My final track event of the season was at the gorgeous Le Circuit in Mt. Tremblant, Quebec and the venue proved to be both demanding and huge fun. As I write this post, the F1's sitting in the mud room and all of my track stuff's been put away for the Winter. I'm looking at a very fine 18 x 12 photo of me (of course) heeled over in what I imagine might be Turn 3 on my wall and I realize that for the first time in recent memory, I don't feel like I've had enough. I'm usually burned-out by late August, but this year's an exception. I'm not done yet. I want one more Mosport so I can relive the Sunday practice feeling I had and hold onto it all day.
But Mt. Tremblant was very cool. DOCC President Eric Summers asked us to help out with tech inspection Friday night and we decided to run tech 'till about 9:30PM. Somewhat shagged, we set about setting up our trackside accommodations and then around 10:30 Fran McDermott and I decided that a quick swim in the lake just off the upper pit road would be a fine way to finish the evening. Temperature was about 23 degrees Celsius and the night sky was clear and starry. The track was quiet, but for muted snippets of conversation and the occasional laughter that echoed of the surrounding mountains. The Toronto Mafia pointed us to easy lake access right behind their pit, so Fran and I doffed our duds and hit the lake. Brilliant! The water temperature seemed warmer than the night air and as we floated on our backs, looking at the stars we agreed that this was indeed FINE and that all racetracks should be equipped with small freshwater lakes.
OK. We're here to beat the snot out of fast, loud rare, Italian motorcycles on an Alan Wilson-designed 2.75 mile track with fresh, Barber-spec pavement.. And so we did. I'd ridden the track for an afternoon early in the season so I kinda knew my way around the place, so I set off in the first session eager to try and get a rhythm going. Le Circuit is borderline evil. A combination of top gear, blind sweepers and evil little technical combinations designed to suck you in and toss you on your butt. With a few million bucks recently thrown at the track on paving and improved run-off, the track is no longer as scary as it was in its heyday, but still on the left side of "safe for motorcycles". Turn 1 is bad enough that a funky kind of S-turn chicane has been added and pylons were placed at the 3/4 mark of the front straight to lower the speeds heading into Turn 1. Regardless, there are features in the layout that are almost too cool for words - like the carousel and the "S" combination at the end of the backstraight. Take an on-board lap by visiting their site and see what I mean.
My 1987 Ducati 853 F1 was my main ride for the weekend, but Bar Hodgson had arranged to send the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum's ex-Stefan Mertens factory TTF1 up to the track with Ken Livingston and it was mine to sort out and play with. Um... Really?!? Thanks, Bar! Ken arrived mid afternoon on Saturday with the TTF1 and his '04 championship-winning 851 and after unloading and teching, Ken asked me if I could show him the way around the track. He told me he learned new tracks quickly, but I have never seen anyone get up to speed so quickly. By the end of the 2nd session together we were on the pace and having a blast. We dicked around with the TTF1 - now equipped with a new Stadium shock and revised fork oil viscosity and settings as well as a borrowed aluminum TT tank. Of course, it dropped onto 1 cylinder while I was sitting on the hot pit, but after pulling the quick disconnects out of the fuel circuit, I finally got to out onto the course with the revised package. And (finally) it handled. It's quite an experience... We still hadn't found jets big enough for the idle circuit, so I had to slip to the front of the hot pit line making a beautiful racket. After two tentative laps, I had enough confidence in the handling and mechanics to pick up the pace and by the end of the 20 minute session, I was running it slightly below my usual pace, but fast enough to know that the bike was really in its element on this kind of circuit.
One of the things we wanted to figure out was whether Bar's bike would be competitive in Period 4 Middleweight, where the main competition was an uncommonly fast 600 Hurricane and a couple of RS 250s. My F1 couldn't stay with the Hurricane on Mosport's backstraight last year (when it was an 818), but had no problem pulling the Honda in this year's 853 trim, so we decide that Ken would take my F1 and we'd set up a couple of drag races down Le Circuit's backstraight. We did so on lap 1 and Ken (who outweighs me by almost 50 pounds) could stay with the ex-Mertens Ducati TTF1 with both of us limiting the revs to just over 9,000. Interesting. We did it again on lap 2 and the bikes seemed about neck & neck. By lap 3, the pace was up though the balance of the course and when we got to the end of the backstraight, Ken showed me his front wheel and we hunkered down for a good 15 minutes of near race pace fun. Um, Bar? Yes, it's competitive. In fact, I imagine it could run away from the class. And probably finish in the top 3 in Period 4 Heavyweight. Two similar bikes with totally different riding experiences. Even with the new rear shock and increased ride height, the factory bike is much lower than mine and somehow that makes it feel more reassuring at full lean. Better brakes by a long shot. But little mid range to play with - making it really difficult to get a hot corner exit. Ken would simply run away from me on my F1. I'd make some of it back braking and with a different line involving a slightly higher corner speed. The factory bike still had a tendency to run wide in the sweepers, but a bit more ride height should help pull the bike in. We still have no idea what's in the motor, but it's quick - probably very close to Gary Palmer's F1.
Ken was completely over-the-top with my F1 - raving about the motor, the light weight and the razor sharp handling. "Now I see why you guys ride these things!" he exclaimed after the session. With out a doubt, that session was the highlight of the weekend. As for my F1, it was plagued with an intermittent problem that had the engine running on one cylinder towards the end of some of the sessions and we spent some time with coil connections trying to trace the fault. Turned out to be a blocked fuel tank petcock, discovered of course at the end of the weekend. We're convinced there's more power to be had by changing the cam timing to a higher number at lobe centers (close to 112 degrees) and I'm going to upgrade the brakes to 4-piston P30/34s. The forks are close enough for rock & roll and the carbs are just a bit on the rich side of perfect. The beautiful aluminum bodied TZ 350 throttle has to get the boot though. Must be a ratio incompatible with the Mikunis I run, because no amount of lubrication and routing has taken way the snatchy behavior just off idle and it drives me nuts when I try to make a smooth transition of power mid corner.
I spoke to Bar afterwards, and after thanking him once again for the ride of a lifetime, we talked about the future of the TTF1. It seems that it'll graduate to full track duty next year and while it gets around a racetrack very nicely at the moment, the bike will need to be re-wired and detailed for safety and durability. The motor will be explored, cams timed, jetting tweaked and the original glass tank hopefully made servicable again with careful sealing. I plan to make it down to the museum over the winter to help out...
Sigh.. But, I'd really like to get out on the track on my F1 one more time.......