Friday, 4th June
Ordered a couple of pairs of brake pads to replace the EBC ones I threw in there for the last race at Oulton. I’ve left it a bit late really, and should have ordered them straight after the race.
I’m also trying to sort out a motorhome to hire for the upcoming French round, as the camping facilities there are rather, errm, basic to say the least… This is turning out to br a bit of a test of stamina and perseverance, as the motorhome hire company appear to be a pretty disorganised shower to say the least.
Cost so far:
Brake pads: £37
Bits & bobs: £10
Saturday, 5th June
As if by magic, my brake pads have turned up the very next day. Top marks to Dennis Trollope racing for quick service. Last time they took forever and they sent the wrong ones.
Sunday, 6th June
Final preparations for next weekends outing at Brands Hatch. New brake pads, and give everything a final check over and clean up. The tyres are starting to look a little, errm, tired (pardon the pun) but other than that everything seems OK. Now I’ve got the race pipes back after fracturing them at Snetterton I should have a tiny bit more top end speed.
Wednesday, 9th June
Just as I think I’ve got everything sorted out… A last minute change of plan to the bike set up. After talking to a few people about the GP circuit at Brands it transpires that the Pilgrims Drop section of the track is, bizarrely, uphill. So, the gearing comes down to 14/42 from 14/40.
And just to make life even more complicated I’ve just been offered a ZXR750 at a knock down price. I want it badly, but really need to sell the ZX-4 first. I know this is a bit of a long shot, but if anyone out there fancies an immaculate ZX-4 for 1500 quid please let me know. I’ll even throw in tickets to race meetings for the rest of the year…
Friday, 11th June
Trailered the TZR and my mountain bike to Brands in convoy with Simon Morley, who was still recovering from a nasty crash in practise at Cadwell a couple of weeks back. We got to Brands at 7:30ish I’d guess, and charged Stu and Andy with the task of getting the barbies on the go whilst Si and I had a quick lap aboard the mountain bikes. Half way up the back straight I passed Simon Tomlinson and Nick, who were walking the track. This is the first time I’ve passed Simon all season.
With that accomplished, we ate, and sat around performing the normal pre-race ritual of talking crap and feeling nervous. I was starting to feel distictly odd, with a nasty sore throat.
We turned in for the night, and I’d elected to kip in the garage, mainly ‘cos there’s nowhere to put a tent up at Brands. I woke in the middle of the night, sweating like a horse, whilst at the same time shivering and feeling cold. The rain was beating down hard on the tin roof of the garage, and I fervently wished to be somewhere, anywhere, else. I don’t mind admitting that at this point I was making plans to sell everything and give up racing. A definite low point.
Saturday, 12th June
Scrooting was the normal trial, due to the hilly nature of the circuit. Anyway, with a bit of help from anyone I could find I got my bike and leathers done, and settled down for a cup of tea. It had stopped raining now, and while there were still some wet patches on the track, the bulk of it seemed to be drying out. I was feeling distinctly unwell, so I started cramming paracetemol to get my temperature down. At the same time I supplied Si Morley with my personal supply of Co-dydramol as he was in some pain still after his practise crash.
Gulp. Brands is a fiendishly complex track. The Indy circuit is a known quantity (although I still cannot carry good speed through Paddock) but the GP loop is just awesome. Fast and undulating, it provides several good places to fall off. So I barged my way round for three laps, then queued up for more. Eventually I completed six practise laps, and was reasonably confident about which way the track went.
I always thought this would be a little, errm, scary, but people were just diving off left, right and centre. I settled to just stay on the bike, and stay in the race. I did this, but after 4 laps the race was declared after James Mead broke his arm at Dingle Dell, neatly taking out Charlie Blackmore in the process. 7th place.
Got back to the garage, and Stu promtply presented me with an egg and bacon buttie for my efforts.
Ha! What a laugh. I queued up on row 8, as the programme showed, only to see everyone else queueing up on rows 1,2 and 3. Row 2 in particular was very crowded as there were 8 people on it… By contrast, I was very lonely on row 8, as there was no other bugger there. Anyway, got an OK start, scrapped with Nick for the whole race, and ended up about 8th I think. Charlie Blackmore dived off at Dingle Dell again, and again the race was declared after 4 laps.
After race 2 I settled down to watch the rookie 600s with Sol, James and Si all representing TeamIxion. The racing all seemed to be going well, with the boys holding 10th, 11th and 12th places. However, all that was about to change… A large cloud of dust at Clearways signalled that someone had gone down there, and the arrival of both ambulances followed by the screens around the still motionless rider signalled bad things.
“What number is Simon racing?” enquired Andy.
“42” I replied.
There was nothing we could do except watch as Simon was strapped down to the stretcher and put in the ambulance. At that moment an announcement came over the paddock tannoy system:
“Could Neil Ronketti come to race control immediately.”
All I could think of was that I’d arrived with Simon the night before, and so there was some very, very bad news. I have never ran so fast in my life. Considering I was wearing full leathers with body armour and racing boots I reckon I covered 400 metres in about 15 seconds to get to the paddock office…
“What are you doing here? You’re meant to be at race control”
“Bugger. Where is it?”
“Next to your garage”
I didn’t stop to question, I just ran back there. By the time I got there I collapsed into Roger and Pete Barlett, the safety officer.
“What drugs did you give Simon” enquired Pete.
“He said you gave him some painkillers, but couldn’t remember what they were”
“Is that it?”
“Oh yes. He’s broken a collarbone, but other than that he’s fine.”
I vowed at that point to break his other bloody collarbone when I saw him for causing me such panic.
We were held in the collecting area while the devestation from the powerbikes was cleaned up and the race re-run. It had just started to rain very slightly by the time we got to the grid. Off the second row I got a belter of a start, and barged my way to the front by Paddock. I was leading the race! Woohoo!! Up to Druids, and left it as late as I dared before banging on the brakes. Pete Fishwick dived up the inside of me. “That’s brave” I thought, before he got on the gas and promptly dived over the bars into the tyre wall. I narrowly avoided running him over, and drove hard down to Graham Hill. Held my position (1st for three corners now) before noting the red flag. Bum. Unbeknown to me there had been an almighty pile up at Paddock, neatly hospitalising another two mates. They probably took one look at me leading and fell off in surprise. The restart was a complete dogs dinner. I was still unnerved by the image of Pete going headfirst into the tyres, and consequently rode nervously. 2nd last.
Sunday, 13th June
Because I’m such a nice chap, I gave my practise permit to Sol to scrub in his new tyres. To be honest, I shouldn’t have had it anyway, but Bernie at Bemsee handed it to me unasked, so I wasn’t about to give it back.
Sunday had dawned clear and bright, and the gardens of the hotel I’d booked into for the night looked a whole lot nicer than the Brands pit lane… I was still feeling rough though, and this was confirmed by Mike MLH tactfully saying “F*ck. You look awful” as soon as we arrived at the track. Anyway, I started taking paracetamol to get my temperature down, and headed out for race 4. What a corker. Nick Wiles, Charlie Entwhistle, Sean Rix and myself were at it hammer and tongs for all eight laps. Nobody was able to make a pass stick though, so we all just swapped places on a reasonably regular basis. I crossed the line at the back of this little group, but actually completing a race without seeing a friend injured was a nice bonus. 7th place I think.
I left the best ’til last. Got a good start from row 2 and tucked in with Charlie Blackmore and Paul Ling, two of the faster boys. Stayed with them both for 5 laps, until we came up to a back marker at Graham Hill. My lack of experience compared to the other two showed, as I lost 50 yds and no matter how hard I tried, just couldn’t get it back. On the penultimate lap I had a slide at Paddock, and no matter how much paddock bullsh*t I hear about the fact that this is part and parcel of racing, it still unnerves me in the fast corners. Consequently on the last lap I was a little circumspect there, and got mugged by Sean Rix and Ryan Harris in close formation. Damn and blast. There was nothing I could do to get back, as I was completely knackered. I tried. I really did, but had to settle for 8th in the end. We crossed the line under a second apart, and all shook hands. It had been a good race.
My best lap time of the weekend was a 1:51, which was pretty well up with the fast boys (turning on average 1:48s – 1:50s) apart from Paul Hogan, who got an incomprehensible 1:46. His bike was protested afterwards and stripped, but found to be completely legal. The man’s a God.
Oh, and I got my last signature towards my national license… This is a Good Thing.
Wednesday, 16th June
Sent off for my national license. I guess the next possible target is a FIM international license, but I rather think I’ll concentrate on more realistic targets for a while… At the moment my next logical target has to be a race win: I’ve had a second place at Pembrey last year, and led a race this year. The level of competition is so much higher this year that although I’ve improved my own riding, I’m lower down in the championships than I was last year. So, I’ll just have to get my head down and try even harder. This weekend at Brands was a good confidence booster. Lapping with Paul Ling and Charlie Blackmore taught me loads – Both men are race winners this year, so I know I have the speed to get up there. I just need the consistency and confidence now. Both things only come with practise.
Thursday, 17th June
I’ve decided not to contest next months round in France. The reasons for this are purely financial, as it costs an arm and a leg to get over there. If I’d booked a ferry 2 months back I could have got it for £55. Now the best deal I can get is £170, and I just can’t do it. Roger has very kindly offered me space in his van to get over there, but I’ll be hard pushed to get the extra day off work. I think I’ll use the money saved (about 500 quid by the time petrol, entry fees, tyres etc. are taken into account) towards this winters engine rebuild.
I feel a bit bad about turning down this offer.
Friday, 18th June
As if by magic, Mark Walford comes to the rescue (again) by offering me van space for the French round, so I’m back in!
Monday, 21nd June
My national license has turned up already, which is a Good Thing. For some reason this all feels a bit anti-climactic. I dunno. I just want to try even harder now, ‘cos I’ve got a suspicion that I’m probably the slowest rider in the country with one.
Tuesday, 22nd June
Off to Simon Morleys in the evening to help convert his newly aquired Merc 208 van into suitable race transport. This job was made far easier with the help of a couple of bottles of beer he produced half way through. Anyway, we’ve got it all boarded out now, and set some loops into the floor to allow tie-downs to be, errm, tied down. Phase II will probably involve putting some tool racks in place and running an external power supply inside. We’ll see. The upside of all this is that Simon wants to seel his trailer for the knock down price of 150 quid.
Cost so far:
I’d like to sell my current trailer for 50 quid if anyones interested?
Thursday, 24th June
Final preparation for Lydden this weekend. I’ve decided to go for a 42T rear sprocket rather than the normal 43, just to see how things go. Some riders prefer to keep the bike screaming right up in the rev range, while I tend to prefer to drive it from lower revs. At the last two meetings I’ve been painfully aware that it’s been over-revving in some places, and that’s lost me time.
Which reminds me, I’d best get some new pistons and rings ordered up. I can use the Brands Hatch meeting on 11th July to get them run in ready to go to France. It’s about the half way point in the season I guess, so now is as good a time as any. I’d quite like some new tyres too, but they’ll just have to wait.
Cost so far:
Friday, 25th June
Travelled down to Lydden with Simon ready for the weekends fun & games. The journey was as enjoyable as 3 hours on the M25 on a Friday night can be, but we arrived at Lydden in good time to get the tents up in daylight, which is a bit of a first. However, it seems the Lydden landowners have thoughtfully dumped about 15 tons of hardcore about an inch under the surface of the area we normally camp on. At least, that’s what it felt like as we tried to get the tents up. I’ve massacred about a dozen pegs with my trusty club hammer.
Mark turned up about an hour after we did, and we sat around chatting and having a quick beer. It’s good to have him out racing again. After eating some burned meat we all turned in for the night, as scrooting was to start at 7:30am next morning.
Saturday, 26th June
Up at the crack of dawn, and noted the blue skies and sunshine… Things were looking good, and were soon to be made better by the arrival of tean and bacon butties. Scrooting was a breeze, and before I knew it, first practise was being called…
I was experimenting with a 42T rear sprocket, rather than the more normal Lydden gearing of 43T, and it seemed to be working well. Despite getting to know Lydden reasonably well now, I still hate the place, and have never felt comfortable riding there. Today was no exception, as I wobbled around being passed by the world and his dog. Not content with embarrasing myself once, I queued up for another practise session, and did it all again.
Off row 6, with the singles and twins in front. Got an OK-ish kind of start, and was noticed my mate and fellow TeamIxion rider Robin Maytum exiting stage left at Pilgrims. Settled in behind Nick, but couldn’t stay with him. Had a bit of an exciting moment at Chessons when the back lit up over the crest, but nothing untoward. Finished 2nd last (See? Told you I hate Lydden) with an official best lap of 49.8. However, Simon had timed me at 50.1, and I’m more inclined to believe his timings than the official one.
At last, for the first time ever, I dipped under 50s with a 49.6 second lap. Finished 3rd last this time, but it was a much closer affair. (At the line there were 5 of us seperated by as many seconds). Another slippy slidy moment at Chessons had me wondering what was going on, as Ryan Harris simply dived underneath me on a tighter line with 5mph more speed. There was nothing I could do about it. After the race I had a chat with newly crowned outright lap record holder Rik Ballerini, and his advice was simple. Get a new tyre. So I did, but couldn’t get it fitted in time for the last race.
Again, 3rd last, but my lap times were now down to 49.5. I’d started this race from row 2, but been blitzed away from the start again.
The results are, by any standards, pretty crap. However, in all the races I was within 20s of the winner… The racing was very tight, and I just wasn’t being assertive enough in my passing.
Saturday evening I got my new tyre fitted, and settled down to some food and a couple of pints with Simon, Mark and Emma. The evening after a race is a great time to unwind, and enjoy life. All the days adrenalin and aggression subsides, and sharing a drink with someone you’d previously been trying to pass at 110mph is a unique experience. If there’s anyone out there reading this who fancies the idea of going racing, do it just for the paddock friendship.
Cost so far:
Gearbox oil: £4
Sunday, 27th June
Late start today, so pottered around in the morning eating bacon and drinking tea. Eventually I scrounged a practise permit to scrub in my new tyre, so off we went…
I’d increased my pre-load both front and rear in an attempt to stop the dreaded ‘Paddock death wobble’, a manoevure I have to say I’m not too keen on. It worked. The bike was now much more stable everywhere (although to be honest, I can’t see why it should be) and everything felt more together.
Again, second last, but this time I was running consistent 48 second laps, with several forays into the 48.1s. The new rear tyre felt a million times better at Chessons, and I was carrying more corner speed through the Devils Elbow than ever before. I actually felt, for the first time, that I was putting in some consistently fast laps, and having a race. Normally at Lydden I feel like I’m just marking time until the chequred flag. This feeling was confirmed by the fact that my fastest lap was a 48.12, and at the finish I was again, about 20 seconds behind the winner (over 12 laps).
Rain! Lots of it… There was standing water at the Devils Elbow and Pilgrims, and it was a bit slippy out there. I actually thought I was going to crash in this one, and to be honest, I didn’t do my best to discourage it. I was determined to learn how to ride in the wet, and set about chasing people down. Passed Paul, Simon, and a few singles and twins, and once more found myself on the tail of Nick. I was way faster than him around Chessons into the Elbow, but he was too good on the brakes for me to make a pass stick there. Several times at Chessons I was deliberately provoking little slides from the rear over the crest, which was great fun, but probably not good for the lap times. But I didn’t care. I was enjoying the race. Best lap was a 57.3, which was way off Paul Hogans pace (53.6).
I’ve enjoyed the weekend, and despite getting crap points and finishes, actually feel like I was riding well. My old bugbear of not being assertive enough at the start seems to have manifested itself again, so it looks like I’ll have to work on that next time out. I’m now lapping within a second of the fast boys (fastest TZR lap all weekend was a 47.3) so I’m very happy with that.
And I finally broke the 50 second barrier. Last time I tried that I landed on my head.