Long-Term Yamaha R3: Racebike Project at CVMA

Trackday turned new racer school.

Julia goes to track school with her Yamaha R3
Jamie Astudillo and myself at the front of the lineup of New Racer School students, waiting to be released for our sighting lap for the mock race.Photo: Ari Henning

It started as a buzz, growing closer and closer. Even through the earplugs and the padding in my helmet, I heard them coming. The sound grew to a louder, more demanding growl. It was a swarm, and they were gaining on me fast. I tucked myself in behind the fairing of my little Yamaha R3, making myself as small as possible, an easy obstacle to overtake. And then it happened. Zoom! Zoom! Whizzz! Neeerooooom!!! The flurry of other bikes passing on either side was a multisensory experience: I didn't just hear them and see them, I felt them pass. If I had reached a hand out, I could have touched their elbows; our knees might well have kissed. The discrepancy in our speed was laughable, only I wasn't laughing. I was holding my breath, waiting for this group of exceptionally fast riders to pass me as we all vied for the race line on the tarmac at Chuckwalla. Welcome to New Racer School.

When I agreed to take on the long-term Yamaha R3 (see Julia's first update here) as a racebike, the general plan was to ease into the project. Start off stock, go to some trackdays, and then get my racing license and start racing. At least that's how I imagined it happening. l was excited about learning to race, farkling out the little R3 with all sorts of go-fast goodies, all that jazz. But here's the rub: While I've done a handful of trackdays over the past 12 years of riding, I hadn't been on the track in almost a year. And thanks to a bum shoulder, I hadn't even been riding daily. To say I felt a bit rusty was putting it lightly.

Thankfully, there was a TrackDaz trackday coming up at Chuckwalla. At some point someone brought to my attention that they were also holding a New Racer School during the trackday, and would I want to go to that and get my license? Sure! Why not? Ari, one of our resident racers, and a CVMA veteran, commented, "Once you have your racing license, if you're feeling up to it, you could race the next day!" Umm…sure... Let's play it by ear.

Safety wiring the Yamaha R3 for the track
Two days before showtime, and late into the night, Will safety-wired the bike while I handled tape. Over-prepared for the track day, but just the right amount for racing.Photo: Julia LaPalme
Safety-wiring the R3
Drill, baby, drill! Will went through a few drill bits throughout the safety-wiring process.Photo: Julia LaPalme

Rolling into the pits at 7 a.m. Friday morning, I found Yamaha employee and fellow racer Marcus DeMichele's pit set up, complete with two E-Z Ups, and an RV. Now this was the way to do a trackday! Marcus, who rides an FZ-07 racebike, was kind enough to share his pit area with Ari and me, and it felt like living in the lap of luxury compared to how I've done trackdays in the past. Ari showed up not long after in the company van with the R3 and his RC390. After we unloaded the bikes, tools, and gear out of the van, it was off to registration and safety tech.

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After the rider meeting, the other New Racer School students and I headed into the classroom when reality started to set in. "Welcome to New Racer School," our instructor said. "Just to be clear, this is not an instructional school. We will be going over the rules and expectations to keep you safe during racing, but we assume you already know how to ride and have already had instruction." Wait, what? Instruction? "You've done a lot of trackdays," Sure, a few. "And you consider yourself one of the faster riders out there," Oh, boy. What have I gotten myself into?

Julia changing tires
Back at the MC garage, Will taught me how to change a tire, as we swapped the R3’s rubber from Michelin Pilot Streets to Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIs that Ari had long-since removed from his RC390.Photo: Julia LaPalme

With the first classroom meeting out of the way, we were thrown into the A group with all the current racers and super-fast riders for our first session on track. All of the New Racer School students had to wear yellow jerseys over our leathers, which might as well have been targets on our backs. Being the newb that I am, when the five-minute call was made over the loudspeaker in the paddock, I threw my helmet on, fired up my little Yamaha, and rolled up to pit lane ready to go. Of course, this meant I was the first person to show up, and all the faster riders lined up behind me. Once we were released onto track, it quickly became clear just how out of place I was out there.

Melissa Paris and Julia LaPalme
Melissa Paris and her protigé, Jamie Astudillo, hang out with me in the pits and discuss the ins and outs of racing.Photo: Ari Henning
Julia LaPalme waving
Goober alert! Practicing my Brody Cox wave.Photo: Ari Henning

Coming out of pit lane into turn 17 (we were running counter-clockwise), I stayed to the right to let the others get around me, knowing the first couple laps were my reintroduction to the track layout. Everyone else behind me clearly had rocket packs attached to their backs because they were passing me like I was standing still. Aside from the intimidation factor, I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious. After the initial classroom session, and now seeing how much slower I was than everyone else, I was questioning what I was doing there. I was embarrassed, I was worried about being in other people’s way, and I started wondering whether this was a good idea at all.

Julia LaPalme Yamaha R3 Chuckwalla
Most of my time on track I was riding solo, like here as I'm exiting the bowl at Chuckwalla.Photo: CaliPhotography

Aware that my head was not in the game, a self pep-talk was in order. The in-helmet monologue went something like: “Breathe.” “Focus on what you’re doing.” “Maintain your line.” “Just do your best, and don’t worry about the other riders.” “Brake, brake, brake!” “Okay, now flick the bike the other way now.” “God, I hate this hill.” “Missed that apex.” “Focus!” “Just don’t crash and you’ll be good!”

Just. Don't. Crash.