Two laps on the 650 under grey skies

May 29th, 2014

Day 8 : May 29th

We were up early and over to Phil Wall in Ramsey to get the petrol tank on the ZX10R properly fixed (see yesterday's blog). While there we had a fantastic breakfast in the Court Cafe in Parliament Street :-)

The rest of the day was pretty straightforward - a fresh tyre on the back of the 10R, and change of gearing on the 650 (one tooth less on the back to see if it would pull it), and the usual clean, check, fuel, etc jobs.  i'd also had a chat with Richard from Maxton, about the behaviour of the rear of the 650 over the very bumpy bits of the track, and he came to find us in parc ferme and tweaked the shock - the theory was that the rebound damping was a little too high, which was cauing the shock to 'jack up', so he would a little off.

Today and tomorrow the sidecars go out first, so the solos wouldn't be on the track until 7:15pm, so we had plenty of time.  The weather was still a little 'manx' with damp sections reported over the mountain, and the skies grey and overcast.  The start of the sidecars were delayed a little, and then the session was red-flagged because a spectator needed emergency medical treatment and the only access to them was on the circuit, and then there was an accident to clear up... Eventually it was decided that the track was too wet for the 1000cc bikes, and just the 600s and 650s would go out at 7:55pm.  Which became 8pm, and then 8:05pm.  Eventually we got away, and I was relatively high up the start order, setting off with Ryan Farquhar in fact!  I was surprised to keep him in sight for quite a long time, and the first lap was quite good fun, with quite a gang of bikes together for a while.  As I entered Sulby Straight a 600 came past (with about 30bhp more) and I was able to get into his slipstream, which paid dividends - we later found that we had the second fastest speed trap time, at 153.57mph!  Richard's tweak to the shock also worked very well - the bike was now perfect over the bumps, so much so that I passed the same 600 back again on the Ginger Hall to Ramsey section.

I was a little ginger for the first run over the mountain, as it was definitely damp in places.  By now I was mostly by myself on the road, but it was ok, and I was enjoying riding the 650 a lot.  It was a little weird being out racing (well, practicing) a bike at nearly 9pm in the evening, visibility not helped by the grey and threatening skies.

We got back and were able to check the times quite quickly, and I was 14th overall, with my two laps within 0.15 seconds of each other, at around 109.5mph.  They were the 18th and 19th fastest laps of the evening overall in the class.  I was kinda hoping for 110 or 111mph, but it takes more than hope.  Still, positive results, all the same.

Fixed just in time

May 28th, 2014

Day 7 : May 28th

We didn't think we had much to do today.  Turned out we were wrong...

The morning started as usual, with a bit of pottering around and planning the days activities. This evening's scheduled practice session excluded the Lightweights, so we planned four laps on the ZX10R.  We pulled the bellypan off and fixed the inevitable hole from going through the bottom of Barregarrow (where the suspension gets flattened) and we wanted to mount the transponder (which records your laptime) in a new place, requiring a bracket to be made.  So Simon and I went to Ramsey to get a suitable bit of aluminium from the marvellous Phil Wall.  While out, we filled the jerry cans (and the van), bought a rear bicycle light for the 650 (we've got fed up with swapping it between the two bikes), and, er, some fish and chips for lunch :-)

While checking the bike we found one of the bolts mounting the tank had gone missing, so Simon found a replacement and fitted it.  Time ticked around and Alex decided to be early for scrutineering, and headed up to the inspection bay; five mins later he was back - the bike was leaking fuel.  We quickly pulled some bodywork off and found that the new mounting bolt had punctured the tank!  Oh no! But we had a couple of hours, and we didn't panic, we worked the problem.  We made a grub screw to thread in and seal the hole, and fitted it with a whole load of silicon bathroom sealant (always useful stuff to have in your race tool kit).  We let the silicon set, re-fitted the tank and filled it with fuel, and  - no leak!  Tomorrow we will take the tank to Phil Wall to get it welded properly.

So the bike went back up to scruting, and sailed through, and time ticked around and soon we were ready to go again.  After two nights of glorious bright sunshine, this evening was much more Manx, with grey skies, blustery wind and threatening rain.  At 6:25pm the session started, and we were all paddling to the startline two by two.  I fluffed the getaway and my starting partner led me away.  It turned out he wasn't nearly as confident as me down Brayhill, and I went past him just after Ago's leap.  Rounding Quarterbridge I could see the previous two starters ahead entering Bradden, which meant I'd made time on them too.  I felt pretty good, and reeled them in, and kept finding more people visible ahead of me.  This is always wonderful for your self-confidence.  But the downside of catching other riders is sometimes they can take a while to pass, which may slow you down a little.  Still, it's fun!  I continued to catch people, passing Paul Duckett (I think) down Sulby Straight.  And then we got to the bumpy section, Ginger Hall to Ramsey, and the bike started cutting out.  Just very briefly, but I was obviously worried that the bike was going to stop.  I thought that as long as I could keep my speed up I would try and get back to the paddock (touring home is strictly forbidden, and extrmely dangerous).  It was obviously an electrical problem, and I figured something was shorting out over the bumps, so I tried to smooth things out, and shortshift.  I knew that the mountain section is mostly smooth, and so it turned out and I got the bike over the mountain.  I expected some of the guys I'd overtaken to come back past, but no one did.  It was pretty bleak up there, with spots of rain on my visor, but the road was still dry.  As I got to Govenors Bridge, planning to pull into the pits, I was actually pleased to see the yellow then the red flag which meant that the session had been curtailed.  It turned out that there had been a fairly serious accident at Barregarrow.

So we all went back into Parc Ferme to wait.  Alex and Simon pulled the seat off, and we immediately found that the battery was loose and was rattling around, and one of the terminals was loose.  The retaining strap had come off, which was easily fixed.  Then we waited for the session to restart, but the weather closed in, and it was abandoned.

It turns out that I'd done a lap 3 seconds slower than last nights best, at 115.374mph.  With the issues with the bike, I'm sure I would have been on for a mid-116mph, maybe even 117 - I need to check my split times to see exactly where I was faster and slower.  Quite pleased with the speed, tho obviously disappointed that we only got one lap in.  But everyone else is in the same boat, and the sidecars didn't even get out at all.  The weather forecast is good for the next two days, so we should be good for the rest of practice week.

And finally...

May 27th, 2014

Day 6 - May 27th

After last night's disappointment, we had to source a chain, which was easily done in the paddock.  The rear sprocket was also a bit damaged, so we swapped that too, although we didn't have the stock size (39 tooth), so we fitted a 38.  The bike will pull it easily, and it may even calm it down a little.  This might be offset by the other change we did, which is to fit the standard length (112 links) instead of the longer (114) which I'd used last year.  Apart from that, there wasn't a great deal to do - the 650 was ready to run on Saturday, and hasn't been touched since.  So we went on a hunt for a trolley with which to cart stuff from our awning to Parc Ferme, and eventually found something ideal in a garden centre.  

Tonight's session is split in two - 600s and 1000s first, and then 650s & 600s.  This meant that both bikes would be out, and therefore needed to be scrutineered, and the queue was as big as ever.  But soon enough we were set up in Parc Ferme with the bikes on stands and ready to roll.  This evening the big bikes were starting from the startline on Glencrutchery Road, so just after 6pm all the bikes were rolled up to the road.  The bikes are meant to go in number order, so being #85 means I ought to be near the back, and I didn't bother about pushing any further forward - in fact there were only a handful of bikes behind me. 

The session got away on time, and with riders going in pairs at 10 second intervals, they can start 120 bikes in 10 minutes, so the whole field can be got away fairly quickly.  I was soon at the line, and the light went green (and I got a tap on the shoulder from the starter), and we were away.  I easily out-dragged my starting companion, and was away down Brayhill.  Like yesterday, I immediatekt felt good and was pleased to see that riders ahead of me where in view  already (generally, if you can see a rider, he/she is less than ten seconds ahead of you).  In fact, I caught up the previous two starters by Quarterbridge, and was past them by Union Mills.  And very pleasingly, there were more bikes visisble in front of me.  Annoyingly, someone came past me on the run past Crosby, and then proceeded to be all over the road in front of me.  I eventually got past at Laurel Bank, but I'm sure I lost a little time.  But no matter, because more riders were coming into view - I think I passed around a dozen people on this lap, which is always very gratifying.  The bike still felt enormously fast, but not scary, and while the front wheel was coming up a lot, it wasn't rearing up uncontrollably like I remember from last year.

I got to Ramsey Hairpin, and accelerated up the hill past the scene of last night's breakdown and onto the mountain for the first time.  The weather was perfect, and the bike was flying, and I was feeling good.  I was soon accelerating past the grandstand and starting my second lap, which meant I had my first lap of practice in the bag.  The second lap was much quieter, and I saw hardly any bikes.  I was also finding it a bit physically demanding too, and noticed that I was breathing quite deeply.  But the lap passed without incident, and I was soon back in Parc Ferme, two laps completed.  I was hot, and very thirsty!  I grabbed a bottle of drink, an energy gel, and took a couple of minutes to recover.  But the 600/650 session was starting in 2 minutes, so it was back on with the helmet and do it all again.

As I headed through St Ninians crossroads on the 'little' twin, I remembered how easy it was to ride compared to the big bike.  There is so much more time to do everything!  I've been racing the bike a lot at Jurby since last TT, and getting respectably fast on it too, and so I feel very comfortable and confident riding it.  On the TT course there are lots of corners which are extremely demanding on the 1000 but where the 650 can be comfortably kept pinned in top gear.  The first lap felt pretty good, and I started the second with a big smile on my face.  The road was very quiet - think I passed one other 650 twin, and three 600 fours came past me - the last being John McGuinness right at the end of the second lap at the Nook.  Of the other two 600s, I was really pleased to hang on to them for a reasonable distance, considering they would have 35+ horsepower more than the 93bhp that the ER6 has.

I felt great when I got back - that was two good laps on both bikes, which had both felt reasonably fast.  But the proof is in the stopwatch, so when we found the times I was over the moon - 114 and 115 mph on the ZX10R, and two laps of 109mph on the ER6.  Last year the fastest laps I did on both bikes was on the last day of racing at the end of the fortnight, with 116mph on the ZX10R and 110mph on the ER6.  So, to be just 1 mph slower than both of these in my first laps is realy, really pleasing.  I had hoped to 'start where I left off', and it looks like I have.  And, my fears of not even qualifying the 1000 have definitely receded now.

The weather forecast for tomorrow had been very bad, but it looks like even that has improved, and we may get out and do it all again tomorrow evening.  Can't wait!

Chain stops play

May 26th, 2014

Day 4 - Sunday 25th May

After Saturday's cancelled practice, and the resultant trip to the pub, we woke up slightly muzzy headed on Sunday morning.  But that soon faded, and we were back at work again.  Today's jobs included:

  • Attend 'technical briefing' at 9am
  • Fit the (newly compulsory) rear light to the ZX10R
  • Get both bikes run on the pit dyno (another mandatory requirement)
The briefing was ok, if a little long, but it made a bit of a joke of the new rear light regulation.  This has been in place for national and internation racing for a year, and is actually useful for wet races where visibility can be significantly reduced, mostly due to the amount of spray a modern wet tyre can generate.  Given that the TT will never be run in the rain again, it seems a little silly to have the regulation here.  Worse, the TT reg says that the light must be capable of being switched on and off by the rider while seated on the bike.  But there is no mechanism to tell riders to turn lights on or off (in the absence of a new 'lights on flag...), so the briefing announced the logical conclusion that the lights have to be on all the time, for every lap, no matter the weather.  Which means there's no real need for them to be switchable.  Still, ours not to reason why...
All the solo classes this year have to be dyno'd, mostly to check for cheating.  For the Superstocks, this makes some sense, as they are, after all, meant to be stock(ish). However, for the Superbikes, Supersports (600s) and Lightweigths (650 twins), the dyno test is meant to check that the regulated mazimum rev limit is not exceeded.  Given that rev limits are controlled entirely by software nowadays, there's nothing to stop an unscrupulous team dialing down the rev limit for the mandatory dyno run, and then just dialling it back up again aftwards.  Still, rules are rules.  Our bikes both got done on Sunday morning, and were fine. 
We were checking over the ZX10R after the dyno run and found that the regulator/rectifier was getting very hot in its current location.  This is moved from the road bike, due to the kit loom that I'd fitted (with the kit ECU), and we decided that we had to bite the bullet and make a proper mounting plate to mount it properly in the air flow.  Which Alex and Simon did admirably, and there was soon a very professional looking bracket above the gear box sprocket with the reg/rect safely mounted in the airflow.
Remounted reg/rec
We had a quiet evening, with no alochol for me, and turned in.

Day 5 - Monday 26th May

This would be the new first day of practice, after the loss of of Saturday evening.  The only real job was to get fresh tyres on the ZX10R, which the nice men at CompLog soon sorted, and then with a few last minute checks (oil the chain, fit the transponder, etc), the bike was ready for scrutineering, which opened at 4pm.  The sun was out from mid-morning, and it was a glorious day.  The queue for scrutineering was enormous, but Simon and Alex looked after the bike while I put stands, fuel, tyre warmers etc in Parc Ferme, and we were soon through (another clean pass with no 'observations' from the scrutineer) and the bike was on its stands, tyre warmers on and full of fuel, ready to roll.  An hour and half before the start of practice.  It was clearly too soon to put my leathers on, so I busied myself getting my hands taped up (to prevent blisters) by Isla at Scott Physiotherapy, re-read my course notes, ate a banana, drank lots of energy drink and generally wasted time the best I could. Soon enough I was in my leathers in Parch Ferme, with over 100 other riders (and near 200 bikes), and the atmosphere was tremendous.  Practice got away about 20 minutes late (not bad for the first night), and after a few minutes I was on the ramp out to the track, and heading off with another rider (in practice, you go off in pairs).  
I was a bit quicker off the mark, and led away down Brayhill. I went from being very edgy and nervous to feeling very relaxed - as always, this (riding bikes) is what I do, it's what I am.  My starting partner nipped past me on the brakes at Quarterbridge, and I ws happy to sit behind him and follow him for a while.  I think he may have been on a 600, as I found it very easy to wind him in on most of thr straights, and after closing right up in the Glen Helen section, I passed him easily along Cronky Voddy straight.  The bike felt just great - moving around a bit, but nothing scary, and certainly not fighting me like last year.  By Ballaugh I could see two other bikes ahead, which is always good news as it means you've caught people up.  Around here (I think) Olie Linsdell came past, and he only crept away from me very slowly, so I judged that my pace wasn't far off his.  And he's properly quick!  But, it was still just the very first lap of practice week.
And then....coming out of Ramsey Hairpin, I short-shifted to second gear, and the bike didn't accelerate.  I coasted to a halt, and looking down I saw that the chain had broken.  Damn.  So I spent the next 2 hours watching practice, and then Alex and Simon came and picked me up in the van, and we returned to the paddock, to fight another day.
So, bad news that I didn't even complete a lap, but good news that the bike and I felt so good.  But feeling good is nothing, the only real judge is the stopwatch, so tomorrow I need to get my sector times for the bit that I did do, and see what sort of pace I was actually running.

Rain stops play

May 24th, 2014

It's our third day on the Isle of Man, and so far things have been pretty Manx...

Day 1 - Thursday 22nd May

I met Simon and we took my car to Heysham.  The M6 was dull, which is about the best thing you can say about it.  We arrived at the port nicely in time, to find that just about every other vehicle queuing for the boat was either a race van or a motorhome.  I'd planned ahead and taken everything I needed across to the Island a couple of weeks before.  We had an ordinary crossing, and on disembarking went to Ramsey, collected Keith's van and the keys for the lockup, went to the lockup and loaded the van with everything needed to pitch camp, then back to the paddock to set up.  By the time we got there it was 8pm, leaving an hour or so of daylight to erect a tent we'd never seen before.  The paddock was already pretty crowded, and the only pitch we could find which was big enough for our awning plus tent was in Paddock D, a fair way from Parc Ferme.  Still, it wasn't a bad pitch.  We eventually made sense of the tent which Alex had bought from eBay, and had also never seen erected.  Alex was on a later boat that docked at 10pm, and timed his arrival nicely with all the work being completed.  We went down to Douglas prom and found some food, and then turned in for the night.

Day 2 - Friday 23rd May

A busy day.  We had to make two runs to the lockup, the first to get all the tools and spares (including two hydraulic benches) and the second to get the actual motorcycles.  We also went to B&Q and got enough sheets of OSB to lay under the rola-trac flooring for the awning to keep the floor level.  We quickly got the awning looking professional, and then Alex and Simon went to get the bikes while I went to sign on, get my riding kit scrutineered and attend the riders briefing.  This took most of the afternoon!

The grreenest awning

Having got the awning and tent set for two weeks habitation, we had to make several trips to Shoprite, each new trip to get the thing we'd forgotten previously ("Have we got a tin opener?" D'oh).  Simon cooked a fabulous chili with rice, then we popped over to Ramsey to see Keith & Rebecca briefly.  Then an early night after a long and busy day.

Day 3 - Saturday 24th May

This is the first scheduled day of practice.  This first session is limited to Newcomers and Lightweights (650 twins), so we only had to have the Kawasaki ER6 ready - the ZX10R wouldn't be out until Monday.  The main job was to rig up a rear light, which is a new regulation for this year (in case of bad visibility; never mind the fact that the bikes never go out on the course if there is bad visibility...).  We had an LED bicycle light which uses a 12v supply, which Alex and Simon professionally fitted to the bike, with a (illuminated!) switch under the seat unit.  Meanwhile, I busied myself putting stickers on the rather bare bikes.  Well before scrutineering opened at 16:45, the 650 was ready.  We had time to stroll about in the sun (sun!) and have a coffee. I also had time to visit the wonderful Isla Scott at the Scott Physiotherapy tent and get the muscle I'd pulled in my back two weeks ago sorted.  Which she did, beautifully.

The boys took the bike up to scrut'ing and it sailed through.  After being very relaxed all day, I finally started to get a touch of the nerves that one really ought to have before racing on the TT course.  I sorted my visors and riding kit, and read through my course notes (a constantly evolving description of every corner on the course). And then the rain started, intermittently at first.  Clerk of the Course, Gary Thompson came on the tannoy to say that the forecast was for it to 'blow through', but it just got heavier and heavier, and eventually the announcement came that the practice was to be abandoned.  The next practice is Monday evening, so we shrugged and cracked open a beer.

Such is the nature of racing on the Isle of Man, and there's not much point getting upset about it.