Saturday, 2nd May
For various reasons that are far too tedious and complex to go into here, we decided not to camp over at Snett the night before the race. Instead, it was decided to drive up on the Saturday morning, which meant that we were up at 4am and on the road by 4:45. It was hard to tell if it was to be a wet day, as it’s still dark at that time. We arrived at Snett at 7am, and it was windy, grey, overcast and generally miserable. Compared to the rigours of Pembrey, scrutineering was an absolute joy. Luckily Snett is as flat as a slow hedgehog, so I didn’t do my normal trick of parking at the top/bottom of a large hill to make scrutineering that little bit more enjoyable. Whilst in the queue I bumped into Chaz Entwhistle, who was having more mechanical problems. His coil had given up the ghost during yesterdays practise, and he was on the lookout for any spares. Luckily I had my spares bike on me, so a deft bit of spannering on the part of his mechanic, Nev, and he was ready to rock & roll.
Practise – I really didn’t know what to expect of Snett, but the track appeared easy to learn the basics of, but there are lots of subtleties of line that were making progress tricky. After a few laps it went like this: Past start line flat in top. Down one for Riches, and make a very late apex on the second part of the kerb. Hold 5th into Sear. Down two, and throw it in hard. The track was ridiculously grippy here. Drift out on the exit to Sear, and concentrate on getting a good drive down the Revett straight. 4th, 5th, 6th, tuck everything in, and just hold on… At the 150yd point sit up, down two, and hard left into the first part of the esses. Haul the bike over to the right for the second part of the esses, and down two more gears. Clip the apex tightly, and get on the power as soon and as hard as possible into the bomb hole. 4th through here, and up one into Corams. Hold 5th, and try and hold the inside kerb to avoid the bumps. Down into 2nd for the ridiculously contrived chicane at Russels, then drive out as hard as possible onto the start-finish straight. This is made somewhat more challenging by the fact that the left side of the rear tyre was stone cold at this point. I was having particular problems getting a good line through Riches, and would lose yards on everyone around me on the way through here. I made a mental note to try and find a good braking marker. After the practise I went to find Rog to see how things were, and found him disconsolately nursing a broken wrist, courtesy of a practise faux pas. Get well soon.
1st race – On the third row of the grid for this one, with the faster SS400 machines behind us. I was pondering on the logic of this decision when the lights went green, and all hell broke loose. Riches is reknowned as one of the most hectic first corners in racing. Put a grid of 19 nutters aboard identical (near as makes no difference) TZR250s in front of 25 SS400 machines of varying pace and you have a recipe for an entertaining first corner. Somehow, and I really haven’t a clue how, I made it round. OK, so I was in about 33rd place, but at least I was still in the running. I set about chasing people. Found David, and passed him into the left hander of the esses. Chaz was next, as he was baulked by a slower SS400 into Russels and I barged my way through. Dived under Simon on the way into Corams one lap, then got Nick on the way out. I thought everyone else must have been well ahead of me, and was therefore very pleased to discover that I’d come sixth. Back in the paddock I discovered a very disconsolate David staring balefully at a seized motor. Snetterton had claimed it’s first victim… Fastest lap – 1:28.99
2nd race – On row seven this time, which is a far more sensible place to put the TZRs. I scooted off the line pretty sharp, got past a few, and settled into a nice rhythym. The wind down the back straight was now getting pretty gusty, and was coming in from the side. It was physically impossible to hold the logical line into the esses, as I was getting forced about three feet off line by the gusts. Corams was also getting a bit interesting – The wind was blowing in hard from the right on the exit to the corner, trying to force the bike to the left. This wouldn’t have been so bad, but on a fast lap of Snett you use all the track here, and on a couple of occasions I came close to running onto the grass. I thought I had everything under control, when Chaz tried to go round the outside of me at Corams. Predictably he had no joy as we both ran out of track on the exit, and I shut the door firmly into Russels. However, next up was Riches, and I was expecting to see him again. Consequently, when no attacking move came I was a little surprised. I didn’t want to lose any time by looking behind, so I rode my nuts off for the last couple of laps in a bid to see him off. Once I’d crossed the line I looked over my shoulder expecting to see Chaz, but instead was greeted by Nick. Eh? We got back to the paddock, and noticed Chaz staring at another seized motor. It turned out he got into my slipstream coming out of Russels, and had got a good slingshot into Riches, when he seized. His options were to go straight on and take both of us out, or brake and head left off the track straight into the kitty litter. Thankfully he chose the latter option. Nick, on the other hand, had a grandstand view of all this and was so spurred on he started taking a second a lap out of me, until at the line he was under half a second behind. Another lap and he would have passed me. Final result was a fifth. However, all that was about to change… Paul Masters, who had finished ahead of me in both races so far had been disqualified from the results for using an illegal bike (basically it was an FIII TZR). This moved me up to fifth and fourth so far. Fastest lap – 1:29.something
3rd race – Got a far better start this time, and tucked in behind Phil. Encouragingly I was able to stay with his pace, but couldn’t get close enough to try and pass. Eventually we came up to a couple of backmarkers at Sear, and I thought I might be able to use them to squeeze past Phil. No chance. Phil closed the door on me, and I was left hurtling towards Sear on completely the wrong line with the back wheel in the air and the front locked up. Somehow I made it through, but because of my mistake going in I lost all drive out of Sear and watched Phil pull out 50 yds. Damn. However, all was not lost. We then came up against Ian Porter on his ZXR400. Again I thought it might give me a chance to close up, but again it all came to nothing. I could pass him braking into Russels, but each time he would blast past me on the start/finish straight. I finished fifth again. Best lap – 1:27.something
All in all it’s been a very encouraging day. Fifth and a fourth are good points for the championship, and should see me move up a few places. These points may just squeeze me ahead of David into fifth place, behind Darren, Phil, Rik and Simon. We’ll see.
Cost so far:
Ferry to Croix: £65
Practise at Croix: £30
Thursday, 7th May
Started getting things together for next weekends frolics at Lydden. Seems a bit strange going straight there from Snett, as you could hardly get two more dissimilar tracks. Consequently, there is a fair bit to do with the setup of the bike – Obviously the gearing needs to come down a lot. I’ll also drop the front preload and raise the rear slightly to help get the bike to turn in faster.
Saturday, 9th May
Finished getting things together for the coming meeting at Lydden. I need a new pair of spark plugs, but I’ll pick those up at the circuit when I get there. Changed to Castrol A747 oil this time out, we’ll have to see how things go. Also took the opportunity to have a quick look at the pistons, and they look as good now as the day they were put in. This is quite pleasing, as I was expecting some damage after Snettertons flat out straight. Tried raising the rear preload to give me a bit more ground clearance, but my preload spanner is a heap of crap and all I ended up adjusting was my knuckles. Another item to go on the shopping list, along with a set of lockwire pliers and a new chain. I need to find a large pit of money.
Cost so far:
Friday, 15th May
Drove to Lydden ready for the weekends fun. Unfortunately I hit the M25 at about 5pm, and got stuck in a 30 mile tailback. So, the 100 mile drive took a frustrating 4 hours. Still, at least it wasn’t raining. Got to Lydden, got the tent up, and sat around chatting to Mark over a beer or two. Neither of us were confident about the weekends racing. In his case, he had good reason after his 4th gear made a break for freedom last time out. In my case I wasn’t 100% sure. Looking back, I think I was just more nervous than I had been for my previous few races. I was on a high after my results at Snett and Pembrey, but Lydden is really a specialists track, and I had precious little knowledge of it.
Saturday, 16th May
Woke early, and went and sat outside the tent. A layer of mist covered the circuit and lower half of the paddock, and the sun was just beginning to break through. The stillness and tranquility of the scene were quite breathtaking, and I felt a slight pang of guilt that in a couple of hours time I’d be firing up a dubiously silenced and environmentally disastrous tuned two-stroke engine. Scrutineering was a breeze, but again I’d parked at the top of the hill, so the push up the hill was a good test of fitness.
Practise – I managed to get out for first practise in an effort to get as much track time as possible to try and learn which way the track went. However, after three laps the chequered flag came out, and that was that. I went back to try and get a few more laps, but got stuck at the back of a bloody long queue of everyone else who was as upset as me at only getting the bare minimum of practise laps. I did get out again for another few laps, but didn’t get enough time to really learn anything of substance. Once practise was over I put a new set of plugs and plug caps in, as the old ones were getting a bit past it.
1st race – Off the third row of the grid, and got a reasonable start. However, my lack of circuit knowledge was painfully obvious as the world and his dog passed me at both Paddock and the Elbow. After 4 laps I attempted a pass at entirely the wrong place going into the elbow, and ended up on my head in the gravel. Ooops. Once the dust had settled I sat up and tried to regain my bearings, only to discover that half the gravel trap was now inside my helmet, and I couldn’t see a thing. Opening the visor cured that particular problem, and I ran for cover behind the tyre wall just in case anyone else decided to join the party. Luckily, my gross ineptitude hadn’t taken anyone else out, so I helped the marshal prop the bike up on the tyres, and sat down to assess the damage. The bike looked fine from what I could see. My lid looked OK save a few scratches. What did worry me was a dull ache from my left shoulder. My leathers were brilliant. Not a mark on them, and it looked like the armour in the shoulder had saved me from anything more serious than a bit of bruising. I watched the rest of the race from the tyre wall (possibly the best place to watch from on the entire circuit), and rode the bike back to the paddock when it was all over. The only damage was a snapped fairing lug, which wasn’t a problem.
2nd race – Obviously, I was more than a little nervous about this, and my front row grid position didn’t help matters. I briefly considered swapping with someone else, but realised that this would be entirely the wrong thing to do. The best way to confront this particular demon was to get as good a start as possible, and have a good race. The first part of the plan went as well as can be expected, and I held fourth place for the first half of the lap. However, half the field dived up the inside of me as I screwed up the braking for the Elbow again. This was starting to piss me off just a little, and I finished the race in 6th in class, 3 seconds a lap off the pace.
3rd race – Off the seventh row of the grid for this one, and again, spent the entire race trying to fend off people at the Elbow. Finished 7th in class this time, but with worse lap times than before. This race was really a bit of a disappointment.In the evening I took some time to walk the circuit with Phil and Mark, both of whom had infinitely more knowledge of the track than me. Things I hadn’t noticed in the heat of competition were now painfully obvious – Like the severity of the incline at Chessons. I’d been backing off there in the race, but now it was clear that I should have been on the throttle and driving through.
Cost so far:
Plugs & caps: £21
Sunday, 17th May
Late start today, so I spent the morning reparing yesterdays damage and double checking that nothing else was about to cause a problem. The damage to the body work was fixed with the aid of the fabulous three-bond plastic repair kit. Nothing else appeared to be bent, cracked, mangled or otherwise a problem.
Practise – Armed with the knowledge gleaned from yesterdays walkabout, I scooted round in practise and immediately felt more comfortable than yesterday. I still couldn’t get a good braking point for the elbow, but now I knew why – I’d cooked my brake pads at Snett last time out. I made a mental note to get a new set in there before the 1st race. It’s amazing how a little bit of track knowledge made this blatently obvious. Yesterday I’d been crap on the brakes there all day, and thought it was my fault. Now I knew the track that little bit better I could tell that my bike just wasn’t responding the way I was expecting it to. Once practise was over I blagged a set of old pads from Phil and spent 10 mins riding up and down the paddock trying to get them bedded in to my disks before the race.
1st race – Off the third row of the grid, with Phil on my right, and Nick on his right. The lights went green, and we all shot off the line together. Nick drifted left to get a better line into Chessons, and Phil, anxious not to get boxed in, followed suit. I had nowhere to go, and had to back off to avoid being dumped on the grass. I didn’t mind doing this, as I’d only have held Phil up if I’d got aggressive and barged him out of the way. First time into the elbow, and it was the first time I hadn’t been passed there all weekend. This made me immensely happy. Again I finished 6th in class, but this time I was running 50.32 second laps. Yesterday I was running high 51s/low 52s. However, knocking 1.5 seconds off my lap times brought other problems to light. I was sliding around quite badly at the hairpin, and running out of ground clearance at Chessons. Both of these were cured easily – The sliding was because my rear tyre was running 33psi, and the ground clearance was because I wasn’t hanging off enough. The new brake pads (Ferodo CP901s) were so good I immediately brought a new set from Phil for next time out at Oulton.
2nd race – Front row of the grid, and this time I was determined to make use of it. Phil was on my left, and Darren on my right. I had my best start all weekend, and went into Chessons right on Darrens back wheel, with Phil behind.There was no way I could hope to stay with Darren (he was running 47s laps), but following him for the first lap taught me volumes. Phil and Nick both got past me before the race was red flagged, and I finished in 4th in class. Best lap this time was a 50.10.
3rd race – Seventh row of the grid this time, and I was earnestly looking forward to this one. All weekend we’d been racing with the singles and twins, and the twins presented a real problem. They’d blast away on the straights, but hold us up on the corners. This time though I was feeling a little more confident and spent the entire race outbraking them into the hairpin or riding around the outside of them at Chessons. I’d gone past a few when I got behind a single, who proved much more troublesome to pass. I spent a couple of laps showing him my wheel in an attempt to spook him into a mistake, but it was not to be. We went over the line for the last lap with me right behind. I followed round Chessons, and took a wide line into the elbow in order to get a good drive up the hill into the hairpin with a view to outbraking him. We travelled up to the hairpin side by side, but he had the inside line. As he drifted out on the exit I held a tighter line, and jumped on the power to get the inside line into paddock. Shit! A marshal was standing in the middle of the track with a red flag. I have no idea how I missed him, but it was damned close. There had been no yellow flags going into the hairpin, something I found a little worrying. Anyway, I’d fought my way through to 6th from the seventh row of the grid, which I was happy with. Again I ran a 50.10 second lap.
I’ve learned volumes this weekend. I’ve learned how important track knowledge is. I’ve learned how much it hurts when you crash (I spent all day Sunday on painkillers to get me out there). And, to cap an ultimately successful weekend, I got my 10th signature so I can now race without a novice jacket. I’ve lost ground in the championship, and have probably dropped to sixth place now, with Simon extending his lead over me. There’s a long way to go yet though, with no more rounds at Lydden.
Cost so far:
Brake pads: £12 from Phil, and the best £12 I’ve spent all year.
Tuesday, 19th May
Sent off my license and signature cards to the ACU for upgrading to full clubman status. All I’ve got to do now is finish in the top 50% of class in at least one race in ten meetings at four circuits and I can upgrade to a national license. So far this year my results at Pembrey, Snett and Lydden would have got me the required signature, so I’m heading in the right direction.
Wednesday, 20th May
Decided to try and get an afternoons practise in at Oulton next Friday. There are loads of reasons for this, not least of which is that I don’t want to end up in the gravel again. Also, Oulton is a very long and complex track, and racing there with absolutely no track knowledge is a distinct disadvantage. I’d like to try and claw back some of the points I’ve lost to Nick & Simon if I can.
Cost so far:
Oulton practise: £45
Friday, 22nd May
Miraculously, my new license has turned up already. Sadly I don’t have any photos of me since I had all my hair lopped off, so I have to stick an old one on there. Don’t suppose anyone will notice anyway.
Saturday, 23rd May
Finished preparing the bike for this weekends fun & games at Oulton. There was a fair bit of work to do this time, including changing the gearing, dropping the front pre-load (again – I still haven’t got it quite right), a new set of brake pads, and patching up the seat unit after last time out. I also checked the pistons, rings, wheel bearings, swinging arm bearings, oil water, plugs and finally got around to lockwiring the front brake caliper. The plugs looked a whole lot cleaner since my change to Castrol 747, so that’s a good thing. I was initially worried about the pistons, but a fruitful 10 minutes spent with the pipes off and a torched stuffed up the exhaust ports revealed no discernible wear to either the pistons or rings. I’ll have them out after the next round at Snett anyway (which reminds me, I have to order another set).
Cost so far:
Thursday, 28th May
I thought I’d get ahead of the game by driving up to Oulton today, leaving me refreshed and ready to go for tomorrows practise. However, I hadn’t counted on the total incompetence of the Oulton Park security. I suppose I should have expected it really, after all, it is a BHL circuit. Anyway, I got the trailer loaded up, and hit the road at about 5pm. The drive to the circuit was for the most part, long and tedious. Half way up the M40 one of my trailer tyres blew out, which provided an entertaining few seconds as we snaked up the road trying desperately to get into the hardshoulder. I was initially slightly worried by this, as the jack was at the bottom of my boot, and of course, that was loaded up with all my racing paraphernalia. However, my paddock stand was perfectly suited to the job in hand, so I changed the wheel and carried on. Several boring hours passed on the M6, and I eventually arrived at Oulton to be greeted by Martin and Gail (demon 125 riders) with a cheery “They’ve locked us out”. Yup, Oulton security had decided to go home at 6pm, oblivious to the fact that about 100 assorted vans and trailers were due to turn up at the circuit that evening. Worse still, they had managed to lock some builders in, and they couldn’t get their van out to go home for the evening. A plan was hatched – There was bugger all we could do, so we may as well get the kettle on. (Thanks Gail). About 5 minutes into the first cup of tea, and Daz Mowat appeared from behind the gate. He, Nick Wiles and Mark Jay had got in before security had locked the gates, got set up, and then security had tried to boot them out for the night. Unsurprisingly, Daz told them to piss off. By about midnight there was a hell of a queue of very annoyed people, when miraculously the gates opened. I wasn’t about to argue the finer points of how they opened, so I drove into the circuit, got my tent up, and got my head down. It had been a long day.
Friday, 29th May
Up with the lark, and seeing as the weather was so good I decided to upgrade my half days practise to a full day. It was worth it. Oulton is a very long, complex track, and I could spend a whole year racing there and still not know all it’s intricacies. My first few laps were probably amongst the slowest ever seen at Oulton, but eventually a pattern emerged. Flat in top over the start line. About half way between the start line and the end of the pit wall knock it down two, and start to peel in for the fast right of Old Hall. This was made a bit trickier by some repair patching on the left of the circuit, but it didn’t seem to affect grip too much. Apex Old Hall by the double drain cover, but be careful not to clout the kerb with a knee – It bloody hurt when I did, and I only made that particular mistake twice. From Old Hall accelerate hard, and up one into the fast right kink of Dentons. Try not to run out too wide on the exit, as the fast downhill lefthander of Cascades was by now approaching bloody quickly. This long lefthander really tested the front tyre to the limit, as a few people were to be painfully reminded over the weekend. Tuck everything in, and flat out along the straight. Down to fifth for the incredibly quick left at Island. I never got this right all weekend, as I simply didn’t have the bottle to go on there as fast as is possible. As soon as the bike is upright, brake very hard, and down two for the immensely satisfying Shell Oils hairpin. This must be banked at an angle approaching 30 degrees, and consequently corner speeds are very high. Look for the exit, and nail it. The camber drifts away on the way out, leading to a few moments when the rear let go, but it was never dangerous, just a little bit exciting. Up two, through the little right kink, and hurtle into Foulstons chicane frantically braking and going back to third. More than once I went into here with my back wheel in the air. Left, right, left, and begin the flat out drag up the hill, down the hill, and into the terrifying Knickerbrook. Few corners have scared me as much as this one – Very fast, totally blind, and off camber. Once this had been negotiated, up the steep hill into the complex at Druids. Again, totally blind, and a very difficult line to get right. Flat in top through the left, then down one through the double apex right. I was getting seriously out of shape through here as the bike went light over the brow, and then hit the bumps. I didn’t think much of this at the time until Roger pointed out to me later that I was attempting to negotiate the bumps with both wheels in the air. I made up my mind to try and find a better line after this. Into top along the straight, then down three into Lodge. Very late apex, over Deer Leap, and we’re back where we started, 2.77 miles completed. A very long lap indeed. During the day I completed about 60 laps, 160 miles or so. Took the chance to walk the circuit in the evening, which was a very good thing to do, if only to get the exercise.
Saturday, 30th May.
Again, I woke early, and had a leisurely fry-up and a cuppa before scrutineering. Miraculously, for such a hilly circuit, the paddock is almost totally flat. This meant I was spared the normal push up/down the hill in order to get scrooted.
Practise – My first time without an orange jacket! Not that it made an ounce of difference, but it did feel nice. It was painfully obvious who hadn’t practised the day before – I was passing all sorts in practise that I really had no right to. A couple of open class 250s, several 125s, and numerous SS400 machines. Of course, this was only practise, and there are no prizes, but it did show me the value of getting to know a circuit, particularly one this complex.
1st race – Off the 4th row of the grid, with the powerbikes behind (including one nutter on an R1 who I’d watched aviating the front wheel at every opportunity during practise. The bike was a missile, and the rider was f. quick to boot). Consequently, the first corner was rather hectic, and I got badly shut out by someone on a single who thought the best way to approach a fast corner was in second gear. Still, I saw him off into Cascades, and set about chasing people. I’m not really sure who I passed and didn’t, but by the end of the first lap I was on the tail of Simon Tomlinson, who was on the tail of Nick. The remaining 4 laps were the best I’ve ever had. We were scrapping all the way round, swapping positions, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Eventually I found myself at the front on the last lap, and was determined to hold on. Simon, however, had other ideas… He comprehensively outbraked me into Lodge, and I had no choice but to follow him. However, his late braking had compromised his line, and I get a better drive out. We both flew over Deer Leap, and towards the line. I got him by a wheels length, with Nick less than a bike length behind. Finished 4th, behind Rik, Darren and Phil, who had cleared off. (Rik finished 50s in front of me, which I still find amazing over a 5 lap race). My race time was 10:39.6, but I didn’t get a lap time.
2nd race – Off row 8 this time. Well, I should have been. I queued up on what I thought was row 8, only to watch everyone else queue up in front of me. Bugger. For some reason I couldn’t get my head into this race, and ended up fifth, behind Phil, Darren, Simon and Scott. My overall race time was faster (10:37.3) but I didn’t feel happy with the way I rode. In the previous race I’d had the better of Simon, but this time around couldn’t even see him at the end. Scott held me off at the line, after passing me at Island on the penultimate lap. I couldn’t argue with that, so fifth it was, with Simon extending his championship lead over me. Sadly Nick had lost the front end at Cascades, robbing him of a potential third place. He was undamaged though, as was the bike.
3rd race – This time round I got the better of Scott. Away from the start I’d noticed Phil getting punted off the track at Old Hall, so I just got my head down and went for it to see where I’d end up. I was following Scott into Old Hall, when Phil passed the both of us on the inside. It was all the excuse I needed, as I followed him through to take the place from Scott. This time I was determined to hold it, and I rode my spuds off to keep things the way they were. Phil cleared off, despite my best efforts to stay with him. Next lap around, and Nick rode around the outside of me at the hairpin like I was going backwards. We flew into Foulstons, whereupon he capitalised on the opportunity by outbraking himself and letting me back through. I held off Scott this time round, to take a third. Sadly Nick DNF’d again, this time with a mechanical failure. Simon also DNF’d when his motor nipped up on the straight. Race time was 10:36.7.
Overall I’m happy. I’ve learned loads about the track, and my bike. (I was being completely outgunned down the straights by Scott, so maybe the motor is getting a little doggo). I got my first signature towards my national license, and I got a trophy. I’ve also made up points on both Simon and Nick in the championship. Going into this round I had been in sixth, ten points behind Nick and twelve behind Simon. I’m now equal fifth with Rik, six points behind Simon and six ahead of Nick. Scott is getting faster and faster, and is starting to pick up points with alarming regularity now, which can only be good for competition.
Cost so far: