Category: "Classic Racing"

All dressed up, and nowhere to go

August 22nd, 2018


The weather didn't read its own forecast, and the cloud stayed down and practice was cancelled again

Full version

After practice was cancelled on Monday, there was little to do for Tuesday.  Activity was limited to ensuring the bikes were full of fuel, transponders charged and tyre pressures correct.  And I cleaned the bikes a bit, stung slightly by a scrutineer saying the ZXR was grubby! It wasn't, so maybe he thought he was being funny.

The weather in the morning was very grey and drizzly, with low cloud, but the forecast was fort it to clear - temperatures were meantt to hit 21 deg C, and the cloud was meant to lift.  And so it seemed to be playing out, with the afternoon much brighter, so we got the bikes up to scrunteering on time, they sailed through, unsurprisingly since nothing had changed since yesterday, and they were soon sat on tyre warmers in parc ferme.  Time ticked round, and I got my leathers on, and joined all the other riders and crews in the noisy and busy holding area.  Practice was due to start at 6:20pm, but the Clerk of the Course, Gary Thompson, came on the tannoy to annouce a 25 minute delay, as they waited for the cloud to clear over the mountain.  Mulitple people, myself included, looked at the public webcam images from the Bungalow, and were not optimistic.  Ten minutes later Gary Thompson came over the tannoy again with the bad news - he'd been speaking to the Isle Of Man met office at Ronaldsway airport, and the cloud predicted for later in the evening had arrived much earlier, and we weren't going to be riding this evening. 
[By way of explanation: if the cloud is down over the mountain, you're effectively racing in fog, which is dangerous enough.  But more significantly, the air-med rescue helicopter can't fly, and without that there is no way to provide medical cover across the whole 37.73 mile course].

So we all packed up and took bikes and equipment back to the paddock.  And then Alex set to in our rather plush camp kitchen, and produced the most amazing chili I have ever eaten.  It actually got me high - I've never experienced an altered state from chili before!  I hope I'm not selected for random drug testing...

I'm writing this on Wednesday afternoon, and the sun is out, and the cloud is lifting.  I'm hopeful we'll get out this evening.  But the Manx weather cares not about us, so we'll see.


Fog stops play

August 20th, 2018

Very short update tonight - the mist and fog was down all day, and it was pretty obvious no one was going to be riding race bikes around the TT Course this evening.  And so it turned out, with the practice seession being cancelled before anyone even had to go through scrutineering.  So we went to the pub instead.

Forecast for tomorrow is much better, so here's hoping

Nearly full still isn't full

August 19th, 2018

First evening practice - Classic TT 2018

Yesterday evening was one of those practice sessions that can only happen on the Isle of Man.   But before we get to that, I need to tell the story so far.  Normally I write a separate blog post about my Classic TT preparations, but this year I've been too busy, er, preparing, so it'll all have to be done here.  As previously mentioned on this blog, I use the amazing Trello to organise all the multiple things that need to be in place before I can go racing.  So you can rest assured that for each of the things listed below, there is a trello card sitting pleasingly in the 'done' column.  If you think this sounds good, here's a full review of Trello.


After the ZXR cracked it's cylinder head, I raced at the Pre-TT Classic with a second-hand stock motor, bought in a hurry on eBay.  For an engine of completely unknown provenance, it went pretty well.  But I wanted a decent amount of power for the TT course, and Andy and Keith at Dynotech were on the case, fixing my old motor with new pistons, a re-bore, and a newly flowed head.  As is the way with such things, the engine was only ready two weeks beforehand - I had a weekend to fit it, then it went back to be run in on their dyno, and then I had a trackday at Cadwell to shake it down.  And it ran fine, so the omens looked good.  I also gave the TZ250 a brief run to see it was all OK, since it acquited itself so well at the Pre-TT Classic, and the little two-stroke felt light and fast and flickable and all those things you can only get from a GP250.

On Wednesday I spent more than a couple of hours loading the van - we have to take pretty much the whole contents of my workshop, and this year I also had a spare engine to squeeze in too.  But it all fitted, just about, and early Thursday Vanessa and I headed off. First stop was Alex's place in Shropshire, where the big team tent lives, and other camping kit, and to collect his kit bag, as he was cycling the 90 miles to Liverpool for the evening ferry.  He's still on one of his fitness kicks.  The journey up the M6 was no worse than usual (i.e. just fairly crap), and we joined a collection of race vans and camper vans waiting at the ferry terminal.  We rolled off the ferry, straight into the paddock, and had a pitch within a few minutes, in marked contrast to last year.  But consequently I tried to do too much - instead of just getting the tents we were to live and sleep in sorted out, I also wanted the the awning up and the bikes in it, so it was another late night with just a beer and a pot noodle for tea.

Friday was very wet.  This put a damper on everything, but as it was just a "set up" day, we could deal with it. We ended up with the team tent all sorted for communal cooking and living, and the awning logically laid out to meet my OCD requirements, to the extent that each bike has it's own whiteboard with jobs to be done on it.  I love a whiteboard.



First Practice

The forecast for Saturday was dry and bright, and so it turned out.  The plan was to just get two laps in on the the ZXR750 tonight, to remember the way round - this bike is like a comfy pair of slippers for me now, and so easy and forgiving to ride, it's the obvious choice to get my eye in, compared to the much more demanding (but rewarding when you get it right) TZ.  Simon and Alex slipped effortlessly into 'crew' mode, checking over the 750 and getting it ready for our scrutineering slot.   We fueled up the bike, but it wasn't brimmed, just seeming "full-ish".   Alex questioned this, but I said "it's the first night, I'll be going gently, it'll be fine".  More later...

As always, on the first night of practice parc ferme is atmospheric and exhilarating.

Parc ferme, 1st practice

Standard practice for the first practice session is for the newcomers  to do their 'escorted laps', behind an experienced racer, so they went off first.  This was 20 minutes later than  planned, as the organisation of this massive and complex meeting cranked into life and sorted out last minute marshal placements, and got a few errant cars moved that had been left on the road.  Just before 6pm, the first of the Classic Superbikes headed down Bray Hill, with the fast, seeded riders, such as Dean Harrison and Michael Rutter.  And then the rest of the field were called, in groups of 20~30, and pretty soon we were up on Glencrutchery Road, lining up in pairs and ready for the tap on the shoulder.  I reacted faster than my starting partner, but he nipped ahead as we grabbed second gear and I didn't see him again.  Which was fine by me - the first lap of practice is no place to start racing.  I felt good on the bike, and quite soon there was the always pleasing experience of seeing other bikes ahead, and slowly winding them in.  Of course, a few came past me as well, but the ratio of catching to being caught felt in my favour.   I remembered the course like it was burnt into my brain, which, of course, it is, and felt very safe, with no scary moments, and a decent amount of room between me and the kerbs.  On Cronk-y-voddy,  a modern Manx Grand Prix (MGP) bike came past, but instead of pulling away, I was able to hang on to him, and sit comfortably on his tail, and closing in on some corners where he was less confident.  Somehow he must have realised, because at Bishopscourt he looked over his shoulder at me, and waved me back past!  As I completed my first lap, everything felt good, and so I flew through to start my second.  This time definitely felt faster, as the reference points were now only about 20 minutes old in my memory, rather than 50 weeks.  I felt like I got Quarry Bends just about perfect, and then tucked in and lifted my bum up down Sulby Straight, such that when I got through the kink at the end, I had to sit up sharpish and brake really quite hard at the 300 yard board.  And so the speed trap testified, as I clocked 156mph through there.  I headed up the mountain with everything feeling good, but at the Les Graham Memorial the bike coughed, coughed again, and then died.  I coasted into the Bungalow with my arm in the air, thinking "that felt just like running out of petrol" - which was exactly what it was.  Morale of the story - don't go out for two laps without the bike being completely full of fuel.

There was another bike also stopped at the Bungalow, a classic GSX-R 750 being ridden by Ben Rea.  He'd stopped to make adjustments to a loose fairing, but then the bike wouldn't start again, due to a flat battery.   I cheekily asked if I got steal some petrol out of his bike, and he very happily agreed.  So I butchered a water bottle to make a transfer container, he took the tank off his bike and splashed it into the bottle.  After repeating this half a dozen times, I figured we'd got a couple of litres in the ZXR, and I could hear the fuel pump prime carbs and then stop, and the bike started readily.  By now the second practice session had started, so Classic 500s and 350s, and the MGP Lightweights (650 twins) and Ultra-Lightweights (400 fours) were out, but also the fog was coming down.  The marshals at the bungalow were both really helpful, and very professional.  They held me for a while, as joining the track in the fog a less than racing speed would be too dangerous.  The fog got worse, and they heard on the radio that the session had been ended.  We waited for the last few bikes through, and then I got on my way, being careful in the very thick fog, and on stone cold tyres.  It  was important to ride the bike back for two reasons - firstly it wouldn't involve my crew having to wait for open roads to drive the van to come and collect me, and secondly I would 'complete' my lap.  It would be very slow, but would count as a completed lap, and each bike has to do at least two laps, and the rider five in total.  It only takes a breakdown or two, and a lost session or two due to weather, and it can quickly become a problem to even get those few laps done. 

I got back, got out of my leathers, got into a hot shower, and then clean clothes, and immediately felt amazing.  There really is no experience remotely like riding the TT course on closed roads.  And on top of that, Vanessa had a brilliant curry ready for the whole crew!  After eating and drinking, I found the lap times online, and my first lap had been at 106mph; as the qualifying cut-off is 105mph, and the second lap had been counted (albeit at 43mph!), that meant the ZXR was already qualified, on the first night!  I felt like the second lap was probably a couple of mph faster, and looking at the sector times the next day, my feeling was confirmed. I was 15 seconds faster to Ramsey, and had I carried that faster pace over the mountain, I would probably have been 20 or more seconds quicker over the whole lap, which would have equated to a low 108mph.  [Update: double checking the sector times, I was in fact 20 seconds faster to Ramsey, so I'm even more confident that I'd have been in the 108mph bracket on my second lap].

So, despite the hiccup with the fuel, it all turned out well.  Sunday is a day off, neither of the bikes need much doing, so we're chilling out.  Next practice is tomorrow evening, when we plan to get two laps on the TZ250.  Watch this space!


New Favourite Meeting?

May 30th, 2018

I think I've said before that the reason I go racing is to be able to race the TT course. If I couldn't do that, then I probably wouldn't bother at all. But for the last couple of seasons the Pre-TT Classic has become a firm favourite too, and this year was no exception.

The run up to the event was not exactly smooth, as described here. But after both bikes ran well at Jurby, most of my fears were laid to rest, and I felt a lot more relaxed. I'd arranged my travel logistics to stay across on the Island for the few days between Jurby and the Pre-TT Classic, and my very understanding boss was ok with me working remotely for three days, so I was 'in the office' sat at keith and Becca's kitchen table for 3 1/2 days. I took a few hours out of my work day on Tuesday to grab a decent spot in the paddock, and pitch my awning and the team tents. By the time I'd finished, I had the new awning up, and full with both bikes, tools and equipment, gas fridge and camping cooker, and it all looked full factory! The weather was scorching, and looked set to remain so for the duration.

Thursday was first proper 'event' day. I headed down to the sea terminal in Douglas at lunchtime, and met Alex and Simon off the 1pm boat. Alex had cycled the near 100 miles from his house in Shropshire to Liverpool, setting off in the middle of the night to make the 11am ferry check-in! He has these regular "get fit" periods, and has dropped 20kg since Christmas. To cap an epic ride, he'd crashed on the way and suspected he might have cracked a rib. Turns out he hadn't (we think), but alcohol and ibuprofen were pressed into service over the next few days to manage the pain. Simon was on his rattly K75, which was sounding like a tractor due to a cracked exhaust manifold. So not so full factory, then.

We spent the afternoon sorting out the workshop area and living space, and doing a few little jobs here and there. Signing on was at 7pm, and I got there 30 mins early to find half the field had a similar idea. But everyone was very good natured, and when the doors opened we all got processed through, checking riding gear, licence, transponders, etc and I was out in good time. I headed back to the paddock, grabbed the guys and we went into Douglas to eat. My partner Vanessa was on the 10pm boat, and after eating I met her off the boat and we all returned to the paddock.

Friday - First Day of Practice

The great weather continued, with Friday dawning bright and sunny. First practice was this evening, with the roads closing at 6pm. The bikes were basically ready, but there were a couple of small jobs to attend to, and a lot of lock-wiring of items that you don't worry about on short circuits - front fork clamps, brake caliper bolts, etc. The consequences of a failure on a public roads circuit are obviously much more serious, and if a bolt is lock-wired, the scrutineers can visually assure themselves that is is secure. As usual, the Southern 100 club ran things with military precision, and we had times for scrut'ing both bikes, and out practice sessions, written on the white board in our awning. Both bikes were given a clean bill of health by the scruts, although the TZ250 was given an advisory to check a hint of play in the head-races, and were soon sat up on stands with tyre-warmers on in Parc Ferme.

TZ & ZXR in Parc Ferme before practice

As usual before a first practice session, I was very nervous, and had to keep finding things to do to keep my mind occupied. But the time soon ticked away, and the roads closed on schedule at 6:15pm. The newcomers were out first, led round by a travelling marshall, and then the various classes each had their turn. The TZ250 is in the "Post-Classic Junior Superbike" class (the name makes no sense to me), and our slot soon came round.  Alex and Simon warmed it up (using my fancy, and quite expensive, socket-with-a-clutch-in-it on a battery drill to start it), and soon they were pulling tyre warmers off and I was heading out to the colecting area with more than 20 other ring-a-ding-ding two strokes. The class also allows 600s, up to 1986, and the were a handful of GPz600s out too, including my good manx mate Andy Cowie. We set off in pairs, and I was soon re-acquainting myself with the circuit, and reminding myself of how good a TZ250 on song feels. I was pleased that I could remember the circuit pretty well, and felt comfortable with where I was going. My braking points still felt way too early, but that is as much about reminding myself with just how well the TZ can stop. While out, there were a few spots of rain on my visor, and the marshals did put out the 'rain' flags (red diagonal cross on a white background), but the road itself never got wet, and I don't think I slowed much if at all. It was only the first practice, and the session was soon over, and I had some laps under my belt, and was confident that I'd qualified. As was the case - the rule was that you had to be within 118% (for an 8 lap race) of the average time of the first three riders, and I was comfortably within that. In case you're interested, this margin is calculated to minimise the chance of slower riders being lapped by the leaders.

Once back on the 250, we parked it back in the awning, and waited in par ferme for the practice session for the ZXR750. However, we heard the bikes go silent in the preceding session, and concluded that there'd been an incident, and the session red-flagged, which was the case - three riders down, and one airlifted to Nobles hospital, but fortunately without serious injuries, we later heard. But by the time the marshals had cleared everything up, and the air-med helicopter returned, time for the evening had run out, and our practice session was cancelled. Such is road racing. So we packed everything up and went to find food and drink in Casteltown.

Saturday - Practice Day 2

Saturday was similarly bright and sunny, and hot too! Practice was during the afternoon, and we had hoped for an extra session for the big bike, so that if we had any sort of problem we'd have chance to fix it and run again. However, the race office said no, we'd just have 5 minutes longer! And then, when scrutineering came round, the 750s were put through first, and we were told we could do a couple of 'speed controlled' laps behind the travelling marshal, with the newcomers. This at least gives the bike a run, although at slower than race speed. (How I found this out was by word of mouth, and the one criticism I have of the organisation by the otherwise flawless Southern 100 club is that they could really do with a tannoy in the paddock, or some other way of getting information to teams and riders. Even a chalk board would be an improvement on the current system of hearsay and rumours. I shall write to the club!).   After this we were back on the scheduled practice programme, and due out on the 250 in the fifth session. As the alloted time came around, Alex and Simon fired up the TZ to warm it, blipped the throttle a few times....and then it suddenly died. We instantly diagnosed some electrical failure, as the powervalve servos were not cycling when first switched on. We didn't panic - Simon and Alex worked the problem, found a broken wire (to the charge system sensor I'd fitted months ago) which was shorting to earth, fixed it and got me out just as the rest of the field had headed out onto the track. I was all alone, which was fine. Some four-stroke had dumped oil on the racing line from Iron Gates to Ballabeg, which wasn't. I initially thought the oil might be from the previous practice session, but the marshals were busy trying to tidy it up, so it must be fresh, and only just happened. After a couple of laps a bike in front came into view, and it was my mate Andy Cowie on his GPz600 - he'd also been late getting out in the session, and was also being very cautious over the oil, so I managed to catch him up, and waved as I went past. I was six seconds faster than Friday evening, and was actually 9th fastest, but this might just be down to me being a bit braver over the oil. Still, I came in buzzing, as I usually do from riding the TZ.

TZ at Casteltown Corner

The session for the ZXR was important, as this was the only opportunity to qualify. A gang of around 30 growling and rumbling late 80 and early 90s four cylinder four-strokes gathered in the holding area, and we were then waved off in pairs. The field felt fast! I became embroiled in a group of 4 or 5, and picked them off one by one. On this circuit, at race speed, overtaking takes some planning - fortunately, my £300-stock-road-engine-from-ebay seems pretty fast, and I was able to pass a few on the straights (obviously due to my superior drive off the previous corner - honest!). The bike felt like it was flying, until as I crossed the line for the fourth or fifth lap, it hesitated near peak revs in a high gear. It felt exactly like fuel starvation, a problem that had plagued us at last year's Classic TT. I started changing up a few thousand rpm early (10k instead of 12k) and this kept the bike running ok. "Touring" i.e. riding round at a much reduced pace, is strictly forbidden - there have been some awful accidents when a rider running at race speed hits a much slower machine ahead of him, so I was prepared to stop, but my pace had only dropped very slightly, and I judged I was safe to finish the lap. The chequered flag was waved as I crossed the line, so it was the last lap anyway. I brought the bike in and reported the bad news to the guys. We set to and stripped the fuel system and Alex seized the canister-type fuel filter and said "what's this piece of crap doing back on the bike?" We'd removed it as the suspected culprit at the Classic TT, and, er, I'd re-fitted it. This time it went in the bin, and we checked everything else, including the tiny filters in the carbs, and everything seemed good. And then we tried to re-start it, and the starter solenoid just clicked! So we traced the system, and found the mating surface on the (cheap, second-hand, remember?) engine to the earth strap was corroded. A bit of emery paper cleaned this up, and everything was fine again. As this was first night of TT practice, we piled into the van and headed to the Railway Inn at Union Mills to watch the evening session, and get something to eat. The weather was still glorious, and watching the TT boys scream through on their modern bikes, while eating chicken curry in the sun, was a good way to end a great day.

Sunday - Race Day

Unusually for this event, race day was on Sunday, rather than Bank Holiday Monday.  The roads closed a little after midday (to allow the faithful to get to church, I think) and the first race was the 'Support' race, for all the non-qualifiers, across all the classes. There was a very varied mix of bikes, as you might imagine, but this system at least means that if you have a problem with your bike in qualifying, or are just a bit too slow, you can still get a race, and a race finish. After this we were onto the full program, and the TZ race was around 4pm. I stayed hydrated in the sun, drinking lots of fluids, and consequently making lots of trips to the portaloo! I was nervous, as you should be before a road race, but comfortable that the bike was ok, and I knew what I was doing.  My combined practice position put me 11th - middle of the fourth row, a little ahead of midfield. We formed up on the holding area, then followed the course car round for a sighting lap to the grid.

TZ on grid

The start marshal's board went up - "select gear", then "watch lights" - the lights came on, then off and we were away. Getting the TZ off the line is an art, and today I didn't do it well, losing lots of places as we headed away. But as the TZ came on song, I got some of those back, got good drive through Ballakeighin, and got my head down to wind in some others as we headed down to Iron Gates, making back a couple more places. A guy a couple of awnings along in the paddock, Adrian Skaife, on his Honda RS250, was just ahead of me, and I was lining him up for a pass at Cross Fourways, when suddenly a green Kawasaki came past me on the brakes, and nearly t-boned Adrian. I tucked inside the Kwack, and chased Adrian through Church Bends. While his RS is probably more powerful than my TZ, I must have got better drive off the corner, as I came alongside through Great Meadow, and was able to outbrake him into Stadium corner. And then I just had open track in front of me - the next group of bikes were obviously running faster lap times, and soon there was no-one to be seen ahead of me. Mind you, I knew I was going faster than practice, as the TZ was getting a proper headshake on through Ballawhetstone - the steering damper could do with a few clicks more! But the was no chance of me doing that while riding the bike, and it wasn't scary - the bike was just letting me know what was going on.  My clear view ahead was then interrupted when by that damn green Kawasaki came past on the brakes again! I tucked behind him, and out-dragged him down the next straight. We did this a few times, which at least kept me honest and focussed.

TZ chased by Kwak

Unusually for me, I had kept count of the laps, but I was, as usual, relieved when the last lap flag came out. By this time I think I'd managed to gap Mr Kawasaki, or perhaps he'd outbraked himself again, and I crossed the line and took the chequered flag with no further drama. Those 8 laps were some of the most intense I'd experienced - the TZ is such a focused machine that racing it damn near fries my brain!

I got back to smiles all round, and a very welcome drink - it was still so hot! And it turned out I'd finished in 10th place, which I was very pleased with, with a best lap of 2:54, which was 6 seconds faster than Saturday's practice time. And, symbolically, prize money is paid for the top 10, so I'd wn £50!

The roads were due to open for 45 mins at 5pm, to allow the locals to come and go, but as I wandered up to parc ferme at 4:30, I heard some modern four cylinder machines head out. It turned out that, because the programme had run ahead of schedule, the Post-Classic Superbikes, the class for my ZXR, were getting an extra few laps of practice to make up for the loss of Thursday. But, again, this info had not been communicated. Please fix this, Sourthern 100 club!  It would have been useful to check that we had solved the fuelling problem. Anyway, time ticked around, as it does, and the 350 Junior race, the one before us, went out. But then the road went silent again, as their race was red-flagged. We were told that the 350s would come in, and we would go out next (instead of the more usual immediate re-start of the red-flagged race).  So it was quickly warm up the engine, and within 10 minutes we were rolling off the stands and heading to the holding area. For this race I'd qualified much worse - down in 18th place, on the 6th row. I don't think I'd gone any slower than normal, just that the class had got more competitive. We did the warm, formed up on the grid, selected gear, the lights went on, then off and we were away. I got a much better, but not perfect start, with a bit of a wheelie, but definitely made up a bunch of places on the way into Ballakeighin. One chap (Alex Whitwell, I think, on the Funky Monk Racing GSX-R1100>, was a bit forceful round the outside, but I drew alongside him in the braking zone to Iron Gates, and was a bit forceful back. And then I was chasing a few others, and actually racing them, outbraking people into Ballabeg and Cross Fourways, and racing wheel to wheel down Great Meadow to Stadium. This was brilliant! I was riding what I think of as 'the back section', from Ballabeg to Cross Fourways, better than ever, but still losing ground to some bikes ahead of me, so I can find some improvements there. But the bike was wheelying off the crest before the Billown Dip, and felt like a proper superbike. I got in front of the bikes in my bunch, and focussed on the guys ahead. I thought I might be able to draw up to them, but then on the fourth lap, as I came down Great Meadow, there were waved yellow flags, then a red flag at Stadium Corner. I naturally assumed some 'incident', and we were sent back to the paddock. But that was it - the result was called after three laps. It turned out a very sudden but intense shower had drenched the last couple of corners, and with half the field on slicks, the race had been red-flagged to stop people barrelling into a corner on a soaking road. And, with no time in the programme for a re-run, especially with the previous race also having been red-flagged, that was the result called. I was placed in 11th, which was dissappointing, as I'd hoped for slightly better, but in that class field I should be happy. But just outside the money! The shower was gone as quickly as it arrived, and we were in the paddock sun again, cracking open the beers for the team.


With an evening race, we'd thought we might struggle to get out to eat, so Vanessa had prepared a fabulous chili, which went down very well with more beer and wine.  And then we walked into Casteltown and, er, had some more drinks.  It was a great evening, as usual after a successful day's racing.   The next day Simon headed home, and Alex, Vanessa and I had a day of being tourists - we went down to the Calf of Man and the Sound, and had an ice cream and a beer.  The we called at the Chasms, a set of rock formations on the coast with big splits down them, and then drove north and had a beer and a chinwag with the Cowie's.  And then we could put it off no longer, and returned to the paddock to tear down the awning and load the van, ready for a early ferry the next morning, 

This was another fabulous Pre-TT Classic, and it is now firmly cemented as one of my favourite meetings of the year.

Season start MkII

May 21st, 2018

After the failure of the ZXR750 at my first meeting of the year, I had my work cut out to get the season underway.  This was all getting a bit last minute dot com.

Fortunately, Graham File had finished working his magic on my TZ250 motor, and I collected it a couple of weeks ago.  He proudly showed me a little video on his phone of the crank on v-blocks, with a dial gauge hardly moving as it rotated!  As well as the rebuilt crank, he did his standard meticulous rebuild, matching port heights, cylinder volumes, and making sure everything in the motor was just so.  I fitted the engine relatively easily (which is not that demanding, it's so small and light), and methodically worked through fitting carbs, exhaust, radiator, etc.  It fired up easily enough, and that was one bike ready to roll.  Next job was to run it in on the dyno, which the good chaps at Dynotech did for a few days later.

In the meantime, I had other, bigger problems.  The symptoms of a blown head gasket on the ZXR turned out to be much more serious - the cylinder head had cracked.  Worse, it needed some replacement pistons, and Kawasaki don't make them anymore!  There was no way the race engine was going to be ready by the time I needed to pack the van and head to the Pre-TT Classic on the Isle of Man.  Andy at Dynotech was a star - he found that JE do a piston kit (1mm oversize), and I have a spare set of barrels for just such a purpose.  As I also have a spare head, that he will flow for me, I will have a race motor back, but it will take a little time.  So he also tracked down a stock second-hand motor on eBay, which I bought and collected that Saturday, from Anglesey, which is 250 miles from where I live. By the time I'd done that, I had  5 days left.  But I know that bike inside out, and got it running, although with only a couple of days spare.  Of course, it's a completely stock engine, that is 20+ years old and of completely unknown provenance, so I had no idea how well it would actually go.

So it turned out that I found mysefl collecting the TZ from Dynotech and then fitting the ZXR bodywork a couple of hours before I loaded the van, the night before heading for the Isle of Man ferry.  As I said, all a bit rushed.  And taking both bikes to the Island for 10 days, two race meetings, and camping kit for four people meant the van was pretty bloody full.   The next day I was up early, again, to make the trip to Heysham, for the ferry.  There's a side of  racing which most people never guess at, and on occasion one does wonder if all the effort and expense is worth it.  But that's enough background and existential angst for now.  For once I had a completely traffic-jam free drive to Heysham, and arrived unexpectedly early for the ferry.  It was a beautiful late spring day, the Irish Sea was as calm as a mill pond, and as usual I had a big smile on my face as we arrived in Douglas bay.  I do love the Isle of Man.

Back to racing.  After staying with great mate's Keith and Becca, I was up early and arrived at Jurby and met mate Graham who had very kindly given up his Sunday to help out.  We set to, unloading the van, and soon had the awning up and tools and kit under it.  Graham took the TZ to scrutineering while I fired up the 750 and ran it up and down the car park to check the clutch and gears worked - the first opportunity I'd had!  Fortunately, they did.  The TZ came back from scrut'ing with a pass and a couple of 'advisories', and Graham took the 750 down, while I got my riding gear checked and signed on.  The ZXR passed too, with a couple of very minor things to address, and one sorted we were ready to go.  After the usual rider's briefing. which I could probably deliver myself by now, practice started about 10:30am.  There were no sidecars today, so the program was slightly shorter, and we were soon pulling the tyre warmers off and I headed for the holding area.  I was as nervous as a kitten!  I'd put so much time and effort into getting the bikes ready that I was really scared of something going wrong, or of making a stupid mistake and wasting it all.  Consequently, my lap times on the 750 were slow - and I was even more nervous on the TZ!  But both bikes ran well, and having qualified the two of them without issue, my nerves started to subside a little

Practice Results

  • ZXR750:    13th (8th in class)       1:20.397
  • TZ250:         8th (6th in class)       1:18.646

When I rebuilt the 750 I thought I'd had a problem with temperature gauge, which wasn't registering.  But on return to the paddock, it was flickering with some signal, which made me think that it was more down to the system not being full, and therefore water not filling the thermostat housing, when the temperature sender is.  I stupidly removed the radiator cap, although I did have the foresight to put on a bike glove first.  Of course, it's a pressurised system, so water spouted out - fortunately, it wasn't too hot. I replaced the water, little by little, running the motor and topping up, but I don't think I've got to the bottom of issues with cooling system yet.  More to follow, I think.

After the usual lunch break, racing commenced, and I was out on the 750 in the second race on the card, which has the post-classic class running with singles, twins and triples.  This year, Andreas Racing had extended the post classic cut-off to 1996, which allows the Honda 600 "steelies" in.  Call me prejudiced, but I don't think a CBR600 is anyone's idea of a classic, or even a post-classic, and more importantly, those boys on the steelies are fast!  Unlike in previous outings on this bike with this club, I now had zero chance of a class win.  But results weren't the purpose of today - it was to run the bikes, and to get my head back in the right place.  And so it turned out - we circulated to the grid, did a practice lap, watched the lights and were away.  I immediately found myself at the back of a group of four bikes that I knew I could race with, and managed to have a great race for the whole six laps, getting past all of them, and even then closing on the next couple of bikes in front, but the chequered flag came out too soon for me to claim any more scalps.

Race 1 Result: 9th (5th in class), best lap 1:16.030 

This race really buoyed me up - I'd stopped worrying about the bike, and just enjoyed racing.  And my stock, unproven engine performed well, setting, perhaps the fastest time I'd done round Jurby on my 750! (I'll have to check back).  Now I was in the right frame of mind, and looking forward to the rest of the afternoon.  Next up I was out on the 250, which is a very different animal.  The TZ always draws attention and turns heads - a full race two-stroke is a fairly rare animal at a club meeting nowadays, and there's a lot of nostagia for the sight and sound of them.  But this wasn't a concours show, it was a race, and so I lined up on the grid again.  I managed to get the bike off the line fairly well (which is no easy feat with the tall first gear and narrow power-band), but the guys in front rode away from me, and the guys behind didn't trouble me, so it was a fairly lonely race.  This is probably the reason my best lap was actually slower than in practice - I only seem to get my race head going when I'm actually racing people.  But the bike ran well, and I started to remember the precision needed to get a GP250 bike to work properly.

Race 2 Result: 8th (6th in class), best lap 1:19.643

By the time the race card came to repeat we'd lost some time,  and the races were cut from 6 laps to 4.   Race 3 was quite similar to my first race, once again dicing with a gang of bikes and having a whale of a time.  I was so determined to get past Jack Hunter, which I very nearly managed in the run to the flag, finishing just 0.078 seconds behind him!  Mind you, Steve Beale was only 0.228 seconds behind me - in fact, 4th to 9th place were covered by less than 2 seconds.

Race 3 Results: 8th (6th in class), best lap 1:16.277 

Race 4 felt a lot like race 2 on the 250 - a lonely ride with no one else about, in stark contrast to the two races on the 750.  And it was even shorter, being red-flagged because of an incident on the last lap.  But that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Race 4 Results: 6th (5th in class), best lap 1:19.707 

After that we packed up, drove back and after running through the shower, went to the pub.  And then had a boozy meal with good friends in the evening.  All in all, a very good day at the race track.