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2013 Team Icon Brammo Racing Season Blog #3, by Steve Atlas

May 30, 2013

 

With two very successful tests in the books and a strong start to the 2013 season under our belt, it was time for Team Icon Brammo to take on something new; time to forge a new frontier so to speak. But where this frontier is new for us, it’s actually considered more old school to most. Yes, just like you probably read online or heard in some internet chat room, we would be taking on gas bikes this year and doing so in one of the most competitive club racing series’ in the nation: AFM. With a list of former riders that includes the likes of Steve Rapp, Chuck Sorensen, current Daytona 200 winner Cameron Barbiuer, as well as my current teammate Eric Bostom, there is never a shortage of fast guys that call AFM home. And just to make things a bit harder, we decided to race them in their backyard, at none of than what’s now called Sonoma Raceway, formerly Infineon Raceway and before that, for you old timers, Sears Point.

The morning sun strikes the no.58 machine of Steve Atlas at Sonoma Raceway.

And while this not only meant an array of local fast talent to race against, the tack itself is far from suited to our still-slightly-heavy girl that we so affectingly call the Empluse RR. Sears Point, as I like to call it, features one technical corner after another, all of which link together in several long series’. In between these lie only two very small straights. So a bike that is nimble, flicks quickly from side-to-side, and is good on the brakes, always make for the best bikes around Sears. So, if you had to guess what areas where we still needed the most work, which do you think those would be? You probably don’t need to strain your noggin very hard to come up with that answer. And when your main competition are bikes as light and nimble, but also as impressively quick as Yamaha’s YZF-R6 or Honda’s CBR600RR, well let’s just say we knew it was going to be an uphill battle going into the event.

Competing head-to-head with the likes of the more nimble 600s would prove to be a challenge.

But one can never expect to improve without consistently challenging themselves, so that is exactly what we did. Thankfully the whole Icon Brammo team, along with motor sponsor Parker Racing, has done a massively impressive job developing the bike, as well as the GVM powerplant, to get the absolute most out of it! If there is one area that we are strong, it’s in the power department. The sheer amount of torque the Empulse RR produces still astonishes me every time I swing a leg over it. You would think I would get used to it, but for the first couple laps after any amount of time away from riding, that bike plasters my eyes wide open and leaves me grinning from ear-to-ear like a Junior High School boy who just had his first kiss.

You see, I’ve always been a horsepower guy; the first time I rode a Superbike was like going to Disneyland for a 12-year-old. I couldn’t get enough. And while it took a couple years and many man-hours to get there, I can honestly say that the Empulse’s acceleration is the stuff wet dreams are made of. It’s downright awesome, and to think that comes from what is essentially a whole bunch of laptop batteries, plus the brainpower and engineering knowledge of a bunch of really smart guys and girls all working together, is just plain cool.

Anyway, back to the good stuff: Racing. With a full day of practice on Saturday to get ready for the bar-banging action on Sunday, we figured getting a good setup wouldn’t be a problem. But that was until we remembered just where we were racing. There is no such thing as a perfectly setup motorcycle anywhere, but there is especially no such miracle package for a place like Sears Point. To get to a happy medium around the Northern California track is about as common as rolling triple sevens in Vegas, so to expect to do that on a motorcycle that is still a developmental work in progress at even the most basic of tracks is like asking for winning Powerball numbers. Good luck! But just because it presented an almost insurmountable challenge, being the hardheaded racers and engineers we all are, we weren’t about to pack up and head home early. Oh no. We were going to try and win the lottery. Go big or go home, right?

The Team discusses suspension changes with Steve during the practice session.  The seconds fell off fast in initial practice until we hit a wall at the 1:49 mark.

Saturday practice started off well. We were going quite a bit faster than we ever had at Sears in the past. For reference the best I did on last year’s bike was 1:54, which was right before I was spit off and sidelined with fractured vertebra in my back. Compare that to the 1:56 we did the year prior and it was already an improvement. But on the 2013 machine, with the added ponies of the new Parker GVM motor and updated chassis and suspension, we were down to a 1:50-flat by the end of the second session on the bike, while my teammate Eric was already into the 1:49s. But while this initial large jump in time came with ease, going any faster proved to be extremely difficult.

No matter what we did or how we did it, it seemed the 1:49 barrier was going to be an extremely difficult one to get past for both Eric and I. Motorcycle setup is all about compromise; trading off in one area to gain in another, with the ideal settings being those that sacrifice the least and in turn equate to the quickest lap time. And with the top 600cc riders running in the low-to-mid 1:40s, we knew quite a bit more time was needed to run up front. But to honestly expect a prototype electric motorcycle, one that is less than four years old, to run with, and beat, motorcycles that the big-four Japanese manufacturers have had in development for four decades, well keep dreaming fellas. But to the surprise of many, we not only ran with some seriously fast Japanese machines, we even beat a few of them.

Braking for Turn 1.  The short straights at Sonoma kept Steve from exploiting its power advantage of the Empulse RR.

Running in both Formula 1 and 750cc Superbike meant a similar field, both with roughly 30 bikes in each. Formula 1 was first, and after a crazy start that saw several riders bouncing off each other on the top of Turn 2, the red-flag-aborted event was restarted and saw us get off to jump just outside the top-10. After a few bikes got around us and I was able to get back by a couple, we slotted in just inside the top-15. With best lap times in the 1:49s, we were going well but not quite where we wanted. Unfortunately, a small glitch took us out of the running mid-way though. But nothing more than a minor issue, we were back out and ready to go in 750cc Superbike.

After seeing the madness of an AFM Middleweight start firsthand in our opening race, for 750cc Superbike I decided to start in the back and let things shuffle out before going for it. Which is exactly what I did. Eric started mid-pack and put a couple riders between us in the early going, which left me in a three-way battle for the top-15; with Eric a couple seconds up the road in 14th. And while it took me the entire race to get around them, the three of us trading positions on several occasions, on the run to the line I was able to set up the pack leader and beat him across the line. The problem was this put me into Turn 1 way too hot and instead of running off the track, I cut up the inside, taking the old Turn 1 escape road to avoid running into the dirt. But because this isn’t allowed, in the final results I was docked the two positions and ended up being credited with 17th, while Eric took a very respectable 14th, both of us dipping into the low-1:49s on more than one lap and Eric even into the high 1:48s at one point.

Adapting to the “rough and tumble” of club racing presented a unique challenge to the team and riders.

Photo Finish! Steve was initially credited with taking 15th position at the line, but was later demoted to 17th with a 1 lap penalty for a technical course infraction.

Even with the troubles of the weekend, a major step was taken in seeing the Empulse RR competitive with some of the best gas bikes in the world.  The bike looked fast and continued to change minds about what’s possible with electric.

And while we have no doubt found a serious performance wall for us to overcome, if the progress we have made already is any indication of things to come, we will surely find a way over that wall and far past it. So be sure to stay tuned as we have another event against the gas bikes the first weekend of June, before the TTXGP Series starts at Laguna Seca in July and then heads to Indy in August, both events that look to be packed full of new bikes and fast talent and could potentially be some of, if not the best E-Bike races to date. You won’t want to miss it. Oh, and those MotoGP guys run those weekends as well and I hear they are kind of entertaining to watch, so it should make for a great start to this year’s TTXGP Series!

Steve-O looking smart in his new Icon leathers and Parker Racing cap.  It was great just to be a part of a massive garage of racers with the AFM.

Peace,

Steve-O

2011 & 2012 TTXGP North American Champion

2012 TTXGP World Champion

*Team Manger’s Note*:

Unfortunately, Steve won’t be able to make the AFM round at Thunderhill this coming weekend due to schedule conflicts.  He’ll be back in action for the team at the ReFuel TT event at Laguna Seca later in the month as we begin preparation for FIM eRoadRacing Round 1 with the Red Bull MotoGP at Laguna. 

Thanks!

-Brian.