I had never been to Calabogie before and the track has not been on the schedule for several years, but we did have some data from a track day that Jodi attended last year.
Calabogie Motorsports Park is definitely a different track than we are used to in Canada; it's very long, with 20 corners and a lap time just over two minutes. There are many elevation changes with blind apexes, and a mix of fast and slow corners. The pavement itself is smooth and in good shape, which is probably the biggest detail that sets Calabogie apart from any other track in the country. A first glance at data from Jodi's Superbike shows that traction is good: Cornering forces are more than 1.2 g in all corners, with a peak of 1.6 g in the "Crown" corner that has a dip right at its apex. That equates to more than 50 degrees of lean angle in every turn, and a maximum of 58 degrees. As well, Jodi's feedback from riding in the rain on Friday during the CSBK weekend indicated that traction - at least in the wet - was very good.
All weekend, however, Jodi's main issue with the Superbike was rear traction, from the apex to the exit of every corner - something we heard from other riders also. How can this be the case? Part of the issue is the nature of the track, and how it is unlike our usual venues. In many corners bikes are leaned over for a very long time, with the rider anxious to get on the throttle while still on the edge of the tire - a difficult proposition on a high-horsepower superbike. Also at Calabogie, there are many elevation and camber changes to unload the chassis at inopportune times. Friday's heavy rains may also have made the track "green" with less traction that usual. The otherwise pristine nature of the surface and the other characteristics of the track go a long way to disguising the relatively low level of traction compared to other tracks in our series, to both the rider and to the data guy (me). Sandy Noce, the Dunlop race tire representative at the track, did point out that car drivers consider Calabogie a "low grip" track, and I think this is the case for motorcycles also.
The simple answer in this day of rider aids and electronics is to dial in a bunch of traction control to fix the issue and move on to other things. But part of the trouble with that solution is that most traction control systems cannot detect those slides right at the very apex of the corner. Typically, TC setups either compare front and rear wheel speeds, or detect a sudden rise in engine rpm to detect wheelspin. At maximum lean near the apex of the corner, however, a slide can occur with almost no change in rear wheel speed, meaning it would go undetected by either algorithm. Adding TC in this case only serves to slow the bike down unnecessarily, masking the problem rather than fixing it.
Not wanting to slow the bike down by adding traction control, we spent all weekend searching for grip that perhaps simply wasn't there. As I've mentioned before, on the Superbike this is all about weight transfer and the squat/anti-squat properties of the chassis, which can drastically affect what we call mechanical grip. On the Superbike, this is a huge factor and typically dominates how the bike is set up at any given track. We tried a lot of setups, some drastically different than others, all without much success. Finally, as a last resort and literally on the starting grid for the race, we added some more traction control.
You can see in the video of the race (available at csbk.ca) that both Jodi and Jordan Szoke were experiencing slides at maximum lean at the corner apexes, especially in the later laps as the tires wore. Jordan said after the race that an electronics malfunction left him with no TC from the second lap on, but I'm not sure that it would have been much help for those slides in any case.
The race at Calabogie highlighted the reality that electronic rider aids are not the magic that many people believe them to be; a good setup is still crucial, and the rider still has to manage the throttle. For me the weekend was a valuable lesson in traction, traction control and mechanical grip; as always, we will take what we learned and put it to good use at the next rounds.
- Andrew Trevitt