Friday, 5th May
I’d arrived at the track on Thursday night after a long drive to prepare for a days practise on the Friday. A thoroughly uncomfortable night ensued, where for some reason I was just not able to get warm despite two sleeping bags, and the infamous Ronketti Coat of Trout. The days practise farce rapidly degenerated into the scantest of sessions as the circuit was fogbound, and bloody cold for most of the day. I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and plumped for wobbling round on a set of inters rather than going for a full blown assault on the (mainly) dry track on slicks. I didn’t really get that much of a feel for the circuit, but the bike was running well since the switch to avgas and my chosen gearing seemed just about spot on for most of the circuit. There are no prizes for practise as we all know, something that seemed lost on the FZR400 pilot who passed me head down under a waved yellow. For about 1 second I though about chasing him and giving him a piece of my mind, but thought better of it. Besides, I’d probably not have caught him. The days non-events were rounded off nicely with a curry in Louth in the company of Scotty before settling down for another night in the tent. At least this time I had terrible flatulence to keep me warm.
Saturday, 6th May
Up early as I needed to get out of the tent before asphyxia set in. It looked like being a hot and sunny day, so before practise I opted to replace my inters with slicks, and get the bike scrooted. No worries on either score there, so before I knew it I was out on the circuit for 1st practise. This went rather well, so I queued up for more of the same, and shot out onto the circuit with Paul Grubb and Rog. Rog and I had already done one session, so had warm tyres, whereas Paul was on cold tyres. We followed him for half a lap, before doing the normal up the inside move at Charlies I to get a bit more speed up. The next thing I really remember is being stopped in the middle of the track with my knee resting gently on Rogers shoulder. It appears he had got on the gas a little too hard at the apex, gracefully lowsiding in front of me. Confronted by this rolling (or to me more precise, rolling, spinning and bouncing) roadblock I had little option but to hit the anchors hard, and stop where I was. Roger legged it off the track, and I followed Paul until he did a good job of getting the back in front at the gooseneck. Blimey. Considering this was only practise I was getting a bit nervous about the race…
Off row 4, and got the mother of all dodgy starts, as per usual. Still, hunted down and passed a few 125s in the first lap until up ahead I saw the figures of Nick Nicholls and Scotty slugging it out. I got my head down, and charged. It took three laps to pass Nick, eventually by draughting him up the Park straight and outbraking at Park. Scotty was just too far ahead now to catch, so I settled for defending my position, which I achieved until the hairpin on the last lap. 14yr old Aussie Psychopath Casey Stoner was lying in the middle of the track under a waved yellow. I backed off, as there was only one corner left to go now, Barn. Nick decided that this was his opportunity, and dived underneath me. I was furious. I got off the circuit, dumped the bike, and stormed into the paddock office. Once more, nothing was done about it. I am now so thoroughly fed up with losing places under yellow flags that I’ll not bother slowing down any more. If I end up ploughing into some hapless competitor so be it. It seems that nobody else gives a toss. I dunno. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh here, as when Nick passed me (at Barn) technically the danger was past.
Not so good – For some reason my head just wasn’t in this one, and I was ragged and losing time. Slower than race one, and I didn’t really enjoy it as much either. Still. As I recently learned, “never waste a lap” and I concentrated on corner speed through Coppice, where I’d been slow in race 1. It seemed to work.
Row 1. Gulp. My first ever good start on a GP250 saw me leading the field for about 20yds until the fast boys came through on their quicker bikes. I didn’t see Scotty in this lot, so rode my nadgers off in an attempt to keep him behind. On the penultimate lap at Mansfield I saw a shadow of a wheel, so slammed the door fairly firmly, and didn’t dare look back. One lap to go… My breathing was laboured, and my shoulders were hurting as I threw the bike into Coppice on a tight line… Through Charlies 1, still no sign of my pursuer. I concentrated on drive out of Charlies 2, and nailed the apex bang on. At this point on a GP250 the bike is accelerating so fast that it’s pretty difficult to haul yourself back into the seat to tuck in. With an extra bit of effort I got down behind the screen, and hung on up the straight. Over the hill flat in top I passed the 300yd marker, and hit the anchors at about 180yds. Immediately Scotty appeared out of the corner of my right eye. Git. He’d used my draught to perfection, and timed his braking equally well. I had no option but to follow through Park and Chris. I tried the normal inside move at Mansfield, but he shut the door on me in the same way I had done one lap before. Up to the mountain, and my last chance – I fingered the clutch to get good drive up the hill, and nearly looped it at the top. I had no option but to back off and let him go. We crossed the line three corners later in close formation.
Without doubt, the best race I’ve had for some time. Scotty had to knock 2s off his previous best to catch me, and later admitted that he purposefully left passing me ’til the last lap as he knew I’d only get the place back.
Saturday night was spent in the worst hotel in the world in Horncastle. Never again.
Sunday, 7th May
I skipped practise for today, and gave my bike instead to Phil Rollason, demon 125 champion-elect for this year. His comment when he gave it back (“Bloody hell. I wouldn’t ride it. You must be a nutter”) really got my fired up for the days racing.
Off row 4, and another pants start, followed by the usual banzai charge. Found, and passed Nigel Lawrence. Then passed Ben Brewerton. Up next, my nemesis, Scotty… However, the little matter of passing Phil on his 125 was between us. I powered past on the strart finish straight, and hit Coppice fully 20mph faster than I’ve ever done before. It’s testimony to the tyres and bike that I missed the rapidly approaching field, but I also missed the line into Charlies. Phil swept past again, and I started chasing. However, my clutch was starting to suffer a little bit, losing me drive on the start finish straight, and out of Park and Mansfield. I settled for defending my position. All this was about to change though. Barrelling into the hairpin I stamped down to 1st, and let out the clutch. Nothing. I was now heading straight for a wall, at an unfeasible velocity, with no run-off. The only thing left was to tip the bike in and hope. The front tyre let go immediately, and for the first time ever, I saved it on my knee. I pulled off at the pit lane. Dammit.
Off row 1, and straight into a sequence of 8 laps, each one beating my previous personal best. Scotty had pulled out with a fried clutch, and Nick lobbed a chain, so I was substantially on my own. My previous other sparring partner, Nigel Lawrence, had found an extra spurt of speed here, and despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t reel him in. I finished the race completely drained, but with an enormous smile on my face. I was physically shaking as I crossed the line, and could barely get out of my leathers.
I really, really need to build up some more strength in my upper body.
A good weekend? Yup. Most definately. The bike was perfect (the clutch problem was caused by yours truly over adjusting it), and I rode well. My times were nothing to write home about (1:43s at the best, compared with 1:34s for the winners) but then again, it was only my second time on the bike.
Thursday, 11th May
Spent the evening in the garage stripping, and checking everything on the bike. The pistons are fine, and in fact, look a lot healthier since the change from Hiperflo to avgas. With this in mind, I’ve reset the ignition timing from 1.4mm BTDC to 1.5mm BTDC, which is how the bike was originally set up to run. There seems to be rather a lot of oil flying around in the lower fairing, which is either pre-mix being spat back through the cavernous bellmouthed carbs, or a dodgy gearbox gasket somewhere. I’ll need to investigate this further.
Apart from the oil, everything else looks just fine. It all needs a thorough clean up after the weekends battles, and the front end needs dropping a little through the yokes to quicken the steering, but that’s about it. I’ve also decided to give the thing a lick of paint to make it look more presentable. Current favourite colour scheme is yellow and purple, but I’m open to suggestions. (As long as it involves yellow. The wheels are yellow, and I can’t afford to have them blasted and re- coated).
Cost so far:
Wednesday, 17th May
----- Original Message -----
From: Neil Ronketti
To: teamixion; evilgothBikerSkum
Sent: 17 May 2000 20:11
Subject: Come in number 35, your time is up.
> Yes, due to complete and total financial catastrophe, it looks like my
> racing days are numbered. I’ve had to pull my entry from Brands, and it
> looks like Oulton may well be my swansong. Which is a pisser, as after
> finally achieving my ambition of racing a GP250 having it pulled away
> after three races is pretty hard to bear.
> In fact, it’s very bloody upsetting.
> So, firstly my ZXR is up for grabs in an attempt to at least pacify my
> bank manager to some degree. Needs to go very quickly, so if anyone
> knows anyone who wants a cheap 750, FSH, 18000 miles, tatty as hell
> though, please let me know. It has to go quickly, so any sensible offer
> will probably get it.
> If there’s not a drastic upturn in my fortunes (like a major sponsor
> paying for things) then the TZ will be up for grabs after Oulton too I
> should think. And before anyone says “how about LC/MZ/TZR racing” yes
> I’ve thought about it, and no, it wouldn’t help any right now.
—– Original Message —–
From: Neil Ronketti
To: Dave/Bernie Stewart
Sent: 17 May 2000 20:24
Subject: Brands entry
> Sorry to be a pain in the arse, but is it too late to pull my Brands
> entry for next weekend? I’ve just spoken to my bank manager, and
> basically, things don’t look too good right now. In fact, they couldn’t
> be a great deal worse to be honest. It looks like Oulton may well be my
> last race for the foreseeable future until I can sort some stuff out.
> And there’s no way under the sun I’d miss that one for anybody.
> Of course, all this may change when Repsol Honda call me to replace the
> rather lacklustre Alex Criville, and I’ll be sure to let you know when
> this happens.
> Seriously though, I can’t make any plans for races beyond Oulton right
> now. I’m doing everything I can to get out there again, but it looks
> like this season my now be spectating. In fact, if this is the case, I
> may well be turning up in orange overalls to drag Scotty out of the
> gravel at a few meetings. Have you got an e-mail for Pete Bartlett so I
> can drop him a line about this?
> I’m completely gutted. After finally achieving my ambition of racing a
> GP250 it looks like it’s been whipped away from under me. To quote
> Smokey Robinson, a taste of honey is worse than none at all.
A few days later…
I am completely and utterly overwhelmed by everyones response to my finiancial woes. I’ve had everything from messages of support to offers of money to carry on racing and keeping this web site up to date. It really is very, very unexpected, and more than a little encouraging.
So, here’s my current plan… I’ve sold my road bike, a ZXR750, to keep my bank manager off my back for a few weeks at least. I’ve also sorted out a sponsorship proposal, so if anyone reading this is in a position to give me pots of money in return for promotion, please mail me with the details. More importantly, a mystery benefactor has paid for my entry for Brands Hatch next weekend, so I’m back on again.
Whoever did this (and yes, I do have my suspicions) has rekindled my faith in human nature. I sincerely hope that one day I’m in a position to return the favour by helping out where I can.
Sunday, 28th May
Up with the lark, ‘cos I’d kipped in the car for the night so was woken as soon as the skies lightened. (I was going to say ‘as soon as the sun rose’ but I’m not really sure that would be truly accurate). It had rained solidly all night, and as expected, the paddock was awash. The scene looked very slightly like an asian shanty town after a monsoon, with scanty awnings forlornly flapping in the winds and various bits of flotsam and jetsam skating past on the waves. At this point I remembered that I’d left BOTH my coats outside the night before, thinking I could use them to protect my spare wheels from the light showers. I did the only thing in the circumstances, and turned over, buried my head in the sleeping bag and desperately wished to be somewhere else.
However, I was determined to put up a good show this morning for my mystery benefactor, so steeled my resolve, climbed into my gladitorial leathers, and headed off to the cafe for a cuppa and plate of lard.
Row 7 start, and once the frolicking whales had been evicted from the start line we got on with it. My 1993 TZ inboard motor powered kayak seemed to be able to hold it’s own in the wet, a fact confirmed when I passed several people I normally can’t even see at the end of a race (Lee Finney, Gary Baxter et al). Scotty held me off, which I’m not desperately unhappy about, as he’s a demon in the wet. I was completely amazed to find that I was clocking 1:52 laps, only 3s off the pace of the race winners. Gulp. Maybe I’m not a hopeless old todger after all.
Another row 7 start, and this time a drying track made the wet tyres squirm around a fair bit on the brakes and around Druids. Managed one of my best ever passing moves on Nick Nicholls – Took two laps to plan and execute, but I managed to out drive him into Graham Hill, and hold off the brakes long enough to make it stick. Doesn’t sound like a Troy Bayliss ‘outbrake 5 people at the chicane’ passing move, but I still liked it. It’s nice when you size up an opponent for a couple of laps to find a weak spot and exploit it. This time I was down to 1:47s, but the pace at the front had upped a fair bit. Was pipped at the line by .1 of a second by a.n. other. Bum.
aka “The great tyre comedy”. By the time we got to the grid, it was dry from Clearways through to Surtees, and damp with dry lines everywhere else. The rivers across the track just after Surtees made life interesting on the throttle. I opted for inters, some still had full wets, and the brave had slicks. It really was a lottery. Another row 7 start had me fighting for places from the start, but it was a good scrap all the way just behind Nick and Scotty. A couple of slippy slidy moments at Westfield had me clenching my buttocks a bit, but other than that, another solid performance I was happy with.
Monday, 29th May
Dry, with the occasional damp patches for added entertainment on slick tyres… A scorching race saw me down into the 1:44s in an attempt to pass Scotty. I did, but only when he ran out of track at Paddock when his brakes faded on the way in. After that an immense scrap with a chap on a Saxon framed TZ350 had me occupied for the rest of the race. He was *way* faster than me through dingle dell, but I could gain through Clearways and the drive up the back straight. Sadly, he retired on the last lap while about 5 yds ahead. I waved on the way past though, as it was not a fitting way to end such a great race.
4 laps into it, my clutch went west. :(. My fault entirely, ‘cos I didn’t measure up my plates before this meeting.
All in all, an utterly fabulous weekend. I can’t believe that I’m only 3s a lap off the pace of the fast boys in the wet. OK, my bike is 7 years old, and there is a lot of much faster kit out there, but I’ve never really considered myself to be anywhere near this kind of pace.
Cost so far:
Wednesday, 31st May
Ordered new pistons/rings/pins/etc. etc. from Taymars to get me through the rest of the season. My current plans are to run at Oulton next weekend as it’s such a brilliant track, then Snetterton the week after ‘cos Faye has paid the entry fee as a birthday pressie, then see where we go from there. To be honest, that will probably be the end of my season. But given the state of my finances two weeks ago, it’s a bloody miracle to still have the bike at all.