Published March 9, 2015
This week’s publishing is a request. A reader asked that I publish a description of a lap around Sears Point that I wrote in the 1977-1978 time frame. The description appeared in a number of places including some of the AFM racing programs as well as the Second Annual SONOMA MOTORCYCLE CLASSIC Souvenir Program. This version is from the 1978 AMA National program because that’s the version I found first while rummaging through my musty old newspapers and magazines and stuff. This is how it appeared, word for word (except I fixed some typos). Uh, remember as you read this I was 20-something and not a practiced writer. If I were writing it now it would be better.
A Fast Lap by Paul Ritter, Defending Sears Point Production Champion.
A lap around Sears Point Raceway has been compared to a roller coaster ride, and that’s not off by much. Sears Point is a hill circuit. Of its total length of 2.5 miles only a little more that one half mile is level — the rest is up one side and down the other.
Pulling out of the pits you run through the Start/Finish straight, which is on the flat part of the track but isn’t really straight. The track is very wide at this spot, as it is also part of the layout’s drag strip. For motorcycle road racing this spot is usually taken as a sweeping left turn. Just past the Start/Finish line is the fastest section of the track, with the quickest machines topping 130 mph.
The circuit narrows and the left turn gets tighter as you reach turn one and start the first of the hillclimbs. You rocket through turn one, shoot up a short, steep straight, stab the brakes for an instant, drop a gear (or two if need be) and pitch the bike hard right for turn two. At the apex of this turn the gradient changes from a steep climb to more of a gentle rise. This can make the bike light on its toes. A short straight, very bumpy for motorcycles, connects turns two and three. After the rise to turn two the track falls into a dip at the entrance to turn three.
Three is really two turns, a quick left-right S-bend that must be taken in combination. It is complicated by the terrain. At the entrance the track is uphill turning left and gets steeper as you flick the machine from hard left to hard right. Then, just after apexing the right hand section the track falls steeply downhill. It is easy to get the front wheel in the air as you accelerate out of this turn and drop down the hill.
You’d better get the front wheel back to earth quickly, because you have to brake hard for turn four, a tight right-hander. Not only is turn four tight but it is decidedly off-camber and a little slick as well, adding to the excitement. The turn opens and you accelerate hard. You are about to blast through five, a fast right hand sweeper that continues the downhill drop then begins another climb as you approach turn six — the infamous Carousel.
Roaring out turn five you dash up a short hill featuring some bumps at the top, and as you crest the rise you discover that the track has gone away.
The Carousel is always a thrill the first time through as the entry is completely blind. You come over the crest and discover that the track has gone left and drops steeply. You turn, and turn, and turn some more, all the time losing altitude as though you’ve just ridden right off the end of the world.
You bottom out — finally — and at this point the track gets really fast. You start another climb and it is nearly a quarter of a mile from turn six to turn seven. It will be you first opportunity to visit top gear since downshifting for turn one.
The track is nearly straight now, although there is a flat-out dog-leg to the left just before you get into seven. Once again it is time to get on the brakes in a big way. Turn seven is a second-gear hairpin, which leads you into the Esses. This speedy little section is a series of left-right combinations, which slope gradually downhill until you exit the right-hand eight-A. Here the track drops steeply and you pick up a lot of speed which carries you through the left-hand turn nine. This is probably the second-fastest section of the track.
After nine you work your way to the left of the track to set up for turn ten. This corner is a fast right hander and you are finally on level ground again. You can take turn ten at 100 miles an hour – if you hit just right. If you don’t it’s a trip to the tire wall for certain.
Turn ten leads you onto the longest level straight of the road racing circuit – all of 1,100 feet.You have to use about a third of this straight for more “white knuckle” braking as you grind it down from flat out in top gear to a crawl in second. Turn 11, you see, is a hairpin right hander, good for maybe 30 miles per hour. Coming out of this turn is literally a blast. You turn it on and run through the gearbox rapidly to be back up to top speed as you flash under the starter’s stand.
That’s once around Sears Point. With the Ducati, and it’s five-speed gearbox coupled to a notoriously torquey engine it works out to 22 gear changes per lap. I go from second to fifth and back three times, with some other changes thrown in for good measure. A friend on a Yamaha TZ350 with six speeds in the gearcase counts 36 cog changes per lap with the light-switch type power curve. Sears Point is a working man’s circuit — fast times are earned by the sweat on your brow.
That ends the original post. Sears Point Raceway, now Sonoma Raceway, has changed in several spots since this was written. Turn seven has been widened and is now a double-apex corner. The start/finish straight is really a straight since a new wall has been constructed between the raceway section and the drag-strip section, and the bikes can’t drift out wide like they used to. Turn one has been tightened so the run up to turn two is slower.
The entire section from turn eight-A to turn one is different, changed mainly for safety. The old turn ten was really fast with very little run-off room and the original turn eleven had a solid concrete wall on the outside. As the bikes got faster that area became too dangerous.
However, the basic nature of the track hasn’t changed. There are no long straights where the rider can relax a little and let the bike do the work. In spite of the changes it is still hard work.