Saturday, February 23rd. Portland International Raceway reopens after upgrading and repaving the track. My mother came into town that weekend to check out the track and watch me run a track day on Sunday.
So, we're at the track on Saturday for the ribbon cutting ceremony. There was quite a collection of vehicles at the track to do the inaugural first lap. Portland police were there with their Dodge Charger, a guy in a go-kart, a Porsche, a few vintage vehicles, a Ferrari and a pair of bicyclist. There were also three guys from Cascade Tracktime there too. They were on a Suzuki DRZ (I think), a dirt bike, and a tricked out Ducati 1098. The Duc was fully loaded with all the trick race parts. It even had carbon rotors too! I got to see this thing in action the next day during the track day and it was fast!
Anyway, a couple different people gave speeches and one guy gave a great history of the track. For those of you who don't know, PIR was built on the site of the old city of Vanport, OR. Vanport was the largest temporary housing project during the 1940s in the United States. It housed over 40 thousand workers for the wartime shipping docks during World War II. After the war, the population dropped to around 18 thousand. On Memorial Day, May 30, 1948, a dike on the Columbia River breached and the city was destroyed in that single day. Years later, a small racing club negotiated with the city of Portland to hold a race on the ruined streets of Vanport. Then in the early 1970s, a real track was built and which is what has matured into present-day PIR.
Time to cut the ribbon!
The Portland Police car led the assorted collection of vehicles around for the first lap on the new track. Afterward, we were all invited to walk around the 1.9 mile track to check it out first hand.
Out in the middle of PIR, there's a pretty big pond. Lots of ducks and stuff live in there.
And here's a shot of the back straight. As I would find out the next day, this section of the track is wicked! It seems like a gentle curve, but above a hundred it certainly doesn't feel that way. You really have to fight the bike to hold its line when you're accelerating down the straight. You're basically hanging off the entire time down the straight.
As part of the renovation, PIR redid turns 4 through 7. The track was widened throughout these corners, and turns 6 and 7 were changed. From what I understand, turn 6 was somewhat of a blind corner originally, so they moved the fence out of the way. They also made turn 7 into a knurly 90° corner. Many people were calling it the "hair pin" since it was so tight. Formula One style curbs were also installed throughout the track.
And that brings us to Sunday the 24th! Track day! As part of a fundraiser, the Porsche Club of American and Cascade Tracktime were hosting track days.
The track was still wet that morning from late night rain and it was only about 50°F out, so conditions were less than ideal. After two car sessions had their go at the track, it was the bikes' turn to head out.
There was about 40-50 of us out on the track. The event was billed as a beginner/intermediate track day, but there were quite a few semi-pro guys there too. There is nothing quite like pegging the bike out on the front straight when some guy on one of the various superbikes that were there blows past you going at least 40 mph faster than you. The amount of power those bikes had was unimaginable.
So, the first run was wet and cold. Everyone’s helmet visors were fogging up and nobody could see where they were going. I was doing okay, but I felt really uncomfortable out on the bike. I didn't have any confidence in my tires which was a Pirelli Diablo up front and a Metzler Z6 in the rear. Yes, you heard me; I was running a sport-touring tire on the rear! Plus, I was using GP-shifting which I still wasn't too comfortable with yet. And the track was wet (did I already mention that).
Somewhere during my fourth lap (first two laps were sighting laps), the linkage on my shifter broke. The nuts had back off from the vibration and the linkage just came apart. I was stuck in third gear for the remainder of my lap and I exited the track.
On our second run, the cars had managed to dry the track out some more. Unfortunately, some poor guy lost control of his bike down the front straight (it must have been a mechanical failure) and crashed out.
Before lunch, all the riders had a meeting to discuss some passing etiquette. Apparently the pros were irritated at some of the newbies because they were taking wide, erratic lines. Well, duh! As you know, track days usually split into three groups based on skill level. When you mix really fast guys with really slow guys, you're going to have problems.
After lunch, we had our third session. The track had warmed up a tiny bit, the sun had dried it out, and I got the tire pressures on my bike dialed in. I was able to push the bike pretty good this time around. I was becoming more familiar with the layout of the track and so I was starting to get my knee down in some corners. Unfortunately the red flag came out and we were all force to pit. I eventually found out latter than Dwayne, the guy who had set up camp across from me in the parking lot, had run off the track at turn 7. He kept his bike up (the mud had also dried out too and was now just dirt) and was able to rejoin the group, but that brought out the red flag.
Sitting for a few minutes in the pits wasn't good for my tires as they started to cool down. Once back out on the track, I manage to pass this pesky gsxr1000 that was holding me up in the corners, but I ended up braking too deep into turn 7. My tires hadn’t quite warmed back up enough yet, so I ending up running off the track and into the dirt. The checker flag was just being brought out, so I waited by the fence chatting with the photographers until the track was clear to head back to the pits.
The fourth session was a complete blast. I had confidence in my tires (that Z6 was solid all day), I was pretty comfortable with GP-shifting (only had one bad shift all day), and the track was clean and dry. Once I got out on the track, I proceeded to grind down my knee-pucks every opportunity I could get. Unfortunately, after about four hard laps, one of the bolts in my shift linkage snapped in half and I was again stuck in third gear, so I limped back to the pits and called it a day.
Prior to my shift linkage breaking during the fourth session, some idiot got black flagged for riding over the curbs. Well, instead of proceeding to the pits on his next lap like he should of done, he thought the black flag meant stop. So, he pulled over and stopped on the track. Obviously, this is not a good thing to do and the marshals were screaming at him to move. And as you would guess, some guy comes blasting out of turn 12 onto the front straight heading right for this idiot. Luckily he grabbed the binders in time and scrub some speed off. With his front tire locked and his rear tire pointing at the sky, he rear ends the other bike. Both guys are fine. Luckily for Mr. Idiot, the other rider just turned and walked away in a fit of rage. I’m guessing I was about 10 seconds behind all this when it this happened, because the first time I saw a red flag was going through the last turn 12. As I'm following a group of bikes through turn 12, we had to grab huge handfuls of brake coming onto the straight to avoid the accident.
The new track at PIR is awesome. It's super grippy and tons of fun. It's a really fast track since you have two really longs straights to get massive speed on. I managed to hit 140 mph a few times at the end of the front straight.