First meeting of 2014

March 25th, 2014

This year I plan to do a full season of short circuit races at Jurby, in order to a) have a tilt at a couple of club championships and b) make sure I and my bikes are properly race ready for the TT.  There is also the matter of having to do two race meetings before the TT for the TT Mountain Licence.  So this meant a trip across the Irish Sea in March.

Before this, I had to make sure the ZX10R was ready.  And it was, just about.  I got the race kit loom and ECU fitted the previous weekend, and the freshly painted bodywork back, and applied the race numbers and backgrounds in the week.  Here's some pictures:

 

ZX10R Front 3/4

ZX10R RHS

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with how the bike looks.   In case you're wondering, I picked number 45 for this season in tribute to fellow Gloucester (and, er, much more successful) rider Scott Reading.

 My old endurance partner and steadfast mechanic Alex Ferrier was able to take a couple of days off and come and help, for which I was enormously grateful. You can just about look after one bike by yourself at a club meeting, but two is nearly impossible.  As well as the 10R, I was going to be riding Dave Clarke's beautiful Kawasaki ER650 twin, which lives on the Island (with Dave).    I collected Alex in the van on Friday morning, and we boarded the lunchtime ferry.  I've crossed the Irish Sea an awful lot of times in the last 10 years, but this was one of the least pleasant - a force 6 gale at the Douglas end of the crossing meant I spent the last couple of hours hunkered down in my seat, trying to sleep and moaning occasionally.  I am not from seafaring stock.

Once off the boat I soon felt better, and we splashed our way round the TT Course to Ramsey in awful condtions.  The weather forecast for Sunday was ok, but the track was going to get a good washing first.  We met up with old, auld mate and racing partner Keith McKay, and partner Rebecca, and went for a beer and food.

Saturday dawned with lots to do.  I left Alex to drop the anti-freeze from the 650, and replace with water, and do a few other small jobs, while I went up to Slick Bass's workshop with a pile of tyres and wheels.  I had a pair of dry tyres to fit for the ZX10R, a pair of wets to put on spare wheels for the 10R, and a pair of wets for the spare wheels for the ER650.  Keith and I made short-ish work of the tyre changing, but doing the balancing on a static balancer can't be rushed, so we were there a while.  But it was eventually all done, and by the end of the afternoon we had the van loaded with two bikes all ready to race.

Sunday dawned cold, and with a shower.  The shower blew through quickly, and was the last rain of the day, but it was really cold - less than 5 degress, and with a chilling wind too.  I had a brand new awning to put up, but we admitted defeat with the wind and left the front and back panels in the van, before we ended up with a 6x3 metre kite.  But soon we were set up, with Keith's marvellous Darvil Racing Z1-R classic racer, Andy Cowie's venerable Thundercat and my two bikes, looking almost professional:

Awning at Jurby

 

The track was streaming wet, so I asked Alex to put the wets in the 10R.  Then it started to dry out, so I asked him to change them back.  He was gracious enough to not even swear.  We went out for practice on a pretty damp track, but with lots of dry bits, and no standing water.  I was very conscious that this was my first ever ride on this bike in race trim, on a very cold and damp track, and so was very careful indeed.  This meant I only qualified 24th, but there were a good half-dozen behind me still, and this was very much a shake down meeting. The bike was great, and I could really feel and hear the traction control working over the wet and bumpy part of the track.

Next came our first mistake of the meeting.  The 650 twin was in two races, the "Singles, Twins and Triples", and the "650 Twins".  I only had one transponder (which registers the lap times as you pass the start/finish line), which we needed to swap between bikes - but we forgot to swap it.  So I registered no time for the Singles, Twins & Triples, and would be starting from the back of the grid curses.  I made sure we got it right for the 650 Twins practice session, and with a nearly dry track managed to get 4th on the grid.

The sun was out, and the wind was dropping - it didn't ever exactly get warm, but it stopped being so unpleasantly cold.  The track stayed cold, though, which caught a number of people out - more of which later.   Still, it looked like we were going to get a good afternoon's racing.

First up was the 1300 Solo Championship, which is the biggest race of the day, and was in fact over-subscribed with entries. All the quick boys are in this - Ryan Kneen, Ryan Cringle, Calum Collister, Si Fulton, and the evergreen Paul Dedman, who although closer to my age than the fast younsters, is still very rapid indeed.   I was way back on the grid, and just after a finish and to begin to get a feel for the ZX10R.  The lights changed, I got a cracking start, passing half a dozen before the first corner, and then settled down to the race.  The bike was a missile - I think I passed at least one person down the straight every lap.  It was also a bit lively - exiting the final corner onto the straight over a set of bumps, the front wheel was flicking from side to side, and coming up in the air too.  Still, that's all part of riding a 1000cc bike.  I came in and was please to find I'd finished 10th!  Not bad from 24th on the grid.

Next up was the Singles, Twins and Triples, which is run in conjuction with the Steelies (steel framed 600s) and Post-classics.  There'd already been several crashes, mostly down to cold tyres on the few left-hand corners on the right-handed circuit we were using today, but this class took the biscuit.  We had 3 restarts due to crashes, each with a new warm up lap, and, for the final time of asking, two warm up laps.  Consequently, we ended up doing twelve  laps for a 6 lap race.  Which probably explains why I ran out of petrol on the last lap.  Each time I'd started from the back of the field, and each time battled my way through.  To compound the failure, I needed the recovery van to get me back to the pits, which meant that by the time we'd splashed some fuel in the tank, I'd missed the start of the 650 twins race.  So one DNF and a DNS - curses!  Still, as problems go it was no tragedy, and a lesson learned - always overfuel the bike!

By now it was gone 4pm and we'd only just completed the first run through the race card.  People had been going off left right and centre, and the organisers cut all the remaining races to 4 laps.   I lined up again for the second 1300cc Open race, and if anything got an even better start this time.  The official results say my laptimes were no better, but I felt faster, and spent 3 laps passing people.  By the 4th lap the guys in front had gone, but this was hardly a surprise at I was in 6th place!  I was told that at the flag there was a gang of angry 600s behind me, but such was my bike's pace down the straights they'd been unable to get past.  Well, I guess that's why it's the "1300cc" open!  I am extremely pleased with this result in this field.

For the next Singles, Twins and Triples race we made sure bike was properly fuelled this time.  Starting at the back again, I was passing people everywhere - I'm sure Ali Foster won't mind me using this picture: 

Over four laps there was only so much I could do from the back of the grid, and eventually came in 6th overall and 4th in class. 

Last race of the day was the 650 twins.  From 4th on the grid I ought to be able to get a result in this race, and when the lights changed I leapt off the line and straight into first place.  After a couple of laps with a clear track in front of me, I wondered why Callum Colister (last year's 650 twin club champion) hadn't been in pole position, and then Callum tucked neatly underneath me, and rode away at a second a lap or more.  Turns out he must have had a problem in qualifying, as he'd started back in 16th place.  Clearly this wasn't a problem for him, as he still won the race.  And then, on the penultimate corner, Dave Kennington on his lovely Kawasaki ZXR400 came past me too.  Dave and I had a few great battles last year, I didn't mind him passing me too much, not least because he was in a different class. So I got a 3rd overall and 2nd in class.

We then did the usual end-of-race-day routine of load van, unload van, shower, pub, curry house, pub.

All in all a great start to the 2014 season.

Waiting

March 8th, 2014

Steve McQueen famously said that "Racing is life.  Everything else is just waiting".

Racers will know that there's some truth in this.  But even worse than just ordinary day-to-day waiting is waiting-to-see-if-your-TT-entry-is-successful waiting.  For some reason the TT is very popular this year, and all the classes are oversubscribed, some considerably.  While my 17th place and replica in the Lightweight last year should guarantee me an entry for that, it's the big bike classes that are way over the limit, and some people are definitely going to be unlucky.  My best time on the ZX10R last year might not be enough...

The entry committee is meeting today, and unsuccessful entrants will be emailed tomorrow.  So I'm sat with fingers and toes crossed hoping not to get an email.

STOP PRESS:  It's now Saturday, and I didn't get an email yesterday, so I'm assuming I'm in!

Apart from that, things have progressed pretty well regarding the prepartion of the Superstock ZX10R.  My Trello planning board has lots of things in the 'Done' column, and not much left in the 'To do' column.  Completed items include:

  • Maxton forks
  • HEL brake lines
  • New Bendix brake pads
  • Samco radiator hoses
  • Maxton shock
  • 520 chain and sprockets
  • ...plus lots of little detail items

The really rather expensive race kit loom and ECU had also arrived.  Might wait and see if my entry is confirmed before I open that box...

The bodywork is with Denis Motorcycle Resprays of Cirencester - I've used Denis for bike paint for the last 30 years, and he really is fantastic - recommended.  Should be back in about 10 days, and ready to be fitted for the first short circuit outing.

Here's a couple of photos of the work in progress

 

Maxton forks & HEL brake lines

 

 

 

2014 preparation

February 6th, 2014

My last update was shortly after coming out of hospital in November, having had the metal pin removed from my right femur.  Since then I have:

  • recuperated, heedng my surgeon's advice 
  • Bought a ZX10R for the 2014 season
  • Been offered a factory ride in the TT Zero event

I recovered from the operation pretty easily.  I was told to not stress my leg for 6~8 weeks, so I waited until after New Year before I started training again, but I've been back at bootcamp since the beginning of January, and I'm feeling pretty good.  The post-op / Christmas weight has come off, and I'm wondering if I can maybe get down to a racing weight of 75kg this year.

I found a 2011 ZX10R at a very good price, and collected it last weekend.  It's now up on my bench being put into Superstock spec,  Unlike last year, when I prep'd the bike in April and May and rode it for the first time down Brayhill, I plan to have this one ready for the first Jurby meeting in March.  I've also got a deposit down with Bournemouth Kawasaki for a race kit loom and ECU, which should enable Slick Bass to make it a bit less, er, physical to ride.

Perhaps the biggest news is around TT Zero.  I know Alex Aitchison of Darvill Racing on the Isle of Man, and he is setting up UK distribution for Brammo Motorcycles, one of the world's leading manufacturers of electric bikes.  Brammo have been involved with racing electric bikes since the class was invented, and were at the inaugural TT Zero in 2009.  This year Darvill racing will be running factory-supported full prototype Brammo racers in the TT Zero, and I'm going to be on one of them!

There follows a month of evenings in the garage getting the ZX10R ready, and in no time I'll be lining up for the first race of the season.  Can't wait!

2014 plans

November 27th, 2013

I can't help but look back on 2013 with a feeling of satisfaction - raced the TT for the first time, didn't disgrace myself, didn't hurt myself, and had some really enjoyable and successful outings with Andreas Racing at Jurby Airfield.

But it's November now, and I'm already thinking about 2014.  Current plans are:

  • TT - on Dave Clarke's brilliant ER6, and one (not two) other bike - probably another ZX10R
  • A full season with Andreas racing, with perhaps a chance of challenging for a championship
  • Classic TT - running a 1992 ZXR750 in the F1 class

Given all this, plus the ususal climbing, snowboarding, mountan bike & road cycling, I've taken heed of the words my surgeon impressed on me after putting a pin down the middle of my right femur in 2008.  He said it would be "very bad" if I broke the bone again with the metal in it.  So I've taken advantage of the off-season to have the pin removed.  I went into hospital last Tuesday at 11:30am, the inestimable Mr Holt removed the pin that afternoon, and I walked out of hospital the following morning (with the aid of a stick).  The leg is feeling pretty good, but I have to be careful not to shock it for the next 6~8 weeks while the holes in the bone (where the screws were) strengthen.  But yesterday I felt good enough to ride my bicycle for a couple of miles, and the stick hasn't been used much.

On Friday the staples are coming out (stitches are so 20th century); the wounds look to me like they are healing nicely.  A couple of photos follow - look away if you're squeamish.

Knee, where screw was removedHip with staples

Last meeting of the season, Day 2

September 23rd, 2013

After the brilliant highs, and really not-too-bad low of Saturday, we did it all again on Sunday.  I was obviously quite excited, as I was awake before 6am.  Fortified by a McKay bacon butty, we headed to the track.  The forecast was for "dry, sunny, and unseasonably warm", and so it turned out.

The track was run in the opposite direction to yesterday, so clockwise/right-handed.  This was the config we used in July, when I had a grand day out, so I was quite happy.  But after yesterday's winning exploits, perhaps I expected too much, or maybe wasn't forceful enough with traffic, as I only did a 1:17 and then a 1:16 in my two practice sessions.  This was ok, good enough for second row starts in both classes, but didn’t compare with the P2 start I got in the 650 twins yesterday.  Perhaps it was a reminder not to get complacent

Race 1: Steelies + singles/twins/triples + classics (aka Wacky Races)

I'd qualified p6, and one of the Martin Bullock riders, Dean Osborne was in P4.  Hmm.  If I wanted another win, I was going to have to work here.  I made a cracking start (I seem to have nailed the start technique on Dave Clarke's ER6, and it just leaps off the line), into 4th place following Ryan Kneen on the 'classic' OW01 (Bike: built 1989; Ryan: born 1989) and the two fast steelie boys (Matt Mylchreest and Mally Oates).  And then on the entry into Nan's, Dean Osborne came past; actually, he nearly came through me, clouting my arm good and hard.  This pissed me off a bit.  I chased him round for a lap, and could see that I had a bit more speed in lots of places.  I lined up a standard block past on the left hander before the pits, and showed him not just my front wheel but half the bike too.  He just turned in across me, forcing me to grab the brakes.  This pissed me off a lot.  Fortunately, the combination of my bike's pace, and (I like to think) the better drive I get onto the straight, allowed me to pass him in a straight line.  I didn't see him again. Hah. I held onto 4th, and 1st in class, with a best lap of 1:13.505.  Which just happened to be a lap record for this class on this circuit!  *Very* pleased about this!  I’m a lap record holder!

Race 2: 650 twins + 400s

After wrapping up the championship yesterday, class star Callum Colister (has won every race he started) didn't go out, leaving things a bit more open for me.  I was starting P4, but Dean Osborne was ahead again, as well as fast youngster Nathan Harrison, and 400 class champion Dave Kennington.  I got away well, but didn't make any places until I passed Dave's 400 on good old fashioned power down the straight.  But the two 650 twins in front of me were setting a good pace, and I thought I'd have to work for this one.  To save me some of the trouble, Nathan Harrison lost the front on the left-hander before the paddock, and I set my sights on Dean.  Half a lap later the red flags came out, as apparently a load of other people had also crashed.  We waited quite a while, then rode back round to the restart.  Two more warm up laps, and then a shortened 4 lap race, which I have to say wasn't very memorable - I think I got past Dean at the start, blew past Dave's 400 on the straight, and didn't see anyone else.  Another win, and a best lap of 1:13.230.  Could I get into the 12s in this direction too? [spoiler: no]

There was some intrigue in the lunchtime gap.  While I'd been focussed on trying to get into the top 3 of the 650 twins class, I'd surprised myself by jumping to second place in the singles twins & triples class (from about 12th), following yesterday's 30 points from two wins.  The class leader, Rich Waterfall, had started the day 27 points ahead, so only needed 4 points even if I won both races.  But, in the morning race he'd had a problem with his bike, and only scored 1 point...and his bike had now lost 4th gear! If I won the next race and he scored less than 3 points, I'd be champion!  I felt a bit shitty about this, as he'd been placing in the top 6 all season, and now a bike failure and some Johnny-come-lately (me) could rob him.  We had a chat about it, and he was very philosophical. He sounded like he wasn't going to start the race, but when it was called, I saw him head out to the collecting area, so he was clearly going to try and get the couple of points he needed.

Race 3: Steelies + singles/twins/triples + classics (aka Wacky Races)

Having won the first running of this race, I was obviously confident for the second.  Ryan Kneen on the OW01 and Matt and Mally on steelies dashed away, but this time I was right on their tail.  Close enough to see Ryan sail way over the white line on the exit, into the really gritty, dirty part of the track and just about onto the grass.  Didn't slow him down any, and he didn't get passed on the straight.  I managed to hang on to these guys for most of the lap, but by the end of it they had a second or so on me, and I tried to just settle into my own rhythm.  Which wasn’t helped by the fact that the quick-shifter wasn't working, and even clutched up-changes weren't entirely reliable. This must have cost me time, because on the 4th lap Dean Harrison came past.  Damn! I needed to win to get the championship!  I hoped I could get him on the straight, as I'd been able to do all weekend, but the more measured gear changes meant I couldn't quite make it.  I was comfortably on his tail everywhere, but there wasn't an obvious pass anywhere else on the circuit.  We went past the last lap flag, so it was my last chance on the straight.  I focussed everything on getting good drive, but he'd obviously improved here too, and as we headed towards the flat-in-top kink of Snuffies, I wasn't close enough.  But I knew I always carried more speed than Dean through here, so just gritted my teeth and flew round the outside of him into the braking zone for the bus stop.  I threw out the anchors and got round, and then just kept my nose clean round Nan's and back towards the start.  Defensive lines on the last two corners ensured the win.  Best lap of 13.756 (on the last lap).

As it turned out, Rich Waterfall managed to get 7th in class, and 4 points, thus clinching the championship by 2 points.  I don't begrudge him that at all.

Race 4: 650 twins + 400s

Last race of the day, the weekend and the season.  The circuit was bathed in late afternoon sunshine, it was unseasonably warm, and I was looking for the perfect end to the perfect day.  Let's not f*** it up, eh?  And I didn't :-)  Despite having to change up with the clutch, and even struggling to get a clean change every time, I managed straightforward passes on Dave Kennington and Dean Osborne, and a comfortable run to the flag.  Another win and fastest lap of 1:13.614.  [Looking at the lap times, I'm also pleased to note better consistency for the race - 1.1 seconds between fastest and slowest laps, which is much better than previous races]

So there we are - what an unbelievable weekend :

  • 8 starts
  • 7 wins
  • a damage- and injury-free crash (while leading – that’s important!) 
  • a lap record.  
  • Third place in the 650 twins championship (started 9 races of the seasons’s 13) 
  • Second place in the singles, twins and triples championship (starting 6 races of the 13)


We drank quite a lot that evening, which hurts now, especially as I had to be up before 6am to get to the airport.

Special thanks to Dave Clarke for letting me ride his fabulous bike, and especially to Keith McKay, without whom I wouldn't be doing any of this.  

Of course, now I'm already making plans for the 2014 season...