That's Racing...

August 28th, 2016

We've had a busy couple of days, so this update covers Friday of practice week and the first race on Saturday.

Friday 26th Aug

After Thursday evening's curtailed practice, we were hoping to get at least a couple of more laps in tonight - so far, we'd only completed four, which is a small fraction of what I'd normally expect to do in practice week.  As the Classic Lightweight race for the TZ250 is on Saturday, we definitely wanted to get some more laps on that, fundamentally for me to get used to keeping it on the knife edge where it needs to live.  Session 1 was for the older, and slower, bikes, so we were going to take the TZ out in this session, and then hopefully do a lap or two on the 750 in Session 2.  I'd bought some new PFM disks for the 750, as one of my old original sets was definitely only good for the bin, and we put in new pads and a new front tyre - a lap to bed all that in, then the bike would be set for its race on Monday.

I got out on the TZ near the front of the session, and was starting to gel with the bike on the TT course, staying tucked in and carrying the corner speed.  There were a lot of older and slower bikes in front of me, and around Greeba Castle I came across five (5!) all together.  Overtaking one bike is usually quite straightforward, but five took a couple of goes.  But anyway, I was feeling quite good, and it was all going well, until at the Bungalow the bike slowed...I looked at the rev counter and it was showing half revs again, just like on Tuesday night.  More electrical issues.  I parked the bike, walked over the footbridge, asked around and found a very helpful German chap who was happy to give me a lift down to Sulby crossroads, at the bottom of the Tholt-y-Will Glen road (one of the more beautiful places on earth, though I wasn't looking at the view today).  I'm afraid I struggled to catch his name, but I think it was Jurgen Hoff - many many thanks for your help.  (If you read this, please let me know and correct your name if required).  I was hoping to cross quickly, but nowadays the safety protocols are quite strict, and the marshals had to wait until Race Control told them there was a safe gap.  Then one of the marshals drove me into Ramsey, where I met Alex and Simon in the van.  But the coast road from Ramsey to Douglas is slow, and we didn't get back to the paddock until 10 minutes after the session had ended.  Damn damn damn.

Once roads opened we took the van up the mountain and collected the TZ, and started to wonder what the problem could be.  Why wasn't the bike charging the battery?  We were all tired and frustrated, and for the first time in the week I was less than sanguine about stuff going wrong.  I phoned Billy Craine, and he spoke to Andy Broughton, and their proposal was that I should borrow their lithium battery, which would definitely do four laps without any charging.  So I made another trip to Ramsey, we fitted the battery and fired the bike up on the workbench (we've almost got the knack of this now) at quarter to one in the morning.  Race paddocks are tolerant of this sort of behaviour.

Saturday 27th Aug

Technically I'd not done the minimum five practice laps to qualify, but I'd done the necessary two on each bike, and significantly faster than the qualifying cut off time.  I checked at the race office and I was on the start list for the Classic Lightweight race.  This race didn't go off until 4pm; the opening race of the meeting was the Classic Senior, for 500cc fourstokes (pre-1971), and then there were a couple of practice sessions, including one for Classic Superbikes (my ZXR750) at 2pm.  So both bikes were going out today, and the Alex and Simon and Simon had plenty to do.  Although, once through 'Technical Inspection' (universally referred to as 'scrutineering'), the bikes were sat on their stands, fuelled up, with warmers on, and we could relax.

I got out on the 750 and just had an enjoyable lap round, not trying, and just hoping the bike was all sorted after it had stopped at Cronk-y-voddy on Wednesday night.  And it was - I had a fun lap, which also turned out to be faster than before, at 108mph.  All good.  And then there was an hour or so to wait until the actual race for the TZ.  The crew had to fill the refueling rigs, which meant mixing up lots of premix (100 octane avgas plus two stroke oil at a 30:1 ratio).  I felt pretty relaxed, and as the bikes were wheeled up onto Glencrutchery road, the air was filled with the shrill crackle of race two-stroke exhausts and the smell of two-stroke oil.  I paddled my way forward as we left, one at a time at 10 second intervals, until it was my turn, at number 25.  I screamed the bike off the line, and headed down Bray Hill once again.  A couple of miles in, as I headed up Ballhutchin, I realised we might have a problem, as the bike was pulling in top gear noticeably more strongly than before.   As I passed the Highlander (no longer a pub, but everyone still calls it the Highlander) the bike was showing 13,000 rpm in top - too high!

I negotiated the Glen Helen section, revelling in having the bike leant right over with my head still under the bubble off the screen.  The bike was pulling well, too well, but I just kept on keeping on.  A more experienced two-stroke racer might have pulled in.  On the run through the Bishopscourt section the bike was still pulling like a train, and I was still worrying about it, and I rounded Alpine and headed to the kink (Ballacob) just before Ballaugh Bridge ...and the bike seized.  I wasn't quick enough to pull the clutch in, the rear tyre locked and slewed the bike sideways, and I was spat off.  This in top gear, and nearly peak revs - a good 130+mph.  I rag-dolled down the road, and when I finally came to a halt I knew to lay still and count to 10 before trying to move.  Other bikes were whizzing past me, but I was confident that the marshals would have the yellow flags out, and I'd be OK.  I got on my hands and knees and crawled to the side of the road.  The marshals were running towards me - I was a good few hundred metres from the main marshalling point at Ballaugh Bridge.  I felt a bit beaten up, obviously, but no significant pain, and not like anything was broken.  The para-med got me to my feet, and we walked down to the marshalling point, where I could sit in a comfy chair and be checked out.  And I was OK!  My left foot hurt a fair bit, so Martin the para-med and another lovely marshal, Geraldine, got my boot off and had a look.  Initially they thought the mishappen  state of my ankle meant I'd broked it, but I explained it had always been like that, since I broke it 30 years ago - I didn't even realise it looked a bit odd!  But I had no broken bones in my foot, so we iced it for 20~30 mins, and then Martin put a compression bandage round it, and after another half an hour I put my boot back on and walked around with almost no pain.  

The race finished, and then the course car came round and picked me up and took me back to the paddock, at quite some speed, it has to be said!  I met up with Alex and Simon and Simon, who were glad to see me walking around and looking well, and we started to discuss what the cause might have been.  Our best guess was that the more powerful battery was allowing the ignition system to work properly, and provide a fatter spark, and therefore more power.  

I got showered and changed, we piled into the van, collected the bike, and then headed to Ramsey for a pint with our mates there - Keith, Billy and Andy, and all my other Ramsey friends.  Despite having crashed my bike, I felt really quite positive - a side-effect of having cheated death, I would guess.  The bike will be repairable, and I was OK - for a crash on the TT course, that is a big result.

Here's what the TZ looked like when we rolled up in the van to collect it

Crashed TZ250

I will be riding my ZXR750 in the Classic Superbike on Monday.  And I will definitely be riding to complete four laps, get a safe finish, and then go for a beer in the beer tent.  If my crash had been caused by me making a mistake while riding the bike, I'd seriously be thinking about packing this in.  But in my whole time on both bikes, I'd had nothing close to "a moment", so I'm not at that stage.  Of course, I am responsible for machine prep too, and I really need to understand the TZ better than I do.

Good news and bad news

August 26th, 2016

Today we had some good and bad outcomes, but as is my style, I'm focussing on the good.

First of the day's jobs was to fix the problem that caused the ZXR to stop at Cronk-y-voddy.  The cause of this was ultimately that the right-hand switch gear (which contains the throttle twist grip) wasn't locating properly in the clip-on; it looks like when I originally built the bike, I didn't make the locating hole for the dowel in the switch unit deep enough.  And the dowel had come loose too.  So, while it's simple to describe, it was a few hours work to put right. But on completion, it was all very solid.

The TZ got a full check over, after its first lap the night before, and we found one of the supports for the front fairing/instrument support was cracked, so the team made a replacement (my race equipment always contains some sheet metal for just such things). As we'd been a little rushed when we got the TZ back from Billy and Andy, we also took the time to re-do the wiring, including putting a fuse inline with the new battery, adding a charge/test point, and removing the wired in rear light (required for poor conditions) and replacing it with a separate bicycle light (powered by its own batteries).  We then ran the TZ and checked that the main battery was getting a charge, which it was.

We also thought that the TZ was still over-geared.  The speed trap had clocked me at 137 along Sulby straight, but the bike still had revs left, and Simon Wilson and I poured over his gearing spreadsheet, and we decided to change from 16/41 to 15/40 - this is the equivalent of 1.5 teeth less teeth on the rear sprocket.  And while my first ever lap on the TZ was 98.5mph, I was actually slightly disapointed with this - it 'felt' faster, and I had hoped for 100mph at least.  But there was loads more to come, and it had been late and stressful (read all about it here), and I'd had a dark visor on, and it had been my first full lap on the bike, and....the Racer's Big Book of Excuses gave lots of options.

The plan for practice was: start on the TZ, as its race is on Saturday; then change for a lap on the ZXR, to check the repair from last night.  Then, in session 2, do one or two more laps on the TZ.  It didn't go to plan.  

We got out in first practice on the TZ well enough.  I immediately knew the gearing change was in the right direction, but was worried that we might have gone too far - on the run through Glen Vine, which is downhill, the bike was revving to 13,000 rpm, and a bit more, in top.  I was worried about over-revving it!  Though this reflects my four-stroke background, and two-strokes are safer to over-rev, to a degree.  But otherwise the bike was flying, and I was really enjoying riding it.  While ultimately it's not as fast as the ZXR, you have to maintain such a degree of focus, to be on the right line, in the right gear, all the time, that the rush it delivers is unique.  On the second part of the mountain there was a succession of yellow flags, just held, not waved, and the fact that they were at every marshals point told me that there'd been a incident elsewhere on the course, and the session would probably be red-flagged.  You're not allowed to overtake under yellows, but fortunately there was no one in front of me until we got nearly to Signpost, and it was only here that I lost  some time.  As it turned out...

As we got to the Start/Finish the red lights were on, and everyone returned to the pits.  Apparently there'd been a big incident at  Church Town corner, with a bike catching fire, and the road needed cleaning.  There would be a delay, and the first session was ended, but they hoped to get the second underway.  This meant we wouldn't be able to get a lap on the ZXR, but could hopefully get one or two more on the TZ.  The guys quickly changed the rear sprocked to a 39 (so now running 15/39), and we were ready.  But then there was a further announcement - the road damange was too severe, and cloud has closed in on the mountain, meaning the rescue helicopter couldn't fly, and so the rest of the evening's practice was cancelled.  There's nothing that one can do about this sort of thing, and so the only attitude is to accept it.

We then went for curry and a beer, and on return I found my time for the single lap on TZ: 103.86mph.  This was much better!  Also, looking at the split times, where we'd slowed in the last section, I'd been 13 seconds slower than my much slower first lap the previous night.  Assuming I'd would have got this 13 seconds back, plus maybe a couple more, would have put me on a 105mph lap, which is brilliant.

So, while I'd not got nearly as many laps in as usual by this part of Practice Week, things are going in the right direction.


An eventful evening

August 25th, 2016

Well...that was the TT encapsulated in a few hours.   But first the pre-amble. [This is being written on Thursday morning, about Wednesday]

Regular readers will know that the TZ250 expired on the Mountain on Tuesday evening, and I'd taken it to Manx hero Billy Craine to investigate, along with fellow Manx superhero Andy Broughton.  The expectation was that we wouldn't get it out in practice tonight...but mid-morning I got a call from Billy saying the battery was only showing 11.8V, instead of the expected 12.5V.  This would definitely explain the symptoms of the rev counter playing up when it died.  Andy also had the head and barrels off and prounced the condition of everything 'mint' - the engine was running well, and the jetting just about bang on. The bike had been very ove-rgeared, but the gearbox has is fitted with the optional high ratio top gear (20 teeth).  Billy said this was more commonly used on short circuits (typically with just one straight) and was less useful round the TT course, where you're in top for so much of the time.  Billy also said he could use this high ratio gear in the TZ he runs for his son Freddie... so Andy swapped the gears over, and my bike reverted to the standard 22 tooth 6th gear ratio - this represents a 10% change, which is significant, and we therefore left the final drive gearing the same.

The ZXR had done two good laps last night, and didn't really need much more than a nut and bolt check - essential after every outing over the many bumps of the TT course.  The crew even gave it a wash!  We also decided to replace the brake lever guard, which is not required at the TT, with a traditional bar end plug [races with mass starts on short circuits often require a guard over the brake lever, so that minor contact with the rear of another bike when fighting into the first corner doesn't apply the front brake and send you over the handlebars.  But at the TT riders start at separately timed intervals].  More on this later.

I took the van over to Ramsey to collect the TZ, while the crew took the ZXR through scrutineering.  When I got back to the awning, we put the new battery on (purchased from Dennis Trollope and a surprisingly reasonable £25, which is unheard of for a pukka race bike), refitted the body work, fuelled it up and took it to scrut'ing too.  And then fitted the second set of wheels, shod with Continental slicks.

By now I was relatively laid back about preparing for practice - 30 minutes beforehand, I wandered down to the tent, put the dark visor (with a fresh tear off) on my helmet, had an energy drink and a banana, climbed into my leathers and walked back up to Parc Ferme, arriving with 5 minutes to spare.  We get called up to the start within groups (1~15, 16~30, etc) within class, so it was a few minutes before my bike (#47) was up on Glencrutchery Road and I was paddling towards the start official.  As usual, I beat my starting partner off the line and headed down Bray Hill once again.  The Kawasaki felt as good as ever, but despite the very bright sunshine, which had persuaded me to use dark visor, it was too dark under the trees.  But otherwise everything was good...until I crested Creg Willeys Hill and rode onto the Cronk-y-Voddy straight, and the engine just died.  I pulled in at a marshalling point, looked down, and saw that the throttle twist grip and switchgear, which includes the kill switch, had moved along the handle bar by a couple of inches - perhaps a factor of changing the bar end?  This movement had pulled the electical cable from the kill switch to the loom tight...further investigation revealed that the wires had indeed become disconnected from the loom, where they met under the tank.  Damn.

My main concern was that I really need to get out on the TZ in the second practice session, and that session ended at 8:05pm.  And it was already nearly 7pm, and I was 10 miles round the course with the roads closed for racing.  I called Alex, and he and Simon leapt in the van to navigate the back roads to come and get me back to the pits.  In the mean time, I wondered if I could fix the bike - the problem was I would need a few tools to take the tank off to reconnect the kill switch.  The single marshal at the flag point where I'd stopped didn't have any, so I set off across a field, a few hundred yards, to get to the next (and main) marshalling point, and when I got there found a couple of bikers who came back with me, with some tools.  We lifted the tank a little...but I couldn't find the errant connector.  We struggled for 5 mins, but it wasn't going to happen.  I sighed, got a drink from the marshals, and then thought I might as well walk towards where I expected the van to come (from the Peel to Kirkmichael coast road, for those who know their Manx geography).  But I thought it unlikely we could pull this off...until I heard a car behind me, driven by a local with a visiting mate.  I stuck my thumb out, and they let me in, and as I explained the situation, they said they'd take me to Peel, where we met Simon and Alex in the van there.  I didn't get these Samaritans names, but on the off-chance they see this - thank you so much!   Simon then drove the van in a spirited fashion back to Douglas, along tiny little back roads, and we got back to the paddock with minutes to spare.  In fact, I think I went out on track 2 minutes before the session was due to end (i.e. no new bikes can start a lap, but those already out can complete it).  Phew!

I still had the dark visor on my helmet, and it was now gone 8pm.  Lighting up time is about was pretty bloody dim under the trees!  But there was no choice, and the main thing was to get the TZ round, and it was immediately obvious that the gearing was now much better, with top gear being just about right - the bike would pull to 12,000rpm or more in top whenever the road was flat.  The bike just felt so right, and the noise, and the feel - wow.  This was without doubt the purest, most concentrated hit of adrenaline I'd ever had.  I can see why people are so passionate about TZs and purebred racing two-strokes.   I got back to the paddock and just babbled to the guys.  But then I had to get out of my leathers, have a drink, and Si Wilson and I took the van back round the course, now roads were open, to pick up the ZXR.  And we got some fish and chips on the way back, and met Alex and the other Simon in the beer tent.  

Wow...what an evening.  And people wonder why I do it... 

First laps on the ZXR750

August 24th, 2016

Ah, now that's better...

The day dawned very wet, but the forecast was for it to dry out, so it looked like this evening's practice would go ahead.  While the TZ hadn't got a run last night, the ZXR had a problem to fix - why did it stop in Ramsey?  The suspicion was the fuel pump, but we needed to confirm this, and fix it.  Which turned out to be easy to do - in the quiet of the awning, with the ignition switched on, the fuel pump was disconcertingly silent - usually you can hear it prime the carbs.  We quickly proved that the feed was getting 12V, so the problem was in the pump.  Off it came, and we opened the case and looked at the mechanism - it's an 'old fashioned' electro-mechanical pump with points to regulate the flow (i.e. it doesn't pump when the output is pressurised), and the points were stuck open.  This was a new pump, bought last year, but it was a cheap chinese pattern part, and clearly wasn't reliable.  So we re-instated the OE Kawasaki pump, actually stamped with the Mitsubishi logo, and put it all back together and it ran fine.  But it would need a test - more later.

I also noticed that the lovely new paint on the seat unit had cracked and flaked a little either side of where I actually sit.  It was apparent that this was because the underneath of the fibreglass seat unit wasn't supported by the subframe, which allowed the fibreglass to flex as I moved around (and also was bumped around over the TT course's substantial bumps).  So we made a support across the subframe, and I mixed up some fibreglass resin and applied it to some matting on the underside to strengthen the seat unit.

The bike had been hitting 12,000 revs in top, or just over, so we also fitted a rear sprocket with one tooth less.  Last night I'd gone through the Sulby speed trap at  a fraction under 155mph. but this was on the first lap with a relatively careful run through Quarry Bends (which leads onto the Sulby Straight), and the bike did 158mph last year, so we needed slightly longer gearing.  And while the rear wheel was out to do this, we put a fresh rear tyre on, as the incumbert was now definitely past its best.

Race bikes on the TT course are covered with minimum 'road traffic act' insurance, so that you can ride them back to the paddock when roads open after a race or practice, if you had to stop, and so this meant that we could test the changed fuel pump.  Rather than put full race leathers on, I just borrowed Si (Wilson)'s jacket and rode the bike wearing jeans and trainers, old school style.  I caned it up to Windy Corner and back, and verified that the pump could continually supply fuel under load.  This felt naughty, despite actually being legal, and is just something else that makes racing on the Island particularly special.  Here I am discreetly leaving the paddock:

Testing the ZXR on the road

After this, we were all set.

As mentioned previously, there were some logistical problems with practising both bikes, which were meant to go out in the same session.  But I caught up with the Clerk of the Course, the excellent Gary Thompson, to ask whether I could practice the TZ in the 'slower' group, and he stopped me halfway through my request and told me that riders with a Classic Superbike and a Classic Lightweight (i.e. a GP250) could run the 250 in the other group.  So that meant we could potentially get 2 laps on each bike this evening.

Both bikes sailed through scrutineering, and then were set in the holding area, looking halfway professional

TZ and ZXR in holding area

The weather was grey, with occasional very light rain, although it didn't actually make the road wet.  The only question was if the low cloud over the mountain would lift, and it did, and the session started only about 10 minutes later than scheduled.  The higher seeded riders were away first, but it was only a few minutes before the warmers were taken off the 750 and I rode out from the holding area up onto the Glencrutchery Road.  As usual, I beat my practice start partner away from the line (we practice in pairs, leaving at 10 second intervals), as I don't really like following down Bray Hill, and I was away.  As last night, the bike and I felt just great, and with no low sun tonight I could go through Ballagarey and Gorse Lea at a much better speed.  The only hiccup was coming out of Ballacraine, where the bike hesitated, and made me panic about the fuel pump.  Accutely aware that I needed to get the bike round, I babied it a little, changing up 500 revs early in lots of places.  I also thought about how, on both occasions, the fueling issue had reared its head after very heavy braking, and so I also tried to moderate this on the relatively few places on the TT course where you really hang the anchors out.  Anyway, there was no other sign of any fueling problems on the first lap, and I sailed through Ramsey and up the mountain for the first time this year.  The bike pulled strongly all the way, and I lost count of the number of people I overhauled and passed, so I knew my pace was ok.   I went straight past the pits at the end of the first lap and the second felt just as good.  The only issue was lots of swirling mist over the mountain on the second circuit, which slowed everyone down - I actually caught four or five people in this, who were not as brave/stupid as me.  Actually, given that we all lost time, there was nothing to be gained by being the bravest guy in the fog, but, hey, that's me!

I pulled in on the second lap, and the crew were waiting for me - I handed them the 750, and had a few minutes to have a drink and clean my visor before setting off on the TZ in the second practice session, which was only just starting.  I paddled through a line of properly old classic bikes (the 350s and 500s are from the 60s) and lined up for a second start.  I slipped the clutch and screamed the engine and we were away down Bray Hill again, for my first lap on the TZ.  It was all a bit alien, but the course was the same, and with a bit less power, and a lot less weight, the bike was actually quite easy to ride.  It became clear that we'd picked gearing that was really much t0o tall, but as that was a lot safer on the engine that going too short, I rode around it, using 5th in places where really I would have wanted 6th, such as the run up the hill after Crosby.  But otherwise the bike was fun to ride, and fairly easy too, although it was obvious that I had a lot to learn to get the best out of it.

I crested the highest point of the mountain at Brandywell, and around the 32nd had to slow right down for a significant crash - there were at least three bikes down, and marshals all over the road with yellow flags everywhere.  As I tried to accelerate after that, the bike bogged down, and wouldn't rev.  I pulled the clutch in and revved it to try and clear it....but it wouldn't, and I had to pull in just past Windy Corner.  Damn.  The marshals at Windy were very friendly, and made me a cup of tea (with biscuits!) and let me shelter from the eponymous wind in their hut.  Up on the mountain there's no way of being picked up before roads opened, and it was gone 8:30pm when I saw the friendly Citroen van hove into view.  

We got back to the paddock, I changed out of my leathers, charged my phone (which had died), and called Billy Craine.  He said to bring the bike straight to him, so I took the bike back over the mountain in the van to his workshop in Ramsey, we put it on the bench and did some initial diagnostics.  We were able to rule out obvious catastrophic things, such as a holed piston or seizure, but it was late and the plan was to leave it for Andy Broughton to thoroughly go through in the morning.  So I drove back to the paddock and had a pint with Alex and Simon Weller.  And checked the practice times on the internet, and was very pleased to see that I'd done 107mph on the 750, which a) placed me 19th on the leader board (out of 43) with almost everyone ahead of me being a recognisable 'name', and b) was as fast as I went in the race last year, so for a first full lap was great.

The full list of times are here.

Arrival and first (unhappy) practice

August 23rd, 2016

We've been on the Isle of Man for a few days now, but have been a) very busy and b) suffered from poor internet connectivity, so this is my first post since we arrived. Apologies to regular readers waiting for an update.

Arrival and Set Up

Upon arrival there was the usual flurry of van unloading, tent erection, etc. I left the crew to this while I went and signed on, had my riding kit checked and attended to other administrative formalities. The paddock was very busy, but fortunately my good Manx friend Keith McKay had blagged some space for me with my awning on Wednesday. And evern then the paddock was getting full. I should say a word about "the crew" - previous star mechanics Alex and Simon were back on duty again, although Alex was hampered by the broken bones in his hands sustained wheh he threw his R1 Turbo up the road at Cadwell last month. So, new for this year was Simon Wilson, who I've know for a fair while, and who currently competes in the British Hillclimb championship (quite successfully - he was 250 champion last year, and is leading the class comfortably this year).

First practice was meant to be Saturday evening, but the weather during the day was awful, and the organisers scrubbed the session in the early afternoon, which at least gave everyone plenty of notice. One of the other things we needed to do was collect the TZ250 chassic from storage, and collect the engine from Billy Craine and Andy Broughton, who had re-built it for me with the re-conditioned crankshaft, new pistons, rings, etc, which we did on Saturday morning. On arriving to collect the engine, Billy and Andy persuaded me to let them fit it back in the chassis, which I happily agreed to, so we collected the bike ready to run from Billy's workshop on Sunday morning before heading to Jurby, where there was a track session for competitors. While the guys made the TZ ready (it had wets in, from its last outing), I gave the 750 a run, and it was just lovely. And looked fabulous in its new paint.

ZXR in new paint at Jurby


The fresh TZ engine needed to be run in, with instructions to run it to a rev ceiling of 8,000 rpm for 10 minutes, then 9,000 for 10 minutes, then 10,000 for 10 minutes. 10 minutes equates to 6 or 7 laps of Jurby at that speed, which was actually a little frustrating to do - at 8000 rpm the TZ is making less than 40 horsepower, while at 9,000 it is *just* trying to rev and make power. It was like walking a rabid dog on a string. Still, I did it, and then brought the bike back into the paddock for a quick check over, before going back out to give it a proper run up to peak power at 12,500 rpm. It was glorious!

TZ with fresh motor at Jurby

After running it at full power, we popped the bellypan and exhausts off and Andy B lay underneath with a torch and a dentist's mirror. Rotating the engine with his hand on the clutch. he emerged with a smile, saying there no sign of any "nips" (partial seizures), and it was all good to go. We headed back to the paddock, put the bikes on their ramps, and started on the list of minor jobs which never seem to end at race meetings. And then in the evening we met Keith for a pint and then went for a curry.

Monday dawned extremely wet, but the forecast was for it to stop in the morning and have fine weather in the afternoon and into the evening, and so it turned out. The whiteboard in our awning was used to list all the jobs to be done, and the team worked through them as if we'd been doing it for years. We had scrutineering slots for 3:30pm and 4:00pm for the two bikes, and we were soon taking the bikes trhough the paddock to join the queue which had already formed. The TZ was flagged as requiring the fuel overflow to be routed into a catch bottle, which needed a new piece of pipe (the existing one having gone very hard and no longer fitted into the bottle), and the ZXR got a few 'advisories', but otherwise it was all good. It was like the first day at school for everyone, with riders, crew and officials all getting used to their roles again for the next fortnight. Once passed through scrutineering, the bikes were lined up in the holding areas, and we had another 90 minutes to wait.

The practice sessions are split into two, which can roughly divided into 'fast' and 'slow'. The 'fast' session is the modern Manx GP 600s and 750s, the Classic Superbikes (which the ZXR 750 is in) and the Classic Lightweight (which is the TZ250). This meant both our bikes need to run in just one session, which is a logistically annoying, especially as our session was only for 45 minutes this evening. With a lap taking roughly 20 minutes, I needed to get our early-ish in the session to be sure of starting a second lap before the session was closed (you just need to start the lap within the session timeslot, not finish it). The plan was to do a lap on the 750, which is a known quantity, and should reliably get round, and then come in and change to do a first lap on the TZ, which is very much an unknown quantity on the TT course. If only life turned out as planned...

The first bikes away, at about 6:20pm, were the newcomers, who have to do an escorted 'speed controlled' lap behind an experienced rider as their first lap, before they can practice with everyone else. They're given 10 minutes to get a decent way around, and then the first 30 seeded riders started, in pairs, at 10 second intervals. After 4 or 5 minutes of this, it was my turn, my crew had the warmers off and stands away, and I paddled forward to the starting official alongside my starting partner, who was on a beautiful looking Honda RC30. And then we were at the front, with the starter's hands on our shoulders, and then he tapped us and we were away!

I got the holeshot from my RC30 mounted starting partner, and headed towards St Ninians crossroads. The ZXR immediately felt comfortable and at home, and so did I. The glorious weather wasn't quite so welcome at this point, as the low evening sun is right in our eyes in several places in during the 7 mile run to Ballacraine, where the track turns right to the north. Ballagarey is scary enough at the best of times, without having the sun right in your eyes, so I definitely rolled it through there. But on the run down to Glen Vine and past the Crosby the bike was flying, pulling to the redline in top, so I made a mental note to fit taller gearing for tomorrow. And I was catching people (you can see a long way on this section) which is always very gratifying. Two were together, one of which I passed on the way out of Greeba Bridge, though I had to wait to outbrake the other at Ballacraine traffic lights. There's no prizes for practice, certainly not on the first night, and everyone is usually very polite on the TT course, for obvious reasons.

I was feeling very comfortable and relaxed, just loving riding the bike round my favourite place on earth. We flew through the Glen Helen section, up onto Cronk-y-Voddy and down towards the 11th Milestone and Handleys, where I caught another bike, and nipped past before the top of Barregarrow. The lap continued, the familiar turns and bumps playing out as they always have, and I was soon in Ramsey, braking hard for Parliament Square. As I rounded it and grabbed second gear, the bike coughed, exactly as if running out of fuel. I slowed, and nursed it up towards May Hill, but the engine died. Damn. I pulled off the track, helped by Ramsey friend Phil, who happened to be marshalling there (I do seem to know a lot of people on the Island nowadays). I fiddled with some obvious things (fuel breather? Blocked filter? Loose connection to the fuel pump?), but the bike was determined not to start. I called the guys back in Douglas, and they jumped in the van to drive round the coast road to collect me.

This was very annoying - instead of getting a lap in on both bikes, I'd got none in, and would now be playing catch-up for the rest of practice week. But such is racing on the Isle of Man, and considering the things that can go wrong here, a glitch in the fuel system is small beer, and will be easily fixed.