Do you remember every turn you make as you drive to work? Or every turn en route to the grocery store or Victory dealership?
Probably not. So consider the mental challenge faced by Don Canet, who will race the Victory Racing Project 156 motorcycle in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb on June 28.
The Victory Racing project is named for the number of turns on the road up the mountain. That’s 156 turns, and Don Canet has each and every one memorized. That’s one way he has prepared to “Race to the Clouds.” The Victory Blog wondered how a racer prepares to race up the legendary mountain road when there’s very little opportunity for advance practice runs at speed. For Canet, who raced in the hill climb for the first time last year, much of his preparation was mental, and was done before he headed to Colorado.
Who Is Don Canet?
First off, let’s answer this: What qualifies Don Canet to pilot the Victory Racing entry? Consider his bona fides: Canet, age 53, has been with Cycle World magazine for 25 years, and is currently the magazine’s Road Test Editor. That means he rides bikes faster than anything you or I have ever ridden, on roads and racecourses all over the world.
Before joining the magazine, he was primarily a racer, and he has continued to race over the years. That includes last June in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb for the first time. In order to write a first-person article, Canet planned to race a Ducati Mulistrada 1200 as a teammate of former AMA supercross champion Mickey Dymond, who in 2014 was racing at Pikes Peak for the sixth time.
In the race, Canet not only beat Dymond (by 1 second), he finished third among motorcyclists in the race, and he was 11th-fastest finisher overall. He covered the 12.42-mile course in 10 minutes, 10.01 seconds, a tick over his pre-race goal of braking the 10-minute mark. Canet’s average speed going up the mountain was 70.808 mph.
How to Prepare
How difficult is it to prepare to race up Pikes Peak? “For a newcomer, it is a monumental challenge,” Canet said.
His approach was to develop tremendous familiarity with the racecourse. “I had watched some onboard video prior to going for a test weekend, but the video didn’t do a whole lot of good. I didn’t relate to where we were on the course,” he said. “After the test weekend, then it came really quickly.
“I studied the course map and there were a number of corners that had no name or label, and I started giving those key corners a name that had some significance – maybe a trackside landmark like a drain pipe – and it helped me piece together the sequence of key corners going up the mountain… By the time I went back for race week, I didn’t have any real doubts about the sequence of corners. Then it was a matter of riding it again.”
In the week prior to last year’s hill climb, racers got to take part in four morning practice sessions. In each session, motorcycles ran on one of the three sections of the course, and cars and trucks ran on the other two legs.
“Race day is the first time you’ve gotten to piece all of this together,” Canet said. “I had the course completely memorized by race day. But in that first test weekend [in advance of race week], I didn’t have any idea where I was going.”
That can be a problem when you’re racing up a mountain road with none of the safety barriers or run-off zones of a typical racetrack.
“There was a corner that made an immediate impression on me the very first morning, a corner called Ragged Edge,” Canet recalled. “It’s a fairly medium- to high-speed left-hand bend with a big guardrail that ends right about the spot where I’m going to need it the most. That dogleg was unnerving, but I felt it was important because of the fast section that followed it.”
Ragged Edge is near the top of the second section, meaning the especially daunting top, or third, section is coming up fast. The top section gets the greatest snow cover and is exposed to the most extreme annual temperature swings. That can lead to cracked and compromised pavement.
“The top section is rough due to weather and temperature fluctuations,” he said. “Riding it at slow speeds doesn’t do a whole lot for you. It feels fairly smooth when you’re going slow, and it’s incredibly rough and bumpy when you’re attacking those corners at speed. The classic racing line through the corner might not be the best line due to road conditions.”
Race Day Surprises
Race day 2014 featured sunny skies and, when Don left the starting line around noon, 75-degree temperatures. He was hopeful of good grip and a realistic shot at a sub-10-minute run. He started strongly and ran the first section faster than the eventual winner of the motorcycle class. But then things changed.
“I had some moments on race day,” he said, meaning moments of uncertainty. “The level of grip was quite a bit less than we had enjoyed each morning during the week. I started to doubt my tires and my bike, thinking perhaps there was an issue with the air pressure or that the tire warmers were on too long before I started.”
At one point in the on-board video of his run, he even leaned out to look at his rear tire, which he feared was going flat. He said other motorcycle racers experienced the same diminished grip on race day, “and the consensus was the road was dusty and dirty” from tourists driving up and down the mountain in the days before the race.
“I will be looking for that this year, and will be more aware that that can be the situation… It’s truly a test of blind faith running up this hill at speed because you know every corner could have gravel. You don’t get a sighting run on race day, there’s no warm up, it’s just try to be relaxed and breathe.”
In the video of his 2014 run, he reached the summit, parked, dismounted, and addressed the on-bike camera, saying, “That was the gnarliest ride I’ve ever had.”
What to Expect This Year?
The Victory Racing entry features a chassis built by Roland Sands and a prototype engine built and tuned by Victory Powertrain engineers. Canet got to test the bike at a California racetrack in May. He ran several laps to get a feel for the bike, and provided the team with some input.
“I think the potential is there, but I think too much sometimes, too,” he laughed. Told that several observers were impressed by the bike’s speed and handling in that initial test session, Canet added, “To see the enthusiasm and the passion that this whole team has invested in this, I’m tickled they came away with that observation.”
On the mountain on race day, he said, “I’m sure it will be awesome for any of the Victory riders to hear that exhaust note.”
Those Victory riders can trust that Canet will be well prepared to make the best run possible.
“I don’t have a [target] time in mind yet. I would hope that I could better my time last year,” he said. “I have a really good idea of what to expect. I think my process last year was really good, how I approached each day. I was pretty analytical about all that.”
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