Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The pain in Maine…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

…comes mainly because of rain!

The recurring theme for the 2005 Iron Butt Rally has been water. The 1st leg bonus list was dominated by lighthouses from coast to coast, along with various other H20 related items like dams, hot springs and water falls. Prophetically, the riders that headed east encountered torrential rains both going and returning, meaning they undoubtedly had more water in the first third of the rally than they really wanted. Added to that was the dampening of their enthusiasm when the points were tallied and those long haul east coast visitors found themselves languishing outside the top ten while those that took the relatively conservative west coast loop earned almost double the points while riding a 1,000 miles or less that the east coasters.

The water theme continued in the second leg with the majority of the bonuses being various lakes from the southern edge of Canada to the southern states of the US. The riders only had two and a half days to get from Denver, CO to Portland, Maine so it would be difficult for riders to pick up many bonuses. Its a long way from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast and it seems all that much longer when you’ve spent the past five days churning out the miles on a motorcycle. Every convenience store along I-70 was probably sold out of caffeine drinks and sugary snacks last weekend! The goal set for these riders was to leave Denver at 9am on Friday, grind their way through weekend traffic on the east coast while trying to pick a route that maximized their possible points but minimized their running late and arrive in Portland at 9am on Monday morning. For every minute after 9am that they arrived they would lose points from their total. If they arrived after 11am, they were automatically disqualified. This is a nerve racking time for endurance riders but made all that much more difficult when the weather in the northeast was…yes, you guessed it, wet. If they weren’t soaked from rain, they probably were from sweat.

For those that made the Maine checkpoint, another list of bonuses was handed out and at 11am EDT Monday morning the Star Traxx web site showed the riders were again on the road. While we don’t yet know what the leg 3 bonuses look like, it is guaranteed it will again have a hydro-theme…if not because of the locations they will be visiting then because of the weather being brought into the central states by hurricane Katrina. If there are any bonuses located in the south, then it will only be the brash or fool-hearty who go after them. Southern Florida is without power and with roads that are still shut down from storm damage, New Orleans is flooded and Mississippi is reeling after being hammered by storms and record amounts of rain. The riders still in the rally that have GPS units appear to have split the storm…some hauling butt west to get into the mid-west before the storm blocked their path while others concentrated on the east coast, presumably hoping to head west behind the storm.

Information has been particularly slow to trickle out of Iron Butt central this year and data about the specifics of the bonuses are non-existent. I think most of the people following the rally were surprised to see that some crazy bonuses weren’t available in leg 2 with the stipulation that the Maine bonus could be skipped. This means that the big rally winning bonuses are in the leg 3 packet. Now the rally truly boils down to an endurance test…those that still have some shreds of energy tucked away in their body and can still collect their thoughts enough to ride hard for four more days are going to win. For the rest, its just a matter of dragging their tired bodies and tired bikes back to Denver with the hope they have enough points to qualify for a finishers award.

Jeff Earls' BMW in Maine

Among those that are going for the big finish is my buddy Jeff Earls. After the leg #2 points were tallied, Jeff was in second place 3,500 points behind Jim Owens and around 2,000 points ahead of third place Eric Jewell. So far he’s racked up 7.125 miles on his BMW R1150GS and even a direct ride from Maine to Colorado would put him in the neighborhood of 10,500 miles for the rally…impressive considering that is 11 days of riding, much of which was done in the rain. Even more impressive, Jeff has no plans to take the straight path back to Denver. Instead, he is off chasing one of the race winning bonuses. He should be one of the favorites if his bike holds together, his body can take another few days of punishment and his brain can deal with the sleep depravation just a little longer.

I’m heading down Friday morning for the finish and hope to have a final Iron Butt Rally report early next week. In the meantime, try not to buy any soda from the Denver area stores…there may be a rally rider that needs it come Friday morning.

[image from the Blackfly photo gallery web site.]

Friday, August 26, 2005

Wore slap out…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

There is a saying in the south to describe being extremely tired which goes ‘I’m just slap wore out”. Now I have no idea where that came from or really even what it means but I can tell you that there are some people in Denver tonight that are slap wore out.

This evening was the first checkpoint in the ‘05 Iron Butt Rally. Unlike past Iron Butts, where the riders rode to the four corners of the country (and often a whole lot more) this year the first leg started and ended in Denver, CO. To make sure that the riders didn’t spend four days eating peeled grapes and soaking in the Doubletree’s hot tub, there is a minimum number of points required at the end of the rally (also in Denver, on Friday a week from today) with the assurance that there won’t be enough points available in the second and third legs to meet the requirement. Thus the riders left Denver on Monday and have spent the past four and a half days chasing bonuses that were scattered around the North American continent (and even a bogus bonus further afield than that!).

Got light? Iron Butt Gold Wing

Over the course of today the exhausted riders have been trickling back into the Doubletree hotel parking lot. The zombies arrived tired, smelly, hungry and clutching tattered stacks of gas receipts. Waiting in the parking lots were friends and family all worried but still ready to help however necessary. (Check Bob Higdon’s daily report on the IBR web site for more on this.)

Before they could collapse and take a much deserved nap they had some important tasks to do. First they had to check in with the Iron Butt Association staff. This meant a half hour off going over their route and presenting all of the paperwork they had collected to back up their claims. Polaroid photos, gas receipts, signed affidavits and GPS tracks were all explained in excruciating detail…four days of riding condensed into 30 minutes and a half inch high stack of paper…Once checked in the riders then had to attend to their bikes. New tires needed to be fitted, fresh oil added, headlights cleaned and niggling little problems fixed. Some riders had a support network to lend a hand while others sat their exhausted bodies on a curb and broke out their tools. Bike’s attended to, the riders could finally stagger to their rooms and try to catch some shut eye. Then at 9pm the second leg bonuses were handed out and they started it all over again.

The first leg points standing were posted tonight and it looks like those that took the dramatic long rides to the east coast didn’t get much for their effort. Doug Chapman, whose star-traxx route looked so impressive on Tuesday actually ended up in 47th place. It was the guys that went west who racked up the big points while turning in lower odometer numbers and getting more rest in the process. Jim Owens leads the scorecard with 37,214 points, a stunning 50% more than Doug Chapman, while turning in nearly identical mileage. The riders that went to Oh Canada! cranked out over 5,000 miles but still came back with around 10,000 less points for visiting the News Brunswick light house than those that bagged lots of the west coast bonuses.

My buddy Jeff Earls currently lies third in the points with 33,090 from a 4,656 mile ride. Fantastic stuff, especially considering he had to deal with a flat tire in southern California this morning. He got to Denver around 3pm and had time for a five hour nap after check-in before the bonus packets were handed out. While he was sleeping, his friends John O’Keefe and Rob Scott were handling bike maintenance duties. He should start leg #2 well rested and with a R1150GS full of fresh fluids and a good rear tire. Go, Jeff, go!

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Push it…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

“Ah, push it - push it good
Ah, push it - push it real good
Ah, push it - push it good
Ah, push it - p-push it real good”
— Salt-N-Pepa

As I mentioned on Monday the Iron Butt Rally participants shoved off for their eleven day torture test at 10am on Monday morning. I’m writing this at around 10pm on Tuesday night, a mere 36 hours into the event, and already interesting things are happening. Now, I’m not a long distance rider and make no claims to being one. I’ve been known to cross one of these big, wide western states for a weekend trip and the thought of riding to, say, Yellowstone or Zion National Park doesn’t particularly have me quaking in my combat touring boots but I’m very aware that I have neither the endurance or desire to push myself like the Iron Butt riders. Last night I went to bed with visions of my morning walking around the Doubletree parking lot and then woke up this morning refreshed and ready for work. So imagine my surprise…nay…my complete disbelief when I checked the Star Traxx GPS tracking system web site for thirteen of the the Iron Butt riders and found that one of them was already south of Atlanta, GA! As if that wasn’t amazing enough, two others were outside Seattle, two just approaching Atlanta, one was in San Diego and two others damned near to Toronto. To me a weekend ride is to Wyoming or Utah. To these guys, its the opposite coast!

Now whether or not you are a motorcyclist take a moment to let that sink in. Someone got on a motorcycle Monday morning and then casually rode somewhere on the order of 1500 miles in 24 hours. That is an average of around 62 miles per hour for an entire day. I’m willing to bet Doug Chapman, the rider that reached that astounding distance in so short at time, took at least a short nap in there so that speed average is actually a bit faster. Not impressed yet? Well Bob Higdon, one of the sadistic maniacs behind all this craziness, wrote in his nightly rally update that the weather in eastern Kansas last night consisted of hard rain and hail. Okay, lets say you’re still tapping your finger and waiting for something that will really awe you…After turning in that 24 hour blitz across the country the FJR continued on. When I checked at 4:00pm this afternoon, 30 hours after the start, he was in Miami and now, 36 hours in, he is slogging his way down the parking lot that is the Florida Oversea’s Highway and is almost to Key West. That’s over 2000 miles in 36 hours. Come on, even the chronically blase’ have to awestruck by that kind of performance!

Doug isn’t alone in racking up some big mileage numbers in such a short time span. The Star Traxx web sites show that two riders chose to head north to New Brunswick, Canada. As of right now, they are pushing 2000 miles and are nearing their destination. Those that headed west, rather than east, have a different challenge ahead of them. Where the east coast only had a few possible bonus locations each worth a lot of points the west coast had lots of smaller bonuses sprinkled from Washington state to southern California. Additionally, there is an added restriction that these are “day time only” bonuses which means large chunks of time each day can’t be used for accruing the much needed points. Those that chose to go west have to ride like hell during the day and then use the night for rest and positioning themselves for another points grabbing run the next day. This means some big mileage numbers may yet be turned in by these riders but probably nothing on par with those who started chasing the morning sun on Monday.

This first leg, like a well played game of chess, means that the first decisions may well end up determining the final outcome for the riders. Those that chose to chase the big points on the east coast must make it back to Denver by Friday or be disqualified for missing the mandatory check point. If they have to turn back before reaching the bonus location, they can’t collect many other points on their way back to Denver in order to make up for their failure and may well be out of the running for the overall win. If, on the other hand, they grab the big bonus and get back to Denver they’ll be exhausted but probably ahead in the points tally. Those on the west coast have to carefully construct a route that maximizes their points while still finding the time to rest up. Their best bet is to get back to Denver with enough points to still be in the game but hopefully more rested than those returning from the east. Then they can make a big push in the second or final leg to try to win.

Then, as if all that strategy isn’t confusing enough, they have to wait and see what Friday’s second leg bonus packet looks like. The Florida Keys and New Brunswick bonuses may be back but with altered points values. Or, even more challenging, there may be bonuses in far flung places like Baja Mexico, northern Canada or Alaska that can be attempted while forfeiting the Maine checkpoint on August 29th. Will Doug Chapman find himself early next week once again swimming through a Kansas rain storm en route to the Florida Keys?

Jeff Earls still looking human

As of the first reports there is no update yet on my buddy Jeff Earls. When I spoke to him Monday morning he had his game plan and seemed confident in his decision. Since he, along with almost 80 other entrants, don’t have GPS tracking systems there is no way yet to know where he is located right now. Jeff is a shrew rally rider: this is his third Iron Butt, so he now ranks among the vets in the event. He was set for a top seven place in 2003 when his BMW’s final drive failed and he has been a regular in the Utah 1066 for five or so years. I’m confident he is doing what he needs to do in order to be a contender. I’ll be heading back to the Doubletree on Friday so I’ll give an update then if nothing about him shows up in Higdon’s reports for the rest of the week. For now, he’s just one of the many unknowns.

In fact, it is so easy to be excited by the highly visible progress that Doug Chapman has made that we may forget that any one of the 77 riders not being tracked at Star-Traxx could be doing even better. Perhaps someone has been busy sucking up bonuses in the southwest and is ahead in points. Maybe the Minnesota Team Strange gang are bettering their fantastic 2003 effort and have even mileage on their odometers than anything we can see online. What if someone took the sucker bet of a Panama Canal run and is right now closing in on Honduras. Who knows what further wonder these riders will bestow on us as the rally unfolds. One thing that is already clear is that all of these riders are pushing hard from the very start. Pushing *real* good.

[image from my photo collection.]

Monday, August 22, 2005

Kickin\’ Butt…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

Back in January I did a blog entry announcing that the 2005 Iron Butt Rally would start and stop in Denver this year. Well, the time is now upon us.

This past weekend a small army of Iron Butt contestants, staff and volunteers descended upon the Doubletree Hotel Denver. Just before 10:00 in the morning on Monday, August 22, 90 endurance riders will be given their rally packets and, after a short time of frantic map reading and bonus point calculations, will hit the road. For the next 11 days, the riders will ride a minimum of approximately 1,000 miles per day. In the past, their route has taken them to the four corners of the US and often times into places like Alaska, remote regions of Canada and even into Mexico. This year the rally route will be somewhat different as it starts in Denver, has a checkpoint back at the start line 4 1/2 days later (Friday August 26 between 7 and 9pm), then another checkpoint 2 1/2 days later in Maine (Monday August 29 between 9 and 11am) and finally returns to Denver four days after that (Friday September 2 between 8 and 10am).

What is all this about? Well, the rally itself was first started in the mid-80s and is only held every two years. Riders with prior experience in other Iron Butt events or with demonstrable endurance riding experience may apply. The 90 or so riders who will actually take part in the event are chosen roughly 18 months before the start of the rally by random ballot selection. (A few riders are approved directly by the IBA staff but the vast majority go the ballot route). After a year and a half of preparation, everyone travels to the start location to begin the rally.

At the start of the rally, the Iron Butt Association staff of rally masters (aka, the Rally Bastards) of Bob Higdon, Mike Kneebone and Lisa Landry pass out the route packets. These folders not only contain the details of required checkpoints but, more importantly, also contain the initial list of bonuses (additional bonus listings may be given out throughout the rally). The most basic requirements for the rally is simply to start on time, hit all the required checkpoints within the two hour window they are available and make it to the finish within its 2 hour window. Accomplishing this, while sustaining the grueling physical strains imposed by eleven straight days of endurance riding, will earn the rider a Iron Butt Rally (IBR) finishers medal. However, the bonuses are what really change the Iron Butt from merely being a test of stamina to being a strategic game of survival. The bonuses are various locations that can be visited by the riders which earn bonus points above and beyond those awarded for hitting the checkpoints on time. Some of these are small and easy, others are nearly impossible but very rewarding. It is up to the rider to make the necessary decisions about what bonuses are achievable without missing the checkpoints. The more bonuses a rider can snag the greater their points tally. At the end of the rally, the rider with the most points wins. Sounds simple in theory but in practice it is fiendishly difficult especially when paired with the toll already exacted by riding such long distances over so many consecutive days.

“What?!?! Are these guys insane?” I can hear you thinking. Well, on that particular topic I am neutral. Like the Isle of Man, top speed runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats or motorcycle Endurance roadracing, organized long distance rallies are undoubtedly dangerous. Then again, riding a bicycle at 50 miles per hour in a measly pair of spandex bike shorts for hours at a time is dangerous as well (just witness all the crashes in this year’s Tour de France). Ultimately, some people will always find ways to push themselves to the limit. It isn’t any one’s job to baby sit riders, so long as the consequences of their actions are no worse than those that any other vehicle can impose. As for the riders themselves, I don’t think they are reckless thrill seekers. There is a quantifiable difference between people that take calculated risks and those who are downright stupid. All the riders in the Iron Butt know exactly what they are up against and they spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for it including skills training, bike preparation and self assessment. All that said, I think there are three basic categories of riders that compete in the Iron Butt Rally.

First, there are those just out for a finisher’s trophy. Many of these riders are on “odd” machines…small displacement bikes, vintage motorcycles, bikes of questionable build quality, etc…and are going to do the minimum mileage possible while still hitting all the checkpoints. In the end, they will have the satisfaction of knowing they completed the Iron Butt Rally and will probably have the tales of a lifetime for having done so on something everyone thought couldn’t possibly survive such a harsh trip. Surely these people are pushing the boundaries by simply being in the rally but they are the most conservative of those involved even if their choice of bikes would sometimes indicate a questionable level of mental stability.

The second group are those that are going to push themselves a little harder by going after some bonuses but realistically know they aren’t going to win the rally. Some of these riders are just practicing for future rallies or are just out for the satisfaction of knowing they will have pushed themselves to their personal limits. All of these riders are somewhere on the “‘unusual” end of the spectrum of motorcyclists but hardly suicidal in nature.

Paul Taylor's Iron Butt GS

Finally, there are the big dogs. Riders like 2003 winner Paul Taylor who went after a seemingly absurd bonus in Prudoe Bay, Alaska but still made the required checkpoints. The pool of potential winners are pretty easy to spot. First of all, they have specialized bikes with auxiliary gas tanks, enough wattage in their head lights to turn a deer into venison jerky, more navigational aids than the space shuttle and more accessories on their bike than a typical Harley has shiny chrome bits. Many of these riders have long lists of sponsors who help defray the costs of these bike modifications and nearly all of them have prior history at competing in the IBR. As for these guys, a year or two in serious therapy should probably go along with a winner’s trophy!

Me, I’ll be watching longtime ‘net acquaintance Jeff Earls who will be competing again this year. Jeff had a DNF last year after 7773 miles. In 2001, he finished 16th with a total of 11,241 miles. In 1999, his first IBR, he finished in 24th with 10,906 miles. That is two “gold medal” finishes in three starts. Not bad! If you’re so inclined, you can follow the daily reports which will be posted on the IBR web site by Bob Higdon and watch Jeff’s progress throughout the rally.

[image from Martial Mason’s motorcycle photos web page.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Falling star…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

History books are filled with things that were once hot and yet now they’re not. Items or people or places or events which had their day in the sun and have since faded into obscurity. The Rubik’s Cube, the Edsel, Asbury Park New Jersey, New Kids on the Block and deep fried twinkies have all seen their star ascend and then set.

Well, there was a time when one of the biggest races in the world, even bigger than the Japanese round of the Grand Prix series, was the Suzuka 8 hours endurance race. This was an event where once a year the other Japanese factories would come to Honda’s test track and try to play David to Soichiro’s Goliath. When I was younger and first getting interested in motorcycle racing the entry list for the Suzuka 8 hours read like a who’s who of the racing world. Even if the riders didn’t like the track or didn’t like superbikes, they were contractually obligated to attend because of the prestige associated with the event. Think of the biggest names in motorcycle roadracing for the past three decades, then read over the list of people who have raced and won the Suzuka 8 Hours. The lists line up pretty well: Cooley, Crosby, Aldana, Baldwin, Merkel, Gardner, Magee, Rainey, Lawson, Doohan, Beattie, Slight, Russell, Polen, Edwards, Haga, Itoh, Ukawa, Okada, Barros, Kato and Rossi have all lofted the Suzuka trophy.

However, over the past three years, the event has lost much of its former glory. The reasons for this are many but the biggest issue has been the increasingly dangerous nature of the track as the speeds of the bikes has increased over the years. This was highlighted by the tragic death of Honda’s MotoGP star Daijiro Katoh during a GP race in 2003 and further reinforced when Japanese rider Keisuke Sato died back in June of this year after a crash at the track. Even more recently Katsuaki Fujiwara crashed while practicing for this years’ 8 Hours and broke some vertebrae. Some improvements have been made to the track since Katoh’s accident but the list of recent serious injuries show that its still got a long way to go before its ready for another international race and may be even longer before the factories are willing to risk their top level riders just to win the historic race.

The second issue which has dampened enthusiasm for the Suzuka 8 Hours event is the sheer dominance by Honda. The first eight hour endurance race at Suzuka was held in 1978 and won by Americans Wes Cooley and Mike Baldwin aboard a Suzuki. In the 27 years since then, Honda has won 19 races including a unbroken sweep from 1996 through last year. In contrast, Yamaha is the second most successful manufacturer with four wins, Suzuki has brought home two more since ‘78 for a total of three and Kawasaki has a single win. Clearly it has become very difficult for the factories to keep finding the motivation to come back to Suzuka each summer for another thrashing from Honda.

The final thing that seems to have affected the stature of the 8 Hours race is the declining popularity of endurance racing as a whole. Since 1980, the Suzuka race has been part of the FIM World Endurance Championship. There was a time when Suzuka, along with other rounds of the international endurance race series like the 24 hours Bol d’Or at LeMans, the 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the Imola 200, were huge events followed world wide. As those events have lost much of their international flare, so has Suzuka. Just as the major factories no longer field fully supported bikes to the teams racing the FIM Endurance series, they also no longer put forth that effort at the 8 Hours.

Unfortunately, this year’s 28th “Coca Cola” Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance (the third round of the 2005 FIM World Endurance Championship) appears to have continued this tradition of decline. However, what the race is lacking in formal factory participation it makes up for with privateer and factory supported teams. This year eighty teams lined up for the Lemans style start all hoping to have a shot at the huge purse that always accompanies the race. However, not content to demolish their competitions formal teams, Honda also played the 800 lb gorilla against the privateers with two semi-factory teams and another few well funded not-quite-privateer teams taking the grid. In fact, there were a total of 34 Hondas in the field compared to 19 Suzukis, 16 Yamahas, 7 Kawasakis and various other teams running a BMW, a Ducati, an Aprilia and couple of exotics from Over and Asahina.

Seven Stars #7 Honda

The favorites going into the event were the two SevenStars Honda teams: #7 with riders Tohru Ukawa and Ryuichi Kiyonari and #11 with World Superbike stars Chris Vermeulen and Katsuaki Fujiwara. In this case, Honda would get great press material if either team won. A win by the #7 team would put Tohru Ukawa on top of the all time Suzuka winners list as he is currently tied with Wayne Gardner at four. Additionally, a win by the #7 team would add Honda’s rising star Kiyonari’s name to the list of riders who have won the 8 Hours. If, on the other hand, #11 were to take the checkered flag it would be a triumph for Honda’s international superbike efforts with Vermeulen as their Superbike star and Fujiwara one of their Supersport stars.

The race was flagged off in nice weather and a nice battle developed up front between Kiyonari on the SevenStars #7 bike, ex-GP ace Shinichi Ito on another Honda and the Yoshimura Suzuki of WSBK ace Yukio Kagayama. By the first pit stop, roughly an hour into the race, SevenStars #7 had already started to pull out a lead. This continued in the second hour but in the middle of the third stint it started to rain and the wet stuff kept up for two straight hours. It was during this window that SevenStars really sealed the deal. Their wet tire strategy proved superior to the other teams and their ability to stay on two wheels really made the difference as bike after bike crashed. At the mid-point of the race, they already had a full lap advantage over their nearest rivals. In the closing hours, the SevenStars #11 bike made a surge forward and at the end of the eight hour race it was the two SevenStars bikes in first and second.

This marked the historic fifth race win for Tohru Ukawa and was SevenStars was the pointy end of a Honda weapon which dominated by not only filling out the entire podium but bringing home Big Red bikes in the top six positions. In the end, the Ukawa/Kiyonari teaming turned 204 laps to win three laps ahead of Vermeulen/Fujiwara on the second Seven Stars entry. The Team HARC-Pro Honda with ex-GP rider Haruchika Aoki and Takeshi Yasuda came in third, four laps down on the winners. It may have been the Honda cup when it comes to brand diversity but endurance racing, especially world caliber endurance racing with so many ex-GP, World Superbike and Japanese national champs in the mix, is exciting stuff nonetheless. The amount of strategy that goes into endurance racing rivals that of a grandmaster chess match and watching riders race hard in the dark or wet is always thrilling.

But the sad thing is that no one, outside a few PR agencies and inside some race team transporters, really cares. While his Suzuka results help define a veteran rider like Tohru Ukawa, it will be a minor footnote in the career of a rising star like Kiyonari or Vermeulen. However, there may yet be hope on the horizon. As the saying goes “A rising tide lifts all boats” and the increasing popularity of motorcycle racing worldwide may yet restore some of the glory that once shined upon the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.

[image from the FIM World Endurance Championship web site.]

Thursday, July 28, 2005

July \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP, Other Forms Of Racing

The month of July is almost over so here is this month’s list of items that aren’t gonna get longer write-ups. This is the third of my “Odds and Ends” postings so it looks like this is going to be a monthly occurrence during these crazy summer months.

The Long Way Round web site has news that an extended version of the Long Way Round TV series is being shown in England. This new edit of the series is ten episodes long and includes some new footage not shown in the original. Lets hope that Bravo will opt to air this enhanced version of the series. On the down side, there still isn’t any news about a US release for the DVD.

As long as I’m talking about Long Way Round, I read on a few different web sites that Charlie Boorman is entered to compete in the 2006 Paris Dakar rally. Better yet, it is supposed to be filmed for British Sky TV. Since SpeedTV dropped their Dakar cover and OLN did a poor job with their coverage last year, perhaps Bravo will pick up this new series in 2006 and give us Dakar fans another way to get our fix.

Also in Paris Dakar news came a press release that this is the first time in the events 26 year history that the rally registrations for all classes have been filled as early as July. With more applications received than spots for participants and with those applications showing up earlier in the year than in the past, the 2006 Paris Dakar is proving more popular than ever before. What is surprising about this is that the event run this past January featured two fatal accidents, including Italian superstar Fabrizio Meoni. Many, including myself, felt that these deaths might dampen enthusiasm for rally racing. It is great to see that interest in the sport is still booming despite this year’s tragedy.

The news that shocked me the most this month was the press release from Polaris Industries that it is purchasing a 24% stake in Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM for $80 million. This agreement means that Polaris and KTM will cooperate on R&D (hmmmm…KTM motors in Polaris ATVs?, Victory assembly line technology helping KTM ramp up their manufacturing) and that KTM bikes can be sold through the Polaris/Victory dealer network. Even more intriguing is the news that in two years, either KTM will buy back the 24% stake purchased by Polaris or Polaris will buy the remaining 76% of KTM. The combination of Victory and the new line of KTM street bikes could put some serious hurt on Buell. Victory gaining a sport bike line-up and KTM engineers gaining much needed knowledge with ATV, watercraft and cruiser products. My hope is that it speeds up the importing of the 990 SuperDuke which I’m seriously lusting over as Victory’s involvement may help KTM speed up US DOT approval for their 990cc motor.

In another case of me waiting for something cool to make it to the US, it looks like a second volume of the Joe Bar Team comic has been translated into English and should be available in Britain some time this year. Aerostich carries the first volume, so hopefully they will carry this one as well. Less exciting is the knowledge that they are up to volume seven in the author’s native French language and it has taken something like 10 years to get the first one translated. Volume seven may not be available in a language I can read until 2015…I can probably learn French faster than that!

John Hopkins

Another import, English born John Hopkins, is set to test Red Bull driver Antonio Liuzzi’s F1 car at the Silverstone track. Even more fascinating, Liuzzi is supposed to ride Hopper’s Suzuki MotoGP bike. Putting a non-racer, even if they are an experienced motorcycle rider, on a 250hp Grand Prix bike seems fairly dangerous. Then again, maybe this is part of the plan since it seems like the Red Bull F1 team is hoping to get rid of Liuzzi anyway.

In other MotoGP news, a French court finally resolved a lawsuit filed against Alex Barros by Altadis after Barros broke his two year contract with the Gauloises Yamaha team early to accept a ride with the Camel Honda team this season. The court ruled against Barros which resulted in fines, penalities and court costs which will total over two million Euros. Ouch! I don’t know what Barros’ salary has been for the past few years but surely two mil takes a bite out of the old retirement fund.

The final news is my favorite: The date for the 2006 USGP race at Laguna Seca has already been set for July 23. Tickets go on sale September 1st. You can be sure I’ll be on the phone first thing that morning!

[image from the Yahoo Italy Sports web page.]

Friday, July 1, 2005

Shoot for the sky…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

Since there isn’t any road racing going on this weekend, I’ll take a second to catch up on some other motorcycle related news. Specifically, last week’s 83rd running of the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. This event pits racers against a 12.5 mile course laid out on the road which goes to the top of 14,110 ft Pikes Peak. The road is a mix of asphalt and dirt making it the ultimate Supermoto race. The race as been run since 1916 so its got plenty of history behind it…second only to Indy when it comes to organized motorsports competition in the US. With vehicles hurtling up through the incredible scenery its a thrilling spectator sport with all the action of rally racing but with a wider variety of vehicles involved.

Sidecar rig at '05 Pikes Peak International Hillclimb

While the cages (cars, trucks, SUVs, semis, buggies, etc, etc…all with four wheels. Blech!) get the top billing, there are also numerous motorcycle classes. The five classes for two-wheelers are: 750cc Pro, 500cc Pro, 250cc Pro, Supermoto and Vintage. There are also sidecar and quad classes, though I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether they fall into the motorcycle or car catagories. (I’d split the two saying the sidecars are motorcycles with an extra wheel and the quads are small open wheel cars…Damned cagers!)

I’m sure that sliding a bike up the Pikes Peak road is a hoot, no matter what you’re on but the ones that interested me the most were the 750cc Pro and the Supermoto classes. In particular, I thought it was cool to see that Supermoto racer Micky Dymond won the 750 class with a time of 12:12.614, the fastest of any bike during the event and a new class record. Thats averaging roughly 60 mph…pretty impressive to do when broadsliding around switchbacks with 200 ft drops for your run-off. The Supermoto class was new this year and features an actual race style start with 5 riders going up at a time rather than the single rider timed stages used in the other classes. The winner Gary Trachy put down a time of 12:18.735 which is flat out hauling for a 450cc bike that isn’t using knobbies and is dicing with four other riders. Its made all the more impressive by the fact that this time was faster than the 500cc Pro class where Davey Durelle turned in a 12:22.491. The 250cc class was topped by Nathan Conley with a time of 13:00.651. Mickey Alzola is a vintage rider, having first competed in the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in 1975. This year he was also the top vintage bike thanks to a 14:28.140 time.

Another nice thing about this year’s Hillclimb was that the purse for the motorcycle classes was increased to $12,000 spread over the five classes. Lets hope that trend continues to fly skyward as well.

[image from the Big West Racing web site.]

Friday, June 17, 2005

T(T) time…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

I usually do a race preview on Friday but since there aren’t any international level roadraces scheduled for this weekend (though there is a MRA road race which I plan on attending on Sunday) I thought this would be a good time to cover last week’s Isle of Man TT races.

For those that don’t know, the Isle of Man TT races consist of a week of road racing…not what the British call circuit racing but actual timed motorcycle competition on public roads over a 37.7 mile long course laid out around the Isle of Man. For those really not in-the-know, the Isle of Man is a small island country in the Irish Sea north of England. The racing has been going on since 1907 and for many years it was the location of the British Grand Prix until it was dropped from the calendar in 1976 when the circuit was deemed too unsafe for the vicious two-stroke GP bikes. The course itself runs through quaint villages, over Mount Snaefell to an altitude of 1400 ft, though stone wall lined streets and through the tree and hedge filled Manx countryside. It is, by anyone’s description, an incredibly challenging course. If you are interesting in learning more about the TT there are some great movies including V-Four Victory and One Man’s Island.

I’ve always been of a split mind when it comes to the TT. On one hand, I’m horrified at the annual loss of life at the TT races (three racers and a track marshall died this year). The death toll in the 98 year history of the TT is now over 200 names long and being a fan of any event in which there are an average of two deaths per year has to be considered morbid at the very least. In addition to the fatalities, there are also a staggering large number of serious injuries each year but those aren’t recorded and thus the statistics aren’t readily available. Regardless of the actual numbers the TT races exact a pretty gruesome toll each summer and for that reason I understand (and at times support) the argument to end the races.

On the other hand, the Isle of Man TT is truly a historic event. Few sporting events have such an incredible history and, among motorcyclists, the TT has a draw not unlike climbing Mt. Everest for mountaineering types or racing at Indy for the cage enthusiasts. From this perspective, I am in awe of those that have raced the TT. Just watching the footage of the races makes appreciate both the incredible skill and the general level of insanity that one must possess to race there. Ultimately, this side of me understands (and at times support) the general argument that no one is forced to race, everyone has freedom of choice and it isn’t our job to protect people from themselves.

With that said, this year’s event offered up plenty of evidence to support both of those mindsets. For example just one of the four deaths was moto-journalist Gus Scott. He was young, a TT rookie and a single father. He was killed when he struck a corner marshall that was crossing the track to help another downed rider. Worse yet, the marshall was also killed the accident. This is a sad story and represents two senseless deaths. Surely this represents the worst possible side of the TT.

But this year’s TT races weren’t all about tragedy. A number of racers, mainly road course specialists, once again topped the races and they continued to make a name for themselves at the TT:

John McGuiness at the '05 IoM TT

John McGuinness, now 32 years old, won both the TT Superbike and Senior TT races on his Yamaha R1. He also came in second in Supersport Junior TT A race, making him the biggest news story of the week. In fact with these two wins McGuinness moves into a three way tie for 15th on the overall win list of the TT with 8 wins. As if that wasn’t glory enough, he also got an outright lap record with a lap of 127.326 mph and averaged 124 mph over the four laps of the Senior TT. Impressive stuff. McGuinness is also racing a Yamaha in the British Superbike series but is struggling there, currently lying 24th, having only completed three races with a best finish of 11th. For a public road specialist like McGuinness, the TT is one of the few chances he has to shine each year. Based on his circuit results alone, he would barely warrant a passing comment but has a multi-time TT winner he is respected as the incredible racer he is. Clearly the TT has changed his life for the better.

Some other people that clearly benefited from this year’s Isle of Man TT races include:

Ian Lougher took his Honda home in first place in the Supersport Junior TT A race and then followed that up with a second in the Superstock TT and Superbike TT races. At 41 he is one of the veteran TT racers with 21 years of Isle of Man race experience. His Junior TT win this year was his seventh at the island. Clearly he is another person that not only survives on the Mountain course but actually thrives on it.

Ryan Farquhar has raced Kawasakis at the Isle of Man for the past three years and has quickly emerged as one of the up-and-coming road racers. This year he won the Supersport Junior TT B which was his second TT victory in two years. If the TT continues to run, expect the 28 year old to continue to win.

Bruce Anstey had a roller coaster week as the Suzuki rider from New Zealand won the Superstock TT but then had bike problems in both the Junior B race and Senior TT. Last year Anstey was probably the star of TT week with five podium finishes in five races, including one win. Clearly the 35 year old is another stunning racer and one whose career will be defined by the TT.

Dave Molyneux is relatively unknown even to those who follow the TT because he races in the sidecar class rather than the two-wheeled category. Despite the relative lack of popularity of the three wheelers, Manxman Molyneux has probably the most impressive credentials of anyone currently racing the TT. This year he won the Sidecar B race and is now tied for 4th on the overall TT win list with 11 wins. For some perspective this makes him tied with, among others, Steve Hislop. For some more perspective realize that he has more wins that TT legends like Giacomo Agostini (10), David Jefferies (9), Phil Read (9), Jim Moodie (8) or Geoff Duke (7)! In addition to adding to his total wins tally he also set a new sidecar lap record this year with a average over one lap of 116.044 mph, over a second faster than the previous lap record. Rumor has it that this may have been his last TT but no matter what Moly is now a legend in his own right.

Finally, Suzuki’s Adrian Archibald deserves at least a passing mention since he was the two time reigning winner of the Senior TT coming into last week. While his only podium appearance ended up being a second in Superbike, it initially appeared he would beat teammate Anstey in the Superstock TT until running out of gas on the last lap. His bad luck continued in the Senior TT where he was in second and closing on leader McGuinness when he got a flat tire. His results this year don’t show it but Archibald is arguably the best TT rider currently racing at the Isle of Man.

Finally, American Tom Montano deserves mention for his 13th place finish in the Senior TT and a 17th place finish in the Superbike TT aboard a MV Agusta F4-1000. Montano has been racing the TT for nine years and is thus the most experienced American at the races. For him to do so well on a largely unproven MV is a sign that his experience on the Mountain circuit is paying off.

If you want to read up on this year’s TT the Isle of Man Guide web site has the best coverage including race results, photos, lap times and more. Sadly, this may be the only way to get Isle of Man coverage in the US as it appears that SpeedTV has opted not to televise the races this year.

So what do *you* think about the TT?

[image from the Photocycle web site.]

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The simple things…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

I’ve long been a fan of one marque race series at the regional and national level. Having a race class which is focused on a single brand and model of motorcycle helps keep racing affordable especially when the rules require few modifications. The most famous of the spec racing classes is the famous Suzuki cup series which focuses on various models of Suzuki bikes including the GSXR line and the SV line. However, there have also been race series based on the BMW R1100S, the Harley 883 Sportster, the Aprilia RS250, the Triumph Speed Triple and the MZ Skorpion. All of these race classes have provided affordable, competitive racing for beginners and in many cases have had better contingency support than other support classes like the AMA’s 250GP, Pro Thunder and even Formula Xtreme. The Suzuki Cup and Harley 883 series ended up being feeder classes in which many famous racers like Kevin Schwantz, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Aaron Yates, the Bostrom Brothers, the Wait brothers and many others.

Not all single marque series were that successful. Series like the MZ Skorpion cup and the Triumph Speed Triple both struggled. The Speed Triple Challenge in the mid-90s started off with a lot of support from racers but was quickly criticized because of reliability problems with the bikes. Specifically, it appeared that the oil passages in the head were too small to deal with the quantity of oil that was needed at high rpm. Since internal engine modifications weren’t allowed, this meant engines failed spectacularly and expensively. Racers either made the essential oil passage expansion necessary to maintain reliability and risked disqualification, or hoped they could win enough in some races to offset the frequent engine rebuilds to deal with the wear ‘n tear. Triumph didn’t offer a fix and these problems eventually eroded the popularity of a series popular with racers. The old AMA Supertwins race series, using Harley 883s, also suffered from mechanical failures since the exhaust valves on the rear cylinder of the air-cooled motor frequently failed but the series organizer altered the rules to allow different valve, valve seat and valve guide materials. This meant racers would work around the problems (even though the front runners were still replacing rear heads during race weekends) and kept the series popular for nearly a decade. Perhaps if Triumph had worked with the racers that series would have done better.

The MZ Skorpion Cup also started off with lots of buy-in from racers but that series also quickly waned mainly because the performance of the Skorpion bikes was less than expected. Since AHRMA, who oversaw the Skorpion Cup, also ran two different Sound of Singles race series it meant there were time when “built” singles were racing against the Skorpion Cup bikes. After the first few times that the Skorpion bikes were lapped by the other single cylinder bikes riders tended to abandon the Skorpion Cup series and start building Sound of Singles bikes. Suzuki’s SV 650, run successfully as part of the Suzuki Cup, aren’t particularly powerful either but WERA who oversee the Suzuki Cup don’t run the SVs at the same time as more powerful bikes like the GSXR600s. As a result, the SVs stay an attractive series and due to the low cost continues to gain popularity.

Triumph Thruxton photo

Now comes that latest single marque race class with the Triumph Thruxton Cup being run this year as part of the AHRMA roadrace race series. The bikes are the Thruxton version of the Triumph Bonneville line which features a 900cc parallel twin good for around 70hp. There are limited modifications allowed, basically just an exhaust system and jetting. The frame, suspension, brakes and wheels must be stock. No slicks are allowed, so tire costs will be cheaper. The stock bodywork is required, so the class will have a strong visible connection to the stock bike. Finally, Triumph is ponying up the bucks in contingency for the class and discounts for people buying the bikes to race in the class. All this should add up to a series which will be appealing to racers and provide close racing for the spectators. Whats more the race series should prove attractive to folks who want to race a vintage style bike but don’t want to deal with the reliability problems commonly encountered when racing old Triumphs.

The first race was this past weekend in South Carolina. Entries were sparse with just 17 bikes making the grid but the racing was supposedly good. In an effort to increase interest in the class, both among racers and fans, AHRMA has drafted ex-Superbike star Doug Polen to race the Triumph Thruxton Cup race this week at Daytona. There are another eight races after Daytona in the AHRMA series so hopefully the class will grow. Lets also hope that Triumph does a better job of supporting the Thruxton Cup series than they did with the old Speed Triple series and that AHRMA doesn’t stick the Thruxtons on the track at the same time as more powerful bikes like the Battle of the Twins or Sound of Thunder bikes.

I think the Thruxton is a great bike and the Thruxton Cup seems to be great series. I’m looking forward to September 11th when AHRMA will visit Colorado so I can watch the bikes in person…

[image from the web Bike World web site.]

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Mile High Iron Butt?

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

Rumors are floating around that the 2005 Iron Butt Rally may start and end in Denver this year!

The Iron Butt Rally is borderline insanity involving challenging some of the best long distance rally riders in the US to a grueling eleven day loop around the US. Now we here in Colorado will have a chance to watch excited riders and shiny bikes leave on August 22 and a subset of those people return as haggard, exhausted shells of their former selves aboard the smoking ruin of their motorcycles on September 2.

Iron Butt

This event is managed by the Iron Butt Association but its mainly the product of the sick and twisted mind of Michael Kneebone and his cronies. Somehow, he always manages to concoct increasingly torturous special optional routes each year, so its worth watching the daily reports during the Rally to see what he’s got the poor wretches doing each day in a bid to win. Since it will be based in Denver this year, it may be possible to watch things develop from a central IBA command center which will be an added bonus.

After years of the event starting and ending on one coast or the other I’m psyched it will be “local” in 2005.

[image from Iron Butt Rally web site]