In 1990, I raced at Road Atlanta in the AMA 250 Grand Prix class. Since it was a new track for me, my brother Stephen and I drove down early so that we could at least get a look at the track before practice.
The layout at Road Atlanta, significantly changed now, was such that you could get a decent vantage point at every corner, and we spent the day watching unofficial practice from many spots around the course. The day definitely gave me an advantage over other riders attending Road Atlanta for the first time, and I ended up with a good result in the race.
At the time, there were few other options for learning a new track; you were lucky to get a track map that showed the corners to a decent scale, and often the first time you saw most of the corners was in the first practice session. Of course, all that’s changed now: Race videos or onboard video is readily available, satellite imagery gets you an exact layout of the track, and those first laps are much less stressful for the rider.
The same information can be used for an initial setup of the motorcycle. We can use satellite maps to find an accurate length of each straight and radius for each corner, and from there calculate a starting point for gearing. Videos and pictures can be used to get an idea of elevation changes and how smooth or bumpy the surface is, providing information for a suspension setup to start with. And message boards on the internet can sometimes yield interesting tidbits about a particular track.
Put all this together and you get this: Prior to the Mopar CSBK national event held at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, AB, Jodi Christie attended a regional event at the track hosted by the EMRA (Edmonton Motorcycle Roadracing Association). On his Honda Canada/Accelerated Technologies CBR1000RR SP, it took Jodi just five laps to break the existing track record and post a time that would have qualified him on the second row for the upcoming Pro Superbike national event. John Sharrard and I had done our homework for the setup, and Jodi obviously did his own homework to learn the track so quickly.
Of course, everyone has access to those videos, pictures, message boards and satellite maps for a certain track, and can also use the information to get up to speed just as quickly. Jodi’s extra weekend at the track definitely gave him an advantage over his competitors for the first day of practice for the CSBK event, and into the weekend, but not by the margin a similar head start would have done, say, 20 or even 10 years ago. These days, being a first-timer at a given track is not much of a disadvantage over a three- or four-day race weekend.
As for the rest of the weekend at Castrol Raceway, we were unable to turn that great head start into the results we were hoping for, but Jodi managed a third (after crashing out of the lead and remounting) and second in the Hindle Pro Sport Bike races, and a second in the Saturday Mopar Pro Superbike race; unfortunately, he crashed out of the lead in Sunday’s Superbike race, luckily unhurt.
I am still sorting through the five days of data I have from the track, but have already learned a lot for next time. Without giving away too much, one aspect of data acquisition and setup that I have struggled with is that the data analysis is “reactive,” in that I know what setup changes I would make for the session I have data for. But that is too late, as conditions change over each day and the course of the weekend. To be more effective, the analysis has to be “proactive” and take into account those changing conditions. The next round of the series is at Atlantic Motorsport Park in Nova Scotia; as always, I hope to put what I learned at the last round to good use.
– Andrew Trevitt