Track Day Eight - Grattan

Well, here we are, back at it.  It's morning of April 15th, one day before my first track day of the 2006 season. 

It seemed like spring would never get here.  The winter was actually pretty mild, with only a handfull of snowfalls.  One day in January it was even up to 50 degrees, but that just made it worse, because the weather always seemed so close to breaking, but then it would get cold again.  I actually got tired of waiting and took the bike out of storage last month.  Since then I've been out for a few sub 50 degree rides.  I think the coldest day I went out was with the temperature at 44 degrees.  That got just a bit chilly, even with the fact that I was wearing ski bibbs, two jackets, and several layers under that.  That was over a month ago.  Now we're into the 70's... perfect riding weather.

The track day is at Grattan; supposedly one of the most challanging road coarses in the US.  It has off-chambers, down hills, decreasing radius, and blind corners.  I was really beside myself trying to decide if I should sign up for it.  It's the only time this year that NESBA will run the Grattan track.  So, it was either go on the 16th , on Easter Sunday actully, not go to Grattan, or sign up with Sport Bike Track Time and go with them, since they run Grattan on a regular basis.  The thing that complicated it was that going with SBTT there's no rain insurance, so if the event gets rained out I either ride in the rain or completely loose the fee.  On the other hand, mid April is still pretty early in the year; it can get mighty chilly in Michigan, or for that matter, anywhere.  And finally, the track is 200 miles away, so it requires an overnight stay, unless I want to be getting up at 3 a.m.... which doesn't seem too smart considering I'd have a full day of racing ahead of me, on a track I'd never been to.

It's all kinda fallen together now.  The weather has been pretty warm, actually today Grattan is at high 60's.  Tomorrow it will be high 40's to high 50's, so it's going to be a bit chilly, but forecasts of scattered thunderstorms have changed to rain in the afternoon, to just partly cloudy.  So, I'm hoping things will continue to progress toward jus plain sunny.  I also found the Candlestone Inn which is only 8 miles away from the track, for $49/night. 

This is going to be the first track day requiring an overnight stay, so one thing I had to consider was how to make sure that when I got up in the morning my trailer and motorcycle were still attached to my car.  I think If I do another overnighter I'm going to buy a Trailer Keeper.  But since I didn't have enough time to get one, for now, I'm going to be using two Brinks 3/4" braided stainless steel cables; one to lock the bike to the trailer and the other to lock the trailer to the car.  If someone really wants it I guess I'm not going to prevent them from taking it, but I'll at least make it difficult.

I've also got quite a bit of aprehension because I reworked the bike quite a bit over the winter.  I completely pulled apart the forks, did some grinding and polishing on the valves, changed the fluid to Mobile systhetic trans fluid --seemed just a bit thicker than the stock fluid, and it's a ton cheeper than the "fork oil", plus it's meant for high heat and shear-- , raised the fluid level slightly, replaced the springs with stiffer (1.0 kg/mm) one's, and also got an Elka 3-way racing shock.  So, I expect the bike will handle much better... hopefully.  I've been monkeying with the compression and rebound settings all around.  And just the other day I raised the rear end using the ride height adjustment on the Elka, so now the bike seems to stay more level under gas. Not sure I have it perfectly dialed in for the track, but it's pretty close.

Going into this season I've done the usual soul searching... why am I doing this? I could kill myself.  There are beter ways I could spend my money.  Where is this going?  How much longer can my body take this... seems I've developed some sort of elbow problem at the end of last year... I think I actually have a loose piece of cartlidge or something in it...  Time to see a doctor...  Anyway, lots of thoughts and questions, but I still did it.

Quite a day at Grattan… Where to begin?…

At the Inn where I stayed the mattress looked like it hadn’t ever been flipped, there was a big indentation where most peoples butt’s would go, and what wasn’t dented was uncomfortable. At the restaurant on the premises, overlooking the golf course, which actually wasn’t a bad view, I had the fettuccini, which was more like noodles in milk – the noodles wouldn’t stay on the fork because it was so soupy, and every time a noodle fell off my fork it would splash the sauce on me–  and after I asked about the broccoli, that was suppose to come with the fettuccini, I got a bowl full of stems.  Ah well, I got what I paid for.  Well, it was nice of the place to let me park my car and trailer right under the canopy at the entrance so they could keep an eye on it.

To no surpise I couldn’t really sleep.  Not sure if it was more the mattress and pillows or the anticipation of the track.  But I got up about 2:00 a.m. and that was it as far as sleep went.  I just laid there with my eyes closed until it came time to wake up.  Figured it was better than nothing.

I had showered the night before, so when I got up all I had to do was eat breakfast --this time out of my cooler-- check out, and go.  And that’s what I did.  When I pulled out of the parking lot you could just see the sky turning that sunrise orange at the horizon.  As it turned out I made it to the track at just about 7:00 a.m.  That was the main reason I picked the Inn that I did… it was only 8 miles from the track.

As a I pulled in at the main entrance all I saw was two guys bustling around their bikes on their trailer.  So, figured I’d go over and talk to them.  Turns out they had arrived at 1:00 am, and since the gate to the track was closed, they slept in their truck.  Their trailer was pretty damn impressive.  Basically it was a harbor freight job, but they had done some welding to it, including a couple steel platforms and chocks made from plate steel to allow two bikes to be carried… pretty slick… rusty, but slick.  Should have painted that steel or something.  They were actually there for the intro class.  To fast-forward a bit… when they were leaving for the day, they were talking about what mods they needed to make to their bikes.  Needless to say they’ll be back.

I left those guys at the gate and figure I’d drive toward the track now that the gate was open.  I drove down a ways, got next to the track, but wasn’t sure where to go, so turned back around.  On the way back I flagged down a guy going in the other direction with a trailer and he explained where to go.  So, I followed him, crossed the track, and that brought me to the main track buildings and parking area.  The NESBA trailer and a few other trailers were there, but nobody was moving around yet.

Let me say that it was cold and windy, and it wasn’t getting any warmer.  I had my thermal undeware on, a T-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket and hat, and I was just staying warm.  That was too bad, because the previous day driving up it was just gorgeous… high 60’s and sunny.  Watching the weather that morning they were talking about severe weather moving through Wisconsin and Illinois, going Southwest… But Belding was right on the edge, so I was hoping it wouldn’t get much worse than it was.

As I unloaded, a few more people came, but by the time 7:50 rolled around, and there was maybe a dozen people, I figured there was going to be plenty of room on the track.  It actually turned out that there were almost as many Control Riders as there were riders.  I know there were two beginners, one or two advanced, and a handful of Intermediates.  That was it.  They actually ended up combining the I and A classes because there were only a couple Advanced guys.

Well, sometime after eight we got through tech inspection and a very short rider meeting. 

At that point we got the green track and we were off.  Well, let me tell you… the track was definitely green.  My tires had dropped a psi in pressure from the cold, and you could really tell just how cold they were.  My second or third turn into the first lap, even though I was going fairly conservatively, I could feel them sliding around.  Once it was a pretty nice little slide that caught and put that new rear shock to the test.  Good news is things damped themselves down and I took it a little easier until things warmed up.

My biggest problem actually turned out to be my visor.  It kept fogging up on me, and I spent as much time trying to keep it open as I did working the controls of the bike.  That combined with being on a completely new, difficult, track.. and I was just all over the place on the first session.  Someone watching me would have mistaken me for a beginner.

After the first session I stopped to talk to a control rider to gripe about my visor.  He asked if I had brought a deflector.. Duh!  Well, no I hadn’t brought mine.  I didn’t think I was going to need it!  So, all I could do was make sure all my vents were open.  I tried putting a piece of duct tape in place to keep the shield partially open, but that didn’t work.  I was talking to one of the other guys about it and he actually had a slightly used anti-fog wipe which he gave me.  Well, that combined with the fact that it was getting a bit warmer was enough that I could actually see my way around the track.

The track… Ah yes.  That is one nice track.  I though Autobahn South was technical.  Let me take you through a lap…  Down the main straight you can carry some good speed… course with the weather what it was, the faster you went the colder you got.. So, I think the max I got to was about 135, and that’s only because I was trying to pass a guy who’s tail I had been on for a couple laps.

Turn one is wide and slightly up hill, but you can’t really see all the way around the turn.  Several times I went through there knowing I could go faster than I was going. 

Turn two is a downhill, so it feels like an off camber.  If you wait to turn until you really see it, then you’ll tend to go wide, so you have to turn earlier and then stay close to the right to get ready for turn 3. 

The only thing you can say about the down hill, off chamber, back uphill, turn three is you have to take it slow. I found that a late apex and sticking close to the inside was a good way around, but going a little wider wasn’t bad either.

As you come out of three you can accelerate pretty hard for downhill turn four and then the slight kink before the jump.  The question is how fast do you want to go before the jump.  I found that right around 80-85 mph you’re getting into flying territory.  And I definitely left the ground a few times with the rear end getting all squirmy cause as you land you have to be on the brakes. 

I carried pretty good speed into turn five, but basically through five, six, and seven you’re gradually slowing down.  And if you go into six too fast you mess up the entry to seven.

Turn seven is hill and ends just after the crest and you accelerate through it, but not too much because the highly banked and tight turn eight is right there.  The best way through that seemed to be to really get into the apex and then drift out at the exit. 

From there you accelerate through turn nine, crest and stay tight at the kink, past the second kink, where you brake and set up for turn 10.

10 is a downhill hairpin, and more than once I came through there wider than I wanted to, but in one sense it didn’t see much worse a line than really sticking to the apex, which is just on the other side of the downhill. 

Turns 11 and 12 are definitely fun.  There’s a hill leading up to turn 11 so it’s completely blind, but you know it’s there, and you can get some good speed up the hill. You turn just before you crest.  The bike gets light and then the suspension is really working as you settle into the turn.  Immediately after is turn 12 and you just keep accelerating through it, so I was doing about 90 as I came out of it.  And then you’re back on the straight; the only place on the track you can relax.

So, as track layout goes, it’s really technical and makes you think about the lines you’re taking. It was absolutely a blast.  When you get those turns figured out and knit them together it really flows well.

As I read the above description I can only say that it doesn’t do the track justice.  Even videos I’d seen of the track don’t do it justice.  You can’t really get a feel for the flow… the ups and the down and the way it all fits together.  Obviously one the things that attracts people to motorcycle is going trough turns.  And Grattan has just an unbelievable combination of turns.  It is difficult, but it is also rewarding.  If you do track days, you need to do Grattan.

The shape the track is in is a whole different thing.  There are definitely places where I changed my lines in order to avoid some patched areas.  In turn 4 in particular because you’re downhill and picking up speed, in the normal line there is some patching that I found to be slippery, so I stuck to the inside of the turn.  Turn eight is also pretty bumpy, and turn 11 makes the suspension really work if you’re on the inside, which is where you need to be, and carrying speed.  Turn three is not great either, but you’re going through there pretty slow, so it isn’t that big a deal.  But, assuming your suspension is set up, it’s just part of the game.

What made it even a better track day was that by mid day there were even fewer people and NESBA made it open track, with Intermediate rules.  So basically you could go on and off when you wanted.  The end result was that I got a couple half hour sessions in, and I ended up with nearly 140 miles of track time for the day even though we finished the day at 4:00… and I even started packing up earlier than that.  It is funny though, that just as I started packing up the sun came out and it got warmer.  I was really tempted to go out for one more session, but figured I’d quite while I was ahead.

On the way home I caught up to that severe storm front and got poured on for the last 100 miles or so.  I got home, put the dripping trailer in the garage, with the bike still on it, and went in, where I had some food, talked to the relatives who were there fore Easter dinner, and promply fell asleep at 8:00 pm.

Grattan is definitely the best track I’ve been to so far.  I’m really thinking about signing up with SportbikeTrackTime just to get some more time there.  We’ll see. 

If you do track days, you have to do Grattan… at least once.