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.

Classic TT: A good day's preparation, but rain stops practice

August 25th, 2015

After last night's positive practice session, we only had a small list of things to do today.  Primary amongst these was to work out why the cooling system was expelling fluid, but we also wanted to change the gearing, and make a couple of small improvements elsewhere.

The cooling system issue was addressed with the brain power of the three of us, although I was definitely the misfiring cylinder on this particular triple.  But we eventually figured out that the modification I'd had made to the raditaor to allow the airbox scoop to fit had left a bit of the rad where air could get trapped.  This air then got hot, expanded, and pushed out the water.  So we drilled and tapped a hole at the top of the offending part of the rad, refilled it and allowed the air to escape.  Then we put a bolt in the hole, with some sealant around it to prevent any leaks.  We ran the engine up until it was properly hot, and no fluid was ejected, so job done.

After we'd changed the gearing, and fitted some R-clips to the fairing mounts, we'd run out of serious things to do, and Alex was keen to better understand the software used to configure the Ignitech programmable ignition system; one thing that wasn;t working but should have been was the gear shift indicator light (you set it to come on when you should change gear).  We plugged the laptop into the bike, which seems very odd for a 1992 bike, and started working it out.  It turned out just to require use to configure the software correctly, and we got the light working nicely.  Buoyed by this success, Alex then suggested we implement a pit-lane speed limiter, a feature also supported by the Ignitech system.  There's speed limit in the pitlane which is rigourously enforced, and if you break it you get a serious time penalty.  The limiter works by fitting a rider operated button, which when pushed prevents the ignition running above a set rpm limit.  You calculate the rpm for the speed limit, set the system to that, and then can ride through the pits confident that you won't break the speed limit.   This required a button, which was easily obtained from one of the paddock spares vendors, and then we figured out which pin on the Ignitech unit to use, and what it required (set it to ground, it turned out), and Alex wired it all together, and hey presto, I have a pitlane speed limiter!  Of course, we need to accurately calibrate it, but tomorrow we're going to take the bike to Slick Bass and his dyno to check the engine power with the new air intake and fine tune the ignition advance curves.  The rolling road will allow us to accurately derive the revs required to make sure we don't break the 60kph speed limit.

The reason we had time to do all the above was because, despite the day starting very warm and bright, the forecast was for rain in the afternoon, and so it turned out.  The organisers announced the cancellation of the practice session at about 3pm, and it was the right decision, because as I write this at 7pm (i.e. the middle of the practice period), the rain is torrential, and the cloud it right down on the mountain.  Ho hum.

On the plus side, the forecast is good for the next three days.  Let's hope it's right.


Classic TT First Practice: curtailed, but all positive

August 24th, 2015

Now *that's* why I'm here!!!   But for a while it looked like we might not get out to practice this evening.

Alex, Simon and I spent two full days working on the bike, despite thinking we were "ready to roll" on Saturday.  On Sunday, when we came to fit the modified tank on the ex-factory airbox, it didn't.  Fit, that is.   We looked at it, and felt a bit stymied - the scoop / intake for the factory airbox just stood too proud for the tank to sit correctly on the frame.  But then I remembered that my mate Pat Sefton, who is here looking after a stable of MV Agustas, and a Gilera, had introduced me to Jason, the chap who'd made all the fibreglass fairings for them.  So I called him, and begged help, and Jason and Pat came down to look, and something amazing happened - we made a new scoop!  When I say we...Simon fabricated a pattern out of cardboard and duct tape, and then Jason sat down and layed up fibreglass on it and turned it into reality.  He took it with him last night, and returned this morning with it finished and painted.  Brilliant.

The other thing we found yesterday was that the modified tank still leaked.  So this morning I was at Phil Wall's first thing, and he re-did the offending weld.  When I got back to the paddock, Alex and Simon had just about finished fitting the new airbox, and we started to fit the tank, only to find that the fixed fuel spigot (from Saturday) now fouled one of the carbs, so we applied a little force to bend it, and then put some fuel in to check that we hadn't damaged it, and...fuel leaked out. But from a different place - one of the original welds.  So, 45 mins before scrutineering was due to start, I was back over to Ramsey to see Phil.  He was a little surprised that his (usually immaculate) welding was giving problems, but eventually sussed that the weld was being contaminated by the brass from the brazing of the original fuel spigot. So he just cut the whole offending bit of metal (about 3" x 2") out of the bottom of the tank and made a new patch and welded it in.  We tested it with some petrol, and it was sound.

I got back to the paddock at about 5:30 pm, and practice was due to start at 6:45.  Alex and Simon quickly fitted the tank, we fired up the bike and checked it, and then they took it up to scrutineering, which it sailed through.  And then it was into a very crowded parc ferme, where it was up on stands with tyre warmers fitted.  And then I had to get my leathers on.  It's quite a pleasing measure of my confidence and familiarity with racing that I was happy enough to do this with just 20 minutes before the practice started.  Because of our late scrutineering, I knew we were at the back of the queue to go out, and there would be plenty of time, and there was.   So once again I found myself ready to ride a racing motorcycle around the Isle of Man TT Course. And the sun was shining.

We set of in pairs for practice, and my starting partner was on a two-stroke which bogged on the line and I never saw him again.  I had said to the guys that I intended to ride the first lap like I was on a road bike, as it was important to get some miles on it.  So I was definitely being steady, and careful too, as my last lap on the TT course, in June 2014, had not ended well.  But despite this, I was catching people.  And then some more people.  Somewhere around the 11th Milestone I remember shouting to myself "This is BRILLIANT".  The bike was going well, and handling really nicely, I was riding well within myself, and I seemed to be going at a decent speed.   And even in the bumpy section between Ginger Hall and Ramsey, the bike behaved itself.  

Unfortunately, as we got to Ramsey, there were a lot of yellow flags, because someone had crashed at School House Corner.  The rider was being tended to in the road, so it had obviously only just happened.  And then the race was red-flagged, meaning we all had to stop.  There were 20 or so of us gathered in Parliament Square, and we had to wait for a good 30 minutes - our session was over, which was a real shame for me, but the chap who'd crashed had had a much worse day.  Eventually we all went back over the mountain following a travelling marshall, which was at an OK pace, but nowhere near race (or practice) speed.  

Still, I got to chat to Bruce Anstey, and get a good look at his YZR500:

Bruce Anstey's YZR500

I got back to the awning, and told the guys that the bike was brilliant, and we put it to bed and sat down to eat chili.  Really, the bike just couldn't have been better for its first outing.  Tonight, I'm in a very good mood.

Putting the ZXR to bed

Classic TT - arrival and set up

August 23rd, 2015

I'm writing this after what should have been the first night of practice for the Classic TT / Manx Grand Prix.    But no-one practiced last night, of which more later.

Racing on the TT Mountain Circuit requires a lot of preparation and planning, which doesn't make for a very interesting blog.  So I'll summarise by saying:

  • My good mates Keith and Rebecca and Andy bagged a great pitch for us in the paddock and put my awning up, which was already on the Island.
  • Alex and Simon and I arrived on the Island on the Friday, got Alex's amazing Kubla Khan style tent up, and our camping kit sorted 
  • While I signed on (requiring licences, inspection of leathers, boots, helmet, gloves, attending two briefings ,etc), they collected the bike from Slick Bass.

The bike had lived on the Island since the last Jurby race meeting, initially with master fabricator Phil Wall to modify the petrol tank (to remove the hoover air pipes) and to make a new radiator.  But the radiator core he spec'd and ordered was late arriving, so he modified one of my stock rads so that the intake for the ex-factory race-kit airbox that I had been lent (from sidecar ace Dave Molyneaux!) would fit.  This was done, and the bike then went to Slick Bass for a dyno run to check fuelling and set up.   The day before our departure I had a call from Slick saying the bike was running much too rich, was down on power, and re-jetting the carbs hadn't fixed it.  He thought maybe the ignition needed to be adjusted, which required a laptop and software and interface cable for the Ignitech programmable ignition, which he didn't have, and I did.  So we needed to get to his workshop on Saturday morning to do this, and as I had to sign-on etc, Simon and Alex went with the van. 

And they sorted the problem!  A broad change to the ignition curve, and a tweak to the airbox got the bike making a reliable 127bhp, with a fat mid-range and correct fuelling.  Happy Days!

So the boys brought the bike back to the awning, and we set-to putting all the bodywork on, to get ready for scrutineering and then practice, while rain beat down on the roof of the awning.  Then an announcement came over the paddock tannoy that the weather was too bad, and the forecast was worse, and there would be no practice that evening.  Which was disappointing, but meant the pressure was off.  So we finished a few jobs and then went to the pub - it would probably be our last chance for a night out for a week.  Next practice session is Monday evening.