Chapter 4 – Development Begins
Chapter 4 – VR-1 Development Begins
The Circuit Mosini – Track Overview
The Circuit Mosini is a technically challenging test track built by the MT racing organization to allow very comprehensive ‘real world’ testing of their products. While there are no sanctioned racing events held at the circuit, the MT staff occasionally held ‘match races’ or ‘staff competitions’ there under the guise of ‘testing’. The track’s 5.4 kilometer length comprising 14 turns and just under 75 meters of elevation change presented a challenge for both men and machines.
With it’s emphasis on development, the track was instrumented with the best technology available, and has control and observation towers which each have a view of the entire circuit. The track itself was masterfully cut into the rolling hills just to the east of the Design Center, adjacent to the vineyards owned and operated by the Chiatarini family for more than a century. It was a stunning venue to be sure.
Accelerating through the final turn 14 – called the Tower Bend for it’s exit next to the ‘control tower’ at Start/Finish – the rider is accelerating at full throttle through 200 kph as he approaches the markers for turn 1, the Paddock Bend. Paddock is a second-gear 90-degree left leading onto a very short straight. A slight rolling off of the throttle as the bike is tipped into turn 2, the beginning of the section called Rider’s Rapture consisting of a very fast right, heading uphill into the decreasing-radius right hand turn 3, then snapping left and continuing up the hill into the double-apex left hand turn 4 and onto the Beacon Straight – named for it’s proximity to the aircraft warning beacon at the top of the hill to the right of the track. The straight is more than 500 meters long, leading into the very fast turns 5 and 6, known as The Ess, during which the track begins to descend from it’s high point. Observation tower 2 sits inside the track near the apex of turn 5.
As the rider approaches the end of turn 6 he is on the binders hard for a few dozen meters while leaned to the right to get the turn-in to the left hand (and still descending) turn 7, known as the Carousel Curve. This turn is almost constant radius and a full 180 degrees, and leads to the slight left hand ‘straight’ called The Dive, as the track bottoms out in the middle of this section and begins climbing once again into turns 8 and 9, also known as Double Ups as the track climbs sharply through both of the right handers. The track levels off at the exit of 9, onto the 200 meter short chute into the 200 degree, 200kph left hander known as Big Bend. It was a slightly bumpy, scary-fast corner with a radius that tightened up toward the end – just in time to launch bike and rider onto the long and fast Center Straight, more than a full kilometer long. At the end of this straight is a sweeping right ‘kink’ without a name, turn 11, which leads onto a downhill chute most of which is consumed hard on the brakes for the slowest corner on the circuit. The Vineyard Hairpin begins downhill, low gear and hard left, then sharply kinks at it’s exit into a steep climb into the nearly-as-tight right hand turn 13. From the exit of 13 it’s wide-open throttle through the final turn to Start/Finish.
That’s one trip around Mosini. A hair-raising and difficult roadracing circuit.
Preparing for a Test
Rod was getting a feel for the unfamiliar bike, and it was a pretty good machine. The WSB Championship-winning MT Swallow three-cylinder superbike was fast and handled very well for a production-based machine. With only a dozen laps in at the technically difficult Mosini circuit, he had to learn the course as well. The near-term objective was to have all four pilots, Rod, the two MT factory SBK riders, and their MotoGP test rider up to speed by the following week so that instrumentation and measurement could begin. In the newly opened DACS lab there were two additional Swallow machines being configured by Pete and his team. In order to remain on their rather aggressive schedule, the riding team needed to be ready before Friday.
The Mosini circuit had only one segment that could be called a ‘straight’, and it was long. Of the full-course length of 3.3 miles, this segment accounted for nearly 0.7 miles, a bit more than a kilometer, with the lead-in corner exit speed of more than 200 kph the terminal speed was very near the absolute maximum for the bike – or slightly more than 320 kph. At the end of the straight was a dog-leg right taken without rolling off the throttle under perfect conditions, followed by a hundred meters of hard braking into the 1st gear left hand hairpin that began with an initial off-camber apex and ended by climbing hard to another hairpin to the right – this one over the crest of a hill. From there you were back on the throttle hard as the track opened up through a long left leading to the start-finish ‘straight’. Or at least that’s what Rod had been told…
That dog leg at the end of Center had him boggled, as did two other places on the tricky course. He simply had not been able to resolve them, and the distraction from his otherwise excellent focus made it difficult – in fact impossible – to put together fast laps. All of the trouble spots were in very high-speed sections of the track, where such problems added seconds to every lap. The right-to-left transition over some moderate bumps at the entry to the Carousel gave him fits, and moved his line to a different spot every time. And the tightening radius at the exit of the second Double Up leading to Big Bend messed that corner up as well. Between the three sections it amounted to a six second deficit between Rod’s time and the fastest of the other riders, and almost five between his and the other two. It was humiliating. Rod had always been a guy who could just get in the zone quickly, and reel off dozens of fast laps back-to-back at his leisure. There was something about these three spots that spooked him.
Once again he roared past the timing stand, his most recent lap flashing on the HUD in his helmet. Another 1:44.9. At least it wasn’t slower than his last five. Braking once more for Paddock he touched his knee puck at the apex and rolled the bike back to the right for the first of Rider’s Rapture, his brain thinking ahead to that next trouble spot just past the top of the hill. The problem was that he had to be hard on the binders at the same time as he was rolling the bike from full right to full left over those damned bumps. Just as he picked up the throttle again to exit the last of Rapture, he heard the sound of another bike behind him and took a quick glance. He recognized the helmet of Sergio Mandini, the fastest of the group. He quickly moved over and backed off – only enough to let Sergio by – then he was hard on the gas again to try and learn as much as he could from the holder of the all-time lap record at Cosini.
The two bikes hurtled down the Beacon Straight and into the flatout turn 5 – the first of the Ess section curves. Rod focused on Sergio’s line, and nearly ran into the back of his bike as the other rider climbed on the brakes much earlier than Rod had been doing. What the…. Rod was only confused for a moment. Instinctively he had hammered his brakes to keep from running into Serg, then just as quickly gotten back on the throttle. Now the extra speed was gone as he transitioned the bike from right to left over those bumps – no longer on the brakes, but on the gas. The bike was stable as a rock using that method, and Rod was right on the other rider’s heels through the Carousel. Okay, he thought, if I can stay with him another 500 meters…
He did, and was again surprised – but this time by the line Sergio took through the ‘double-hook’ that was turn 9. He early-apexed the first of the two, and late-apexed the second – essentially converting the two turns into one, and taking the line over a different place than Rod had been. He wasn’t able to follow; but he knew what to do on the next lap. At this point he was too far behind Sergio to follow him through the ultra-fast dogleg at the end of the next straight; but he had his work cutout for him. He took a deep breath while at full lean and 200kph in Big Bend, rolling on the throttle and planning to just not screw up the last turn before start/finish so he’d have a good run on his next lap. His mind went into ‘autopilot’ for the remainder of the lap, and he focused on those two places he needed to change….
Rod’s first surprise was that the lap he’d just done was a 1:43.4, a full second-and-a-half faster than any of his previous laps. He knew he could take another second off of that easily, and put his head down to do just that. His next was a 43:1, followed by a 42.5, a 42.3, and finally a 41.8. This session had yielded a three second per lap improvement, and gave him hope that he would soon be ‘in the hunt’. His fuel level getting low, he took a final cool-off lap and rolled into the pit lane. His mechanics rushed to the bike and held it while he dismounted and pulled off his helmet. The first to greet him was Sergio Mandini, his animated gestures and infectious smile the first sign that he acknowledged Rod’s skills. ‘You chop three seconds Signor Rod! You finally go fast!’ he said, laughing and slapping Rod on the shoulder. ‘That is why I do that – you know – pass you there so I can show the line. Mosini she’s a very tricky place. You learn fast. Welcome to Forty One!’ he said, referring to the exclusive ‘club’ of riders that had achieved laps below the minute and forty two second mark. Sergio was, of course, the fastest on a Superbike. The MotoGP bike had done a minute thirty-six and change in his hands. Rod wondered what the VR-1 might be able to do….
There was still time for another session, and Rod made good use of the break while the mechanics tended to the bike and refueled. He cornered Mandini and pressed him for the solution to the fast dogleg. ‘Oh yes signor, that is another tricky one. This is how I handle that…‘ he began, throwing a leg over his bike to continue. ‘You have to ignore all de normal signs and markers first. You come out of Carousel and listen to the bike. When she gets to that special place you throw her in like ZAT‘ he said, laughing loudly at what surely made no sense. He looked Rod in the eye and asked ‘you ever ride ze TT?‘ referring to the infamous Isle of Man ‘mountain course’. Rod nodded in acknowledgment. ‘Okay good. So you know the bridge of which I am thinking?‘ Rod nodded again. Then he got it. His grin and nod told the story, and he turned around and walked back to his bike. He did know precisely what Sergio was referring to. There was a place on that circuit where none of the obvious markers worked, where you just had to have faith in yourself and the bike, and throw it in there. At the TT, it could mean a ten second difference in your lap time, because any other way was just too slow. He pulled on his helmet, slipped on his gloves, and climbed aboard for another round….
After ten more laps his times were solidly in the 39’s, within a half second of Mandini’s best, and faster than either of the other two riders. Rod got well and truly into the Zone, and reeled off five more laps in the 39’s. His best was a 1:39.282, only 32 hundredths slower than Sergio’s best that day. He had become one with the bike, and had conquered the dragon that was Mosini. He could hear the shouting before he shut down the engine as he rolled into the pit. Mandini himself pounded Rod’s helmet as he rolled to a stop, nearly toppling bike and rider before the mechanics could get hold of the machine. ‘You are one with the machine Signor Rod! One with the circuit!‘ the slight Italian exclaimed. ‘We will celebrate with the Monsignor tonight!‘ he added, pointing to the pit master, who was on a cell phone.
A debrief with the crew chief and mechanics, reviewing data downloaded from the bike’s data system, took only ten minutes. The review confirmed that the three places Rod knew about were the places he’d picked up the time – almost six full seconds that day. Just as they were wrapping things up, Rando and Pete arrived. Rod gave Sergio a questioning look, asking how on earth…..? ‘I call Miranda first‘ he said, laughing loudly again.
Rando and Pete looked confused. ‘Wha…?‘ stammered Rando, still not knowing why they’d been called down to the track from their work in the Design Center. Rod realized what was going on.
‘I guess nobody told you. I’m in the Forty One club‘ he said, shrugging his shoulders.
‘Not only Forty One my friends. Signor Rod was running LOW THIRTY NINES today!‘ shouted Mandini, slapping Rod on the back.
Pete was stunned. ‘Whoa! The track record on that bike is high 38’s. How’d you do that?‘ he asked, quite honestly in disbelief.
Rod chuckled. ‘I’m sure we can show you the data, if you’d like….‘ He replied, feigning a move toward the laptop.
Pete put his hand up to stop the fake motion. ‘Okay, okay. So you can ride. I knew that. It’s just….‘ He began.
Everyone laughed and Rod started walking toward the back of the paddock stall, pulling out his ‘Miranda remote’ as he headed for the door. ‘I need a shower if we’re gonna party tonight‘ he said. The remote pendant chimed, and he glanced at the LCD. Be there in five sir it said. Five minutes later Miranda rolled up in the Benz.
Rod opened the door and climbed in, glad that the top was down so he didn’t hit his head again. He released a heavy sigh as he closed the door and Miranda smoothly headed up the access road. ‘Tough day at the office Rod?‘ she asked, reaching over to pat him on the knee.
‘No, actually. It was a fantastic day at the office today‘ he replied, letting his hand come to rest atop hers.
She could tell he was whipped, and offered to drive him back to the villa so he could shower and prepare for the evening. ‘Let me just take you back sir, I can wait for you and bring you back here when you’re ready‘ she said, making a somewhat abrupt turn toward the exit rather than the Design Center. She’d already made up her mind, it was clear.
‘Um…. Okay… that would be nice‘ he replied. ‘Thanks Miranda‘ he added, glancing over at her and smiling.
‘No problem Rod. I heard about your good day actually. The entire Center is alive with the news. Congratulations sir, that was quite an accomplishment‘ she told him. Rod appreciated her compliments, and could feel the stress leaving his body with just her proximity. There was something special about this woman.
Miranda pulled the Benz up into the circular drive at the villa and turned off the ignition. She noticed Rod’s quizzical look. ‘I’ve got some phone calls to make. I can wait here for you sir‘ she told him, waving him on as she grabbed her phone and dialed. Rod turned and went inside, not too concerned with what she might be up to….
When he came back out to the garden, there was a note from Miranda. ‘I decided to arrange for a dinner party here this evening. Nothing urgent for you at the office. We will be here at 7 to join you. Ciao – Miranda’ Sheesh. She’d been reading his mind. Rod walked out into the garden and took a spot on one of the many benches near the fountain and sat. He began to take in the significance of that day at the track – what it meant to him both personally and as a member of the team. It meant he could contribute, first of all, as a rider. That was an enormous relief to the man. Being able to work as a part of the core team was as important as anything else. Once the VR-1 was available for testing – which would be many months hence, he figured – he wanted to be the rider – or at least one of the riders – to do that testing. This bike was his baby, and he couldn’t allow anyone else to do the real work. The bike had to work for him first. Just as he found himself in a near-trance at the thought, he heard two bikes ascend the drive and arrive at the gate. He rose, knowing it would be Pete and Rando, and opened the gate.
The two men dismounted almost in unison, both wearing huge grins as they pulled off their helmets and greeted their leader. ‘You da man, Rod’ were Pete’s first words.
‘Good job, boss’ came from Rando. ‘a thirty-nine two is bloody quick around that place man. I’ll put odds on you beating Serg in the match’ added Pete, completely surprising Rod.
‘Wha….?’ Stammered Rod.
‘Oh yeah baby, this weekend we’re gonna have ourselves a little match race’ Rando said excitedly.
‘Geez’ replied Rod. ‘I’ve gone fast for five laps. I don’t even have it yet’ he told them, knowing they understood.
‘Yeah, but you still have two days to get it’ Pete replied, slapping Rod on the shoulder as he passed on his way into the garden.
Okay, so he would be ready.
At seven sharp a caravan of vehicles climbed the gracefully winding path through the vineyard to the villa, just a wisp of dust rising from the road with the passing cars and bikes. It was quite a motorcade. The Benz stretch 600, of course, leading the way with Chiatarini and company aboard. Then six bikes for the hardcore crowd, four of the roadgoing version of the Swallow, a Ducati and a Honda Fireblade ridden by none other than Sergio Mandini. Then, last but not least, was Miranda’s SL. Rod watched the arrival, opening the door on the Benz for the Monsignor. ‘I hear you had quite a productive day on the track, Signor Rod!’ he said, gripping Rod’s hand with a power that defied his age.
‘Um… yessir, it was a good one’ he stammered, feeling like a little kid getting praise from a mentor.
‘You know you are only number seven to join the Forty One club, yes? And five of them were world champions’ he said, then clapped Rod on the shoulder. ‘You should greet the rest of your guests’ he said, walking past to greet Rando and Pete.
Rod got the usual high-fives and hoots from the other riders. They were all competitors, so with Rod now showing speed equal to their own they all showed the signs of jealousy – a perfectly normal reaction. Rod was in his element with these guys, and he had made himself one of them by demonstrating his speed. After less than a week’s time on the bike, he was near the lap record for the track and bike. He was gaining the confidence that would get him that record. He knew it.
He was shaken from his daydream by the lovely Miranda, who had taken the time to go home and change into something more appropriate for a dinner party. ‘Hi boss. Thought I’d get more comfortable.’ She said, smiling broadly and giving him an unexpected hug. ‘Congratulations again Rod. I’m impressed.’ She said, letting the hug linger for longer than normal. He had to admit, he liked that. He admired her a great deal, and only partly because of her superb skills as an assistant. For that he was grateful every single day because without her tending to his business, he would have to spend far too much time on petty details. She made it possible for him to focus his energy on what was important to the team – the development of his VR-1 endurance bike.
‘Thank you so much lady, for all you do for me.’ He told her, squeezing her shoulders tenderly as the hug finally gave way.
Miranda gave Rod the smile, and threw in a little wink to go with it. ‘Let’s go inside and enjoy’ she said, taking his hand and leading him through the gate into the garden.
Rod knew he was blushing as he got ‘the look’ from every man in the place being lead into the garden by Miranda. He knew she was – well – admired by many of the men in attendance. She seemed to be making it clear that she was there with him. An altogether pleasant state of affairs, he thought. He tried to be casual about the contact (whilst holding onto her hand firmly) as he made his way up to the bar with his newfound ‘date’. They joined the Monsignor and Sergio who were already engaged in a very animated conversation, something to do with racing. ‘Two Mosini’s please’ she said to the bartender, who went to work quickly making the order. Miranda caught Rod’s quizzical look. ‘Peach Schnapps, Ginger Ale, and Mandarin Napoleon’ she said.
‘Sounds…. Tantalizing’ he said, gazing into her eyes.
‘Yes, it does….’ She replied, her smile returning inadvertently.
They toasted with the other two men, everyone interested in how great the team was feeling this day. Once again Sergio engaged the Monsignor and the two of them were able to slide away to do a little mingling. A half dozen more arrivals brought in some of the key design team members, and the party was coming alive with very animated discussions about all manner of topics – all related to the exciting VR-1 project, and the significant boost it had gotten. Things were going quite well, on schedule or ahead of it in all areas. Unexpectedly, Miranda stayed by Rod’s side the entire evening, which was missed by no one, especially Rod. She contributed where it was appropriate, and seemed to enjoy it.
The caterers arrived with a rather garish buffet, covered in rich and exquisite foods garnished with fresh fruits and – of course – several wines from the vineyard. The Monsignor approached Rod and requested that he and Miranda join them at the main dining table inside. Of course the invitation was accepted, and they found themselves surrounded by the ‘elite’ within the MT organization. The head of their racing programs, Giancarlo Selantini, had arrived, along with his Chief of Technology and their wives. Two of the maids at the villa had been recruited to provide ‘waitress’ services for the table, and were efficiently taking orders from the guests.
Rod, as expected, fielded questions from Selantini and the Chief Engineer, Sergio Menza about the VR-1 concept and the challenges they faced. He had to admit he relished the challenge. The concepts which drove the anticipation of success were clearly outside of the box. The bike would be a true phenomenon if it achieved early success against the very stiff competition. It would not look like a conventional bike if examined closely. It was his bike. He focused his conversation and responses on the need to push very hard early on. Some of the keys to the overall success of the program needed early progress to meet the rest of the development objectives. Development and debug of the radical ‘tuning’ enhancements – which were tied directly to the development of the rolling chassis – was based on testing of a variety of measured responses from the team of test riders being assembled now. They needed to know that those riders were on a pace which was competitive with one another, on equal machines, at the Mosini circuit in order to proceed.
‘Ahhhh, do I smell a match race coming soon?’ suggested the Monsignor, laughing heartily while hoping for an answer in the affirmative.
‘Ummm… well….. I gather that is already in the works’ he responded, wondering what that might mean. He actually had not considered it a requirement; but perhaps he had been wrong.
‘Miranda can make all of the arrangements. Shall we say, Saturday so the whole family can cheer you on?’ Chiatarini added. Rod glanced over at his assistant, sitting primly by his side.
She picked it up quickly and replied ‘Oh sure. I’m confident we can do this. Are we talking about the coming weekend?’ she asked, looking to Rod for a confirmation. She knew the trepidation that was in his eyes. She knew what a letdown it would be should he not do well. But she also had a great confidence in the man she had come to know pretty well during the previous months. She knew Rod was up to the challenge. He always was. Rod, after looking into her eyes, nodded yes.
After the dessert course was served and enjoyed, and a post-meal sip of an outstanding Chiatarini Port, Rod and Miranda excused themselves to join some of the other crowd and relax. They found themselves alone for a moment, just outside the greeting hall in the garden. ‘This is some party lady’ Rod complimented her, adding a squeeze of her hand in his.
‘Thanks boss. It’s nice to do something like this for people who are working so very hard for a common goal. You guys deserve to relax once in a while.’ She said, obviously taking her job as his assistant very seriously. She was good at it, a fact not lost on those around her. Chiatarini had commented that Rod had the best assistant in the company, if not on the continent. And he was right, Rod thought. He’d also confided that Miranda had requested the position, a fact that made her contribution even more impressive. His thoughts were interrupted by the always animated voice of Sergio.
‘Rod, I understand your lovely friend is actively arranging a little friendly competition on this weekend, yes?’ he asked, his eyes ablaze with an intensity known only to other competitors. ‘You sink you can beat me?’ he added, laughing loudly.
‘Well, I don’t know; but we will see’ he replied in his usual reserved fashion. Rod was never boastful, and in this situation he couldn’t afford that luxury. He believed in early success. Counted on it, in fact. Winning the match race, even beating his friends and associates, was not what counted. It was the confidence that would be his if he did well.
‘I sink we will bring some of the other pilots here just to keep everyone honest’ Sergio added. All told there would be seven riders on the track. The four VR-1 test pilots, along with one of the GP guys, a Superbike rider from the Australian team, and several others who were ‘in the region’ for one reason or another. It would be fun.
‘Rod, I understand you’ve not actually been introduced to your other two team members’ Miranda said, noticing that they had joined the little group but remained quiet.
‘Uh… no, I haven’t’ he stammered, turning to face the two young men.
‘Rod Ehrlmeir, this is Anton Veta and Kevin Leek, from the Swallow superbike team’ she offered. Handshaking and nods happened, the two seeming to share a degree of coolness toward him. He wasn’t surprised. After all, the two gents felt they should be quicker than this old guy. It would just drive them harder, which was a good thing.
Rod spent the better part of thirty minutes chatting with his fellow competitors, mostly answering questions about his past exploits and where he thought his strengths lie. He’d been through it before, and kept the young lads at bay with a combination of wit and wisdom that kept them interested – and somewhat baffled. He had to admit he enjoyed playing the mentor, especially when his students were already accomplished professionals. Racing motorcycles was a serious athletic endeavor, one requiring reflexes and physical strength shared only by those in the top echelons of motorsport – and sport in general.
The crowd had thinned, each departure an event, until finally Rod found himself alone with Miranda. They both recognized the attraction for what it was, and understood that they needed to remain in control. ‘You need to rest Rod, you’ve a busy couple of days to prepare for the weekend fun’ she told him, looking into his eyes with an intensity he’d not recently experienced.
He nodded in agreement and pulled her close for a hug. ‘Again lady, thanks for everything’ he said.
‘Welcome sir’ she replied, pushing him away and walking to her car, where she stopped before opening the door. ‘See you in the morning Rod. Thanks for a very pleasant evening.’ He couldn’t think of a single thing to say, and smiled as he waved her off.
Rod slept well that night.
** Digging into the Dragon **
Rod had awakened early, taking a long but refreshing shower before donning the usual garments to wear beneath his leathers. Today would be a track day, and an important one for him personally. Now that everyone knew there would be a ‘race’, all of the riders would be out seeking speed. Rod would need to find a secret or two, a couple of places on the track where he could steal an advantage long enough to make a pass. Every track/bike/rider combination had to have them in order to win.
Out in the commons a pitcher of fresh juice, dishes of fruit, and hearty pastries awaited. He covered his plate and headed for one of the dining tables. One of the villa attendants appeared and brought him his usual coffee, real cream on the side. Midway through his banana Rod was joined by Pete, his huge coffee mug already in his hand. ‘Hey chief, nice gig last night, huh?’ he said.
‘Yeah, really nice’ Rod replied, holding his own cup up for a morning toast.
‘So what’s on your schedule today then?’ Pete asked, loading a plate with fruit and pastries.
‘Gotta get fast in a big hurry’ he replied, chuckling at the odd twist.
Pete laughed. ‘I guess. You’ll be okay tho.’ His friend said, confident in his ability on the bike.
The banter continued, Rando joining them just as Rod rose to get on with the day. ‘Sorry I was late boss.’ He said, taking a seat at the same table.
‘Oh, no prob Rand. I just gotta get in the zone early today. You know how that is.’ He replied. He really did need to be on it before the lunch break. He’d asked Miranda to have lunch served at the track for his crew, so they could do some fine tuning of the bike for the afternoon. They’d made some preliminary adjustments earlier; but the bike was just a tad ‘off’ for his tastes at the fringe – and he was riding it there now. ‘If you guys could be there today it would be a big help. You know me and my communication style, and I’ll be needing to communicate big time with these guys.’ He told them.
Almost in unison the two men agreed. ‘We can bring laptops and get everything else done from the paddock’ Rand suggested, confirming what Rod had hoped.
‘Great’ he responded, again rising to get on with it. ‘See ya there boys’ he told them, heading to put on his riding leathers for the quick trip into the Center. He realized he’d have to take the ‘spare’ bike, as Miranda had driven him home the previous evening. No biggie, he thought, It’s only a jap bike; but it was better than walkin’.
Rod rolled the Gixxer into the last bend before the track entrance, always invigorated by the slightly brisk mornings that prevailed so near the sea. It could warm up nicely after noon; but the morning mists of the marine layer kept the temps down before then. Mornings were good to dial-in a bike when afternoon speed was the objective, as it was in this case. He rode up behind the large paddock/garage and parked the bike, noting that it appeared most of his crew was already there. A dedicated bunch of lads, they were. Just as he pulled his helmet off Glen Hannah came out the door, having heard Rod’s arrival. ‘Great that you are here early boss, we think we found something in the ECU data from yesterday that may give you some extra speed; but I didn’t want to change the programming without talking to you first’ he said, Rod nodded his acknowledgment.
‘Let’s have a look’ he replied.
After hearing the explanation of the findings, Rod suggested ‘no change’, and the crew buttoned up his bike for the first of the sessions, waiting for him to give them the sign he was ready before pulling off the tire warmers. Glen fired the bike and Rod climbed aboard after a brief warmup and was off down the pit lane, nodding at the other crews who were just beginning their pre-session preparations. He knew it meant something to show the rest of the troops that ‘early was better’. With all that was happening, he really had not had the ‘focus’ time in the paddock, so he rolled quite cautiously through the first two laps. Then, as he rolled through the final hairpin and into the sweeping turn 14 he drew a bead, put his head down, and began the waltz that was riding a motorcycle at speed.
Rod had put in seven laps and was well into the zone by the time the next rider came out onto the course. Rod caught site of Kevin Leek’s bike as he accelerated onto the Beacon Straight, and had reeled him in by the time they both exited Big Bend. He decided to follow for a lap or two, to learn the youngster’s lines and find his weaknesses. No time like the present to prepare for the weekend he thought. Kevin turned to check behind him, and as Rod expected he began pushing hard to stay ahead. Rod settled in behind his fellow test rider, watching his lines and braking markers while committing his own to subconscious reflex. They were turning laps in a minute forty-two and change, an area where Rod could comfortably relax and observe. He noted that Leek didn’t have the secret at the entrance to the Carousel, and tucked that observation away for future use. He also hesitated at the kink at the end of the Center Straight, another of the places Rod had struggled with earlier. At the beginning of the fourth lap of this cat and mouse game, Rod altered his line at the exit of Paddock Bend and out-braked the other rider into turn 2. Then he set his mind on getting a gap on the lad sufficient that the secret of the Carousel would not be passed on.
The next five laps would see Rods times return to the low 1:39’s, as he took several steps closer to being one with this particular machine. He could now feel that the changes suggested by Glen might have some positive affect, and slowed to navigate his return to the pit. He shut down the engine and coasted to a stop, one of the mechanics at the ready with the pit stand. Glen was there to download the data from the bike, and Pete transferred it via wireless as they both went to work crunching the numbers. ‘Glen, I’d like you to share what you told me earlier with Pete, then I’d like us to talk about the change you suggested. I think I might want to do that before the next session’ Rod said.
‘Right mate, we’ll get on it’ the Aussie veteran told him.
Rod grabbed a Gatorade, unzipped his leathers, and walked across the pit lane to take a perch on the wall next to the track to watch. All three of the other riders were now on the course, working themselves up to speed as he was. Later in the day, two additional pilots would join them, with the remainder making an entrance on Friday. He was getting pretty comfortable on the Swallow now; but other than a few moments with Sergio the previous day and a few laps riding behind Kevin, he’d had no time to ride in ‘racing mode’, with other bikes in close proximity and the associated variables to bike stability that came with it. Without thinking about it, Rod was preparing for this ‘friendly competition’ the same way he would a real race. He made it a point never to show his hand before the green flag dropped.
Rod heard the unique howl of multiple triples approaching, and watched as the three riders wailed out of turn 14 nose-to-tail. Sergio was the third bike in the line; but Rod knew that wouldn’t last long unless he was just playing with them. Anton Veta, the MT lead pilot on the superbike squad made his move on Kevin going into the Paddock Bend, and gained several bike lengths by the next time Rod could see them at the entrance to turn 4. Sergio hounded Kevins tail, and got a drive on him as they accelerated onto the Beacon Straight. The next time around it was Veta leading with Mandini on his tail and Leek trailing by several bike lengths. Rod hopped off the wall and headed into the pit stall just as Pete and Glen finished their discussion.
‘So Rod, what are you thinking about the ECU changes?’ asked Glen.
Rod threw his leg over the bike and sat down. ‘Well, if I understood what you were saying correctly, the change would result in a slightly harder hit when transitioning from closed throttle to open, is that right?’ he asked.
Pete chimed in. ‘Not necessarily Rod. I looked at Glens sims and data, and I actually think it’s something you won’t feel at all, other than just a bit more grunt in the midrange. It would take a few laps of practice to take advantage of it; but I think you’d like it’ he said. Then he added ‘might not add any ultimate speed; but the bike should be easier to ride in traffic’.
The light went on. ‘So it’ll be a small advantage during the race’ he suggested.
‘Bingo’ whispered Pete.
‘Shall we do it then?’ asked Glen.
‘Make it so!’ replied Rod, jumping off the bike just as one of his mechanics came trotting over.
‘Serg just beat your best lap today’ he told them.
Pete laughed and clapped the young lad on the shoulder. ‘No sweat buddy. No sweat’
Rods pager sounded off, so he grabbed and it checked. It was Miranda. Do you have time for a meeting with Jan this afternoon? was the message. He grabbed the interoffice phone and dialed her code. ‘Yes sir?’ she said in that respectful fashion he liked so much.
‘Yes Miranda. What time works for Signor Kitterman?’ he asked.
‘He suggested 3pm’ she replied.
‘Done. I’ll meet him at the center at 3. Thanks lady.’ he responded.
‘Okay sir. See you later’ she said, ending the conversation.
Rod turned and walked back toward the pit lane just as Mandini wheeled his bike in, the engine silent. He always came in ‘deadstick’ at the end of a session – something about not wasting petrol. Rod jogged down to his pit stall to give him a bit of his own medicine, arriving just in time to smack the top of his helmet as he got off the bike. ‘Heard you went fast old man. Guess I’d better turn up the wick then’ he said, getting a hearty laugh from his new friend.
‘Si, you had better do that and do it before I really get the bit between my teeth’ Sergio told him, laughing as usual.
Rod heard Pete’s distinct whistle from his own pit. His bike was ready. ‘Gotta go get fast’ he told Sergio, turning to head back to his bike.
Rod zipped his leathers back up as he jogged down the pit lane. He arrived just as Glen rolled the bike out. Pete handed him his helmet and put his hand on his shoulder. ‘Take it a little easy for a few laps and get used to it. The sims show a pretty healthy gain below about 8K. I made some tweeks to Glen’s mods’ he said, grinning broadly.
‘Okay lad, thanks. I’ll let you know how she feels’ he replied, pulling his Shoei over his head and grabbing his gloves. Glen had fired the bike, and was blipping the throttle to warm it for him. Rod threw his leg over the saddle and reached for the grips. Glen gave the bike over to him and tapped his helmet. ‘Anton and Kevin are still out there. Don’t make ‘em look too bad, eh?’ he laughed, clapping Rod on the back as he engaged low gear and feathered the clutch.
As Rod approached the pit exit, the steward cautioned him to slow. Rod looked over his left shoulder and saw one of the other two riders approaching Paddock Bend, head down and moving quickly. He waited until Veta passed, then rolled out onto the circuit. The first two laps were tire scrubbing and feeling out the changes in engine response. He could detect an immediate difference in how the power flowed from the newly programmed mill. Just after start/finish at the beginning of his third lap he heard another bike behind him, and turned to see Kevin Leek approaching, moving fast. He waved the young lion past, then put his focus on the tail of the bike, intent on staying with him again for a few laps. It was clear that the kid had learned a few things since the beginning of the day, and was going more quickly now. Rod gave him room as they rolled onto the Center Straight, getting back into the zone he needed to get serious speed. One trick the lad hadn’t learned was the kink at the end of the straight, and Rod gained a good 10 bike lengths there, and was right on his tail as the two bikes tipped in to the Vineyard Hairpin. There was no opportunity in this section for any ‘over the shoulder’ glances; but Rod could tell by the body language of the other rider that he knew Rod was there. As they accelerated out of the Tower Bend onto the start/finish straight, the slewing and slithering of the other bike as its rider applied the power confirmed that the youngster was doing all he could to stay ahead. Rod decided to give the lad another lap, to see what the lap times were, before he would pass. Give the kid some pressure to deal with, and see how he held up.
Rod was moderately impressed; but had to hold back to keep from simply sailing past his new comrade and rival. Again he was within a bike length as they crossed the line, his transponder reporting a 1:41 and change. The kid has joined the club! He thought to himself as he planned his pass. As he had done before, Rod altered his line through Paddock Bend and sliced cleanly under Kevin going into the uphill T2. He carved smooth arcs through T3 and T4 and onto the Beacon Straight, then took a quick look behind to see the lad working hard about six bike lengths behind. Back in the zone, Rod swiftly executed the remainder of that lap, getting just under 1:40 as he picked up his pace. The ECU changes felt good, particularly in the Carousel, where he could hold the bike in fourth gear instead of going down to third, then back up to fourth after the exit, then back down to second entering Double Ups. The extra torque made a difference in rideability to be sure. This time around the transponder reported 1:39.04, a new quick time for Rod, and nearly equal to Sergio’s 1:39.028 earlier in the day.
Absolute focus was the order of the moment, and Rod began to slice a tenth of a second on every lap, finally posting a 1:38.71. That is it for this session he thought, but the adrenaline kept him moving quickly. Each transition was happening by reflex now, as Rod knew it would. As he went past the pit lane on his next lap he saw Miranda at the wall, standing with Pete and Rando and shaking her fists in the air wildly as he passed. This time he slowed for the pit lane and headed in, satisfied that he’d done what he expected on the track. What he hadn’t realized was that he had just set a new lap record.
‘Wow, calm down girl’ said Pete, looking at Miranda with feigned concern.
She realized that she had just made quite a scene at her boss’ record-setting performance, and put her professional face back on. ‘Oh, right. Sorry guys’ she said, her hands at her sides once again.
They awaited Rod’s arrival as Sergio came jogging down the pit lane. ‘He beat my best time!’ he yelped, putting his arms around both Pete and Rando as the three of them watched Rod wheel the Swallow into their paddock stall. After getting the bike on the stand, Glen added ‘Yeah laddie, he beat your best time with both of his last two laps. His last was a 1:38.77, and he was coasting’ he told them.
Rod pulled his helmet and gloves off and looked at the group. ‘YEEEEEHAAAAAAA’ he yowled, doing a little jig in deference to his crew. ‘Not bad Glen, not bad’ he added.
Glen just chuckled and shook his head. ‘Beats the bleedin’ lap record twice and says not bad. Geez, some guys just cannot be satisfied’ he said.
Rod thought he’d heard wrong. He glanced over at Miranda and knew he had not. She was beaming with unmistakable pride, nodding her head. ‘Well alrighty then!’ came Rando’s voice.
‘Lunch anyone?’ Miranda asked.
The foursome climbed on one of the pit crawlers and drove up the access road to the cafeteria. The weather was accommodating, so they chose a table outside and made their way through the serving line. Special of the day was the house lasagna, a rich and delectable blend of Mediterranean flavors served with a hearty salad. All four chose that option and were soon seated in the mid-day sun. Before long the other tables began to fill, and Kevin Leek appeared, looking humbled as he approached. He stopped across the table from Rod and looked at the others before addressing him. ‘Nice riding Rod. I had my doubts before spending track time with you; but no more. I’m really looking forward to learning from you.’ He said, looking Rod straight in the eye the whole time. ‘And kudos on the lap record man, that was cool that you beat Sergio’ he added, a broad smile growing across his young-looking face.
‘And congrats to you my friend for joining Forty-One!’ Rod told him. ‘Pretty exclusive club, and quite an accomplishment for you’ he added.
Kevin grinned back. ‘Yeah, thanks man. Feels pretty good’ he replied. Without another word, he turned and headed back to his own table, a bit more pride in his step.
‘So, what’s on the agenda for the afternoon boss?’ Miranda asked.
‘Oh, I guess I probably don’t need more track time today. I think I’ll have a shower and get back to the office.’ Rod replied.
Pete was all for that. ‘Yeah man, I need to spend some time with you on the test strategy. We need to learn a lot in the next few weeks, and I’m going to need your help’ he said.
Rod nodded his acknowledgment and glanced at his watch. ‘Time to hit the showers folks. I’ll see y’all at the center’ he told them. With that he stood, reaching into his pocket and tossing the keys for the crawler to Glen. ‘That Gixxer is the spare bike, so we can leave it in the bike garage here’ he added. Then he jogged up to the bike garage at the center and hopped aboard his trusty MT triple. It wasn’t the fastest bike there; but it was his, and it was beautiful. He rode swiftly to the villa, taking a quick shower before riding back to the center for an afternoon of office work.
Pete saw his arrival and caught him in the hallway. ‘Hey man, you got an hour or so to talk about testing stuff?’ he asked.
‘Absolutely bro. Give me ten to catchup on my email and I’ll give you a shout. Your place or mine?’ he responded.
‘Mine, because I have some flows and data I’d like to go over’ replied Pete.
‘See you in a few’ Rod said, opening his office with the access card and firing up his workstation. As he awaited the login screen, Rod admired the view of the spring blossoms on the hills surrounding the center. It always settled him to gaze on the beauty created by nature, so simple yet compelling. He responded to the two new messages and tapped Pete’s number into the intercom. ‘Yo boss’ came his friends response. ‘C’mon down’ he added.
The test strategy discussion got very intense, and lasted well beyond the time the two men had allotted. The decisions had to be made, so they pressed on. The only interruption came from Miranda, letting Rod know she would be stopping by the villa this evening. Without thinking, his response to her was ‘thanks babe’ – raising an eyebrow on Pete’s face. All he could do at that point was smile sheepishly and shrug his shoulders. Miranda, always the office pro, just signed off without saying anything. Plausible deniability – or whatever.
Rod excused himself for his three o’clock with Jan Kitterman, a decidedly brief and informal chat about how things were progressing. Rod had long since decided that he liked Kitterman as a ‘boss’, as he gave Rod all the room he needed to get things accomplished. Jan made his expectations very clear, and Rod was good about posting regular progress reports. Jan took the opportunity for personal updates when time allowed; but was always aware of Rod’s level of urgency. He adjourned the meeting just ten minutes after it began, and Rod returned to Pete’s office.
Rando pinged them as the clock approached six, as it was his night to prepare dinner for the three men. ‘You guys coming back anytime soon, or shall I figure out a way to entertain this lovely woman who just arrived?’ he laughed, knowing that would get Rod’s attention.
‘We’ll be home in ten’ Rod replied, jumping up to run back to his office and grab his gear for the quick ride home. Pete matched his pace as they wound through the twists and turns of the country lane, and they rode up to the gate in nine minutes and change.
Pete and Rod dismounted, heading to the gate where Miranda met them with her usual smile. ‘Hey guys, glad you could make it.‘ she said, holding the gate open for them. The appetizers were already on the table, this time consisting of spring rolls and an assortment of vegetable tempura with dipping sauces. ‘My personal recipes‘ Miranda told them.
Rando joined them a few minutes later, grabbing a cold one from the ice barrel on his way to the table. ‘Dinner can be ready whenever we like. I have a quick stir-fry thing to do with the tips and peppers. Everything else is done.‘ he told them, taking a swallow of the Italian brew before reaching for some samples of the appetizers.
‘Sounds fantastic man, where’d you get the recipes?‘ Pete asked, munching down a spring roll dipped heavily in the spicy mustard.
‘The tips and peppers is one of my invention, although I do use some Chinese seasonings. The fried rice is something Denise is putting together, and the ginger chicken salad is one of Miranda’s recipes. She brought that, in fact.‘ Rando responded.
Pete chuckled. ‘She’s beautiful, smart, efficient, AND she cooks! Better hook that girl up boss.‘
Rod glanced over at her and got the smile and a wink. ‘Hey, you never know.‘ he said, returning the wink.
Denise came out with a wok setup for the table, carefully setting this up close to Rando’s location, adding oil to the pan before lighting the fuel canister beneath it. ‘Be right back with the food.‘ she said quietly, returning to the kitchen.
‘Oh excellent plan bro! Cooking at the table, I love it!‘ Pete said, slapping Rando on the back.
‘That’s something that is very popular in other parts of the world you know.‘ Miranda said. ‘Hot Pot is a favorite style in the region of China my family comes from, Korean barbecue is done with a grill at the table, and of course there’s teppanyaki Japanese and Fondu.‘ she added. ‘It’s a very social thing to do.‘
Denise arrived with a self-heated rice pot, a chilled container with the marinating beef tips and fresh peppers, and a salad bowl with her own classic Caesar. ‘I can come back and serve if you wish.‘ she said softly.
‘Oh no, that’s not necessary Denise. Thank you so much for your help.‘ Rando replied. ‘We can take it from here.‘
‘Very well. I will just be in the kitchen if you need anything.‘ she replied, heading back inside.
‘That woman is such a treasure.‘ Rod said when she was out of earshot. ‘The entire staff actually. Just marvelous.‘
‘So, do you think you’re ready to qualify tomorrow?‘ Rando asked.
‘I guess we’ll find out, eh?‘ Rod chuckled.
Pete laughed. ‘Yeah, we’ll find out, mister new lap record.‘
‘Oh I’ll be fine, I’m sure. It’s not like it’s a two lap race, so wherever I end up on the grid is fine.‘ Rod told them, grabbing the last spring roll.
‘Okay people, I can do the tips and peppers any time. They’ll take about ten minutes, more or less.‘ Rando told them. Everyone agreed it was time and he emptied the container into the wok and started stirring. Ten minutes later everybody had fried rice, a salad, and a serving of Rando’s tips and peppers and consumption began accompanied by small talk that centered around food.
Denise served the after-dinner apperitif, a coffee-liqueur blend created by none other than the Monsignor. The group began winding down, with first Pete, then Rando heading inside to wrap up their days. Rod and Miranda again found themselves alone together.
‘Well sir, I should really go and let you get your rest. It was a great day, and a wonderful evening.‘ Miranda told him.
‘As usual you are right Ms. Chiou. I should probably spend some time with Pete and Rando before we hit it.’ Rod replied, standing up. He walked over and pulled out her chair, escorting her out to her car as had become his habit. ‘See you tomorrow lady.‘ he told her. ‘Sleep well.’
‘You too Rod. Good night.‘ she said softly, climbing into the Benz and raising the roof after starting the engine. Just before it closed over the top of her she waved and smiled, then engaged low gear and rolled down the drive.
Rod returned to the house, found his friends together going over data, and joined them for an hour of hypothesizing, data review, and simulations. All three were dead to the world by ten, in their own personal land of dreams.