That's racing

September 2nd, 2015

Race Day for the Classic TT F1 race dawned dry, bright and sunny - perfect conditions.

Unfortunately, the organisers had a problem with the Tetra radio system they use for communications between the hundreds of marshalling points around the course.  The delay went from 30 minutes to an hour, to 2 hours, and eventually to about 4 hours.  I imagine the technicians had to do a complete restore of the software on the system.  But I'm no telecomms engineer, so that's just a guess.  But eventually, the morning's race (the 350 Classis) went away at 2pm.

Our race was re-scheduled for a 5pm start, which meant conditions would be much like evening practice, which was at least familiar.  I've started a few MGPs and TTs now, but the whole process of lining up on the startline is still electric.  Andrea Hawley got this photo as I rolled towards the start:

Ready for the start

And then we were off and I was heading down Bray Hill once again.  The first few miles felt pretty good, and by Ballacraine I think I'd passed four people.  After that, it got much quieter - it's possible to run a whole race on the TT circuit and not see any other riders.  You set off at 10 second intervals, and if the organisers have got the start positions right, then the gaps between each rider gets bigger.   On lap 2 Ben Rea came past me on his big Suzuki, running a much faster pace, and was soon gone.  For some reason I felt a little scrappier on this lap, which was later confirmed by the stopwatch as about 10 seconds slower.  But then I was in for the pit stop, which was exactly what you want - uneventful.  Alex put the fuel in, Simon gave me the drinks bottle and a sachet of energy gel, and then I was quickly away.  With my tear-off removed and the caffeine-infused gel inside me, I immediately felt sharper, and set about doing two more laps of the same.   Things felt good, and, while I was physically working quite hard, I was enjoying myself too.  

But then it all went wrong.  I'm always very unspectactular over Ballaugh Bridge, feeling that there's a lot to lose and not much to gain by flying off the crest.  But as the suspension re-loaded on the downside of the bridge, there was a nasty noise, and when I opened the throttle there was no drive, just engine revving uselessly.  I looked down, and confirmed my first guess, which was the chain was off.  I pulled over. and the chain was still actually there, but off the rear sprocket.  It should be impossible to hook a chain back on without tools, and the fact that I managed it raised my suspicions, but I did it and attempted to re-join.  But it immediately made an awful noise, and popped back off again.  My race was run.

I walked back up to the marshalling point, and had my retirement radioed in.  I then recalled, from my very first visit to the TT in 1984, that there was a disused railway line, now just a path, parallel with the road here, so, after checking with the owner of the nearest house, I walked through their garden, got on the path, and walked back to Ballaugh.   And a nice marshal gave me some money for a pint in the Raven.  I spoke to Alex on the phone, and he came to get me in the car - there was a practice scheduled after the race, so the roads wouldn't be open for ages before we could collect the bike.

We got back to the paddock, I got changed, and we went to the beer tent.  Even though the race had ended with a retirement, I was pretty relaxed about it all - I'd raced in the Classic TT on a bike I'd built myself, and had a reasonable pace - certainly fast enough to get a replica, anyway.  

We collected the bike later that evening, and went to the pub in Ramsey to catch up our many local friends.  And dined like kings at the kebab house.    The next morning we got the bike up on the bench and found this:

Broken chain

It could have so easily been much worse - a snapped chain can wreck your engine, or lock up the rear wheel and wreck you.  I was still worried that the gearbox output shaft bearing might be damaged, but it was completely fine, so we just put a new chain on it for the next meeting, and then packed everything up into the van and car.   Our space in the paddock looked a little forlorn once we'd finished:

...but we'll be back next year!

Last practice - fastest times

August 29th, 2015

Today is Saturday, and the start of the the races - the first event this afternoon is the Classic 500 race.  However, my class (Formula One) had a last practice session this morning.  After last night's breakdown, we were all up early to diagnose the problem and look for a fix.  Fortunately, as soon as the tank came off we saw it - a rubber bung had come off the fuel gallery on the carburetors, so the bike would have quickly pumped fuel out into the airbox, which at speed would have aerosoled off from the bike. This meant it must have happened shortly before it ran out, when there would only have been around 5 litres left anyway.  So, we fixed the bung, and put it all back together, and took the wheels out for new tyres.   The practice session was at 11:45am, putting our scrutineering slot at 10:00am, so there wasn't a lot of time to hang about, but everything went ok, the weather was fine and dry, and I was looking forward to it.   But first, I spent 20 minutes with the lovely Cath Davis of Rex Physiotherapy, who did some work on my legs which were a bit achey from muscling the ZXR around.   She really knows her stuff, and I'm very happy to recommend her to any readers of this blog who need any physio on the Isle of Man (perhaps something of a long sht, I know...).

The time came, and once again we were up onto the Glencrutchery Road, and away in pairs.  I got away cleanly as ever, the ZXR pulling it's now customary wheelie before the change into second, and then heading down Brayhill.  And it just felt great!   In the first half a lap I caught a handful of people (I think only a dozen or so had started in front of me anyway), which always makes you feel good.  I was also starting to become properly familiar with the bike, knowing which gear to use in various places, and getting my braking markers better sorted.  On the second lap my right leg started to cramp up a little, and after the late evening yesterday and early start this morning, I felt a little tired, so decided not to do a third lap (which would have been an option, after a stop for a fuel top-up).  So I came in and parked the bike, and Alex told me that I'd done two laps at 107mph - my fastest of the week.  Also, checking the speed trap times from Sulby straight, I went through both times at 159mph, which is also my fastest of the week - probably a measure of me getting a better run through Quarry Bends, and keeping the bike properly pinned right up to the braking point.

So we're all set for the race on Monday, and we're going out for a couple of beers this evening.  Probably more than a couple for Alex and Simon, to be honest.

A good run, with an annoying ending

August 28th, 2015

After last night's practice session, with three laps in the bag, and the bike working pretty well, we were all in good spirits today.  And there wasn't much work to do, either.  So little, in fact, that I actually washed the bike, mostly to get the squashed flies off the front, but generally to pretty it up a bit.  And it came up looking lovely:

ZXR 750 after a wash in the Classic TT paddock

I was a bit achey, especially around the left hand side of my neck, and my left shoulder, so I availed myself of the physio service being provided by Cath (unforgivably, I don't have the name of her business to hand - I will update this when I do.  EDIT: Rex Physiotherapy).  Cath did some weird Vulcan pressure point stuff on my neck (it made my fingers go numb!), and made it all much better.

Now that we'd sorted the main issues with the bike, we paused to do something basic and fundamental for a racing machine - we wrote down all the suspension settings.  It's a measure of how much we'd been working on the basics that this was the first time we did it.  But, really, last night was the first real night of practice.   Anyway, having noted all the settings, we concluded they were a bit on the soft side, so we firmed everything up a bit, to see if it improved anything.

This evening we were the second group due out, and so didn't need to scrutineer until nearly 6pm, for a 7:20pm start.  By now it was becoming routine, so Simon and Alex got the bike up there, while I spent the time faffing about with my riding kit just to kill the time.   And at just after 7:20, the first bikes in the group started.  There was a good five minutes before I could get away (the bikes leave in pairs at 10 second intervals), but I once again beat my starting partner away from the line, and headed down Brayhill

 Quick reactions following the starter's tap on the shoulder

Unlike last night, our session was just F1 and F2 classic bikes, with a lot of Manx Grand Prix riders, mostly on modern 600s.  I got into a happy pace off the line and was immediately catching people - I think I must have passed four or five in the first 5 miles.   I felt good, and the bike did too - a little more taught, with our tweaked suspension settings.  Over the mountain it didn't feel as fast as last night, and I worried for a moment before I realised this would be down to the extremely strong headwind that we were riding in to.   I went straight through at the grandstand and started my second lap, which was a little lonely until Ballacraine, when two modern 600s came past in quick succession.  As is often the case, having a rabbit to chase caused me to go a little faster, and I was able to hang on to the them.  And then a couple more bikes came past, and I held on to all of them, and suddenly there were five of us riding along together - this was fun!   I got a terrific run out of Quarry Bends, and would probably have set my fastest speed trap time if I hadn't had to roll the throttle as I came up behind a slower rider in a novice jacket just as we got to the narrowing kink before the braking zone.   Anyway, the five of us carried on through the very bumpy Ginger Hall to Ramsey section, and it's a measure of my confidence here, and the bike's composure, that I was able to pass two of the bunch on the run into Ramsey.

But then, the bike coughed on the climb to the hairpin.  And after the hairpin it gasped, and coming out of the Waterworks if just stopped.  I knew immediately that it was out of petrol - I could hear the fuel pump sucking on air.   Damn.  So I put the bike somewhere safe with the help of a marshal, and texted Alex and Simon to come over with the van.  

We think the fuel issue is down to not fully brimming it (but that would only count for a couple of litres at most, maybe) and the head wind, and maybe riding a bit more scrappily in the bunch.  But it's much too close for comfort - the Hairpin is a good 12~13 miles from the finish, so we're a fair bit short.  Tomorrow we'll put the smaller jets back in, and reduce the rev limit by 500 rpm.   And, being Saturday, and race day for the 500s, our practice session is at 11:45am, so we'll have to be up and in the awning in good time.   But this is what practice is for.

We had the tank off this morning, and found a smoking gun - a bung from the fuel gallery on the carbs was missing.  We tested it by rigging some fuel to the pump and looking, and sure enough, petrol was squirted out of this unbunged-pipe.  So this was a good thing, as it meant that we don't have problems with fuel capacity.  We fashioned a replacement bung (a short piece of hose with a bolt in the end, all lock-wired to death), re-assembled, ran it up, and it's all good.  So now we're ready for the last practice session this morning, Saturday.


Practice finally starts properly

August 27th, 2015

After two cancelled and two curtailed sessions, everyone in the paddock is feeling frustrated, including us.   But the weather forecast is good for the next few days, so perhaps things will come good.  The organisers re-jigged the practice schedule, so that the classes with the first races get the necessary practice sessions, while those with races later in the week get extra practice sessions later.

Last night we had a problem with fuel starvation, which Alex and Simon fixed when I got back.  But we wanted to be sure, so this morning we took the bike to Jurby circuit, which was open for MGP / Classic TT competitors for testing.  One of the unique and more significant features of the TT circuit is its length - at 37 miles, you can't just send the bike out for a lap or two to see if you've fixed a problem.  So having access to  a 'short circuit' for testing is really useful, and there were about a dozen teams there first thing this morning.  I did a quick 7~8 laps to be sure that the fuel starvation was sorted, which it was.  But now the gear change light was set to0 low, at 9,000rpm, so I came in and Alex plugged in the laptop and quickly set it to the correct value (11,500rpm).  I went out and did a few more laps, and really got into it - it was almost as useful for my mental state to ride the bike fast on a circuit I knew as it was to test the fixes on the bike.

Anyway, we were soon sorted, and back at the paddock.  We'd had a couple of 'advisories' from scrutineering last night, which the lads set about fixing.  We were due out at 6:20pm, and the good weather meant no delays, and we got out on time.  We had an hour for our session, which meant that we could get two laps in, stop for a quick fuel top-up, and then get out for another lap before the end of the session - that was the plan.  I headed out for my first lap, and the bike felt just as good to ride as previously.  I was enjoying myself, and usually the speed comes when you're relaxed.  The two laps went by quickly enough (around 43 mins to do 75 miles), and then I came into the pits as planned.  Alex and Simon were waiting with fuel, and they quickly put 10 litres in the bike and I was ready to go again.  I went up the ramp to rejoin the circuit, and there was a chap in front of me with "Dunlop"  on his back, on a Norton rotary - it was famous TT start William.  We waited a while before the start official judged it safe for him to join the track, and I was able to follow him quickly onto the road and chase him down Brayhill.  I expected him to disappear out of sight in short order, but amazingly he didn't.  In fact, 10 miles later, as I came onto the Cronk-y-Voddy straight, he was only half way down it - I reckon he'd made maybe 5 seconds on me at most.  This made me feel very good, although I imagine this might have been his first shakedown run on the bike.  But still, take what you can, eh?  Looking at the times later, he'd only gone 40 seconds / 4mph faster than me over the whole lap.

Anyway, I came in at the end of the session confident that the third lap had been my fastest, and it was, at 105.6mph.  While that's pretty slow compared to the TT speeds I've done in the last couple of years, this is a very new bike to me, as it's really just been bolted together, and I'm pretty happy to have done that in the first real night of practice.  Also, the bike pulled 156mph down Sulby straight, proving that the engine is strong.  So, a good day and evenings work. 

Classic TT: Manx weather strikes again

August 26th, 2015

After no practice for anyone last night, the whole paddock had less than normal to do, including us.  But we had arranged to run the bike on Slick Bass's dyno first thing, so I was up at 7 and making bacon sandwiches for Alex and Simon shortly afterwards, and then we were in the van with the bike and driving north before 8:30am.   

Slick was there ready for us, and we put the bike straight on the dyno, warmed it up, and were ready to run.  We were there for a number of reasons - primarily to check that the airbox modifications we'd done on Sunday hadn't changed things significantly, but also to see if the advance curve could benefit from any more fine tuning.  And we wanted to calibrate the pit-lane limiter against road speed, and also ask Slick where the optimum point on the power curver was set the change light to flash.

The initial runs showed that the bike was still making good power, with a peak of 129bhp.   Slick noted that the rev limiter was set perhaps a little low (at 12.500rpm), so we tweaked it up to 13,000.  This then showed that the mixture was getting a little too lean in those last 500 rpm, so we then put some bigger main jets in, and then everything was good - a reliable 128~129 horsepower, every time.  Slick looked at the power curves, and told us to set the change light to 11, 500rpm, but for me to run it to the red line at least along the straights :-)   And we measured the road speed in first gear for the pit lane limiter, and knew to set it to 5,800rpm.  

After that we headed back to the paddock, and didn't really have much else to do except clean the bike and apply some sponsors stickers.  Time dragged. Althought the weather was lovely, the forecast was for showers in the late afternoon / early evening - exactly the wrong time.  And so it proved - we were in the holding area, with 20 minutes to go, with the bike sat on stands with tyre warmers, and it started to drizzle.  The wind picked up too, and while many around us swapped to intermediate tyres, we reasoned that the roads weren't going to get properly wet, and it would be a mixture of wet and dry round the course.  And, if it was too wet for the dry tyres, I would bring the bike in after one lap.   

And so eventually we got going, and once again I was heading down Bray Hill.  And once again, the bike felt great.  For the first couple of miles, the roads were dry, but then on various corners the marshals were holding out the rain flag, so I was quite cautious.  At the 13th Milestone, there were lots of waved yellow flags, and someone was down - I don't think it could have happened more than 30 seconds before I got there, as the marshals were still running to the incident.  I'd caught a newcomer just before, and we both weaved our way through the debris from the crashed bike - I didn't see the rider.  And then I chased the newcomer through Kirkmichael, and damn near ran into him we he slowed unexpectedly for a kink that he clearly wasn't sure about after Rhencullen.  He was on a modern GSX-R 750, which was fast in a straight line, but I comfortably passed him on the brakes into Ballaugh Bridge.   I had a fairly good run through Quarry Bends, and tucked in to set a good speed along Sulby Straight, but halfway along, the bike started misfiring.  Oh no!  I rolled the throttle and nursed the bike to the end of the straight, and after Sulby Bridge and Ginger Hall it pulled strongly again.  But on the fast bumpy section past the council yard, the misfiring returned - it clearly wasn't getting enough fuel for full throttle at high revs.  I nursed it to Ramsey, short-shifting and not using full throttle, and as I braked and changed down to first gear for Parliament Square, the engine died.  I rolled to  a halt in a safe place, and a marshal held the bike while I quickly 'made adjustments' (as the TT commentators quaintly refer to it).   We'd had concerns with gunk from the tank blocking the fuel line connector, so I quickly popped the connection apart and then plugged it together again.  And it started!  So off I went again, although I noted that there were stationery yellow flags at every marshals post.  Up on the mountain it was pretty foggy, and at Bungalow bridge I caught up with 8~10 bikes - with the yellow flags meaning "no overtaking", we had to play follow my leader all the way home.  And when we got back to Glencrutchery Road, the red flag was out, meaning the session had been stopped.  Five minutes later the clerk of the course came on the tannoy to say that the incident at the 13th Milestone needed to be cleared up, and that along with the worsening visibility over the mountain meant that the rest of the practice session would be cancelled.

This was disappointing, but I'd got a full lap in, and the fuel problem needed to be fixed anyway.  Simon and Alex set to straight away and resolved it, so then it was time for tea.  But the whole paddock is short of laps (each rider needs to do five as a minimum to qualify), so we desparately need some good weather for the rest of the week.  And for people to stop falling off, too.