Category: "Classic Racing"

First laps on the ZXR750

August 24th, 2016

Ah, now that's better...

The day dawned very wet, but the forecast was for it to dry out, so it looked like this evening's practice would go ahead.  While the TZ hadn't got a run last night, the ZXR had a problem to fix - why did it stop in Ramsey?  The suspicion was the fuel pump, but we needed to confirm this, and fix it.  Which turned out to be easy to do - in the quiet of the awning, with the ignition switched on, the fuel pump was disconcertingly silent - usually you can hear it prime the carbs.  We quickly proved that the feed was getting 12V, so the problem was in the pump.  Off it came, and we opened the case and looked at the mechanism - it's an 'old fashioned' electro-mechanical pump with points to regulate the flow (i.e. it doesn't pump when the output is pressurised), and the points were stuck open.  This was a new pump, bought last year, but it was a cheap chinese pattern part, and clearly wasn't reliable.  So we re-instated the OE Kawasaki pump, actually stamped with the Mitsubishi logo, and put it all back together and it ran fine.  But it would need a test - more later.

I also noticed that the lovely new paint on the seat unit had cracked and flaked a little either side of where I actually sit.  It was apparent that this was because the underneath of the fibreglass seat unit wasn't supported by the subframe, which allowed the fibreglass to flex as I moved around (and also was bumped around over the TT course's substantial bumps).  So we made a support across the subframe, and I mixed up some fibreglass resin and applied it to some matting on the underside to strengthen the seat unit.

The bike had been hitting 12,000 revs in top, or just over, so we also fitted a rear sprocket with one tooth less.  Last night I'd gone through the Sulby speed trap at  a fraction under 155mph. but this was on the first lap with a relatively careful run through Quarry Bends (which leads onto the Sulby Straight), and the bike did 158mph last year, so we needed slightly longer gearing.  And while the rear wheel was out to do this, we put a fresh rear tyre on, as the incumbert was now definitely past its best.

Race bikes on the TT course are covered with minimum 'road traffic act' insurance, so that you can ride them back to the paddock when roads open after a race or practice, if you had to stop, and so this meant that we could test the changed fuel pump.  Rather than put full race leathers on, I just borrowed Si (Wilson)'s jacket and rode the bike wearing jeans and trainers, old school style.  I caned it up to Windy Corner and back, and verified that the pump could continually supply fuel under load.  This felt naughty, despite actually being legal, and is just something else that makes racing on the Island particularly special.  Here I am discreetly leaving the paddock:

Testing the ZXR on the road

After this, we were all set.

As mentioned previously, there were some logistical problems with practising both bikes, which were meant to go out in the same session.  But I caught up with the Clerk of the Course, the excellent Gary Thompson, to ask whether I could practice the TZ in the 'slower' group, and he stopped me halfway through my request and told me that riders with a Classic Superbike and a Classic Lightweight (i.e. a GP250) could run the 250 in the other group.  So that meant we could potentially get 2 laps on each bike this evening.

Both bikes sailed through scrutineering, and then were set in the holding area, looking halfway professional

TZ and ZXR in holding area

The weather was grey, with occasional very light rain, although it didn't actually make the road wet.  The only question was if the low cloud over the mountain would lift, and it did, and the session started only about 10 minutes later than scheduled.  The higher seeded riders were away first, but it was only a few minutes before the warmers were taken off the 750 and I rode out from the holding area up onto the Glencrutchery Road.  As usual, I beat my practice start partner away from the line (we practice in pairs, leaving at 10 second intervals), as I don't really like following down Bray Hill, and I was away.  As last night, the bike and I felt just great, and with no low sun tonight I could go through Ballagarey and Gorse Lea at a much better speed.  The only hiccup was coming out of Ballacraine, where the bike hesitated, and made me panic about the fuel pump.  Accutely aware that I needed to get the bike round, I babied it a little, changing up 500 revs early in lots of places.  I also thought about how, on both occasions, the fueling issue had reared its head after very heavy braking, and so I also tried to moderate this on the relatively few places on the TT course where you really hang the anchors out.  Anyway, there was no other sign of any fueling problems on the first lap, and I sailed through Ramsey and up the mountain for the first time this year.  The bike pulled strongly all the way, and I lost count of the number of people I overhauled and passed, so I knew my pace was ok.   I went straight past the pits at the end of the first lap and the second felt just as good.  The only issue was lots of swirling mist over the mountain on the second circuit, which slowed everyone down - I actually caught four or five people in this, who were not as brave/stupid as me.  Actually, given that we all lost time, there was nothing to be gained by being the bravest guy in the fog, but, hey, that's me!

I pulled in on the second lap, and the crew were waiting for me - I handed them the 750, and had a few minutes to have a drink and clean my visor before setting off on the TZ in the second practice session, which was only just starting.  I paddled through a line of properly old classic bikes (the 350s and 500s are from the 60s) and lined up for a second start.  I slipped the clutch and screamed the engine and we were away down Bray Hill again, for my first lap on the TZ.  It was all a bit alien, but the course was the same, and with a bit less power, and a lot less weight, the bike was actually quite easy to ride.  It became clear that we'd picked gearing that was really much t0o tall, but as that was a lot safer on the engine that going too short, I rode around it, using 5th in places where really I would have wanted 6th, such as the run up the hill after Crosby.  But otherwise the bike was fun to ride, and fairly easy too, although it was obvious that I had a lot to learn to get the best out of it.

I crested the highest point of the mountain at Brandywell, and around the 32nd had to slow right down for a significant crash - there were at least three bikes down, and marshals all over the road with yellow flags everywhere.  As I tried to accelerate after that, the bike bogged down, and wouldn't rev.  I pulled the clutch in and revved it to try and clear it....but it wouldn't, and I had to pull in just past Windy Corner.  Damn.  The marshals at Windy were very friendly, and made me a cup of tea (with biscuits!) and let me shelter from the eponymous wind in their hut.  Up on the mountain there's no way of being picked up before roads opened, and it was gone 8:30pm when I saw the friendly Citroen van hove into view.  

We got back to the paddock, I changed out of my leathers, charged my phone (which had died), and called Billy Craine.  He said to bring the bike straight to him, so I took the bike back over the mountain in the van to his workshop in Ramsey, we put it on the bench and did some initial diagnostics.  We were able to rule out obvious catastrophic things, such as a holed piston or seizure, but it was late and the plan was to leave it for Andy Broughton to thoroughly go through in the morning.  So I drove back to the paddock and had a pint with Alex and Simon Weller.  And checked the practice times on the internet, and was very pleased to see that I'd done 107mph on the 750, which a) placed me 19th on the leader board (out of 43) with almost everyone ahead of me being a recognisable 'name', and b) was as fast as I went in the race last year, so for a first full lap was great.

The full list of times are here.

Arrival and first (unhappy) practice

August 23rd, 2016

We've been on the Isle of Man for a few days now, but have been a) very busy and b) suffered from poor internet connectivity, so this is my first post since we arrived. Apologies to regular readers waiting for an update.

Arrival and Set Up

Upon arrival there was the usual flurry of van unloading, tent erection, etc. I left the crew to this while I went and signed on, had my riding kit checked and attended to other administrative formalities. The paddock was very busy, but fortunately my good Manx friend Keith McKay had blagged some space for me with my awning on Wednesday. And evern then the paddock was getting full. I should say a word about "the crew" - previous star mechanics Alex and Simon were back on duty again, although Alex was hampered by the broken bones in his hands sustained wheh he threw his R1 Turbo up the road at Cadwell last month. So, new for this year was Simon Wilson, who I've know for a fair while, and who currently competes in the British Hillclimb championship (quite successfully - he was 250 champion last year, and is leading the class comfortably this year).

First practice was meant to be Saturday evening, but the weather during the day was awful, and the organisers scrubbed the session in the early afternoon, which at least gave everyone plenty of notice. One of the other things we needed to do was collect the TZ250 chassic from storage, and collect the engine from Billy Craine and Andy Broughton, who had re-built it for me with the re-conditioned crankshaft, new pistons, rings, etc, which we did on Saturday morning. On arriving to collect the engine, Billy and Andy persuaded me to let them fit it back in the chassis, which I happily agreed to, so we collected the bike ready to run from Billy's workshop on Sunday morning before heading to Jurby, where there was a track session for competitors. While the guys made the TZ ready (it had wets in, from its last outing), I gave the 750 a run, and it was just lovely. And looked fabulous in its new paint.

ZXR in new paint at Jurby


The fresh TZ engine needed to be run in, with instructions to run it to a rev ceiling of 8,000 rpm for 10 minutes, then 9,000 for 10 minutes, then 10,000 for 10 minutes. 10 minutes equates to 6 or 7 laps of Jurby at that speed, which was actually a little frustrating to do - at 8000 rpm the TZ is making less than 40 horsepower, while at 9,000 it is *just* trying to rev and make power. It was like walking a rabid dog on a string. Still, I did it, and then brought the bike back into the paddock for a quick check over, before going back out to give it a proper run up to peak power at 12,500 rpm. It was glorious!

TZ with fresh motor at Jurby

After running it at full power, we popped the bellypan and exhausts off and Andy B lay underneath with a torch and a dentist's mirror. Rotating the engine with his hand on the clutch. he emerged with a smile, saying there no sign of any "nips" (partial seizures), and it was all good to go. We headed back to the paddock, put the bikes on their ramps, and started on the list of minor jobs which never seem to end at race meetings. And then in the evening we met Keith for a pint and then went for a curry.

Monday dawned extremely wet, but the forecast was for it to stop in the morning and have fine weather in the afternoon and into the evening, and so it turned out. The whiteboard in our awning was used to list all the jobs to be done, and the team worked through them as if we'd been doing it for years. We had scrutineering slots for 3:30pm and 4:00pm for the two bikes, and we were soon taking the bikes trhough the paddock to join the queue which had already formed. The TZ was flagged as requiring the fuel overflow to be routed into a catch bottle, which needed a new piece of pipe (the existing one having gone very hard and no longer fitted into the bottle), and the ZXR got a few 'advisories', but otherwise it was all good. It was like the first day at school for everyone, with riders, crew and officials all getting used to their roles again for the next fortnight. Once passed through scrutineering, the bikes were lined up in the holding areas, and we had another 90 minutes to wait.

The practice sessions are split into two, which can roughly divided into 'fast' and 'slow'. The 'fast' session is the modern Manx GP 600s and 750s, the Classic Superbikes (which the ZXR 750 is in) and the Classic Lightweight (which is the TZ250). This meant both our bikes need to run in just one session, which is a logistically annoying, especially as our session was only for 45 minutes this evening. With a lap taking roughly 20 minutes, I needed to get our early-ish in the session to be sure of starting a second lap before the session was closed (you just need to start the lap within the session timeslot, not finish it). The plan was to do a lap on the 750, which is a known quantity, and should reliably get round, and then come in and change to do a first lap on the TZ, which is very much an unknown quantity on the TT course. If only life turned out as planned...

The first bikes away, at about 6:20pm, were the newcomers, who have to do an escorted 'speed controlled' lap behind an experienced rider as their first lap, before they can practice with everyone else. They're given 10 minutes to get a decent way around, and then the first 30 seeded riders started, in pairs, at 10 second intervals. After 4 or 5 minutes of this, it was my turn, my crew had the warmers off and stands away, and I paddled forward to the starting official alongside my starting partner, who was on a beautiful looking Honda RC30. And then we were at the front, with the starter's hands on our shoulders, and then he tapped us and we were away!

I got the holeshot from my RC30 mounted starting partner, and headed towards St Ninians crossroads. The ZXR immediately felt comfortable and at home, and so did I. The glorious weather wasn't quite so welcome at this point, as the low evening sun is right in our eyes in several places in during the 7 mile run to Ballacraine, where the track turns right to the north. Ballagarey is scary enough at the best of times, without having the sun right in your eyes, so I definitely rolled it through there. But on the run down to Glen Vine and past the Crosby the bike was flying, pulling to the redline in top, so I made a mental note to fit taller gearing for tomorrow. And I was catching people (you can see a long way on this section) which is always very gratifying. Two were together, one of which I passed on the way out of Greeba Bridge, though I had to wait to outbrake the other at Ballacraine traffic lights. There's no prizes for practice, certainly not on the first night, and everyone is usually very polite on the TT course, for obvious reasons.

I was feeling very comfortable and relaxed, just loving riding the bike round my favourite place on earth. We flew through the Glen Helen section, up onto Cronk-y-Voddy and down towards the 11th Milestone and Handleys, where I caught another bike, and nipped past before the top of Barregarrow. The lap continued, the familiar turns and bumps playing out as they always have, and I was soon in Ramsey, braking hard for Parliament Square. As I rounded it and grabbed second gear, the bike coughed, exactly as if running out of fuel. I slowed, and nursed it up towards May Hill, but the engine died. Damn. I pulled off the track, helped by Ramsey friend Phil, who happened to be marshalling there (I do seem to know a lot of people on the Island nowadays). I fiddled with some obvious things (fuel breather? Blocked filter? Loose connection to the fuel pump?), but the bike was determined not to start. I called the guys back in Douglas, and they jumped in the van to drive round the coast road to collect me.

This was very annoying - instead of getting a lap in on both bikes, I'd got none in, and would now be playing catch-up for the rest of practice week. But such is racing on the Isle of Man, and considering the things that can go wrong here, a glitch in the fuel system is small beer, and will be easily fixed.

Happiness is a complete to-do list

August 16th, 2016

It feels like the calm before the storm.  In a couple of days time I leave for the Isle of Man for the Classic TT, where I'll be in two races:

  • Classic Lightweight, for thoroughbred 250GP bikes
  • Classic Superbike, for production based superbikes from the 80s and early 90s

I'll be riding my 1992 Kawasaki ZXR750 in the Classic Superbike, as I did last year.  The Classic Lightweight race is new for the event this year, and is the reason why I bought my 1996 Yamaha TZ250 back in the Spring.   But to get to the relatively relaxed state I'm in right now, required an awful lot of work - it's almost impossible to convey the organisational logistics required to compete in an event like this.

Learning the TZ

Since I wrote my last post, I've ridden the TZ a fair bit more.  Firstly, I spent two days at Cadwell Park, at a track day, and that's where I fell in love with what the TZ can do.  It's corner speed is just so immense, and it is so flickable and easy to steer.   And then I did a couple of track sessions, and then morning practice, at Jurby in the Isle of Man.  The practice session was soaking wet, and the TZ was equally fun on wets in the rain.  Unfortunately, the actually racing was cancelled because the track flooded, but I had gained even more confidence in the bike, and, almost as importantly, I met Billy Craine and Andy Broughton, of whom more later.

As well as learning to ride the TZ, I've also started along the road of learning how to look after it.  This is a journey that never ends, and I've only taken baby steps so far.  But one of the most obvious things is that many of the significant engine parts have mileage limits; perhaps the most significant of these is the crankshaft.  A TZ crank is rebuildable (unlike the Honda 250GP bike of the same era), but this needs to be done after every 600 racing miles.  And you do so many miles at the Isle of Man, you really have to start with a fresh engine, meaning at least a reconditioned crank, new pistons and rings. And after the event, it will be nearly worn out - the race is four laps, which is 150 miles, and I'll probably do around twice that in practice.

I've kept mileage records since taking ownership of the TZ, which had done 340 miles since the last crank rebuild, and I knew that by the time I got to the Classic TT, the engine would be just about at its mileage limit, so I needed to get the engine refreshed beforehand.  Fortunately, the bike came with a spare crankshaft (which was already at the 600 mile limit), so I took that to Dennis Trollope, famous in British racing circles, to get it reconditioned.  After the Jurby race meeting, I took the engine out and passed it to Billy Craine, mentioned above,as Billy and Andy had offered to do the rebuild for me.  Billy knows TZs inside out, and Andy knows them even better.  The rebuilt crank was sent to them by Dennis, and they rebuilt the motor with all the required new parts.   The plan is then to fit the engine the weekend we arrive at the TT.  So far, this plan is all on target, although there was a moment of panic, when Billy reported to me that the clutch basket needed re-riveting to its backing...but I couldn't source the rivets from anywhere - Yamaha don't supply them, and most people get them made specially. But Billy contacted Manx engineer Steve Moynihan, who could both make the rivets and fit them.  Andy reported a few wrinkles regarding slightly different compression ratios on the two cylinders, but he's set it up to be 'safe', so that I can get some laps in - which is why I'm there, after all.

Sprucing up the ZXR

While the bike both looked good and went well last year (despite breaking its chain on the third lap of the race), there were a few things that definitely needed to be improved, as well as a host of minor tweaks.  The major items were the front forks, the radiator, and the bodywork.  When I built the bike for 2015, I ran out of time (and to a lesser extent money), and so ran the bike with the original standard forks.  In fact, I didn't even change the fork oil.  For 2016, I wanted to fix this, and sent the forks off to Maxton Engineering, who are experts on race suspension, especially for the Isle of Man.  Not only did they strip out the 24-year-old Kawasaki internals and replace them completely with their own, they also got the stanchions re-chromed and the lowers re-anodised.  So the shiny bits are newly shiny, the black bits newly black, and the internals completely new - they're effectively brand new forks.

Similarly, the radiator was the original one, and was definitely old and scruffy, and a long way from being efficient.  So I commissioned a new radiator from ace Manx fabicator Phil Wall, proprietor of Boal Engineering.  This arrived a few months ago, and is a thing of beauty.  

The most visible change is the new bodywork, with a fresh paint scheme.  Last year's bike had a second hand fairing and seat unit which I bought from Mistral Engineering, who run beautifully prepared ZXR 750s in period Kawasaki France Endurance colours.  Not only was this paint now looking a little scruffy, my bike looked like one of theirs, which was mildly embarrassing for all concerned.  And with the new radiator, the fairing didn't really fit as nicely as it should.  I ordered a new seat and fairing from PRF Racing, which then required new mounts from Ian Harrison at Mistral.  And then I spent over 20 hours in the workshop making sure everything fitted properly.  It was slow and laborious, but at the end of it, it was all just right.  Then all the bodywork went to Denis, of "Denis Motorcycle Resprays" in Cirencester, and he did his usual brilliant job, and in double quick time too.  Once fitted, I had to get some photos, I was so pleased with how the bike looked

The ZXR with its new paint

A plethora of other little jobs have also been done, some earlier in the season, including:

  • Lock stops (to restrict the amount the bars can slap from side to side over the Manx bumps)
  • Digital temperature gauge
  • All three sets of wheels shot-blasted and painted green, with new bearings fitted
  • New adjustable rearsets

So, both bikes are ready, or will be, and everything else is set fair - including the crew

The Race Crew

Like last year, old friends Alex Ferrier and Simon Weller will be helping me again this year.  However, due to an unfortunate incident with his R1 Turbo and Cadwell Park, Alex has some broken bones in his hands, so we've enlisted an additional new crew member - confusingly another Simon.  Simon Wilson, in fact.  The New Simon is flying over, while Alex and the Old Simon are coming in the van with me, and we'll all be there on Friday 19th August.

I am so very much looking forward to it!

Great day and result at Pre-TT Classic

May 31st, 2016

What a briliant race weekend!

After qualifying on Saturday afternoon, we had a full day off before racing on Sunday. But we weren't to be bored - my great friend Andy Cowie had comprehensively blown up his GPZ600, so we had an engine swap to do. Alex set to, pulling it apart while I got supplies for breakfast and created tea and bacon sarnies. By the time Andy made it down to our awning from the other end of the Island, the trashed engine was out, revealing the full horror of its failure with the conrod poking out the front of the cases:

Say hello to Mr Conrod

We'd aleady swapped ancillaries (water pump, starter, etc), and then Andy and Alex put the replacement engine back in, while I sat down and wrote the previous blog article to this one.

By late lunchtime the 600 was finished and fired up. I'd attended to a couple of tiny matters on my ZXR750 - the back brake had been marginal in scrutineering the previous day (the only time it gets used) so I bled it and improved it. And the gearchange was a little low, so I adjusted it up a few millimetres. And then Andy took us out for a fine lunch to say thanks.

Race day dawned warm and sunny, as had every other day since we'd arrived. Andy's blow up had meant he hadn't qualified for his main class, and was therefore in the support race, for all the bikes in all the classes who hadn't qualified for whatever reason - a real wacky races event. This was the first race of the day, so the bike was through scrutineering by 9am, ready for a 9:30 start. Andy got a good start, into 4th place behind three 750s, and that was where he stayed - first F2 class bike home, which was a decent result rescued from a troublesome weekend for him.

Our race was almost the last of the day - the Senior Classic Superbike race was due to go just before 3pm, so we had a lot of waiting to do. But there's a lot worse places to wait than in a race paddock bathed in sunshine, and we watched a few of the other races during the day while the clock ticked down. Alex and Andy took the ZXR through scrutineering early at 1:30pm, and then it sat on stands with tyres warming for an hour, while I alternated between drinking water to stay hydrated in the sun, and visiting the portaloos to expel the excess fluid.

Eventually it was time to go to the grid. While the program actually had 28 entries, a lot of people obviously hadn't sourced or sorted their bikes, because only 14 of us qualified, and I was in 11th, alongside Manx friend Mark Bamford in 10th. I'd made a best lap of 2:51 in practice, and Mark had been 2 seconds faster, so he was my first target. And I was confident that I had some more speed to find. The guys on the front row were professional road racers - Ivan Lintin, Paul Coward, Steve Mercer - and they were on top level bikes (all ZXRs) from Mistral Racing and Bennetts, so I wasn't going to see which way they went. But my mental attitude to racing is all about enjoying the riding nowadays, and I just wanted to bring the bike home, have fun, and see where I finished.

We did the warm up lap and formed up on the grid. The lights changed, and I got my usual excellent start, and made at least a few places into the first corner - Ballakeigin. Then we all streamed away towards Iron Gates, and I settled into the race. There was a big GSX-R 1100 in front of me, and I wondered if I might catch him. But while I could keep him in sight, I didnt seem to be able to make any ground. But then around lap 3 a GSX-R 750 tucked inside me braking for Cross Fourways, so I had other things to think about. I didn't know until after the race, but this was Jack Hunter, a young and talented manx racer, and also a really nice chap. I followed Jack through Church Bends, and it was immediately obvious in the run down to Great Meadow that I had a lot more power and acceleration than Jack - I just rode past him on the straight. I always feel a little sheepish doing this, so raised my left hand in acknowledgment as I came alongside. Jack wasn't bothered by my apology, and neatly outbraked me into Castletown Corner , so I just rode past him again down the start/finish straight. And so a pattern developed - I'd stay in front from the Start to Cross Fourways, Jack would outbrake me there, I'd pass again before Stadium, and Jack would get past again there or at Castletown Corner. I was confident I could lead over the line, but I realised that Jack was much faster than me through my worst section, the sinuous run from Ballabeg to Cross Fourways. So after a couple of laps of back and forth, I waved Jack through at Ballabeg, and followed him to see what I could learn. And I learned a few things! So the next lap, having easily passed again on the straight, I led this section...but Jack still outbraked me at the end of it. Still, the laps were ticking down now, and I expected to see the last lap flag soon. As is often the case, it took a couple more laps than I expected to come out - this was an 8 lap race, which meant 34 racing miles, and I never manage to count down the laps when I'm racing. But eventually the last lap flag did come out, and around the same time Jack stopped troubling me on the brakes - I guessed he might have given up the unequal battle against my ZXR's superior horsepower, but it turned out his bike had been going off song, and he pulled in rather than risk blowing it up.

I rode the last lap unaware that Jack was gone, and was pleased not to have to fight him off on the run to the line. Passing the chequered flag with the usual sense of relief, I still didn't know my finishing position. I knew I'd made a few places at the start, and had passed second row qualifier Tim Poole when he'd pulled out with machine problems. And I'd seen smoke from another blow up down the start straight too (this turned out to be Ivan Lintin), so I guessed I was probably somewhere between 6th and 8th, and so it was - I'd finished 7th. Which doesn't sound that great, from a grid of 14, but I am extremely pleased with this result, at a pretty high level race meeting. And it definitely laid to rest the disappointment from this event in 2015. And it also meant prize money - 7th place would net me £90! That's easily the most money I've ever won racing motorcycles, beating my previous record of £50 at Jurby South ten or more years ago.

I rode back to the paddock and stopped outside our awning feeling fantastic...and very hot - it was a scorching day! Alex and Andy put the bike on its stands, I pulled my leathers off and we cracked open a few beers between us.

Beer after 2016 Pre-TT Classic Race

Pre-TT Classic - qualifying done

May 29th, 2016

In marked contrast to last year, the bike has run pretty damn well through practice at the Pre-TT Classic this year.

The first practice session was on Friday evening.  Roads closed about 6pm, and my class was scheduled to go out at around 7:30.  In fact, the Southern 100 runs with such military precision that I think out practice time was actually scheduled for 7:33pm. And so it went, too.  The weather was fantastic all day, and I'd even been wearing shorts before I put my leathers on - not typically Manx at all!  We were soon through scrutineering and the bike waited in the unique grassy holding area, with its tyre warmers on, ready for action.

Soon enough we filtered out to the collecting area, then went away on pairs onto the road.  The bike accelerated cleanly as it always does, and soon I was heading out of Ballakeigen corner and tucked in for the fast run to Iron Gates.  The Billown Circuit is 4.35 miles long, and is basically square shaped.  Three sides of the square are fairly easy to learn, but the fourth side, from Ballabeg to Cross Fourways, is fast and sinuous and tricky.  And I last rode here in 2012, so I really needed to re-learn it from scratch.  Still, "steady away", as old road-racers say, and the bike felt good as I started my first flying lap.  So good that I missed my braking point for Ballakeigin this time round, and nearly did a 3 point turn to get round - I lost a few seconds here.   And then I had a flying lap under my belt, which was already one more than last year.  But on the next lap red flags were out, and we all stopped.  And then that was the end of our session.    But by now I had a re-occurence of the issue we'd had at Oliver's Mount six weeks ago - once the brake disks got hot, they started to run the calipers and bind.  So we had work to do the next day.

Saturday dawned bright, but not as warm, but we were soon up and working on the bike.  We swapped the disks for the ones that had worked at Scarborough, and then <small voice> took the bike somewhere quiet to give it a quick test <cough>.  And then we set to working on my good friend Andy Cowie's new (to him) GPZ600-based F2 bike, which had been overheating the previous evening.  The problem was soon traced to damage in the water pump, which we swapped for a spare one he had, and we were all ready to go.

Practice on Saturday is in the afternoon, and we were off at 2:30pm.  The sun was out, the temperature had risen, and it wsa perfect conditions.  I was out early in the group, so a few faster guys came past me, but the bike was feeling great, the brakes were fine, and I was re-learning the circuit slowly but surely.  After 5 laps we were flagged in, and I was comfortably qualified.

I don't currently know my grid position for Monday's race, as the classes I practiced with are not the same as I'll race with.  I might even be in the top ten!  But I'm not too bothered about that - I'm here to a) have fun and b) get the last finish I need for my TT mountain licence.

Race day is tomorrow, Monday 30th May.  Update to follow sometime after that...