Gremlins fixed...we hope

August 25th, 2017

I'm writing this just before the last evening of practice.  

After the problems in yesterday's practice, we set to this morning.  The problem with the ZXR750 was found fairly quickly - one of the wires in the connector that powers the fuel pump had started to pull out.  So that was easily fixed.

The TZ gear change now had two slightly bent rose joints, down to my lead foot and misadjustment.  I replaced them, set it up nicely, tested it with the engine running and me sat on the bike with my boots on.  So that's good too.

Let's hope the weather holds...

Gremlins raise their head

August 24th, 2017

I'm a bit behind with this blog, so a couple of quick updates coming up.

After the great practice session on Tuesday night, when I got in two laps in each bike, something had to go wrong...and it did.  We'd had a brief electrical gremlin on the ZXR when I brought it in on Tuesday - Simon turned the kill switch off, and the starter motor ran!  I was out on the TZ when this happened, so only heard about it after the event, and the guys hadn't been able to replicate it.  But in parc ferme on Wednesday, with minutes to go before practice started, the problem re-0ccurred.  Fortunately, the TZ250 was sat next to it, tyre warmers on, so I went out on that, and the guys wheeled the ZXR back to the awning.

I did two good laps on the TZ, and was starting to learn the course again on it - it's quite different than on the ZXR!  You have to be in the right gear at the right time, all the time...but when you are, it's sublime.  The faster of the two laps was only 102mph, but at least we were going in the right direction.  However, I also had a few missed gears, which made me fear for the gearbox, so I rang Andy Broughton when I got back, and arranged to take it to him to look at the next day.

The next morning we were up and at it. I took the TZ across to Ramsey, and we spent about four hours on it.  Andy pulled the gearbox out, gave it a close inspection, and pronounced it absolutely fine.  So the finger of suspicion pointed to the gearchange linkage, and the bloke with the size 10 boots working it (me).  The gearchange is designed to work in 'race pattern', one up and five down (if you don't understand how motorcycle sequential gearboxes work, you can skip this bit).  I'm a road-rider at heart, and always use 'road pattern', which is one down and five up.  So I have the actuator on the gear shaft 180 degrees out from where it's meant to be, which is OK, but not optimal.  So I tweaked it a bit - more later.  Andy also pulled the heads off, and checked the exhaust ports - while doing this, he tested the plug caps, and found one was registering way too high a resitance.  So new plug caps were added to the shopping list.  We put the bike back together, and I headed back to the awning.

While I was TZ-ing, I got a message from Simon and the guys looking at the ZXR.  It was this picture, with the message "Found the culprit!":

ZXR starter culprit

I rushed back to the paddock with the TZ, with a list of jobs.  I wanted to put a new chain on, change the main jet in the front cylinder back to a 410 (based on Andy's advice), fit the wheels with new slicks that the guys had had fitted in the paddock - all in an hour or so.  Which, of course we did, but we did forget to check one thing...can you guess what it is yet?

Practice got away on time, and I went out on the ZXR first, as normal.  My starting partner was James Ford, number 60, on his Kawasaki ZXR750, which seems to be just as fast and no faster - we towed each other round, both passing two or three times, and finishing within a second of each other too.  I set the fastest lap I've ever done on the ZXR, at 109.5mph, which I'm very pleased with.  I pulled in, chatted with the boys for two mins, deciding whether to do another lap on the ZXR, or take the TZ out.  I elected to take the ZXR, and this time the gremlins appeared - along the flat out sections through Glen Vine and Crosby, it felt like it was being starved of fuel.  It was ok through the slower cornes of Glen Helen, but started playing up again along Cronk-y-voddy and through Barragarrow.  I stopped at Kirk Michael and rode back on the public roads (this is legal! Here I was, riding a full on race bike in the traffic!).  I got back to the paddock with a good 40 minutes of the second practice session remaining, and got on the TZ and headed out.  It instantly felt crisper and faster - replacing the dodgy plug cap had evidently made a big difference. I flew down to Quarter Bridge, and tried to change down...and I couldn't!  We hadn't checked the adjustments I'd made to the gearchange linkage with me sat on the bike, with boots on.  I could just about stamp down through the gears, but there was no way I could do another 36 miles like that, so I turned off at Quarter Bridge and rode back to the paddock again - this time only a mile or so.  I had planned to fix the linkage and get back out...but the session had been cancelled due to bad visibility with low cloud at the top of the mountain.  

Taking positives from a mixed evening - I'd done one very good lap (for me) on the ZXR, and the TZ felt much much better in the 1 and half miles I rode it.  Tomorrow we need to fix the fuel system on the ZXR, and treble check the gear linkage on the TZ.  And then get out in the evening for the last practice session.

Gremlins raise their head

August 24th, 2017

I'm a bit behind with this blog, so a couple of quick updates coming up.

After the great practice session on Tuesday night, when I got in two laps in each bike, something had to go wrong...and it did.  We'd had a brief electrical gremlin on the ZXR when I brought it in on Tuesday - Simon turned the kill switch off, and the starter motor ran!  I was out on the TZ when this happened, so only heard about it after the event, and the guys hadn't been able to replicate it.  But in parc ferme on Wednesday, with minutes to go before practice started, the problem re-0ccurred.  Fortunately, the TZ250 was sat next to it, tyre warmers on, so I went out on that, and the guys wheeled the ZXR back to the awning.

I did two good laps on the TZ, and was starting to learn the course again on it - it's quite different than on the ZXR!  You have to be in the right gear at the right time, all the time...but when you are, it's sublime.  The faster of the two laps was only 102mph, but at least we were going in the right direction.  However, I also had a few missed gears, which made me fear for the gearbox, so I rang Andy Broughton when I got back, and arranged to take it to him to look at the next day.

The next morning we were up and at it. I took the TZ across to Ramsey, and we spent about four hours on it.  Andy pulled the gearbox out, gave it a close inspection, and pronounced it absolutely fine.  So the finger of suspicion pointed to the gearchange linkage, and the bloke with the size 10 boots working it (me).  The gearchange is designed to work in 'race pattern', one up and five down (if you don't understand how motorcycle sequential gearboxes work, you can skip this bit).  I'm a road-rider at heart, and always use 'road pattern', which is one down and five up.  So I have the actuator on the gear shaft 180 degrees out from where it's meant to be, which is fine, but not optimal.  So I tweaked it a bit - more later.  Andy also pulled the heads off, and checked the exhaust ports - while doing this, he tested the plug caps, and found one was registering way to high a resitance.  So new plug caps were added to the shopping list.  We put the bike back together, and I headed back to the awning.

While I was TZ-ing, I got a message from Simon and the guys looking at the ZXR.  It was this picture, with the message "Found the culprit!":

ZXR starter culprit

I rushed back to the paddock with the TZ, with a list of jobs.  I wanted to put a new chain on, change the main jet in the front cylinder back to a 410 (based on Andy's advice), fit the new slicks that the guys had had fitted in the paddock - all in an hour or so.  Which, of course we did, but we did forget to check one thing...can you guess what it is yet?

Practice got away on time, and I went out on the ZXR first, as normal.  My starting partner was James Ford, number 60, on his Kawasaki ZXR750, which seems to be just as fast and no faster - we towed each other round, both passing two or three times, and finishing within a second of each other too.  I set the fastest lap I've ever done on the ZXR, at 109.5mph, which I'm very pleased with.  I pulled in, chatted with the boys for two mins, deciding whether to do another lap on the ZXR, or take the TZ out.  I elected to take the ZXR, and this time the gremlins appeared - along the flat out sections through Glen Vine and Crosby, it felt like it was being starved of fuel.  It was ok through the slower cornes of Glen Helen, but started playing up again along Cronk-y-voddy and through Barragarrow.  I stopped at Kirk Michael and rode back on the public roads (this is legal! - here I was riding a full on race bike in the traffic!).  I got back to the paddock with a good 40 minutes of the second practice session remaining, and got on the TZ and headed out.  It instantly felt crisper and faster - replacing the dodgy plug cap had evidently made a huge difference. I flew down to Quarter Bridge, and tried to change down...and I couldn't!  We hadn't checked the adjustments I'd made to the gearchange linkage with me sat on the bike, with boots on.  I could just about stamp down through the gears, but there was no way I could do another 36 miles like that, so I turned off at Quarter Bridge and rode back to the paddock again - this time only a mile or so.  I had planned to fix the linkage and get back out...but the session had been cancelled due to bad visibility with low cloud at the top of the mountain.  

Taking positives from a mixed evening - I'd done one very good lap (for me) on the ZXR, and the TZ felt much much better in the 1 and half I rode it.  Tomorrow we need to fix the fuel system on the ZXR, and treble check the gear linkage on the TZ.  And then get out in the evening for the last practice session.

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. 

Yabba Dabba Doo - Reprise

August 21st, 2017

Quick follow-up to the post about the first night of practice - I was very pleased to be 18th fastest in the Classic Superbike class - results here.  And the bike is still fast too - 151mph through the Sulby speed trap, despite me not keeping it pinned through the kink at the end of the straight.

In other news - yesterday (Sunday 20th Aug), there was no practice, so we took the TZ250 to Jurby airfield circuit to give it a run. I went out and did 6~7 laps, and it was all great, so we put it back in the van.  I also caught up with Billy Craine, and Andy Broughton, who re-built the engine after last year's seizure - we popped the exhausts off and Andy got underneath with his torch and dentists mirror and looked at the pistons and ports and pronounced everything OK.

I also asked the Clerk of the Course if I could practice the TZ out of class. The problem is that there's two practice sessions each evening, and the TZ and the ZXR are both meant to be in the same one - this means that I have to choose one or the other each evening.  This request was approved, so now I can ride both bikes each evening, which makes things much easier.

We've a few little jobs to do as I write this (Monday morning), but nothing serious.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast for this evening is not great, but this being the Isle of Man, anything can happen.