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The Salt Report - Bonneville

Day 1

Ferg’s team is assisting two other Kiwi teams at Bonneville’s Speed Week. Here’s the first of their reports.
It’s a long haul from Takapuna to Wendover, Utah, especially for those picking up the ‘bikes at Anaheim then driving cross-country. But finally everyone, including us fly-ins, met up, just as both teams came off the salt flats on Thursday.

The good news is both Irish Jon’s 2008 Bonneville and Walt’s ZX-10R made the trip safely and sailed through Tech Inspection. With one exception: the screen on Jon’s Triumph somehow went AWOL during some roadside prep. It’s a good job Jon isn’t chasing a record, just experience.

Different story for Walter Rands-Trevor though, on his fifth attempt at the 1000cc Open Modified Production Gas record. In 2012, on his first try, he was only 1mph off the record on his ZX-10R. Switching to a new model in 2014, his tilts at the record were rained off that year and in 2015, the latter without even leaving New Zealand. Returning in 2016, with the record at 185.250mph, Walt recorded an agonising best of 185.089. Hence he’s here on a mission, and we’re here to help. Or at least not get in the way.

The bad news? It’s raining. And that’s never good on the salt flats. However, tomorrow’s a down day and the weather forecast is fine for the weekend. Racing commences on Saturday after rookie orientation. Fingers crossed.

Day 2

Friday proved to be a fizzer, with slushy salt, downcast racers and an iffy forecast.

 But it did mean time to give the bikes–especially Jon’s Triumph Scrambler–a look over. 

The weather improved and rider briefing was called for on Saturday, but with a postponement inevitable.

That meant it was time to go to Carmen’s bar, an institution at Bonneville and, literally, on the wrong side of the tracks. Packed with memorabilia, including a signing wall bearing the names of illustrious racers, and some of our team members on previous forays, it’s a one-off.

After a few yarns it was time to head back to the hotel, in anticipation of good news tomorrow.

Day 3

Saturday dawned bright and clear, with the racers’ briefing scheduled for a luxurious 9.00am.

On the salt, conditions immediately looked better, though still slushy in pit lane. The report from the race direction team was encouraging:  the long course, domain of the 400mph streamliners, was good for several miles but patchy towards the end. The short course, the one we’d be using, was very good up to mile three and okay through the final mile. The two-mile rookie course was also raceworthy.

Better yet, last night’s weather forecast was confirmed. We’d have bluebird skies, 90ºF daytime temperatures and an afternoon breeze to dry the salt, every day until Friday.

Although Sunday would be a down day, everybody spirits were up. We’re going racing on Monday!

Day 4

The drying conditions just weren’t quite good enough on Sunday to allow racing to commence on Monday. But it was confirmed for Tuesday, meaning a gradual shift into race mode.

The conditions presented a quandary for Walter Rands-Trevor, chasing a 185.250mph record in the un-faired class, and membership of the 200mph club with the faring on. Time was going to be tight. The salt was probably going to be sub-optimal and get quickly chewed. But he wanted to keep his licence current in case he couldn’t come back next year. Was it worth the risk?

Jon was sure that he wanted to get out there. The only question was over the course arrangements. The organisers were saying likely only one course, the original ‘long’ course, would be operational, shortened to four miles. While things settled we got on with a final bolt check and tyre pressures on Jon’s 2008 modified Triumph Scrambler.

Day 5

A different atmosphere unfolded on Monday after we headed out to the salt. This was ‘Rookie Orientation’, a chance for Jon and the rest of us noobs to get briefed on course safety, race operations and recovery procedure. Only, pretty much every rider and driver attended, as this was the first chance to see the course conditions–everyone had been kept behind an exclusion line to give the salt the best chance of improvement.

A veritable cavalcade of utes, cars, SUVs and vans then played follow-my-leader, listening out on the compulsory CB radio for details of course layout and identifying the timing tower, start line and return road.

A small portion of the main course was spied. That would likely be down to four miles, and a rookie course would be open. It would have just 132 yards of timing from the one-mile marker, with no times qualifying for records.

Still, this was more like it. It felt like the event had started. Walt decided he would run with the fairing on, just to get his license current for another two years. If by some miracle the salt proves better than expected he might consider paying the US$375 for an entry in the open class and rip off the fairing.

Tomorrow will tell.