry line much better than the old-style tires. Some of the faster guys with two bikes jumped on their other bike with intermediate or DOTs in the last few minutes of the session and set some reasonably fast times, the best being a 1:37.7. My 1: 50.3 looked pretty lame by comparison.
Next up was Group 2 FX qualifying, which are the fastest half of the riders based on practice times. With the track drying, these guys didn't waste any time and went right out on slicks. The sun was out, the track was quickly drying, and the times were dropping. With the usual qualifying rules of 112 percent, Group 1 was going to get hosed. DuHamel won the pole with a 1:27.7, which would have knocked out everyone in Group 1. The AMA suspended the 112 percent rule due to changing conditions, so everyone with a qualifying time is on the grid. My lame wet times put me 26th out of 27 and on row 7, but at least I was in the show.
My goals coming to this race were to 1) qualify; 2) get my lap times in the 1:35s, 3) finish 20th or higher (they pay down to 20th). One down, two to go!
After qualifying in the wet on Friday, I was looking forward to seeing if I could drop my lap times in our half-hour practice session right before lunch on Saturday. I had Pirelli supersoft tires on front and rear as the Pirelli folks were low on soft fronts and were saving them for the race. I figured the supersoft would last through the shorter practice session without a problem. I cranked up the rear ride height a touch as I was dragging the fairing on the right rear near the pipes. I backed off the preload front and rear just a bit, and otherwise left everything else alone.
It was really windy Saturday and much cooler -- high 50s. I hate racing in high winds, as at my size (6'4" 200 lbs) a head wind really seems to slow the bike down. It really felt like it was draining my speed on the straight between 3 & 4 and the back straight. I had a hard time getting up to speed, running 1:39s and 38s for quite a few laps until I dropped into the 37s my final few laps, with my best being a 1:37.45 on lap 12. On lap 13, I ran off and through the gravel in T4 when I got in hot and then missed a shift. With about 2 minutes left in the session I decided throwing it away in practice wasn't a good idea, so I pulled into the pits.
On the upside Kevin Schwantz and Jamie James were pitted next to me helping out Opie Caylor. Schwantz asked how I was doing, if I was having fun, etc. Asked him if he could shave 5 seconds off my lap times if I went to his school. He laughed and said "maybe two -- one per day." But he'd have to teach me how to ride a Suzuki, he said.
So my best practice time was a little over half a second slower than my best time in the Friday morning practice, yet I felt like I was riding harder. Still, I always go faster in the race, so I was still feeling pretty good and looking forward to clicking off some 1:35s. I reset the preload back to my original settings, had the Pirelli boys spoon on a soft front and a Supersoft rear, and waited for the FX final, which was scheduled for 5:10 pm.
Here's the official, sanitized-for-your-protection, run-through-the-spin-cycle race report:
"Wounded Duc.com's Mark Hatten suffered a heartbreaking flat rear tire while closely following the top three riders in AMA Formula Extreme at Barber Motorsports Park Saturday."
Okay, now here's what really happened:
I was holding down a lonely last place when my back tire went flat shortly after being lapped by Migel, Jake, and Vincent on lap 10.
Frankly, the flat tire just put me out of my misery. I kept getting slower every time I went out on the track over the weekend, to the point my best lap times in my race were 1.5 seconds slower than my best times in Friday morning practice.
With the red flag in the Superbike race, the FX start was pushed back to around 5:30 pm. I was gridded in the back row, but I always get good starts, and with the AMA's "staggered and sloped" grid, figured I could get by several riders before T1. When the light went green, I came off the line well and jumped up even with the row 6 riders. Unfortunately, the guy directly in front of me in row 5 blew the start, and I had to check up to avoid ramming him. That killed all my drive, and I was dead last going into T1. I tried to go up inside a couple riders braking into T4, but got the door slammed shut on me. I was making stupid mistakes all through lap one, riding like an orange-shirt novice. My first three laps were all in the 1:39 range -- I was riding like crap and was losing touch with the rider in front of me. Riding a neon yellow Ducati with neon yellow leathers seemed like a really poor idea right about now -- this was certainly a time where the less attention called to myself the better.
I took a deep breath and just tried to relax and pick up the pace. I finally dipped into the 1:38s in lap 5, but stayed there for the next 5 laps, never even cracking into the 37s, let alone the 36s like I'd turned in the practice, or the 35s that was one of my goals.
On the start of lap 10 I saw the blue flag at the start/finish tower, so I moved to the right and waived the leaders through. Miguel, Jake, and Vincent streamed past nose to tail. My bike seemed to be getting really "floaty" and I couldn't imagine the tires were going away that early in the race at the slow pace I was running. I had a pretty good slide coming out of the final turn onto the front straight, and I looked down on the straight to see if I had oil on my tire. Bike seemed to be okay, so I pitched it into T1 and just about got pitched off. I knew something was wrong big-time, so I threw my hand up, moved to the outside and tried to watch for riders coming. By that time, I was pretty sure I had a flat tire, so I limped to T4 where I new I could get out of the way and into a crash truck. Sure enough, my rear tire was as flat as a pancake.
So, I ended my Big Barber Adventure in the back of the crash truck. I was credited with 24th place, ahead of four other riders who dropped out before I did. Everyone who finished ahead of me finished the race, so dropping out on lap 11 didn't hurt my finishing position any, for whatever that's worth. Looking at the lap charts, running my practice times of 1:36 would have moved me up a couple of spots, and running my goal times of 1:35s would have netted about two more, but that's about it. Running AMA races means running with a fast crowd.
But hey, I'm a 43-year-old club racer with no false illusions. I'm well past the point of hanging it out far enough to run with 16 year old kids (like Ryan Andrews, who finished an impressive 10th place on Doug Chandler's '04 bike -- the only other Duc in the class). Running AMA stuff gives me a chance to what most club guys never do -- run with the best. It's a cool experience, and as long as they have a class for my bike and I can beat the qualifying cut-off, I'll continue to do one or two a year. Besides, I get a little Speed Channel coverage when the leaders lap me!
My next AMA race this year will be Mid-Ohio in July. The next race on my 2005 schedule is the AHRMA national at Gingerman in Michigan Memorial Day weekend.