Quite the Day in Monterey!!
I got a call a few months back and was offered a chance to ride a Moto Guzzi in the AMA Pro Thunder race at Laguna Seca. Dave Blunk, owner of Sport Cycle Pacific, Santa Barbara, California wanted someone to ride his Guzzi. Dave had built a very special Guzzi, a 97 Daytona RS that started it's life as a Centaro. Dave knew I had raced Pro Thunder in the past, finishing 3rd overall in 1999 and was hoping I could place the Moto Guzzi in the top 10. I loaded up the bike trailer with my teammates Ducati's and headed off to California with great anticipation.
Pit space was at a premium due to World Superbike and AMA running together that weekend. My pit crew member, Dennis Taylor and I got a great pit space at the entrance to the pits up near the fence. We got our pits setup Wednesday afternoon and ran our teammates bikes through tech. I made contact with Dave at the tech garage where he was "teching" the Guzzi with another pit crew member, Frazier. He was pitted about 50 yards from us but we combined our pits for ease of operations.
This was the first chance I got to see the bike I was going to ride this weekend. My first impression was very encouraging. Dave did a superior job of preparing the bike for the race weekend. My first thought was that the Guzzi looked great in it's stealth paint job. The flat black, suited the bike very well. The Guzzi looked very intimidating, the big powerful motor not hidden by fairings.
Soft compound Dunlop tires were already mounted by Sport Cycle Pacific and ready to go. The front tire was a 120/75/17. 75 is a tall sidewall but it offered more grip through the turns. Laguna Seca is a high- speed cornering track. The rear tire was a 165/60/17. Dave was able to fit a 5" Magnesium wheel into the standard swingarm which allowed us to use the 165 slick. The drive shaft on the Guzzi limits the tire size. The advantage for getting the big rim and the narrow tire allow for a wide contact patch. I checked the Guzzi over and we put it to bed for the night.
Thursday morning, Pro Thunder was first up for practice at 8:30 AM. There was a delay due to the fog bank. We listened to the AMA personnel on our radios and heard them tell the corner workers that if they could see the corner before and after them it would be okay to send us out. It was like racing in London fog, don't see much of that in the desert where I live. Luckily, I have raced Laguna Seca several times and I know which way the track goes!
We put the tire warmers on, waited for corner worker clearance and then turned the ignition switch, hit the starter button and brought the Guzzi to life. The Guzzi exhaust note was potent and powerful. As I left the pit for the first time, the bike was attracting lots of attention. As I accelerated down the hot pit, other teams noticed the Guzzi immediately by it's unique sound . Lots of bottom end grunt and acceleration.
My first lap on the race track I could see I would have my hands full trying to shift the Guzzi. All my race bikes and street bike are setup with a reverse GP style shift pattern., one up, four or five down. The Guzzi shift pattern was stock and this was going to test my concentration. Laguna Seca is a very intense rider track, you have to stay focused 100%. The bike has the grunt of a Mack truck with the handling of a big American sports car. I did a few easy laps and enjoyed the feel of the bike. I then began to pick up the pace to see what it could do. I had a few oops with the shift pattern. It is hard to re-train the brain while on the race track. This practice session was 38 minutes long and this would be my only chance to practice before qualifying this afternoon. I got a pretty good feel for the bike, selected the right gearing for each turn and felt I could put my head down and go faster this afternoon. I was 17th fastest out of 42 bikes for the morning session. I felt this was good for such a short amount of track time on an all new bike to me.
The Moto Guzzi carries it's weight at a low center of gravity, the bike handled very well and did not feel top heavy at all. It feels like it carries it's weight at axle height. We made no changes on the front forks, we did change the rebound adjustment on the rear shock during morning practice. We felt we went the wrong way with the adjustment so we returned to our initial settings for the afternoon qualifying. I wanted to concentrate really hard and put down some good laps during the qualifying session. I went out with the hopes of making the top 10 or at least the top 15. The 6 bikes in front of me in the first session were only 2 seconds quicker than me and I thought I could drop another 3 or 4 seconds.
I was using the onboard lap timer from my other race bike and was able to use it to help drop my lap times. I was able to ride harder by instantly seeing the lap times on the triple tree in front of me. I dropped about 2 seconds per lap from the morning session . I thought I could shave another second and wanted to put in a few hot laps at the end of the 50 minute qualifying session. I was pushing really hard, giving it all I had and all of a sudden, as I am dropping off the top of the hill at the corkscrew I shifted the bike the wrong way. The bike immediately turned 90 degrees sideways. This is the equivalent of falling off a 3 story building sideways. As the tires gripped the ground sideways, I was thrown hard onto the pavement, like a pile of bricks. My elbow was the first thing to hit the ground as I was still holding on to the handlebars. It was a fast hard crash. As I slid to a stop on the racetrack, I knew I was in a bad place, laying in the middle of the track halfway down the corkscrew. I immediately jumped up and ran to the side of the racetrack, the pain in the elbow was severe and immediate. The Guzzi lay in the middle of the corkscrew with racers going around both sides of it. The fans were yelling at the corner workers to wave the red flag. Everyone was holding their breath hoping the other racers could avoid the downed bike. I was taken to the infield care center where X-rays confirmed a badly broken elbow. The decision was made to go to the hospital in Monterey and have surgery performed that evening.
The pit crew was not aware that surgery was going to be necessary so they proceeded to look over the bike and determine what repairs would be needed. Unbelievably, the Guzzi looked pretty good, it had a small scuff on the fairing, broken footpeg and valve cover. On closer inspection, it was found the cylinder head was cracked all the way to the head bolt hole. The team was calling around for parts but I would not be able to continue racing that weekend.
I had surgery at 10:00pm, the elbow was wired together, put in a sling and I was out of the hospital by 2:00 pm Friday. I made it back to the track for the Pro Thunder race, if only to watch from trackside.
Dave Blunk of Sport Cycle Pacific says the shift pattern will be changed by race time at Willow Springs. If the bike is healed and my body is healed I guess we'll do it again and hopefully, the next commentary will have a happier ending.
I really enjoyed riding the Guzzi, it was a blast. I'm always up for a challenge. I hope Dave will forgive me for injuring his motorcycle. On the news that evening we saw an earthquake report of a 2.2, could that be a Guzzi hitting the asphalt in the famous corkscrew?
Motorcycle Racer, AMA Pro Thunder