The second round of IRRC was all the way at Imatra in Finland. Meaning one hell of a road trip! For Chris and I that is, mechanic/crew chief Stefan got to fly in on Thursday. We started off on Monday with a 5 hour drive to fellow IRRC rider, Foti Psodimakis, as we were transporting his bike and gear to Imatra. We got a sub par night of sleep (jokes, we got virtually no sleep) at his place, which didn't quite start our 1400km drive to the ferry in Sweden off right. Still we made the most of it; shared a lot of laughs, fell in love with Sweden, found our new team mascot at a German petrol station, and stopped to appreciate the view a couple times.
Wednesday was a struggle. We got up early after a sad 3.5 hours of sleep, drove a short distance to the ferry, and then barely managed to survive on water, energy drink (possibly with vodka #dontjudge), crisps, and sweets until dinner time. The exhaustion was real, but in the end we made it to our hotel in Helsinki without issues (apart from them closing the sauna we'd been looking forward to all week right as we arrived), had a great night's sleep, and were merrily on our way to Imatra in the morning.
Once in the paddock on Thursday, Chris and I got all set up, and then waited for Stefan (and Foti) to arrive with the rental car. That's right, rental car. This weekend we also stayed in an amazing hotel at walking distance from the paddock (though shared one room between the three of us), and had dinner in restaurants instead of the regular microwave meals. Sometimes ya gotta live the dream.
Friday was free practice day, and in 3 sessions (newcomers practice, and an FP each for IRRC and Open SBK) I got increasingly comfortable at this special track. It has 2 very long straights (my top speed was 296km/h, which is pretty exhilarating), and a lot of extremely snappy bumps. This being my first real road race, it was a lot to take in and get used to, but man I smiled so hard after each session. In the evening we met up with the British wildcards for a drink, which provided its own weird form of entertainment, mainly on Saturday eve and Sunday morning. For follow up questions on this, please approach me or a team member in person.
Saturday was for qualifying, and at the end of the day, race 1 for IRRC. I still loved every second out on this track, all the while getting beat up by the bumps (I've never been so sore without crashing), but then we hit a snag in the form of the exhaust breaking. No welder in the paddock would touch it as it's made out of titanium, and Stefan had to MacGyver the (small) holes closed. It cost a bit of acceleration, but at least I was still able to race. I qualified 30th for IRRC, and was a little pissed off as I was just starting to proper click with this track when the exhaust went.
Race 1 that afternoon was red flagged after about 1.5 lap, due to a crash on a section with walls – and two others getting taken out by the original crasher's bike after it bounced off the wall. This happened 1 group ahead of the one I was in, and though barely, we all managed to steer around the fallen riders and bikes. Seeing this shook me up a little, because I may know for sure that I don't crash, but reality is another rider can make a mistake and I end up catapulted into a wall or tree if I can't avoid their bike. It took a lot of willpower for me to keep my freaked out subconscious under control until the restart, but as always when the red lights went out all was forgotten. I finished in 27th position.
On Sunday we had two races, Open SBK where I would start from 27th, and race 2 for IRRC Superbike where again I'd start from 30th. I rode like a different person this day, finally proper wrapping my head around the track and bumps. Sadly the power loss was also more significant, meaning I'd ride my heart out in the corners, only to get dropped on the straight. It was a little frustrating, and I really can't wait to come back next year to show my true potential.
The Open SBK race went well and ended even better for me, I'd gotten up to about P19 when on the last lap one of the guys further up front blew his engine at the end of the start finish straight. I happened to notice this on the big screen at the start of the straight, and knew to take it easy on the brakes for turn 1, but from then on it was back to racing. A few of the riders ahead assumed the race would be red flagged and they slowed down (assume makes an ass out of u and me, just saying). Allowing me to finish in 12th position!
IRRC race 2 was pretty great. I made a not super terrible start, picked off riders one by one in the first technical section, then nailed my exits as best I could and tucked in as if my life depended on it down the straights (1 hand on the tank while doing 290km/h is fun). I ended up leading a group of three, containing my arch nemesis (likes: dangerous passes and cutting the track – dislikes: finishing behind women). I wasn't able to open up a gap due to my bike running slow. I knew he would make the pass on the last lap, I knew where he would do it, and I knew he would either get past or crash into me and take both of us out. For this reason I let him through when he managed to get his front wheel next to me. I will forever be frustrated over this, but finishing 19th (and 12th for the points!!) beats getting taken out on the last lap. Again being the first woman to race this series had its pros and cons. Pros being the awesome fans who came by the awning for a chat over the weekend; thank you!
The weekend as a whole was amazing, we all loved the event, atmosphere, spectators, and beautiful views, and can't wait to be back next season. On our way home, Chris and I stopped for an evening in Göteborg (Sweden). We strolled around the city, went to a gig by Giobia, felt super welcome, and had the best night of sleep ever. The rest of the trip was kind of a shit show, but we'll always have Sweden.