Another DNF, Another Finish, and a Great Practice

June 6th, 2013

Originally the middle Wednesday of race week was going to be a 'quiet' day, with only the one race - the second Supersport 600.  However, having been drafted in to ride the Manx TT Zero bike, following Dave Moffat putting himself in hospital, I now had a race in the morning too.  I wasn't too worried about this, as it was just one lap on a bike which is much less physically demanding to ride - the electric bike makes the equivalent of about 50bhp.

The field for the TT Zero race was sadly quite small, with only 9 starters this year.  This did mean that the media and fuss usually associated with the sharp end of the field extended down to me, including another interview with Chris Kinley for Manx Radio in Parc Ferme.  Andy Cowie, Phil Wall and the rest of the ManTTX team were looking after the bike, so I really felt like a works rider, just turning up with the bike ready to ride.  Up on Glencrutchery Road I even had an umbrella girl, in the shape of Andy's lovely wife Sam.  And, uncharacteristically for the Isle of Man, an umbrella girl was needed in the bright and hot sunshine.

With only 9 starters, we were all soon away, and now I understood how the motor and gearbox worked together I actually got some good speed down Bray Hill.  The bike is pretty heavy (over 200kg) due to all the batteries, so I knew to be careful and not push the front too hard round Quarter Bridge and Bradden Bridge, but once on the way to Union Mills I was tucked in and could see that I was already catching the bike in front, which I actually managed on the run up Ballahutchin.  The trick with this bike, with low power and high weight, was to try and ride it like a classic, with wide sweeping lines, maintaining momentum everywhere.   Which I felt I was making a decent enough fist of, and was looking forward to bringing the bike home.    

This changed about half way round the lap - as I exited Quarry Bends and ran onto Sulby Straight, the bike lost a good deal of its speed.  It kept going, and I scrutinised the digital dash for any clue as to a problem, but it told me nothing.   I carried on to Ramsey, feeling slightly sheepish as I now wasn't racing, I was just trying to nurse the bike home.  On the climb up to the hairpin the bike slowed further, and at the commentary point I tried to communicate with sign language that the bike was in trouble, knowing that this would get back to Andy and the team.  It turns out that friends and marshalls had been texting him from Ginger Hall onwards.

The bike crawled up to the Waterworks and Gooseneck, and I wondered if we might get over the Mountain.  No - between the Gooseneck and Joeys, it expired in a cloud of acrid electrical smoke.  Curses.  I turned the bike off, and persuaded the enthusiastic marshall with the fire extinguisher not to dowse the bike, and we parked it against the grass bank off the road.  As i was due in the 600 race in less than an hour, I was  a bit worried, but the marshalls had been on the radio and I as picked up in the course car and delivered back to the paddock after an exhilarating drive over the mountain.

I saw Andy and the rest of the ManTTX team, and was very apologetic, but they were just as apologetic towards me.  The consensus was that one of the two electric motors had let go at Sulby, resulting in the loss in speed, and this had caused the second one to overheat, and finally let go on the climb over the mountain.

Still, I had another race today, and not long to prepare.  I quickly cleaned my visor, fitted a tearoff, prepared a drink bottle for the pitstop, and got myself back up to Parc Ferme, just in time as the bikes were being moved up to Glencrutchery Road.  As on Monday, I was starting plum last, due to my lowly qualifying time, but as this is a time trial it doesn't matter much, and gives you someone to chase.  Adam Child (aka 'Chad') from MCN was starting 10 seconds in front of me, and, again as on Monday, I headed down Bray Hill with him in my sights.  I kept glimpsing him on the straight parts of the road, slowly winding him in, and was right behind him through Kirkmichael.  I chased him through the Bishopscourt section, but he was much beter on the brakes than me into Ballaugh, so I had to follow him down to Quarry Bends and onto Sulby Straight.  This time I was determined to get past, and although I was right in his slipstream, I didn't have the additional power required to get past.  So I stayed tucked in, waited for him to brake for Sulby Bridge, and braked a few meters later and swept past.  

I thought that might be the end of it, but as I came out of Govenors Bridge onto the start / finish straight Chad steamed past me, with clearly much better speed and drive.  Damn, I'd have to do it all again.  I chased him through Douglas and out towards Crosby.  His bike  had a completely stock engine (so he said later), so it was disappointing that my tuned engine couldn't easily pass him on the straight.  However, I kept the bike completely pinned through the kink by the Crosby pub, and came alongside at the Wagon and Horses jump - we must have taken off together, which I hope looked good for the big crowd there.

I then got my head down and made sure I stayed in front.  My pitstop was uneventful (as I made very sure I didn't miss the braking point!) and then I was off for two more laps.  Again I was tiring, and had to work hard to maintain my pace; the last lap I was really focussing on being smooth and not wasting effort.  I bought the bike home, for my first finish since Monday morning.  Again I was at the bottom end of the results sheet, but a finish is a finish, and my best lap time had increased slightly to 112mph.

Supertsport 600 Race 2

Chatting to Chad latter, it transpired that I made most of my time on him on the fast and bumpy sections, but he made a lot back on the slower corners.  Clearly I was being a bit lazy in the slower sections, which was something I could do something about.

After the afternoon's sidecar race, there were practice laps for the Senior and Lightweight classes.  I declined to wrestle the ZX10R round (and there was not much to be learned), but we'd made some suspension changes to the 650, and I wanted to cement my qualifying position.  I headed out near the front of the field, and immediately felt good, and fast.  I was catching people, and after hanging on to the 600 for four laps, the 650 just felt so much easier to ride.

I flew round, feeling like I was hitting every apex, and I thought to myself that if this wasn't faster than the 107mph I posted in the previous practice session, I'd be very disappointed.  But I wasn't disappointed - after getting back to the paddock, giving the bike to the team, and getting out of my (quite hot) leathers, I checked in the race office and found that I was 14th fastest, with 109.4mph.  Wow!  I was over the moon, and we all headed to the beer tent.

Lightweight Practice Times

With no racing tomorrow, we all headed for beer and curry in Ramsey.  The main race for me on Friday now is the Lightweight, where I have a chance of a reasonable result, if I can reproduce today's practice pace for three laps.

Lucky escape?

June 4th, 2013

Today had two races scheduled, the four-lap Supersport 600 race in the morning, and the same distance Superstock race, for 'lightly modified' 1000cc bikes, in the afternoon.  I should probably point out that when I 'lightly modified' mine,  I did a lot less than many people, and still spent around £4,000.  

I started the day feeling fairly fatigued from yesterday's six lap Superbike race, and the 10:45 start time for the 600 race meant my crew were up early and away to the paddock before I'd even got up.  I needed the rest.  But, even arriving at the paddock at 9:30 didn't give me much more time than I needed to sort out visor tear-offs, prepare drinks bottles (pre-race and for pit stop), get changed and present myself to Parc Ferme 15 minutes before the start. Which was good, as it didn't leave much time to get wound up before the start.

I had only done 3 laps in practice on the 600, and with a pretty slow time of 108mph, meaning I was last away from the grid, in 62nd place.  Starting 10 seconds in front of me was Adam Child, from MCN, and I was pleased to find myself reeling him on during my first half a lap, managing to outbrake him into Ballaugh Bridge. I then set about whoever was next...but no-one else came into view.  My attention was diverted by having a slightly dragging clutch, and as I accelerated out of the Creg, I tried adjust it at the handle bar, only for Adam Child to accelerate past me - he'd clearly been following me for the last half a lap.  I immediately got back past him at Hillberry, as I didn't want the worry of being held up through some of the slower sections of the lap.  

The pit stop was pretty uneventful, and the last two laps were tiring but ok. Near the end of the third lap I caught and passed Maria Costello, who was clearly struggling as she was well below her usual pace.  I heard later that her steering damper had failed, and her seat had come loose.  On the last lap I was definitely tired, and knew my pace had slowed a bit.  This was obvious when Adam Child came alongside me on the brakes into the Creg, but, knowing he was still 10 seconds behind, he didn't try a do or dare pass.  I re-doubled my focus on the last few miles to the finish, and happly recorded my second TT finish.  Adam and I chatted in Parc Ferme - turns out he'd followed my for most of the race once I'd got past, and seemed to think he learned something, though I'm not so sure myself.  Still, I'd upped my pace reasonably from practice,  with a best lap of 111mph.

Superstock 1 Results

I now had a couple of hours to recover before the Superstock race.  I drank plenty of fluids, and ate bananas and pasta salad, prepared a fresh visor with tear-offs, and generally tried to relax.  And I took a couple of ibuprofen - my neck and shoulders ached a lot.  By now the forecast  weather had arrived, and it was very un-manx-like in the paddock, with everyone in t-shirts enjoying the warm sun.  I spread my helmet, gloves, back protector and leathers out in the sun to dry out a bit from the sweat from the morning's race.

Soon enough I was in leathers and helmet again, on the start line and with a wave of the starter's Manx flag I was heading back down Bray Hill.  The 1000 felt quite brutal after the 600, but still fun, and the first lap felt good (and turned out to be my fastest so far, at a little over 115mph). But on the second lap I knew that I was struggling physically, and wondered whether the sensible thing might be retire at the pit stop. I didn't have any "moments", but could feel that I just didn't have the strength and energy to make the bike do exactly what I wanted it to do.  On the run down the mountain I talked myself out of retiring, and as I accelerated down Glencrutchery Road I stuck my left leg out to let anyone behind know I was pitting.  But a sign of my fatigue was that I missed my braking point, and as I squeezed the lever hard, and the bike snaked about, I knew I wasn't going to safely slow in time for the pit entrance.  So I sailed down the straight, and pulled off at the end of the pits.  There was nothing I could do from here - I couldn't get back up pit lane in the wrong direction, and I didn't have enough fuel to do another lap.  It took me 30 seconds to figure this out, and then I somewhat gratefully retired.

There's no end of places on the TT course where a missed braking point will put you in the hospital or the cemetary, so I feel very grateful that this particular mistake will have no more serious consequences than vicious piss-taking from my crew.  To their credit, they waited until I was changed and we were all in the beer tent before they started.  

But before that could happen, the day had another surprise in store.  As I walked down from Parc Ferme, I saw good Manx friend Andy Cowie wheeling the manx-built and entered TT Zero electric bike up to technical inspection.  Originally Dave Moffat had been down to ride this, but Dave had crashed at Glentrammen in the Superbike race, and while OK, wasn't up to racing  bikes again this week.  I'd said to Andy that if he was really stuck, and couldn't find anyone better, I'd ride it for the team.  He'd said he'd let me know, and now it turned out that he couldn't find anyone better.  So I had an hour, and then a lap on a completely new form of motorcycle.  I got a 2 minute briefing on the basics (heavy, no engine braking, completely flat torque curve, 'crash' gearbox) and then I was away down Bray Hill again.

It took me a mile to work out that to change gear I had to roll the throttle off, and then a few more miles to get the hang of how to get the best power/speed out of the bike, and to get used to the slightly ponderous steering, but after that it was quite fun.  And quite relaxing, being a fair bit slower than a petrol bike. It was amusing to hold the bike flat out through some of the more demanding parts of the course, such as the top and bottom of Barregarrow.  But we got round ok, with and average speed of 78pmh, which Andy seemed pleased enough with, and we're qualified for the race.  So, it now looks like I'll be starting every single solo race at the TT this year!

With no racing tomorrow, we at last had some time to have a few beers and a laugh, which we did.  I'm not sure I've ever seen Alex quite so drunk before.  Next race day is Wednesday.


Superbike race

June 2nd, 2013

I'm afraid today's post will be short, and probably contain many mis-spellings.  I'm rather tired.

Today was the first race of the 2013 TT, the traditional opening Superbike race (which I still refer to as the 'Formula 1', as does John McGuinness).  This was postponed from Saturday to allow additional practice after lousy weather early in practice week.

We arrived at the paddock and went through the now familiar routine of getting the bike scrutineered and setting it up in Parc Ferme with tyre warmers on.  The scrutineer complimented us on a 'nicely prepared bike'.  Then there was quite a wait until the 2:15pm start time, which slipped and slipped again until 3pm due to an earlier road accident on the Mountain.  But the start eventually arrived, and the bikes were wheeled up onto Glencrutchery Road.  The first 20 riders are seeded, but everyone else starts in the order of their qualifying time, meaning I was to start down in 70th position - not last, but not many people behind me.  As the bikes set off at 10 second intervals, this meant I would set off 11 minutes and 40 seconds after number 1, James Hillier, who would be in Ramsey by the time I left the line.  

There were so many people and bikes on the road that I was only dimly aware when the race actually started.  But soon enough we were in single file and funnelling to the start, and then it came time to clip my visor down, select first gear, and wait for the wave of the Manx flag.  And then started the 226 mile boogie round the Island.

I had hoped to maybe catch a couple of the guys in front of me, but in fact, I never saw them - 10 seconds is long time at over 150mph, and the first section of the course is very fast indeed.  So for the first 2 laps I just rode my favourite road in the world, as fast as I could.  And then it was time for my first pit stop, which went like clockwork, and I was off out again.  The sheer physical effort required to try and ride one of these bikes as fast as possible is difficult to explain, but by half-way through I was starting to wonder why I'd wanted to do a six lap race so much.   On my 4th lap I was really looking forward to the pit stop at the end of it.  This also came and went without incident, and then I 'just' had another two laps to do.  By now I was properly tired, and my pal Keith who was marshalling at Guthries said he could tell by much reduced movement on the bike (in common with many in the bottom half of the field).  I managed to find what felt like a bit more energy for the last lap (although the stop watch tells a different story), and talked myself through it, making sure I didn't lose concentration now I was nearly done.  Much of the huge crowds, and the marshalls waved to me on the last lap, which was a great feeling even for someone right at the back of the field.

And soon enough I was accelerating out of Govenors dip and crossing the line, after 2 hour, 1 minute and 23 seconds, 6 laps, 226 miles, and 2 pit stops, a race average speed of 111.885mph.  My best lap was a bit shy of 114mph, so slower than I managed on a 600 in 2007,  and in 47th place (out of 74 starters) I was only just ahead of being last, but I refuse to let myself dwell on that - I've just finished my first TT. 

Official Results

Practice done - time to race

June 1st, 2013

Tomorrow I start my first TT race.

That is quite a surreal sentence for me to type.  But it appears to be true.

I've not updated this blog for a couple of days, because, frankly, I've been a bit busy.  Friday evening practice was again curtailed, this time due to a house fire in Kirkmichael.  As Kirkmichael is  on the course, practice had to wait until the fire brigade had done their stuff.  Consequently, we managed two laps on the ZX10R, but there was no time for the Zx6R. Still, the run on the 1000 was really good fun - it felt fast(er), and the bike, while 'lively', was still immensely enjoyable to ride.  I nudged my speed up to 112mph, which while still 'slow' (by the standards of the field) was at least a steady improvement.  And, pleasingly, there were more people slower than me than there had been.

As the sidecars had been out first, our session didn't finish until late, so we headed to Douglas prom to get something to eat, and then back to Ramsey to catch last orders at the Traff, so that I could buy my crew a beer.  And then to bed.

Because of the loss of three nights practice earlier in the week, the organisers had decided to postpone the Superbike race until Sunday, so that additional practice could be held on Saturday.  The first session was at 10:30, meaning we had to be up at the paddock relatively early to get  the bike through technical inspection.  I got out relatively early in my group, and felt relaxed and at home heading down Bray Hill - I was getting used to this.  I had a couple of good laps, and was confident I'd gone faster, which I had - finally getting under the 20 minute mark, with a best lap of 19:56 (113.52mph).  This meant I should be happily qualified within the 115% rule.

Then there was the sidecar race, giving us time to prep the Kawasaki 650 twin and ZX6R for the next practice session.  I'd not been on the Lightweight 650 since Saturday's opening (and disappointing) session, and we'd made some suspension changes, so I needed to give it a whirl.  Having got used to the hedges coming towards me at 170mph on the 1000, the 140mph 650 felt positively leisurely, and I'd now 'got my eye in' and could keep the throttle pined in all the fast places where it needs to be pinned on the lighter and slower bike.  I set off alongside Maria Costello, and (as I always am) was quite ginger through the opening two corners of Quarter Bridge and Bradden Bridge, such that she came past me on the run to Union Mills.  I tucked in behind her and followed her all the way past The Crosby and passed her again over the Wagon and Horses jump.  She then passed me again on the brakes into Ballacraine.  This was fun!  I followed her all the way up to Ramsey and over the mountain, and got past again on the run down the other side.  I managed to stay in front of her after that, and put in another good lap.  I knew Maria had been a lot faster previously, so I was sure I'd found a lot of speed, which I had - a best lap of 20:59 which is 107.849mph.  That was more like it, and put me 24th overall in qualifying - half way down the first page of the results sheet!  
After 2 laps I came in, grabbed a drink and hopped onto the ZX6R.  After the relatively low revving 650 twin, the 16,000 rpm of the 600 four felt completely alien, and I didn't really get into it.  This wasn't helped by my fly splattered visor (my tear-off had ripped itself off a lap earlier) and then spots of rain.  The rain didn't seem to be making the road wet, but the surface definitely looked a different colour over the Verandah.  And <racer's excuse #57> the gear lever was positioned too high.  So, I decided to come in at the end of the first lap to get it adjusted and my visor cleaned.  Unfortunately Parc Ferme was such a melee of people that this took just a few minutes too long and the session was over.  I wasn't too worried, as I was feeling fairly tired after five laps, and there definitely was rain in the air in Douglas too.
So, the last day of practice is done, and the Superbike race is tomorrow.  Six laps, which is 226 miles, on the 190bhp ZX10R.  Can't wait.

Practice week finally starts...on Thursday

May 31st, 2013

After 3 nights of bad weather, with only a couple of damp laps recorded (with no times), the weather finally looked like it was going to play ball today.  We bought some new loctite (see yesterday's post), and made sure that the gear-linkage was going to stay in place come what may.  After that, there wasn't really a great deal to do, until 4pm rolled around and it was time to go through scrutineering again.

Everyone knew that this evening was going to have decent weather, and so Parc Ferme was crammed with bikes ready to roll.  Many (mostly full-on Superbikes) hadn't yet turned a wheel.  We planned to do two laps on the ZX10R, and two on the ZX6R, but we had a serious concern about the 1000 being able to do two laps on one tank of fuel.  So we hatched a plan to start on the 10R, pull in after one lap and swap to the 600 for two laps, and then swap back to the 1000, now refuelled, for another lap.   In the meantime, I've lined up a 21 litre tank for the ZX10R which we'll fit tomorrow.

Practice started promptly at 6:20pm, and I was quickly out onto Glencrutchery Road to join the session.  As before, the bike felt good, and fast, and fun, but this time I felt I was going a fair bit faster.  Of course, it's impossible to judge how fast from the saddle, and it was only when the session was over that I saw any times (more later).  Still, I managed to catch some other bikes, so I wasn't the slowest.  I pulled in at the end of the lap and the 600 was waiting for me to swap straight on to.  As on Monday, it felt like a toy after the 1000, but still takes a fair amount of effort to hustle round.  On the first lap I didn't see many people, but I got passed a fair bit on the second lap, which always feels bad.  The swap back to the 1000 was equally slick, and riding them back to back it was clear that the 1000 was setup better for me, so we need to make some tweaks to the 600.

At the end of the session I was pretty tired - 4 laps back to back is pretty physical.  We got the bikes in the awning, cleaned the worst of the flies and road film off them, and then headed back to Ramsey in the van.

It wasn't until I was able to get on the internet that I could find my times.  They're not too impressive, but all things considered I'm not going to beat myself up about them - it is like the first night of practice, after all.  I managed 111mph on the big bike, and 108mph on the 600.  Six years ago my first night's practice time on a 600 was 110mph, so I'm slightly disappointed in that, but then, it was six years ago, and I've not ridden here since.

Here's the times:

You'll have to page down a fair bit to find me...   :-)