On Saturday, May 22nd ,1999 Mark Fraser (my friend, riding partner and fellow TAG Aviation employee) and I attended a track day at Thunderhill Raceway Park near Willows, California. You can view the track at http://www.thunderhill.com. The day was hosted by Andy Kettle of Honda of Milpitas. It was my first track day, and my second time on a race track. I had previously attended Keith Code’s California Superbike School too many years ago to confess to in public. Mark had attended Jason Pridmore’s STAR school at Thunderhill a few weeks earlier.

We arrived just before the gates opened at 7:00AM and the wind was blowing around 40 MPH out of the north. At that point we were not sure if the day would come off as planned, but it died down a little and in the end did not have too much of a negative effect. The temperature did get very high as well, with a forecast of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The day began with a drivers meeting and eight laps around the track under a full course yellow, no passing allowed. The purpose was to show the strangers at Thunderhill the track layout at an easy pace without worrying about being passed, etc. There were a few there who did not seem to know what no passing meant, but it went OK none the less. After that the track was open until 5:00PM, with a one hour lunch break with lunch provided by Andy Kettle.

My ’98 R1 had just under 6800 miles on the odometer at the beginning of the day. Turn signals were removed and mirrors replaced with a set of blanking plates made by fellow R1 forum member Troy Green. Other lenses were taped. I had just done a fresh change of Mobil 15W50 (automotive). My bike has a Micron Carbon Oval slip-on, with stock jetting. I had a fairly fresh set of Dunlop 207 ZR’s fitted, the only thing worth noting was that the rear was a 180/55 instead of the 190/50. I wanted to try this tire as it has 50% more usable tread (tread in excess of 1/32nd of an inch) in the shoulder area than the 190/50 ZR’s. It is generally accepted that the 180’s allow the bike to turn in better due to their profile and the change that they make in rear ride height. They are also substantially cheaper. I paid $107.95 for the rear at Chapparal. I had previously changed the brake fluid as well, using Motul 600 Racing Brake Fluid.

By the end of the day I had done 159 track miles (53 laps), and had a great time. I didn’t even scare myself, except for once, during a 100MPH sweeper, when a pheasant decided to stroll out on the track in front of me. (Missed her!)

Here are some random observations:

The R1 is an incredible motorcycle! Of course we R1 owners and riders know this already. The bike worked well for me all day and displayed no faults and developed no problems from the day's abuse. As the day wore on, I became more comfortable keeping the RPM’s up in what I consider the danger zone for general street riding. It sure makes for sprightly corner exits! On the straight between turns 15 and 1, I regularly saw 140-145MPH. The bike had more in it, but I did not. I couldn’t help but thinking about the 90 degree left hander after the straight! In the beginning, on the corner exit (turn 15) that leads to the straight, I had a little head shaking while accelerating. This was cured by turning up the damping to position 6 on the Ohlins steering damper.

The brakes worked perfectly all day. The heat and hammering of the brakes at high speed had no negative effect whatsoever. I have heard that some R1 owners experience a spongy lever after the brakes heat up under these conditions, but no problems here. I’ll credit the Motul 600 brake fluid and the superb R1 brakes for this and thank Randy Sinisi of Semoff Brothers Racing for the tip about the Motul 600.

I did not burn any oil at the track and my bike has not used any significant amount of oil in normal use while using Mobil 15W50. My last oil change interval was 3300 miles and the oil level started at the upper mark on the sight glass, and finished midway between the upper and lower marks. I have NEVER had any clutch slippage using Mobil 1. This goes for my FJ1200 as well

The Dunlop 207 ZR’s worked well for me on the track. I did ride Mark Fraser’s bike fitted with 207 GP’s for a couple of laps and I did notice that they handled better than my ZR’s. I would like to do my next track day on the GP’s or something similar, but using the ZR’s proved to be just fine for me. I did also notice the head shaking tendency on hard acceleration was greater using the GP’s. R1 Mailing List and R1 Forum member Mel Hinshaw followed me around most of the day (his CHOICE, not his limitations) and he reported my tires left long black streaks on most corner exits. Having said this, they didn’t scare me at all during the day.

Thunder Hill was a GREAT track! Challenging corners with some interesting elevation changes. Only those of us that have had the opportunity to redline an R1 going through the gears know just how vicously this machine accelerates, but I had never done it going down a steep hill like coming off of turn 9 at Thunder Hill. It really gets with the program going downhill! It certainly makes for interesting braking for the next corner (turn 10).

The best news! Nobody crashed all day.

Click here for a few photos taken that day

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