There's no fool like an old fool

May 9th, 2012

The last time I started a blog to cover my entry into the TT, it all went badly wrong.  But I don't believe in fate or any of that nonsense, so let's have another go...


In 2007 I rode in the Manx Grand Prix, my third time at the event.  I did pretty well, getting a 9th place in the Junior, with a best lap of 115mph on a ZX6R Kawasaki.  This cemented my intention to ride the TT the following year.  Preparations were going swimmingly until, 2 weeks before the TT, racing at Jurby Road circuit, I hit a telegraph pole, breaking both legs (amongst other bones); it took me over six months to walk again.  I 'retired from racing' there and then, but could never quite come to terms with the fact that I missed my chance to ride in the TT, so I'm back to have another go.

Step One: Get a TT Mountain Licence

To ride on the "TT Mountain Course" (as it's officially known), which really means, to ride in the TT or Manx Grand Prix (MGP), you need a "TT Mountain Course licence".  To get one of these, you need to finish a race in six separate meetings in the previous 12 months.  So, if you're not already racing regularly, a TT campaigh starts a year before.

Rather than rattling around the circuits of England and Wales (I'm not going to Knockhill, FFS) in a rusty old van, I've chose the slightly less obvious route of keeping my race bike at my mate Keith's place in the Isle of Man, and flying over to race it there.  Amazingly, this is almost certainly no more expensive, and lots more fun.  So this is how I found myself heading to the Isle of Man for the weekend, for a race meeting at Jurby Airfield.  The journey itself might deserve it's own blog entry...

Booked to fly out of "Gloucester Airport" (aka Staverton) at 18:40, I needed to be there by 18:00. So, I left work at 16:10, which should have been more than enough time.  15 mins later I arrived at the M4 to find it stationary, and traffic queuing up the slip road.  Bugger.  I headed away to take a different route to get onto the A4, phoning a mate sat in front of a computer to get a traffic update. He reported the M4 to be borked, and recommended a cross-country route.  So I proceeded to shred a fair proportion of the highway code.  At 15:50 I was still 15 miles from the airport, so called said mate again, and asked him to phone the airport (yes, you really can just phone the airport.  It's that small).  He phoned back, reporting that they said 18:20 was the latest. 18:20, I was still a couple of miles away.  At 18:23, the airport phoned me!  As I spoke to them, I came over a rise and was a couple of 100 yds from their carpark, and promised I was about to arrive.  I squealed into the car park, grabbed my kit bag and ran for the terminal (20 yds away).  There was a man waiting to take my bag!  I checked in in about 90 seconds, ran through the 'departure lounge' (about the size of a good living room) and onto the plane.

Try that at Heathrow.

The rest of the flight was uneventful.  I landed in a bright Manx evening, got a taxi to Ramsey, met Keith, we went to the chippie, then to the pub.

The next morning we started late, and nursed moderately sore heads.  A visit to the cafe by the boathouse in Moragh Park furnished us with two huge traditional breakfasts.  Fantastic.   

Sunday dawned with blue skies and no wind.  It was chilly, but still pretty good.  Scruting was mostly ok, except that the throttle didn't snap closed on full lock.  The problem took a couple of goes to figure out, but ultimately came down wiggling everything about until it all moved happily.  Despite my kit having mostly been in the wardrobe since October, I was passed ok, but was then also pulled in for a breath test.  I scored a disappointing 0.00.

I went out at the back of first qualifying, making sure I let myself into things nice and easily.  Too easily, it turned out - when I got the results I was plum last with a lap time of 1:23, about 15 (15!) seconds slower than the fast boys.  The bike was way too short geared for the longish straight on the 'GP circuit', but all the same.  Second practice was better - now doing 1:20s, but still last but one.  I wasn't really in a good mood as we headed to the lunch break, as I really didn't want to be fighting to avoid being last.  I occupied myself by changing the gearing.

I nearly missed the first race as I was getting something to eat, and the tannoy was completely overwhelmed by the noise of 100 generators.  But I just got out, and took up my place at the back of the grid.  The lights changed, and off I charged, making up exactly no places on the run to the first corner.  Ho hum.  Still, there were some bikes in front of me that didn't seem to be getting away, so I stayed with them, and, after a lap or so, seemed to be in a position to overtake. So I did.  I say, this is fun.  So then I overtook another one.  And then, another one still!  And then the flag came out.  So, three people behind me, and more importantly, a best lap of 1:17, so another 3 seconds faster.  As was  pointed out, if I found 3 seconds in every session, I'd be winning by the end of the afternoon.  After a practice that had depressed me little, I was now in a much better mood.

Race 2 arrived quickly, and I skilfully held my last-but-one grid position to the first corner.  Again there was a group in front of me, not getting away, and again I managed to overtake then one by one.  Except for the last of them, which took me 3 goes to get by.  Blimey it was fun tho!  And, after getting clear space on the last lap, I posted a 1:15, so another 2 seconds found (ok, ok, actually 1.3 seconds if you include the decimal point).  This time there were 5 people behind me, and there was a group of 6 riders in front posting 1:14s and 1:15s, who I'm sure I would have been racing with if I'd started from the middle of the grid.

Then there was an accident on the start line, oil everywhere, and the rest of the card was lost.  Truth be told, I wasn't too upset - I'd got my finishes for my mountain licence, had two good races, and was happy to pack up and head to the pub. 

Which we did.  And blimey, did we have a drink.  It's a while since I've seen Keith that well-oiled.  But no matter - another huge breakfast at the Moragh cafe the next day sorted us out.

So, a top weekend racing bikes, and the first of six 'signatures' in the bag.  (Everyone calls them signatures, even tho you never actually get anything signed).  Next event is planned to be the Southern 100 in July.