The 4 week break in between rounds was a welcome one, as we were able to (finally) fix the exhaust, give the bike some proper love post Chimay mud bath (stoked to have new sponsor Vrooam on board – they made clean up a lot easier!), and finish up moving house with my parents. It was a hectic time though, and at the end of it we were all happy to be on the road for racing once again!
Our series got no free practice time this weekend, so we opted to book the Friday track day. Schleiz wasn't technically new for me, however the last time I rode there was on an R6 in 2012, so it might as well have been a completely new circuit. Though classed as a road race, Schleiz is more of a traditional short circuit, and the team and I wanted to make the most of my experience on this kind of track.
Friday was a trying day to say the least. For starters, crew chief Stefan still had work today, meaning it was just Chris and I at the track, and I had to do all work on the bike myself. Second, both of us got about 12-15 hours sleep combined in the previous 3 days. Between riding in the heat, learning the track, changing tires and brake pads, fueling the bike over and over... I was exhausted. Still I made the most of the tracktime, and was 25th fastest out of 250+ riders total. Later that night Stefan arrived (after his own set of travel issues), and the dream team was complete once again!
Qualifying on Saturday went well; I made sure to do as little as possible around our two sessions, to save my energy. I truly can't express how much it means to me to have a mechanic as good as Stefan on my side, it makes a huge difference as a rider when you have 0 worries about the bike. We ended up 18th on the grid – two whole rows ahead of our previous best position.
Raceday was HOT and windy, and went from incredibly low, to incredibly high. The disappointing race 1 I'll keep short... all riders around me made a jumpstart, I let them distract me, and made the worst start of my life. All the hard work for a good starting position went down the drain in an instant. After a lot of passes I still came across the line in 17th, but I still felt like I'd truly let my boys down.
Race 2 went a lot better - once it finally got underway. There'd been spots of rain leading up to our race, so even though there were only a handful of damp bits of track, it was declared a wet race (meaning no delayed start in case of rain). When we were on the grid however, a big dark cloud drifted over, and all of a sudden we were sitting in the pouring rain. Everyone had gridded up on slicks, and most riders went into pitlane to change wheels. My team and I were excited, as at this rate we'd be up for a top 5 position... except the organisation decided to delay the start after all. I was furious (in part courtesy of my pre workout, it's good stuff), as I saw my potential amazing result slipping away.
However, something amazing happened. The start kept getting delayed. The rain stopped. The sun was once again visible from behind the edge of that big dark cloud. Between this, the heat, the wind, and the circuit going over steep hills – I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this currently soaked track would dry out insanely fast. I decided to start on slicks. Chris was on board, and I'm fairly certain Stefan declared me for crazy - along with everyone but 1 other rider on the grid.
Directly after the start I took it slow; I'm comfortable on slicks in the wet, but it is still very easy to go over the limit. I dropped to dead last. After 2 laps, the track had a dry line almost all around (apart from a 2-3 meter section in the fast downhill part of the track, shaded by trees), and I was able to begin my comeback. I rode my heart out on this dry line, slid over the wet patch in the shade, managed to get all the way up to 10th position, and set the fastest lap of the race in the process. It was amazing, and I felt so happy seeing Stefan and Chris cheer me on from pit wall every lap.
This race was such a turning point for our first season in IRRC. I think we were finally able to show our future potential in this series. A top 10 meant we earned our first bit of prize money – ever! And last but not least, it seemed we'd finally earned the respect of the other riders. As most of us would go to Horice straight from Schleiz, we all stayed in the paddock that Sunday night and hung out. For the first time this year, we properly felt part of the IRRC family.