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Make good choices.
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October 4th & 5th brought us back to Thunderhill for the final round of the 2014 AFM season.

Coming into the last round I was still holding on to the points lead in Novice 750 Production. It was a comfortable lead, however I knew if for some reason I didn’t finish the race, scoring zero points, and Ilya Roytman (#333) finished well enough, he could steal the championship from me. Goal #1 for the weekend was finish the race!
In between round 6 & 7 I attended two days at California Superbike School and I was anxious to see if it would pay off with a drop in my lap times.
Goal 1 - Finish 750p in a points paying position to secure the championship.
Goal 2 - Set a new personal best lap.
Let the show begin.

Saturday Race 1, Clubman Middleweight

I’m gridded in position 3, the green flag flies and Joe Brown (#822) rockets off ahead of me as usual. But then everyone else rockets off ahead of me too. Turns out I got an especially poor start, even for me. The entirety of the first two rows pass me and I’m 8th through turn 1. I make it by a couple people in the first few turns, then settle in behind the train to see how many spots I can make up in the next 5.5 laps. Coming up the hill towards 9 I look for an outside pass on the brakes to gain a position, but I’m not close enough. The train rolls over the hill and down towards turn 10 where we see the red flag waving. The race has been stopped before we even make a full lap.

Saturday Race 1, Clubman Middleweight re-start

A little better start this time, I exit turn 1 in 4th. Then it got better. I pass Max Sawicky (#842) into turn 2, Joe around the outside of 2 and Tom Kuchno (#898) on the exit of two. I enter turn 3 of the first lap leading the race. Across the line to complete lap 1 and I’m still leading. Down the straight for the second time and my pit signals are telling me someone is right behind me. Sure enough Tom shows me a wheel braking for turn one. But I wasn’t giving it up that easy and cut across his nose from the outside to shut the door and hang on to the lead. By lap 3 we were running into traffic from the Clubman Heavyweight field released ahead of us. Braking for turn 9 I saw another wheel come up the inside of me, but this time it was Stephan and he completed the pass. Then, like a flash in the darkness, the neon orange tail section of an unknown rider came streaking around the outside of both of us and shot down the hill slicing through the traffic. I had no idea where this rider came from. It turns out it was Jai Armstong (#791), a novice who had only done a couple of race weekends prior and had found some tremendous speed. For the next couple of laps I would watch Stephan and Jai duke it out up ahead, but I just couldn’t hang close enough with them to get in the mix. A black flag in turn 7 on the final lap meant that race was, once again, being stopped early. With only half a lap to go it wouldn’t be re-started this time and I would finish on the last podium spot. I was disappointed to not be able to hang on and fight for the win, but on the bright side I managed to finish ahead of Tom; a first for the season and I set a new personal best of 1:56.3, 7 tenths faster than my previous best.

Sunday Race 2, Novice 750 Production

This was my most important race of the weeknd as I was staring down the barrell of a novice class championship. I was leading Ilya by 41 points, which meant if I didn’t finish, and he placed 2nd or better he would overtake me in the standings.
From pole position I got pretty much my normal start; coming out of turn one behind Joe, Christian Diegelman (#937), and Ilya. By the end of lap 2, I had overtaken all three of them to lead the race. So far so good. I was turning good laps out front while hearing the Jaws theme in the back of my head. I knew Jai was on the grid and he was back there somewhere hunting me down. At the beginning of lap 5 I could see some traffic from the expert wave was ahead and by the beginning of lap 6 I had caught them. I was struggling to get through the traffic and I knew they were holding me up. Sure enough, over the top of turn 9 Jai came around the outside of me, then led through the final 6 corners to take the win. I took home the second place trophy, a new personal best of 1:56.0, and the overall title of Novice 750 Production champion.

Sunday Race 5, Novice 600 Production

I was feeling a little relief that my most important race of the weekend was over (I was glad it was my first race on Sunday) but there were still two more races to focus on. 600 production is always a competitive race amongst the novices and I was looking forward to another chance to try and keep up with Jai.
Off the start I came through turn one in 4th behind the usual suspects; Joe, Max and Ilya. I got by Ilya on lap 1 and Max on lap two before Joe had a chance to build a gap. Then coming down the hill to turn 10 we saw the red flag yet again.

Sunday Race 5, Novice 600 Production re-start

Miraculously, I got….exactly the same start this time. Fourth through t1 behind Joe, Ilya, and Max This time I passed Max straight away into t2 and began to look for a place to get around Ilya.
Coming across the line to finish lap one I was again in 4th behind Joe, Ilya and Jai who had caught and overtaken me near the end of the first lap. I decided my plan was to stick with Jai and have him tow me up to the front, then try to hang with him and not let him build a gap. He passed Joe, I passed Joe. He passed Ilya, I passed Ilya. Unfortunately it took me an extra half a lap to get by Ilya and by then Jai had already built the gap I was trying to avoid. I spent the rest of the race trying in vain to reel him in. When the checkers flew I crossed the line in 2nd place 1.8 seconds adrift of Jai.

Sunday Race 7, Novice Formula 1

This was going to be a tough race as the field was stacked with fast novices. Tom and Stephen were lined up next to me in the 1 & 2 spot. Jai was there too and another fast novice, #901 Rodrigo Arrazola, who I hadn’t raced against before but I knew was fast. It was going to be tough battle and hopefully some good racing.
The green flag flies and Jai wastes no time with a great start coming up the outside and around me through turn 1. Tom has the holeshot, I manage to keep Stephen behind me and I'm through t1 in 3rd. Jai overtakes Tom around the outside of two and I manage to do the same on the inside into 3.
Now it’s a deja vu of the 600p race; I’m in 2nd place and trying to keep in touch with Jai. Except this time I know Tom, Stephen and Rodrigo are all back there nipping at my heels. Sure enough Rodrigo comes by within the first lap. Coming down the front straight for the first time Tom motors passed me on his 750. I’m hoping I can regain the spot on the brakes into turn 1 when I see Tom’s rear wheel hop up into the air. I turn in and he goes straight, running into the dirt. I’m back in third watching Rodrigo and Jai ahead of me, wondering who’s wheel I’m going to see next. Turns out it’s Stephen’s turn to motor by me on his 750 as we cross the stripe for the second time. I stay right with him and strike back, re-taking the position on the inside into 3.
Heading down the back straight for the last time I know from my pit signals that Stephen is right on my back wheel. He’s on a faster bike than me and I’m going to need the drive of a lifetime out of turn 15 to beat him to the line and hold on to the last spot on the podium. In an unlucky twist, just as I’m approaching turn 14, I see a rider up ahead tipping into the corner. It’s not Jai and it’s not Rodrigo. It’s lapped traffic. I have to alter my line and stay tight to pass her on the inside out of 15 and don’t have a chance at that miraculous drive I was looking for. Stephen easily motored by me to the line. I came across the line in 4th to wrap up my 2014 season.

Final 2014 Class Championship Results:
Clubman Middleweight - 3rd
Novice Formula 1 - 3rd
Novice 600 Production - 3rd
Novice 750 Production - 1st

Thanks to the companies that have supported me for a very successful rookie race season: Woodcraft/Armour Bodies for the finest CNC machined parts out there, Speedmob for the Vortex, BMC and GPR parts, Motonation for keeping me safe with the best boots and body armor available; Sidi and Forcefield, Lockhart Phillips USA for the parts and racing supplies, Precision Trackdays and ARC Trackademics for the track time and coaching, W Standard USA for the super slick lightweight racing battery.

Stay tuned, next year, I ride with the experts…

Images by OXYmoron Photography.

Sherman Connoisseur
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