Race Watch

Cycle World - - Race Watch -

You know, 100 per­cent doesn’t make the grid.” It’s a say­ing of­fered by Tech­ni­cal Edi­tor Kevin Cameron, who’s spent his share of time as a tuner and crew chief rid­ing in a van with a mo­tor­cy­cle, tools, and all needed pos­ses­sions go­ing from race to race in search of vic­tory on the na­tional road­rac­ing cir­cuit. It’s a good thing to re­mem­ber—that per­fec­tion can be strived for, but the re­al­ity is nothing is ever per­fect and you’ve got to show up and race, no mat­ter what. And so it was with our Man in a Van with a Plan, Hay­den Gil­lim, and his crew on the Cy­cle World Suzuki GSX-R1000. How so? There was no lux­ury of pre­sea­son test­ing, with piles of race parts at the ready and plenty of time to me­thod­i­cally ex­plore the per­for­mance po­ten­tial and ex­per­i­ment with setup. In fact, de­vel­op­ing the new race­bike—the com­pletely re­designed 2017 GSX-R1000—HAD to start at the third round of the sea­son while the team awaited de­liv­ery of the bike. The well-de­vel­oped but now-dated 2016 GSX-R1000 served well at the first two rounds (four races), and then the team dug in, de­vel­op­ing the new bike on the fly dur­ing the rest of the race sea­son.

“Bike de­vel­op­ment started slow,” Crew Chief Rick Ma­theny ex­plained. “We got the bikes late. Wasn’t any­body’s fault. Then it’s all new, with throt­tle by wire, a lot of elec­tron­ics, vari­able valve timing, so we worked and worked and worked.”

Adding to the chal­lenge was the grass­roots na­ture of the MVP pro­gram, with a small crew and Gil­lim him­self pi­lot­ing the van. At least he’s ex­pe­ri­enced af­ter last sea­son. In fact, the 22-yearold from Owens­boro, Ken­tucky, is al­ready a 10-year vet­eran of road­rac­ing. This sea­son Gil­lim was on the road go­ing to races from April to Oc­to­ber. Over six months he logged nearly 30,000 miles on the road and criss­crossed the coun­try a half-dozen times en route to 13 na­tional races in 11 states, as well as sev­eral in­de­pen­dent test ses­sions.

In ad­di­tion to his high­way miles, Gil­lim racked up more than 1,500 miles in the sad­dle of his race­bikes—ap­prox­i­mately the dis­tance from Los An­ge­les to Spring­field, Illi­nois, rid­ing on the edge!

In the MVP Ford Tran­sit van Gil­lim car­ried his Cy­cle World Suzuki GSX-R1000 for Mo­toamer­ica Su­per­stock 1000 races and the Cy­cle World Suzuki RM-Z450 for se­lect Amer­i­can Flat Track Sin­gles class na­tional events. And most of his other worldly pos­ses­sions.

Thou­sands of miles alone on the road in a van can be tough, but Gil­lim’s sup­port sys­tem is na­tion­wide, so he got breaks to stay with friends and train along the way. He also spent as much time at home in Ken­tucky and in his South­ern California digs to help stick with his train­ing rou­tine. Along the way, Gil­lim met and be­came friends with elite track cyclist Roger Ainslie. “He was a great train­ing part­ner early in the year,” Gil­lim said.

Fel­low road­rac­ers Josh Hayes and Melissa Paris also were great friends and train­ing mates.

“Dur­ing the off-sea­son I lived in one of their rental prop­er­ties,” Gil­lim ex­plains. “I was with them a lot at the races. Josh and I would play golf a lot and go and ride mo­tocross. And at the races if I was hav­ing a rough time fig­ur­ing some­thing out I could go have a talk with him.”

Once the sea­son starts it can be tough keep­ing fit and eat­ing right on the road, but Gil­lim took ad­van­tage of his trav­els to train in some of most scenic des­ti­na­tions in the coun­try.

“Driving all over the place I got to stop and ride my bi­cy­cle at some awe­some ar­eas like up in Park City, Utah,” Gil­lim ex­plained of his on-the-road rou­tine. “Eat­ing well can be tough. I try to eat half­way healthy. I’m a fan of the Food Net­work’s Din­ers, Drive-ins and Dives. So, when­ever I get the chance I try to stop some­where that’s been on that show and try some dif­fer­ent foods. And ob­vi­ously when­ever I see a Cinnabon on the road I’ve got to stop.”

That might be the half­way un­healthy part of the diet.

At least the pre­sea­son was spent rid­ing his bi­cy­cle about 300 miles per week and get­ting lean. Ev­ery­body needs a treat once in awhile.

The fin­ishes from the first two Mo­toamer­ica rounds were solid

but not par­tic­u­larly in­spir­ing, but when the 2017 was fi­nally ready for rac­ing at Vir­ginia In­ter­na­tional Race­way in mid-may, good re­sults came quickly, even with limited de­vel­op­ment time. At Road Amer­ica, the sec­ond out­ing for the 2017 bike, Gil­lim scored his first Su­per­stock 1000 podium of the sea­son, tak­ing third in race two.

All the more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing this was fol­low­ing the heart­break­ing low point of the sea­son when Gil­lim’s sec­ond cousin Nicky Hay­den was killed in a cy­cling ac­ci­dent in Italy, a tragic loss for the en­tire rac­ing com­mu­nity. Nicky’s death hit home es­pe­cially hard for Gil­lim, not only be­cause Nicky was a life­long hero, men­tor, and train­ing part­ner, but it also opened up the emo­tions of Gil­lim los­ing his younger brother Ethan in a rac­ing ac­ci­dent, al­most 10 years to the day be­fore Nicky.

A form of re­demp­tion came in flat-track rac­ing as well when at the Spring­field TT in late May, Gil­lim served up an ex­tended mas­ter­class ses­sion. He not only clocked the fastest time in qual­i­fy­ing, but he won his heat and owned his semi. He then con­tin­ued his dom­i­na­tion right to the check­ered flag in the Main Event, tak­ing the win (on the only Suzuki in the field) with a loose front brake master cylin­der that caused the lever to drop straight down. He coped by push­ing it up with his thumb when he twisted the throt­tle then quickly grab­bing the lever be­fore brak­ing zones! Even on his fully de­vel­oped 450 flat-tracker, 100 per­cent didn’t make the grid!

It was fit­ting that Gil­lim stood atop of the podium for the Spring­field TT, 15 years af­ter his cousins Nicky, Tommy, and Roger Hay­den swept the podium in the his­toric race, par­tic­u­larly in the wake of Nicky’s tragic pass­ing ear­lier that week.

“See­ing Nicky, Tommy, and Roger put it up on the podium, all three in one night, that’s al­ways made me want to get here and get this win,” said Gil­lim on the podium. “Team 95 [his late brother Ethan’s race num­ber]… This one is for my lit­tle brother, and it’s for Nicky too. This is for them.”

A sched­ule con­flict meant Gil­lim missed the Peo­ria TT, a big dis­ap­point­ment af­ter his de­ci­sive win there in 2016. But there was time for more TT dom­i­nance later in the sea­son when in front of a huge crowd in Stur­gis Gil­lim put on a clinic. He got so far ahead in the main that he spent nearly the en­tire last lap do­ing wheel­ies for the crowd.

“I was just hav­ing a lot of fun with it,” Gil­lim said of his flat-track ex­cur­sions. “Go­ing to those races is stress free. I didn’t feel like I had to prove any­thing to any­body at the dirt tracks, so I was just hav­ing fun rid­ing my dirt bike. Ev­ery­thing kind of clicked at those events, which made them seem kind of easy.”

Which was nice be­cause Su­per­stock 1000 rac­ing re­mained chal­leng­ing. Three-quar­ters of the way through the sea­son, an is­sue with his bike’s front brake forced Gil­lim to re­tire from race two at Sonoma. Then Gil­lim sur­vived one of the scari­est crashes of 2017 in Mo­toamer­ica when he flew head first into a tire-lined bar­rier at high speed in the race at Pitts­burgh

In­ter­na­tional Race Com­plex. He came through with not much more than a mas­sive headache, which was an in­cred­i­bly lucky out­come con­sid­er­ing the force he hit the bar­rier with. Gil­lim cred­ited his Bell hel­met and par­tic­u­larly the Alpines­tars Tech-air airbag suit for sav­ing him from worse.

It wasn’t enough that Gil­lim’s bike cartwheele­d through the grass as it per­fectly vaulted over the tire wall and down an em­bank­ment. At least it missed hit­ting Gil­lim. But the bike was de­stroyed caus­ing Ma­theny and crew mem­bers Josh Day and Glen Veatch to once again burn the mid­night oil to get their sec­ond ma­chine ready to race.

The pay­off for all the hard work was awe­some but late com­ing. By the time they’d worked out all the kinks and fi­nally had the 2017 ma­chine di­aled in, Gil­lim had his best road­race week­end of the sea­son by far, with a pair of Mo­toamer­ica Su­per­stock 1000 podium fin­ishes at Bar­ber Mo­tor­sports Park, in­clud­ing a sea­son-best run­ner-up fin­ish in race two.

“They say you’re only as good as your last race, so if that’s the case we’re good,” Ma­theny said. “The last three races we re­ally had a good bike. Ear­lier we had some brake prob­lems. We had a crash, but it got better and better. Then at Bar­ber it just sort of came to­gether and we’ve made it all work. It’s re­ally promis­ing for next sea­son. I’m look­ing for­ward to it.”

The sea­son ended on such a high note that Ma­theny wasn’t ready to see it end.

“No, give me an­other race to­mor­row,” he said at Bar­ber. “I just have to thank Glen Veatch and Josh Day. They’ve been a fan­tas­tic crew this year. I’ve re­ally been proud of them. Both of them are new to us. We lost our other guys. They did a fan­tas­tic job and Hay­den at the end of the year he re­ally fo­cused and bore down and it paid off. So, I’m proud of the team.”

Gil­lim was also en­cour­aged with the way he and the team closed out the year.

“It was a great way to end the sea­son,” Gil­lim con­cluded. “I’m hop­ing we can do this again and we’re talk­ing about next year. I can’t thank the whole team enough: Rick, Glen, Josh, Eric Val­larta [K-tech Sus­pen­sion], and Chris Gardell [Flash Tune]. Ev­ery­body that’s been a part of this. It’s a bless­ing to have them all.”

One les­son from this year is, truly, that 100 per­cent doesn’t make the grid. The free­dom in that is that there is al­ways room to im­prove, room to con­trol more of the vari­ables, and have a better bike and better out­look. In vic­tory and de­feat, there is equal mo­ti­va­tion.

Strug­gles in Su­per­stock 1000 were left be­hind when Gil­lim hit two AFT TT races, tak­ing de­ci­sive wins at Spring­field and the Buf­falo Chip in Stur­gis. VIC­TORY:

It was a bad crash when Gil­lim ran off-track at Pitts­burgh and into a tire wall. For­tu­nately in­juries were mi­nor, but the bike was de­stroyed. BANG!:

Gil­lim talks with Crew Chief Rick Ma­theny about bike setup, hand in mo­tion try­ing to re­late what hap­pens on the track. The rider/ crew chief re­la­tion­ship is key to suc­cess. SIGN LAN­GUAGE:

Is any­thing better than a van for haul­ing all your worldly pos­ses­sions from track to track? Ford Tran­sit be­came the of­fi­cial "V" in MVP this sea­son. The new GSX-R1000 proved to be a weapon for Gil­lim by sea­son's end and helped Yoshimura's Toni Elias...

Em­pha­sis is on the man in the van, Gil­lim, but with­out the sup­port of spon­sors and crew there would be no Plan. For­mer racer Josh Day (with Gil­lim and Ma­theny) served as coach and wrench along­side Glen Veatch (not pic­tured).

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