Great day and result at Pre-TT Classic

May 31st, 2016

What a briliant race weekend!

After qualifying on Saturday afternoon, we had a full day off before racing on Sunday. But we weren't to be bored - my great friend Andy Cowie had comprehensively blown up his GPZ600, so we had an engine swap to do. Alex set to, pulling it apart while I got supplies for breakfast and created tea and bacon sarnies. By the time Andy made it down to our awning from the other end of the Island, the trashed engine was out, revealing the full horror of its failure with the conrod poking out the front of the cases:

Say hello to Mr Conrod

We'd aleady swapped ancillaries (water pump, starter, etc), and then Andy and Alex put the replacement engine back in, while I sat down and wrote the previous blog article to this one.

By late lunchtime the 600 was finished and fired up. I'd attended to a couple of tiny matters on my ZXR750 - the back brake had been marginal in scrutineering the previous day (the only time it gets used) so I bled it and improved it. And the gearchange was a little low, so I adjusted it up a few millimetres. And then Andy took us out for a fine lunch to say thanks.

Race day dawned warm and sunny, as had every other day since we'd arrived. Andy's blow up had meant he hadn't qualified for his main class, and was therefore in the support race, for all the bikes in all the classes who hadn't qualified for whatever reason - a real wacky races event. This was the first race of the day, so the bike was through scrutineering by 9am, ready for a 9:30 start. Andy got a good start, into 4th place behind three 750s, and that was where he stayed - first F2 class bike home, which was a decent result rescued from a troublesome weekend for him.

Our race was almost the last of the day - the Senior Classic Superbike race was due to go just before 3pm, so we had a lot of waiting to do. But there's a lot worse places to wait than in a race paddock bathed in sunshine, and we watched a few of the other races during the day while the clock ticked down. Alex and Andy took the ZXR through scrutineering early at 1:30pm, and then it sat on stands with tyres warming for an hour, while I alternated between drinking water to stay hydrated in the sun, and visiting the portaloos to expel the excess fluid.

Eventually it was time to go to the grid. While the program actually had 28 entries, a lot of people obviously hadn't sourced or sorted their bikes, because only 14 of us qualified, and I was in 11th, alongside Manx friend Mark Bamford in 10th. I'd made a best lap of 2:51 in practice, and Mark had been 2 seconds faster, so he was my first target. And I was confident that I had some more speed to find. The guys on the front row were professional road racers - Ivan Lintin, Paul Coward, Steve Mercer - and they were on top level bikes (all ZXRs) from Mistral Racing and Bennetts, so I wasn't going to see which way they went. But my mental attitude to racing is all about enjoying the riding nowadays, and I just wanted to bring the bike home, have fun, and see where I finished.

We did the warm up lap and formed up on the grid. The lights changed, and I got my usual excellent start, and made at least a few places into the first corner - Ballakeigin. Then we all streamed away towards Iron Gates, and I settled into the race. There was a big GSX-R 1100 in front of me, and I wondered if I might catch him. But while I could keep him in sight, I didnt seem to be able to make any ground. But then around lap 3 a GSX-R 750 tucked inside me braking for Cross Fourways, so I had other things to think about. I didn't know until after the race, but this was Jack Hunter, a young and talented manx racer, and also a really nice chap. I followed Jack through Church Bends, and it was immediately obvious in the run down to Great Meadow that I had a lot more power and acceleration than Jack - I just rode past him on the straight. I always feel a little sheepish doing this, so raised my left hand in acknowledgment as I came alongside. Jack wasn't bothered by my apology, and neatly outbraked me into Castletown Corner , so I just rode past him again down the start/finish straight. And so a pattern developed - I'd stay in front from the Start to Cross Fourways, Jack would outbrake me there, I'd pass again before Stadium, and Jack would get past again there or at Castletown Corner. I was confident I could lead over the line, but I realised that Jack was much faster than me through my worst section, the sinuous run from Ballabeg to Cross Fourways. So after a couple of laps of back and forth, I waved Jack through at Ballabeg, and followed him to see what I could learn. And I learned a few things! So the next lap, having easily passed again on the straight, I led this section...but Jack still outbraked me at the end of it. Still, the laps were ticking down now, and I expected to see the last lap flag soon. As is often the case, it took a couple more laps than I expected to come out - this was an 8 lap race, which meant 34 racing miles, and I never manage to count down the laps when I'm racing. But eventually the last lap flag did come out, and around the same time Jack stopped troubling me on the brakes - I guessed he might have given up the unequal battle against my ZXR's superior horsepower, but it turned out his bike had been going off song, and he pulled in rather than risk blowing it up.

I rode the last lap unaware that Jack was gone, and was pleased not to have to fight him off on the run to the line. Passing the chequered flag with the usual sense of relief, I still didn't know my finishing position. I knew I'd made a few places at the start, and had passed second row qualifier Tim Poole when he'd pulled out with machine problems. And I'd seen smoke from another blow up down the start straight too (this turned out to be Ivan Lintin), so I guessed I was probably somewhere between 6th and 8th, and so it was - I'd finished 7th. Which doesn't sound that great, from a grid of 14, but I am extremely pleased with this result, at a pretty high level race meeting. And it definitely laid to rest the disappointment from this event in 2015. And it also meant prize money - 7th place would net me £90! That's easily the most money I've ever won racing motorcycles, beating my previous record of £50 at Jurby South ten or more years ago.

I rode back to the paddock and stopped outside our awning feeling fantastic...and very hot - it was a scorching day! Alex and Andy put the bike on its stands, I pulled my leathers off and we cracked open a few beers between us.

Beer after 2016 Pre-TT Classic Race

Pre-TT Classic - qualifying done

May 29th, 2016

In marked contrast to last year, the bike has run pretty damn well through practice at the Pre-TT Classic this year.

The first practice session was on Friday evening.  Roads closed about 6pm, and my class was scheduled to go out at around 7:30.  In fact, the Southern 100 runs with such military precision that I think out practice time was actually scheduled for 7:33pm. And so it went, too.  The weather was fantastic all day, and I'd even been wearing shorts before I put my leathers on - not typically Manx at all!  We were soon through scrutineering and the bike waited in the unique grassy holding area, with its tyre warmers on, ready for action.

Soon enough we filtered out to the collecting area, then went away on pairs onto the road.  The bike accelerated cleanly as it always does, and soon I was heading out of Ballakeigen corner and tucked in for the fast run to Iron Gates.  The Billown Circuit is 4.35 miles long, and is basically square shaped.  Three sides of the square are fairly easy to learn, but the fourth side, from Ballabeg to Cross Fourways, is fast and sinuous and tricky.  And I last rode here in 2012, so I really needed to re-learn it from scratch.  Still, "steady away", as old road-racers say, and the bike felt good as I started my first flying lap.  So good that I missed my braking point for Ballakeigin this time round, and nearly did a 3 point turn to get round - I lost a few seconds here.   And then I had a flying lap under my belt, which was already one more than last year.  But on the next lap red flags were out, and we all stopped.  And then that was the end of our session.    But by now I had a re-occurence of the issue we'd had at Oliver's Mount six weeks ago - once the brake disks got hot, they started to run the calipers and bind.  So we had work to do the next day.

Saturday dawned bright, but not as warm, but we were soon up and working on the bike.  We swapped the disks for the ones that had worked at Scarborough, and then <small voice> took the bike somewhere quiet to give it a quick test <cough>.  And then we set to working on my good friend Andy Cowie's new (to him) GPZ600-based F2 bike, which had been overheating the previous evening.  The problem was soon traced to damage in the water pump, which we swapped for a spare one he had, and we were all ready to go.

Practice on Saturday is in the afternoon, and we were off at 2:30pm.  The sun was out, the temperature had risen, and it wsa perfect conditions.  I was out early in the group, so a few faster guys came past me, but the bike was feeling great, the brakes were fine, and I was re-learning the circuit slowly but surely.  After 5 laps we were flagged in, and I was comfortably qualified.

I don't currently know my grid position for Monday's race, as the classes I practiced with are not the same as I'll race with.  I might even be in the top ten!  But I'm not too bothered about that - I'm here to a) have fun and b) get the last finish I need for my TT mountain licence.

Race day is tomorrow, Monday 30th May.  Update to follow sometime after that...


Pre-TT Classic - Prologue

May 26th, 2016

Last year's Pre-TT Classic was to be the first proper outing of my newly built classic ZXR750, and it was a disaster - I didn't complete a lap of practice, and didn't get to race. The full horror is described here.

But now the bike has a couple of decent meetings under it's belt. It ran very well at the Classsic TT last year, right up to the point when the chain broke. And it was also good at this year's Spring Cup at Oliver's Mount. Nothing is ever guaranteed in classic racing, but I'm hoping that any teething problems are now in the past.

Since Oliver's Mount I've improved a couple of things. The issues we had with the alignment of the brake calipers has been addressed by asking my good friend Nigel Eaton to machine up some spacers which fit in the forks, and do two things: they sleeve the bolt size down to 8mm, so I can use regular M8 bolts instead of the specially machined ones with an M8 thread and 10mm shoulder; and they space out the calipers so that they are correctly centred on the disks.

I've also fitted the freshly fabricated radiator, lovingly crafted by Phil Wall of Boal Engineering on the Isle of Man. It is a work of art. It was <cough> quite expensive, but quality always is, and the radiator I was using before was about the mankiest and nastiest thing left on the bike.

So the bike is ready, and today I loaded up the van with everything you need to go and race a motorcycle in another country. As well as the bike itself, and stands and spare wheels, there's all the tools, awning, workbenches, tyre warmers, compressor, spares...and leathers, boots, helmet...not to mention camping kit to live in a paddock for 4 days. It's fair to say the van was full. And that was before I got to Alex's place, and we loaded his kit in too.

Tonight we'll arrive in the paddock after dark, and just put our tents up to sleep. And then in the morning we'll set up the awning and our workspace for the weekend. And do all the race meeting business of signing on, getting riding gear and bike checked, changing tyres and all the other stuff. Roads close about 6pm in the evening, and practice will start shortly after - the Southern 100 Club run a very tight ship.

I'm writing this on the ferry, ready to sail to my favourite place on earth, which always puts me in a sunny mood. And the weather is matching it - the forecast is for 18 degrees and sunny - not at all Manx!

Bad day at Oliver's Mount

April 22nd, 2016

Not a bad day for me personally, but just bad karma generally. But first some background.

After the successful debut of my freshly built ZXR750 classic racer in 2015, I looked around for some eligible events in which to run it in 2016. One of these is Oliver's Mount in Scarborough, famously the "only road-race circuit in England", and moreover one that I'd never been to. They had classes for the ZXR and my newly acquired TZ250, so I entered both. Unfortunately, events at Brands Hatch ruled out the TZ. But on a Friday morning I was up and loading the van, heading across country to pick up mechanic Alex, and then heading north to a part of the world I'd never actually been to before.

Things weren't auspicious when we arrived - the paddock was apparently "full". To be fair to the organisers, they do have very limited space, but awnings, vans and motorhomes have got bigger and bigger, and the available space hasn't. We eventually teamed up with a Manx mate (more than a couple of manxies come across for this event) Mark Bamford, who took down his tent (which was a bit rubbish) and then shared my double awning. We got the kit and bike set up, but by this time we had missed evening scruitineering. And we had to camp elsewhere, in the field for 'ordinary spectators' - the ignominy! The weather was rubbish, too - very cold, and wet. There are few activities more depressing than putting a tent up in the rain. After this, Alex and I went for a pint, and then warmed up and dried out in a pizza restaurant.

The forecast for Saturday was equally bad, but the weather was ahead of schedule - the rain had already blown through, and Saturday morning dawned sunny. Still very cold though, and the dampness under the trees on the circuit was going to be slow to dry, if at all. As a newcomer to the circuit, I had an extra practice session, in a group behind an experienced rider (as they do at the TT), and we went out and did three laps before practice properly started. My initial reactions were - it's narrow, but not as narrow as the onboard videos make it seem, there's a lot of elevation changes, and a lot of hairpins. But otherwise all fine, and the bike seemed ok.

We had a first 'untimed' session (which actually was timed) scheduled for around 90 minutes later, but a recurring feature of the weekend was poor time management by the organisers, so by mid-morning the best part of an hour had already been lost. Still, we got out there eventually, and I started to learn the circuit, and even started to enjoy myself (still on dry tyres on a very patchy circuit). And it turned out I was 11th fastest, out of 19, which was pleasing. The gaps tended to be quite big, though -the fast boys are definitely fast here. Still, I was pleased to just be a seond a lap slower than fast manx youngster Jack Hunter, who's been riding at Oliver's Mount for a few years now.

However, we had a little bit of a problem - once warm, the outside edge of the front brake disks was just touching the inside of the brake caliper, making some noise and making the front end judder. About now Simon, our other mechanic, turned up, having ridden his bike all the way from the south-coast - about 5 hours. Such dedication from the people who help me go racing! Anyway, Simon and Alex looked and looked at the issue, and made some changes to try next time out.

Timed practice was more of the same, and I qualified in 13th place. Nothing spectacular, but I really needed a finish (for my TT mountain licence) and it's wise to treat new road circuits with some respect. But the brake issue was still there. Our first race of the weekend was the penultimate one of the day, so we had plenty of time to deal with it. Which, eventually, we did by, er, relieving some material from the brake calipers. The wheel now spun cleanly. The other news was that a rain shower had blown across the circuit during the afternoon, and now the circuit was properly wet, and still very cold, so full wet tyres were the order of the day.

We lined up for the race, which was only 40 minutes or so late, and set off for our warm up lap. Directly ahead of me was Ian Lougher, on a TZ250. Ian Lougher!  He's a TT winner, and properly famous. And he's 3 places ahead of me on the grid. Wow. We reformed for the start, the lights went out, and we were away. TZ is a difficult bike to launch, and I was straight past Ian Lougher, but in the braking area he came back alongside me, and I wisely let him have the line. And then, obviously, I didn't see him again. But things selttled down in the next half lap, and were going well - the bike felt good, the brakes were now sorted, the wets were doing what wets do (ie. defying the laws of physics), and I was even having fun. There was a chap on another ZXR (actually, a ZX7R) who was better than me on the brakes, but much slower through and out of the corner that leads onto the back straight (such that it is - it's not exactly straight) so we were swapping places regularly, and enjoying ourselves. And then a properly old BMW flat twin (in the F2 class) joined in, too! I wasn't having that, and got my head down and managed to stay in front of both of them where it mattered - the chequered flag. Final position was 12th out of 18 starters - I'll take that.

It was now about 6pm, so once I'd calmed down and got changed out of my leathers, it was definitely pub o'clock. Alex and Simon sank a few, while I sipped a half, being a) the nominated driver (a rider does really have to look after his volunteer mechanics) and b) racing the next day. And then we repaired to a curry house. The boys decided to open some wine when we got back to the tent, too.

The next morning dawned grey but dry. And still cold. We eventually made our way to the paddock, just in time for morning warm-up, which I also rode on wets because the track was still soaking wet, and very cold. We then parked the bike and prepared to wait, as the Classic F1 race was the last of the day. The feature race, the "Spring Cup", was due to go off about midday, but was red-flagged after only a lap. The field lined up for a restart and they went off again, and this time half-way round on the first lap there was a huge accident on the back straight. According to one of the riders who spoke to me when he got back to the paddock, ashen-faced, there were "bikes in trees". At least two riders were hurt enough to immediately be taken to hospital, one of them being Manx Grand Winner Billy Redmayne. With both ambulances now away from the circuit, no other racing could take place, so everyone waiited. And waited. At around 4pm, the organisers announced that the meeting was being abandoned. So we all packed up and drove home.

The next day the news came that Billy Redmayne had died in hospital. Those of us who go road racing are all very aware of the ultimate price that can be paid, but it's never anything less thana shock when it happens. And with Billy there is a real sense of potential unfulfilled - he won his Newcomers MGP race and another MGP that week, and everybody was sure he'd go on to be a very competitive TT rider. RIP Billy

Bad start to the 2016 season

March 22nd, 2016

It's been a long winter, and I've not updated my blog for six months or more.  Which I should have done, as I had some big-ish news.  

Over the winter the organisers of the Classic TT announced that they would be introducing a new class for 250 GP bikes - purpose built two stroke racers.  There's a lot of Yamaha TZ250s, Honda NS250s, and a few Aprilias too, out there and looking for somewhere to race. When I heard this news, I thought this would be an ideal second string to my Classic Racing bow, and started looking for a suitable bike.  I eventually found a TZ of the right age (1996), specification (4TW1), provenance (full history) and price (*just* affordable), and collected it last month.  And so I was itching to get out on track, so I entered the opening meeting of the season with NGRRC at Brands Hatch.

And here she is, ready to go:

 TZ250 ready for my first outing

This turned out to be my worst race meeting ever.  Well, not really - I'm not in hospital, after all, so I've definitely had worse.  But as non-crashy meetings go, it was pretty bad.

Having prep'd the TZ last Sunday with a couple of mates who previously owned TZs (thanks NeilR & Sol), I was really looking forward to getting to actually ride it.  The NGRRC meeting wa sa two day event, so I booked for the MSV ACU track day on the Friday. I got up at silly o'clock Friday morning, loaded the van and headed round the M25.  I unloaded the bike and got its warmers on, and signed on etc, and was ready to go out in the 4th session (which was preferable to the first session, as it was so cold and slick that Pat crashed his R6 on the out-lap).

I rolled out, and...there I was, riding my TZ250.  As I'd been re-assured, it's "just a motorbike", and behaved like one.  First session was definitely just about getting some laps under my belt, which I did, and all seemed fine.  Then on the last lap of the session, I missed a gear, or it jumped out.  I didn't think much about it, but the next time I select 3rd, there was a awful noise - a biscuit tin full of nuts and bolts sort of noise. I grabbed another gear, and the noise went away.  And then I was in the pits, and the bike seemed to rev cleanly.  I couldn't believe it was a gearbox issue, so I decided to try again in the next session - but as soon as I selected 3rd the noise was there, so I came straight back in. I ran it on the stand, it was definitely a problem with third gear

I phoned a friend (thanks again to NeilR), and he sent me a video on how to remove the gearbox, which is indeed very easy to get at.  But the sight meeting me sunk my heart - broken gear teeth in the bottom of the casing, and the gears for third (on both shalfts) completely mangled.  And a tooth missing from fifth on the clutch shaft too.



What I should have done at this point is packed up and gone home.

But a chap wandering round the paddock came to chat, called Mike Webster, and he said he had a TZ (a 92 4DP1), and had a spare set of gear shafts, and I could borrow them.  And he lived close, so off he went to get them.   I put my awning up, with a work bench, tools ready and read the section in the manual several times.  Mike came back with the two shafts, and they slotted into the gearbox beautifully.  I bench checked the change mechanism up and down the box, and even got one of the guys from A&R racing to check it with me, and he said it all looked good.  So I slotted the box back in and started to re-assemble everything else.  This was very fiddly, and almost certainly where I made a crucial mistake (ominous music).  I lost a lot of time here, and so didn't make the last practice session of the afternoon.  

Following multiple updates on Facebook, I got a phone call from a mate on the Isle of Man - he put one of his mates on the phone who told me not to forget to clean out the strainer in the oil pump".  Oil pump?  I didn't know there was one!  But the manual did, and the gearbox does indeed have an oil pump.   

So after cold and fitful night's sleep in the roof of mechanic Simon's camper van, we were up at 7:30am and pulled it all apart again.  The pump is inside the gearbox, so it all had to come out.  We got it on the bench, and Simon found and cleaned the filter, while I signed on.   We re-assembled, being as careful and methodical as we could, but under a little time pressure.  But still, I got out for untimed practice, and did 6 laps (on wets, cos it was *very* cold, and slightly damp) and everything "seemed ok".   

Next outing was timed practice, for 15 minutes.  Out I went, circulating ok (tho the rest of the grid seemed *much* faster), and the flag came out, so round we went on the in-lap, and on the Cooper Straight - the rear wheel locked solid.  Pulling the clutch in made no difference - the gearbox was seized. 

I was recovered back,we got it on the bench, pulled it apart, and it was carnage.  The gearbox I'd borrowed was trashed - every gear broken, I think.  Worse, a piece of broken gear had made a hole in the casing.  Tellingly, the oil pump drive was missing teeth too.  I spoke to Graham File, and he is so busy he's not taking on any work until May at the earliest.  He told me to talk to Dennis Trollope, who was in the paddock,  I went to see him and basically begged him to take the engine from me and see what he could do with it.  I think he took pity on me, and agreed.  So Simon and I took the engine out, and carried it over to Dennis with a box of clutch and gearbox bits.  Dennis sucked his teeth a lot, but on seeing the broken oil pump drive, he said this would have been down to mis-assembly - he said 15 years ago, when there was a grid of 30+ TZs, he'd sell at least one of those gears every meeting. 

I don't know what this is going to cost, but it's going to be a lot.  And of course I have to replace all the broken gears on the shafts I borrowed from Mike Webster.  So it looks like my descent into bankruptcy due to TZ ownership has started apace.  It was a bit of a stretch to buy the bike in the first place, and I so didn't need this now. 

Human beings are pattern matching engines, and we want to assume that two gearbox failures are connected. But I don't think they are.  The second one failed because we had it apart to fix it the first time, and Simon and I, who know how to use a set of spanners, were not wise in the details of re-assembly.  And the manual did not cover this potential 'gotcha' at all,  Why the first gearbox failed is a mystery, and we'll probably never know. 

I'm definitely normally a glass-half-full sort of chap, but I did sink into a bit of a deep dark hole over this.  But, writing this a few days later, I've recovered my normal equilibrium.  The one saying that fits everything in this game is "That's racing".  And, as I said up there - at least I'm not in hospital.