Ok so I *almost* survived my 1st expert weekend unscathed
First of all... VIR is a BAD ASS track. As it stands right now, I'm ranking it ahead of Barber. The faster you go, the more rewarding it is. The back section is fun as all hell... and I was hard-core digging the roller coaster. Kinda tough to learn, as there is a LOT going on... and really no place to rest. But holy crap... everything is left-right-left-right and you are RAILING... 3rd/4th/5th and damn that front straight is long. If you guys get the chance to roll there, I'd highly recommend it.
2nd... I am SO glad I went expert. A wise young man (Jessie Janisch) once told me... "Going to expert will make you 2-3 seconds faster, guaranteed." Well, I think he's right. I don't think I would've gotten anywhere near the laptimes I was running had I stayed in the yellow-plated class. While I don't think the back of the pack in expert is all that much faster than your average Am... they are definitely much cleaner and more predictable.
We left Chicago at 5:00 on Thursday to head out to VIR. Didn't wind up rolling into the track until close to 10:00 AM (oops!) Thankfully the super-kind staff was nice enough to let us squeak into the back row of GTU and Team Challenge.
Missed 99% of practice. As soon as we registered, rolled the bikes out of the trailer, geared up, tech'd, and snuck out into our last practice session as the checkered flag was waving. Officials let us go out, provided we came right back in after 1 lap. So GTU was basically our practice. Kinda hairy... first expert race, NO idea what direction the track went... I just kinda let everybody go, figured I'd go out for a stroll. Started to finally get the hang of the track, thought I was rolling along pretty well until I got lapped by Jensen going into T1... guy freaking backs it in in front of me. But I started to realize as the faster guys lapped me that it was actually a GOOD thing. Started to try to follow the fast guys for as long as I could... "Ooooooh, so THAT'S how to take that corner..." Wound up going from 1:45s to 1:39s, just by getting lapped (who'd a thunk it?)
By the end of the weekend I had run a bunch of 1:36s, a best of 1:36.3, while riding at about 60% I think my best finish was 16th (?) starting from row 11. I want more track time, as there are a ton of things I want to try (gearing for one, and suspension for another.) I think I can get down to the 34s pretty comfortably, maybe even 33s if I try hard enough. There is NO way I would've come CLOSE to these times had I stayed Am. I think the leading Ams were going 1:37.50s (which is STILL flyin', no disrespect)... but I would've been fighting it out with those guys, and no way I would've gone over a second faster had I not bumped myself up.
A few BIG realizations that hit me this weekend:
1) Pre-registering is WAY more important as an expert. Starting in rows 10 and 11 all weekend makes it TOUGH as heck to work your way to the front, especially when all of these guys have been racing a few years.
2) Passing is a lot harder to do as an expert.
3) DON'T try to stretch out a set of tires. (Ok, so this has nothing to do with being an expert.) Learned this the hard way, tucking the front in the back section on lap 5 of 7 in my last race of the weekend. I'm ok... but now I have a pile of aluminum that I need to reassemble When in doubt - just buy a set of tires. $300 is WAY cheaper than the $1000 it's gonna cost me to put this POS back together!
To those Ams out there who are contemplating jumping ship... DO IT. The contingency as an Am is definitely nice (it's what kept me an Am for the first half of this year)... but pushing to keep up with the REAL fast guys will hopefully get me closer to collecting contingency as an expert