By Steve Atlas
As you know by now if you have been keeping up on Team Icon Brammo’s progress that the opening TTXGP round at Infineon didn’t go too well. Some mechanical issues ended up in one of the biggest crashes of my road racing career. The end result was six fractured vertebrae in my upper back and a torn-up right pointer finger. And while it sounds bad, it could have been a lot worse. My Icon helmet did a great job preventing a concussion and my leathers and back protector kept my spine in line and allowed for quick healing without surgery. All things considered, I came away from a 90 mph high-side relatively OK. Thankfully I had six solid weeks to heal before round two at Portland International Raceway, so physically I was 90 percent back in shape. Mentally, well that was a bit of a different story.
After a big get-off, it’s always tough to keep one’s confidence up, and with six weeks of thinking about the crash and waking up in a few cold sweats, let’s just say rolling out for our first practice Friday morning was a bit nerve racking to say the least. Add to that the fact that I had never been to PIR before and that it was sprinkling rain and, well, you get the picture. To make the transition easier, we detuned the engine slightly; which proved to be a perfect way to get started.
With new geometry and fairly big suspension changes, both aimed to handle the huge gain in power the team found this off-season, I instantly felt at home for the first time all year on the 2012 Empulse RR. The Steve Atlas of last year was back, and after getting my confidence up we started turning the power up and dropping time lap after lap.
PIR features an extremely long front straight, giving us our first chance to test the new bike’s top-end. And the results were extremely impressive. Running at roughly 70 percent of our available power, the bike reached 143 mph; true GPS measured speed! Compared to a best of roughly 115 mph last season, that is a serious gain. And once we upped the power another 8 percent I was quickly knocking at the door of 150 mph lap after lap. Because the race was run in conjunction with an OMRRA club race we were practicing side by side with gas-powered bikes of all sizes and definitely turned a few heads when we passed several super sport 600s at the end of the front straight – impressive stuff!
Friday stayed mostly dry and allowed me enough time to learn the track and get my head back in the game. This proved invaluable as Saturday was almost totally washed out as typical northwestern weather dumped rain nearly all day. Fortunately, our qualifying was at the very end of the day and the weather finally broke about an hour before we got on track. The track dried quickly. Through a small miracle the track was mostly dry for our 20 minute session.
Pre-qualifying our best lap had been a 1:20.3, which we quickly matched and surpassed despite several wet patches on the backside of the track. We were in the low 19s during our first eight lap run. After a quick stop in the pits we headed back out, mostly as added track time for my behalf as the number of laps I did in the first run used a fair amount of battery. Even with slightly less power, as my comfort level increased the time kept dropping and we ended with a high 1:18 on our twelfth lap. Not only were we happy with the time, but it coming after so many laps boded well for the race Sunday, showing we would be strong over the full race distance.
Our time was good enough for third on the grid, just over two seconds behind the two Motoczysz bikes. And with power in reserve and my comfort level going up every lap, the outlook for the race was a good one. It looked like an epic battle with the Motoczysz boys was in store. Unfortunately the battle was over before it started as Czysz had some bike troubles which prevented them from making the grid and promoted us to pole position. While this helped us, no one ever wants to see a good competitor and friend have troubles. Hopefully Motoczysz will have the issues fixed and we can have a good race at Laguna Seca in July where we race as part of the MotoGP weekend.
Sunday brought with it much improved weather and after a good morning warm-up to scrub in tires it was time to go racing. Just after 2pm we rolled out for the warm-up lap and gridded up. Starting on pole never hurts and as the green flag flew we got away to a great start in the lead. Nine laps lay ahead and I quickly put my head down and went to work.
We had a fairly large gap in lap times over the rest of the field so the key was to put in consistent laps and collect a much needed win. With all the bad luck we had in round one, this was a nice change of pace as I clicked off consistent laps in the 1:17s, our fastest of the weekend, in route to actually lapping the entire field, some bikes twice, as we cruised to the victory! This came at a perfect time, giving us confidence rolling into one of the biggest races of the season at Laguna in July. It also put us right back in the points chase as well, so our championship title defense is nicely back on track. But we’re not about to sit back and rest either, as we know the competition will be much higher at Laguna and a podium finish there won’t come easily.
Following the race we stayed in Portland to film a new video for team sponsor, Icon, which will be coming out in mid-August, so be sure to stay tuned for that. Shooting everywhere from a wind tunnel to the racetrack with a helicopter should make for one seriously cool flick. Now were off to the Re-Fuel electric vehicle event at Laguna this Sunday. This will be a good warm-up for the race in July and should provide valuable track time to get a good baseline setting. That’s all for now, check back next week for an update after the Re-Fuel event. Maybe we’ll have a new track record to speak of…