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Jurby Endurance 2017

October 11th, 2017
The Andreas Racing Association has an end of season 4 hour endurance race each year, usually in early October.  I've raced in it a few times, and last year teamed up with my Manx mate Andy Cowie, using his venerable but lovely Yamaha Thundercat 600.  We had such a whale of a time last year that we decided to do it all again this year.  To make things even better, my mate Neil Ronketti had been tempted out of retirement by another longstanding racing mate, Chris Foster, to ride in the same event, on the Darvil Racing SV650 Supertwin. You can read all about Neil's experience in his blog, but the relevant bit for this part of the story is that we combined travel plans, and I enjoyed a good old catch-up and chin wag with Neil and Foz in the car and on the boat.
Riding someone else's bike makes one feel like a bit of a works rider.  You turn up with your leathers and kit, and the bike is there waiting for you.  And that's much how it was for me this time - the bike was all prepared, and all I did was help load it into the van.   I was staying in Ramsey with long-time racing (now retired) mate Keith, and all I had to do was get an early night and get to Andy's for 8:30am on Sunday morning.
Andy's old steelie (racer-speak for a steel-framed 600) really is lovely, and this year, with some fresh paint, it even looks lovelier!
Andy Cowie's Thundercat
Helping us out was John Holt and Graham Wilcock, of Wilcock Consulting, who were sponsoring us for the event.  And we looked quite professional, under the gazebo that Andy bought from B&Q for £57 the evening before (sorry about the trying-to-look-moody face)
Team Wilcock Consulting
Practice was damp, and while everyone knew it was going to dry out, times were definitely 10 seconds or so off a dry pace - pole was a 1:19, and we set a 1:23.  But the times didn't matter anyway, as we lined up in number order.  Despite being told to run for the Le Mans start when the flag *dropped*, pretty much everyone except me set off when it was raised :-)  But it's a 4 hour race, so stealing a few places at the start isn't going to last long.  I enjoyed the ding-dong of the early laps as people sorted themselves out, and the bike was fast and predictable in the mixed conditions.  The track was still damp in places for the first hour, and unusually for Jurby, there wasn't any wind, so it was a good way into the race before the whole track was dry.  Sponsor and pit board man Graham gave me lap times as I passed the start, and I quickly got down to regular 1:16s with the occasional 15 thrown in, before pitting after approx 40 mins (and 31 laps).  We had an uneventful change, and Andy did his first stint, posting consistent laps and getting into regular 17s too.  When we changed for the third rota we were in 9th overall, which was bloody good, I reckon!  And I was having lots of fun - look:
I started my second stint full of enthusiasm, but after 8 laps Dudgie (on the even -older-than-our-bike ZXR750) came past waving at me, and I looked down and saw the rear shock remote reservoir hanging by its hose and flapping around by the swing arm.  I pitted, and John and Andy set to with cable ties.  The timing charts show that we lost 5+ mins here (6:47 lap instead of 1:20 or less), which might have made the difference of a place at the end.  But ifs and buts...  I went back out, and the repair was fine, but the unscheduled stop had dropped us to 15th overall when I rejoined the track, and I could only improve this to 11th before my stint was over.
Andy did his second stint with another set of 16s and 17s (and a few slower, but with endurance racing you can easily lose a couple of seconds in traffic), and then it was time for my third and last stint.  I went out, and after only a lap or two, Derren Slous passed me on the straight on the aforementioned ZXR.  I didn't think about it, but noticed a lap or two later that he hadn't got away by much.  So then I started to try...and I slowly but surely wound him in.  And in the process, I set my fastest times - a few 15s, a 14 and then a 13!   And then I was past Derren!  This was quite a scalp for me. I kept my head down for a lap, but then gave myself a talking to and settled back into a 16 pace, and, sure enough, Derren came back past a few laps later.  But still, it hadn't ended in tears.  I finished our session in what looked like a fairly safe 11th place, and handed back to Andy.  The stop dropped us to 12th, but Andy posted a host of 16s and 17s again and brought the bike home in 11th place overall and 6th in the 600 class.  And, importantly - first Steelie!!!  There was only one other steelie out there, and their fast rider, Dean Osbourne, posted a bunch of 1:10s,so they should have had the beating of us, but they spent 17 mins in the pits early in the race, and that's really difficult to come back from, no matter what speed you have on the track
I've got to the point in my racing where results barely matter - it all comes down to how much fun I had.  And, by that measure, I was stood atop the (fairly crowded!) podium  :-)

Jurby two-day meeting: day two

September 29th, 2015

Andy and I allowed ourselves a refreshing pint after our efforts on Saturday, and but as we knew were racing today, Sunday, we limited it to just the one.  And then that evening my hosts Keef and Becca put a fantasically cooked steak in front of me too.    I do love visiting my friends on the Island!

Not only that, but on Sunday morning Keef was also up early and we all had a full english breakfast.  Becca's son James had agreed to come and be the paddock =-stand-monkey for me and Andy, which was especially useful as we were both in the same races.  You can put a bike on a paddock stand by yourself, but it can be a bit of a pain, especially when you come in hot and breathless after a race.  

We arrived at the circuit with little to do, as the awning was up, and we just had to roll the bikes out of the van.  Scrutineering was enlived by the scrute noting that I didn't have any bungs in the ends of my handlebars.  I didn't yesterday, and was pretty damn sure I hadn't throughout the classic TT, but you are meant to have them.  I made an attempt to fit some from a spare pair of bars, but the diameter was wrong; I explained this to the scrute and he was happy to let it go as an 'advisory'.   

When the ARA have a two day meeting, they run the circuit in opposite directions each day.  Yesterday was clockwise, which is my preferred direction, as it's mostly right-handers, and 'snuffies' is a real bottle corner.  So today is anti-clockwise, meaning mostly left-handers, and much less bottle required for 'snuffies'.  But it's still good fun.  After riding yesterday, I felt relaxed and happy rolling out for practice, but it seems everyone else did too, as while I was a second faster (1:18), I qualified one place lower (15th).  Andy had exactly the same experience, going faster but being one place down, so again he was one row ahead of me.  

If anything the weather today was even better than yesterday - it was properly hot!  I could have fallen asleep in the sun, which is very unlike me on a race day.  I even had some of Andy's proffered coffee to wake me up!  But eventually the schedule rolled round to our first race, and we collected in the holding area.  For this meeting the ARA had a changed start procedure - on exiting the paddock everyone does a full lap to the grid, where we form up, and then do a warm up lap, before forming up again for the start.  This effectively gives everyone two laps to get the tyres up to temperature, which seemed to work very well, as there were very few crashes over the weekend (though that might have been down to the unseasonably high temperatures).   Anyway, we did our out and warm-up laps and formed up for the start.  The lights changed and Richard Bregazzi surged across from 13th place (the left) to the middle, causing the chap in the middle (14th) to veer into my path.  I managed to avoid him, but seemed to lose a lot of time, though checking the lap chart, I was still in 11th place at the end of the 1st lap, which I guess is ok for a 'bad start' from 15th on the grid.  Being in the middle of the field obviously fired me up, as my lap times were notably faster than yesterday, and I eventually caught Rich Bregazzi and passed him.  I also passed a lad called Terry Rigaux down the straight on the last lap, only for the blighter to pass me back on the brakes at the end of it!  I wasn't having that, and rode round the outside of him in the long Castle corner, just managing to nip in front of him before I would have hit the cone placed to prevent riders cutting the next corner.  All very exhilerating!  And I was particularly pleased with my best lap, which was a second faster than yesterday.

Position: 9th (2nd in class)
Best lap:  1:15.3

Race two came round soon enough, and we all formed up again.  This time I followed Andy into the first corner, and was then comfortably able to pass him down the straight.  He hung onto my tail for the rest of the race, he said - when I asked him where I made any time, he said "down the straights".  And then I asked where he made it back, to which the answer was "everywhere else".  Hah!  I then set about chasing down fast starting Rich Bregazzi, and managed to pass him on the 5th lap, and held the position to the end.  And my best lap was a couple of tenths faster than race 1 too, which was obviously pleasing.

Position: 9th (2nd in class)
Best lap: 1:15.1

And then we packed up and headed home, for a quick shower and change before meeting back at the pub, and then the traditional post Jurby Sunday evening visiti to the curry house.   All in all a fantastic weekend - great weather, great racing, and great company.

Jurby two-day meeting: day one

September 26th, 2015

The end of season ARA race meeting at Jurby is a two day event across Saturday and Sunday.  I wanted to give the ZXR750 a run out before the season was over, and of course I need race meetings to get the six 'signatures' required for the "TT Mountain Course" licence.

My bike and van and all the associated paraphenalia was still on the Isle of Man since the Classic TT last month, so I flew across on the fantastic City Wing service from Gloucester.  The way flying should be.    And then it was up early-ish (for a Saturday) and off to Jurby in a van still stuffed with everything we packed it with at the end of the Classic TT.   I grabbed a good spot, set up the awning, and was joined by my partner in crime for the weekend, Andy Cowie.   The weather forecast, and reality, was superb - warm, sunny, dry, and, amazingly for Jurby, not a breath of wind.  

We did the usual sign-on, scrute, briefing thing and then went out for practice.  Since I re-invented myself as a 'classic racer', I'm much less focussed on results, and went out at the back of my practice group.  Which meant I spent 5 laps passing slower riders, and only got a clear lap in at the end of session.  At 1:19, I guess I was slightly dissappointed with this, but it put me about half way up the grid (14th, middle of the 5th row), which was ok really.  I should mention that the class ARA run these bikes in is a combined class of steelies (steel-framed 600s), post-classic (up to 31 Dec 1992) and 650 twins, mostly Kawasaki ER650s.  Andy qualified directly in front of me, in 11th place (middle of the 4th row).

And then there was the usual wait until my race, which in glorious warm sunshine was not a problem.  We rolled out for our out lap, did a warm up lap, and then the lights changed and we were away.  Andy and I both got good starts compared to the others on our rows, such that I followed him into the first corner.  For the first 3~4 laps I tried to chase him down, but he eeked out a handful of metres each lap. And then he lost focus a little (as he admitted later) and the gap closed right back to nothing.  I chased him into the chicane, and on the way out Andy was in the wrong gear, and I breezed straight past.  I should have waved!   I knew Andy would be cheesed off about this, so I got my head down to try and make sure he couldn't get back.  Which he didn't!  

Place: 10th (2nd in class)
Best Lap: 1:16.4

We both arrived back at the awning with grins on our faces.  This was what racing was about.   We then had time to have a drink (it was hot!), check the bikes over, splash some fuel in, and generally relax.  But our next race came round soon enough.

Our starts were similar to the first race, but I had to be a little more forceful through the first chicane.  I was still on Andy's tail as we exited the long fast right-hander onto the straight, and I was able to use the extra power of my 750 to draft and pass Andy's 600cc Yamaha Thundercat.  This meant I entered the kink at the end of the straight ("Snuffies") faster than I'd done all day.  I scared myself!  But I got round, threw the anchors out and braked for the fast approaching "Bus Stop" chicane ok.   I didn't see Andy again, and passed another Steelie rider, and kept my head down.  I didn't make any further places, but felt like I was lapping at a good pace.  Which, it turns out, I was!

Place: 7th (2nd in class)
Best Lap: 1:15.3

That laptime made me very happy.  I've been round Jurby much faster (low 1:12s), but to do it on the Classic bike I built myself feels more rewarding.  

Andy and I felt we'd earnt a pint, so we went to the Traff in Ramsey and damn well had one.

First race meeting of 2015

May 18th, 2015

It's been a long time since I last raced a motorcycle.   Last September, in fact - that's 8 months ago!   But first, some background...

A New Hope

After putting myself in hospital at the TT last year, it was clear even to me that continuing to race big fast modern bikes round the TT course was not going to end well.  Or, to be more precise, it was likely to end badly and permanently.  But I already had a plan to prepare a Kawasaki ZXR750 for the Classic TT; this would enable me to still ride my favourite road in the world, but crucially a) on something a fair bit slower than a modern ZX10R and b) under a lot less pressure to prove (to myself, to the organisers, to the spectators) that I had a right to be out there.  The Classic TT is a race, obviously enough, and the fast guys are properly fast, but part raison d'etre of the whole event is that it's "a show" - for specators to look at the bikes and say "I remember them", or "I used to have one of those".  So, when I saw the Mistral Kawasakis a couple of years ago, I knew almost immediately that this was the path I would follow.

So in late 2013, I bought myself a road-going ZXR750, and set about collecting everything needed to turn it into a decent F1 spec Classic Racing Motorycycle.  The original plan was to ride in the 2014 Classic TT, but the crash at the June TT put paid to that.  So last winter I started the build, and eventually arrived at this:

ZXR before first test ride

While there are still a number of things to be done, I was quite pleased with the appearance of the end result.  But this was a bike built to race, so how it goes is more important than how it looks.

Plans for the Season

In order to arrive at the Classic TT in August with a sorted and reliable bike, I would obviously have to ride it and develop it a bit first.  The original plan to was to get it out on track in April, at the two-day Jurby meeting, and then run it in the Pre-TT Classic on the Billown circuit in May to make sure it worked on the bumpy roads circuit.  But I'd severely under-estimated the work involved in race-preparing a 23-year-old bike; not only was I turning it into a race bike, I was also effectively doing a nut-and-bolt restoration, too.  I got my entry in for the Pre-TT Classic, and then fretted as I waited for components to arrive and work to be done.  At the beginning of May, the engine still hadn't run!  But, then everything came together, and I had a running and rolling bike.  Now, I needed a suitable club meeting to run it at and check that everything worked...

 Mallory Park, 17th May

I finished the bike on Wednesday 13th May.  Of course, a project like this is never finished.  But the bike was ready to be ridden in its first test on track.  I quickly checked what meetings were coming up, and found EMRA were running at Mallory this Sunday. Of course, it was way past the closing date, but the entry secretary at EMRA couldn't have been more helpful, and sorted everything out over the phone for me.  So, once I again I found myself loading a van at the weekend, and heading off to a race circuit on Saturday afternoon.  

I met my mate Pat, who has himself just started racing this season, at the circuit, and we quickly unloaded the van, got the awning up, and everything set up in it.  And then we went for a curry.   I slept in the van that night, and it would be fair to say that I did not get a good nights sleep.  Not helped by the fact that I was nursing a very unpleasant head cold.

Race Day...

...dawned bright and sunny!  After tea and bacon sarnie, we got in the scrutineering queue. The bike passed with a couple of advisories, but there was a problem with my crash helmet - no ACU Gold Sticker!  This  despite the fact that it had previously been passed at the TT and by ARA.  A quick trip to the race office sorted it out (apparently, because my Shark had come direct from France, the sticker hadn't been applied by the UK importer), and then we were ready for practice.  Also, long time race mechanic and former endurance racer Alex Ferrier had turned up to help too.

Practice was called, and I pulled out onto the circuit.  A circuit I last rode round at least 10 years ago, if not 15.  But still, Mallory is not especially complicated, so I wasn't worried.  However, braking and changing down for the hairpin at the end of the first lap, the bike lost power and died.  It felt like a fuel problem.  I had to sit with the marshalls until the session was done; while sat there, the bike would fire up, run for a few seconds, then die again.  Definitely fuel starvation.  I got the bike back to the paddock and Pat and Alex pulled the tank off and found that the fuel hose routing was not ideal.  Because the bike uses a race airbox, which the carbs sit inside, this makes this area all a bit complicated. The guys changed some hoses, tried a different routing, and then I went out for second practice. 

This time the bike did manage a whole lap before the fuel starvation kicked in again. I got it back to Pat and Alex, and left them to pull the bike apart again while I went to the race office to see if I could get special dispensation to get out in the last practice session.  Which I did - the EMRA officials were fanastically helpful all day.

This last session was for the Earlystocks class - big air-cooled twin-shock bikes from the 80s.  The sort of bikes that the ZXR made obsolete.  And so it turned out on track - the ZXR ran well and with the pack for five laps, overtaking a fair few of the Earlystocks bikes.  And then it felt like it was going onto reserve again, so I pulled in sharpish.  This time I went to one of the paddock race suppliers and bought a good length (over 2m!) of replacement fuel hose, and Alex re-worked the entire fuel system.  And then we were ready for Race One.

Or were we?  The bike fired up nicely in the awning, but when I got to the holding area, it sounded sick.  A different sort of sick than fuel starvation - this time, like it was not on all four cylinders.  We got shown out to the grid, but all was not well, and as the flag was waved for the warm up lap, I paddled the bike off the grid and into the paddock.  The guys confirmed by ear that it was only running on 2 cylinders, which meant ignition.  So tank off again, and this time carbs and airbox to, which led me immediately to the smoking gun...

...I'd known previously that one of the connectors onto the stick coils (I'd converted the ignition from the two big original coils to use four stick coils from a ZX6R) had lost it's clip to hold it in place.  I knew I had to fix this, but the connector was quite a tight fit on the coil, so thought it would be ok for a run round a short circuit.  Well, it was a tight fit when cold, but now everything was hot, the plastic had expanded, and it was quite a loose fit.  And the engine vibration had completed the scenario.  So we lock-wired the connector in place, and put the bike back together.  Again.   [For anyone wondering why a single loose connector caused the bike to go onto two, not three cylinders, it's because the feed from pairs of coils to the igniter are in series, not parallel.  There.]

First Race

This should have been my second race, but see above.  But first, a word about racing classes.

Racing classes are designed so that similar spec bikes race against each other.  So, there'll be a class for, say, 125s, and another for 600s, and another for old bikes (e.g. Earlystocks, above), and so on.  Unfortunately, my 750 didn't fit any of the classes that EMRA run.  It was too new to be an Earlystock (I think their cut-off is early/mid-eighties), it was too big for the pre-injection class (which EMRA only run up to 600), so I was left with the 'Open' (anything goes) and Superbike (modern 1000s).

So I lined up at the back of a sparse grid (~10 bikes) looking at load of very modern, very fast 1000cc bikes.  Some with slicks on.  The flag dropped, and the field rode away from me.  Still, I knew very well that I wasn't really here to race, I was here to run the bike (and sort out all the sorts of problems described above), and that trying to go fast and risking crashing would have been an utter disaster.  But we (me and the the bike) were definitely out of our depth - the rest of the field had more power, less weight, better brakes and suspension, and, to be frank more skill and track experience.  Did I mention I had a cold?  And hadn't been on a track in eight months?   All this, combined with the fact that Mallory is a very short track, meant that the leader (a moderately well-know and quick chap called Lee Jackson) lapped me on lap four.  LAP FOUR!!!  OK, he was doing 51 second laps, and my best was a 1:02, but, really, that hurt.  And during the next five laps, four or five others came past, too.  I suspect I've been last in my racing career before, though definitely long enough ago for me to have forgotten about it.  But I've never been that last!  In the history of being last, few have been laster.  Ouch.

But on the plus side...the bike kept going!  And it went pretty well.  It's difficult to judge power on the track, but I'm sure it needs some dyno time to get the engine working properly, but it was a reasonable starting point. And it steered and handled as I remember ZXRs always did - very predictable, enormously trustworthy front end, and rolled beautifully into the corners.  And the brakes worked pretty well, and the bike was stable on the brakes, gently but controllable waving the rear wheel a little on the ripples on the way into the hairpin.  And, looking at the rear tyre afterwards, the rear suspension doesn't look a million miles out, either.

Race Two

Race two was more of the same, but this was the Open rather than the Superbike, or the Superbike rather than the Open.  I really can't remember which.  On the warm up lap, I was comfortably able to maintain station with the back half of the field, which encouraged me to think thoughts of doing a little better.  Unfortunately, no - obviously while I'd been riding the warm up lap at 85% effort, they'd been at 70%.  One guy was behind me after Gerrards, but the rest just gently rode away.  Slowly, but away all the same.  There was still someone behind me, on a Suzuki TL1000, I think, and he stayed there for about four laps, but inevitably he got past, and then showed that he did have more pace by making a gap fairly quickly.   So, last again, but not as last this time.   And again, the bike behaved itself and ran well for the whole race.

When I got back to the paddock, I declared that we should call it a day, and pack up the van.  Which we did.

Next steps

I head to the Pre-TT Classic in just over a week.  Before then, I need to get the ignition coil connector sorted.  And a host of other little jobs.   But the day demonstrated exactly why you need track time on a new build - none of the problems we found and fixed would have even turned up on the bench.

Huge, HUGE thanks to Pat and Alex, without whom I'd have been a whimpering mess in the back of the van.  Thanks guys


From hospital to race track

July 31st, 2014

Regular readers will know that I crashed in practice at TT2014, and put myself in hospital.  I was extremely fortunate to not hurt myself more than (quite severe) concussion, and a 'chipped' pelvis. I was on crutches for 10 days, and then walking unaided.  But I was still quite creaky, and it was a good few weeks before I felt like I was properly ok.

Part of the plan for the 2014 season was to do all the Andreas Racing Association meetings at Jurby, and while I had to miss the one at the end of June, the July meeting was on the cards.    And so I found myself on the ferry across the Irish Sea once again.  

It was warm and dry when we arrived and set up in the paddock.  The Isle of Man had been enjoying a similarly scorching summer to the rest of the UK, but the forecast was for some rain in the afternoon
We did the usual sign-on/scrute/briefing etc, and then were out for practice.  This was my first ride on a race bike since waking up in Nobles hospital after a helicopter flight, so I did admit to being a little apprehensive.  And I was on the receiving end of a hard stare from good friend Keith McKay, and told to take it easy. But, well, it's like riding a bike, isn't it? Mind you, I was second onto the track, and for the first two laps it felt like a dozen people came past me. So maybe I was taking it easy!   But then I stopped being passed, and even caught some others, and felt ok.  A best lap of 1:15.6 is 3 seconds off my ultimate race best, but was enough for the third row (9th).  
In the second practice session there was a shower, and I went from "I'm a road rider, me, a bit of rain doesn't scare me" to "I've not idea how much grip there is, and I'm scared" in about 2 laps.  Then my good mate Fozzy came past me, and I was happy to see if I could follow him.  I couldn't, and he got a good few seconds on me, but then the shower eased, and the track dried, and I made all the time back and caught him again. Times were much slower, obviously, but I'd managed 4th on the grid.
Race 1: Singles, Twins & Triples
I got my usual cracking start from 9th on the grid, and muscled into about 5th place.  The next corner a rider on a Steeley (it's a mixed grid) muscled past, and I spent a lap behind him, while the first four cleared off.  Once I got back past there was a gap, which I set about, but didn't really close.  Then the championship leader fell off, so that was one less.  I brought it home in 4th overall and 3rd in class, with a best lap of 1:14.4 (still a good second off my regular pace...)
Race 2: 650 twins
It was raining a bit, but most of the field were on dry tyres.  I got a decent start from 4th on the grid, and we managed to get a couple of laps done before it was red flagged with the inevitable crash.   The rain got worse, so they sent us all off to change tyres while they ran the next race. Keith and I set to changing wheels, but while the front was easy, the rear wheel on the ER6 put up a fight, and I missed the race.
Having wrestled a set of wets into the bike, I was now hoping it stayed wet.  My prayers were answered!
Race 3: Singles, Twins and Triples
The track was properly wet as we formed up, and I was looking forward to my first ride on wets in bloody years.  I can still remember the disbelief I felt in how they defied the laws of physics the first time I used them.  Which all came flooding back to me on the warm up lap - how DO they do that!!! I got a cracking start straight into about 3rd place, and then just revelled in the grip and feel that good wets give you.  Although not as much as the two fellas in front of me, who cleared off several second a lap faster. Two laps from the end a steelie came past, but I rode home 4th overall and third in class.
Race 4: 650 twins
This was much more straightforward - started 4th, finished 4th (3rd in class).  Sounds dull, but it wasn't !
Overall, a good day out, and at least as much as I could have hoped for at my first meeting back.