Gingerman 6/16/07 (Getting Hair From the Dog That Bit Me)

So, in our ongoing trackday saga here, if you recall, I ended my season last year a bit prematurely by crashing out at the Gingerman racetrack.  After the three day tour in Northwestern Wisconsin last month it was time to decide what to do this month.  My first choice was actually Autobahn Country Club.  Sportbike Track Time was running a full course day there (3.5 miles, 22 turns... depending on how you count them.... oh yeah), unfortunately when I called, all they had was room in the Novice class.  So, I had to pick something else.  Well, it was either Gingerman at the end of the month with NESBA or mid month with SBTT.  I didn't want to wait until the end of the month so the stage was set... Gingerman with SBTT on Saturday the 16th. 

I normally would ride Sunday, but Gingerman has a quite time in the morning on Sunday and that's just wasted time.  So instead of having Saturday to get ready I basically did a little bit each weeknight until Thursday rolled around and the bike was trailered and waiting for Friday after work to finish tying it down and pack my stuff. 

Because of the one hour time difference to South Haven, last year I got up at 3:30 a.m. or something like that in order to get there by 7:00.  Not this time. Instead I got a room at a Red Roof Inn in Benton Harbor; about 20 miles from the track.  That way I could get the majority of the driving over with Friday night, get up at a reasonable hour, and still make it to the track on time.  And except for some rush hour traffic getting out of town on 294, everything worked out well.

I arrived at the Inn about 9:30 Eastern Time and got myself checked in.  One of the things I'm starting to appreciate about the Red Roof Inn's is you pay on the spot and you're done... no waiting to check out in the morning.  Found my room, brought some stuff up, and found that my air conditioning wasn't really working too well, so I guess I'm lucky it wasn't a really warm evening.  That's another thing about the Red Roof's... I guess you get what you pay for; can't expect everything to be 100% when you're paying $40. 

My room was on the second floor overlooking  the parking lot.  Actually all the rooms overlook the parking lot on one side or another.  But the rooms on my side of the building overlooked a big empty gravel parking lot just beyond the normal car parking, which is nice cause I can't put my car and trailer in a normal slot, so I just left it in the gravel area.  Worked out good.  The hallway to get to the room is actually an outside walkway/balcony sort of thing.  I went out there and leaned on the rail for a bit just looking at the surroundings and listening to the traffic zoom by on the Highway, which was no more than 100 yards from the Inn.

As I was leaning on the rail a few people walked by from their rooms and back.  One of them was a teenage girl that went down stairs and was rummaging around what must have been her parents minivan.  She came back up stairs and as I kept standing there I noticed that she had left the interior lights on in the van.  Not a good idea if you want to be able to start your car in the morning.  I didn't really think I should go knocking on their door (they don't know me, I don't know them), so I went inside, called them on the hotel phone and let them know their lights were on.  It must have been the mother I spoke to.  She was pleasant enough. Thanked me for letting them know.

Well, the bed wasn't half bad and I got some pretty decent sleep.  My cooler was still plenty cool in the morning, so when I woke up I had a couple nice cold glasses of milk, some cereal, and a banana for breakfast.... Yup breakfast of champions.  After breakfast I got myself together and I was back on the road at about 7:15.  Perfect.

The Inn was just a few miles from I196, and 30 minutes later I was at the track.  There was a STOP sign at the gate, so I stopped, waved to the guy standing over by the office, and started to go again.  He was kind of like, "Hey, wait a minute!".  Guess Sport Bike Track Time is not like NESBA.  Seems that I needed to pay an admission fee of $5.00.  I paid, went inside and found myself a place to park.

As I was unloading the car and trailer a guy parked next to me and we exchanged some pleasantries.  I asked him if he knew when tech was opening, and he said he thought it was already open, but he wasn't sure cause this was his first time at the track.  Ah... another newbie.  I continued unloading and realized that I hadn't stopped to fill the bike up with gas, and I hadn't filled my 5 gallon gas can with gas... doh!  Well, the track did sell gas, like most tracks, but I didn't even want to know the price.  It's usually significantly more expensive than a gas station. 

So, I got everything unloaded, and walked over to the track tower where I registered. 

They also told me that tech inspection was indeed open, so I went back to the car, got my bike and got it inspected.  Easy enough.

I went back to my spot, parked the bike, got my trailer unhooked, and took off five miles down the road to the nearest gas station.  When I got back there were people lined up at the gate, so this time I just waved and drove by... I had the wrist band to show I'd paid my fee.  I then drove back around to my parking spot and hooked the trailer back up to the car. 

By then the guy next to me had gotten his stuff unloaded and we talked some more.  Apparently he had wanted to get into trackdays for a while, but the cost of all the equipment kept him from doing it.  He explained that he had had an accident on some road; going around a curve fast and hit some oil or something, and he thought it would be good if he took his high speed riding off the street.  He definitely had the right attitude.  He was out there to stay within his limits and have a good time.   Amen to that.  Honestly, he picked the right organization to start track days with, STT ran a very structured Novice class.  They break it into three separate groups with the idea that the first group was the more experienced riders and group three were the least.

The paddock pretty much filled up and time came for the rider meeting.  All I can say is that it was too long.  The meeting it's self wasn't bad but then all the various business and sponsors got their say and before you know it it was past 9:00, and seeing as the Intermediate group was up first, I was getting gypped out of track time.  But we got through it and it was track time!

My first session out was definitely cautionary.  I don't really ride the CBR much since I got the BMW, so it was a bit of getting use to the bike gain, and of course this was THE track where I crashed last year so I wanted to make sure I left myself enough thinking room to analyze the corners and think about where things went wrong last year.  But, it was definitely good to get back out there.

After getting off the track and getting all my equipment off I went back to the tower, where they had a track map, and just studied it for a while.

Here are the tricky spots.  Turn two tightens up as you exit, so if you judge you speed by how fast you can go in, you're going to fast for the exit.  So, rather than hugging the inside of the curve at mid corner, you stay wider for a little longer and then cut in to be inside at the tighter apex.  Turns 4 is quick, as well as 5, but you can't go full speed through five because 6 is really tight.  And as you approach 6 you have to stay way to the outside of the track to get a more gradual arc through the turn.  The turn 8/9 combination is what got me last year.  As you can see, between 7 and 8 is a sweeper, and right about mid turn, when you would normally start to accelerate out of a corner you actually either have to maintain you speed or slow down because the corner tightens up just as you get to the point where you see the number eight.   So, the way to do that combination of corners is to stay wide through the sweeper and then cut and stay close to the inside of the track, which immediately becomes the outside of the the entry to turn 9.  That's where I blew it last year, coming out of eight I was on the gas, not accounting for the fact that the turn tightened up, hit the grass at the entry to turn 9, got back on track about the middle of turn 9, tried turning and braking to take the corner, and with my wet tires I was history.  There are also a couple other annoying spots on the track, in turn 2, between 7&8, exit of 9, and all of 10 there are joints in the asphalt where multiple lanes of asphalt were laid down.  So, as you go through these areas and you cross the joints it tends to unsettle the suspension.  Plenty of things to keep a person busy and thinking.  There are also some elevation changes; turn 1 is a slight down hill so you have to get most of your braking down a little early, two is slightly up hill, three to four is slightly up hill, I think six is down slightly.  Not sure about the rest of the track.

The day went alright for me and my neighbor, we talked on an off, and agreed that you just can't explain to someone what it's like to do a track day.  The level that you're riding at can't even be approached on the street.  As he put it, you're constantly nailing it, and the speeds around the corners at first seem ridiculous, but he knows if the control riders can do it, he can too.  And so gradually you recalibrate your thinking about what's possible.

Not everyone was having as good a day as us.  I think there was a total of three red flags to either allow people to get their crashed bikes off or for the ambulance to make an appearance.  One crash in particular seemed pretty bad.  Someone wiped out in turn 11, which of course blocks the track exit.  We all kind of rode through the grass to get off the track, but it didn't look good, the guy was laying in the exit lane.  Found out later there had actually been a collisions.  But it didn't seem to bad, the guy that got it worse stepped out of the ambulance and they had his arm in a sling.

Needless to say, I kept up a good pace all day, but I stayed well within my limits.  I actually found I can circulate the whole track in third gear.  Upshift if I wanted a bit more speed before a corner, or downshift if I wanted a little more drive out, but I didn't really need to.

Here's a couple shots I took of a couple BMW R1200S's that were in the Novice class.  Yeah, that's one of my new drool-over bikes.  Course as usual, there's no shortage of all sorts of machinery there.

As the day went on the temperatures started rising.  I just kept drinking water and splashing myself down every chance I got.

Overall the day went great.  Definitely will be doing that track again.  Splitsecond photo was taking shots at the track and I couldn't decide which one I wanted as a momento of the occasion.  It came down to the three shown below, but I finally settled on the third one.