Category: "Classic TT 2015"

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.

BSB Assen : No, I wasn't racing, but worth blogging anyway

September 25th, 2015

Generally this blog is about my racing activity.  But every so often something comes along that I want to write up which is outside that category.  There is some race content, all the same.


In 2014 Kawasaki announced the limited edition supercharged Ninja H2.  As an avowed Kawaski nut, I obviously wanted one, but it was ridiculously expensive.  But, I'd just been made redundant, and had a cheque of about the right size in my hand.  Well, you only live once.  So I put a hefty deposit down, and my bike turned up in April.  And everything you might have read about them is true - it's a genuinely awesome motorcycle.

Anyway, in August, I recieved an email from Kawasaki UK saying they were organising an event for UK, Dutch and German H2 owners, such that we would get free hospitality at the Assen round of the BSB championship, and a hotel for the night, and a 'parade' of the Assen circuit.  All I had to do was get myself there.  So I got my name on the list, and booked my crossings.

Gentleman's Touring Motorcycle

It would have been sensible to do the overnight Harwich-Hook of Holland crossing, but by the time I got around to organising things, those were gone.  I'm about out of holiday at work, so I booked the channel tunnel, out Saturday morning, back Sunday evening.  I squeezed some overnight things into a magnetic tank bag, protected the tank with some rubber mesh/matting, and was ready to go.  I was up early and away before 6:30am, and on the 8:50 train from Folkestone.  

H2 with luggage on chunnel

Once on the other side, it was 300  miles to Assen.  

The worse thing about the H2 is its petrol consumption.  Of course, it's not the sort of bike you buy to save money on fuel, but the combination of 30mpg and a 17 litre tank means you have to stop for fuel every 90 miles or so.  This is annoying, especially when travelling in unfamiliar territory.  The ride up to Assen was made worse by very heavy showers in Belgium, but by the time I'd crossed into Holland (my fourth country of the day), the sun came out and I could put my water proofs away.

I got to the circuit about 3pm, and found my way to the dedicated (and secure) H2 parking area - and parked my bike next to a dozen or so other H2s; this felt rather surreal

Row of H2s

I'd got to the circuit in time to watch final qualifying for the BSB round, and our hospitality suite was brilliantly situated overlooking the Gert Timmer chicane.   Unfortunately, despite being on a Kawasaki promotional event, Shakey Byrne could only manage to get 5th on the grid.

Overlooking he Gert Timmer chicane and pit lane entrance

That evening we all went to the hotel, which was about 15km away, and met in the bar, and then had dinner together.  I was pleasantly surprised by the other H2 owners, they were a pretty mixed bunch, and no one who could reasonabily be pigeon-holed as a rich kid.  Everyone was seriously into bikes, most had several, often multiple Kawasakis.  It was a good night.

The next day was going to be a full one.  Not only were we going to a big bike meeting, we were also going to get to ride around the track.  And then I (at least) would have a 400 mile ride home.  So I was up at a good time, and had a decent breakfast.

Race day was good fun.  There was morning warm-up for the main classes, and a bunch of support races too, so there was plenty going on.  Our 'parade' was due to go off at 15:15, so at 3pm we were all kitted up and down in our parking area, which was right by the pit lane.  But the weather was very threatening, and then it started to rain.  This caused the previous race (which we were waiting to finish) to be red-flagged, so the organisers (who understandabky have a tight schedule to keep to) decided to send us out then.  On a variably damp track (from almost dry to soaking wet in places), with a dutch motorcycle journalist to show us the way round.  We all did two steady/wobbly laps (delete as appropriate), and then were flagged in.  It felt pretty self-indulgent, but I hadn't organised it, I'd just taken up the offer to ride round.  And in the meantime, while we were out, the rain stopped, so the racing could resume properly.

I watched the BSB race get away, and it was obvious that Josh Brookes was on a mission, and leapt away from everyone else, so at around 4:30pm I gathered my kit together and rode away from the circuit.   I'd filled up with fuel that morning, so knew I could get a decent whack of miles under my belt before my first stop.  Traffic was relatively light, and where it wasn't I just tore along the dotted line. The net result being that I covered 300 miles in 3 hours and 45 minutes, which I moderately pleased with, as it included 3 fuel stops.

I got straight on a chunnel train, covered the tedious 100 miles up the M20 and round the M25 and was home by 10pm.  What a weekend!


That's racing

September 2nd, 2015

Race Day for the Classic TT F1 race dawned dry, bright and sunny - perfect conditions.

Unfortunately, the organisers had a problem with the Tetra radio system they use for communications between the hundreds of marshalling points around the course.  The delay went from 30 minutes to an hour, to 2 hours, and eventually to about 4 hours.  I imagine the technicians had to do a complete restore of the software on the system.  But I'm no telecomms engineer, so that's just a guess.  But eventually, the morning's race (the 350 Classis) went away at 2pm.

Our race was re-scheduled for a 5pm start, which meant conditions would be much like evening practice, which was at least familiar.  I've started a few MGPs and TTs now, but the whole process of lining up on the startline is still electric.  Andrea Hawley got this photo as I rolled towards the start:

Ready for the start

And then we were off and I was heading down Bray Hill once again.  The first few miles felt pretty good, and by Ballacraine I think I'd passed four people.  After that, it got much quieter - it's possible to run a whole race on the TT circuit and not see any other riders.  You set off at 10 second intervals, and if the organisers have got the start positions right, then the gaps between each rider gets bigger.   On lap 2 Ben Rea came past me on his big Suzuki, running a much faster pace, and was soon gone.  For some reason I felt a little scrappier on this lap, which was later confirmed by the stopwatch as about 10 seconds slower.  But then I was in for the pit stop, which was exactly what you want - uneventful.  Alex put the fuel in, Simon gave me the drinks bottle and a sachet of energy gel, and then I was quickly away.  With my tear-off removed and the caffeine-infused gel inside me, I immediately felt sharper, and set about doing two more laps of the same.   Things felt good, and, while I was physically working quite hard, I was enjoying myself too.  

But then it all went wrong.  I'm always very unspectactular over Ballaugh Bridge, feeling that there's a lot to lose and not much to gain by flying off the crest.  But as the suspension re-loaded on the downside of the bridge, there was a nasty noise, and when I opened the throttle there was no drive, just engine revving uselessly.  I looked down, and confirmed my first guess, which was the chain was off.  I pulled over. and the chain was still actually there, but off the rear sprocket.  It should be impossible to hook a chain back on without tools, and the fact that I managed it raised my suspicions, but I did it and attempted to re-join.  But it immediately made an awful noise, and popped back off again.  My race was run.

I walked back up to the marshalling point, and had my retirement radioed in.  I then recalled, from my very first visit to the TT in 1984, that there was a disused railway line, now just a path, parallel with the road here, so, after checking with the owner of the nearest house, I walked through their garden, got on the path, and walked back to Ballaugh.   And a nice marshal gave me some money for a pint in the Raven.  I spoke to Alex on the phone, and he came to get me in the car - there was a practice scheduled after the race, so the roads wouldn't be open for ages before we could collect the bike.

We got back to the paddock, I got changed, and we went to the beer tent.  Even though the race had ended with a retirement, I was pretty relaxed about it all - I'd raced in the Classic TT on a bike I'd built myself, and had a reasonable pace - certainly fast enough to get a replica, anyway.  

We collected the bike later that evening, and went to the pub in Ramsey to catch up our many local friends.  And dined like kings at the kebab house.    The next morning we got the bike up on the bench and found this:

Broken chain

It could have so easily been much worse - a snapped chain can wreck your engine, or lock up the rear wheel and wreck you.  I was still worried that the gearbox output shaft bearing might be damaged, but it was completely fine, so we just put a new chain on it for the next meeting, and then packed everything up into the van and car.   Our space in the paddock looked a little forlorn once we'd finished:

...but we'll be back next year!

Last practice - fastest times

August 29th, 2015

Today is Saturday, and the start of the the races - the first event this afternoon is the Classic 500 race.  However, my class (Formula One) had a last practice session this morning.  After last night's breakdown, we were all up early to diagnose the problem and look for a fix.  Fortunately, as soon as the tank came off we saw it - a rubber bung had come off the fuel gallery on the carburetors, so the bike would have quickly pumped fuel out into the airbox, which at speed would have aerosoled off from the bike. This meant it must have happened shortly before it ran out, when there would only have been around 5 litres left anyway.  So, we fixed the bung, and put it all back together, and took the wheels out for new tyres.   The practice session was at 11:45am, putting our scrutineering slot at 10:00am, so there wasn't a lot of time to hang about, but everything went ok, the weather was fine and dry, and I was looking forward to it.   But first, I spent 20 minutes with the lovely Cath Davis of Rex Physiotherapy, who did some work on my legs which were a bit achey from muscling the ZXR around.   She really knows her stuff, and I'm very happy to recommend her to any readers of this blog who need any physio on the Isle of Man (perhaps something of a long sht, I know...).

The time came, and once again we were up onto the Glencrutchery Road, and away in pairs.  I got away cleanly as ever, the ZXR pulling it's now customary wheelie before the change into second, and then heading down Brayhill.  And it just felt great!   In the first half a lap I caught a handful of people (I think only a dozen or so had started in front of me anyway), which always makes you feel good.  I was also starting to become properly familiar with the bike, knowing which gear to use in various places, and getting my braking markers better sorted.  On the second lap my right leg started to cramp up a little, and after the late evening yesterday and early start this morning, I felt a little tired, so decided not to do a third lap (which would have been an option, after a stop for a fuel top-up).  So I came in and parked the bike, and Alex told me that I'd done two laps at 107mph - my fastest of the week.  Also, checking the speed trap times from Sulby straight, I went through both times at 159mph, which is also my fastest of the week - probably a measure of me getting a better run through Quarry Bends, and keeping the bike properly pinned right up to the braking point.

So we're all set for the race on Monday, and we're going out for a couple of beers this evening.  Probably more than a couple for Alex and Simon, to be honest.

A good run, with an annoying ending

August 28th, 2015

After last night's practice session, with three laps in the bag, and the bike working pretty well, we were all in good spirits today.  And there wasn't much work to do, either.  So little, in fact, that I actually washed the bike, mostly to get the squashed flies off the front, but generally to pretty it up a bit.  And it came up looking lovely:

ZXR 750 after a wash in the Classic TT paddock

I was a bit achey, especially around the left hand side of my neck, and my left shoulder, so I availed myself of the physio service being provided by Cath (unforgivably, I don't have the name of her business to hand - I will update this when I do.  EDIT: Rex Physiotherapy).  Cath did some weird Vulcan pressure point stuff on my neck (it made my fingers go numb!), and made it all much better.

Now that we'd sorted the main issues with the bike, we paused to do something basic and fundamental for a racing machine - we wrote down all the suspension settings.  It's a measure of how much we'd been working on the basics that this was the first time we did it.  But, really, last night was the first real night of practice.   Anyway, having noted all the settings, we concluded they were a bit on the soft side, so we firmed everything up a bit, to see if it improved anything.

This evening we were the second group due out, and so didn't need to scrutineer until nearly 6pm, for a 7:20pm start.  By now it was becoming routine, so Simon and Alex got the bike up there, while I spent the time faffing about with my riding kit just to kill the time.   And at just after 7:20, the first bikes in the group started.  There was a good five minutes before I could get away (the bikes leave in pairs at 10 second intervals), but I once again beat my starting partner away from the line, and headed down Brayhill

 Quick reactions following the starter's tap on the shoulder

Unlike last night, our session was just F1 and F2 classic bikes, with a lot of Manx Grand Prix riders, mostly on modern 600s.  I got into a happy pace off the line and was immediately catching people - I think I must have passed four or five in the first 5 miles.   I felt good, and the bike did too - a little more taught, with our tweaked suspension settings.  Over the mountain it didn't feel as fast as last night, and I worried for a moment before I realised this would be down to the extremely strong headwind that we were riding in to.   I went straight through at the grandstand and started my second lap, which was a little lonely until Ballacraine, when two modern 600s came past in quick succession.  As is often the case, having a rabbit to chase caused me to go a little faster, and I was able to hang on to the them.  And then a couple more bikes came past, and I held on to all of them, and suddenly there were five of us riding along together - this was fun!   I got a terrific run out of Quarry Bends, and would probably have set my fastest speed trap time if I hadn't had to roll the throttle as I came up behind a slower rider in a novice jacket just as we got to the narrowing kink before the braking zone.   Anyway, the five of us carried on through the very bumpy Ginger Hall to Ramsey section, and it's a measure of my confidence here, and the bike's composure, that I was able to pass two of the bunch on the run into Ramsey.

But then, the bike coughed on the climb to the hairpin.  And after the hairpin it gasped, and coming out of the Waterworks if just stopped.  I knew immediately that it was out of petrol - I could hear the fuel pump sucking on air.   Damn.  So I put the bike somewhere safe with the help of a marshal, and texted Alex and Simon to come over with the van.  

We think the fuel issue is down to not fully brimming it (but that would only count for a couple of litres at most, maybe) and the head wind, and maybe riding a bit more scrappily in the bunch.  But it's much too close for comfort - the Hairpin is a good 12~13 miles from the finish, so we're a fair bit short.  Tomorrow we'll put the smaller jets back in, and reduce the rev limit by 500 rpm.   And, being Saturday, and race day for the 500s, our practice session is at 11:45am, so we'll have to be up and in the awning in good time.   But this is what practice is for.

We had the tank off this morning, and found a smoking gun - a bung from the fuel gallery on the carbs was missing.  We tested it by rigging some fuel to the pump and looking, and sure enough, petrol was squirted out of this unbunged-pipe.  So this was a good thing, as it meant that we don't have problems with fuel capacity.  We fashioned a replacement bung (a short piece of hose with a bolt in the end, all lock-wired to death), re-assembled, ran it up, and it's all good.  So now we're ready for the last practice session this morning, Saturday.