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Toyota 200 Race Report


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The Toyota 200 at Willow Springs is the richest race in all of road racing with $150,000.00 up for grabs and it’s supposed to be a continuous 200 mile test of endurance. Unfortunately this year’s event was interrupted by several race stoppages and ended up more like a bunch of separate races run back to back. Each red flag stoppage lasted around 15 minutes and this gave the teams plenty of time to change tires and re-fuel during the break, it allowed the riders to recover as well.

 

A lot of time and effort go into planning for a 200 mile race. You have to organize your pit crew, practice pit stops and make modifications to your bike so that you can change tires and re-fuel quickly. As a rider you need to prepare yourself to go the distance as well. Riding hard for two hours is exhausting and if you’re not ready for it, it’s more like torture. Every year during the Toyota 200 I wonder why I’m doing the race again and think that I’m never going to put myself through this the next year. However when the race ends the satisfaction of finishing makes it worth it.

 

This year I was well prepared to go the distance. I was using the same ZX10 I raced last year so I didn’t have to do much to the bike to get it ready. I worked pretty hard on my fitness as well. I rode my bicycle about 5 days a week in the months before the race and I think that makes the race a lot easier. I organized my pit crew early and we had a practice at my house a few weeks prior to the race. The guys helping me out did a great job during the practice runs and I had a ton of confidence in them going into the race.

 

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There are two qualifying sessions prior to the t200. The first round of qualifying was a month before the race and I ended up qualifying 8th fastest during that session. I knew the time I put in would be good enough to get me in the race (the fastest 40 riders qualify each year) but I knew I would probably be pushed back some in the qualifying session that occurs the Friday before the race. On the weekend of the race some pretty fast guys showed up (Jeremy Toye, Jason Pridmore, Rich Oliver, Jackob Smrz, etc…) and I ended up getting pushed back to 22nd on the grid. I wasn’t too concerned about starting position as it really doesn’t make much difference in a race of this length.

 

Saturday (the day before the 200) WSMC holds all of the normal club races. I hadn’t planned on racing any events on Saturday, but the guys at Michelin wanted me to test a tire so I signed up for the 12 lap Formula One race. Formula One if the premier race of the day with all the fastest riders trying for the win and the $1000 that goes along with that. I was going to be running on a tire that already had 10 hard laps on it and starting from the back of the grid so I didn’t have any expectations of doing well. I ended up having a great race with Tyler Paulson for the whole 12 laps. I ended up finishing in front of Tyler, but only because he kinda let me lead on the last lap and then couldn’t get back around me. It was a fun race and the tire I tested worked well for the 22 laps I ended up putting on it and I figured it would be a good tire to use in the 200.

 

Race day turned out to be a perfect day for racing. The temperature was perfect and the sun was bright in the desert sky. As I pulled my bike out onto the grid and looked up the hill it was cool to see all spectators lining the fences and I was looking forward to doing my best to give them a good show. The track even provided all of the riders with umbrella girls so we could have a little shade while waiting on the grid. I took my time on the warm up lap and made sure to salute all my friends watching up in turn four.

 

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So the green flag drops at the start of a 2 hour race and 40 riders head into turn one all looking to make up a spot or two. A bunch of guys are super aggressive cutting in and out of traffic, but I play it cool and try to stay out of trouble. I fell back a few places on the first lap or two but I knew it would be a long race and there is no sense in putting yourself too much at risk on the first few laps.

 

After the first few laps I settle into my race pace and start to knock off laps. My pit board was telling me I was around 20th and I had a few 600s to play with so it was all good. I relaxed and followed three other riders for a bunch of laps and when their pace started to drop off I passed them and moved up a couple spots. After around 29 laps my fuel light came on and I signaled my pit crew that I was coming in.

 

A lap later I was screaming into the pit lane for some fuel and tires. I pulled my bike into the pit stall and hopped off to get a drink and clean my face shield. While I relaxed my awesome pit crew scrambled to change my rear tire and fill the tank with race gas. My pit crew did a great job to get their work done in about 30 seconds which didn’t give me much time to rest. I was back on the bike and ripping out of the pits in no time, only to be back in the pits about three laps later due to a race stoppage.

 

Just after my pit stop came the first red flag of the race and we all had to go back in the pits and wait for the track to be cleaned up. This kinda hurt my effort. I had entered the pits in 20th place and exited in 15th. Because of the awesome work by my pit crew I made up several places and put some ground between me and the riders chasing. Unfortunately the red flag changed all that and we had to start over as a group.

 

We restarted the race and I again lost a few positions on the start due to my being conservative and not wanting to mix it up and put my self at risk. I figured I’d have 40 laps to work my way back towards the front. This was not to be as a few laps later I noticed the corner worker in turn two holding a yellow flag. As I entered the turn my eyes just about came out of my head when I saw the WALL OF FLAMES and thick black smoke I was going to have to ride through. Someone had crashed on the entrance to the turn and their bike exploded and spewed gas all over the track. By the time I saw the flames there was no way I was going to get stopped and besides I didn’t want someone to hit me from behind. So I put my head down and rode through the flames like one of those dare devils crashing through a burning wall. Back into the pits to sit and wait while the track workers clean up the mess.

 

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Another re-start, another few laps and then another red flag. This time it was because a rider had fallen in turn 5 and left a few large pieces of his bike on the track. Another chance for the riders to recover and another chance for me to loose a few places on the restart.

 

After the final re-start we had 22 laps left. I rode conservatively for the first few laps, it would be terrible to come this far and get taken out by some super aggressive rider trying to make up time at the start. I was gridded 15th for the last restart and when I came around my pit board showed me that I had slipped to 20th which was very disappointing. I was freaken pissed that I had worked so hard preparing for this race and I wasn’t getting the results I had hoped for. I kept at it though and just rode my pace. I worked my way past a few riders and my pit board showed me up to 18th. As the laps wound down I was able to pass a few more riders and I figured that I probably ended up around 16th. I was a big relief to see the checkered flag wave and I could finally let up. I was pretty disappointed on the cool down lap and pulled into the pits with my head hung low. This is until my crew informed me that I had actually finished 12th!

 

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Now 12th isn’t the result I was looking for, I had hoped to finish in the top ten like I did last year (7th), but I was very satisfied with that result. Things just didn’t go the way I had planned this year. I felt the red flags really hurt my game plan and that a lot of the training and preparation was all for naught because of all the stoppages. However, it was a very competitive field this year and finishing just outside the top ten is OK by me. My crew did a great job with our one green flag pit stop and I felt pretty darn good.

 

I’ll be back in the 200 again next year and I’m sure I’ll be asking myself why I’m putting myself through this again. But when it’s over I’m sure I’ll feel pretty good about doing the race and be looking forward to the next one, just like I am now.

 

I have to say thanks to all the guys and girls that helped me out in the pits this year. Steve, James, Matthias, Reggie, Mike, Dustin and Lucy all did a great job!

 

I also have to say thanks to The California Superbike School, Advanced Kawasaki and Michelin tires for all their support as well. KBC Helmets and AGV Sport leathers kept me safe even while riding through a wall of flames.

 

Did I mention that I was dead tired at the end of the race :)

 

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