Getting the hang of things again

Saturday, 7th October

Now here’s a novel thing. A reasonably timely update of this diary. My lack of details recently is purely down to my job. I’ve never, ever been so busy. Hopefully this will sort itself out in the closed season to allow me to give these pages an overhaul, and rewrite all the scripts in perl. No reason to really, I just fancy the change. Anyway…

The weekend started, in the traditional Ronketti style, with a potentially catastrophic mechanical failure… Convoying down the A14 with Simon and the Team Mojo pantechnicon it was noted that somebody had forgotten to bolt the front wheel on properly. Luckily this was spotted before the wheel fell off, so we stopped in a lay-by, and re-torqued all the bolts. It’s always quite amusing having a mechanical failure on the way to a race meet, as there’s generally enough tools available to build a nuclear submarine if necessary. The plan was to try and get to Brands at 6ish to ensure we could get a garage. As it turned out, we got there on time, and had the choice of virtually the entire garage block. For some reason we plumped for the one with a puddle the size of Belgium bang in the middle of it.

Bearing in mind that I’d not ridden a bike since August when I rode at Snetty, I was nervous about this weekend. Very nervous. I’d ridden well at Snett, and was anxious to try and maintain this vein of form. However, Brands is not one of my favourite circuits, and the weather looked distinctly dodgy for the weekend, with rain, wind, sun and everything else thrown in. I mused on these points as I took a wazz over the pit wall onto the third row before retiring to the night to the comfort of one of the bunks in Simons van. Cheers dood.

Sunday dawned grey, overcast, and damp, although not actually raining. Scrooting provided the normal Brands Challenge as we’re not allowed to start any engines before first practise, and the scrooting bay appears to be in Sussex somewhere. However, all that pushing is doing me good, and makes me feel smug every time I push my teeny 250 past a 600 rider, so I’m not too upset by it. The bike and my kit passed muster OK, so I set about getting things set up for pratise. I plumped for inters, as it wasn’t wet enough for full wets on the parts of the track I could see. I scooted round for the alloted three laps, and noted that a) the bike as running like a slug due to chronic over-jetting and b) the track was still rather slippy in places, particularly Clearways. I popped back to the paddock, fiddled with something (can’t remember exactly what now) and nipped out for another session. All was looking well. Once practise had finished I jetted down from 400s to 380s as the pressure seemed to have stabilised now, and got my tyre warmers on. Shortly afterwards I noted that I’d forgotten to replace the float bowl plug on the front carb. Ho hum.

Race one
I lined up on row three, and took this to be a good luck omen after marking my territory there last night. Lights went green, and I got a reasonable start. Scotty shot past into Druids on the first lap, and I got him back at Paddock next time round. I sat on the back of a little group of Michael Rose, Ben Brewerton and Andrew Tipton. I could get the drive on Andrew every lap at Clearways, but he was way faster than me through Paddock, and could simply pick his line there to go around or under me. Just ahead of this little group I could see the leading pack pulling a couple of seconds per lap, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I just got my head down and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Position 12th
Best lap 54.15

Race two
Again, I sat behind Andrew, and again, he left me standing at Paddock every lap… I got a little carried away on the final lap, and decided to try to outdrive him to the line from Clearways. This plan was all going rather well as I started pulling him in about half way around the corner, when I noticed the world starting to go sideways. My second hand rear slick was crying enough, and there was nothing I could do but roll off a little, sit the bike up, and let him go. Dammit.
Position 11th
Best lap 53.22

Race three
Guess what? I ended up scrapping with Andrew Tipton… I still didn’t get the better of him, which I found immensely frustrating. However, I did have a decent scrap with Michael Rose and Nick Nicholls in the meantime, which was bloody good fun. I had to let Nick go in the end, as he’s quicker than me, and was running 52 second laps. I was determined to try and get a 52 myself this weekend, but all the scrapping was slowing me down a little, so my lap times suffered a bit. Still, I’d rather have a good, enjoyable race than a string of lap records any day.
Position 12th
Best lap 54.01

All in all, a dead good weekend. I’m starting now to come to terms with a GP250. When I started, a few people told me it would take about 6 months to start getting used to it, and 6 months to learn how to use the performance on offer. Here I am, 6 months later, and bugger me if they weren’t right.

Friday, 20th October

After Brands I’ve been feeling on a bit of a high really. The bike was behaving nicely, and I’m now starting to get the hang of riding it. It’s difficult to describe, but I now feel like I’m actually racing again, rather than just trying to discover what the bike’s capable of. Anyway, I mused on these points as I pottered across to Silverstone for the afternoon. I’d taken a half day at work, ‘cos I’m knackered. The days practise was in full swing by the time I got there, so I installed myself in the garage with Rog, Nick Nicholls, Andy Denyer, Vince Whittle, Dirk Schreuder, James Dening (both his bikes) Martin Hough (also two bikes) Simon Morley, Simon Oliver, Colin McCready (also two bikes) and Martin thingy. Silverstone garages are huge. As if by magic, Roger informed me that he wasn’t going out in his last session, and would I like his place? I didn’t need asking twice, so I popped over to race control to see the Lovely Bernie, signed on, got into my leathers, and nipped out. Silverstone is not the most interesting track in the world from a riders point of view, but technically I find it very challenging. (I’m getting my excuses ready early…) So, I scooted around behind Scotty, and after a few laps nipped past to clock up a few 1:06 laps. I was quietly chuffed with this, as when I got back I discovered that Roger had been doing 1:04s despite practising all day. Things were looking good…

We retired to James’ fathers for the night. Jim was the perfect host, and fed us all, drove us to the local pub, and even got up at 5:30 the next morning to cook breakfast.

Saturday, 21st October

sl_001021_2 Scrooting proved to be a laugh, as I’d forgotten to tighten my rear wheel spindle when I chaged the tyres to wets. Did I mention that it was wet and cold? Hardly seems worth mentioning, as this is England at the end of October. Of course it’ll be wet and cold… Silverstone is treacherous in the wet, so I pootled around in practise like I was going to Tesco’s. There’s no point in lobbing the bike in practise after all.
Race 1
Off row 3, with Scotty directly to my left. My normal pants start saw me desperately trying to make up places at the first couple of corners, and I dived up the inside of a few only to be met by Scotty exiting stage left at Becketts when he hit the white line at max lean. For some reason this seemed to dent my confidence somewhat, and to be honest, I rode quite gingerly for the first few laps. That was, until Nick nipped up the inside going into Copse as I screwed up the braking again. I immediately gave chase, and we circulated in close formation for the last three or four laps. Every lap I’d be quicker through the Brooklands/Luffield complex, but Nick would be way quicker than me out of Becketts. We crossed the line under a second apart, and I thoroughly enjoyed the scrap.
sl_001021_1 Race 2
An almighty scrap… Scotty was on row 5, I was on 4, and Nick on 3. All three of us made reasonable starts, and I nipped up the inside of Nick at Becketts, and Scotty passed the both of us. I was determined to stay ahead of Nick this time, but I hadn’t counted on Ben Brewerton joining in the party. I forget how many times we passed each other, but eventually I made a bit of a break, and set about Scott. A couple of quick laps later and I got right on his tail, but a slip at Luffield getting on the brakes too hard and too late let Ben and Nick back past. (This really shows just how competitive the GP250s are. 1 small slip and you lose two places just like that). Anyway, I got my head down, and chased the three of them. Into Copse on lap 9 we lined up to lap a backmarker, who dutifully moved off line to let the other three past, then swerved straight across the line to block me completely. I have absolutely no idea how I missed him, but it lost me 50 yds. And that was that. I couldn’t make up the ground in the remaining lap and a half. Still, it was an absolutely cracking race, and I knocked two seconds off my lap times from race one.

So that’s it for another year… My first year in the GPs. In all honesty, about 6 months ago it looked like I’d have to give up racing completely. Had it not been for the immense generosity and selflessness of several very good friends I’d not have got this far, and I’d publicly like to thank you all. You know who you are.

Highs? Scrapping with Scotty anywhere and everywhere once more. Getting on the pace at Brands. Just riding a GP250. Watching so many friends achieve so many great things – Roger, 250GP champion. Colin, 3rd in the Rookie 400s. Martin, 3rd in the Rookie 600s. But, most of all, James, 2nd in the Rookie 600s, and the most epic battle of the season. He trailed the eventual winner by a single point going into the last race of the season, and lost the front end at Copse trying to pass him. The highs and lows of motorcycle racing condensed into a single lap.
Lows? Ray English, Tony Chilcott and Martyn Elvin. R.I.P.

Next season? Dunno yet. I’ll still be on the TZ obviously, but am not sure whether to compete the bemsee series or the MRO. I can’t afford to do both, and in all honesty am not good enough yet to really compete in the MRO series. I’ll have to think about this over the winter while planning my next paint scheme. Watch this space…

The end of another season, and a well deserved bath