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.

Happiness is a complete to-do list

August 16th, 2016

It feels like the calm before the storm.  In a couple of days time I leave for the Isle of Man for the Classic TT, where I'll be in two races:

  • Classic Lightweight, for thoroughbred 250GP bikes
  • Classic Superbike, for production based superbikes from the 80s and early 90s

I'll be riding my 1992 Kawasaki ZXR750 in the Classic Superbike, as I did last year.  The Classic Lightweight race is new for the event this year, and is the reason why I bought my 1996 Yamaha TZ250 back in the Spring.   But to get to the relatively relaxed state I'm in right now, required an awful lot of work - it's almost impossible to convey the organisational logistics required to compete in an event like this.

Learning the TZ

Since I wrote my last post, I've ridden the TZ a fair bit more.  Firstly, I spent two days at Cadwell Park, at a track day, and that's where I fell in love with what the TZ can do.  It's corner speed is just so immense, and it is so flickable and easy to steer.   And then I did a couple of track sessions, and then morning practice, at Jurby in the Isle of Man.  The practice session was soaking wet, and the TZ was equally fun on wets in the rain.  Unfortunately, the actually racing was cancelled because the track flooded, but I had gained even more confidence in the bike, and, almost as importantly, I met Billy Craine and Andy Broughton, of whom more later.

As well as learning to ride the TZ, I've also started along the road of learning how to look after it.  This is a journey that never ends, and I've only taken baby steps so far.  But one of the most obvious things is that many of the significant engine parts have mileage limits; perhaps the most significant of these is the crankshaft.  A TZ crank is rebuildable (unlike the Honda 250GP bike of the same era), but this needs to be done after every 600 racing miles.  And you do so many miles at the Isle of Man, you really have to start with a fresh engine, meaning at least a reconditioned crank, new pistons and rings. And after the event, it will be nearly worn out - the race is four laps, which is 150 miles, and I'll probably do around twice that in practice.

I've kept mileage records since taking ownership of the TZ, which had done 340 miles since the last crank rebuild, and I knew that by the time I got to the Classic TT, the engine would be just about at its mileage limit, so I needed to get the engine refreshed beforehand.  Fortunately, the bike came with a spare crankshaft (which was already at the 600 mile limit), so I took that to Dennis Trollope, famous in British racing circles, to get it reconditioned.  After the Jurby race meeting, I took the engine out and passed it to Billy Craine, mentioned above,as Billy and Andy had offered to do the rebuild for me.  Billy knows TZs inside out, and Andy knows them even better.  The rebuilt crank was sent to them by Dennis, and they rebuilt the motor with all the required new parts.   The plan is then to fit the engine the weekend we arrive at the TT.  So far, this plan is all on target, although there was a moment of panic, when Billy reported to me that the clutch basket needed re-riveting to its backing...but I couldn't source the rivets from anywhere - Yamaha don't supply them, and most people get them made specially. But Billy contacted Manx engineer Steve Moynihan, who could both make the rivets and fit them.  Andy reported a few wrinkles regarding slightly different compression ratios on the two cylinders, but he's set it up to be 'safe', so that I can get some laps in - which is why I'm there, after all.

Sprucing up the ZXR

While the bike both looked good and went well last year (despite breaking its chain on the third lap of the race), there were a few things that definitely needed to be improved, as well as a host of minor tweaks.  The major items were the front forks, the radiator, and the bodywork.  When I built the bike for 2015, I ran out of time (and to a lesser extent money), and so ran the bike with the original standard forks.  In fact, I didn't even change the fork oil.  For 2016, I wanted to fix this, and sent the forks off to Maxton Engineering, who are experts on race suspension, especially for the Isle of Man.  Not only did they strip out the 24-year-old Kawasaki internals and replace them completely with their own, they also got the stanchions re-chromed and the lowers re-anodised.  So the shiny bits are newly shiny, the black bits newly black, and the internals completely new - they're effectively brand new forks.

Similarly, the radiator was the original one, and was definitely old and scruffy, and a long way from being efficient.  So I commissioned a new radiator from ace Manx fabicator Phil Wall, proprietor of Boal Engineering.  This arrived a few months ago, and is a thing of beauty.  

The most visible change is the new bodywork, with a fresh paint scheme.  Last year's bike had a second hand fairing and seat unit which I bought from Mistral Engineering, who run beautifully prepared ZXR 750s in period Kawasaki France Endurance colours.  Not only was this paint now looking a little scruffy, my bike looked like one of theirs, which was mildly embarrassing for all concerned.  And with the new radiator, the fairing didn't really fit as nicely as it should.  I ordered a new seat and fairing from PRF Racing, which then required new mounts from Ian Harrison at Mistral.  And then I spent over 20 hours in the workshop making sure everything fitted properly.  It was slow and laborious, but at the end of it, it was all just right.  Then all the bodywork went to Denis, of "Denis Motorcycle Resprays" in Cirencester, and he did his usual brilliant job, and in double quick time too.  Once fitted, I had to get some photos, I was so pleased with how the bike looked

The ZXR with its new paint

A plethora of other little jobs have also been done, some earlier in the season, including:

  • Lock stops (to restrict the amount the bars can slap from side to side over the Manx bumps)
  • Digital temperature gauge
  • All three sets of wheels shot-blasted and painted green, with new bearings fitted
  • New adjustable rearsets

So, both bikes are ready, or will be, and everything else is set fair - including the crew

The Race Crew

Like last year, old friends Alex Ferrier and Simon Weller will be helping me again this year.  However, due to an unfortunate incident with his R1 Turbo and Cadwell Park, Alex has some broken bones in his hands, so we've enlisted an additional new crew member - confusingly another Simon.  Simon Wilson, in fact.  The New Simon is flying over, while Alex and the Old Simon are coming in the van with me, and we'll all be there on Friday 19th August.

I am so very much looking forward to it!

Getting used to the TZ250

July 3rd, 2016

Regular readers might recall that I bought a TZ250 earlier this year, and had a torrid first outing on it at Brands Hatch, where it wrecked its gearbox.

After this,  I handed the motor to Dennis Trollope, one of a handful of experts on all things TZ in the UK, and he repaired the damage and fitted a new gearbox for me.  I got it back about six weeks ago, and fitted it and fired it up, but Dennis was insistent on it being given a run on the dyno before I raced it.  He has a good friendship with the chaps who run Dynotech, which is convenient for me, so I took it there on Wednesday, and they ran it up and down the box, and pronouced it good to go.  And we got a power figure out of it, which was a handful of bhp down on compable TZs, but we'd done not set-up at all, so I was happy to live with that.

After this I got a late entry in the NGRRC meeting at Castle Coombe over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd July, which was all a bit of a rush, but I really just need time on the bike. The North Glos club (were I started racing, back in the 80s) now runs the official GP250 National Championship, and the field is pretty fast and competitive.  But that's comes with the territory when you decide to race a GP bike. I loaded up on Friday, met up with mate Pat Evans with his race R6 in his van, and we managed to find a fairly decent spot in the paddock.  We both got scrutineered and signed on that evenng, which was a good plan as free practice started at the amazingly early time of 8:40am on Saturday.  Long-time mechanic Alex Ferrier arrived even earlier, and we were ready to roll out for our session on time.  Although, in the process of bump starting the bike, we discovered that some numpty (me) had fitted the gear change mechanism to give a 'race pattern' ( 1 up and 5 down), instead of the usual road pattern that I use.  There was no time to change it, so out I went.  I have ridden with a race pattern before, but not for a long time (maybe 10 years) .  I can do it as long as I give it enough attention, but this is a bike that demands a lot of attention in other areas, and soon as my focus was distracted (e.g. when someone came past) my brain would go into auto-pilot when changing gear, and I'd push the lever in the wrong direction, and change down instead of up, or vice versa.  But, still, I was riding the bike, and getting a little used to it, and also learning the circuit as well - the last time I rode here was in 2012.  Best lap was 1:34, which put me not quite last in the field.

There was then a few sharp showers, which left the track soaking, so we put the wets in the bike, as well as fixing the gear change pattern issue.  I knew the circuit would dry quickly, but I was also confident that the TZ, with its lack of weight and power, wouldn't trash wets on a drying track.  And so it turned out - there was pretty much a dry line all the way round by the time we got out for the official timed qualifying session, but the bike seemed happy enough on the wets, although I did pull in to check them after 6~7 laps.  They were fine.  At the end I was 19th fastest, with only a couple of people behind me again, this time with a best lap of 1:30 - amazing what not having to think which direction to push the gearlever does!  And I was getting a little more familiar with the circuit.

The GP250 race was the first after lunch, and I was so keen I ended up being first in the holding area.  We formed on the grid, and then headed off for our warm up lap, and then re-formed, the red flag waved, we looked at the lights, and then we were off.  Pleasingly, my knack for getting good starts on a four-stroke also seems to be present on the two stroke, as I made a good 4 or 5 places off the line.  Of course, so of these struck back immediately on the run into the first corner, Quarry, and the others took a lap or two to regain the ground.  But still, I was racing, and it was fun.  The TZ needs such focus and concentration compared to the four-strokes that I'm used to, but I felt I was making progress.  Well, I was until the start of lap 3, when exiting Quarry, I suddenly had no drive - the bike revved, but we didn't accelerate.  I parked the bike against the armco, peered down and saw that the front sprocket had come off.  D'oh.   After a ride in the recovery van back to my awning, I found a replacement nut, and also a big set of brand new tab washers.  So Alex fitted it, with help from another old, old friend Tim, who had come to help as he only lives a few miles away.   But I'd still not finished a race on the TZ, although at least now I had started one.  And, on the plus side, on my one timed lap (lap 2), I'd done a 1:26, i.e. another 4 seconds faster.

Later that afternoon there was some significant disruption to the race program, after a serious accident had required much clearing up, and one rider to be taken to hospital by helicopter.  In fact, the delays were so servere that the remainder of the program was abandoned, meaning Pat missed his main race of the day.  The hope was it would be run on Sunday.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and so it remained all day.   Neither Pat nor I bothered with free practice, which was extremely brief (maybe 3 laps), but we looked at the revised program which did include most of the races lost the day before.  But not Pat's - he was unimpressed.  I had a warm-up session in the morning, and my race was the first after lunch again.  I checked with some other TZ riders to see what gearing they were running, and as I suspect, my gearing was a bit too short, so I swapped the rear sprocket for one with two teeth less.  The warm up session was fine, and the gearing change was definitely the right thing to do, but any hopes of continuing the pattern of "4 seconds a lap faster each session" were dashed - I only managed another 1:26 (although 0.5 seconds faster than the one I did in the race yesterday).   And then it was the usual paddock waiting game until my race came round.

Once again I was the first to arrive in the holding area, but only by a few seconds.  We were waved out onto the track, and I slotted into the same 19th grid position as yesterday.  Once again I got a decent start, and felt like I was in the pack as we streamed out of the first corner.  After a lap things settled down, and I was close behind John Hogg on his 89 reverse cylinder TZ - the last of the parallel twins.  On paper, my bike should have been much better, but still had a lot to learn, and we had a good dice for the whole race, although I never managed to get past him.  We both got lapped by the leaders after about 8 or 9 laps - that's the problem with 12 lap races!  But the main thing was that I was properly enjoying myself.  I still don't think I'd really experienced the fabled GP bike nirvana that people talk about, but I was properly racing, and the lean angle the TZ can achieve has to be experienced to be believed.

I came home in 14th place, with only two other finishers behind me.  And both of those were in the "Pre-92" class, so I was actually last in my class.  But I don't really care - learning to ride this bike is not trivial, and this was really my first race weekend with it.  And the icing on the cake was my best lap time - 1:23, so I found another 3 seconds in the race.  The winner had a best lap of 1:13, and that looks like a lot of time to find, but the four people in front of me were only a second or two faster, so that will be my next target.

I feel much, much happier about TZ250 ownership now.