IOMTT – The Story from the Pits (Buckeye Current)

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So.  You’ve always wanted to race at IOM, and you fantasize about what it must be like?  How about from the perspective of a college kid on some team?  How about the Ohio State Buckeye Current team?

Me too.

When Kyle Ginaven first headed over there the parent in me kept thinking, I hope this kid understands how AWEsome this is, and drinks in every second.  Not many people get a chance to do this kind of thing more than once in a lifetime if they get the chance at all…  Well, I’ve been chatting with Kyle’s replacement on the team, Polina Brodsky, and asked her what it was like.  Here’s what I got.

Hey Ted,

Sorry this is so delayed. I’ve been in TT remission this week and I’ve dealt with it by working, reading motor spec sheets, and putting tons of miles on motorcycles trying not to think about it. I believe I owe you a TT narrative!

Everything that could have gone wrong for us on that trip did. The first night we were there, Rob called us at 12:30 saying there was smoke coming from the bike. We pretty much flew down to the paddocks to discover that we had a HV sense wire short. Luckily it didn’t damage anything but some repairable boards, but having your pack smoking in the middle of the night gives you quite the scare. It was so nerve-wracking being down there in the pitch black, trying to figure out if this thing you poured your heart, soul, time, sweat and tears into is damaged to the point where it can hurt someone. The people that went down worked so well together though. We were systematic, calm and composed and everyone did a task without anyone stepping on each other’s toes or panicking. It just astounds me how well our team works together and how great our dynamic is in sticky situations. I am so lucky to work with such amazing people.

Once the pack short was sorted out, things seemed pretty alright. We prepped for the first practice, charged, did some press interviews, put on sponsor logos, and worked day and night. It was awesome There’s nothing like doing what you love for 20 hours a day without having to focus on anything else. Then, when the first practice came around, we found out that we had two low cells after the run. When we tried to remove them, that entire section of pack was found to be swollen, puffed up and that the cells were about ready to burst. Some of those pouches were swollen to twice their size and I seriously thought we were going to have a cell vent and have to deal with a lithium fire, everyone thinking the electrics are dangerous, and Rob not trusting us anymore. I had never been scared of the bike until that moment.

That night involved running the bad pouches outside and babysitting them with a fire extinguisher waiting for things to go bad. It was pretty tense. We all felt pretty hopeless since we had ruined  1/8 of our battery pack. It especially sucked because Rob said RW-2.X was by far the best handling electric he’d ever ridden. He thought we had a podiuming bike in there, and it was so heartbreaking seeing those batteries fail. We worked so hard to be there and now something totally out of our control seemed like it was going to ruin us. We think the cells got damaged because of how we packaged them. That pack was compressed at 4 contact points, which meant expansion could shear the laminations in the cells around the contact points. They were also stacked sideways, so any vibrations or jumps may have caused the pouches to rub against each other or have strained the tabs, causing delamination and puffing. To fix it, we lifted the top pack up a big higher and stacked a 2×4 grid of cells in there instead of a 1×9. They were loaded in a way that wouldn’t cause the same problem again. It was an innovative, quick, and resourceful solution. Again, we work really well together under pressure.

During that fiasco, both our Manzanita charger and our PL8 broke, so that added to the fun. Having an electric bike and no chargers isn’t too great. Luckily ARC let us use theirs. They are such cool guys. I don’t know what we would have done without them.

While that was going on, I spent like 13 hours in one sitting simulating our final run. We knew another practice would ruin our cells, so we decided to just run the final and throw everything we had at the final run. The goal was to completely run the pack into the ground at the line. We wanted him to get every ounce of energy out of it to a point where those cells were completely empty across the line. We didn’t care if he damaged the cells and made them unusable and completely killed the bike. As Brody said, we wanted to rather “run that pack into the ground or run the bike into a wall”. We just wanted every ounce out of it. So we worked to get him a gearing that would give him the top speed he needed to ruin that pack and get everything out of it on race day. After hours on my computer, we decided to gear him to top speed of 115 mph (up from practice’s 105) and crossed our fingers.

It was tricky because we were starting right behind Sarolea. If we pulled ahead of them too early, they would draft us to conserve energy and their thermal limiting. If we didn’t catch them fast enough, they might have pulled ahead too much on the mountain where we get thermally limited. Rob was brilliant. He pulled up behind Sarolea and drafted them to conserve our pack and then let them pull ahead enough to keep his timing lead. He is a brilliant rider. He mashed our bike completely. He said he got the rear wheel in the air in the gooseneck, which is not something he’d ever done on an electric. He used the entire tire’s worth of lean and kept it pinned in corners that I wouldn’t even take at 45 mph in my car. I can’t gush enough about Rob’s riding. He can look at the RPM curve from a practice lap and just from jumps in the graph, tell you where every turn is, where he followed someone, and how he could have rode it better. That man knows his course. He took me and Julia in a van around the course and we were passing motorcycles and cars with roll cages while maintaining the lines he does on the bike in a giant 12 passenger van. It was pretty freaking awesome.

Race day was brutal. My legs seriously gave out waiting for Rob. Lucky for me we had a handful of people that were a little less shaky than me, so there were plenty of shoulders to lean on : ) We were just refreshing the live feed the entire time and wincing as Sarolea started catching our lead. Then when they came across the line, we waited for Rob. He slammed the bike across the line and it seemed like we had beat them with the time stagger. They pulled the Sarolea bike into the winners enclosure but the results said we had won. The transponder issues they were having didn’t help. So we wandered and paced and bit our tongues waiting for them to figure things out. It really is a miracle that I didn’t pass out in those five minutes. Then they announced it. Rob had it. I can’t really even describe what happened then. I seriously just lost control of what was happening. All I remember is hugging team members as we walked the bike to the winner’s enclosure. Actually, I don’t think I walked at all. Every time I hugged someone I just ended up getting carried over somewhere. I don’t think my legs were working and the hugs were big enough for my feet to leave the ground, haha. It was just a mess of embraces and tears and laughs and love. I remember seeing Rob and all I could say was “Thank you so much” and he just laughed at me and put the wreath around my neck and said “here, you deserve this. You did it”. That was just surreal.  Rob Barber. Put the wreath. Around my neck. WHAT!?!

What followed was a confusing mixture of celebrations and naps. We had a presentation to give the next day and some packing to do and then it was over. That was rough. Doing what we did at the Isle is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. It’s hard getting a taste of that and then having to go home. There’s something about that place that’s like a disease. You can’t not love it. You can’t not want to be there and you certainly can’t leave happy. There was quite a bit of depression going on this last week.

So yeah, there you go. That’s what happened. I’m leaving quite a bit out and this probably isn’t even coherent but it’s so hard to write about an experience like that. It was just amazing and life-changing and thrilling and fun and awesome, every minute of it. I’ve never felt more passionate about the bike, closer to my team mates, and driven to work harder than on that trip.

P

…so yeah.  I think it sounds like they understand the significance of it, and, maybe, just, maybe, appreciated every second.  Yup.

Oh.  …and by the way?  How’s about if somebody gets their head out of their butt and gets these kids some frikking batteries?  Dudes.  They placed THIRD, two years in a row, and it’s pretty obvious this pack has been tapped for all it’s worth.  Yeah, Mugen has a seemingly unending supply of money, but you have to believe this team could take things to another level if someone had the wisdom and foresight to port some serious packs to them, right?  What would someone need to be convinced, if this doesn’t do it?

A hearty congrats to these kids…  and there’s no doubt we’ll be following their exploits in years to come.

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4 responses to “IOMTT – The Story from the Pits (Buckeye Current)

  1. Pingback: Story from the Pits (IOMTT-Buckeye Current) Post is Live | The Electric Chronicles·

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