iReport; James "the Rocket" Rispoli, Daytona 200

Andrea Wilson Photo                                7th place in my first Daytona 200 

Hi everyone! It’s been a long winter and even longer start to the new year but I am here to tell you that all the hard work and dedication is paying off, BIG time.  My trainer Richie and I have had a relentless training program and while I had some ups and downs with keeping my body 100% healthy due to the tough schedule, when all is said and done I was ready, really ready for Daytona, the biggest, badest race of the season.   We worked so hard and all that work helped me lean out more, get my fitness up and helped me sharpen my mental attitude.  I am so ready for this season and super excited to work with my new team National Guard Celtic Racing, my new crew chief Barry McMann and compete in a new class, AMA Pro GoPro SportBike the premier 600cc class here in America.

So whatever you do keep on reading because I ‘m going to tell what it was like to run with the fastest racers in the nation at one of the fastest tracks in the known free world, Daytona International Speedway.

Daytona - AMA Pro Road Racing - Daytona International Sppedway - Daytona Beach FL - March 14-16, 2013 :: Contact me for download access if you do not have a subscription with andrea wilson photography. :: ..:: For anything other than editorial usage, releases are the responsibility of the end user and documentation will be required prior to file delivery ::..

Andrea Wilson Photo                      Making it happen on the banking...

The weather was cold, colder than many of the training days I had throughout the winter months.  Our first practice had us tip toeing around the course like ballerinas because the tires were unable to get enough heat in them and when you got into a right hander the tire was like riding on an ice skating rink.  It got so dicey that over 30 riders took a tumble in the first session and I was one of them.  I was able to get back and get on my back-up bike and still get a few laps in and that evening my crew patched my “A” bike back together so I could have another shot at the track.  That first practice I was like 19th and the top times were significantly off from the year before.  In the second practice I was able to squeak out a 10th but these were both practices and on Friday we had two qualifying sessions.

Friday

In the morning the skies were  bright but the weather was cold, real cold.  We kind of hung around waiting for the second half of the session before we went out to do a run.  Unfortunately when we went out we didn’t get a chance to get many laps in and a red flag caused us to come in early and really not get a time at all.  We were 27th after the first qualifying round and frankly I was getting a little nervous with only one qualifying session left to go.  The good news was no one did a fast time and all the times were slower than our second practice times.  That led up to our P.M. qualifying session and that would be the last time we have a chance to qualify for the big dance.  We went out and put in a few good laps to get on the board in the 10th qualifying position.  I clearly had more in me and we came in to get some fresh tires a little adjustment and allowed the sun to continue to warm up the track. We went back out on the track with around nine minutes to go, enough for an out lap and two to three good qualifying laps.  But as luck would have it, a red flag came out on my out lap and put a stop to qualifying.  While I wasn’t real pleased with my 10th place qualifying position, it was better than some of the other top guys and I knew if I got a good start I could make it up to the front group and run with those top riders. 

The BIG Dance, the Daytona 200

Our race got off to a great start in dry warming conditions.  The fan walk was great with what seemed to be a packed house.  I got to talk to so many people and show off my new Pista GP AGV helmet that I was debuting at Daytona.  I had some butterflies in my stomach about getting a good start and making sure I kept in touch with the lead group straight off the bat.   I knew I needed to stay with them and keep in their draft if I wanted to make a top five finish.

The race began and I got a little shuffled back through turn one and as soon as we moved to some open track I started to pick off some riders making my way to the tail end of the lead pack.  The bike changes we made the night before were in the right direction having anticipated some quicker speeds, and faster times then I was producing all weekend.  The changes were good and the bike was strong.  I was able to hang easily with all the bikes on the grid except the factory Yamaha’s. They seemed to get some added zip for the race that wasn’t there in practice or qualifying because in those sessions they didn’t run away from me.

Anyway I was in good position feeling the draft, making my way to fourth and hanging around the front for the first 19 laps.  At the first pit stop we took on fuel and changed the rear tire only.  When I got back on the bike I could immediately feel that the bike wasn’t turning as good as it was.  The front was pushing and I had to ease up a little which slowed up my pace some.   I struggled through the second session but remained consistent and in the fourth, fifth and sixth position.  I battled with JD Beach for a bunch of laps and that was fun and when he went in to pit I stayed out for another lap or two trying to gain a few seconds back.  I made it up to second and then third for a few laps before I put my foot out to pit as well.

I came in and hit may marks and was hoping for a clean pit stop even knowing that we had to take on both front and rear tires.  During the pit stop the bike came off the lift, caused some fuel to spill and caused a delay in getting the rear tire on.  Seconds ticked by but I remained calm knowing I needed to bring this ride home in 15 laps to grab a handful of points.  The team got me out and by that time I lost my huge gap on 6th place and found myself back into 7th fighting to get back at least one more position before time ran out.  I closed within a second of the 6th place rider and was only able to pull a 7th place finish out of the race. It wasn’t a bad start to the season but I knew I could have done better if we had a little more practice and a little bit of luck, but that’s Daytona.

To sum it all up I know I have one of the best teams in the paddock behind me.  Together we are racing, over coming challenges and we’re all getting better at what we do. I want to thank my entire team, especially my crew chief Barry, Dustin and Mike for doing everything it takes to give me the best race bikes on the planet.  They are the best. To everyone else who came together to help this ride open up for me I say thank you! I will do whatever I have to do to be ready to race for every event.

Till next time do what I like to do, GO FASTER...