Soon, my pretty, soon...

May 3rd, 2013

The Superstocker is nearly done, so I grabbed a few photos in the sun.  All that remains is to tidy up a couple of electrical cables, paint the number boards and numbers, and sticker it up.  Oh, and fit the 520 chain I've just ordered.

Nearly ready

lhs

 Rear

Superstock preparation

April 20th, 2013

Most of my spare time over the last few weeks has been spent preparing the Kawasaki ZX10R which I will be riding in the three TT races for big bikes - the Superbike, Superstock and Senior.  The bike  has been provided by Frasers of Gloucester, and, apart from a Two Brothers Racing end can, was in completely stock condition when I collected it at the beginning of April.  Using the brilliant Trello application (with which I run much of my life), I quickly organised what needed to be done.  The list of jobs is easy to write, but not so quick to do:

  • Remove all unnecessary road kit (lights, stock bodywork, etc)
  • Order & fit race fairing & seat unit
  • Order & fit Maxton shock
  • Get the forks modified by Maxton
  • Order & fit engine armour
  • Order & fit steel brake lines and new pads
  • Order & fit rearsets
  • Order & fit GPR steering damper
  • Order & fit '"sharks fin" (mandatory chainguard on lower side of swingarm)
  • Drill and lockwire relevant bolts
  • Change oil & filter
  • Replace coolant with plain water

As you can see, there's a lot of stuff that needed buying in that list, so it's been like the run up to Christmas with deliveries on an almost daily basis.  I suspect the pain of the credit card bill afterwards will be like Christmas too.   Yesterday the shock and forks came back from Maxton, meaning I could finsh most of the mechanical work.  All I'm waiting for now is the fairing, and a fix to the exhaust link pipe, which hopefully will be here in the next week or so.

Here's some photos of the work in progress:

LHS rearset

null

Engine armour

Forks & brake lines

GPR Steering damper

RHS rearset

Exhaust hanger & remote preload adjuster

Sharks fin##

Maxton shock

First Race Meeting of the Year

April 17th, 2013
As the benighted ACU had decided to change the rules for getting a TT Mountain Licence, such that one now needs two of the six qualifying race days to be in the same year as the event which you use it (TT or MGP), then I needed to get my arse back out on a race bike.  Wish I hadn't spent the money going to Cadwell in October now.  Oh well, there was a 2 day meeting at Jurby which would do the trick.
 
I also decided to tie in a bit of TT prep, so flew across on Friday lunchtime, on the wonderful service from Gloucester to the Isle of Man.  I may have waxed lyrical about this before, but it really is the way flying should be.  Gloucester airport only has 2 commercial flights a day, for a plane with a max capacity of 19 people, so check-in is relaxed. Like, you turn up 30 mins before the flight, park for free, show some ID, get your bag scanned and pretty much get straight on the plane.  They've changed the model of plane this year - still a twin-prop 19 seater, but now with <drum roll> IN FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT!!!  Consisting of a TV behind the pilots (whose heads can be seen beyond)...but, because the plane is quite noisy, and there's no facility for headphones, the TV shows old silent movies!  Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd on the way out.  Brilliant thinking.
 
Anyway, enough of that.  I arrived, borrowed best mate Keith's car and did a sighting / familiarisation lap of the TT course, with my old course notes on my lap.  I stopped to note a few things down, and gawp at the amount of snow piled up on the side of the road along Cronk-y-Voddy and over the mountain.  We then spent the evening fettling bikes, and like club racers everywhere, vans.  For this meeting I was going to have a first ride on the Kawasaki ER6-based 650 twin built and prepared by Dave Clarke, on which I was entered for the Lightweigth TT.
 
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, and we did the usual race day morning stuff.  I'd forgotten the, er, draining experience of the race-morning visit to the paddock toilet block.  And then it was the usual 'hurry up and wait' sequence of signing on, scrut'ing, briefing, etc.  But soon enough I was heading out for first practice, which was a bit odd for me as well as most others, because the track was being run in the opposite direction from usual.  My old ZX6R hadn't turned a wheel since I rode it last September, but sounded sweet as a ever, flew down the straights, and still did everything as well as it ever did.  What a stager.   But then came a bit of a revelation....I'd not really thought much about Dave's 650 twin, but when I went out in practice, I was dumbstruck - it was FABULOUS!!!  Great power, from nothing all the way to the top, weighed nothing, stopped by thought alone, and went through the chicanes like they weren't there.  My best lap of practice was 1/100th a second slower than on my 600, despite giving anyway 30 horsepower. I'd put it 8th on the grid.  Suddenly, I realised how well I'd done getting it to ride in the TT.
 
I was out in the first race, which was the Open Centre Championship.  I'd qualified about 19th of 35 (best lap of 1:21, against Dan Kneen's pole of 1:11), but got an OK start, and was in an entertaining gang of 5 or 6.  Entertaining for me, as I managed to pick off at least one a lap, and managed to move myself up to 12th by the time the flag came out (best lap of 1:18 against Dan's fastest of 1:09).  Not bad for "a gentle trot round for a signature".  The 600 race followed a similar pattern - qualified 18th of 31 (best lap of 1:22, compared to Ryan Kneen's pole of 1:11), and got away ok (on the re-start, actually as Dan K put himself in hospital with a crash on the first lap; suffered a broken foot, which could jeopadise hisTT).  Again I had people to race against, and had fun doing so, and this time managed a 10th place (best lap of 1:18, against winner Ryan Kneen's 1:09).
 
I had a short breather and was then out in the twins race.  Lining up in sight of the lights on the third row felt a bit weird, and then when the lights changed the grunty twin leapt off the line and I made a couple of places before the first corner.  And then a couple more down the back straight.  By the second lap I was in 4th place, and catching third.  I was going to get a podium in my first outing!  But then ....no, not a disaster, but an attack of common sense.  The spitting rain that we'd started in got heavier, and the track got wet.  And I slowed down, and lost 5 places in the last two laps, finishing in what felt like a disappointing 9th place in the end.   I guess I should be pleased with myself for my grown-up attitude....but oh, what might have been.
 
And then the rain came down properly, and with no wets or spare wheels Keith and I decided to load the vans and go home.
 
That night the weather was appalling, and remained so the next morning, such that racing was cancelled.  Curses.   But it gave us time to do some other stuff, including shaking hands on the deal to ride the Kawasaki ZX6R that Keith rode last year, and now belonging to Rob Colvin.  That is also a beautifully prepared, and beautiful looking bike, so at least 2 of my 3 TT bikes will look (and be) the business.  The other one I'm building myself...
 
More updates to follow, as TT preparation hits top gear...

A busy winter

April 14th, 2013

Much of this long cold winter was spent making tentative plans, while waiting for the TT entries to open.  And then, when they did, more time was spent waiting to see if my entry had been accepted.  But eventually, in early March, I heard that I had been accepted for all the solo classes!  For the record, here's the races, bikes & numbers:

  • Superbike: Kawasaki ZX10R, #77
  • Superstock: Kawasaki ZX10R, #77
  • Senior: Kawasaki ZX10R, #77
  • Supersport (1 & 2): Kawasaki ZX6R, #58
  • Lightweight: Kawasaki ER6, #49

Running 3 different bikes is going to be a tall order, but I do want to ride a big bike, and I do want to do a six lap race.  So now I needed to arrange some bikes...

The 650 twin for the lightweight race had already been lined up - Dave Clarke on the Island had built a top-spec ER6, with many parts from Ryan Farquhar, and the engine tuned by Slick Bass.  As I'd helped him source the original donor bike, he'd agreed to let me ride the TT on it, in return to a contribution towards an engine refresh. What a lovely chap.

I was hoping to have a sponsor on the Island supply a 600, but that fell through, so the ever resourceful Keith McKay went to work to find me a 600. The bike he rode (and crashed ahem) at the 2012 MGP now had a new owner, who was amenable to lending it out for the TT, in return for an engine refresh afterwards, and I shook hands on the deal this afternoon.  So, may thanks to Rob Colvn

For the big bike, I contacted Neal Fraser of Fraser's motorcycles, and he agreed to lend me a ZX10R.  I would convert it to Superstock spec, which would make it eligible for the three big bike races.  Superstock spec is fairly restricted, with most people just changing the shock and bodywork, re-valving the forks, and adding a race silencer.  However, there's an awful lot of detail behind that simple sounding list.  Without the frankly amazing task board of www.trello.com, I'd never manage it.  As things stand, there's still a lot to do to the Superstocker, but it should all be in place in time.

Speaking of things to do, aside from the bikes themselves there's a lot to organise.  Firstly, there's no way you can run three bikes at the TT without a crew of people to help.  First in was Alex Ferrier, who has signed up for the full two weeks and is bringing his pal Barry for practice week.  Simon Weller has signed on for race week, and my regular agent on the Isle of Man, Keith McKay, will be there whenever needed, which will be most of the time.

Next was a long (and, it seems, never-ending) list of stuff to organise - name on leathers, book a crossing, source an awning, find a van, etc etc.  Again, all managed using Trello.  One of those things was a couple of additional race days to get the required TT Mountain Licence, more of which in another post...

Last meeting of 2012

October 15th, 2012

Derby Phoenix at Cadwell Park, 14th October 2012

Having decided that I didn't want to wait til next March to get in the final race reqd for my TT Mountain Course Licence (MCL), I managed to get the latest of late entries with Derby Phoenix for Cadwell this weekend - I phoned 'race office Dave' on Thursday, and I was in!  How cool is that?

So then there was the usual rush of logistics.  The meeting was a two-day-er, but I couldn't get up there on the Friday, so just went for the Sunday.  I collected the van on Saturday afternoon, loaded it up, and headed North East in a mixture of brilliant sunshine and occasional hail storms.  Hmm.  Crikey, but Cadwell's a long way away, isn't it?  Well, it is from all the places that I've ever started from.  But I eventually got to the circuit, parked my bike in a mate's awning and headed into Louth to check into the B&B and then grab some food with some friends.
 
As a new arrival for the second day of a 2-day meeting, I knew I'd have to act sharp to get scruted, signed on and out for a quick practice on Sunday, so I was at the circuit at just after 7am.  Which, it turned out, was before there was any activity in the paddock, anyone from Derby Phoenix available, or even the club house open.  Damn.  Eventually the race office opened up and I got my scruting card, and found a scrute.  Who promptly identified the green fluid in the coolant header tank as something other than water (missed by North Glos scrutes twice).  So I had 40 mins to drain and replace the coolant, which I just about managed, with help from Mike gratefully received.  This did mean, however, that I didn't have chance to get tyre warmers on before the start of practice, so I chanted "cold tyres, cold tyres, cold tyres" in my head as I rode down to the holding area and then out onto the track.  
 
The bike felt awful on cold tyres on a cold and damp track.  It hadn't been raining, but the overnight dew had left a shiny sheen glinting in the morning sun.  And it was bloody cold too.  On the run into Mansfield it almost looked like frost!  I did 2 *very* steady laps and managed to get a little heat into the tyres (basically by accelerating and braking hard in a straight line), such that I didn't feel like I was going to crash on every corner, but even so I really wasn't going to lean it over much in those conditions, so pulled in after six laps with an awesome best time of 2:22.  Still, the circuit was as I remembered it from August, so there wasn't much to be gained, and quite a lot to be lost.
 
My race was 5 or 6 into the programme, and by now the sun was properly up and the track was properly dry.  It was still cold, tho, and all classes were getting two warm up laps.  With my entry being so late, I was gridded last, but this was only 13th place (although 10th & 11th were empty anyway).  Despite reminding myself that I was "here for the finish", I made a decent start, stealing a place into Croft, and quickly looking for a way to make further progress.  Which I managed, passing 2 people over the next 2 laps, but by then the rest of the field had literally disappeared.  I just focussed on doing things right and not taking any risks, but it seemed like a long race - 8 laps round Cadwell takes a little while, doesn't it?  Eventually I saw the 'last lap' flag, but I could now also hear a bike behind me, so I'd obviously been a bit too conservative.  Still, I had a bloody fast bike, so he wasn't going to come past me down any straights, and I kept it clean and together so he couldn't get me anywhere else either.  Result - 6th out of 10 finishers, best lap of 1:45.  All of the 5 guys ahead of me were doing 1:thirty-somethings, so no wonder they disappeared - the guy in 5th had a best lap of 1:38, so it seemed unlikely that I might be able to improve position in the second outing.
 
And then it was the usual long day of waiting etc, until my next event.  Unfortunately, a shower blew in just as the race before mine was called.  They were sent off to change tyres, and I hoped beyond hope that the shower had been short and light enough for this  single race to create a dry line.  But once they all set off, the spray being shed down the start straight made this seem unlikely - it was cold and evaporation was limited.  I had no wet tyres, so when my race was called I rode down to the holding area to see the that only four other bikes had turned up, and they all had wets on.  Ho hum. I took the sighting lap, but track was properly wet everywhere except Park, so I declined to take the grid and headed back to the paddock, my day done.  If the track had been half wet I might have raced, or if someone else had been on dry tyres, but there was no point at all in riding around in last place on the wrong tyres.
 
At the best part of 400 quid, this was quite an expensive weekend for a single race.  On the other hand, I've done what I needed to get my MCL, so that's something that I don't need to worry about over the winter.  When do the TT entries open?