Category: "Classic Racing"

Pre-TT Classic - Prologue

May 26th, 2016

Last year's Pre-TT Classic was to be the first proper outing of my newly built classic ZXR750, and it was a disaster - I didn't complete a lap of practice, and didn't get to race. The full horror is described here.

But now the bike has a couple of decent meetings under it's belt. It ran very well at the Classsic TT last year, right up to the point when the chain broke. And it was also good at this year's Spring Cup at Oliver's Mount. Nothing is ever guaranteed in classic racing, but I'm hoping that any teething problems are now in the past.

Since Oliver's Mount I've improved a couple of things. The issues we had with the alignment of the brake calipers has been addressed by asking my good friend Nigel Eaton to machine up some spacers which fit in the forks, and do two things: they sleeve the bolt size down to 8mm, so I can use regular M8 bolts instead of the specially machined ones with an M8 thread and 10mm shoulder; and they space out the calipers so that they are correctly centred on the disks.

I've also fitted the freshly fabricated radiator, lovingly crafted by Phil Wall of Boal Engineering on the Isle of Man. It is a work of art. It was <cough> quite expensive, but quality always is, and the radiator I was using before was about the mankiest and nastiest thing left on the bike.

So the bike is ready, and today I loaded up the van with everything you need to go and race a motorcycle in another country. As well as the bike itself, and stands and spare wheels, there's all the tools, awning, workbenches, tyre warmers, compressor, spares...and leathers, boots, helmet...not to mention camping kit to live in a paddock for 4 days. It's fair to say the van was full. And that was before I got to Alex's place, and we loaded his kit in too.

Tonight we'll arrive in the paddock after dark, and just put our tents up to sleep. And then in the morning we'll set up the awning and our workspace for the weekend. And do all the race meeting business of signing on, getting riding gear and bike checked, changing tyres and all the other stuff. Roads close about 6pm in the evening, and practice will start shortly after - the Southern 100 Club run a very tight ship.

I'm writing this on the ferry, ready to sail to my favourite place on earth, which always puts me in a sunny mood. And the weather is matching it - the forecast is for 18 degrees and sunny - not at all Manx!

Bad day at Oliver's Mount

April 22nd, 2016

Not a bad day for me personally, but just bad karma generally. But first some background.

After the successful debut of my freshly built ZXR750 classic racer in 2015, I looked around for some eligible events in which to run it in 2016. One of these is Oliver's Mount in Scarborough, famously the "only road-race circuit in England", and moreover one that I'd never been to. They had classes for the ZXR and my newly acquired TZ250, so I entered both. Unfortunately, events at Brands Hatch ruled out the TZ. But on a Friday morning I was up and loading the van, heading across country to pick up mechanic Alex, and then heading north to a part of the world I'd never actually been to before.

Things weren't auspicious when we arrived - the paddock was apparently "full". To be fair to the organisers, they do have very limited space, but awnings, vans and motorhomes have got bigger and bigger, and the available space hasn't. We eventually teamed up with a Manx mate (more than a couple of manxies come across for this event) Mark Bamford, who took down his tent (which was a bit rubbish) and then shared my double awning. We got the kit and bike set up, but by this time we had missed evening scruitineering. And we had to camp elsewhere, in the field for 'ordinary spectators' - the ignominy! The weather was rubbish, too - very cold, and wet. There are few activities more depressing than putting a tent up in the rain. After this, Alex and I went for a pint, and then warmed up and dried out in a pizza restaurant.

The forecast for Saturday was equally bad, but the weather was ahead of schedule - the rain had already blown through, and Saturday morning dawned sunny. Still very cold though, and the dampness under the trees on the circuit was going to be slow to dry, if at all. As a newcomer to the circuit, I had an extra practice session, in a group behind an experienced rider (as they do at the TT), and we went out and did three laps before practice properly started. My initial reactions were - it's narrow, but not as narrow as the onboard videos make it seem, there's a lot of elevation changes, and a lot of hairpins. But otherwise all fine, and the bike seemed ok.

We had a first 'untimed' session (which actually was timed) scheduled for around 90 minutes later, but a recurring feature of the weekend was poor time management by the organisers, so by mid-morning the best part of an hour had already been lost. Still, we got out there eventually, and I started to learn the circuit, and even started to enjoy myself (still on dry tyres on a very patchy circuit). And it turned out I was 11th fastest, out of 19, which was pleasing. The gaps tended to be quite big, though -the fast boys are definitely fast here. Still, I was pleased to just be a seond a lap slower than fast manx youngster Jack Hunter, who's been riding at Oliver's Mount for a few years now.

However, we had a little bit of a problem - once warm, the outside edge of the front brake disks was just touching the inside of the brake caliper, making some noise and making the front end judder. About now Simon, our other mechanic, turned up, having ridden his bike all the way from the south-coast - about 5 hours. Such dedication from the people who help me go racing! Anyway, Simon and Alex looked and looked at the issue, and made some changes to try next time out.

Timed practice was more of the same, and I qualified in 13th place. Nothing spectacular, but I really needed a finish (for my TT mountain licence) and it's wise to treat new road circuits with some respect. But the brake issue was still there. Our first race of the weekend was the penultimate one of the day, so we had plenty of time to deal with it. Which, eventually, we did by, er, relieving some material from the brake calipers. The wheel now spun cleanly. The other news was that a rain shower had blown across the circuit during the afternoon, and now the circuit was properly wet, and still very cold, so full wet tyres were the order of the day.

We lined up for the race, which was only 40 minutes or so late, and set off for our warm up lap. Directly ahead of me was Ian Lougher, on a TZ250. Ian Lougher!  He's a TT winner, and properly famous. And he's 3 places ahead of me on the grid. Wow. We reformed for the start, the lights went out, and we were away. TZ is a difficult bike to launch, and I was straight past Ian Lougher, but in the braking area he came back alongside me, and I wisely let him have the line. And then, obviously, I didn't see him again. But things selttled down in the next half lap, and were going well - the bike felt good, the brakes were now sorted, the wets were doing what wets do (ie. defying the laws of physics), and I was even having fun. There was a chap on another ZXR (actually, a ZX7R) who was better than me on the brakes, but much slower through and out of the corner that leads onto the back straight (such that it is - it's not exactly straight) so we were swapping places regularly, and enjoying ourselves. And then a properly old BMW flat twin (in the F2 class) joined in, too! I wasn't having that, and got my head down and managed to stay in front of both of them where it mattered - the chequered flag. Final position was 12th out of 18 starters - I'll take that.

It was now about 6pm, so once I'd calmed down and got changed out of my leathers, it was definitely pub o'clock. Alex and Simon sank a few, while I sipped a half, being a) the nominated driver (a rider does really have to look after his volunteer mechanics) and b) racing the next day. And then we repaired to a curry house. The boys decided to open some wine when we got back to the tent, too.

The next morning dawned grey but dry. And still cold. We eventually made our way to the paddock, just in time for morning warm-up, which I also rode on wets because the track was still soaking wet, and very cold. We then parked the bike and prepared to wait, as the Classic F1 race was the last of the day. The feature race, the "Spring Cup", was due to go off about midday, but was red-flagged after only a lap. The field lined up for a restart and they went off again, and this time half-way round on the first lap there was a huge accident on the back straight. According to one of the riders who spoke to me when he got back to the paddock, ashen-faced, there were "bikes in trees". At least two riders were hurt enough to immediately be taken to hospital, one of them being Manx Grand Winner Billy Redmayne. With both ambulances now away from the circuit, no other racing could take place, so everyone waiited. And waited. At around 4pm, the organisers announced that the meeting was being abandoned. So we all packed up and drove home.

The next day the news came that Billy Redmayne had died in hospital. Those of us who go road racing are all very aware of the ultimate price that can be paid, but it's never anything less thana shock when it happens. And with Billy there is a real sense of potential unfulfilled - he won his Newcomers MGP race and another MGP that week, and everybody was sure he'd go on to be a very competitive TT rider. RIP Billy