We are pleased to have Shelina Moreda writing Asphalt & Rubber’s newest column, “She’z Racing at Suzuka”, which will follow her and Melissa Paris’ venture into racing at the Suzuka 4-Hour endurance race later this month.
The American Duo made the first all-female race team at the Suzuka 4-Hour, and campaigned a Honda CBR600RR with the Synergy Force Moriwaki Club team. We hope that you will enjoy the unique perspective that Shelina will be sharing with us. -JB
It’s Day 3 at Suzuka. We had a short practice in the morning and very soon after, I had qualifying. I started out on the bike, got a few laps in, and then it was Melissa’s turn. I got the “Pit” sign on my pit board and came in to the pits, using my pit speed limiter for the first time in a race situation, and we practiced our pit stop. Melissa took off and wrapped up the rest of practice.
My qualifying came quick and it was a short one, I got something like seven laps total, including my out lap and in lap. We tried a bit different of a setup for me this time, handlebars out a little more and the shifter lower, so I was more comfortable.
In an endurance race, the bike has to be set up somewhere in the middle for both riders to be comfortable. We were riding Melissa’s setup, so they made it better for me for my qualifying. Wasn’t much time to get up to speed, but I was at least remembering the track.
When my session was over, I headed to our office and hopped in our big “kiddie” pool on the way, to test it out. The pool is situated just outside the office so we can get in it after our race stints to cool us down. It seemed so cold to me!! but I knew the next day during the race it would feel great.
We didn’t qualify as high as we had wanted, 52nd out of 69 teams, but we were both still getting used to the track and getting up to speed. We also had to realize we were up against teams who have ridden this track before, many locals, and almost all teams were from Japan, so had a home track advantage here.
That said, we knew we had our work cut out for us. Our main goal being to make our team and sponsors proud, race hard and move up. Our team and sponsors wanted to see us finish the race, that was their priority.
For dinner, we went to the same noodle house we had went to during the test. The owners remembered us and there happened to be a girl there eating who had heard about the American girls racing Suzuka and she was so excited to meet us and take photos with us, it was a really cool experience seeing someone outside the race track get so excited about us being there. It also helped us realize what good publicity Moriwaki was getting for our project.
Back at the hotel, I had enough time to send my mom a text to say that the day went well and that I loved racing there in Suzuka with Moriwaki, before my eyes wouldn’t stay open for me anymore. I slept like a rock in the huge bed of my beautiful room at Suzuka Circuit Hotel (it’s really cool getting to stay at this Disneyland-like Suzuka park)
Day 4 at Suzuka – Race Day!
Spirits were up and everyone was ready. We lined the bikes up on the side of the front straight. We took photos with the team next to the bike and then we sat on the other side of the track with umbrellas and took photos and talked with the media.
The presence there was already much bigger than most races I’ve been to. I was proud to be sitting with my SynergyForce Moriwaki Club team. I was anxious to know what the Le Mans start would be like, but I wasn’t nervous or nearly as amped up as I would have expected.
Horns started buzzing to let us know it was time to clear the track and get ready to race. I took my position on the bike side of the track and Melissa took hers, with her foot in the circle on the rider side of the track.
I held the bike from the back, kneeling, in full leathers in the heat and humidity, watching the other side of that track, where Melissa was positioned ready to sprint. We were lined up 52nd out of 69 teams. From under the tail section I watched my teammate’s every move as the buzzers went off and the one-minute board turned into the thirty-second board.
Running through what we’d practiced in my head. I held that bike as sturdy as I could, just like we’d practiced. The bike was in gear, but turned off, with the power switch turned on and ready for Melissa to hit the start button. I tipped the bike slightly to her side. Melissa did the sign of the cross just before the red light went off.
Green Flag, and a line of 69 riders sprinted across the front straight of Suzuka to their teammates holding their racebikes. Melissa jumped on the bike and in one swift motion it was running and I was pushing her off, speeding away to the first lap of our long race. Our start was flawless! Just as we had practiced, and better.
I watched her passing people going down the line, so fast, such a great start!…and the first Le Mans start for either of us. I turned around to get off the track and into the hot pits, there were video cameras everywhere, huge grins and high fives from my team, and our team manager, Midori Moriwaki, as proud as ever.
I can’t explain the emotion I was feeling at the time, it was too incredible. I was overwhelmed. I’m not overwhelmed easily, but it was an amazing feeling knowing we just embarked on a whopper of a race. It was the funnest, coolest, most amazing start I’ve been a part of. My eyes teared up. I am so proud to be a part of this.
I needed to get ready. Moriwaki arranged for a physical trainer and a massage therapist to be there for us during the race. A tiny girl named Yui with some crazy powerful hands. I was to get my forearm worked on to prevent arm pump.
The pit stop was flawless. I was out on the track running my stint and the race was flying by. I was trying new things in corners, learning the bike and taking mental notes. I used both of my stints to learn more about the track and the bike. When I saw “Pit” on our pitboard, I cruised in and did my pit stop just as we had practiced.
Melissa hopped on the bike and took off and as I turned around I was greeted with hugs, smiles and some really cheery faces of my team and sponsors. Everyone, including myself, was so happy!
We were moving up the order in the race and things were going smoothly. I made my way to our little pool. Immediately Seiya handed me my water bottle, and Yui went to work on my forearm, which hadn’t given me any problem during the long endurance stint thanks to her.
It seemed like I had just gotten off the bike when it was time to suit back up and head out to the hot pits for my next stint. Again our pit stop was flawless. Melissa and I did our standard smack on the back and “good job” and “go get ‘em”. I took off and the tires felt good, already hot from all the laps.
I could tell they were getting worn though, they were sliding a lot more, luckily it was predictable. In the 4-Hour endurance race we are only allotted one set of tires, and it’s a long time on that one set. I was actually surprised at how well they were holding up. I said a little thank you to Dunlop for that in my interview with them later that day.
After this stint was over I got to relax, went to the pool, talked with Yuki about the things I had learned and the questions I still had. I felt better in my last stint and was happy to see that my times were consistent even though there was a lot of traffic as well as the tires being so worn.
Melissa brought the bike across that finish line at the end of our 4-Hours and our whole team and all of our sponsors cheered as if we had just won the race. There were hugs and we were jumping around, just ecstatic.
We had worked our way all the way up to 28th position! A huge improvement from our starting spot at 52nd. Plus we had just been the first all-female team to finish the 4-Hours race at Suzuka.
You couldn’t wipe that smile off my face if you tried. I am so proud to have been a part of this amazing race, with this incredible team. It’s something that will be with me forever.
I couldn’t wait to just tell Melissa good job. To tell her how proud I was of her as my teammate. She was all smiles when we got to her, tired from the race, but huge grins. We have a video from that moment, and it’s a special one to me.
We got congratulations from so many of the most important people from our weekend. Everyone seems very happy with our accomplishments, and proud to be a part of the race. We hope to compete in this race again with even more improvement after some real time on the bike and track, and then to move up to the 8-Hour.
This is the most awesome race I have had the opportunity to be a part of. I love this team, I love Japan, and I love Suzuka. I hope our sponsors are as proud to be supporting our effort as we are to be racing for them.
There are a ton of photos and videos and articles popping up. The FIM Women’s Commission is keeping up with them on their Facebook and so are Moriwaki and SynergyForce.
If you want to show support for this project, go like their pages and follow their posts on it. Tell them if you want to see us racing there again next season. We’ve already bent their ears on it :)
Shelina Moreda is an FIM eRoadracing rider for Team Parker Brammo, an AMA Pro Harley Davidson Vance & Hines rider with Chilipepper Racing, a competitor in the Qatar LARRS road race series with QMMF Racing Team, and the first female to have raced a motorcycle at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.