IENATSCH TUESDAY: Great Times at COTA

A host of observations from my visit to MotoGP in Austin.

In a pre-season test at COTA...only days before his death...Dane Westby was the third-quickest rider on his Yamahalube Westby Racing Yamaha R1. Geoff May took over the reigns at the COTA and Joshua Day raced Dane's bike one week later at Road Atlanta.

Last year, I rode my Yamaha FZ1 from southern Colorado to Austin. Just before leaving home, I packed the Venture Heat electric clothing Cycle World wanted me to test. It stayed packed as I sweated my way down to Texas feeling stupid. It was late spring in the Southwest!

FZ1-Wind

One year ago, the flags were straight out. I spun my FZ1 around for the photo but reality had me heading into that wind for 12 hours. I’m still tired! Booked a flight and rental car this year. Some call me wimpy, a few say smart.

On the way home, though, it returned to February weather and I fought 35-degree temps and a 30-mph headwind for 12 hours. At one point, the wind was so strong that I ran the tank dry in 92 miles, about 40 short of usual. The Venture Heat gear saved my trip as it ran full-bore for 12 hours. One of the toughest days I’ve had on a motorcycle, though one must consider my relative wimpiness.

So this year? “Hello, United? One round-trip ticket to Austin please. Rental car? Yes, please!”

And rain greeted us all on Friday so my FZ1 would have gotten dirty...and stayed dirty because both Saturday and Sunday were moist and foggy with slightly wet roads in the mornings.

The race bikes got dirty right away. That surprised some fans that had been to nationals where nobody practiced in the rainy sessions. In general, if the weather forecast for Sunday calls for a strong chance of rain, you’ll see everyone out getting a feel for grip. If the forecast predicts clear skies, you’ll only see three-digit riders out in the rain, and not many of them. The Austin forecast was quite mixed, which meant everyone was on track Friday; later, Rossi’s crew chief Silvano Galbusera told me MotoGP riders will take all the rain practice they can get to gain data.

But things dried up...until just before the MotoAmerica Supersport race on Saturday. Did you see Josh Herrin’s crash during the wet race? The back of his R6 let go so suddenly and completely that the bike spun a 180 before Josh could say, “Track’s slick here.” The race started relatively dry and that takes the sharp edges off a rain tire...so when it began to pour the tires were past their prime and gravity proved once again that it is relentless. Awesome job to the survivors.

I was blown away by a few things at Circuit of The Americas. One was Josh Hayes and his racecraft, desire, tenacity, and outright skill. The Saturday MotoAmerica Superbike race started in the wet and Josh dominated from the start. No contest. Hayes later said he was ready for any condition and didn’t get jacked up about the rain. Professional, technical, not emotional.

Josh-Hayes

But it was Hayes’ last lap on Sunday that blew me away. Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate Cameron Beaubier had slipped past Hayes early in the race and would occasionally gap him, only to have Josh charge back, staying in the game. On the last lap the veteran dug deep, closed the gap and slipped inside his younger teammate in the final corner but had the door slammed firmly shut as Beaubier stayed on line. Tough, but clean.

This early in the season, one would understand if Hayes quit pushing and settled for second, but that’s not how it’s going to be with this guy. Love seeing that fire to win. Whoever wants to beat that No. 1 Yamaha R1 better bring it all season, every lap of every race. And while it might seem weird to write about the guy who got second, don’t worry: Mr. Beaubier will have his name written many times in the future. Dat boy’z good.

Kyle Wyman and I spent part of the weekend on the Yamaha stage talking about riding and Yamaha Champions Riding School, but not too far away from our stage was another happening that blows me away every time I see it: The RoadRace Factory/Yamaha Learn-to-Ride kids area. Have you seen it? Danny Walker’s American Supercamp/RoadRace Factory gets kids zipping around a little track outlined by haybales. The kids get instruction and riding gear, and possibly a passion for the rest of their lives. As I’ve editorialized for years, kids without passionate pursuits are often drawn to less-attractive behaviors. Every time I see this Yamaha kids deal it makes me happy. Cards for Caring is a major sponsor. Good job, all. If other manufacturers step up to Yamaha’s level, we’ll have a vibrant industry again.

kids-riding-area-1
kids-riding-area-2
kids-riding-area-3

Kids 12 and under can hop on a Yamaha TT-R50 or 110 fully outfitted in Fox gear, Bell helmets and Spy goggles. It’s Yamaha’s Learn-to-Ride program and American Supercamp instructors get these kids rolling. Hook the kid on something good: motorcycling.

I was blown away by the Aprilia RSV-4 and Yamaha YZF-R1 Superstock machines. If you’ve ever wondered if those factory engineers know anything, you should have seen the combined Superbike/Superstock race. Jake Gagne won both Superstock races on his RoadRace Factory Yamadog with Dustin Dominguez giving the Aprilia an amazing maiden voyage with a pair of second-place finishes. Ask Yoshimura’s Roger Lee Hayden how well Gagne’s Superstock bike works because it took Superbike pilot Hayden a “bit of work” to dispatch the R1 stocker.

The Aprilia effort impressed me so much I stopped in to see the Houston Superbikes pit and then met Phil Read, Junior. Yes, he’s the son of that Phil Read. As Aprilia’s marketing director in America, Read is the man who pushed hard to make the Superstock effort happen. Read cut his teeth racing and eventually raced in World Superbike, then ran a bunch of (successful) years on the Vyrus. Look it up, he hauled ass.

Phil Read, Junior is in America to make Aprilia, Moto Guzzi and Vespa even bigger and helped put together the Houston Superbikes Aprilia Superstock effort. On Sunday, Yamaha and Aprilia captured the top seven spots before a BMW S1000RR crossed the line. Aprilia’s presence makes an exciting class even better.

Read has the passion and vision for a company synonymous with “World SBK Champion.” Once again, I must state: Putting a successful roadracer in charge of a business almost always pays off. Assembling a championship season makes business very understandable and the desire to succeed is necessary in both worlds. The “desire to succeed” is a polite euphemism for “hates to lose.” I’ve seen many examples of businesses succeeding when a roadracer is in charge, and Read wants to capitalize on Aprilia’s SBK success.

Don-Cook-stands-with-Josh-Siegel

And still smiling...half-way through an epic day at COTA, Don Cook stands with Josh Siegel. Siegel is the man who put together the infrastructure and team to relaunch the Yamaha Champions Riding School 18 months ago, and Cook now owns a Ducati 899 Panigale track bike because YCRS gave him the tools to thoroughly enjoy a machine of that caliber on a world-class racetrack. Two good guys right here...quick too.

My Austin visit was made even more fun by friends Amy and Don Cook who hosted a great dinner party where we talked about motorcycles, owning motorcycles, riding motorcycles and which motorcycles we loved the best. Okay, we talked about plenty of other stuff but always seemed to tie the subject back to motorcycles. Had some damn good espresso, too. So nice that my business deals with such great people: Motorcyclists.

Don-on-porch

Don Cook and a “Canyon Lake Margarita.” Why is he smiling? Because after a weekend of watching the best circulate COTA, he has plans to ride his own Ducati there the very next Saturday! Yeah, we hate him, too.

Let me touch on that point about motorcyclists being great people. Sure, there are some exceptions, but my theory is based on the harsh punishment mistakes on motorcycles exact and the fact that crashes are usually the rider’s fault. Humility sets in quickly in this sport. Humility of getting your ass handed to you by a better rider on an inferior bike. The humility that lying in the dirt brings. The further up the performance ladder the rider climbs, the more these lessons take hold. Motorcycling lessons can keep a person grounded and nice to be around.

My last hour at COTA was spent with Yamaha Tech 3's Bradley Smith. The young Brit and his father have been very gracious over the years with their time, even coming to a pair of Yamaha Champions schools. Bradley talked about the challenges he faced at COTA and that story has already appeared here on the Cycle World website.

IMG_7902

Bradley Smith on a YCRS Yamaha R1, which is stock except for some Dunlop Q3s. Smith adapted to the bike and tires and was haulin’ ass in about three-quarters of a lap. Photo by 4theriders.com

At the school, Bradley rode the previous-version R1 and I can remember watching him at Laguna, running into Turn 3 so fast that I was sure he would crash…every lap. I reminded him of that and he laughed, saying, “I rode your school bikes just like I ride my GP bike. I guess I ride to the limit of the bike—actually, to the limit of the tires—but my approach is the same, my body position, the things I do, everything. Same approach and just apply it to whatever bike I’m on.” Smith made a lot of fans at YCRS because of his approach to riding and his ability to describe it. At Smith’s level, every nuance counts and our conversation put a wonderful exclamation point on the weekend.

Flight home was dry and warm.

Nick-and-Judy

GSX-R1100 Experiment Update! Currently in negotiations with Judy for a long-term loan of her GSX-R750 Limited Edition seat. Dinner and a show: Good for a three-month rental! More GSX-R stuff next week.

More next Tuesday!

Westby Racing trailer.

Josh Hayes.

Brian Nitto

Kids riding area photo #1

Kids riding area photo #2

Kids riding area photo #3

Phil Reed and Nick Ienatsch.

Don on porch.

Bradley Smith.

Nick and Judy.