We thought things couldn't get much better after our first top 10 result at Schleiz... then along came the following weekend at Hořice. In between our back to back races, we spent the week at the Hořice paddock; a nice little campsite located alongside the track. Stefan took care of the bike, while Chris and I put a lot of time into lapping the circuit (by car and on foot). In the middle of the week we had a lovely day out in Prague, organised by local IRRC Superbike rider Pavel Tomecek.
Come Friday, the campsite/paddock now completely packed, we were all eager for the event to begin. After sign up and technical control, there was a rider presentation in the town center. A new experience for our team, and it was absolutely amazing. All supersport and superbike racers get to ride their bike down to the town, under police escort. We all set up along a square, and the many spectators can come say hi, take photos, and pick up a signed poster or two. Plus there's beer. I think I speak for all 3 of us when I say we loved every second of it. This is also where we met Tomáš, our brolly dolly (and pitlane translator) for the weekend.
Finally it was Saturday, and time for an early free practice ahead of 2 qualifying sessions. It rained overnight, meaning even though it was a hot day, the track was still wet. I decided to ask experienced Czech (and English speaking) rider Kamil Holán for some advice, and he said the part of the circuit that runs through town would dry very quickly, so I opted to run slicks instead of wets. Conditions obviously weren't ideal, but I learned a lot in those couple of laps, putting my studying of the track in a more real perspective.
The heat kept up throughout the day, and once it was time for our first qualifying session, the track was dry and scorching. I prepared extremely well for Hořice, as it is an incredibly difficult and unforgiving circuit. After experiencing a week full of unsolicited advice (turns out trees and buildings don't give, and white lines are slippery... who knew), the boys and I knew we'd surprise a lot of people this weekend. However, I was still extremely nervous to head out for my first real session. On track I kept my head cool, learned the circuit section by section, and put in 2 fast laps near the end. I also held on way too tight, and combined with the heat, this meant I nearly fell off the bike from exhaustion after I came back into the paddock 25 minutes later. Luckily ahead of Q2 I was able to relax, take a nap, and have some Czech miracle soup.
For the second qualifying session our plan was virtually the same – use the majority of the session to improve section by section, then put together a couple of fast laps. This time I'd also make sure to stay more relaxed and to keep breathing properly. Only I had a slight snag when my foot started hurting... I'd cut through the bottom of my boot with my footpeg, and then into my foot as I didn't want to give up any tracktime. Oops. Regardless - the session went very well. We qualified 20th, found some easy improvements in the data, I felt confident passing people, and I'd been able to borrow a fully intact boot from fellow competitor Juha Kallio. All ingredients for a promising race day. That night we had a blast taking in the famous Hořice atmosphere; the Czech TT truly is a special event.
Sunday morning the nerves were unreal. Where on Saturday we'd managed to fly under the radar, people had now figured out there was a girl racing superbikes, and it took all I had to stay focused with all these new eyes and cameras focused on me. The first race got underway and my start was horrible, so I wasn't too upset when someone crashed (rider OK) and the race was red flagged. On the restart I did well by my standards, so I was slightly upset when another person crashed (rider OK), and the race was red flagged again. The wait took a bit longer this time, forcing me to run into the paddock for a quick pee break.. Upon return to pitlane, I was greeted by cheers from the grandstand across the start finish straight, and a funny thing happened. The pressure I'd felt before from all of the new attention, turned more into a feeling of support.
The third start was the charm, and we had a 5 lap sprint race. My start was good, and after the first lap mayhem I rode to a group, then worked my way through it. My race ended in an epic last lap battle with David Datzer. We fought fair but didn't give each other an inch, which is rather exhilarating on a circuit like Hořice. I finished 13th (ahead of Datzi), and improved 3 seconds on my fastest lap from qualifying.
After this result, things got a little more crazy for us back in the paddock. A lot of spectators stopped by our awning to grab a poster and say hi or take a photo, someone even gave me a flower! It was mentally draining, but at the same time absolutely amazing. I made sure to be available for as many people as possible, before getting ready for race 2.
When it was time for the second race, the morning's nerves had made place for more of a determination. I wanted to return the favour for all the support, and make my new fans proud. My start was without a doubt the best one of my life; Stefan and Chris said I'd instantly passed a full row. By the end of lap 1, I'd climbed from 20th to 15th. From there I got to P13 with relative ease, but then had to work hard to reel in and find my way past the rider in 12th. When I did, we had another 4 laps (out of 10) left, and I was exhausted. Hořice is mentally very challenging, and the heat and humidity made it physically hard. However due to not having a pitboard this weekend, I had no way of knowing the gap behind me, and I had to keep going. Fueled by the crowd cheering me on all around the track, I managed to relax, find a rhythm, and still improve my laptime. My last lap was a 2:23.1, making me the fastest newcomer this year, top 15 all time fastest newcomer, and fastest woman (by miles) to ever race Hořice.
The cool down lap was simply indescribable; I can not thank the spectators and marshals enough for the atmosphere and their support. Halfway through, on a quiet bit of track, I felt such intense happiness and gratitude that I barely managed to fight off a couple tears. Back in the paddock I was first greeted by an equally happy Stefan and Chris, followed by a stream of new fans. By the time we finally got round to dinner, it was almost 2200. I was starving and beyond exhausted, but it was all worth it. Topping everything off was an invite by the mayor of Hořice, for a sort of honouring the next morning.
It's pretty safe to say that Hořice 2017 will forever remain (one of) our favourite ever race weekend(s). With the way the town embraced us, we now consider it our home round. Going from nobody, to receiving cheers from the grandstand louder than for the hometown race winner – in the span of 2 days... nothing will ever beat that experience. A true sign that our hard work is starting to pay off. I for one can't wait to find out what Frohburg will have in store!