First Trackday at Willow Springs
I can't say for sure that Willow Springs is "The Fastest Road in the West" as it so claims, but it's sure as hell the fastest track I've ever been on. When looking at the track map it doesn't really look like much:
But when looking at the track in person, the elevation changes certainly make things a little more interesting:
That visible horseshoe section is turns 3, 4 and 5. The ups and downs in that area make things very challenging, not to mention turn 4 has no camber and deceives riders into thinking they can go faster than they should.
The width of the track is 40 feet or so in some places; taking advantage of all that real estate took a little getting used to. In some places I found it difficult to properly use all of that space, especially in the transition from turn 3 to turn 4. I found myself trying all kinds of lines throughout the day without really finding one that felt perfect. I'm going back in about a month; that will be my first order of business.
One thing I really enjoyed was attacking this track with a fresh set of Dunlop Qualifiers. They seem to be the new rage with trackday riders as they're actually a little cheaper than the ever-present Michelin Pilot Powers but just as good or even better. Sport Rider rated the Qualifier slightly higher than the Pilot Power in their last street tire comparo (December 2005 issue); my personal opinion is that Dunlop's new weapon performs similarly to the Pilot Power but just a hair sharper. Turn-in felt a wee bit quicker and front-end feel was solid even under hard braking.
The front tire after a few sessions in the 90+ degree heat.
The rear tire held up pretty well despite the heat and abuse.
One thing that did have a noticeable effect on just about everyone was the wind. By the early afternoon we were getting whipped by a constant 25 MPH gust. Going through turns 8, 9, the front straight and turn 1 became a serious test of nerves. By my best estimates I was doing somewhere around 130-140 MPH on the front straight most of the day (the organizer requires riders to tape over the speedometer so nobody obsesses over MPH). At the end of the front straight I would sit up, move my butt off the left side of the bike, then start braking and downshifting to get ready for turn 1. Doing this at full speed with a 25 MPH crosswind is a little scary to say the least. Let's just say I had to perform a diaper check when I pulled into the pits. Judging by the way the track emptied out mid-afternoon, I wasn't the only one with dirty diapers.
Regardless of the wind it was still an excellent trackday. I felt better about my form after seeing some of the photos from Cali Photography, who now have such an elaborate trackday photo operation that they have a trailer on-site where you can walk in and see your photos right on the spot. I'm not sure my lines were all that good, but I did my best to position my body well and transition smoothly.
This was early in the day - still wasn't quite feeling the lines right.
I was a little more comfortable at this point.
Same turn, different angle. Knee down comfortably and weight forward.
This was a split second after the photo just above.