The TTXGP race at Infineon Raceway is the first race of the year here in North American. The very first race back in 2010 had 10 bikes and riders show up. Some were fast and some were very slow, and everyone got lapped at the end by Shawn Higbee on the Zero/Agni bike. The next year (2011) there were a couple press releases from would be teams saying there were going to join the series. It was only going to be a 7 bike grid, maybe one or two more. But many were going to be much faster, and it looked like the field was going to be a lot closer. However, Mission was there on display only, defending continental champions Lightning didn’t make it at all, but Brammo finally made a race, something they failed to do the entire year before. So a 7 bike race of 4 relatively evenly matched GP bikes and 3 TTX75 (brand new class for last year) turned into 2 GP bikes, and 2 TTx75 bikes, in race 1 and I believe two bikes for race 2. That year’s race weekend was also greatly affected by rain, making the monkey wrench even bigger. Needless to say, it left a bitter taste in many fans mouths as the excitement for the first round had been building up for several months. So when 2012′s round came just 2 months ago the sigma from the last year was so pervasive that many don’t realize that this years race had almost twice as many bikes show up and run both races. It would have been close to the numbers from 2010 but both TTX75 bikes did not make it, and Brammo’s bike lived up to it’s Bull logo and bucked not one, but two AMA superbike professionals to the ground seriously injuring both and forcing Brammo to miss out on the first round of the year.
But there is something odd about Sears Point (aka Infineon). Going back through the last 3 years of lap times of 4 AMA classes, and the TTXGP, lap times are oddly frozen. Taking the mode of the fastest rider’s lap times during Sunday’s races ( accept for the XR 1200 class which only ran on Saturday in 2011) Superbikes went from 1:36s in 2010, to 1:37s in 2011 and 2012. Daytona Sportbike lost half a second last year, Supersport last a full second as well, due to the crap weather I assume, but they were both back to their 2010 times this year. They run 1:39s and 1:41s respectively. Last year was the first year of the XR1200s and they ran 1:47s this year as well as last year. Now remember I am taking the mode and not the best lap as I feel it is a more accurate way of judging progress. So, ICE bike progress at Sears point has been stagnant, which really makes any noted progress of the elmotos a great achievement. This is not a track we will see 16 seconds a lap cut in lap times like Laguna Seca. Why not? I wish I knew, but I think I’ll try to find out.
So now we have a very solid baseline to compare laptimes. in 2010 Micheal Barnes on the Lightning, and Shawn Higbee on the Zero/Agni had a heck of a dog fight. But really it was Shawn being a bit clever with his strategy. They ran 2:01s to 2:03s during the first half of the 11 lap race (down to 8 laps in ’11 and 9 in ’12). Then something happened to the Lightning (overheated I believe), and Barnes was forced to sit on the side of the track waiting for the controller to reset. That’s when Higbee attacked and had a fastest lap of 1:56 in one of the last few laps of the race. There was, at one point, a 4 way battle towards the end of the race further back in the field. All in all it really is a fun race to watch. That year the fastest the Lighting went was a 1:59.411, and that was in qualifying. That Agni powered GSX-R750 would have been just as competitive the next 2 years as we move on to 2011. That year Moto Electra finished the race and took 6 seconds off their time and came in second on the weekend. But the real story was that Brammo finally showed at the track with the bike many fans were already familiar with due to their great coverage in MotorcycleUSA.com, and leaked testing news, video, and brave bloggers just riding through the front gate during a testing session. On their first successful race weekend out they managed to match and then break Higbee’s record from the previous year, and even got it down to a 1:55.1 during Race 2, which was faster than Race 1 and qualifying due to a proper sized tire. A new record, but when we saw lap times drop 10 seconds a lap during the course of the previous year in Europe, barely 2 seconds doesn’t seem a whole lot. Well, there a a few things. First someone will want to point out that the race was 3 laps shorter than 2010. That is true, but it is fairly well accepted that the Brammo was seriously under motored for the amount of energy they had on board. Really, it was the 2010 race bike, finally working enough to race. It still wasn’t at 100% power due to what I believe was controller programming gremlins, but a reported 90-95%. Race distance could have been even shorter than that and they wouldn’t have gone any faster. The other thing was that it was a cold and damp that weekend, and if AMA times were effected, even a little, then it is a safe assumption there may have been more time in that bike if the weather had been warmer.
So we come to this year’s race. This time Lightning was able to make it, and with a ton of testing and refinements that had been made over the winter. It should have been the bike to beat, and was . . . when it was running. This year Lightning showed up with two bikes, and they took turns DNFing during the two race round. But some pretty serious things happenend. First Micheal Barnes laid down a 1:47.553 in qualifying! Which was just 2 tenths slower than he qualified his XR1200, and just over 7 seconds faster than his teammate. Now, we don’t have times from the Brammo in first practice but it has been reported that Brammo did manage to beat their previous record before the bike horned Atlas. Rapp, Atlas’s replacement and former Mission R rider, put in a 1:57.133 before he too to the horn from the ornery bull of a bike. But come Race 1 the fastest lap we saw was a 1:55.397, almost 3 tenths slower than last year’s 80hp Empulse RR, and no where near the qualifying times. Then in Race 2 the fastest lap was a 1:50.096 put in by Barnes on lap 2, right before he DNF’d. Now, I don’t have access to the lap times of every single lap of the TTXGP races like I do the AMA, so it is hard to judge. But the exciting news is that qualifying times dropped about 9 seconds (I’ll be darned if I can find qualifying times from ’11). That is significant, very significant. And Barnes did turn a 1:50 before retiring. But if you look strictly at the race lap times of bikes that finished the race the fastest we have are almost 3 tenths slower than last year. Then take that the new 130hp Empulse RR went almost 7 seconds faster at REFUEL this year than they did last year, but only marginally faster than their fastest lap at Laguna, I think it is safe to say that Brammo may have qualified second on the grid and probably taken both races if Lightning’s performances had stayed the same, even with their 240hp. The Lightning was handling better this year according to an interview with Tim Hunt, and is reported to be lighter, but I believe the Brammo to be lighter still. And we know how well it corners, especially in the hands of Steve Atlas. As I sit here and think about it, it seems to me that power is important, very important at Sears Point, but only to a point. It is well known for being a hard track to nail down and I don’t think it is as open as Laguna, so the corners are tighter and harder to get around perfectly. So it would seem you need plenty of grunt to get you out of the tight corners and into the more open ones, but you need a light and great handling bike to go faster. However, what if Lighting had been able to run 1:47s to 1:50s all race in Race 2? That would have been the first big leap in race performance we had ever seen at that track.
It’s a real shame the Lightning bikes had failures that weekend, and an even greater shame the Brammo was unable to run. Because basically we know nothing going into Round 3. Brammo took the race win and showed pace in practice with 600cc race bikes. But the TTXGP has never run at PIR before, so I have nothing to compare it to as the only other bikes that ran that weekend were TTX75 and eSuperStock award bikes. But even though Sears Point has given us little to no insight going into Launa Seca, I think we have learned it never will. However, I feel there is something to be gleaned from comparing improvements in time at Sears Point and Laguna Seca, as it clearly takes different things to make you faster at one track than the other.
On a final note, the eSuperStock bikes ran 2:10s to 2:23s at Sears Point. That would have put them ahead of the 3 slowest bikes in 2010 as well as sandwiching two others, and split the two TTX75 bikes last year.
Here are all the videos I could find on this year’s Sears Point race: