When people talk about racing at Mosport, they may mention the elevation changes, the technical difficulty of Corner 5, or the speed of the track. What they fail to mention is the gut churning dizziness that overcomes you, about 30 minutes before you climb onto an unknown bike to ride out on an unknown track.|
When Andrea invited me to race with her endurance team at Mosport this year, it was the morning after my very first race at Shannonville. I’m not new to motorcycling, but I am new to racing and quite aware of my lack of speed. Since Andrea had watched me race, she was also aware of this fact. Up to this point, I had assumed that my Shannonville debut would also be my final race. Now, I had to think. Did I want to spend another 2 hours of my life analyzing each turn, testing myself against the track, while living totally in the moment? Hell, yes. I’ve always enjoyed wearing leather.
Six weeks later, I’m at the riders’ meeting at Mosport. I’ve walked the track with Andrea the night before, discussing lines and race strategy. There are just the two of us on the Dirty Girls team this year, so we’ll have lots of track time. I’m well aware that I will be passed continually by every other rider, but that’s not my big concern. Andrea has only one bike to race and I don’t want to negatively affect the rest of her weekend. I want to finish the race, rubber side down, so Andrea can compete in her scheduled heats and races. I’m feeling fairly ill by the time the riders’ meeting ends.
Back at the camping area, I change into my gear. Everything is packed together, so I don’t have to scramble to find earplugs, socks, or my riding glasses. I’m not talking to anyone – I need all my concentration not to throw up. The stakes feel much higher for a practice session at Mosport than they did for a race at Shannonville. At least at Shannonville I was familiar with the track and the bike, having completed a FAST course on there only a week earlier.
Suddenly, the announcer is telling us that the track is green, but empty. No endurance racers are out there. I find myself quickly climbing onto the already running NS250, wearing all my gear and a bright orange vest. I’m quite sure that my lack of speed will announce my newbie status just as loudly as the vest. Up to the track I go, feeling like all eyes are upon me. I’m going to ride the track at Mosport!
I stop for the mandatory pit out oil inspection but all my concentration is fixed on the chute. I have no room left in my brain to feel ill; there is only the track. Someone’s hand slaps my back, just like I’m a real racer. I nod my thanks and go. As I enter the track, I begin to hear Andrea’s voice, an echo of our strategy session from the night before, guiding me. The lines I need to ride seem obvious, and the first lap is a successful sighting lap.
Now I need to focus on the bike and the gears. So far, it’s a sweet ride and I warm up to it immediately. Everything Andrea has told me about the bike is true – it’s light, responsive, loud, and happiest when revved up. I’m very comfortable on it. I had wondered if the differences in our height would matter. They don’t. Over the next few laps, I try different gears at the corners, listening to the engine and keeping an eye on the tach. Every lap is a learning experience. All too soon, I’m being waved in by Tim, Tim, and Aliki, our pit crew. I’m very happy with the bike, and can’t wait for Andrea to finish her practice session, so I can go out again.
Andrea is very familiar with Mosport and has generously offered to give me two of the three allotted 20 minute sessions. This session, I know that I’m being timed by our pit crew and push myself a bit more on each lap, braking later, then getting on the gas earlier when exiting each corner. I get ‘thumbs up’ as I pass the pit crew. I’m either getting faster or they’re just pleased that I’m still on the paved section of the track. When I see the checkered flag, I have a momentary disappointment that it’s over, for now. Excitement has replaced nervousness and I am looking forward to the race.
Experience dictates that Andrea should start, so she begins the first 30 minute leg of the race. I am strangely calm, sitting in the shade, drinking water. Five minutes before my riding time, I suit up. As I am pulling out, it occurs to me that this is the real deal – not practice, but the actual race. Nevertheless, I remain calm, even though I know that every other bike out there has more horsepower, and most other riders have more experience on the track. My goal is to actually finish the race, without causing hardship to any other rider.
Corner 5 has become my bete noir. I can’t seem to find the right line or the right gear. Each lap, I try something new, with spectacularly dismal results. I wonder if the marshals have noticed. It doesn’t help my confidence when I see a bike off the track at this corner. Still, the other corners seem to be flowing so I hope my lap times are improving. Thirty minutes ends about the time that my energy does.
During the rider change, Tim and Aliki happily inform me that I’ve managed to cut over 20 seconds off my lap time. That seems like a lot and it feels good. I wouldn’t say that I’m becoming one with the bike or track, but I’ve definitely widened my comfort zone. I’m ready to go again when Andrea’s session is finished.
Once again, Corner 5 is where all the action is. On the third lap, I get stuffed in Corner 5 by two racers at once. It feels like a rite of passage and I grin in my helmet. On the next lap, I find the sweet spot at Corner 5, both for the bike and me. I’m able to maintain this line for the rest of the race. Each time I go through Corner 5, I feel I’m getting smoother. I stop thinking about the marshals and start wondering if I’m getting lapped less frequently.
Everything gels and I feel a surge of pleasure on the last lap. I have overcome nerves, heat, a 3 a.m. thunderstorm, and inexperience to complete the endurance race with Andrea. Our pit crew welcomes me in and helps me off the bike. Exhausted but exhilarated, I strip off my sweaty gear and feel like a real racer. Over lunch, I discover that the marshals have jokingly voted me “Most Fuel Efficient Rider”. I counter with “At least my ass looks good in leathers when I’m being passed.” I don’t mind the teasing. I was out there, living my dash, doing what some only dream about. Go Team Dirty Girls!