The Wind – Chapter 5
This excerpt occurs about six months into the ‘VR-1’ design process. Many of the simulation tools have been developed and are used on the ‘test mules’, which are based on the successful MT superbikes. This segment describes a ‘friendly race’ held at the Mosini circuit (at the MT Design Center) at the annual ‘Family Day’ event.
He was one with the machine, his muscles in perfect harmony with hand grips, levers, and foot pegs as the bike bucked and danced over the rippled tarmac on the exit of the off-camber downhill curve. His conscious was focussed on the two bikes he would overtake in between the upcoming right-hander and the hairpin left leading onto the long uphill straight. He didn’t have to think about controlling the motorcycle – a good thing when the first of the two bikes went sideways, then a split-second later spit off it’s rider in a painful high-side only a few dozen feet ahead of him. His eyes never left the back of the other bike, his own machine drifting a little bit as his body pulled it tighter to avoid hitting the tumbling crasher, easing back on the throttle precisely enough to make the small direction change before opening it wide once again. He caught the initial move that signaled hard braking by the other bike, held off an extra hundred milliseconds, then aimed his tragectory just inside the machine he would overtake and went to maximum braking and slipped in between his opponent and apex curbing, smoothly trail-braking to bring the rear tire to the desired location with respect to the corner exit. Back on the throttle again, he drove away from the surprised opponent, front tire clawing for air as he held it just above the pavement. His eyes were already seeking the next obstacle as his body wrapped itself tight around the bike, out of the airstream to enable more speed.
He was in The Zone, on the path to another victory.
The ability to achieve The Zone, for a motorcycle racer, depended upon his ability to learn both the machine and a particular track so thoroughly that the actions associated with riding around that track on that bike become ‘automatic’. Braking and turn-in points become instinctive places rather than a visual reference, arrived at based on feel and timing. Appropriate responses to machine motions become conditioned reflexes and the rider’s body anticipates the motions rather than reacting to them. It takes concentration and enough repitition (ie. laps) to implant those memory engrams in the brain. Once accomplished, this enables the rider to use his ‘conscious’ brain to respond to variables – other riders, debris and other track surface anomalies, and variables not otherwise accounted for; and to work on tactical situations as he continues to circulate at speed. All of the best competitors in the world do this. Champions were quicker to achieve it than the mid-packers. Also-rans often never got it.
Rod was one who got it.
Rod awoke at his usual six am, jumping into the shower to awaken for the busy track day ahead. By the time he dried off, shaved, and brushed his teeth his mind was already busy processing the Mosini data, pre-loading his reflexes for the challenge of the track. This was practice and qualifying for the weekend’s ‘friendly’ match race, and there would be nine other riders on identical machines on the course at the same time. He’d been riding with Sergio, Anton, and Kevin. Scott McPherson, slated to ride the VR-1 as a member of the official MT team, was in town to learn the Mosini course and provide more competition. Added to the field were five more riders, all of which knew the bike, three of which knew the course. Rod had never ridden against any of them, so he needed all day to gather as much information about their styles and tactics as possible.
Riders for the MotoTechnikon match race:
Rodney Ehrlmeir (aka Rod)
Sergio Mandini – Past Superbike and GP star, current test pilot for the MT Moto GP squad, and senior member of the VR-1 Mosini test pilot team
Anton Veta – Team leader on the Swallow Superbike squad and member of the VR-1 Mosini test pilot team
Kevin Leek – Swallow Superbike rider and member of the VR-1 Mosini test pilot team
Scott McPherson – VR-1 endurance team pilot and 26-year old veteran of superbike and endurance racing in the UK
Matthew Ambrose – Australian SB champion in Italy to test for MT
Ricky Barton – American SB pilot in Italy on vacation
Max Bertinnelli – Italian test rider for MT MotoGP
Pablo Senna – Brazilian SBK rookie for MT
Yukio Natsuga – Japanese SB rider for MT farm team
Rod dressed and headed out to the kitchen, the smell of rich and spicy coffee finding his nose as he walked through the great room. Denise was there, already pouring a tall mug of the ‘plasma’ to kick-start his body. He knew many competitors who shunned caffeine; but Rod enjoyed a good jolt first thing in the morning. He took the mug and thanked her, receiving a smile and a nod in return. He walked out the side door into the garden, taking in the brisk morning air and typical low clouds. Savoring the robust beverage, he didn’t hear Rando arrive carrying his own mug.
‘Hey boss, you ready for a workout?’ Rando asked, adding a soft chuckle.
‘Yeah man. It’s been nine months since I’ve been on a course with that many other riders; but yeah, I’m ready.‘ Rod answered, reaching over to give Rando’s shoulder a stout clap. ‘You ready to collect info on those other guys?‘
‘Ready!‘ came the quick reply. ‘I’ll check on the last set of changes as soon as we get to the track.‘ Rando added, referring to some suggestions Rod made after the previous day’s last session. They weren’t big changes, a click here, a half pound there; but Rando knew Rod’s methods, and knew those changes could make it easier for him to run consistent times, lap after lap. It might mean the grip of the front tire remained constant for an extra five laps, or he gained a few kph at the end of the Center Straight. Whatever the improvement, Rando wasn’t asking questions. He had made the request on the computerized task list, and it was his job to make sure things happened.
‘Ahhhh… another glorious day in paradise.‘ came Pete’s voice as he joined them in the garden.
‘Hey brother, get a good night’s sleep?‘ Rod greeted him.
‘Yup yup. Had some nice dreams about that smart girl in the chassis design group – um – Carla.‘ Pete replied with a grin.
‘Oh, so you’re finally gonna give up on Miranda, huh?‘ Rando laughed.
‘Geez.. you two just can’t give a guy a break, can you!‘ Rod chimed in at the friendly ribbing about his assistant. ‘Alright, let’s try and focus on the job for the next few days, shall we?!‘ he added, setting his empty coffee mug down on the stone table. Just as he said that, Denise came out with a tray, ever vigilant of their possible needs.
‘Coffee refill, anyone?‘ she asked. Rod declined, Pete and Rando accepted happily. ‘Would any of you like a full breakfast this morning, or are we having the usual?‘ she asked. For them, ‘the usual’ was fresh fruit, juice, and a selection of fresh-baked croissants or bagels.
Rod glanced at his friends. ‘The usual will be fine Denise. Thank you.‘ he responded. She nodded and disappeared back into the kitchen. Rod’s phone rang just then, bringing everyone briefly back to reality. He glanced at it, noting it was Miranda, and quickly answered. ‘Good morning Miss Chiou‘ he said, carefully avoiding any friendly terms.
‘Um… yes, good morning Mister Ehrlmeir.‘ came her response, along with a muffled laugh. ‘I was wondering if you needed anything from me this morning, or if you’ll be going directly to Mosini?‘ she asked.
‘We’ll be going directly, and I don’t have anything urgent for you. See you at lunch?‘ Rod replied.
‘Sure. I’ll come by the paddock around noon then. Have a productive session Rod.‘ Miranda said, then the line went away. Rod closed the phone just as Denise arrived with the tray of morning goodies. Along with local grapes and melons, there were bananas and apples as well as an assortment of Danish pastries. Rod caught her eye. ‘Thanks very much, it looks great.‘ he told her, taking a plate and loading it with fruit before cutting one of the pastries in half.
The three men munched on the succulent fruit and pastries as they talked about what lay ahead. The match race was really just a diversion, although it did give Rod an opportunity to ride ‘in anger’ on the circuit they would be using for much of the testing and model development. The serious business of developing the VR-1 wouldn’t take place for months, yet there was much to be done ahead of that. The design staff was already working on some fundamental elements of the design, particularly the power train components. The compact V6 would be key to being ready for the beginning of real testing, and Rod knew he had to drive that at the weekly briefings.
‘Your mind is always going mach two, isn’t it?‘ asked Pete.
Rod laughed. ‘Yeah, I guess it is. At least most of the time.‘
Rando stood up, slugging down the last of his coffee. ‘I don’t know about you guys; but I have stuff to do at the circuit.‘ he told them, heading for his suite to grab his gear. Pete and Rod followed suit, with Rod pulling on his racing suit to be ready to go upon arrival. Minutes later the three had fired up their personal bikes, Rando on his ‘Blade, Pete on the Gixxer, and Rod on the Swallow. With helmets buckled and gloves pulled on they headed down the narrow lane, taking it easy in the gravel until the pavement began at the archway. Rando grabbed a handful and lifted his front wheel in a typical hooligan move, Pete was quick to follow suit while Rod shook his head and rolled swiftly but calmly down the road.
Less than ten minutes later they pulled up behind the paddock entrance, settling the bikes on their sidestands and pulling off their helmets. Rando shook his head, running his fingers through his short-cropped hair. ‘That ride is just a little too short.‘ he said, patting the side of the Fireblade’s faux fuel tank.
‘You could always move out to town or perhaps even further. But of course, then…‘ Pete began.
‘Yeah yeah, then I’d have to pay my own rent. I know.‘ Rando laughed, tucking his gloves inside his helmet and setting it carefully atop one of the mirrors. He didn’t wait for Rod and Pete, and headed inside. The other two men followed less than a minute later.
At this session Pete would be collecting data from Rod’s bike, and from a couple of sensors on his body. While not critical, the information would be important to the overall ‘shell’ for the models they would be developing. Understanding how the various measurements could relate to each other was an important factor in the ultimate deployment of the technology. He had been collecting data all week as Rod learned the bike and the track, and had adapted some of the analysis to what he’d learned. That adaptation would continue – indefinitely.
Rod found Glen personally attending to his bike, to talk about the morning’s objectives. ‘So Glen, anything in particular you need me to do this morning?‘ Rod asked, leaning in to watch as his crew chief put his personal finishing touches on the machine.
‘No sir, just check out those last changes and let me know if they work for you. Track is pretty cool this morning, so tires’ll take a few laps to warm up.‘ Glen said without looking up. ‘The data from the last session looked pretty good. Even your fastest laps weren’t making anything act funny.‘ he chuckled and looked around. ‘So I guess you coulda gone even faster before she threw you in the weeds.‘ he added with a smile.
Rod shared the laugh, clapping Glen on the shoulder. ‘I shall see what I can do.‘ he said. Then he walked out the front of the paddock stall, looking around to see who else was there getting an early start. All but one of the paddock rollups was open, so there were at least technicians and engineers around. He noticed Yukio Natsuga, the young Japanese rider, standing out by the fence, and headed over to introduce himself.
The young man noticed him approaching and gave him a broad smile, extending his hand in greeting. ‘Mister Rod-san, a privelege to meet you sir.‘ he said in as throaty a voice as he could muster. ‘I am Yukio Natsuga, ride for MT in my home country.‘ he added, giving Rod’s hand a surprisingly powerful squeeze. ‘I watch you win Suzuka on Yamaha two years ago. Your riding very fast.‘
‘Well thank you Yukio-san. I appreciate the kind words. I have read about you in the company journals. You are also fast.‘ Rod returned the compliment.
‘I heard that you were faster than Sergio-san last time.‘ Yukio said. ‘I only hope for forty-one club maybe. Is a very fast track here.‘ he added.
Rod chuckled, clapping the young rider on the shoulder. ‘Oh, there are some tricks to the last two seconds; but it’s a good track. Tell me Yukio, have you ever ridden the mountain course?‘ Rod asked.
‘Isle of Man?‘ Yukio responded. ‘No, never. It is very dangerous.‘ he laughed.
‘Everything is dangerous. Racing a motorcycle is dangerous. But the Isle has a few corners that are a big test. Mosini has one of those too.‘ Rod told him; but stopped short of being more specific. If the lad wanted to try and follow him – or Sergio – he might learn a trick or two. ‘See you on the track, and good to meet you Yukio-san.‘ Rod said, turning around and heading back down the pit lane to hookup with some of the other guys.
As Rod walked away, he heard the young Japanese rider’s voice. ‘Keep eye on mirrors, Rod-san.‘ followed by a hearty laugh. Rod waved back and kept walking, having spotted Kevin Leek in the stall next to his. He was already in his racing suit, and looked ready to head out as soon as the track opened. Rod glanced at his watch. There was a good forty minutes before that would happen. The track steward was on the track in one of the trucks, looking for debris or anything else that might affect safety.
Rod walked up to the younger rider, a friendly smile on his lips. ‘Mornin’ lad. Good to see you ready to go this morning.‘ he said, shaking the man’s hand. ‘Looks like we’ll have a good day for some serious practice.‘ he added.
‘Indeed, indeed. And I’m hoping to get some time on your tail to see if I can find some of that speed you seem to have.‘ Kevin said, chuckling.
‘No problem with that Kev. The faster you are on the Swallow the better off we’ll be when we start testing the VR.‘ Rod replied honestly, adding ‘Sergio gave me some particularly good pointers in that session on Tuesday. Tell you what, I’ll follow you for a few laps once we get the tires warm, and give you some tips after the session.‘
‘Cool. I know there are at least three places I’m not fast enough. That forty-one was something of a fluke really. The rest of the laps were forty-twos. Consistent, low forty-twos; but still.‘ Kevin told him.
‘You know lad, consistency has as much impact on team success in endurance racing as raw speed. I’ve had mates who were a second or more off the fastest pace but could run within a tenth for thirty laps. They made up a lot of time over the course of a race with that consistency. Don’t replace consistency with speed.‘ Rod advised.
Kevin seemed to be thinking about his words, taking in the wisdom as he went back into his stall. Rod turned to go back to his own, leaving the lad to his thoughts. His bike was buttoned up, looking ready as he walked up to her. He leaned back against a workbench, taking in the lines of the machine, examining the details as if for the first time. The MT designers had done a fine job of giving the motorcycle a character all it’s own, so clearly different from the Japanese machines with only a ‘regional’ similarity to the other European makes. Imbedded in those lines were the functional bits designed to give Swallow pilots an advantage. For two seasons running it seemed to succeed, bringing two SBK world titles along with championships in five national series. Rod walked over to his machine and threw his leg over her tail, settling onto the thin pad and wrapping his fingers around the grips. His thoughts turned to the tasks of the day, and he began to see the course in his mind.
Rando saw his friend astride the bike and thought better of interrupting him. He knew what Rod was doing, where his focus would be. He walked softly to the bench and set the printout of the checklist down as he headed for the pit lane to peruse the situation. The warmth of the sun was beginning to disperse the moisture that had hung like fog over the countryside, quickly raising the temperature of the air and ultimately the track as well. One of his responsibilities was to maintain a log of air/track temperatures to correlate with lap times. He also had a computer tapped into the circuit’s timing system, keeping a log of the lap times for all of the competitors. All of this data would end up in Pete’s hands, to be used in development of the models they would use in the VR project. Collection and analysis of all this data was a daunting task indeed; but a necessary one. Rando turned back to the stall and went back to the workstation bench to double-check the computers for the umpteenth time. Rod was still on the bike focusing on the days objectives, and Rando left him to his work.
Pete was at the workstation bench, pouring over data from the previous sessions, running simulations which incorporated that data with the changes they’d made to the bike along with other factors like the current session temperatures. Without looking over, he pinged Rando. ‘Checklist completed?‘ he asked, referring to the list of changes.
‘Yep, all done.‘ Rando replied, walking up to look over Pete’s shoulder. ‘Anything newsworthy?‘ he asked.
‘Well… not really I guess. Looks like we might end up just a bit quicker if the weather cooperates. Maybe even a thirty-eight five or something.‘ Pete responded, adding ‘If Rod wants to show everything, anyway.‘ Both men chuckled at that comment, knowing that if there was one thing about their friend that was unpredictable, it was whether his personal goal for the day was to be the fastest or not. There were times when Rod chose not to show everything he had, electing to save it for the race; and he never gave away the answer to that ahead of time.
The public address speakers chimed, getting the attention of everyone in the paddock. ‘Circuit Mosini will open for practice in approximately twenty minutes. All riders and crew chiefs are requested to attend a briefing at the Steward’s Station in five minutes.‘ came the announcement. A few moments later Rod dismounted the bike and came back to find Glen to head to the briefing. As the two men walked toward the pit lane, Glen barked his final orders to get the bike ready.
The Steward’s briefing would be the same information as one would expect for a normal race meeting. Rules, policies, and scheduling of the sessions for the day. For this event, he only cautioned everyone that there were some riders who had never seen Circuit Mosini, and to be aware of the event’s focus on ‘fun’. That last one got a rousing laugh and a round of applause from the attendees before the Steward dismissed everyone to their work.
Rod and Glen returned to their stall to find the bike out in front, tire warmers engaged and the oil warmer in place. Ten minutes to first session, and Rod wanted to be one of the first to roll out. Glen attended to the bike, getting Pete’s laptop plugged in to exchange data with the onboard processors as Rod went back to don the rest of his gear. With the data sync completed Glen pulled the oil warmer, threaded the cover carefully, then brought the triple to life.
The raspy bark of the Swallow’s three-cylinder powerplant could be heard inside the Design Center, and Miranda Chiou closed her eyes briefly to give a silent prayer for a safe session and for Rod to do his best. She was looking forward to the event, as the MT family put on a fantastic spread for everyone to enjoy while watching the boys dice it up in a race that would last nearly two hours. She returned her focus to the organizational tasks at hand, as she wanted to join the crew for lunch.
Rod inserted the earplugs and pulled his Shoei over his head, threading the strap through the D-ring and pulling it taut before heading out toward the pit lane, pulling on his gloves as he walked. Glen stood next to the bike, blipping the throttle. Rod paused in his stride, closed his eyes, captured the focus he needed, then moved forward to the machine. Taking the grips from his crew chief, he threw a leg over the bike and found the foot pegs. He looked into Glen’s eyes and gave him a nod. Looking over his shoulder to make sure the lane was clear, he slipped the bike into gear and rolled out. Time to do his job!
Pete and Rando took their spots next to the fence, each with a laptop for different tasks. Unlike race day, this would be a very busy day for both men. No time to ‘enjoy the show’ on this day. Interesting thing was that the tasks for them this day weren’t about the match race; but about development of their bike. It was an exciting prospect.
Rod cruised slowly down the pit lane, waiting for the marshal to give him the green light to enter the course. The signal changed to green just as he arrived, and he accelerated out to the exit of Paddock Bend and began the climb up through the first set of curves called ‘Rider’s Rapture’ leading to the Beacon Straight. He weaved the machine left and right, working to get the rubber to its normal working temperature in the cool air. Arriving at the beginning of the Beacon Straight he gave the throttle a squeeze, letting the triple breath a bit as it, too, came up to temperature. Through the Ess curves at a very moderate pace and into Carousel to head down the Dive, and Rod was getting into his rhythm early. Double Ups let him ease into Big Bend, and the Swallow was settling in as well as they howled down the long Center Straight toward the first heavy braking into the Vineyard Hairpin. He was initially surprised at the lack of bite from the binders, then quickly recalled Glen’s verbal note that both the pads and rotors had been swapped. Flicking the bike into the hairpin, the tires gave up some grip at first, a momentary slide just as Rod pulled the bike over and opened the throttle into the right hand hairpin turn 13, then fully open for the left hand 14 and onto the Start/Finish straight to begin his first flying lap. It would be several laps before the brakes and tires would be ready, so he settled into a focus that would lead to speed.
In of his peripheral vision Rod saw three more bikes on the move toward the track, and two more in front of their paddock stalls. Good! He thought. More bikes on the track makes for more learning! he added, grabbing the binders before tipping the bike into Paddock Bend. Another bike was at the pit exit, waiting to be released by the marshall. It was good that many of the competitors would be joining him in this early session. Really fast laps might wait until after the lunch break when the track temperature would be closer to ideal; but all of them could gain an understanding of one another and the trust it would take to put on a good show for the race.
Rod put all of those things out of his head now, focussing his mind on the course. Hitting a late apex in turn 2 led to an early one for the first part of turn 3, then he let the bike drift to the paint on the outside before pulling hard to clip the apex in the tight exit of the ‘hook’ shaped curve, then a hard transition to the first of two apexes in the left hand turn 4. He could feel the edge of the scrubbed portion of the tires, and approached them carefully. Hard on the throttle now as they shot down the Beacon Straight, staying to the right on the approach to the Ess. A slight lift on the cool tires for the fast left, then hard on the binders prior to the bumps (the trick he’d learned from Sergio) and a quick flick to the right for the tighter second part of the Ess. Lay the bike over to the left and steady with the right hand for the long Carousel, with that dropoff at the exit into the Dive. Hard on the brakes again and slam the bike over to the right for the tight first half of Double Ups, where you climb nearly twenty meters in a distance of less than a hundred before pulling her over to the right again for the second half of the set, this done with just a slight lift, no brakes. Then hard on the brakes for a moment and clip the late apex of the ‘no name – no number’ turn leading to Big Bend.
This was the area where the big boys ruled. Rod rolled the throttle on smoothly, pulling the bike over until his left knee puck rode the surface of the track, following the undulations as he held the bike at the edge of traction, accelerating all the way through the broad corner to his exit speed – this lap it was 194 kph recorded on the DAU – with the throttle going to wide open as the tires reached the edge of the track at the exit. The triple’s glorious howl split the landscape as he wound through fifth, then sixth gear and topped out at more than 300 kph before lifting slightly to take the dog leg. Again he grabbed the brakes hard, noticing that they were working much better now. Good thing, as he needed to bleed off roughly 240 kph of energy before snapping the bike to the left in the Vineyard Hairpin. Then a hard right and wide open left and the lap was complete. The HUD displayed the time. His first flying lap was a one-forty-five and change. The next five laps were progressively quicker, as Rod let the other guys figure things out while he warmed his tires.
He had passed Anton Veta, then allowed him to re-pass and followed him for a full lap. No surprises. Then he heard another bike behind him and took a quick glance back. It was Yukio, working hard to learn the track and stay with him. Rod recalled their conversation; but rather than let him pass at this point he motioned for Yukio to follow him for a bit. He rode as smoothly as he could, showing the young Japanese rider the fast lines and telegraphing the correct brake and turn-in points, gradually picking up the pace until they were both running mid-forty threes. Natsuga seemed comfortable with that pace, so Rod motioned him to pass. For five laps Rod followed the lad, making mental notes about where he could improve his times, then both of them took the pit road at the exit of 13. Rod had put in more than twenty laps, and was comfortable on the bike. That was his objective for the first session, and he knew there were easily four seconds to gain over the low forty-threes he and Natsuga had run at the end. He also knew with a little help the young Japanese rider would join Forty One and earn a great deal of respect.
He rolled to a stop at his pit, the engine already silent as Glen took the grips and Rod dismounted with a quick nod. He pulled off his gloves and helmet and faced his chief along with Pete and Rando, all eager to hear about the session. Rod smiled. ‘Bike is good. Very easy to ride and very comfortable. I didn’t push at all, if you were wondering.‘ he told them, walking into the stall to set his Shoei down. He noticed the quizzical looks. ‘Oh yeah, the changes worked well. We won’t really know for certain until things warm up a bit; but the bike was better than it’s ever been transitioning off the brakes at the end of Center, which tells me the changes worked as expected. I should pick up a tenth with that change.‘ he explained, getting three nods in return.
Pete plugged in his laptop and downloaded the DAU data, then headed back to his bench to dig in. He should be able to compare prior data with this session and make an objective determination of the effectiveness of the changes. A few clicks of mouse and keyboard and he was logged into his office workstation, where the serious analysis and simulations could be done. One of the technicians came over and dropped off a piece of paper with the tire temperature measurements. Pete thanked him without looking up, typing in the new data as the simulator did it’s work.
Rod had briefly gone down to Natsuga’s pit to give the lad a few tips from their practice session, then returned to make a decision about going out for a ‘run’ before lunch. It was after eleven; but there was time for ten good laps, and the track temps were ideal. The decision made, Glen made his pre-run checks of the bike while Rod pulled on his helmet and gloves. Less than a minute later he rolled the machine through the pit lane exit and back onto the course. This time his focus was speed, so he needed to get the tires up to temperature quickly.
Rando looked over Pete’s shoulder at the complex set of performance curves on the screen, trying to decipher the meaning of the data. ‘Looks like he’s really not trying hard, right?‘ Rando suggested.
Pete looked up at his friend and smiled. ‘Exactly. I would guess he can pull a solid five seconds off of the times in that session.‘ he replied. ‘Let’s go find out, shall we?‘ With that, Pete stood up and the two men headed for the fence to watch Rod on the track. He had already come around to begin his first flying lap, and Glen had the watch on him.
Rod quickly put his head down and put himself in the Zone, focussed on extracting as much performance as he could in the next half-dozen laps. He could feel the tires coming up to temperature as he pushed harder with each corner, and by the time he wound the throttle open onto the Start/Finish straight at the end of the first flyer he was ready to go for the point. The HUD displayed a one-forty-three point two for his first flying lap, a good starting point. He pressed the mode control twice to program the system to display segment times as well as the final lap times so he would know where he could improve things. Winding up through Rapture he caught a glimpse of another bike ahead, and knew he would make the pass going into the Carousel. Up through the revs on Beacon he used the draft to gain an extra bike length, then using the ‘Sergio’ technique he slipped inside the other rider just as they both turned in toward the apex of the sweeping curve. At the edge of traction now and down the hill in the Dive, then compressing the suspension as he pulled the bike over to the right into Double Ups. He caught a quick glimpse behind, noting that he had gained a good five bike-lengths in a few hundred meters. Up the hill into Big Bend, his left knee puck a feeler as he rolled the throttle on and howled onto the Center Straight. The HUD displayed his speed at the exit marker – two hundred two kph. It was the fastest he’d seen. An instinctive flick through the dogleg without even a slight lift and then hard on the binders, backing the bike into the Vineyard Hairpin, a huge effort to pull the bike back to the right, then hard on the throttle through 14 and past the line. Second flying lap was a thirty-nine six.
‘WOOHOO! He’s already in the thirty-nines!‘ Glen shouted.
‘Yeah, well you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.‘ Pete told him, giving Glen’s shoulder a pat. ‘He might just be a full second under that in the next couple of laps.‘ he added. Just then another bike flew past their position. It was Sergio, and he was also pushing it. Rando had heard him coming, and had a watch on the veteran. Top honors would surely between these two riders. A third bike howled past, and the three recognized the colors of Scott McPherson. Pete got a watch on one of the men who would be on the VR endurance team, and would contribute to the final stages of testing once they got to the US.
Rod put in three more fast laps, with the last two in thirty-eights. His fastest was a new ‘unofficial’ record at 1:38.48, and he immediately reverted to ‘cool-down’ mode, glancing back to make sure he didn’t get in anyone’s way.
Miranda rushed through the back door of the paddock stall, hoping to catch some of her boss’ last laps. She was hoping for a reason to celebrate; but she’d been through these things before. She saw Glen, Rando and Pete hopping around at the fence, so it must be going well. By the time she reached them, Rod had gone by for his last time. ‘So how’s the boss doing?‘ she asked.
Glen looked at her and winked. ‘New lap record.‘ was all he said.
Rando grabbed the time for Sergio and announced. ‘One thirty nine oh four‘.
It was Pete’s turn as he stopped his watch for Scott. ‘One forty-one point two.‘
The checkered flag was displayed to end the session for the lunch break, just as Rod rolled in ‘dead stick’ as usual. Miranda had no clipboard or watches so she straddled the front wheel and took the grips to let Rod dismount, flashing him a broad smile and a wink as he flipped up his face shield and swung his leg over the machine. One of the technicians rolled the stand behind the bike and pulled it up as Miranda joined Rod in a rousing hoot.
Rod pulled off his gloves and helmet, accepting high-fives from the three men before getting an unexpected hug from his assistant. The last of the bikes on track howled past the timing line and Rod walked over to the display of lap times. Not only was his name at the top of the list, his best time was nearly a half-second quicker than Sergio’s best. He was pleased to see Scott so close already, with only a couple dozen laps on the circuit. MT had shipped a ‘customer kitted’ Swallow for Scott to get some track time on; but other than a track day and a club race in California (which he won easily) this was somewhat early in his learning curve. Rod looked down the list. Yukio Natsuga had done it! His best lap, at one-forty-one point nine, was just quick enough to make the club, and he was 7th fastest so far, right behind Kevin Leek. He was pleased that the afternoon session could be one of learning the competition rather than searching for speed.
His thoughts were interrupted by Miranda. ‘So boss, join me for lunch?‘ she suggested.
‘Veranda?‘ asked Rod, referring to the outdoor cafe up the hill.
‘Of course, where else?‘ Miranda replied with a laugh. ‘I’m sure there will be a lot of chatter there about the morning’s results.‘ she added, absent-mindedly taking his hand as they walked. Without thinking, she gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
Rod was surprised; but managed not to let on. He returned her squeeze and matched her pace, saying nothing. They would have to talk about it soon enough. They both knew the connection was there, it was clear enough. Anything beyond the affection they showed in public would have to wait for the right opportuniy – like Pete and Rando being gone for a weekend. The Monza round of the SBK championship would provide just such an opportunity, and it was only a month away. He could make some kind of excuse for not going with them, and have a nice intimate weekend with Miranda.
They arrived at the outdoor cafeteria to a few catcalls and the applause of those who had been following the morning track session. Rod let go of Miranda’s hand, taking a bow with a smile. ‘Thank you, thank you very much.‘ he responded to the small gathering as they walked to a free table and took their seats.
From another table came the voice of Sergio Mandini ‘I-ya teach-a heem everyting he-a know‘ he said, adding a particularly thick Italian drawl for affect. Laughter erupted, including that of Rod and his assistant. Then Sergio added ‘The day is not yet over, my friends. We have three more hours of glorious afternoon sun and a warming track ahead of us.‘
Rod nodded before responding ‘My mentor speaks the truth. I will be out there with him as we both seek more of the drug we call speed.‘ Just as he said that Scott McPherson walked up to the table, reaching out to shake Rod’s hand. He was about to take a seat when Rod motioned for him to remain standing as he stood to address the group. ‘Everyone, I am pleased to introduce Scott McPherson, one of the future members of the VR-1 endurance team, a long-time friend of mine, and one of the most feared competitors in the world of motorcycle endurance competition.‘ The crowd greeted the new team member with a round of applause, and Scott politely bowed and waved.
The applause waned and both men sat down, Scott’s eyes quickly moving to the attractive Asian woman. ‘Ah yes, Scott. This is my personal assistant, Miranda Chiou. Miranda, Scott McPherson.‘ Rod said.
‘We have spoken on the telephone, yes, nice to meet you in person mister McPherson.‘ Miranda said, offering her hand.
‘Please, call me Scott.‘ he replied, taking her hand for a brief shake. ‘And thank you for all of your help with my arrangements. Very much appreciated.‘ he added in his charming Brit accent.
The attendant walked up to the table and asked for their choices. All three ordered the daily special which was a delicious Pasta Primavera served with garlic bread and a small green salad. Sparkling Cider was the drink of choice, and the three made small talk as they devoured the well prepared meal.
The conversation turned to the VR-1 project, and the progress to date. Pete and Rando joined them, having wrapped up the data for the morning and prepared things for the afternoon. The cafeteria had delivered their lunches and those for the technical staff in the paddock, so they were essentially out for a stretch and some fresh air. Scott launched the topic. ‘So… I really haven’t had the opportunity to review the project in detail. Tell me what’s happening guys.‘
Rod began the briefing. ‘First off the target is to be ready for Daytona the year after next, so the schedule is a little bit tight.‘
‘Nothing we can’t handle though.‘ Rando chimed in.
‘Right; but from your perspective Scott we’ll have the first test platform available for track testing in mid-August next year. So after you’ve returned to Europe we’ll make arrangements with your team to give you some time here to help with the testing.‘ Rod said.
‘And I need to plug you in and collect some real data for you to add to the models.‘ Pete added. Scott gave him a quizzical look. ‘I need some response data that I can match up with other data, from the bikes and other riders, to include in the simulation models. Nothing painful man.‘ he laughed.
‘Got it. So we’re going all the way with this modelling thing, eh?‘ he asked, knowing the answer.
‘Oh yes. The DACS system is one of the key advantages the VR-1 will have over our competition.‘ Miranda told him, adding ‘and it’s Rod’s theory that the advantage won’t be a small one.‘ She reached over and gave Rod’s hand a squeeze, making sure Scott noticed. Best to let the young man know early on that she wasn’t interested. She returned his smile, and acknowledged his nod with one of her own. Phew! she thought, glad that’s out of the way.
‘Okay, so does model development wait until we have the bike, or what?‘ Scott asked, not having been briefed. He had accepted the ride based on the recommendations of his friend and teammate Wallace Rogers.
‘Not hardly. Actually we’re several weeks into the development cycle now.‘ Rando replied. ‘We’re collecting both bike data on all ten of the bikes this weekend, and on four of the riders.‘ he added. Scott nodded.
‘Right now we’re mostly collecting data to build the Stimulus-Response matrix, to see how much difference there is between bikes and between riders. Without that we can’t build a reasonable simulation with any confidence. It’s time consuming; but we gotta do it.‘ Pete said.
‘Wow.‘ Scott replied. ‘Way over my head, that’s for sure.‘
Rod glanced at his watch. ‘Yes, well it isn’t easy building a new-tech racing bike. And speaking of racing bikes, we should be getting back down to the paddock.‘ He emphasized his point by standing up. Miranda stood next to him, nudging his thigh without drawing too much attention. Rod looked over at her and returned her smile. ‘See you later?‘ he asked.
‘Call me when you get back to the Villa, okay?‘ she asked. ‘We can decide about things later I think. You might want to spend time with Scott or something.‘ she suggested. ‘Careful out there sir.‘ she added, then chucked him on the shoulder and turned to walk down the hill to the Design Center and her office. She stopped and turned around. ‘You boys have fun out there, okay!‘ she said, loud enough for all to hear.
‘If you say so, ma’am!‘ Rando replied, laughing loudly.
They all got a chuckle out of that, then the four men headed the other direction, up toward the paddock next to the circuit. The early afternoon sun had warmed things nicely, although it made for a bit more perspiration on the half-mile hike up the hill.
Rod broke the silence. ‘You joined a rather exclusive club this morning Scott.‘ he said, slapping the lad on the back. ‘Forty one is something special to these folks, and you made it look easy.‘
Scott laughed. ‘Oh… and you did… what… a thirty-eight four?’
‘Well, I do have a lot more laps both on the bike and the circuit, and I learned a couple of tricks from the master. ‘ Rod replied. ‘And I can share them with you. We can do a quick whiteboard thing and maybe run a few laps together. You’ll be in the thirty-nine’s for sure.‘
‘Cool; but are you sure you want to do that?‘ Scott asked, chuckling. ‘I mean, do you really want me going that fast tomorrow?‘
‘Dewd, Rod was doing forty threes, dropped to thirty-eights, and is now in the low thirty-eights with less than thirty laps under his belt. He’s plenty…‘ Rando began.
‘Alright boys, we’ll settle all this on the track.‘ Rod interrupted as they walked through the open door of the paddock stall. Glen gave him the thumbs up. Bike was good to go. Rod walked over to the whiteboard, where there was a track map permanently laid out up in one corner, and showed Scott the three places that seemed to give most riders problems. Scott acknowledged the ‘early braking’ trick going into the Ess; but admitted he wasn’t sure about the other two. Scott had ridden the Mountain Course, and knew the bridge Rod referred to.
‘Okay bro, thanks. I’m ready when you are.‘ he shook Rod’s hand and headed out into the pit lane.
Rod gave Glen a nod and the thumbs up and pulled on his suit, carefully adjusting things to avoid chafing when he climbed around on the bike. Then he grabbed his helmet and gloves, following the bike out into the pit stall as the shriek of a couple of other bikes firing up split the air. The course steward had already announced the opening of the course, and riders were eager to get back out there. With the bike on the pit stand Glen turned on the electronics and waited while Pete uploaded the control code and disconnected his laptop. The bike sputtered to life, then responded to Glen’s steady hand on the throttle. Rod waited for Glen’s nod and pulled on the Shoei, fastening the D-ring and pulling it snug before tugging on his gloves. He took the grips from Glen and swung his leg over the machine, catching Sergio’s bike as it moved down the pit lane toward the course. A final nod as he pulled in the clutch and slipped the transmission into first and leaned forward to move the bike off the stand. He was in motion instantly, glancing to the left to make sure he was clear before rolling out into the pit lane.
‘I think I have the auto-stream working.‘ Pete told Rando. ‘We should be able to get real-time official data now.‘ he added, referring to the ability to ‘stream’ the segment and laptime information for every bike that was on the track as the information was recorded by the official track computer from the on-bike transponders. The two went out to take up their seats on the observation stand next to the fence, eager to watch all of the riders as they sought to knock the boss off the pole.
‘How’d the boss look this morning?‘ Rando asked, probing for Pete’s interpretation of the data.
‘You mean, other than setting a new lap record?‘ Pete laughed.
‘Yeah, other than that.‘ Rando replied, sharing the laugh.
‘Well… I think he can probably go quicker, although with the track temp going up it could be touchy with traction.‘ Pete replied. ‘There’s a tenth or two exiting Rapture where it looks like he could be on the throttle a tad sooner, and maybe another tenth going down the Dive; but he’ll have to really want it there.‘ he added. ‘I don’t know that he’ll need any more speed though. The only one even close is Serg, and he was a half-second off of Rod’s pace.‘
‘Speaking of Sergio…‘ Rando said, acknowledging the veteran’s bike as it flashed past their position. Ten seconds later Rod went by, followed by Matt Ambrose with Pablo Senna in tow a few seconds later. More bikes trundled down the pit lane behind them as the competitors joined the on-track fray. Although this was supposed to be a ‘fun’ event, racers would be racers, and when the bikes were identical the battles could be fierce.
Rod quickly collected his focus, his senses tuned into the machine, his eyes focussed ahead. He knew Sergio was up there somewhere, and not too far ahead. His challenge for this session would be to gain on the veteran, to perhaps get close enough to see him. His body responded to a momentary slide as he pressed the limit down into the Dive, taking the bike all the way to the track’s edge. It was exhilirating; but not enough to disturb his focus. He was in the Zone. As he crossed the timing marks, his HUD flashed a One-Thirty-Nine point Six. That would be his standard time for the session. He wanted to put in ten laps within a tenth of that time to call it successful. Rod settled into that task, keeping his head clear to deal with the ‘rolling obstacles’ that would undoubtedly confront his progress.
‘A minute forty point two for Sergio, a minute thirty-nine point six for Rod. The boss is still a half-second quicker right now.‘ Pete announced, watching the data stream as the chart was updated. ‘Matt did a forty-three flat, with Pablo at forty-two eight.‘ he added, enjoying the improved information stream. Next time around and Sergio was just inside the thirty-nine’s, with Rod at thirty-nine five. Matt improved to forty-two six and Pablo at forty-two four, now right on Matt’s tail. ‘Pablo could join Forty-one if he’s not careful!‘ Pete said. More times began to appear as all ten riders were on the course.
Sergio flashed by again while just ahead of him Max Bertinnelli rolled onto the course, the last one to join the session from pit lane. Rando watched intently as Max built speed gradually. It looked like Sergio would come up on the other bike as they exited Rapture, and perhaps Sergio would have an easy task to overtake. As the two bikes wound around the last part of Rapture, it looked like Sergio made a slight mistake, his bike sliding sideways for a moment as he went beyond the traction limit in his haste to make the pass. Although he succeeded with the overtaking maneuver, the slide cost him an easy second on the lap. Next time past the marker it was Sergio with a one-forty point nine, Rod with another thirty-nine six, Pablo – having passed Matt – with a forty-two point one, and Matt with a forty-two point six.
Rod passed the bike of Max Bertinnelli going into Big Bend, and just caught a glimpse of Sergio as his mentor flicked his bike through the dog leg. Steady… steady… steady… he told himself, focussed on the standard time. The HUD gave him his thirty-nine six, right on the target. Seven more laps went into the record, only one outside his expectations at a thirty-nine eight. He was within four seconds of Sergio when his friend slowed and pulled onto pit road. Rod maneuvered the machine off the track onto the pit lane, finding neutral before flipping the kill switch just before he rolled up to Glen’s waiting hands. His leg swung over the tail as the technician slipped the stand under the rear wheel. He took off his gloves and deftly unbuckled his helmet, pulling it off over his head. Another session, mostly successful. He hadn’t been passed by anyone.
‘Nice work boss. Seems nobody has anything for you at the moment.‘ Rando told him, handing Rod a bottle of his favorite energy juice.
‘Okay, so where’s the data?‘ Rod asked.
Pete walked up and set the laptop on the workbench. ‘Here you are, sir.‘ he said. Forty minutes into the first hour’s session, and the field was getting tighter.
- Qualifying Order (with two hours remaining) –
1 Rod Ehrlmeir 1:38.48
2 Sergio Mandini 1:38.84
3 Anton Veta 1:39.68
4 Pablo Senna 1:39.99
5 Max Bertinnelli 1:40.16
6 Scott McPherson 1:40.42
7 Yukio Natsuga 1:40.89
8 Matthew Ambrose 1:41.62
9 Kevin Leek 1:41.77
10 Ricky Barton 1:42.90
‘Hmmm.. Only the Barton kid not forty-one or better. ‘ Rod commented. He turned around as he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Scott McPherson. ‘Oh hey man. Looks like you got over your hurdles, eh?‘ Rod chuckled.
‘Yeah, we were okay. Two seconds slower than you; but not a bad effort.‘ Scott replied, adding ‘I think we can find another second or so, which will put us in the same ballpark anyway.‘ he laughed. ‘Besides, you’re not plannin’ on running thirty-eights tomorrow, right?‘ he asked, not getting a response at first.
Then Rando chimed in ‘Uh… right.‘ he replied, laughing.
‘Okay, well I just wanted to say thanks for the tips Rod. They definitely helped by at least a second.‘ Scott said, offering his hand for a strong shake. ‘See you guys later.‘ he added, pivoting to head back to his stall.
Rod unzipped his suit and peeled off the top half. ‘I’m thinking we can rest for the next hour, keep an eye on things, analyze our data to see if maybe there’s something we can try.‘ he said.
‘Okay boss. I’ll freshen her up just in case she needs to go back into battle.‘ Glen told him. ‘Hey Pete, you got your data?‘ he asked. Pete gave him a silent thumbs up and Glen gave some instructions to the technicians who moved quickly to bring the bike back into the work area.
Rod sat down and pulled off his boots and the bottom half of his suit, hanging things up to let them dry while he did other things. ‘Keep me posted on lap times, will ya Rando?‘ he asked, knowing he didn’t need to do that. The bikes continued to howl past on the track as he and Pete tried to make sense of the data. The lap times were consistent; but not necessarily the way the times were produced, and they both wanted to understand how to perhaps combine all the best bits into one single flyer.
‘I have a tool I’ve been wanting to try. Stand by…‘ Pete said, his fingers flying over the keys. ‘It’s a rudimentary simulator that will try to take all the best segments and combine them. I’m not sure it’s capable of keeping it real; but we’ll see…‘ he added, watching the simulator’s output as it was created, captured in a file for the charting application. Then they could look at the result in a direct comparison with any one of his actual laps, or all of them if they wanted.
‘Sergio just did a thirty-eight nine.‘ Rando shouted. ‘Nobody else below forty yet.‘ he added.
‘Ohhhkayyyyy…. Comin’ up…‘ Pete mumbled. Rod watched over his shoulder as the graphs were painted onto the screen. ‘The simulator thinks you could do a thirty-six flat!‘ he chuckled. ‘But….‘ he added, looking hard at two transitions.
‘But?‘ Rod queried.
‘Yeah… but probably not. These two spots don’t work. What the simulator wants the bike to do there is not possible. Okay… gotta make some notes…‘ Pete said. He scribbled some notes on a conventional pad before returning to the screen. He opened the simulation output file and made two adjustments, then had the graphic app redraw the laps. ‘Okay.. that’s better… looks like you might do high thirty-sevens with no major changes.‘
‘I could see that; but I’d love to see where that time might be gained. Can we look at that?‘ Rod asked.
‘Sure… one moment please…‘ Pete responded, clicking more commands on the keyboard. The graphs were redrawn again. Pete took out his pointer and placed the tip on a portion of the overlay graph that was colored green. ‘See this?‘ he asked, then moved the pointer to another green trace. ‘and this?‘ he added, looking over at Rod. When Rod nodded Pete went back to the screen. ‘These two spots are the most likely places for you to pick up a couple of tenths, maybe a total of a half second. It looks like you may gain in both places with a little less initial throttle when you come back on it. Like maybe the TCU is inhibiting your drive.‘ Pete told him.
‘Okay, I think I see that.‘ Rod said. ‘So that’s at the beginning of Beacon and the beginning of Start/Finish, right?‘ he asked.
‘Yep. The bike makes enough power to spin the tire a LOT in both of those places, and opening the throttle a little too far in either place will engage the TCU and retard the timing. Probably even change the FI a bit. Take it a little easier and the power will be there a hair sooner.‘ Pete explained.
‘Sergio is back in the thirty-nines; but Veta just ran a thirty-eight ninety-six‘ Rando reported.
‘I’ll give that a go if it’s needed. Thanks Pete.‘ Rod said, grabbing two bottles of cold water and heading out to join Rando at the fence. He handed one of the bottles to Rando and took a seat. ‘So what do you think?‘ Rod asked.
‘I don’t think anyone will get close, to be honest.‘ Rando said. ‘Track temp is still going up, and watching the guys going through the transition from three to four it looks like they’re squirming pretty good now. I’m thinking the times will go up, not down.‘ he added, taking a pull on the water. ‘Thanks boss. Hits the spot.‘
Rod settled back into the chair to watch, picking up a set of the track binoculars to get a better look. A bike flashed past. Rando called out the rider and time. ‘Veta – thirty-nine oh-two.‘ Then another. ‘Natsuga – forty-seventy-eight.‘
‘Just let me know if anyone breaks thirty-nine or takes a second out of their previous time, okay man?‘ Rod suggested. ‘I can get all the details later.‘ he added. His phone rang and he pulled it out. It was Miranda. ‘Yes Miranda?‘ he answered.
Her laugh brightened his afternoon. ‘Hey boss. How is it going?‘ she asked. ‘They have a running stream of laptimes here in the center, and a page with the official times. Looks like you’re probably safe, huh?‘ she said.
‘Yeah, probably so. Bike is ready to go, Pete and I think we know where there’s another half-second if we need it, and Rando and I are sittin’ out here watching.‘ Rod answered her.
‘So… um… maybe an early dinner tonight?‘ she suggested. ‘At the Villa?‘
‘Sure ba.. uh… Miranda.‘ Rod replied, catching himself. Fortunately the only one close enough to have heard it was Rando, and there was enough track noise that he didn’t hear.
Miranda giggled at the slip. ‘Okay sir. Give me a call when you get back home, okay?‘ she asked.
‘You got it lady. See you later.‘ he said, closing the phone.
‘Mizzz Chiou?‘ Rando asked, chuckling softly.
‘Yep. Dinner at chez bikers.‘ Rod answered.
Mid-way through the last hour and times had degraded to the point where Sergio, while still the quickest out there, was barely in the thirty-nines. Rod stood up and walked into the paddock to let Glen and the others know they wouldn’t need to go back out. ‘Everybody is getting slower. Serg is more than a second off his own pace now, and a second and a half off our best. We can wrap this up and get some rest for tomorrow.‘ Rod told them. ‘Pete, I’m going to head back and grab a shower. You’re free to wrap it up whenever you like.‘
Pete was still buried in data. ‘Okay boss. I’ve got just a few little things to check here and I’ll join you. What’s up for dinner?‘ he asked.
‘Dunno yet; but Miranda will be by.‘ Rod told him. Pete didn’t flinch, having expected it. ‘I don’t think there’s any real schedule to worry about. Just come on up when you’re ready.‘ Rod added, then turned to grab his street gear. ‘Glen, thanks for everything today, and I’ll see you first thing tomorrow. Grid is 10, right?‘ Rod asked. Glen nodded, giving Rod a thumbs up as he went back to the bike to finish up. Rod headed out the back door, pulling on his helmet and gloves as he walked up to his trusty steed and mounted up. Turning the key on he thumbed the starter and felt the whirrr of the smooth triple, nearly silent compared to the machine he’d spent so much of his day with. He gave the bike his usual minute or so to warm up, then flipped the sidestand up with his foot before pulling in the clutch and snicking it into gear. He looked around to make sure he wouldn’t be moving into anyone’s path and rolled out, being careful on the gravel access road on the way up toward the design center and the local highway beyond. Ten minutes later he rolled up to the villa and parked the bike out front under the shelter of the small ‘motorcycle port’, taking off his gloves and helmet before opening the big gate and walking into the peace of the garden. He flipped open his phone and speed-dialed Miranda.
Rando waited until the end of the session, waiting for the stream to include the last rider before closing his laptop and heading into the stall. Glen and two of the technicians were putting the last touches on the bike and gave him a wave as he passed through. He hudged Pete on the shoulder. ‘You about ready champ?‘ he asked.
‘Yeah. Two minutes.‘ Pete replied, his fingers a blur on the computer. ‘If I don’t finish this I’ll forget what I wanted to get done.‘ he added.
‘No worries lad, I’ll be outside whenever you’re ready.‘ Rando told him, grabbing his gear from the hangers and heading out the back door. The afternoon sun, while warm and bright, was filtered through a thin layer of high clouds. He hung his jacket over one mirror and his helmet over the other, then leaned back against the machine and closed his eyes and took a deep breath to take in the smells of the track. It had been almost a year since the last race with Rod, and he had to admit he loved the ambience. Although the air was quiet now, the smell of racing fuel, oil, and hot tires remained. With that thought he heard the door open and Pete appeared, his jacket and backpack on already.
‘Let’s do it bro!‘ Pete said, pulling on his helmet and gloves and firing up the Suzuki. Rando followed suit and the boys rolled carefully down the access road and past the center. It had been a busy day; but tomorrow would be even busier.
Miranda had gotten a quick call from Rod letting her know he was back at the villa, and watched the other two men come down the hill on their bikes. That was her queue, and she shut her workstation down, grabbed her bag, and headed to the garage and her waiting SL. She drove efficiently to her cottage, rushing in to take a quick shower before donning the loose-fitting ‘pantsuit’ she had decided on. A quick touchup to her makeup and hair and she was ready to. She pulled a scarf over her head and tied it, pushing the button to retract the roof as she approached the car. She loved driving the convertible with with top down on the warm evenings, and those evenings were about to go away for the winter months. Although it didn’t freeze so close to the sea, it was cool enough that top-down travel wasn’t comfortable. It was a relaxing twenty minute cruise to the villa, and she was able to let go of the office business by the time she rolled up to the gate.
Pete and Rando joined Rod in the garden, and the three of them were sipping something Denise had referred to as ‘virgin Sangria’. It was actually very refreshing, and although there was no alcohol it tasted very much like the real thing. ‘Well guys, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow if the boss still has the stuff, eh?‘ Rod laughed.
‘Oh I don’t think there’s much doubt about whether you have it or not, we’ll just see if you can hang on to it for an hour and a half or not.‘ Pete chided. ‘Fifty-five laps could be a test, ya know.‘ he added. Then he held up his glass. ‘Here’s to showin’ all these boys who the boss is.‘
‘Hear hear!‘ Rando seconded, clinking his glass to Pete’s.
The men hadn’t even heard Miranda drive up. The gate opened and she walked in, looking relaxed and lovely as always. Rod stood up to greet her and received a polite hug for his effort. ‘Hey boss.‘ she whispered in his ear. ‘I brought you something.‘ Miranda added, reaching into her bag to pull out a small token to hand to him. ‘It’s a lucky token.‘
Rod took the token, examining it carefully. On one side was a relief image of Giacomo Agostini, the Italian Grand Prix champion astride the mighty MV Agusta he rode to multiple championships. On the opposite side as a relief image of the Grand Prix trophy along with the words ‘World Champion’ along with the years during which he won his fifteen titles. ‘Wow… I uh…‘ Rod didn’t know what to say.
‘It’s just a little something to bring you luck Rod. I thought you might like it.‘ Miranda said, pouring herself a glass of the juicy beverage and taking a sip.
‘Oh yeah sweetie. I love it. Thanks.‘ Rod said softly, clutching the token in his hand as he leaned over to give her a kiss on the forehead.
Pete and Rando looked at each other. That about does that they both thought, having heard him call her sweetie and seen him kiss her. Okay, so it was on the forehead; but did that really matter? They both chuckled softly.
Miranda broke the silence as she turned to head into the kitchen. ‘Gonna go see if I can help Denise with dinner.‘ she told them.
Rod couldn’t help but follow her with his eyes. That particular cat was well and truly out of the bag now, and he actually felt relieved. ‘So I guess I really have to win tomorrow now, huh?‘ he laughed.
‘Guess so.‘ Pete replied, sharing the laugh. ‘You don’t want to disappoint your girl!‘ he added. All three men laughed at that, breaking the ice that had formed.
‘No, I certainly do not!‘ Rod responded, finishing his ‘juice’.
A few moments later Miranda reappeared carrying a tray with a plate full of fresh calimari, four smaller plates, utensils, and four dipping bowls. ‘Appetizers are here guys. Denise will be out with some real Sangria in a few minutes.‘ she told them, setting the tray down on the table. ‘Dig in boys!‘ Miranda said with a big smile. She passed out the plates, utensils, and dipping bowls and spooned some of the Italian cocktail sauce into each of them.
The tender breaded squid was half gone by the time Denise brought a fresh pitcher of Sangria, pouring a full glass for each of them. ‘This evening’s dinner will be a grilled chicken alfredo with rigatoni served with fresh steamed vegetables. I have also prepared crème brulee for dessert. We will serve in thirty minutes.‘ she told them to ooo’s and ahhhh’s from all three men.
‘Thank you Denise.‘ Rod said. In response she bowed and returned to the kitchen.
‘A suitable dinner for the night before a race, actually.‘ Rando commented.
‘Good carbs and plenty of protein!‘ Miranda added, dipping another piece of squid in the sauce. ‘Gotta make sure the boss is ready to ride tomorrow!‘
‘So boss, what’s the strategy for the race tomorrow?‘ Pete asked.
‘Strategy really isn’t my thing. Rando?‘ Rod diverted the question.
‘We can do the race on one stop, for sure – IF Rod can control his need for speed and not burn up the tires.‘ Rando began. ‘I guess it will depend to some degree on what the other fast guys do. I’m thinking that if the pace is in the forty-three’s the one stop thing will work. But if the fast guys decide to run thirty-nines and fortys, the tires will be gone in twenty laps and it will then require two stops.‘ he told them, looking at Rod.
‘Well how about if I just let them go and run their thirty-nines and I hang back and run forty-three’s? Does one stop still get me to the checker first?‘ Rod countered, knowing that his friend had thought that through as well.
‘If their pit stops are no quicker than ours, then it will be close. You should have enough tire left to push the last four or five laps and stay ahead. If the stops are quicker – which is possible – then we could be in trouble. Four seconds a lap over fifty-five laps is more than a full lap, and my figures suggest you would have a forty second advantage when they came back on the course after their last stop. That’s only ten laps worth, and there would be fifteen to go.‘ Rando explained.
‘So what do you recommend?‘ Miranda asked, sitting back and crossing her legs. She gave Rod a wink as she took a drink.
‘I recommend you go have fun, plan on two stops, and kick their butts all day.‘ Rando replied.
‘Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.‘ Pete exclaimed.
‘You think Glen and the guys are up for two stops?‘ Rod asked.
‘Sure, no worries. I timed ’em twice today after you came in. With no reason to go quickly they refueled and changed both tires in less than a minute. With a bit more incentive they can probably do it in thirty seconds or so. That should be quick enough.‘ Rando responded. ‘I know the endurance crews can do it in less; but hey, this is supposed to be a fun run.‘ he added.
‘Good enough for me.‘ Rod said.
‘Hell yeah, if you need more speed you can just squeeze the throttle a little harder, right?‘ Miranda chimed in, giving Rod’s arm a squeeze.
Denise came out to announce dinner was ready, asking if they wanted to move inside or dine in the garden. The consensus was the garden, and within a minute she rolled the serving cart out. The four friends made small talk as they consumed the delicious meal, finishing the pitcher of Sangria in the process. By the time the cappuccino was served the sun had settled below the horizon and the garden was lit by the indirect lights and two fire pits that had been lit. Pete and Rando decided to retire to Pete’s suite to look at some data, leaving Rod and Miranda alone.
She reached over and took his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. ‘Rod, I’m just a little bit lost for words. I know we need to be careful; but I know you share these feelings, right?‘
Rod returned the squeeze, letting his thumb caress the back of her hand. ‘Of course I do babe. You know I do.‘ he replied. ‘I guess I’m just not sure how we should handle it. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, being the new guy around here and all.‘ he added.
‘I don’t think there’s an issue of any kind. I’m not attached to anyone else here, at least not that way.‘ Miranda said softly. ‘We’re both adults, and it isn’t really anyone elses business.‘ she told him.
‘I suppose that’s really the fact then.‘ Rod responded. He shivered, the evening air cooling quickly after the sun went down.
‘Well hon, I think you should get to bed soon so you’ll be rested for tomorrow.‘ Miranda told him, standing up without letting his hand go. She leaned over and gave him a very soft kiss on the cheek. ‘Sleep well Rod, and dream of me, okay?‘ she said, almost in a whisper.
‘Okay babe. You too. Will you come by and join me for breakfast and give me a lift to the track?‘ Rod asked.
‘Of course. What time shall I arrive?‘ Miranda responded.
‘Oh I think seven-thirty should be okay. As long as I’m at the track by nine I’ll be good.‘ Rod replied. ‘Good night sweet lady.‘ he added, standing to give her a hug. This time the hug was longer, tighter, more intimate. They both felt the new warmth.
Rod walked her to her car, holding the door for her in a show of chivalry he hadn’t needed in several years since his wife died tragically in an auto accident while he was in Europe for the ‘fall tour’ of endurance races. They’d been together for twelve years, and he really had not been seeking any sort of relationship since. He gave Miranda another hug, pulling her head close to plant a kiss in her fragrant hair, then guided her into the Benz and closed the door. He returned her wave and smile as she engaged the gearbox and rolled down the drive, then slowly walked back through the gate, making his way into the common room hoping to find company.
Pete and Rando were enjoying the warmth of the fire, sipping on warmed cognac as they poured over the data to make a more structured plan for the race. Rod walked in quietly, moving directly to the bar to pour himself a cognac from the decanter heated by a small candle. It was the perfect temperature for a late apperitif, and he took a sip as he approached his two friends. ‘Anything new?‘ he asked.
‘Oh not really. We’re just trying to figure out if there’s a strategy we can use that will make significant difference at the end of the race.‘ Rando replied.
‘And?‘ Rod prodded.
‘And we think if you can go quickly enough and make your tires go twenty one laps, we can put on some stickier compounds for the last stint and they only need to last thirteen laps.‘ Pete responded. Rod didn’t immediately reply, so he added ‘and I think that’s the best opportunity we have to gain an advantage at the end – if we need it.‘
‘Okay, okay, that sounds like a reasonable plan. I mean it’s not like this is an enduro.‘ Rod replied. ‘So what does Pirelli have to help us?‘ he asked.
‘We’ve been running a two-eighty compound all week. The data says twenty-five laps is the most they’ll do at speed, so the slower guys might try to squeek by with one stop but their tires will be toast at the end for sure, or they might try running a three twenty compound; but then they’ll be even slower. If we can run the two-eighty for two twenty one lap stints and switch to the two-forty compound for the last thirteen laps you should be able to run thirty-eights for twelve of those laps with no problem.‘ Rando told him. ‘Another factor is fuel, and anyone choosing a one-stop strategy will be on fumes at the end of both stints.‘ he added.
‘Okay, I’m sold. Let’s plan on that. Two stints on two-eighties, the last on two-forties.‘ Rod declared. Rando’s fingers clicked away as he placed their ‘order’ for the tires which would be mounted and ready by the time they arrived at the track.
Pete hoisted his snifter in a toast. ‘To the win.‘ he suggested, clinking his glass to Rod’s and taking a swallow. Rando finished his last keystrokes and lifted his glass to join them. ‘Hear hear!’
‘So boss, anything new with the lady?‘ Pete pried, not really expecting an answer.
‘Since you asked, yeah there’s something new.‘ Rod answered, staring at his friend.
‘Well…?‘ Rando pursued with a chuckle.
‘Oh alright. We’ve decided that it just isn’t anyone elses business and yeah, we share feelings for each other.‘ Rod acknowledged.
Pete whistled. ‘Man, that is so cool.‘
‘Why’s that?‘ Rod asked.
‘You know. I mean she’s got everything. She’s pretty, she’s smart, she loves bikes.‘ he began, letting his words trail off.
‘And she’s hot man, don’t forget that.‘ Rando added, laughing.
‘Yeah, yeah. She’s pretty cute alright. So I’m thinking I’ll be hitting the sack shortly guys. I want to be rested for my first real test in a year.‘ Rod responded. ‘But another snifter of this superb brew is appropriate.‘
Rando sprang to his feet, taking Rod’s snifter along with his own to get their refills. Pete followed, giving Rod the eye as he followed his friend to the bar. Rando had been with Rod’s teams for more than five years, while Pete was relatively new to the group having given up a lucrative role in the investment world to pursue his real passion in racing. Rod felt very lucky to have them on his team.
After passing Rod’s drink to him, Rando raised his glass again. ‘To another victory for the boss, and a smooth development process for his bike.‘ he toasted.
‘Cheers you guys. I cannot imagine a better place for the three of us.‘ Pete added.
‘And I cannot imagine two better partners to meet this challenge.‘ Rod said, taking a swallow of the warm liqueur, then adding ‘Tomorrow will be fun. Next week we begin the real push to be ready to build the VR-1. So Pete, how are things going on the model development front?‘
Pete nodded his head. ‘It’s going well, actually a little bit ahead of the detail schedule. That’s really just because the assumptions that Rando and I formulated were much closer to reality than I expected them to be, so making use of the simulations is more productive. It’s kind of one of those things where progress begets progress, and the more quickly we are able to utilize the simulations, the better the models become.‘
‘Well… yeah… that and the fourteen hour days Pete has been putting in.‘ Rando added with his usual chuckle.
Rod nodded his acknowledgement. ‘The only thing I can add at this point is that I am consistently surprised at how close your projections are, and how much useful information we can get from your data. It’s really pretty amazing. Thanks Pete.‘
The three men hoisted their snifters one more time, killing what remained before rising together and bidding each other a good night. All three were asleep within ten minutes.
Rando woke up at five, taking a quick shower before hitting the ‘start’ button on his personal coffee maker. He fired up his computer and checked for a confirmation on the tire order. It had been accepted, and the status suggested the wheels had been moved to their paddock stall already. Damn, those guys must have worked all night! He thought, pouring his first cup of java and finding his ‘lucky suit’ in the wardrobe. He wanted to be up at the circuit by eight, just to make certain there were no ends left loose. Preparing for the race was his job, and he knew Glen would be there along with the technicians. While the techs had specific tasks in pre-race preparations, he and Glen would both go over the bike with their own lists. It was a system he’d used for years, and only once had it ever let Rod down. He dressed and headed to the kitchen to grab some breakfast.
Pete also woke up at five and took his shower. He also planned an eight o’clock arrival at the track, to get his laptop setup for more data collection than he’d done to date. Today they would have not only the data from ten bikes but rider sensors on four people. It was easily five times as much raw information as they’d been taking. He had to check with technicians at all nine of the other stalls, make sure they had their pre-programmed USB gadgets which would ‘pull’ the data from the DACS systems on each bike at the pit stops. The three other teams that were plugging in their riders had different gadgets to pull the ‘human’ data as well. It would be a busy day; but he hoped for some interesting results when the modeling team reviewed things next week. Model development would progress in a big way, that much was certain.
Rod awoke at five-thirty, deciding he wanted that extra thirty minutes; but wanting to get at least a cup of coffee with Pete and Rando before they left. Miranda would probably arrive just before the two men departed, and he could share breakfast with her before they left for the track. Their discussion the previous evening had him thinking… But today was about riding – and winning. He showered and pulled on some sweats, rushing out to the kitchen to hookup with his friends. Denise was already at work on breakfast, and had a tall mug ready to pour his eye opener. ‘Good morning Rod. Rando mentioned that Ms. Chiou will be joining you for breakfast at seven thirty?‘ Denise said, handing him the mug of coffee.
‘Yes, that’s right; but we really don’t need anything special. Your usual is fine.‘ Rod replied, taking the coffee from her. ‘Pete and Rando out in the garden?‘ he asked. She responded with a nod and Rod headed out to join them. Setting his coffee down he took in a deep breath of the fresh morning air. ‘Hhhhhmmmm… it’s a good day, my friends.‘ he said. ‘So how are we looking?‘
‘Perfect boss. The Pirelli guys delivered the tires already, and I just talked to Glen and asked him to hide the two forty’s so nobody knows our plan.‘ Rando told him. ‘Bike is prepped and ready for the warmup at nine-thirty.‘
‘Laptop is loaded and ready as well. I pinged the crew chiefs and had them confirm they’re ready to grab data at the stops. Sergio, Scott, and Anton will be wearing the sensors, as planned.‘ Pete added.
Rod smiled, nodding at his friends as he took a long swallow of coffee. ‘This is gonna be some big fun boys. I’m feelin’ it today, I really am.‘ he told them. ‘I am ready to go do some scratchin’.‘
The conversation turned to the upcoming week, with the design strategy meetings, the modelling team meetings, and the status briefing with the Monsignor on Friday. Each of them had a different focus, with Pete primarily on the modelling aspects while he and Rando would handle the design strategy, and Rod personally dealt with the executive staff. They were discussing details when the gate swung open and Miranda came in, dressed as the girlfriend of a racer should be. A form-fitting denim ‘suit’ in colors that matched the concept illustrations for the VR-1. She saw the gapes from all three men and stopped in her tracks, striking a pose for them. Then she smiled at Rod in particular and asked ‘Like it?’ She got nods from all three of them, and added ‘and I have a racing suit for you to match, boss. It’s in the car.‘
Rando jumped up and ran past Miranda and through the gate to her car. The suit was laying on the passenger seat, and he quickly had it out and was back inside holding up the suit. It was complete with emblems and patches for all of his sponsors, and emblazoned across the shoulders was The Boss rather than his name. ‘And… it has the sensors built in to the suit instead of tacked in. Should be more comfortable.‘ Rando told them.
‘Oh… man… that is really cool Miranda.‘ Pete said, jumping up to join Rando and the suit.
Rod shook his head, standing to give Miranda a warm hug. ‘You’ve been planning this all along, haven’t you?‘ he asked her, knowing the obvious answer. ‘I shall do you proud, my lady.‘ he added.
‘I know you will Rod. I just wanted to give you a little something to show off today, that’s all.‘ Miranda told him with her sweetest smile. ‘So… does it look good on me?‘ she asked, striking the pose again.
‘Yes indeed lady, you look incredible.‘ Rod replied, taking in the view.
Pete and Rando had gone inside, and reappeared with their riding gear. ‘Okay boss, we’ll see you at the track.‘ Rando told them, waving.
‘Ride well boys, and be careful.‘ Miranda said, returning the wave. Moments later they heard the bikes fire up and head down the hill. She shook her head and smiled again.
‘What?‘ Rod asked.
‘Those two have known for a couple of weeks actually. We have another surprise for you at the track.‘ Miranda told him, giving him a wink to go with the smile.
Rod shook his head, unsure what to say. ‘You are too much lady. Really. How could you know our conversation last night would end up the way it did?‘
‘I didn’t know; but I had a pretty good idea. Call it women’s intuition I guess.‘ She responded, reaching over to grab his hand. ‘I wasn’t wrong, so here we are.‘
He returned the squeeze and shook his head. ‘No, you weren’t wrong babe. I gotta say I feel very lucky.‘
Denise’ arrival broke up the conversation. ‘Coffee Ms. Chiou?‘ she offered, having brought a tray with a mug and a coffee decanter.
‘Oh yes, please Denise. Thanks.‘ Miranda replied, taking the cup when it was offered.
‘Shall I bring the breakfast tray sir?‘ she asked. When Rod nodded she turned around and headed back inside.
Rod and Miranda sat opposite each other at the table, gazing into each others’ eyes. ‘So Rod, tell me you’re okay with this whole… thing.‘ Miranda said, taking both his hands. ‘I don’t want to make you uncomfortable and I don’t want you to think you have to do something you don’t want to do.‘
Rod pulled her hands up and kissed each in turn. ‘Miranda, I am very much okay with this relationship. I never thought I’d find another woman who enjoyed and supported what I do, what I love. The only thing that may be a little uncomfortable is the harrassment I’ll be getting from the guys around here; but with you on my arm I can handle it.‘ he told her, smiling softly as she returned his squeeze. ‘We’ll just take this one step at a time babe. No rush. Neither of us is going anywhere any time soon, and when the time comes that I have to travel we’ll deal with it. Okay?‘
‘Of course.‘ Miranda replied, letting go of his hands to take another swallow of her coffee. ‘It’ll be a little complicated; but fun too. I haven’t had a man in my life in several years, and he wasn’t half the man you are.‘ she explained. Rod chuckled at that, and she continued ‘I mean he was rather simple in comparison. A very focussed guy who treated me well but didn’t have much to offer beyond his own interests and the obvious physical attraction.‘
Denise rolled the cart out with their breakfast, this time with two steam trays containing fresh bacon and scrambled eggs along with the usual fruit and pastries. ‘Looks wonderful Denise, thanks so much.‘ Miranda said, placing a plate and utensils on the table for she and Rod and quickly dishing up fruit to start things off. Denise poured a glass of mango juice for each of them, placing them on the table before giving them a shallow bow and returning inside. Rod opened the steam trays and dished himself out generous portions of the bacon and eggs before digging in. The food was superb as it always was, and he feasted as he always did.
Rod glanced up and noticed Miranda staring at him. ‘You haven’t said anything in five minutes.‘ she laughed.
‘Sorry babe. I get very focussed on race day.‘ he told her.
‘Of course. Rando told me that.‘ she chuckled. ‘I’ll learn all this stuff, don’t worry.‘ she added. ‘Carry on, sir.‘
Rod began his race-day ritual, going around the circuit in his mind, grabbing upshifts, squeezing the brake lever, pulling the bike left and right, tucking in tight. By the time the event began he would be in the Zone. Two more laps in his head and he refocussed, his eyes now on the pretty lady sitting opposite him at the table. His eyes caught hers and she smiled that soft smile he knew was now reserved for him. He returned the smile before taking the last bite of eggs, then dabbed at his mouth with the napkin. ‘Oh boy, I think that’s enough.‘ he said, pushing back from the table. He reached over to take the new racing suit from the chair, looking it over as he would any new gear – his eyes on things like the seams and knee pucks. She had obviously done her homework. The suit was absolutely top shelf. He let out a whistle as he noted the perfect edges on the various panels that formed the VR-1 scheme, his smile growing broader with each new detail.
Miranda laughed as she watched him examine her gift. ‘I got all the relevant specifications from Rando, and had the designers do the VR-1 layout details. I thought they did a pretty good job, don’t you?‘
Rod just shook his head and gave her a wink. ‘It’s beautiful babe. I’m almost afraid to wear it to race, it’s such a nice piece of work.‘ he laughed.
‘Now, now. I got it for you to work in honey.‘ she teased. ‘Why don’t you try it on?‘
Rod rose from the table and headed to his suite, stopping halfway there and turning around. ‘You coming?‘ he asked her. He waited for her, offering his arm as they walked into his ‘room’. It felt good to have a woman in his life again.
Rod stripped down to his skivvies and pulled on the suit, carefully tugging at the leather in the places where chafing would occur. He walked around in the room, stretching and moving all four limbs as Miranda watched. Stopping in front of the full-length mirror, he turned and gave her a big smile. ‘It’s better than any brand-new suit I’ve had, including that custom-made suit that Yamaha gave me. This is really nice babe, thank you!‘ he said earnestly.
Miranda walked over next to him, putting her arm around his waist and bumping her hip against his. ‘So what do you think? Do we look good together?‘ she asked with a giggle.
‘No.‘ Rod answered, waiting for her pout. ‘We look fantastic.‘ His eye caught a glance at the clock. ‘And we need to go show our stuff at the track.‘ he added, sitting down to pull on his pit shoes. They headed out to the Benz and off to the track.
The morning was glorious, the sun quickly warming things as final preparations were made for the annual ‘MotoTechnikon Family Day’. While the race was a focus for riders and team members, the Chiatarini family saw it as a way for them to give back to their employees and their families. A festival atmosphere surrounded the event, with open tents for kids’ activities, wine and food supplied by the company, even live music in an ampitheatre on the grounds of Circuit Mosini. The attendance was expected to be more than two thousand people this year, with more than three hundred of those coming from the new VR-1 project employees and their families.
Rod was oblivious to the flurry of activity along the access road as Miranda guided the Benz carefully amongst the growing crowd. He was already preparing himself, with less than two hours to the start of the race, just as he had always done. Many of his past friends never understood it, taking offense to his single-minded pursuit; but Miranda did. Rando had prepared her for it, told her about what appeared to some to be moodiness. She was bound and determined to be there for this man. The car rolled to a stop behind the paddock building and she turned off the ignition, waiting for Rod to make the first move. When he did, she was quick to disembark and go around to his side, taking the door from him as he headed for the stall and his team. She wanted to be with him when he saw the bike.
He opened the door, acknowledging Miranda was there, and walked into the stall. The rollup was still closed; but the work lights were on, and his eyes were met with a motorcycle that matched his riding suit – and Miranda’s suit as well. ‘Oh my….‘ he stammered. Glen and the technicians, as well as Pete and Rando, were there behind the machine. They broke into applause as Rod acknowledged the special nature of the moment. ‘Wow folks… just… wow…‘ he said, walking around the machine and taking in the details. His personal racing number – 16 – was emblazoned in red on the nose and tailpiece, and the fairing wore the same ‘name’ as his suit – ‘The Boss‘. Without thinking he reached for the clipons and swung his leg over the seat, settling into the familiar position in which he would do his work in a few short minutes. Then his eye caught the token Miranda had given him, affixed to the top of the steering stem where he could see it. He looked around to see her beaming with pride, and gave her a wink. Then he put his business voice on, hid his grin, and said ‘It’s beautiful, and I appreciate it very much; but will it win?‘. The silence was exactly the response he was hoping for.
He turned around to face them with a big smile, and everyone broke out in laughter and back slaps. Miranda came over and stood next to him, her hand on his waist. Before he knew it several camera flashes went off, capturing their shared gaze for all time. Glen’s booming voice interrupted the moment. ‘Okay boss, gotta get this rig ready. Fifteen minutes to warmup.‘ he said, prompting Rod to dismount. Two technicians were on the bike in seconds, with Pete alongside ready to plug in the laptop. Rod walked back to get the rest of his gear, with Miranda in tow. He sat down and pulled on his riding boots while she wiped the inside of his helmet with the disinfectant/deodorizer he used. She handed him the Shoei, watching as he carefully checked the visor stays and the connectors for the HUD. Glen had rolled the bike out to the pit lane, setting it up to be ready to fire.
They heard the five minute horn, and shortly afterward the sound of several MT triples sizzled in the morning air. She leaned close, taking his head in her hands to get her face close to his ear. ‘Kick their butts baby.‘ she whispered, giving his ear a soft kiss. She recognized the look on his face as he pushed himself into the Zone, and held his gloves for him as he pulled on the helmet. The two of them walked out to the bike, Glen blipping the throttle while watching the indicators on the digital display. Rod turned to her, their eyes meeting, and gave her a wink, taking the gloves and pulling them on. Then he turned to the bike, getting into position on the left side to wait for Glen’s signal. He knew Miranda was standing there; but just as he was about to look up at her, Glen gave him the signal and he went into autopilot, taking the grips from his crew chief and mounting up. He felt her hand on his back, then slipped the bike into first and rolled off the stand. Time to go to work.
She watched her man maneuver the machine down the pit lane and said a silent prayer. That he would be safe. That he would be good. And that he would kick their butts. She heard the howl of the bike as he rode up the hill, and went back to find Rando and Pete, to join them trackside for the session.
Rod felt good, the bike felt good, they’d been working every day for a month for this day. He was ready. He warmed up the tires, scuffing the mold compound off to the edges, just as they’d planned. He would bring the bike in after five laps and they’d mount up a set of two-eighties and he’d scuff those. Another five laps. Another stop to mount the set he would start the race with. He might only get two or three laps on them, so he had to make those laps count. His third flying lap on the two-forty’s was quick, almost too quick, and he backed off to let the tires cool slowly, pulling in to the pits and stepping off as Glen took the bars. He watched the technicians work efficiently, swapping the wheels at both ends of the bike in less than twenty seconds as Pete offloaded the DACS system with a USB gadget, just as he would do during the race. Twenty four seconds after the bike rolled to a stop, Rod was again aboard and rolling.
Sergio watched the session carefully, knowing he was ready for the race. It caught his attention that Rod had gone out, gotten down to a very quick time in just three laps, then came in and changed the tires. His crew chief joined him at the observers station. ‘He’s smart, that one.‘ he said. ‘and quite serious about this race.‘
‘I like him.‘ Sergio said, slapping his crew chief on the back as he stood up. ‘Get my bike ready, I need more laps to be ready.‘ With that he walked back into his stall and pulled on his gear. As he walked up to the bike he leaned close to his chief. ‘And get another set of tires mounted. We’ll be making two stops in the race.‘
Rod sensed the laziness of the harder compound, allowing the chassis to move significantly more than the softer tires did; but they were the same tires he’d set his fast time on. The two-forty’s were just that much better. Again his third flying lap was a good one, a high thirty-nine, and again he backed off to let them cool gradually and pulled into the pits. The team again made quick work of the tire change and data dump and sent him out for the last few laps of the session. A glance at the clock told him he would have just one flying lap, and put his head down to make it count. He knew the price he would pay if he launched on lap one with raw tires. The bike was very loose on that second lap; but nothing he could not reign in. The lap was a mid-forty-one, a half-second quicker than the second lap in the previous session. This time he tested the edges on both sides before rolling into the paddock stall. Glen took the bike as Rod dismounted, pulling off his gloves and helmet as he looked around for Pete and his data.
‘Hey boss. How’d it feel?‘ Pete asked.
‘Oh it was fine. Looking forward to the last stint on those forty’s, that’s for sure. The bike loved ’em, even with the same settings everywhere.‘ Rod replied, giving Miranda a wink when he noticed her standing behind Pete.
Rando spoke up. ‘Sergio is worried now. He saw what we were doing and went out again, had his chief order another set of tires. He’s definitely concerned.‘
‘He should be.‘ Miranda said, walking over to Rod. ‘Signor Chiatarini’s assistant called, they want some PR shots of you and that bike for the newsletter.‘ she said. ‘Before the race.‘ she added. Just as she said that the photographer appeared in the pit lane, camera at the ready.
Rod looked at Glen, who rolled his eyes; but moved the bike out into the sun. The photographer told Rod he wanted the helmet in the shot; but not on his head. A few minutes later the photo session was finished and the bike was rolled back into the shade. ‘Thanks babe. It’s important to the Monsignor. He wants your handsome face in front of everyone.‘ she added.
The public address system chimed. ‘Thirty minutes to pre-grid.‘ came the announcement.
Miranda walked over to Rod and whispered ‘Time to get in the zone baby. I’ll be here all day.‘ Then she brushed her fingers lightly across the back of his neck and headed for the back of the stall to check on Pete and Rando. The touch had sent a pleasant shiver down Rod’s spine; but it gave him an extra incentive to be ready.
The standard procedure for Mosini events was that pre-grid was established in the pit lane with all bikes being fired, then a single ‘formation’ lap at the end of which they positioned themselves on the starting grid. Glen had the tire warmers on, bringing the rubber up to a temperature that would work on the first laps. The oil warmer was installed, the display reading a steady eighty degrees celsius. Rod was aboard the bike, focussing as he always did before an event, when he heard the Monsignor’s voice behind him.
‘Rodney, I do not wish to interrupt your focus, only to bid you best of luck in ze race.‘ he said. ‘I am hoping we have another reason to celebrate this afternoon. And I am very happy to see Ms. Chiou is doing such a good thing for you.‘ he added.
‘Thank you sir. I will do my best to put on a good show for everyone.‘ Rod replied, returning quickly to his solitude. He barely heard Glen’s announcement ‘Fifteen minutes. Time to roll out and do final checks boss.‘ The bike was on rolling paddock stands, and they were able to move it with Rod aboard out to the pit lane. He dismounted to give the technicians the access they needed, and closed his eyes.
‘Helmet and gloves sir.‘ he heard her voice and felt the helmet brush against his hands. He took it from her, appreciating the light touch. ‘Kick ass baby.‘ she added, leaving him quietly. She was learning quickly.
‘First call for pre-grid. All riders to your machines. First call for pre-grid.‘ came the PA announcement.
Rod made his usual check of the Shoei, then pulled it on and tugged the D-Ring tight. Gloves were last before he gave Glen the nod. Tire warmers were pulled, then the oil pre-warmer was removed and the cover tightened. Pete came over with the DACS pre-load gadget and plugged it in, watching the status LED flash as the fresh code was uploaded. When the green LED came on and remained on he disconnected the gadget, replaced the socket cover, and nodded to Glen.
It was the most nerve-wracking time for Rod. Now all he could do was wait, and hope there were no delays once the pre-fire lists were complete. What seemed like an hour but was only a few minutes passed before the announcement came. ‘Machine start – final call for pre-grid. Machine start.‘ The air sizzled with the sound of thirty crackling cylinders as all ten bikes were fired. Rod closed his eyes one final time, then as he opened them he saw Miranda’s smiling face. Glen nodded and he took the grips and threw his leg over the bike, waiting for Pete to hookup the quick-disconnect for his data sensors. Pete waited for the green ‘synch’ indicator to light before putting both hands up and giving Glen the nod. The stand was removed and Rod was ready. A few seconds later the green light came on and they rolled out onto the course, all of them weaving to get some extra heat in the tires.
As he rolled up to his start box and stopped the front tire at its center, Rod closed his eyes and visualized the entrance to turn one on that first lap, the track clear in front of him after the perfect launch. He could hear the bike of Sergio Mandini next to him and a meter behind, to his right was Anton Veta. Behind them on the second row were Pablo Senna, Max Bertinnelli and Scott McPherson. They were the fast guys, the riders with whom the real battles would be fought. The final horn sounded and the grid was cleared. It was time.
Rod’s peripheral vision caught the first of the starting lights, then let the additional lights register as he built up the starting line reflex. As the lights began to go out he went to full throttle and let out the clutch, launching the bike toward the turn-in point for Paddock Bend. He could see the nose of Anton’s bike, and knew the lad had either gotten a brilliant start or perhaps had even launched early. That wouldn’t matter this time, as there was no penalty as there would be in a sanctioned event. Either way, Anton would be first going into Paddock. Rod touched the brakes, pitching the machine into the first corner with Veta in front by barely a wheel and Sergio trying to make a move to his right. The bike squirmed on the fresh tires as he pulled it to the right into turn 2, the first part of Rapture. A momentary release as Veta slid the rear ahead of him, but Mandini didn’t have a place to put a wheel inside him and followed Rod into the corner. The ten bike train gracefully swooped up the hill through Rapture and onto the Beacon straight for the first time. The race was on.
Miranda joined Pete and Rando at the observation post next to the fence, lifting her binoculars to catch the pack as they raced through the Ess and into the Carousel. The sky blue/sea green scheme was easy to discern even from a distance. Rod was in second spot behind what looked like Anton Veta, with Sergio behind him and Scott in hot pursuit. She lost sight of them as they went into the Dive, and couldn’t see them again except for a brief moment at the exit of Big Bend. The order remained the same at that point, and she settled back to watch. ‘So it’ll be roughly thirty-five minutes before he comes in for tires, right?‘ she asked.
‘Uh… right, roughly thirty-five. Rod has a transponder, and will send us a heads-up the lap before he wants to bring her in.‘ Rando replied. ‘If his tires are still good he may stay out an extra lap or two, and if they’re getting greasy he might come in sooner. We just need to be on our toes.‘ he added. The pack howled by at the end of the first lap, the order unchanged at the front with Veta leading from Rod, Sergio, Scott McPherson and Senna, with Natsuka moving up to sixth from Kevin Leek at the end of the Center straight. Rando watched the lap time stream as it registered the times. Veta had run a forty-eight from a standing start, an exceptionally quick first lap. ‘They’re on a pretty hot pace at the moment. We should be ready on lap 19, just in case.‘ he said to nobody in particular.
Rod was comfortable in second for the moment, letting Anton take the point and determine the pace. Leading the first lap wasn’t important when there were fifty-four to go and two pit stops. The bike was working well, certainly better than Veta’s machine. The Italian ace had his hands full every time he opened the throttle, the rear of the bike wanting to overtake the front as they exited every slow corner while the front seemed to wander in the faster stuff. He caught the front of Sergio’s bike sneaking inside as they began the turn-in to the Carousel, and Rod eased up to let him by. Sergio and Anton can wear themselves out playing war games at this point. I’ll be happy to watch he thought, taking a quick look behind to find Scott fending off Pablo behind him a few lengths. No threat at this point. He watched Sergio set Anton up as they all roared down the Dive, moving outside to take a very late apex in 8 so he got a better drive into Double Ups, passing on the inside of turn 9. He stayed with them, a half-length off of Anton’s tail as they wailed through Big Bend and onto Center again. Anton’s bike wiggled through the dog leg, and he lost a tenth to Sergio on the brakes into Vineyard. Rod had to take care not to collect his tail at the apex, then pulled hard into the right hander to dive under Veta who was running wide. Didn’t expect the ace to make that mistake!
‘Whoa! Serg just ran a thirty-nine seventy!‘ Rando called out. ‘Looks like Veta may have held up Rod. He was at a forty point two that lap.‘ he added.
‘Well, we better hope they slow it down a bit or everyone’s tires will be toast by lap eighteen.‘ Pete exclaimed. ‘Rod ran five consecutive thirty-nine sixty’s yesterday, and the tires were pretty whipped. Fifteen of those and they’d be shredded.‘
‘Okay guys, so what does that mean?‘ Miranda asked.
Rando was enjoying her questions, it showed her interest in the project, and in their future as a team. ‘Okay, well the tires that we are running – and we’re assuming Sergio and the others are as well – have a finite life that depends on a number of variables. Track temperature is one, how fast they are riding is one, how well the bike is setup is another. We know from the data we already have that these tires will run – say – twenty five laps if the lap times are a minute, forty-two seconds at the current track temperature on our bike with Rod doing the riding. If the lap times go down to a minute forty the tires will go perhaps twenty two laps. If the lap times are below that the tires will suffer serious performance degradation after about eighteen laps because they will be too hot. They’ll get greasy and the bike will slide around.‘ he explained.
Pete laughed. ‘Yeah, the bike will slide around A LOT.‘
Miranda looked worried.
‘We discussed a strategy based on the assumptions that track temperature would be about the same as yesterday and that the race pace would be in the forty-two’s. But the temperature is four or five degrees warmer, and the pace – at least right now – is in the thirty-nine’s.‘ Rando said. ‘It isn’t anything to worry about; because unless I miss my guess, Sergio is hoping to break away from the field with these hot laps, then be able to settle into a more reasonable pace to keep from overworking his tires. Either that, or he has softer tires than we do at the moment. We’ll know if he comes in for new ones before lap fifteen.‘ he continued.
‘Okay. I understand perfectly.‘ Miranda said, lifting her binoculars to catch the pack as they peeled into the Carousel. Rod had pulled to within a bike length of Sergio, and the two of them had gained about five lengths on Veta who had Scott breathing down his neck now. She zoomed in and watched Rod’s lithe form as he moved on the bike, amazed at how much the motorcycle seemed to move around at speed. At the end of the lap you could have thrown a blanket over the two bikes as they flew past the timing station.
‘Thirty-nine seventy for Sergio, thirty-nine thirty-five for Rod.‘ Rando announced. ‘I would bet that Rod will keep the pressure on Sergio because he believes the old man has sticky tires and he wants him to wear them out. If he runs thirty-nines for ten more laps and Sergio has to come in, Rod will still be able to stay on our twenty-one lap schedule.‘ he added with a chuckle.
‘Yeah, and then Sergio is Ess-Ohh-Ell at the end when we put on the stickys.‘ Pete said.
‘Woohooo!’ Miranda howled, getting into it now. ‘Be right back’ she told them, running across the pit lane to find Glen. ‘So… I’d like to have a job to do when Rod comes in.‘ she told him eagerly.
Glen smiled. ‘Done. That cooler over there has the juice Rod wants to drink. Pull out two before he gets here, open one and be ready to hand it to him as soon as he’s off the bike.‘ Glen told her. ‘He’ll love you for it.‘ he added with a smile.
‘Okay, I can do that!‘ Miranda replied, turning to head back to the fence. She stopped and turned around. ‘Thanks Glen.‘ she said. She heard the pack shriek past again, having spread out further than the previous lap. Five laps in now.
‘OH YEAH!!!!‘ Pete howled as Rod dove under Sergio going into Paddock.
‘Thirty-nine sixty for Sergio, thirty-nine fifteen for Rod.‘ Rando reported.
‘Heh-heh, he’s gonna give Sergio a ride now, just watch.‘ Pete laughed. ‘Sergio can run thirty-nine flat; but not for another ten laps straight I’ll bet.‘
The next five laps were fast. Very low thirty-nines for both men, and the pack was now twelve seconds behind with Natsuga having moved up to take third ahead of Pablo Senna and Scott. While Sergio could gain a wheel here or there, he wasn’t able to make anything stick, and finally settled in to run Rod’s pace behind him.
Pete had his binoculars up, and was watching carefully as they made the transition from right to left in Rapture. ‘Rod’s moving around more than Sergio, so I would bet Sergio has sticky’s on his bike.‘ he said, turning around to scan the activity at Sergio’s paddock. As he suspected, they were preparing for a stop. ‘Bingo.‘ he said happily, pointing back. Rando and Miranda both looked and smiled at the same time.
‘Yeah baby. Run his tires off his bike!‘ Miranda hooted. She didn’t need her binoculars to see that Sergio had made a move past Rod going into the Carousel; but it didn’t matter at this point. Sergio made two more laps before pulling in to change tires and refuel, leaving Rod alone with more than fifteen seconds on a good battle between Yukio, Pablo and Scott.
Pete discretely timed the pit stop, catching it at thirty-seven seconds from stop to start. It was okay; but nothing their crew couldn’t do without breaking a sweat. ‘I love it when things go well.‘ he said. He knew Rod would pull it back now, running forty-one’s until his stop.
Rod consciously moved his focus to one of consistent laps – but a controlled pace rather than going for outright speed. His reflexes kept the speed just short of sliding, using every inch of pavement and taking the most efficient line. His next lap was a forty point three, a bit quicker than he wanted. He took just a hint of aggression out of his turn-in, and was at forty-one fifty within two laps. The next three were within a few hundredths, and the tires were just beginning to squirm. He reached up with his thumb and pressed the ‘pit’ button, sending a signal via the transponder that he would be coming in next time around.
‘PIT STOP‘ Rando called, standing quickly and turning to make sure the pit lane was clear before running across to the their paddock stall with Pete and Miranda in tow. Glen had the technicians in motion already, pulling the warmers off the next set of tires and grabbing the stands. Miranda went to the cooler, following Glen’s instructions by pulling out two bottles and opening just one. She stood out of the way and waited. Pete fished in his pocket and pulled out the ‘S1’ gadget, ready to pull the data and reset the DACS cache.
A minute later Rando called ‘HEADS UP‘ as Rod wheeled the bike into pit lane, stopping right on the mark as he hit the kill button. In the same motion he released the bars to Glen and swung his leg over the bike as the technicians positioned the stands and raised the wheels off the ground. Miranda handed him the bottle and gave him a wink. Pete plugged in the USB gadget, watching the transfer indicator as the wheels were changed. As soon as Pete unplugged and backed away the fuel can was plugged into the quickfill. Rod handed the empty bottle to Miranda as the front stand was pulled and Glen took the bars. A quick nod and Rod took the bars, mounting the bike and pushing the starter at the same time. The engine fired and he gave a quick glance to make sure the lane was clear before letting out the clutch. It had been a twenty-nine second stop. Good enough to keep the lead as he rolled out onto the course.
Pete and Miranda followed Rando across to the fence and took up station, Miranda finding Rod on the course and following his bike until it disappeared into the Dive. Rando went back to monitoring the lap time feeds. ‘Sergio is now running forty ones, as expected.‘ he reported. ‘He’s…. about six seconds behind Rod at the T2 marker.‘ he added. Behind them Natsuga and Senna rolled in for their first tire stops, showing that they were also using a two stop strategy. It was a surprise that Scott had not come in; but he had fallen back from the lead pack by several seconds, and was now running forty-fours. The picture was becoming clear, and now they simply waited as bikes circulated at a pace controlled by the riders and their tire selections. Yukio and Pablo left their stalls in much the same position as they had arrived. Thirty-five seconds plus or minus for their stops.
Miranda took a look up into the stands, where a good four hundred people were enjoying the race. She found a small group clad in VR-1 colors, the folks from the design team, and waved. She recognized Julia and Chaz when they waved back, giving her the thumbs up. So far, so good.
With the race nearing the mid-point, there were bikes all around the track. Rod put his focus to work, running laps at a minute forty-one seconds, plus or minus a tenth or two. The other riders didn’t pose much of a problem as the flag stands were manned by seasoned veterans of the SBK and MotoGP series, who were doing a good job of letting riders know when an overtake was imminent. He had seen the pit board letting him know he had five seconds and change on Sergio, and the gap was increasing by a half-second or so with each lap. The veteran seemed to have a little more trouble with lapped riders; but Rod knew that.
Jan Kitterman and Giancarlo Selantini watched the race with more than a passing interest. As head of Racing Programs for MT, Carlo had the ultimate responsibility for the new project, and had never seen Signor Ehrlmeir in action before this day. It bolstered his opinion of the man to witness first hand his skills at the controls of a machine. From their vantage point in the central control tower there was only one area of the track they could not see; but the bikes were only out of sight for a matter of seconds down in the ‘hole’ where the Vineyard Hairpin was located. They had a high resolution computer monitor with a configurable display to show them a broad variety of information, including a dynamic track map showing every machine location as they circulated in real time.
‘Rodney certainly has a skillset on the bike, eh?‘ Jan offered, setting up the video camera control to follow Rod around the track. The camera was mounted atop a tower above their position, and was programmed to automatically detect a bike/rider selected by the user, then pan and zoom to follow that selection until the user changed the program. They had a high-definition display separate from the data monitor to view the camera’s shot. There was a second camera and display; but it was down for maintenance. ‘Too bad we can’t compare two riders in real time.‘ Jan said to nobody in particular.
Carlo reached across Jan’s position and pressed a control on the video station, watching the display to wait for Rod to reach the timing station, then pressed a second control as he did so. He smiled at Jan. ‘We can record a few laps of Rod, then change the rider selection and record a few laps of another bike. If we desire, we can then watch them in split-screen mode to compare the two.‘ Carlo said.
‘Excellent!‘ Jan replied, always eager to learn new technology available to his VR team.
‘The most amazing thing to me is his absolute control of his pace. At the beginning of the race during the first stint he pushed past Mandini, then ran five consecutive laps within a tenth of a second, and quick enough to keep Sergio behind him. After his opponent stopped for tires, he slowed down and maintained a pace two seconds slower for another five consecutive laps until he also pitted. Since that stop he has been running that same pace, keeping his closest opponent at bay. Only the best have that kind of perception and control. Only the very best.‘ Carlo said.
‘Indeed.‘ Jan responded, in the only way he could in that moment. ‘It is good to know he has those skills in addition to his vision about racing motorcycles.‘
‘So my friend, how is the project going?‘ Carlo asked.
‘Very well sir. The primary concern at this point in the schedule is the DACS modeling and simulation development. We have the powerplant and chassis design under control and on schedule; but those are concepts we all understand well. This whole idea about sensors and models and simulations is new to most of us, so it’s more difficult to tell. Peter tells us he is ahead of schedule, and I suspect they have been using some elements of the system in preparing Rodney’s motorbike for this race.‘ Jan replied.
‘Mmmm… that might explain some of the advantage he seems to have.‘ Carlo said.
‘My understanding of the system is that one of its contributions – perhaps the most significant – is that it allows the team to make the bike easier to ride. That suggests that the rider might be able to post more consistent times I think.‘ Jan responded.
Carlo reached over Jan’s position again, watching the video display to stop it at the end of Rod’s current lap. He pressed the ‘program/select’ control and used the joystick to find Sergio a few seconds behind. Then he pressed the ‘select’ button atop the joystick followed by the ‘record’ function. ‘Now we’ll save a few laps of Mandini for comparison.‘ he said.
‘I see on the data that Mandini’s laps vary by more than three tenths, lap-to-lap, while Ehrlmeir’s variation is less than two tenths, closer to one.‘ Jan observed. ‘It certainly suggests that either Rod is a better rider or his bike is easier to ride.‘ he added.
‘Or some of each, I would think. I can’t imagine he’s a better rider than a three-time world champion; but I guess he has a couple of titles as well, eh?‘ Carlo responded. ‘But I guess it is Rodney who has the lap record for the superbike now.‘
‘Yes, and it was on a mid-level tire. I suspect there’s another second or more to be gained with better tires.‘ Jan suggested.
Riders on a one stop strategy were arriving in the pit lane for tire changes and refueling, with Kevin Leek and Mat Ambrose nearly collecting each other when they both tried to leave at the same moment. Scott McPherson’s bike went silent in the middle of Big Bend and he coasted onto the pit entry, having to jump off and push his bike to his stall. Ricky Barton and Max Bertinnelli slid around for two laps, finally arriving in the pits with their tires shredded. As Rando had suspected, a one stop plan was not a good one.
‘Look at those tires.‘ Rando exclaimed, pointing to the tires that had just come off of Ricky’s machine. ‘Man, no wonder the kid was sliding around so much. Sure glad we decided against a one stopper!‘
‘And his best lap was a forty-two twenty. Imagine if Rod had tried that, running thirty-nines early on.‘ Pete replied.
The ‘pit’ warning lit up on Rando’s display. ‘PIT STOP‘ he exclaimed, whirling around to check the pit lane before rushing across to their stall. Pete and Miranda followed, each with their own tasks to perform. As before, the technicians and crew chief had the tires, stands, and fuel rig at the ready as Rod rolled into place. Glen had the bars as Rod jumped off the bike and the technician slipped the rear stand under the axle. Miranda handed Rod the bottle as Pete pulled the DACS data. This time there was no green light indicating a successful reset, and Pete was initially baffled. He backed away to let the fueler add gas, and hustled to his workbench to grab the DACS laptop.
The reset failure had locked the ECU, preventing them from firing the bike as the servicing of tires and fuel concluded. DAMN thought Pete as he went through the steps to revive the ECU. He reached the bike and quickly plugged in the control cable, holding the laptop with one hand as the other typed commands. Come on… COME ON… he challenged the computers. Finally there was synchronization between the processors, and a few seconds later he pulled the cable and nodded to Glen. The triple came to life and Rod swiftly climbed aboard, taking the grips from the chief as the rear stand was dropped. He left the pit stall, having lost more than twelve seconds with the glitch. Sergio had gone by, and would know he was in the lead.
‘What happened?‘ Glen asked, shaking his head. ‘Damned gadgets anyway!‘
‘Dunno yet man, I’ll tell you as soon as I figure it out.‘ Pete replied, knowing the heat would be on for him to find the problem. ‘The short version is that the data dump ended; but the DACS reset didn’t finish successfully, which puts the ECU in a stalled state. Bike won’t run if the ECU isn’t running.‘ he clarified, taking the laptop with him to join Rando and Miranda at the fence.
‘Well, now we’ll see if Rod has enough to catch the man.‘ Rando said, watching a running timer. ‘Sergio has almost eight seconds on him now. Twelve laps to go.‘ he added. Forty seconds later Sergio flashed by the timing station. ‘Forty point zero-two‘ Rando reported. Rod flashed by as well; but it wasn’t a flying lap.
Miranda was a little disheartened at the setback; but was eager to watch her man fight for the win. ‘So Rod needs to go an average of – like – three-quarters of a second per lap faster than Sergio?‘ she asked.
‘Um… yeah, roughly, although he’d better be quicker than that if we wants to catch Sergio with enough time to pass.‘ Rando replied. ‘Catching another rider is one thing, passing is quite another. If anyone can do it, Rod can.‘
‘And we’re on the sticky tires now, right?‘ she queried.
‘Yup. He should be able to run thirty-eights the rest of the race if he needs to.‘ Rando replied.
Pete was in his own personal ‘zone’ now, digging into the logs from the USB gadget, the DACS logs which had been downloaded by the laptop, and the system logs from the DACS control processors. He was disappointed in himself when he found the problem. ‘FUCK!‘ he exlaimed, glancing up to see Rando giving him the eye. ‘Oh… sorry… pardon my French please.‘
‘So what did you find, brother?‘ Rando asked.
‘A god damn bug in my own code, that’s what I found.‘ Pete replied. ‘Turns out there was a set of conditions that could occur – and did this time – that would stall the state machine in the DACS download process. And when that happens, the reset process doesn’t even try to run, and the ECU at that point is in a non-productive state as well.‘ he explained. He brought up his bug tracker and logged the problem – and it’s cause and solution – in the system. ‘Gotta find out if anyone else had the problem…‘ he mumbled, closing the laptop and heading down the pit lane to check with the other crew chiefs.
‘Poor guy. Is he always this hard on himself?‘ Miranda asked.
Rando smiled. ‘Well yes. If this were a championship race at the end of a season and the difference between first and second place in the race also determined the title….‘
‘I get it. Okay. So it could have been a big deal.‘ she acknowledged.
Sergio flashed by again, this time getting the pit signal about Rod’s setback. ‘Another forty-flat for Sergio.‘ Rando reported. Rod flew by, hard on the binders for Paddock, backing the bike into the turn in perfect control. ‘Forty point zero for Rod, first flying lap.‘ Rando exclaimed. ‘It is freakin’ ON now kids. Hang on! Ten laps to go!’
‘WOOOHOOOO!‘ Miranda howled, standing at the fence with her binoculars pressed to her eyes. She heard the noise from the grandstand and looked around. Three hundred people on their feet watching the same spectacle she was watching, all of them as excited as she was. She went back to the binoculars, finding her man as he went through the Carousel then disappeared into the Dive. She moved her finder over to Big Bend, found Sergio, caught a marker, then counted. One one thousand… nine one thousand and Rod flashed past the marker. She knew it didn’t mean anything; but it made her think Rod was catching Sergio.
Rando scanned the timing summary page, noting that of all of the competitors, the only guys to run laps of one-forty or better were Rod, Sergio, Pablo, Anton, and Yukio. Even Scott had not broken that barrier. It would make for some interesting conversations later. Sergio howled past again and Rando watched the streamer. ‘Thirty-nine seventy for Sergio.‘ he exclaimed. Rod followed, his head well and truly down in the chase. ‘Thirty-EIGHT eighty for Rod!‘ he added.
‘First thirty-eight of the day, huh?‘ Miranda observed.
‘Yup. He’ll get faster too, that was just his second flyer.‘ Rando told her.
A few minutes later Pete returned, his face a bit less ashen. ‘Nobody else.‘ he told them. ‘So what’s happening out there?‘
‘The boss was a second faster on the last lap. Nine to go.‘ Rando reported.
Sergio knew he would have to dig deep to stay ahead of Signor Ehrlmeir on this day. He guessed that Rod and his crew had chosen to put the sticky tires on for the last stint, where he and his chief had decided to run them first, attempting to make a break on the field before stopping the first time. They had failed to account for Rod’s apparent ability to run quickly on the harder compound, even with the track temperatures warmer than the previous sessions. Nine more laps, and he would have to make them the fastest nine laps he’d ever run at Circuit Mosini.
Rod was focussed on speed now, digging every bit of traction and momentum from his machine. He didn’t know what had caused the glitch; but had every confidence Pete would get to the bottom of it. What mattered now was catching – and passing – Sergio Mandini. Mandini, acknowledged by most as the Mosini Master, would not give up the lead easily. Rod knew he could catch the other machine, if for no other reason than he had faster tires. But he had to arrive on Sergio’s tail with enough tires left to execute a pass and make it stick. His reflexes anticipated the slide in the middle of the Carousel and was ready when it happened. All the way to white paint in the Dive, he could feel the TCU fighting to maintain traction. Through Double Ups and around to Big Bend, rolling the throttle on to increase speed all the way through the broadest of the corners. Two hundred five kph at the exit marker, then the bike just touched the limiter at the end of Center as he trail-braked into Vineyard. Fast was good.
‘Thirty-nine forty for Sergio.‘ Rando told them. ‘and THIRTY EIGHT OH FOUR for Rod!‘ he exclaimed. ‘Nine seconds gap, eight laps to go.‘
‘New lap record; but I suspect it’ll get better.‘ Pete suggested. ‘The sims said he could go mid-thirty-sevens on these tires, so we’ll see how close he gets.‘
The next five laps were brutal:
Lap # Sergio Mandini Rod Ehrlmeir Gap
47 1:39.33 1:37.81 7.6 sec.
48 1:39.10 1:37.74 6.25 sec.
49 1:39.45 1:37.72 4.56 sec.
50 1:39.37 1:37.66 2.93 sec.
51 1:39.29 1:37.71 1.35 sec.
Rod had Sergio in his sights. He would catch him in less than a lap, and had to formulate his passing tactics. Where he would make his move would make the difference between passing only to be repassed and making the overtake stick. He decided to hold back until the exit of Big Bend on their next lap. He knew the tires would give him an advantage in exit speed, and if he timed it right he could make the pass with enough of a run to get into Vineyard at the front. He focussed now on keeping the gap as constant as he could, around a half second, so as not to give his opponent too much information. That gap he could close very quickly when the time came. He saw Sergio’s eyes as he gave a quick look behind him. Okay, he knows I’m here now.
Sergio didn’t know what the problem had been; but it clearly wasn’t slowing Rod down now. He would have to put everything he knew into the next three laps if he was to win, and his tires were beginning to show signs of his efforts. He could only hope that Rod’s tires were also near the end of their traction life; but could not count on that. He began using a more defensive line, staying lower than was optimal for speed to prevent his opponent from diving under him. It was only a basic tactic, one he knew Rod had encountered many times, and one he would be able to defeat. Most competitors used a tactic in which they would use an opponent’s slipstream to gain speed on a straightaway, then pull out at the last instant before braking and pass going in to a corner on the brakes. Sergio gave his best in Big Bend, holding the bike tight at the apex and rolling the throttle on until the bike squirmed and began drifting to the outside edge of the course….
Rod knew Sergio wouldn’t expect a pass at the beginning of a straight, and intended to use that to his advantage. He inched closer as the two bikes exited Double Ups and rolled to the left into Big Bend, then wound the throttle just a bit harder at the apex, using his extra grip to gain on his mentor as they approached the exit. Just as Sergio began to rotate back to vertical at the exit, Rod pulled to the inside and ‘pulled the trigger’. His head down on the tank, he and the bike morphed into one cohesive unit and launched onto the three-hundred kph straight with a good five kph advantage over Sergio – an advantage he would retain the entire length of the straight. His reflexes adjusted to the extra speed as he flicked through the dog leg and put the tires at the edge of traction on the brakes. Sliding into Vineyard, he muscled the bike back to the right for turn 13, then got back on the gas for the Tower Bend and start/finish straight. He gave a quick glance back, and was relieved to find he had a few bike lengths lead. Now to retain the lead, defend his position, and win.
‘Rod’s in the lead!‘ Miranda shouted when she saw him emerge through Tower. ‘WOOOOOHOOOOOO GO BABY!!!!‘ she howled, shaking her fists in the air as he went by.
‘Thirty-seven fifty-four for Rod.‘ Rando reported. ‘Thirty-nine ninety for Sergio.‘ he added. ‘Two to go.‘
Sergio cursed himself for letting Rod get by so easily; but knew he could not have done anything about it. The man just had too large an advantage, and he was good. Sergio’s tires were near the end of their life now, the bike sliding in every corner as he struggled to keep pace, just in case there was an opening. Their strategy, while fundamentally sound, did not result in a late-race advantage.
Rod backed his pace down to one he estimated would be enough, pushing the envelope while maintaining a margin where he had none earlier. The bike responded as he knew it would, drifting perfectly around the sweeping Carousel and Big Bend curves. As he accelerated out of the Tower Bend he saw the white flag. The HUD showed a one thirty-eight point eight, and he took a quick look back. Sergio was a good seven lengths back. All he had to do now was make no mistakes for one more lap. He caught sight of another bike rolling into the second apex of turn 3 as he picked off the first apex. It looked like Max Bertinnelli, and his eyes followed the bright red machine as his reflexes maneuvered his own through the smooth curves of Rider’s Rapture. Accelerating onto Beacon Straight for the last time he took one last look back to find Sergio. No need to take chances now, and he backed down headed into the Carousel, following Max into the Dive while preparing to make his move in the same place he had overtaken Sergio. One more time he pulled the trigger at the exit of Big Bend and shot past Max with a sizable speed advantage onto Center Straight. A quick flick, hard on the binders, then backing it in to Vineyard he prepared for the finish line show.
Miranda was screaming at the top of her lungs as her man rounded the Tower Bend, lifting the front wheel in a celebration of victory as he crossed the finish line under the checkered flag. She felt a wave of satisfaction, joy, and pride that would stay with her for a very long time.
‘Well alrighty then.‘ said Rando, his usual reserved self. He rested a hand on Miranda’s shoulder and squeezed gently. ‘The boss did it sweetie.‘ he told her over the sound of the rest of the triples howling past them. She turned and gave him a big smile.
‘Yeah, we didn’t make it easy for him. He had to work for that one.‘ Pete added, still kicking himself.
Glen walked out to the threesome at the fence. ‘So Pete, what the hell happened?‘ he asked with a chuckle.
‘I put a bug in the code is what happened.‘ Pete replied, laughing. ‘Hell, I didn’t want him to have it easy. The man’s gotta prove he can ride, after all.‘
The cooldown lap took almost three minutes, and Rod rode up to the flag stand to grab the checkered flag for his victory lap. Everyone in the grandstand was on their feet, howling their appreciation for the show he and Sergio had put on. Rod waved, then tucked the flag into a safe spot and took his lap, waving to everyone he saw around the circuit before pulling into the pit lane. By the time he arrived at his stall there was a croud awaiting his arrival, including his crew, Miranda, and Sergio Mandini. He handed off the bike to Glen as usual and quickly pulled off his gloves and helmet. Miranda was first, and threw her arms around him as she showered his face with little kisses and told him how proud she was. Sergio had his characteristic smile as he held out his hand. Without letting go of Miranda he took it, accepting the show of respect from the master of Mosini. ‘You showed us today that you belong, meester Rod. Superb ride sir.‘ Sergio said, ‘Just superb.‘ Then he disappeared in the croud.
Rando handed him a bottle of champagne, and Rod walked out to the pit lane to ‘share’ it with everyone who was close enough for a shower. He carefully avoided Miranda, who just looked too good in that cute suit that matched his. The bubbly gone, he handed the bottle back to Rando and started toward the back of the stall. There would be a victory celebration up at the Veranda, and he needed to at least wipe the sweat and grime from his face before that. Miranda was on it, handing him a wet towel as they walked through the back door of the stall. He noticed she was watching him as he cooled off, giving her a wink and returning the smile she’d had since the last lap of the race. ‘We did it babe.‘ he told her. ‘We freakin’ did it!‘
‘I’m so damn proud of you Rod. What a race that was, especially the last ten laps.‘ she said, wiping the streaks he couldn’t see with a clean towel. They didn’t notice that Pete had joined them.
‘Yo boss, just wanted to apologize for the glitch.‘ Pete said.
‘Hey man, the important thing is we find out what happened and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.‘ Rod told him, clapping him on the shoulder.
‘It was a bug in my code that allowed the DACS download to stall before it got to the ECU reset. I promise it won’t happen again. I already fixed it.‘ Pete responded.
‘Good enough for me man. In the end it didn’t matter.‘ Rod suggested.
‘Yeah, because you can ride baby.‘ Miranda chimed in.
‘Oh I think more credit goes to the strategy. I wouldn’t have had that speed at the end if we’d been on the same tires as Sergio.‘ Rod said. ‘But Pete will be able to tell us that later. Let’s go up to the Veranda and have some fun.‘ Just as he said that one of the golf carts arrived with the Monsignor himself at the wheel.
‘Signor Ehrlmier, your taxi has arrived. Come wis me to your party!‘ he said, beeming from ear to ear. Pete quietly excused himself as Rod and Miranda hopped onto the cart. The crowd at the Veranda roared as they approached, the party well and truly underway.
‘It’s all for you baby. All for you, and you deserve it.‘ Miranda said, leaning close to plant a kiss on his cheek. She noticed the Monsignor’s admiring look and gave him a wink before the three of them stepped off the cart and into the crowd.
He’d had the accolades of crowds before; but this one meant something special to Rod. He was no longer an outsider. He was part of this legendary racing family. The Monsignor led them to the podium, letting the applause rise as hundreds of new fans acknowledged him. Then he held up his hands to quiet the roar and turned on the mike. ‘Friends and Family of MotoTechnikon, I am proud to present to you Signor Rod, inventor of our next champion motorbike and winner of today’s Mosini Match Race. Please make him feel at home.‘ he said, bringing another round of applause.
Monsignor Chiatarini motioned for him to step to the microphone, moving back to give him room. Rod moved to the podium and smiled, saying thank you in as many languages as he knew. When the applause subsided he spoke briefly. ‘Thank you so much for this wonderful reception. When I was searching for a company who could build my idea, the first to come forward was MotoTechnikon. In my discussions with potential partners, it was MotoTechnikon that impressed me, certainly for your technology; but mostly for your people. Great companies succeed because of great people, and you are truly great people. It is my privilege to be a part of your family. Today’s success was the result of far more than my efforts on the track. I must thank my partners Peter Salzberg and Randy Karlsen, without whom I would not be so fast, and also my assistant Miranda Chiou, without whom there would not be enough hours in the day.‘ Hoots, catcalls, whistles, and applause filled the air with an almost unbearable din. Miranda stepped close, putting her arm around Rod’s waist as she waved with her other hand.
The Monsignor leaned in, holding up a magnum of his finest. ‘Champagne for everyone on this fantastic day!‘ he shouted, pouring a two glasses for Rod and Miranda as the attendants walked around the crowd with trays of full glasses. The party would go on the remainder of the day, until finally the crowd began to disperse just after five. Miranda spirited Rod back to the villa, chatting with Pete and Rando while Rod showered. Then the four of them went into town for a relaxing meal by the sea. The evening ended somewhat later than normal for the group, but a good time was had by all.
Rod, Pete, and Rando were up and around by 7am, having a light breakfast courtesy of Denise and drinking their morning coffee. The day would begin with a debriefing of the race team members, with Glen and the chief technician joining them in the conference room adjoining Rod’s office. It was scheduled for 9am, and would last the rest of the morning. The three friends departed the villa on their bikes at 8:30, arriving at the center with plenty of time to prepare things for the meeting.
At nine sharp Glen and Giacomo (‘Jack’) arrived with notebooks in hand. Pete had printed out his data summary for all ten bikes and the four riders they’d hooked up. Rando had summary reports showing lap times. Everyone was in their seats as Rod walked in and called the meeting to order.
‘Good morning guys. The purpose of this meeting is to review the data and results from yesterday’s race meeting, and to discuss the relationships between that data and the testing we’ll be doing over the next couple of months in preparation for the final DACS specification. We need to have that ready before the end of the year.‘ Rod told them.
Jack was the first one to raise a question, one Rod had been expecting. ‘I understand the idea of collecting data for post-race analysis of the results; but I’m not clear on how this translates to pre-race setup. Can you clarify this for me?‘ he asked.
Rod nodded. ‘I think so Jack, and I’m glad you asked that particular question. I’ll use a couple of examples from this past weekend, then extend that to how we plan to use the system on the new bike.‘ he began. ‘On Saturday in practice we collected data which, as it turned out, showed us that the traction control system was interfering with optimal performance, specifically it was retarding the ignition when it did not need to do so. The parameters used to determine the threshold were simply not correct. These were the parameters supplied by the factory, by the way.‘ he continued, looking around to make sure there were no questions. ‘So we altered those parameters in the code for our bike, and ran simulations to see what changes we should expect in performance. They did show some increases in power; but I was not sure we should implement them as it seemed to me they would make the bike harder to ride.‘ Rod nodded to Pete to offer his insights.
Pete, with his added knowledge, chimed in. ‘Right. When I evaluated the data and the proposed changes, I found some subtle ways to soften the transitions without taking away the advantages of those changes. It looked to me – from the data – like the bike should then be easier to ride than it was before.‘
Jack nodded that he understood. ‘So you implimented the changes?‘
Rod picked it back up. ‘Yes, and once I was accustomed to the new feel I was able to easily run at a lap-record pace within a tenth of a second for many consecutive laps. The bike was much easier to ride, and was quicker than before as a result of the changes.‘ he told them.
Glen then added to the discussion. ‘I think the key is that it was simulations that we ran which enabled us to improve both the performance and the ridability of the machine. Is that right Rod?‘ he asked.
‘Yes, exactly.‘ Rod replied, continuing ‘and it was the ‘closed-loop’ aspect of the overall system that enabled those improvements. We saw the issue in data, made changes in software, simulated the results, refined the changes, re-ran the simulations, then implemented them and observed the desired results. During that process we also improved the accuracy of the simulations. Pete, you can expound on that one if you would please.‘
‘Right. What we attempted to do at first was to simulate how much of an improvement in performance we could get – what lap times we could expect to see – if we made the improvements to the bike. The result was – shall we say – out of line with what we knew to be possible, so we analyzed the simulation output to discover where the flaws were in the model. We found that the simulator was not adequately accounting for some of the limitations inherent in a real-world motorcycle, so it was projecting actions by the rider and bike which were not possible in the real world. I made some changes to the models to account for those realities and re-ran the simulator.‘ Pete said.
‘And how did that turn out?‘ Jack asked.
Glen responded ‘Rod ran within two hundredths of the simulated time.‘
Jack was amazed. ‘Sounds promising, and very complicated. How many sensors are gathering data, and what kind of data is being collected?‘
‘Another excellent question.‘ Rod replied. ‘In the system we are using on the Swallow, there are – I think – twenty-eight different sensors.‘ he looked to Pete for confirmation and got the nod. ‘There are engine sensors of course, reporting engine speed, throttle position, and various temperatures. Then there are two three-axis accelerometers, wheel speed sensors, fork and swingarm position and rate sensors, and several chassis stress sensors.‘ he added.
‘And this is just the test development platform.‘ Glen added.
‘Right’ Pete responded. ‘My current plan is for the VR-1 to encorporate more than a hundred sensors, including a couple of new ones specific to the VR-1 chassis. The VR-1 DACS processor will have four-times as many dedicated CPU’s than the one we are using now. We’ll have the second generation – with two CPU’s – in the Swallow test bikes in about two weeks.‘
The discussion continued along those same lines, including the race data review showing what was learned from that data. Rod was pleased that the participation level was so high, with both Glen and Jack offering valuable inputs into the testing process. After nearly three hours of discussion, Rod wrapped up the meeting. ‘Thanks everyone, this has been a most productive session. I’ll publish the minutes of this meeting later today, and you’ll all get a copy.‘
Rod had lunch sent up for himself, Rando and Pete so they could continue the discussion without interruption. Miranda joined them to take notes and provide another viewpoint. By the end of the day the team was ready for a break.