mon aéroglisseur est plein des anguilles

Tuesday, 2nd June

Ordered a new set of pistons, rings, gaskets and assorted bits & bobs to replace my current ones after this weekends outing at Snett.
Cost so far:
Pistons, rings, small end bearings, gaskets, clips: £150

Friday, 5th June

Knocked off work early, and drove up to Snett. I was expecting to get stuck in traffic at some point, but miraculously the traditional M25 Friday afternoon chaos failed to materialise. Mind you, I nearly didn’t make it that far – I’d used Faye’s bike to get to work, and had forgotten to tighten the front caliper bolts when I last serviced it. I only noticed when a large clunk from the front end persauded me to stop and check things, whereupon I discovered that one bolt had fallen out completely and the other one was hanging on by a thread. Gulp. I bodged it up with string and sellotape, and continued my journey through rush-hour London without using the front brake. Got to Snett at about 8ish, got the tent up, and walked around the track with Mark.

Saturday, 6th June

Early start today with scrooting due to take place at 7:45. Before scrooting took place I had decided to swap my gear linkage to a lever connected directly to the shaft for more precise shifting. Phil came to the rescue with a spare lever from a VF1000R that fitted perfectly. Scrooting didn’t present any problems, so I signed on, had a quick cuppa and got queued up for 1st practise.

Practise – It was still cold and slightly damp, so I took it easy and concentrated on finding a good line through Riches, which had given me so much trouble last time out. The new gear shift took a bit of getting used to, but it did make changes (especially downchanges) a lot more positive. This is vital at Snett, where the braking and downshifting on the approach to Russels chicane are essential to defending your position. At last it felt like I’d got the front preload about right, as I was comfortable on the bumpy bits through Corams, and didn’t bottom out the forks under the heavy braking at Russels.
1st race – Off the eighth row of the grid for this one. I could barely see the lights, but got a reasonable start and scooted past a few of the slower singles in front before we got to Riches. As is traditional, the first lap melee at Riches was rather busy, but before I knew it, I was up the chuff of my normal sparring partner, Scott Alloway. I forget the finer details of how many times we passed and re-passed each other, but it was a hell of a scrap. Several times we were neck and neck down the straight, with nothing more to come from either bike. It seemed that I had the better braking point and line for the esses, as more often than not I would lead through here. Eventually though, Scott found a gap on the inside of Corams on the last lap, and I had no choice but to give way and let him lead me home. Finished 7th with a fastest lap of 1:28.47
2nd race – 2nd row from the grid this time, with my nemesis Scott to my left from row 1. This time I was determined to get a good start, and managed just that. Flew into Sear for the first time just behind Scott, and noticed that he was heading in entirely the wrong direction, with smoke coming off his tyres. Lord knows how he made it round without skittling anyone else, but it was all the excuse I needed. I dived up the inside on the way out, and drove away up the straight. The rest of the race was pretty uneventful, apart from a major slide at Riches nearly introducing me to the infamous carrot field. Paul Ling got past me on the last lap to relieve me of 6th place, so again I got 7th. However, I’d got down to the 1:27s with a 1:27.84 fastest lap.
3rd race – Again off the 2nd row, and again had Scott to my left on row one. Got a good start, and passed Scott before Riches. Noticed Phil on the grass at Russels on the second lap, and again as he rode round the outside of me at Corams to reclaim his place. I’ve got no idea how he managed this, as I was sliding all over the place just trying to hold my line. Another slide at Riches, and two at Sear convinced me to back off on the last two laps and try and get home in one piece. Finished 6th this time, with a fastest time of 1:27.82. As I crossed the line I looked over my shoulder, and sure enough, there was Scott again. Another lap and he would have got me. Overall it’s been a kind of up and down weekend. It was good to get the points I did, as they should move me up to third in the table. The first race scrap with Scott was the most fun I’ve had in ages, with us waving at each other on the straight on more than one occasion. But, I’m not happy with my loose rear end (!) I hope it’s not the tyre, as I can’t afford a new one. Phil mentioned that the only time he’s had problems with traction was when his shock had lost it’s damping. Luckily I’ve got a spare shock, so I’ll lob it in there and see what gives. Mark also gave me some advice on changing my riding style, so that’s something else to try.

Sunday, 7th June

Spent a fruitful day in the garage fitting new pistons and rings. The old ones were still in perfect condition, which is a good sign. Managed to fit my cylinder head and barrels on backwards when I was rebuilding the motor, which was mildly annoying. Also had the shock out, and sure enough, it was leaking oil. Replaced it with my spare, but to be honest, it doesn’t feel like there’s much damping there either. I’ll just have to ride in France and see what happens.
Cost so far:
Curry in the evening (I couldn’t be bothered to cook after spending six hours in the garage swearing at my own incompetence and my crappy C-spanner, so this is a legitimate racing expense): £35

Tuesday, 9th June

Spent another night in the garage making sure everything is OK for France. Good job I did, as I noticed that one of the exhaust gaskets is on the way out. Also decided that as I’m now half way through the season (16 rounds down, 16 to go) now would be as good a time as any to order a new pair of tyres. Oh Gawd, more expense. I’ll just have to put them on my credit card and hope that the bill will go away at some point in future. Seeing as this is the half way point, I guess now is as good a time as any to take stock of things:
I’ve spent a bit more than I thought I would have done, but that’s purely in race entry (& practise) fees. The bike has (touch wood) been 100% reliable so far this season. Hopefully the new pistons and rings lobbed in there this weekend will enable this record to continue. I’ll try and get a new set of tyres on there before we go to France, and maybe one more set before the end of the season.
I’ve had one DNF, when I landed in the gravel at Lydden. I learned several lessons from this, not least of which is the value of circuit knowledge. Thankfully no serious damage was done to either myself or the bike, so it was a cheap lesson.
I can’t believe that I’m third in the championship. This is purely down to consistency – I’m not regularly finishing in the top three at any races yet, but I am getting points at every round I enter. This time last year I hadn’t even seriously thought about racing. I’m now regularly riding at the same pace as people I couldn’t even stay close to at the end of last season
But, most importantly, I’ve made lots of good friends and had lots of fun along the way. If it wasn’t for this last fact, I would have packed up long ago.

Wednesday, 10th June

Got in touch with Pete Fishwick, another TZR lunatic. Apparently, he’s got a video of my excursion into the gravel at Lydden. I’ll have to get in touch with the video producer (Bob Keen of BKVP sport) to try and get myself a copy.

Thursday, 11th June

Spoke to Steve at Sharples Tyres to try and sort out a new pair of tyres before I get to France. Unfortunately he hasn’t got any in stock right now, so I reckon I’ll have to buy them at the circuit. This is a bit of a bugger, ‘cos Steve does them cheaper.

Sunday, 14th June

Entered for the Cadwell park round, and finished off getting things together for this weekends antics in France.
Cost so far:
Cadwell Park race entry: £115
Bits & bobs: £30
Fuel: £10

Thursday, 18th June

Drive to France. Meet Mark/Phil at services. Camp in evening, beer & food.

Friday, 19th June

Up early, and the stillness and tranquility of the French countryside were quite breathtaking. I sat around for an hour or so waiting for the rest of the world to wake up before taking my rear wheel to Alan Russell Race Services for a new rear tyre. Under normal circumstances I’d get my tyres from the helpful Sharples Tyres, but this time round they didn’t have any in stock. Not to worry though. I sat around in the heat in the morning watching the practising. Loz Hopper on his ’97 RS250 looked unstoppable. Every now and then someone does something so astounding that it’s nearly incomprehensible. This was one of those cases, as he took nearly a second and a half off the lap record. Lunchtime came, and I fired up my bike to get it warmed up for the afternoons practise session. It sounded like a bag of spanners, with a pronounced knocking noise between 3 and 4000 rpm. Eeeek! My first thought was that the crank was knackered, and so was my weekend. In a fit of despondancy I started stripping things off to try and get to the bottom of things. Firstly the pipes came off, and I stuffed a torch up the ports to see what state the piston skirts were in. No problem there, so the decision was taken to strip the head and see if the piston crowns were OK. So, off came the radiator and assorted gubbins, and eventually the cylinder head was removed. Yup, the piston crowns were OK, so it was time the check the rings. Off came the barrels, and the rings passed muster with no obvious problems. There was nothing more we could do at the trackside, so I put everything back together again. It sounded perfect. I’ve still no idea what caused the problem, but I was pretty relieved it had gone away. OK, so I’d missed the first practise session, but a full top end strip and rebuild in under an hour was not bad.

Eventually I queued up for practise. Initial impressions of the track were that it was a vicious little bugger, and the track designer must have had a right laugh with the hairpins. A few tentative laps confirmed these thoughts. A flying lap went something like this… Flat in top over the line, then brake f***ing hard for the first hairpin. Down to second, and hurl the bike in. Very late apex, and hard on the gas to tighten the line up as the corner tightens dramatically on the exit. A choice between short-shifting to fifth or buzzing it in fourth as you make ground right and line up for the tight left hairpin. Down to third, and lean, and lean, and lean. An utterly straightforward hairpin. Look for the exit, and get on the throttle gingerly to try and get a bit of a drive into the fearsome double apex right hairpin. (Spotted the theme yet?). Hit the first apex smack in the middle, drift out to the edge, then nail it and hit the second apex. Hold third, and overrev into the right hander under the bridge. Very late apex here, firstly to try and avoid the worst of the bumps, and secondly to try and get a decent line into the ensuing left hander. Up to fourth, and peel in just as the bike goes violently unstable from the bumps across the track at this point. (Following people through here was top entertainment, as _everybody_ was going unstable here). Hang everything off, and drive hard through here before braking like crazy for another hairpin… Down to second, and another incredibly late apex – firstly to miss the edge of the track, which approached rapidly, and secondly to get a good drive down the straight.
After three practise sessions I was just about knackered, and my arms were pumped up from the braking. At the end of the last session I went straight to the scrutineering bay to get the bike checked over. Unfortunately the first thing the scroot checked was the brake disk, which was a very unwise move. I think parts of his finger are still attached to it. Everything was fine, so I spent the evening sitting around, chatting, eating, and relaxing.
Cost so far:
New rear tyre: £109
Oil: £13

Saturday, 20th June

Up early again, and made myself a quick cuppa. I hadn’t slept too well the night before, courtesy of the 600 chaps having a bit of a party a few yards away in the night. The sky was clear and blue, and the temperature was already getting up. It looked like being a good day for racing. However, before racing could start I had to get my gear scrutineered. This presented remarkably little problems, so I signed on, and scooted out for practise. The track didn’t seem to have changed overnight, so everything seemed pretty much the same.
1st race – Off row three for this one, with two rows of TZRs in front, and 7 rows of supersport 400 machines behind. Got a reasonable start, and shot past the majority of those in front. The first hairpin was complete chaos, with the whole field practically stopping. A few fairings were clattered, but it was at such low speed that it didn’t really seem all that much of a problem. Tucked in behind Simon, and spent 7 laps chasing him, but to no avail. Ended up in 6th place, behind Rik, Darren, Phil, Nick and Simon. Nick had comprehensively cleared off, which I found a little worrying, as the past few meetings I’ve been able to stay with him. Race time was 8:02.10, but I didn’t get a lap time.
cr_9806202nd race – This time off row 5, with the SS400s ahead. Got a flyer of a start, and held 2nd for a short while, behind Darren. Phil came past pretty early on, which I expected. Shortly after I was passed by James and Simon in quick succession, and then by Nick. Eh? Why was I going backwards? Had an entertaining moment when following Simon through the hairpin and he got on the gas too soon, throwing himself clean out of the seat. Somehow he stayed on. Finished 5th after Nick crashed out on the last corner of the last lap. (A very popular manoevure over the course of the weekend, it has to be said). I wasn’t happy about being passed so easily by everybody though. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what the problem was, but it appeared that I was just not atacking hard enough. Race time was 8:00.70. After the race all the TZRs were ushered into the scrutineering bay, and a systematic check of the ignition systems and electrical gubbins of all bikes ensued. Apparently, one of the TZRs had been protested, and rather than strip just one bike the organisers decided to check the whole lot. Mine caused a bit of a headache to the scroots, due to the way the CDI unit was piggybacked on the powervalve control unit, but eventually all was pronounced fit. I’ve still got no idea who protested against who, but I have a feeling it was probably one of the SuperSports 400 riders protesting against Riks bike, after he made them all look rather silly in race 1 by taking the outright win. Club secretary Dave Stewart became the hero of the day by supplying us all with ice cold Coke whilst we queued up in 30 degree heat in our full leathers.
3rd race – Again off row 5, and again a stonker of a start. Phil had retired at the start of the race, so I tucked in behind James, who was behind Darren. Followed him for 5 laps, before stuffing him with an aggressive move on the fast right under the bridge. I was up to 2nd… About 15 seconds later, Simon passed me to relieve me of that place. I tried everything on the last lap, but it was not to be, and I crossed the line in 3rd, a second behind. James was .3 of a second behind me, so it was a close finish. I was more than happy with third, but slightly dissapointed that I’d lost 2nd to Simon. However, I’d finally found the agression that was missing in the previous races of the day. Race time was 7:56.10. After the race I went to see how Phil was, and what had happened to his bike. After another engine strip we discovered a piston ring peg had fallen out, and shattered the piston. We managed to get everything back together with a spare set of barrels, pistons and head, and within a couple of hours all was well again.

Sunday, 21st June

1st race – Off row 3, and don’t really remember much more about this one, other than Darren going down hard on the tight left hander. Ended up in 7th, which I wasn’t happy with at all. Race time was 8:05.10, considerably slower than yesterday.
2nd race – Off row 5 this time, and had an appalling race. The world and his dog passed me, and I couldn’t even stay with Darren, who was racing with a suspected broken shoulder. On the last lap I was following Nick, Darren and Scott when one of the SS400 machines went down at the hairpin. The yellow flags came out, so I took a wide, slow line in an attempt to outdrag Scott to the line, which was about 100 yards past the corner. It worked, and I ended up in 7th. However, Scott wasn’t happy with the move, and thought I’d used the yellow flag to gain an unfair advantage. I still don’t know whether what I did was unfair or not. Personally I don’t think so, as I didn’t pass under a yellow flag, and when I did pass, we were both well clear of the danger. Race time was 7:59.70.
3rd race – Absolute crap. Finished 8th in 7:59.30, after again being passed by everyone else.
Why was I riding so badly today? Yesterday I’d found the aggression to get a third place. Today I only passed one rider, and that was under dubious circumstances. 7ths and 8ths are simply not good enough, and I’ve deservedly lost my place in the championship now. I’ll have to sort out my problems before the next round at Brands Hatch.
The journey home was a right laugh – The original plan was to camp over, and take a leisurely journey home on the Monday. However, just as the last race finished, the skies opened, and the rains came. We hastily bundled everything in the car, and hit the road to try and get an evening ferry. The first part of this process was pleasurably simple, and the chap at the check-in desk of the ferry terminal waved us through with a promise of a place on the 7:15 ferry and a cheery ‘Bon voyage’. So, we all queued up in the allocated place, and waited. Sure enough, the ferry arrived, and started loading up. I’m not sure what criteria Sea France use when deciding in which order to load vehicles, but it certainly isn’t first come first served. Eventually, the queue stopped moving, and we sat there and waited, and waited, and waited. After 30 minutes of being told absolutely nothing we went to find out what was going on, only to discover that the boat was full, and we’d have to wait for the next one. Now, I’m sure that running a major ferry company is a fearsomely complex operation, but to me it seems painfully obvious that a) Sea France know how many vehicles are booked on to a ferry b) Sea France know the size of these vehicles and c) Sea France know the capacity of their own ferries. Given this information, it shouldn’t be too difficult to deduce that if a*b>c then the vehicles won’t fit. Sea France seemed blissfully oblivious of this fact however, and we were dumped on the quay for an hour and a half. The next ferry came in, and in their quest for customer satisfaction, Sea France decided to load up everyone else who had turned up after us first. I asked the Helpful Friendly Highly Trained Sea France Operative why this was so, and he shouted at me in French. I think he sensed my mood change at this point, as he swiftly moved to one side as I drove past him. However, Sea Farce’s incomprehensible incompetence wasn’t over yet… There was another hold up on the deck as they had managed to ground out a lorry in their attempts at parking it. For all I know the hapless lorry driver is still stuck in the hold, as I was by this time in no mood to laugh at the poor chaps misfortunes. The rest of the journey was uneventful, but the weekends activities caught up with me on the drive from Dover back home, and I had to stop at the M25 services and have a kip for half an hour. It had been a very, very long weekend.
Postscript – Once I made it home I spent the next 24hrs sitting on the toilet suffering a nightmarish attack of watery bowels. I suspect this was due to the cold, undercooked ‘food’ served to me on the ferry, but can’t be sure.

Saturday, 27th June

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about my lacklustre performace last Sunday in France, and have come to the following conclusions:
Firstly, I was a little tired after staying up late on Saturday and hitting the town for a meal and beers.
I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I didn’t defend my position, and didn’t try to pass anyone.
My gearing was wrong – In a couple of places I was revving to over 10,000 when my motor makes peak power at 9,500. At the time I thought that overrevving was preferable to a couple of very hurried changes. Maybe this was so, but I should have at least tried another sprocket, to see what happened.
So, in an effort to improve things for my next race and the rest of the season, I’ve given up drinking (yes, really) for a few weeks, and will concentrate on making a determined effort to be more assertive on the track from now on. I don’t want to get overly aggressive and risk taking other riders out, but by the same token I don’t want to give them the chance to pass me without at least having to work for the position.