Monday, 5th June
A bit of a gap since the last installment, purely ‘cos I’ve been so busy trying to keep all sorts of things up to date. Firstly and foremostly I’m currently studying for my CCNA exam (anyone out there want to give me loads of money as a qualified Cisco expert, 13 years programming experience, web site design, bike racer etc. etc.) and also trying to keep the TZ running.
Now, I’m sure that nobody is actually interested in the seven layers of the OSI model or extended access lists, so instead I’ll concentrate on what’s been going on with the bike. Firstly, the clutch. Oh dear. I’m desperately trying to think of a word to describe it, but the only thing that keeps coming back to me is ‘completely shafted’. I’ve had to replace all the steels, and all the fibre plates. Luckily, there were enough good bits that came with the bike to enable me to do this. A little bit of time spent with the vernier gauge to check the thickness and dial gauge to check the flatness soon sorted enough plates to get me out again at Oulton. I was feeling rather flushed with my ingenuity and engineering prowess, so progressed onto the top ends.
New pistons, rings, and little ends were thrown at the motor which accepted them gratefully. I have to say, replacing these items was almost a complete doddle. Even by my standards. While I had the carbs and reed blocks out I decided to have a good look around. The carbs are just fine, but the reeds on the bottom cylinder are starting to fray a touch. I’ll need to replace them soon, so I guess a call to Graham File is in order as the guru of TZ engines. One thing that struck me as a little odd is that the bottom reeds have helpers, while the top ones do not. Still, stranger things have surfaced on this bike (like the lack of spacers rendering the fork pre-load adjustment rather sub-optimal in it’s operation) so I’ll fix it properly when I have money.
So, the clutch was looking lovely, and the top ends were in fine fettle, so I decided to run the bike up to temperature to start bedding the new top ends in. Bump starting a TZ250 in a small garage is not an activity I’d recommend for fun. Still, if at first you do not succeed etc. etc. Eventually, on the 64th 3foot run up the motor caught, and I promptly stalled it again when I forgot which way to change gear. (Still, I’ve only been riding bikes for 18 years, so that’s only to be expected). Another 15 or so attempts, and the motor fired up, and started belching the usual noxious mixture of avgas and 747 out the back (my neighbours just love me). At that moment, a gust of wind (or a fed up neighbour) caught my garage door, and slammed it closed. The next ten minutes were spent trying not to breathe whilst getting the bike up to temperature.
I crawled out of the garage and lay on the lawn for about 15 minutes, trying to work out who, and where I was. Merely trying to distinguish ‘up’ from ‘down’ was proving tricky.
So, after all the days successes, I decided to tackle the small oil leak from the crank case. I wasn’t sure exactly where the leak was coming from, so I decided to strip off the crank case and replace the gasket. Well, that’s to say I would have done had I had the right size socket in my meagre toolkit. I made a mental note to buy one tomorrow, and instead, set about just having a general clean up.
Within 5 minutes I’d snapped the oil filler cap and buggered the threads in an attempt to rescue the situation. Surely it’s only a matter of time now before Yamaha draft me in to their team of top-flight mechanics after their recent spell of mechanical failures.
Cost so far:
New pistons etc. : £175
Fuel for Oulton: £22
Tuesday, 6th June
In an effort to continue yesterdays ineptitude, I spent another evening in the garage. Within about 15 minutes I’d discovered that the oil leak that caused yesterdays antics was in fact, not an oil leak at all, just pre-mix blown back through the top carb where I’d been blipping the throttle on the stand. I suppose this means that my top reeds are shot (or might need the helpers that I noticed were missing yesterday) but right now, I don’t care.
Cost so far:
28mm socket to remove the clutch so I could replace the crank case gasket that didn’t need replacing: £10. And a complete waste of money as it turned out to be a 29mm nut.
I think, given the events of the past two days, the most constructive thing I can think to say is Bollocks.
Thursday, 8th June
Drove the long haul up to Oulton in the company of good friend and top BMCRC Rookie 600 runner James Dening. The weather was good, the farmhouse we’d booked into for B&B was good, the local pub was good… In fact, life was generally about as good as it gets…
Friday, 9th June
Up early, as the lovely landlady of the B&B had agreed to cook breakfast for us all (Sol and Simon of Team Mojo fame had joined us by this point) at 6:30am. To celebrate possibly the best sausages I’d eaten all year, it started raining. Once breakfast was consumed, we headed off to the circuit, and I got ready for my first session.
Despite Oulton Park being my favourite circuit, this was possibly the most miserable experience I have had on a bike this year. The rain was, by now, honking it down in a quite impressive manner, and the rivers across the track at Old Hall were making tyre grip a bit marginal, and choice of line completely non-negotiable. Add to that the fact that I was running in new pistons and rings, so couldn’t even have fun by opening the throttle, and you’ll start to see why it was less than enjoyable. I finished the session, and gently steamed in the corner of the garage.
Session 2 was much the same, but I could now open the throttle a bit harder and scare myself rigid with the normal Lodge manoevure.
Session 3 was very brief indeed, due to my lobbing a chain off at the hairpin.
Session 4 was completely forgettable for some reason. Probably because I have the memory of a small goldfish.
The evening was one of those fabulous evenings that I’ll remember long after I’ve actually stopped racing. Good company, good conversation, and a thoroughly relaxed time. 3 years ago I used to think a good Friday night consisted of a night in the Abrook arms, a few games of darts, if I was lucky a kebab on the way home and a foul hangover on the next morning. While I wouldn’t swap those days for anything, looking back it’s easy to see just how completely and fundamentally my life has been changed by racing. I still do the beer and kebab thing occasionally, but it’s a far less important part of my life than it used to be.
Saturday, 10th June
Snore… Fart… Snore… Shuffle… Fart… Grunt…
Garage 1A at Oulton is hardly the most palatial of bedrooms, but it seemed to serve rather well for the seven of us that kipped there on the Friday night after a hard, and very damp days practise. Sadly the majority of us had eaten the excellent curry served up in the Team Mojo pantechnicon that evening, so consequently Saturday morning was a little more flatulent than is healthy when seven people are sharing one small garage. Still, at least my TZ had been leaking avgas from a dodgy fuel tap for most of the night to anaethsetise (sp?) most of us by morning.
The normal morning routine of scratching my todger and demanding tea was undertaken, followed by scrooting, and practise. Practise lasted precisely one corner before my fuel hose fell off, followed by a noticeable lack of forward motion. Bugger. I was recovered, and dropped at entirely the wrong end of the pit lane, whereupon the helpful BHL pit lane nazi refused to let me walk my bike up the pit lane, and insisted I walked it to the gate at the other end. I did this, only to find it locked.
(It has to be said at this point, that this was a depressing feature of the days activities. BHL seemed incapable of organising the simple act of having someone on the gate to open it when riders wanted to get back in after the race. That, coupled with some of the more bizarre pit lane rules like not being allowed to wear shorts to the left of the start line, left many people bemused, and frankly rather pissed off. Oh, and the power tripped out to the garages every 2 minutes seconds as Oulton Park have seen fit to provide a 30A supply to the whole garage block).
Anyway, this is a race diary, so let’s talk about racing…
Race one saw me with a row three start, which I was fairly chuffed with. I scooted away at an average pace, and pretty quickly elbowed my way through a gaggle of 125s up to the rear of my nemesis, Scotty. I was rather surprised to say the least to find myself up with him so quickly, so set about trying to wheedle a way past. Scotts bike has far more grunt than mine, so it would have to be on the brakes, or a draughting move. Option 1 was ruled out on the grounds that I’m pants at braking, and option 2 was ruled out as Oulton doesn’t have any long enough straights really. In the end I got him by holding back into Knickerbrook, then carrying a far higher speed up Clay hill, driving round the outside on the left kink into Druids, and stuffing him on the inside line. Passing someone flat in top with one wheel in the air whilst trying to turn left is best described as exhiliarating. Still, I’d managed it, so I set about consolidating my lead. This I managed, to the extent that my lap times dropped 2s. By lap 6 I was physically knackered, but closing quickly on Colin sanders, one of the top 125 guys. I let him have the place, as it wouldn’t have done either of us any good to get involved in a scrap this late in the race with no positional advantage to be gained.
Race two was a blinder. My performance in race 1 had netted me a row three start again, and I capitalised on this with possibly my best start ever. I cleared the row I started from, and ended up in 6th place on the first lap, right on the back wheel of Nick Nicholls. It stayed like this for three laps, before my inexperience with 250GP bikes showed, and I was stuffed by Ben Brewerton and Adrian Spencely on the brakes in quick succession. Neither of them got away from me, but at the same time I wasn’t able to repass them. Meanwhile, behind me, a lunatic 125 rider who was punted off on lap one was charging through the field at a rate of knots, and stuffed me, Adrian, Ben and Nick in one lap. So, that’s the difference between a midfield club level idiot like myself and a national supercup rider then… Again, I started to tire on about lap 6, and started to make silly mistakes, like dropping a gear too many for Druids, and missing my turn in for Knickerbrook. Luckily I had a nice cushion over the rider behind (whose name completely escapes me now), so got away with it. This was a stroke of good fortune, as if there’s one thing I have learned this season it’s that there’s no mugs in this class.
All in all, a highly successful weekend. I’m still not up to pace on slick tyres, but it’s slowly coming together. It’s a shame that I’ll simply not have the track time this year to try to make this transition, but I’m going to have a bloody good go.
Meanwhile… It seems that my mystery benefactor has mysteriously benefacted me again: Whilst wandering into the paddock office to see the lovely Bernie and collect my race times, she casually mentioned that my entry for next Sundays MRO round at Snetterton had been confirmed. This was news to me, as I didn’t actually enter it, but when I pointed this out, Bernie simply said “That’s not important. Just turn up ready to race, OK?”
So, here I am… This time last year struggling around on a TZR250, a month ago having to sell everything to make ends meet, and now competing in a national championship on a TZ. Am I nervous? Yup. Am I looking forward to it? Oh gawd yes.
Tuesday, 13th June
Well, the great fenland avgas hunt has finally borne fruit, and I have enough to see me though the bemsee and MRO rounds at the weekend. Actually obtaining the stuff was a right laugh. I phoned around every airfield I could find in the area in the yellow pages, and they didn’t want to know. I then took to using a large scale map of the area and looking for every aerodrome in the area. Most of which appeared to actually be a turnip field. Finally, I tried the CAA, and was told in no uncertain terms that what I was trying to do was, in fact, highly illegal, and I’d best not call them again.
In desperation, I just turned up on the doorstep of Cambridge airport with two fuel drums, and was told bluntly that they couldn’t sell it, and would be prosecuted if they did. However, just as I was leaving, the security guard caught up, and said “we used to sell the stuff to racers like yourself, but can’t now. Try xxxxxxxxxxx airfield, as they may be more accomodating”.
This was news to me, as according to the CAA, xxxxxxxxxx airfield doesn’t have any fuelling facilities… Still, undeterred, I turned up, got lost, drove down the main runway, and ended up at the airfield office:
“Hi. I’m looking to buy some avgas 100LL”
“Sorry. We can’t sell it”
“Oh. I was told you can by Cambridge”
“What’s it for?”
“Racing at Snetterton this weekend”
“No. In that case we definately can’t. In fact, we’re not legally allowed to sell it even for aviation use.”
“Where do you normally get it?”
“xxxxxx airfield, near Winchester, but I can’t get there before the weekend”
“So you’re desperate then?”
“Bring your fuel drums round. Never tell anyone where you got it from. Never come back here again, and if you get nicked on the way home, deny all knowledge. OK?”
Cost so far:
Wednesday, 14th June
In a fit of enthusiasm, I finally got around to spraying the bodged up area of the fairing. Of course, in true Ronketti style the paint that I carefully chose from Halfords doesn’t really match the rest of the bike that well, but it’s a lot better than it used to look.
Cost so far:
Chain lube: £6
Saturday, 17th June
Snetterton is one of my favourite circuits. Fast, open, scary in places. In short, everything a race track should be. A lot of people berate is as being a pure power circuit, and while bhp here probably counts more than at most other circuits, the ability to carry a high mid corner speed through the fast corners can also pay handsome dividends.
And of course, being my local circuit, I don’t have to camp over the night before a race… So, Scotty and myself set off from mine at about 6:30am ready for the days events. Despite my doing rain dances all week it was steadfastly sunny, and looking to get hotter through the weekend. I pitched up next to the Taymar racing emporium, as the garages were stuffed full of diesels for tomorrows MRO event. Scrutineering was an absolute doddle due to Snett being as flat as a witches tit, so I got my leathers on ready for practise.
Within 3 laps I’d set a new personal best without actually trying. This was looking good…
Row 4 for this one, and my normal mediochre start descended into some pretty sub-standard riding to be honest. My gearing seemed way too low, as the bike was bouncing off 13,000 RPM on the back straight. Odd. Finished 3rd last. (It’s easier to count back rather than forwards for me in this class).
Row 5 for this one due to my dismal performance in race 1. I seemed to fare rather better in this one, and could keep pace with the group in front, but couldn’t reel them in. 4th last this time, so that’s an improvement. I’d also dropped my gearing and jetting to try and stay with the others on the straights. My corner speed was not a problem. In fact, through Corams, I was pulling yards on some of the others. Something I was very pleased with.
Saved the best ’til last… A good start, and some consistent laps saw me finish, erm, 3rd last. Dammit, I’m going faster and faster, but it’s just not good enough in this class, as the others around me are too good to give up places easily.
Sunday, 18th June
Up early, and back to Snett in readiness for todays MRO round. To say that I was nervous was, obviously, a complete understatement. I was cacking myself. I busied myself before untimed practise by fitting a new clutch, and giving everything a good once over. It was still early, and the temperature was getting up already. It was going to be a hot one…
Untimed practise was a complete disaster. I couldn’t keep the temperature of the bike below 80 degrees, despite having a radiator the size of Belgium. Obviously, this severly impacted the performance of the bike. In the end I settled for simply plug chopping it and saving the engine any more stress. The plug chop revealed that the bike was apparently running lean on the top cylinder, something I found rather strange given the conditions. Still, I upjetted, and waited for the qualifying session.
This was even worse, The temperature was still in the 75-80 degree region, and despite riding the wheels off the bike, my times were slower than yesterdays. It got to the point where I couldn’t even hold top along the Revett straight. I killed the motor, and coasted to a halt in the run off at the Esses. There was still about 10 minutes of qualifying left, but there was nothing I could do now apart from hope that enough people either killed their motors or withdrew to enable me to get a shot at the race.
I pushed the bike back, and whipped the head off again. There, right in front of me, was the cause of all my problems. The O-ring had failed on the top cylinder. I presumed that it had been failing for some time, which would account for the apparent leanness of that cylinder, and the overheating problems. I stripped both cylinders, and replaced all the O- rings and the spark plugs just to be sure. Despite the extra hassle that this caused, I was immensely happy to have found the cause of the problems. In fact, I was so happy that when I put the bike back together again I forgot to fill it with water. Luckily Anne Taylor (the better half of the Taymar Racing duo with her husband Martin) noticed this and asked me if it was intentional. Um…
A very long wait later, I wandered to the paddock office to see about qualifying. I wasn’t confident. The lovely Bernie gave me a big smile as she handed me the grid positions. I’d done it! I was last qualifier, but I didn’t care.
“Well done Neil, you’ve qualified!” said Bernie.
“Blimey. I want my mum.”
was all could think of.
Lunch came and went, and I prepared for the race by drinking gallons of water and lucozade. The temperature was 31 degrees. Apparently this was the hottest recorded in the country, and I happened to be wearing half a dead cow and preparing to ride my nadgers off in a 14 lap race in the worst of it. The last thing I did as I prepared to race was empty half a litre of cold water down my leathers before zipping them up. I rode to the collecting area visibly shaking. Would the bike last? Would I last? Could I hold my own in this company? I looked around, and saw riders of the calibre of Lee Dickenson, Tim Levy, Chris Bishop, Rik Ballerini, Rich Grinling, Roger Ford… The list just went on. I warmed my motor, and concentrated on keeping calm, and concentrated. At precisely that moment I noticed Charlie Entwhistle jumping up and down and waving like a lunatic in the crowd to grab my attention.
After a short interval, we were waved out onto the circuit, and formed on the grid. I took my position at the back of the field, and the started motioned us off for a sighting lap. The bike seemed to be running sweeter, and I took the opportunity to get my head down, and get some heat into the tyres.
One lap later we formed up on the grid for real, and I couldn’t stop my left leg shaking with nerves.
We were held for a very short time before the lights went green, and I got a flyer of a start. Sadly I was gridded right behind Scotty who had to back off to avoid T-boning someone who had drifted hard left, so I had to follow suit. Dead last into Russels. Bugger. Out of Sear, and I tucked in behind Nigel Lawrence before despatching him into the Esses. Next up, Scotty… But, before I could make a move, he nipped under Phil Guillou into the Bomb Hole, leaving me behind. I carried loads more speed around Corams, so simply nipped around the outside, and settled in behind Scott. I couldn’t get him on speed, so simply tucked in behind, and waited for an opportunity to present itself. However, coming out of Sear the next time round Phil shot past both of us so quickly we couldn’t even get a tow. Eh? Again, we both closed right up around Corams, and Scotty capitalised on this by forgetting to brake at Russells, and landing on his head in the gravel. Shame, as I was looking forward to a good scrap with him.
I set about chasing Phil, but it wasn’t to be. He had just so much more speed than me on the straights that no matter how much time I made up at Corams I just couldn’t make any inroads. Meantime, I was opening up a nice gap on Nigel Lawrence behind.
I was lapped by the leaders on lap 12, and was completely gobsmacked at the speed of a quick 250. I was suffering a bit with my gearing (I’d mistakenly thought that I was undergeared yesterday, due to clutch slip. Fitting a new clutch cured the problem, but now I was no longer hitting peak power on the straights) but not enough to make that much difference. Plus, of course, the front boys have a bucketload more ability than me. For one moment I thought about pulling in to avoid tripping any of the leaders up, but thought better of it. I’d come this far, 12 laps into a national race, and I was bloody well going to finish it. One lap later I did so, and left my bike in the parc ferme while I went off to find some more lucozade.
It was possibly the proudest moment of my life.
Officially I was 27th out of 35 classified, with 7 DNFs. In other words, 2nd last. I’m typing this up a week later, and can still remember just how I felt when I took the chequered flag. It’s something I’ll remember for a very, very long time.
I’ve now stopped keeping a running total for this season, for several good reasons. Firstly, as I’ve completely forgotten what I’ve spent where. Secondly, I’ve also lost track of people offering to stump up cash to keep me racing this season. I am completely overwhelmed by this, and just hope that one day I can help out in return in some small way. I still desperately need to find sponsorship from somewhere for next season, and I’m still trying my hardest to get it.
Sunday, 18th June
Well well well… It now turns out that I’ve got an entry in the MRO round at Oulton on July 8th as well. To this end I’ve been out in the garage all day ensuring that the bike is in top shape. The forks need a bit of attention, but right now I can’t afford to get them sorted properly (the need some new spacers machining and fitting. I do not have the tools necessary for either task) so I’ll make do with what I’ve got for now. The engine is just fine now after the spate of overheating problems at Snetterton, and the tyres look like they’ll last another meeting. The chassis was been cleaned and polished, as has the bodywork.
Also had a nice note from Wil at Wiz Racing offering me support and a good deal on a pair of sliders. Thanks Wil – I owe you one.