A return to form at Snetterton

Saturday, 1st May

I like Snetterton. Mainly I like the fact that it’s only 30 minutes away from me, so I don’t have to camp there… So, I had a nice comfy nights sleep in my own bed, and toddled down there early Saturday morning, accompanied by Scotty Allaway, who’d kipped over at mine the night before. I was actually feeling rather nervous about todays racing. The previous Lydden meeting had restored some of my confidence, but I’m still a little surprised at finding myself consistently out of the top 10 this season, after finishing 5th last year. A lot of this is due to some seriously fast riders entering the class (Paul Hogan, Charlie Blackmore), some old riders returning to the fold (Paul Ling, James Mead) and at least one blisteringly fast novice (Martin Ratcliffe). However, I still feel that both me and the bike were underperforming to a certain degree, and that was having an effect on my confidence. I was determined this weekend to try and do something about this, and had spent days playing back memories of one corner in particular, Riches, where I know I was slow.

Practise – My plan was simple. To find a better line through Riches. I basically ignored the rest of the circuit, and concentrated just on this one corner. It worked. Eventually I found a line that let me pull 9,000 RPM in fifth out of the corner, whereas previously my corner speed had been so slow I’d needed to take it in fourth. The fourth practise lap saw me spluttering out of Sear on one cylinder, caused by a meltdown on a dodgy plug. Luckily I had a pair of spares, so I lobbed them in there, and tried to relax.
Race 1 – Off Row 8 (one of the downsides of the crap start to the season is that I now have to put up with crap grid positions until I start improving) and got a bit of a duff start actually. I got away from the line pretty sharp, but most of the people I’d passed were able to get back under me again at Riches. No worries though, as it’s always a bit of a lottery there on the first lap. Out of Sear, and I tucked in behind Kevin Burton on the straight, and tried to get a slipstream. About half way up the straight there was a big cloud of blue smoke, as his motor seized, and I just missed running into the back. Into the Esses, and here again it was obvious I needed to find a better line as Clive Larrett just sailed past me on the brakes, and blocked my line. I got past him again at the Bomb Hole, and never saw him again. Up ahead I could see Paul Ling, Nick Wiles and Charlie Entwhistle slugging it out, so I got my head down, and managed to get on the back of them. I couldn’t pass though, and had to settle for 10th, with a best lap of 1:27.07. This was .7 of a second better than I’d ever managed, so I was happy with that.
Race 2 – Row 8 again but this time I was able to stick with Nick and Paul all the way. Eventually made it past Nick, and ended up 7th after an almighty scrap with Martin Dickens, an absurdly fast LC mounted lunatic. (Watching the fast LCs around Corams is terrifying as they just seem to pogo around with the back wheel in the air 50% of the time). And I got a 1:26.72 lap. I was very happy with this, but little did I know what was to come…
Race 3 – My best performance of the year so far. Got a bad start, and set about chasing people. Eventually I saw the same group of Nick, Charlie and Paul up ahead, and really got my head down. Passed Charlie, and set after Nick. On the last lap he was still a good second ahead of me, and I didn’t think I could make it. I rode my spuds off to close the gap, and by Corams I was right on his tail. Into Russells, and I hung back on the entry to get a good drive up the straight. It worked. I got him by about a tyres width, elevating me to 6th place, with a best lap of 1:25.69.

I’ve finally found the speed I was missing. OK, so I’ve worn holes in my boots and scraped my lovely new paintjob at Corams and Riches, but I don’t care. I’ve just taken 2 seconds off my lap times, and got in among the fast boys again. I’m still 2 seconds a lap off the fastest TZR times, but I’m happy with that. (Last time out at Snett the fastest TZRs were doing 1:25s and I was doing 1:28s. Now I’ve got down to 1:25s the fastest laps were in the 1:23s. So effectively the gap is closing).
The bike was also behaving itself a lot better. OK, so it was wallowing around a bit at the Esses, but I can live with that. The rest of the time it was fine. Even coming out of Riches at 100 flat on the gas with the fairing on the ground, and I don’t think I could ask for much more than that.

Cost so far:
Fuel: £35
Plugs: £10

Sunday, 2nd May

Sunday dawned clear and bright, and I got on with the serious business of buying Scotty and myself a nice lardy breakfast in the circuit restaurant before the days fun and games started. The bike seemed to have survived yesterday pretty well on the whole, and nothing looked like it was about to fall off. The brake pads were looking a little thin, but there was enough meat on there to last a days racing easily.
Race 1 – I like the longer races that we have on Sundays. They give me time to settle down after the first mad two laps where everyone sorts themselves out and dives into the tyre walls around the circuit. This race however, was a bit of a lonely one. I could see Charlie, Paul and Martin Ratcliffe ahead, but just couldn’t find the extra 20 yds I needed to catch them. Instead, I busied myself in another scrap with the leading LC contenders, which I enjoyed immensely. Ian Read just got the edge on me on the last lap to win the drive out of Russells, but I didn’t mind that, seeing as his points are for a different class. Finished a very sweaty 8th place, with a best lap of 1:26.38. Good, but not as good as yesterday.
Race 2 – The first two laps of this were just the best fun I’ve had in ages. The TZRs were at the front of the grid this time, with me on row 3. I got a flyer of a start, and tucked in with the leading pack, and stayed with them all the way. After two laps things started stringing out a bit, and I don’t mind admitting that I was struggling to stay on the pace. After about 7 laps I got caught in the battle between the two leading LC contenders, and rather than screw up their race I took the decision to back off for half a lap and let them scrap it out – They’re both fighting for a championship, and I’m not. I was comfortably in 7th place, and settled for that, with a best lap of 1:26.27. (And I finally got one over Paul). I got back to the paddock and noticed that my left exhaust had cracked and the silencer was hanging on by a sliver of metal. It wouldn’t have made another lap. (This actually caused a little worry on the 9th and 10th laps. As I tucked in behind the screen up the straights I was sure I could hear another rider behind me. It turned out just to be the extra noise of the cracked exhaust).

This has to go down as the best weekends racing this year. The bike is going well, and I’m starting to get back the speed to stay with the leaders. I’m still not there yet, but I’m a lot closer today than I was last week.

Thursday, 6th May

Started getting the bike ready for the next outing at Oulton Park. The left exhaust was, as suspected, fractured too badly to be bodged up with tape. I’ll need to get it welded up somewhere. In the meantime, I’ll put my spare exhausts on there. Also I’ve dropped the gearing to 14/42, as Oulton doesn’t have much in the way of a straight. And finally, in an attempt to get a bit more drive in the longer corners I’ve dropped the needles one groove. This will have one of two effects: either it will give the the desired extra punch on small throttle openings, or it will melt the pistons… Watch this space.

Tuesday, 11th May

Amid frenzied preperations for this weekends outing at Oulton, I finally picked up the race fairing for the fireblade that I was to race in this years KRC endurance championship. I have to say, I’m not really all that impressed… Despite taking 6 weeks to arrive, it’s not actually an endurance spec race fairing. I doubt very much if it’s any lighter than the road bodywork, the panels don’t actually line up particularly well, and there’s no oil retention in the belly pan. Right now I’ve got half a mind to send it back.
In contrast, I popped down to Cambridge Motorcycles at lunchtime to pick up a new pair of boots, got talking to the chaps there, and ended up walking away with a pair of boots and a litre of oil thrown in for free. OK, so it’s hardly sponsorship in the Mick Doohan sense, but this is actually the first time I’ve had anything given to me free of charge. Woohoo! I have a feeling I’ll be popping back there when I’ve got a few quid spare, ‘cos I need a new lid and they had a large stack of Shoei XR-800s.

Cost so far:
Boots: £130

Wednesday, 12th May

Drove over to drop the bike off with fellow Cambridge based racer Simon Morley, who was going to trailer both bikes up to Oulton tomorrow.

Thursday, 13th May

Drove the long haul up to Oulton Park in convoy with James Dening, Simon Morley, Stu Wakeling and Faye. We nearly didn’t make it after James’ van starting running on three cylinders instead of the more usual four that a tranny runs on, but a new HT lead swiftly fixed this problem. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful really, and before we knew it, we’d arranged to stop over at the house of one of James’ friends, Eddie, about 10 miles from the circuit. This was one of the best ideas anyone can remember coming from a 600 rider for a long time. We arrived, unloaded, drank beer, ate Chinese, and slept. (It should be noted here that Faye and I got the only spare bed on the premise of being a couple, whereas Simon, James and Stu had to share the floor in the spare room).

Friday, 14th May

We all got up pretty early, and had a quick tour around Eddies farm and workshop. Eddie is basically a mad inventor who lives in the middle of nowhere, and invents farm machinery to use on his farm. (He also holds the outright lap record at Oulton Park, in the combine harvester class). His workshop is the kind of place I could quite happily spend the rest of the year, just pottering around. But I digress. We drove the remaining few miles to Oulton, parked up, and got the keys to our garage for the weekend.

Now, Oulton Park is my favourite circuit. A lap here is like the rest of the season put together – The track is exceptionally long (2.77 miles) and has every kind of corner imaginable. A flying lap goes something like this:
Over the line flat in top, making ground left for the rapidly approaching Old Hall corner. The ideal place to be on the track is marred by some repair patching, so your choice is to run to the right of it and compromise corner exit speed, or take the brave line that crosses it, compromising stability. I chose the cowards option… Brake hard, and down two. Apex Old Hall just by the rough patch of tarmac, and run out to the left of the track. Peel off for the right at Dentons just by the sign indicating a left hand corner is approaching (!) Run down the right of the track as it plunges downhill into Cascades. Brake hard, down two, and take a wide, sweeping line in. Get straight back on the throttle to keep the front unloaded, and just hang on as the turn unwinds. Stay right, and accelerate along the straight. As Island approaches knock it down one, and try not to run too wide on the exit. Down another two for the fabulous Shell Oils hairpin. Throw the bike in as hard as you dare. The camber here is described in the MCN circuit guide as ‘truly precipitous’ and I’ll not argue with that. Crane your neck to look for the exit, and as it approaches, nail the throttle. This usually causes a bit of wheelspin on the exit as the camber goes away, but nothing dramatic. Up two along the short straight into Foulstons, and down three to get around it. Flat out up the hill, and back down the other side, making ground left for Knickerbrook. Down one, brake at the turn marker, and apex just as the short circuit re-emerges from the right. Run wide on the exit, then sweep back to the right of the track. Aim for the ‘K’ in the Yokohama bridge as you accelerate flat in top up Clay Hill. The crest of this is blind, 120mph (more on a real bike) and makes the front of the bike go a bit light. Stay left through the initial left kink of the Druids complex. Brake hard, down two, and miss the first apex of the right hander by about a yard. Run as wide as you dare, then turn hard again for the second apex, which you have to hit quite tightly. Try not to run too wide on the exit, as the track is violently bumpy. (Last year with a functioning steering damper this was good fun. This year, without one, it wasn’t. The first few times through here the bike simply exploded into a violent tankslapper). Flat in top along the short straight into Lodge, brake hard, down three, and take a wide line in to maximise drive out. Accelerate over Deer Leap, keeping your weight over the front, and we’re back where we began.
There were only four TZRs out for practise today, so I busied myself faffing around with tyre pressures and the like. On the whole, things went pretty well. Scott Allaway came out for a play on his RS250 Honda, and I decided to try and stick with him, something which, to my surprise I managed for 4 laps. I clocked a 2:05 lap, which was about 2 seconds inside my best last year, something I was obviously happy about.
Once practise had finished we began the serious business of getting a barbie going, and talking bollocks, something that we managed quite succesfully. James then came out with the quote of the weekend, “Do you like a good jump?” when talking with Simon about Cadwell Park. It was decided not to bother getting a tent up for the night. Instead, James kipped in his van, Simon and Stu in their car, while Faye, myself and Jim Gillespie (one of the TeamIxion Travelling Supporters) shared the garage. Zzzzzzz.

Cost so far:
Oulton practise: £70
Garage: £30
Fuel: £20


Saturday, 15th May

Up early, and into the mother of all scrooting queues. Luckily the paddock here is flat, so we were spared the normal trial of pushing the bike up a bloody steep hill to get to/from scrutineering. We got through this OK, so I climbed into my leathers, and scooted out for practise:
Practise – I was feeling confident after speding a day practising there on the Friday, and it showed. Despite only getting two practise laps, I scooted round at a respectable pace, and the bike was feeling good. After the practise my friend and nemesis Scotty Allaway sidled up to me and said “You look good out there. I reckon you’re up for a top three today”. Thanks. The Murray Walker kiss of death…
Race one – Off row two, we were out with tht rookie 400s today, which was to prove entertaining. While some of them are incredibly fast and talented, there are a few out there who are still learning the basics of their racecraft. Hence the first corner was a little, errm, hectic as the faster 400s shot through from the back of the grid then stopped at the first corner. I was passed here by a few other TZRs, including Paul Ling, Nick Wiles, Pete Askew and another novice. The fast boys had already got their jump, so I started to give chase. Oulton is a *very* difficult place to pass people (racers book of excuses #32). I got past the novice and Pete Askew, and sat behind Nick. I couldn’t pass. In the end I got a bit ragged, and lost the back end at Lodge, letting another lad on an RGV250 through. I had to settle for 7th place and a 2:01 lap. ( I was a little surpised to say the least to be running these lap times after only managing a 2:05 yeaterday).
Race two – A lot more fun… This time around I was a bit more adventurous, and started to use the tried and tested 250 proddy racers technique of elbowing people out of the way… Again, I found myself on Nicks back wheel, and for two laps we stayed like that. Waiting for Nick to make a mistake is a pointless exercise, as he is an exceptionally smooth and consistent rider. Instead, I got a good drive out of the chicane, pulled out of his draught, and outbraked him into the 100mph, blind, off camber Knickerbrook. Possibly my most aggresive pass of the season so far. Had a good tussle with a couple of novices aboard faster FZR400s etc, including riding round the outside of a very fast ZXR400 at Cascades. Finished 6th, with a best lap of 2:02. Not bad, but the fast boys had upped the pace and were now doing 1:57s.
Race three – I’d rather forget about this one. I got punted into the grass at Old Hall on the warm up lap when 60 yr old novice Jeff Parrett somehow binned his NC30 at about 15mph when three of us were trying to warm up our tyres by going faster than him. I made it back to the grid, and started pulling off the bits of fairing that were damaged in the collision. The lights went green, and all hell broke loose. The start was complete mayhem as the fastest TZR boys were now at the back off the grid, and had to carve their way through to get to the first corner. I was tucked in behind James Mead (top three runner) into the chicane when someone locked everything up and forced me and Nick off the track. I promptly lost my temper as most of the field dived past. I was only able to pass one TZR, that of Simon Ffoulkes by driving around the outside of him flat out at the top of Clay Hill before the braking area for Druids. Mike Crellin got me on the last lap with the usual out braking manoevure at Lodge, but it was a simple matter to hold the tighter exit to outdrive him to the line. Finished 7th with a 2:02 lap again.
All in all, a parsons egg of a day. Those lap times would have won me the race last year, so I guess the TZR game has moved up a gear this year. The third race was so frustrating. Had I not been punted off track (twice!) I may have improved on the top 6 finish, as I did have a reasonable start. Apologies to all those in the garage I swore at when I got back after that one. The bike was a little the worse for wear after the collisions, but not half as bad as Roger Fords, who lobbed it at Lodge, neatly knocking himself unconcious in the process. Ouch.


Wednesday, 19th May

Wandered into Cambridge Motorcycles to see about getting my exhaust welded up, and walked out 200 quid lighter. This isn’t as bad as it seems, ‘cos what I actually got was a new Shoei XR-800 to replace my aging RF-700, the welding, and some free abuse thrown in. Seeing as the lid itself retails for about 220 quid I’m pretty chuffed all in all.

Cost so far:
New lid and exhaust welding: £200

Monday, 31st May

I’ve been a bit lazy over the past couple of weeks, hence the gap in the diary. Actually, this is not 100% true… I’ve been helping set up the new TeamIxion web site which has involved a fair bit of midnight oil and a crash course in Active Server Page programming. The end result of which is the TeamIxion race report archive which I must say, I’m pretty chuffed with.
Anyway, back to the plot – I spent today in the garage getting the bike set up for the next meeting at the Brands Hatch GP circuit. This is really complete guesswork, as nobody I know has ever ridden there, so I’ve got no real starting points. I’ve geared the thing through the roof to suit the motorway-esque back straight, and left the jetting the way it was at Oulton. Suspension has also been left the same.

Cost so far:
New gearbox sprockets: £17