Category: "TZ250"

Second evening practice, and qualified already

August 23rd, 2017

Today was one of those days when the Manx weather can surprise you in a good way.

We woke to find ourselves actually in the cloud - the fog was down to sea level.  The forecast said it would burn off, but only in time for more rain to arrive around 4pm. No one was very positive.  But still, we didn't really have much to do to the bikes, as Monday's practice had been cancelled.  I felt pretty confident in the ZXR, after the single fun lap on Saturday, but the TZ hadn't run on the course at all yet.  So went through to the process of getting ready for scrutineering, and then...the sun came out!  It clouded over again, but had lifted high enough for the rescue helicopter to fly, and the rain failed to arrive.  Practice actually got away nearly on time!

Now we have permission to run the TZ 'out of class', planning for the practice sessions has become a lot easier - basically, the ZXR in the first session, the TZ in the second.  The first session was only 45 minutes, and my start number of #64 meant I'd probably not get away until 10 minutes after the session started.  This meant I could get two laps in on the ZXR, come in, take a breath, and then go out for two on the TZ.  The team of Simon, Simon and Alex are pretty well practiced by now, and the bikes we soon sitting in parc ferme looking purposeful:

ZXR & TZ ready

By 6pm parc ferme was a mass of mechanics, bikes being warmed up, riders trying to look calm.  Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson reported that one of the rescue helicopters was reporting on conditions, and 10 minutes later the word came that we were good to go!  The bikes with the first 20 numbers from each class went up to Glencrutchery Road, and were soon leaving in pairs.  I anticpated the call for my group perfectly, and was on the road paddling forward towards the start marshall and away within 10 minutes of the session starting.  I went down Bray Hill at what I though was my usual pace, but my starting partner (who I beat of the line as usual) came past me on the brakes into Quarter Bridge.  But that was OK, and I hung on to him, and in fact we saw each other, back and forth, several times over the next two laps.

I was going faster, I knew, but unlike on Saturday, people weren't coming back to me in nearly so many numbers.  And a couple people came past me, too.  Early in the lap, the ZXR felt like it wasn't quite getting enough fuel, and worred about another fuel pump failure, I started changing up a little earlier, instead of revving it to the 12,000rpm redline.  The problem went away, and on the run down the mountain I revved it out again, and it was fine, so I decided to press on, as planned, for a second lap.  By the end of this the first session was over, and I was flagged back into parc ferme - the second session was already starting from the pit lane.  I was pretty bloody hot!  Fortunately, Vanessa was ready with a bottle of prepared energy drink, which I definitely needed.  I took a minute or two to recover, and then we fired up the TZ250, and headed for the starting line for the second session.

Wow, but the TZ is a different riding experience from the ZXR!  It's a fair bit slower (75bhp vs 130), but so very much lighter that it accelerates really well, and brakes and handles so much more easily.  It took me a while to get the feel for this, but I was soon enjoying myself.  In this session I was out with a lot of old 350s and 500s from the 60s, which are much much slower, and so I had to keep my wits about me for other traffic.  And I was also fairly well matched with a few of the modern 650 SuperTwins, which have ~20bhp more, but are also a lot heavier.  

After last year's debacle (only two completed laps in practice, and then it seized and threw me off on the first lap of the race), I admit to being a little nervous, but the bike didn't put a foot wrong, and won me over with its surefootedness and ease of turning.  I patted the tank as I came down the mountain on the first lap, and flew along the startline to start my second.  By this time the cloud cover was 100%, and as I came over the mountain it was definitely close to dusk - it wasn't that easy to see the rev-counter!  But the bike was great, right until I accelerated out of Governers Bridge to finish the lap and the session, when it coughed with the unmistakable feel of running out of petrol.  I got it over the line 3~400 metres away, but then it died completely as I turned up the pit return road.  I took my helmet off and started pushing (after pulling my phone from my leathers to message the team and let them know what was happening).  The pit return lane is probably less than 200m long, but I was very pleased when I saw Simon coming towards me to take the bike.

This counts as a very good evening's practice.  I have to do 5 laps within the qualifying time, including 2 on each bike, and with Saturdays I'd now comfortably done that. So far, this year's practice week has been in stark contrast with last year's.  But there's always something more to strive for - the two laps on the ZXR were 106 and 107mph, and I'd hoped for a little more, and the two on the TZ were both 99mph, which I was definitely disappointed with - last year one of my practice laps was 104mph!.  Still, it's only the second night.

When I got back to the tent food was being prepared, and TZ-guri Rik Ballerini was there.  We granned something to eat, and then Rik and I took the heads off to check the jetting.  This was complicated by running out of fuel (which would have leaned the mixture off), but as this was brief, Rik was comfortable he could tell.  My original thought was that we were too rich, as I'd jetted up to use 410 main jets. [The general advice on the Isle of Man is to run 2~4 jets sizes bigger than you'd normally use, due to the very long periods of running flat out in high gears. The bike had had 370s in, from the dyno and Pre-TT Classic].  My expectation was to come back on jet size to use a 400; in the end, we decided to just put a 400 in the front cylinder (which runs slightly cooler) and leave the 410 in the rear. 

Getting used to the TZ250

July 3rd, 2016

Regular readers might recall that I bought a TZ250 earlier this year, and had a torrid first outing on it at Brands Hatch, where it wrecked its gearbox.

After this,  I handed the motor to Dennis Trollope, one of a handful of experts on all things TZ in the UK, and he repaired the damage and fitted a new gearbox for me.  I got it back about six weeks ago, and fitted it and fired it up, but Dennis was insistent on it being given a run on the dyno before I raced it.  He has a good friendship with the chaps who run Dynotech, which is convenient for me, so I took it there on Wednesday, and they ran it up and down the box, and pronouced it good to go.  And we got a power figure out of it, which was a handful of bhp down on compable TZs, but we'd done not set-up at all, so I was happy to live with that.

After this I got a late entry in the NGRRC meeting at Castle Coombe over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd July, which was all a bit of a rush, but I really just need time on the bike. The North Glos club (were I started racing, back in the 80s) now runs the official GP250 National Championship, and the field is pretty fast and competitive.  But that's comes with the territory when you decide to race a GP bike. I loaded up on Friday, met up with mate Pat Evans with his race R6 in his van, and we managed to find a fairly decent spot in the paddock.  We both got scrutineered and signed on that evenng, which was a good plan as free practice started at the amazingly early time of 8:40am on Saturday.  Long-time mechanic Alex Ferrier arrived even earlier, and we were ready to roll out for our session on time.  Although, in the process of bump starting the bike, we discovered that some numpty (me) had fitted the gear change mechanism to give a 'race pattern' ( 1 up and 5 down), instead of the usual road pattern that I use.  There was no time to change it, so out I went.  I have ridden with a race pattern before, but not for a long time (maybe 10 years) .  I can do it as long as I give it enough attention, but this is a bike that demands a lot of attention in other areas, and soon as my focus was distracted (e.g. when someone came past) my brain would go into auto-pilot when changing gear, and I'd push the lever in the wrong direction, and change down instead of up, or vice versa.  But, still, I was riding the bike, and getting a little used to it, and also learning the circuit as well - the last time I rode here was in 2012.  Best lap was 1:34, which put me not quite last in the field.

There was then a few sharp showers, which left the track soaking, so we put the wets in the bike, as well as fixing the gear change pattern issue.  I knew the circuit would dry quickly, but I was also confident that the TZ, with its lack of weight and power, wouldn't trash wets on a drying track.  And so it turned out - there was pretty much a dry line all the way round by the time we got out for the official timed qualifying session, but the bike seemed happy enough on the wets, although I did pull in to check them after 6~7 laps.  They were fine.  At the end I was 19th fastest, with only a couple of people behind me again, this time with a best lap of 1:30 - amazing what not having to think which direction to push the gearlever does!  And I was getting a little more familiar with the circuit.

The GP250 race was the first after lunch, and I was so keen I ended up being first in the holding area.  We formed on the grid, and then headed off for our warm up lap, and then re-formed, the red flag waved, we looked at the lights, and then we were off.  Pleasingly, my knack for getting good starts on a four-stroke also seems to be present on the two stroke, as I made a good 4 or 5 places off the line.  Of course, so of these struck back immediately on the run into the first corner, Quarry, and the others took a lap or two to regain the ground.  But still, I was racing, and it was fun.  The TZ needs such focus and concentration compared to the four-strokes that I'm used to, but I felt I was making progress.  Well, I was until the start of lap 3, when exiting Quarry, I suddenly had no drive - the bike revved, but we didn't accelerate.  I parked the bike against the armco, peered down and saw that the front sprocket had come off.  D'oh.   After a ride in the recovery van back to my awning, I found a replacement nut, and also a big set of brand new tab washers.  So Alex fitted it, with help from another old, old friend Tim, who had come to help as he only lives a few miles away.   But I'd still not finished a race on the TZ, although at least now I had started one.  And, on the plus side, on my one timed lap (lap 2), I'd done a 1:26, i.e. another 4 seconds faster.

Later that afternoon there was some significant disruption to the race program, after a serious accident had required much clearing up, and one rider to be taken to hospital by helicopter.  In fact, the delays were so servere that the remainder of the program was abandoned, meaning Pat missed his main race of the day.  The hope was it would be run on Sunday.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and so it remained all day.   Neither Pat nor I bothered with free practice, which was extremely brief (maybe 3 laps), but we looked at the revised program which did include most of the races lost the day before.  But not Pat's - he was unimpressed.  I had a warm-up session in the morning, and my race was the first after lunch again.  I checked with some other TZ riders to see what gearing they were running, and as I suspect, my gearing was a bit too short, so I swapped the rear sprocket for one with two teeth less.  The warm up session was fine, and the gearing change was definitely the right thing to do, but any hopes of continuing the pattern of "4 seconds a lap faster each session" were dashed - I only managed another 1:26 (although 0.5 seconds faster than the one I did in the race yesterday).   And then it was the usual paddock waiting game until my race came round.

Once again I was the first to arrive in the holding area, but only by a few seconds.  We were waved out onto the track, and I slotted into the same 19th grid position as yesterday.  Once again I got a decent start, and felt like I was in the pack as we streamed out of the first corner.  After a lap things settled down, and I was close behind John Hogg on his 89 reverse cylinder TZ - the last of the parallel twins.  On paper, my bike should have been much better, but still had a lot to learn, and we had a good dice for the whole race, although I never managed to get past him.  We both got lapped by the leaders after about 8 or 9 laps - that's the problem with 12 lap races!  But the main thing was that I was properly enjoying myself.  I still don't think I'd really experienced the fabled GP bike nirvana that people talk about, but I was properly racing, and the lean angle the TZ can achieve has to be experienced to be believed.

I came home in 14th place, with only two other finishers behind me.  And both of those were in the "Pre-92" class, so I was actually last in my class.  But I don't really care - learning to ride this bike is not trivial, and this was really my first race weekend with it.  And the icing on the cake was my best lap time - 1:23, so I found another 3 seconds in the race.  The winner had a best lap of 1:13, and that looks like a lot of time to find, but the four people in front of me were only a second or two faster, so that will be my next target.

I feel much, much happier about TZ250 ownership now.