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 are making the first all-female race team at the Suzuka 4-Hour, and will be campaigning 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. Race day is July 25th. -JB
If you know me, you know I like new adventures in racing. I want to do as much racing, in as many awesome places as possible, and hopefully find out where my niche is and find a home racing somewhere eventually, but I still hope I get to continue traveling for racing always.
Racing in Japan is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s something that came up about a year and a half ago, and I made it known that I really wanted to do it. We had a strong lead last year, but it couldn’t happen for some valid reasons.
Nobody gave up on it though, we kept pushing for it, and this year, to my surprise and awe, the well known and respected Team Moriwaki expressed a strong interest in putting together a team for the four-hour endurance at Suzuka. Everyone put it in high-gear to get the team together and to figure out all the details that go along with such a high-level event like this, with such a high-level team.
It’s been somewhat top secret, and the excitement, at least for me, has been pretty hard to contain. We’ve all been working diligently behind the scenes, and it seems we were all holding out breaths at this twinkling far-off dream of ours, watching it become a reality, until our test this week, where everything came together, and we all pinched ourselves and realized it’s real. Midori Moriwaki, Melissa Paris and I have spent some time laughing about this this week.
Midori is one of the most driven, business-aggressive, motivated, and inspiring females I have ever met. I’d love to follow her around for a season. She’s incredible, in short.
When she was asked if she was interested in this project, of bringing two American females to race at the four-hour endurance race in Suzuka, she knew it would be a huge undertaking, and her response was “We have to.”
I was amazed at her determination. There is no hesitation of “maybe” with Midori, when she knows something should happen, she goes for it. She is a force to be reckoned with, and one of the most powerfully-minded females I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside. Not to mention, she has the respect and admiration of what seems to be the entire racing paddock.
Melissa has been working on this from her end since our Women’s Roadracing Training camp in August, where she expressed that it has long been a big goal of hers to race at Suzuka. Unbeknownst to both of us at the time, we had set ourselves on a path together, to form the first ever all-female racing team to enter the four-hour endurance race at the Suzuka Circuit (a hat tip to our ladies Kathleen Coburn and Toni Sharpless, who raced the 1987 Suzuka 8-Hour for Yamaha, on the Nescafé Americana bike).
Next was finding out all the rules, gear regulations, building the endurance team, making sponsorship partners, booking flights, and making it all come together. We are lucky to have the support of the FIM, and we are also lucky that Midori sets out with a goal in mind and no other option but to obtain it.
Fast forward to the first test date.
I landed at Nagoya airport late at night, the night before the test. It was a real treat when Jin, Moriwaki’s media director, picked me up at the airport with a sign that said “She’z Racing Honda” and loaded my gear into the Moriwaki van! I felt like a real factory rider.
He also got me SynergyForce, which is my favorite drink of all-time, it’s like a Japanese style sports drink. Such a treat! At the hotel, I settled in and did my best to fight off jet lag from the get go. Melissa would arrive the next morning.
Arriving at the track for the first test day, we hit the ground running. I was immediately sent to school to get my Japanese racing license and to learn the differences in flags and rules of Suzuka practice days.
The main differences is that there is a half-black, half-white flag which indicates a slower rider on track ahead of you, this one is quite useful as speed differentials are huge here. The strangest one is that their white flag means that there is an emergency vehicle on track…and that you have to safely go around it.
This was an extremely weird thing for me, and it happened that twice in my first session I was riding alongside the emergency vehicle, passing it safely, but it was so strange, since we don’t ever have cars on track with bikes here in the States.
Once I obtained my Japanese license it was time to meet the team and my new race bike. Midori Moriwaki, the team manager, was there to walk me through everything. She and Jin introduced me to my team, the four-hour endurance manager, several of our sponsors, and many of the other teams. We had a Japanese style lunch (I had some kind of sushi and rice bowl that was delicious) and then we got ready for our first session. High-gear, all day long.
We set up the bikes, baselined them, just me since Melissa wasn’t there yet. We adjusted levers, shifters, handlebars, to make it all fit. The bike felt good immediately. The team and I seemed to jive as well. They were on the ball, professional and attentive. Right away I could tell they know what they are doing.
Yuki, a Japanese Moto2 racer and former MotoGP rider, would be our adviser. He went over a track map with Melissa and I, and explained that the track was like two separate tracks put together.
He explained to us how to recognize the chicanes coming up over the blind hills. Melissa and I have both spent time watching video from the track, and looking at track maps. This all went out the window when we finally had our first practice session though.
We both blew right through both chicanes in our first lap or two out. It’s such a fast section before each one and it is SO blind leading up to them! We understood immediately what Yuki meant by it seeming like two separate tracks, the one section all esses and the other is super fast and super slow mixed together.
Maybe we shared the feeling that maybe the half-white, half-black flags were aimed at us each time they came out. For me it was almost embarrassing, I felt so in the way. Everyone assured me that people understand how difficult Suzuka is to learn though. I still had this feeling I wasn’t going to get it though.
For that first session, my overall feeling was just…overwhelmed. I couldn’t find markers. I couldn’t figure out the flow of the track. I couldn’t even latch on to the fast guys to follow them. And then twice there was this emergency vehicle on track that I had to navigate around.
My mind was boggled. I came in to change the shifter position because I wasn’t able to reach it. That also gave me a minute to breathe. We couldn’t even start to think about bike setup, because we were so off pace.
Midori called a team meeting and we were all able to get on the same page, saying the goals of the team and building an understanding of the direction we were going in together. It’s nice to see things be taken so seriously.
As a rider, this team bonding is important to me, because I’m putting my life in the hands of the crew. Half of them speak English, and half of them don’t; but Midori made it a point to make sure communication was open between all of us from the start and I appreciate that.
Next session and it was time to put the jumbled mess of what I learned in the first session to use. I felt better, a little more familiar with the track, but I still blew the chicanes once or twice. I picked up the pace, I think I dropped four seconds from the first session. Still a long way to go, but it was starting to make a little more sense.
We had a meeting with the team, and with Yuki. We talked about shifting points and gearing. We decided on a gearing change for the second day of testing. I tried to wrap my head around the markers in the last chicane that Melissa told me about, two pylons that stick out over the blind hill.
She helped me a lot with learning the track, and went over markers with me and with Yuki. It’s really cool to be learning from Melissa, she has a lot more race experience than I do and a lot more schooling, plus I respect her very much as a rider. I didn’t expect her to help me as much as she did, but I am glad for it.
At the end of the first day, I was content, you could say. I wasn’t “happy”, or quite satisfied with where I stood, but I was pleased that we seemed to be making good progress.
I went over the track in my head, pondering my lines through the esses, my shifting into Turn 1 and out of Turn 2, my apparent lack of markers, and the unflowing direction of the track. I was tired and felt like a full sponge, I was looking forward to a good night sleep to absorb everything. We had a nice dinner with Midori and Yuki at a typical Japanese noodle house, where Midori encouraged full stomachs.
Back at the hotel, being only 8 pm, Melissa and I planned to watch some American TV shows she had on her computer, but once in our rooms, the last bits of our energy disappeared. I laid on my bed for “just a moment” and fell asleep in my jeans and Moriwaki t-shirt.
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.