Friday, 2th April
Well, the weekend started inauspiciously with me due to meet James at Mallory for a pre-race shakedown before the real fun began. I managed this OK, and things just went downhill from there…
Mallory was damp when we arrived, which isn’t really a problem, until James casually mentioned that the rear tyre he’d just fitted to the cbr was just over a year old, and probably not in that good condition. Personally speaking I wasn’t too bothered by this, ‘cos I wasn’t riding the thing. Anyway, we larded up on bacon sarnies in the only cafeteria with worse service than Cadwell, and the two James’ (James D had brought along his cousin and co-tester, James H) looked nervously at each other to see who wanted to go out first in the wet. IIRC, James D took the first few laps just to get the bike warmed up, and then brought it back for James H to have a go. He must have done about 5 laps when I decided to get a clock on him, at which point the red flags came out, and the pus green cbr was noticeable in it’s absence. After 5 minutes of wondering what was going on I collared a marshal who informed me that the bike was coming back in the van, and the rider was on the way to the med centre. To cut a long story short, the bike looked like it had been the victim of a careless Serb anti-aircraft assault, whilst the rider looked slightly worse. Gulp. Thankfully it was later discovered there was nothing broken, but I’ll bet he’s feeling stiff today. James D and myself then set about rebuilding the bike while the folks at Leicester general set about rebuilding James H. The list of mangled bits was quite long, but we bodged it all together with cable ties and duct tape. I’ll skip the finer details of the embarrasing petrol tap incident, but when James made it out for his second session it was only half a lap long… James then went out in the fast group with Niall Mackenzie, Michael Rutter et al. Once again, I started the stopwatch, and once again the red flags came out. James had binned it big style at the esses. This time the bike was f**ked. So we slung it in the back of the van and forgot about it. Driving back home that evening with my mate and TZR nemesis Scotty Allaway, a car in front of us performed a lovely pirhouette in front us. On it’s roof. In the fast lane of the A14. I stopped at the next phone, called the police, and went home.
Saturday, 3rd April
Saturday was slightly less fun. Race one was appalling, with my lap times down 3 seconds on last year. Eh? I thought it was just me riding like an old tosser, so I went out in race two, rode my spuds off, and went a second a lap slower than race one. By the time I got back to the paddock I was not a happy bunny. OK, I wasn’t last, but I wasn’t far off it. I sat down, thought about it a bit, and decided that an expensive visit to Graham File was in order to sort things out. However, one of last years fastest TZR riders, Phil Rollason adopted a more logical approach, and asked the simple question ‘what have you changed since last year?’. A spot of reasoning followed, and I put last years CDI and YPVS units back in there for race 3. Bingo. 4 seconds a lap quicker, and hello top 6. I was a much happier man. I went home that evening, and suddenly noticed that I couldn’t stop shaking, despite sitting in a hot bath for 45 minutes. I figured I had a bit of a cold…
Sunday, 4th April
Sunday morning I woke, and have not felt worse in a long time. How the hell was I going to race today? I started cramming paracetamol to get my temperature down, and drove back to the circuit. I just had to skip the first race, ‘cos I just didn’t know what day it was. The second race though was classic. There were four of us within 50 yds of each other for the whole 10 laps. Every time we’d come round across the start/finish line in a differnt order. Eventually Charlie Entwhistle made a clean break at the front, and left myself, Nick Wiles and Paul Ling to battle it out. Now Paul is not the kind of rider you want to lock elbows with *too* closely. Off the track, he’s a charming bloke. On the track he’s a demon though. Nick got past him on about lap 5, and started to pull away. I had to do something, and quickly. Driving hard out of Russells I managed to pull out of his draught along the straight and got the lead into Riches. He just dived straight back under me again though. Bugger. Out of Sear I did the same thing, only for him to get me back going into the Esses. Right. This was getting serious. I stuffed a wheel up the inside of the bomb-hole, and never saw him again. I set about chasing Nick, but run out of laps. It was still the best race I’ve ever had though. And I got a 1:27 lap, the first time I’ve been under 1:28. (Somehow the TZR lap record at Snett is 1:23. I just cannot comprehend this. The fastest TZR lap this weekend was 1:26 dead).
Sunday night I got back home, and took my temperature. 104. No wonder I’m tired.
Cost so far:
Thursday, 8th April
Well, I’ve decided to enter all the remaining bemsee rounds this year, and try and work out how to pay for it all next year. So…
Cost so far:
Entry fees: £945
Stopwatch software for Palm III: £6
(yes, you read that right. I actually paid for some software).
From this point on I’ll just have to stop carping on about how much this is all costing me and just get on and do it. However, I have a feeling now that I’ll have to take a year out next year to let my finances recover a little.
Sunday, 11th April
Finally felt well enough again to venture out to the garage and check the bike over. (Apparently I’m suffering from a ‘viral lung infection’. No, I don’t know what it is either, but it ain’t a whole load of fun). Anyway, I decided to strip the bike and rebuild it just to be on the safe side. The good news is that everything appeared OK. All the wheel bearings are still fine, the swinging arm linkages are still moving freely, and the head bearings and forks appear to be OK. I changed the rear sprocket to a 43T to suit the twisty Lydden circuit, and also went down a size on the main jets to 230, as the 240s that were in there were running slightly rich. (At a track like Snetterton with a half mile straight it’s better to run slightly rich to give the pistons an easier time. At Lydden, where there’s no straight it’s better to jet down slightly to improve performance). I’ve also tried inverting the top yoke and running the handlebars underneath, rather than on top of it. This should, in theory, get my weight more over the front wheel. We’ll see. Whilst doing all this I also took the opportunity to lubricate the clutch cable. (A piece of advice I took from Mark Walford last year – The only contact you have with the bike is through the controls, so make sure they are as light and responsive as possible). The chain was also removed, inspected, and cleaned. Every link. Yes, this takes time, but it is essential. I can’t think of anything else to prepare for next weekend at Lydden.
Apart from myself… I need to find some aggression. At Snetterton I sat behind Nick for three laps, when really I should have passed him and defended my position. OK, so I still thouroughly enjoyed the race, but I know deep down that I could have done better. I’m not going to force my pace, as that’s how you hurt yourself. But I know that I can run faster than I was. I just have to find that speed within me. I’ve done everything I can to the bike. The rest is now down to me.
Monday, 12th April
Bad news – My friend and team-mate Dave Green was seriously injured at a practise day at Mallory on Friday. At present he’s still in a coma in hospital having had reconstructive surgery on both hands and arms. I pray that he’ll be OK.
Friday, 16th April
Well, the good news is that Dave is well on the way to recovery, and the surgeons have managed to save both hands. He’s not conscious yet, but is now breathing for himself, and has been taken out of the intensive care unit. This makes me very happy indeed.
My weekend began with the long haul down to Lydden in a borrowed van, with local 600 racer Simon Morley in convoy in his Renault people carrier thingy. We nearly made it all the way to Lydden without stopping, but Simons mate Stu who’d come along for the weekend couldn’t resist stopping at the Medway services for a Burger King. His dietary habits were to become famous over the weekend, as he devoured more Pot Noodles that is healthy. We eventually got to Lydden at about 8ish, and got the tents up at the bottom of the paddock. It was turning a little bit chilly, so we decided the best thing to do was to hit the bar. The usual crowd of TeamIxies turned up at this point, and so we all sat around, drinking, relaxing and chatting. The beer was doing a nice job of masking just how cold it was getting. However, after my self-imposed pre-race limit of two pints, I decided to call it a day and retired to the tent. Despite wearing thermal underwear, all my clothes, having three sleeping bags and a bobble hat I was still cold. A very unconfortable night ensued, culminating in me needing to go to the toilet at about 2am, just as I was starting to get warm.
Saturday, 17th April
Getting up was no real problem this morning, as I hadn’t really slept the night before. Hero of the day was definitely Kevin, who decided to get up at 6:30 to cook bacon butties for everyone, despite it still being 2 degrees below freezing. Scrooting was no problem, as we’d parked at the bottom of the paddock this time, thereby neatly saving the normal Lydden push up the hill. Getting my leathers done was slightly trickier. Not because there was any problem with them – They’d just frozen in the van in the sub-zero temperatures. Swaddling oneself head to toe in ice- cold leather is a pastime best left to dedicated SM fiends. I didn’t enjoy the experience particularly. To add insult to injury it started raining…
Practise – I hate Lydden at the best of times. In the wet, with the temperature barely the right side of freezing I wasn’t really looking forward to the days events. With this in mind, I simply pottered round for the required number of laps, making sure that nothing was about to fall off the bike. I was slow through Paddock compared to everyone else, but the bike didn’t seem to want to go any faster without running out of road, so I didn’t push it too hard.
Race one – Third row of the grid, and my lack of experience at Lydden was painfully obvious as I just sort of rode around. I passed a few people, got passed by a few more, and finished 11th. Not particularly impressive really.
Race two – The track was drying out by now, and to celebrate I was given a row 5 start. I enjoyed this one a whole lot more, and finished a creditable 8th. I was still losing loads of time through Paddock, but didn’t know why. I just put it down to me riding like a wuss.
Race three – This race was always going to be a bit of a lottery, as the track was dry in some places, wet in others, and positively soaking in a few (particularly the downhill, off camber, 100mph approach to Pilgrims. Gulp). But something just clicked, and I rode pretty smoothly, and started picking up the pace to the point I was running with one of my sparring partners from last year, Nick Wiles. I couldn’t make a pass stick though, so after about 4 laps of trying to pass I settled in behind to wait for him to make a mistake. This turned out to be a fruitless exercise, as Nick as an exceptionally smooth and experienced rider, and wasn’t about to start throwing points away. Finished 7th. The race was red-flagged after 5 laps due to fellow TeamIxion member and TZR rider Nigel Hewitt being punted into touch at Chessons by an errant 250LC. The resultant broken collarbone and SEVEN ribs will ensure that he’s out for a few months. Get well soon.
All in all, I’m happy with the way the day went. I’ve finally started to find some of the speed I had last season, and was lapping within 2 seconds of the leaders. I think this is mainly down to confidence. I was feeling smooth, relaxed, and confident in the bike for todays racing, and it showed.
Sunday, 18th April
Again, a cold night, but this time around Faye had turned up and brought a couple of duvets to try and stay warm. It worked, and I had a good nights sleep. Just what I needed. We weren’t due to start racing until 1pm, so I spent a leisurely morning double checking the bike over to make sure nothing was about to fall off. All my preperation the week before had paid off, and the bike was still in good running order. Simon had lent me his tyre warmers for my first race today, so I decided to make use of them…
Race one – Got a pretty crap start, but just went bananas at the first corner and rode round the outside of about 12 people. Mmmmm. Lovely warm tyres… Pretty soon I found myself tucked in behind James Mead, and was able to stay with his pace, something I found encouraging. (James was second in the 1997 championship, and is a bloody quick rider). I tried to make a pass down the Dover slope, but ran out of track and we ended up clattering fairings. James instinctively pulled to the left to try and make room, and piled straight into Charlie Entwhistle, who had seen my attempt fail and was trying to capitalise. This caused Charlie and James to back off, and Simon Owen, who was at the back of our little group simply shot past the lot of us as we barged our way down the hill. Top entertainment. Ended up 11th, which isn’t that impressive, but my times were actually rather good. If I could have made my passes stick my times were good enough for a top 5.
Race two – Row 5 start. We all queued up on the grid, and the lights stayed on red for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually they went out, but the green never came on. Half the grid started, half stopped, and nobody really knew what to do. I just dumped the clutch and got away in case anyone was tempted to run into the back of me. Those of us that started shot into Chessons in close formation, and were immediately red- flagged. We lined up again in our original places, and the race began in earnest. It was the best of the weekend. I tucked in behind Melvin Eke (Winner of the final race yesterday, and one of the faster lads out there) and held on. He was quicker through Paddock, but I could out drive him out of Chessons. Passed a few others, and settled for 9th place. Again, my lap times were pretty much the same as the top 5 riders.
All in all, a very good, constructive weekend. OK, so my results were nothing to write home about, but I’ve finally started to get a bit of confidence back. I know that I can run the lap times to get me in the top five again. Now I just need to get that aggression needed to pass people and hold the place. I also know why I was having problems at Paddock – My friend Roger was watching from there, and noted that my bike was consistently the worst handling TZR. This gives me a bit of a headache, as I’m not sure what to do about it. To start with, I’ll put the suspension settings back to last years, and just take it from there.
Cost so far:
Tuesday, 20th April
Ordered a generator and pair of tyre warmers. Yes, this is an extravagence, and no, I don’t care. The genny wan also be used for making tea and such like, and the tyre warmers are an absolute bargain. (Cheers Rog).
Cost so far:
Tyre warmers: £100
Wednesday, 21st April
Whilst getting the bike ready for the next outing at Snett I decided to have a good look at the suspension to try and get to the root of the recent handling problems. It wasn’t too difficult to find – The swinging arm was basically not moving. This is a bit of a git, seeing as I replaced all the bearings and bushes over the winter, but at least I now have an idea of what the problem is. I also too this chance to whip the cylinder head off and have a good poke around in there. No problems. The head, barrels and pistons still appear perfect.
Closer inspection of the left hand side of the bike revealed tyre marks all the way down the fairing and silencer. These must be courtesy of James Mead, after our little tete-a-tete last week. Normally I’d clean them off, but I think they’ll be pretty handy as a psychlogical advantage while queueing up in the collecting area.
Saturday, 24th April
Finally decided what to do about the suspension gremlins. I stripped the whole lot out again, and replaced everything with my old road bike suspension. There are several reasons for doing this, not least of which is that the road bike set up was from a later model TZR, and therefore should be a better set-up. It certainly looks more substantially engineered. Secondly, I never had any problems with the handling on the road bike, and thirdly it has to be an improvement. I’ve also dropped the rear pre-load a bit. I know I said I was going to raise it, but it just feels so much nicer when backed off. Maybe now with any luck the suspension will be working properly. It certainly feels a lot nicer.
Sadly the road-bike swinging arm and linkages had three years worth of road grime encrusting them. Most of which ended up over me, my trousers, my shirt, and the garage floor. I really should have cleaned that bike when I had it on the road.
Also took this chance to fit the go-faster goodies to the fireblade that’s cluttering up my garage. Fitting the Dynojet kit and K&N filter was surprisingly easy, only taking a couple of hours. Starting the thing again afterwards wasn’t so easy, although I suspect that may be due to it having stood idle for a few months. Anyway, I eventually got the thing running again, accompanied by a yard-long bolt of flame from the tailpipe which nearly incinerated my bag of oil-soaked rags. The thing sounds fearsome. Gulp.