Friday, 10th May

Once again, my plans for world 250GP domination appear to be on the skids, due to a rather worrying series of conversations with my bank manager. So, to this end, my bike is now for sale. If you want a slightly famous 250GP bike (which now has new barrels and exhausts to cure the rather flaccid dyno performance last month) please mail me for details.

Meanwhile… I’ve still got an entry paid for this weekend at Brands Hatch, so I’m bloody well going to use it. This will be my swansong for the foreseeable future, so I’m going to make sure I enjoy myself.
The bike has been lovingly stripped, cleaned again, new barrels and pipes, reed blocks tidied up, cleaned again, and re-assembled. Will it hold together at Brands? I dunno. I’ve run out of time and money to have it dyno’d to check, so I think I’ll just run it, and check the pistons after each race. I have got an old set to lob in there to get me through the weekend if need be. I’ve never run these barrels before, so have no idea about the jetting requirements.
It should be a good weekend – the weather looks good (cool, yet dry) and the usual suspects (Scotty, Andy, Ben et al) are out there, so I’m up for a good scrap. The only thing is, I’ve not sat on a bike now for about 6 months, so am probably a bit rusty. I rather suspect I’ll be left behind a little in my first race of the weekend, but hope to have a couple of good races.

So what of the future? Well, once this race is over that’s it for the time being. I have no money to enter further races or pay for tyres, fuel etc. etc. The bike will be sold, and my garage will be empty… However, as with all the best stories, there’s a few loose ends that will make for a good sequel. Firstly, I’ve been offered a ride on possibly the fastest KTM in the country for a spot of supermoto racing. Secondly, I’ve got a ride in October at Jurby again, courtesy of my mate Keith and his intercontinental ballistic GSX-R. Further afield, who knows? I’ll still be hanging around race tracks looking disreputable and holding spanners for people. And I’m sure that at some point in the future there will be another bike in the garage that needs a good seeing to at weekends.

This diary will be kept up to date as things happen, including the weekends Brands adventures.

But right now I’ve got a daughter to go and cuddle.

Saturday, 11th May

The journey down to Brands was pretty uneventful really, aside from the exceptionally early start. I have to say, 4:45am is the kind of time I normally only see if I’ve not actually been to sleep yet. However, it was a nice clear morning, and I arrived at Brands for 6:30, which was just about right. I had planned to camp out in the paddock this weekend, as I wasn’t sure whether I’d be particularly good company. However, as I arrived at Brands my spirits lifted, and I made the decision there and then to bloody well enjoy my last weekends racing for the foreseeable future. So, I unloaded everything into garage 22, where Cherie, Paul & Biggus Grinnus were living for the weekend.

Scrooting was, of course, a complete pain in the bum. The push through the tunnel, even with a little 250 is quite beyond me. I stopped at the bottom and waited for some other poor sod to come along and give me a hand to push. From that point on, there was quite a nice system going – when I’d got to the top, I left the bike against the fence, and ran down to help the next bloke up. He then did the same, etc. etc. I’m not sure how long this went on for, as I joined the scrooting queue, but it was nice to think that I helped out in some small way :o)

I then joined the slowest queue in the world. In fact, as I sit here and type this some 30 odd hours later, I’m fairly amazed that I’m not still there. However, the bike passed muster (and so it bloody should have, the amount of attention I’ve lavished on it recently) so I pushed it all the way back. As I pushed back up to the garage, a young lady came running up to me, and exclaimed “You’re Rik Ballerini, aren’t you?”

It was the highlight of my racing career to date.

Practise came and went in the way that it normally does. I felt like a complete novice though. Fair enough I suppose, as I’d not ridden anything since Jurby last year in October, and hadn’t sat on a GP bike since the month before. However, the bike was running beautifully, if a little rich, so I decided to leave it alone for the first race.

To say I was nervous would be an understatement of biblical proportions. As I sat in the collecting area my legs were shaking, and I had enough butterflies to make levitation a distinct possibility. Gulp… We were waved off the grid for the sighting lap, and I tucked in behind Andy Hyde, who know Brands like the back of his hand. At this point I completely failed to follow his lines, making it a rather futile excercise. We lined up on the grid for the race, and I cleared my mind, and concentrated on the lights… As they flashed green I got a reasonable start, and cleared a few people in front, but similarly a few of the faster boys behind got past. I went for a gap on the inside at Paddock…

…Thud went #43 as I was completely Capirossi’d. If I’d not been there, sure as eggs, he’d not have made the corner. The world rotated sideways as I continued my lateral exploration of Paddock. At about this time I thought “hold on, I’m still upright, I can save this” so I whipped the clutch in, and just relaxed. With a large shudder the wheels came back into line, and left me pointing about 30 degrees from my intended direction. I obviously missed my chosen line, but somewhat more gratifyingly, I also missed the gravel trap. I gave it a second to clear my thoughts, and set about chasing… The next two laps were just a riot, as I caught one after another of the 125 midfield, and scythed past them on the brakes, on the power, or around the outside at Druids or Clearways. Next target, my potential nemesis, #43. A quick dive up the inside at Paddock (in a non contact way) soon depatched him. A lunge up the inside of Gareth Roberts into Druids gave me another place, then up to #57. “I’ll soon have you, young feller-me-lad” I thought as I saw his novice jacket flapping in the not inconsiderable breeze on the run down to Paddock. However, he held his line well. Up into Druids, and I stuffed a wheel up the inside, and had a completely empty track in front. I got my head down, and rattled off probably my best ever series of laps of Brands. #57 though proved to be a quick learner. On lap 7 he got a draught on me out of Clearways, and try as I might, I just couldn’t get back again. After 9 laps the man waved the chequered flag much to my dismay. I was thoroughly enjoying my racing, and as I crossed the line, thought to myself “this is where I want to be”. Not bad after a 6 month lay-up.

Race two was, in every way apart from the Paddock Incident, a repeat of race one. Again, I got into a good fight with #57, and again, he held me off. Every lap he’d be faster mid corner at Clearways and open up a few yards. I’d get better drive, so would arrive at the braking area for Paddock a good 5mph faster, but just a yard too far behind. I could probably have risked a desperate lunge up the inside, but thought better of it. This is club racing. Midfield club racing. There’s no points or prize money up for grabs, so I’m not going to risk breaking someone elses legs for the sake of a risky move.

The evening was spent chatting, having a barbie, relaxing, and just generally enjoying the more laid back aspects of paddock life. That it, until someone produced one of those little micro-scooters. A rather bizarre series of events then ensued, culminating in a rather spectacular kerb-cam shot as we dropped around Paddock Hill, and a possible broken ankle for Stoo.

Ooops. Still, the camera footage was good, and I’m sure will be appearing on a website near you soon.

I kipped in the back of the van that night, my aching limbs giving me a warm feeling of a good days racing, with more to come tomorrow.

Sunday, 12th May

Sunday morning was damp. Not full wet weather, but damp in a Kentish sort of way. I’d agreed to call Faye over the weekend, so after a leisurely breakfast of bacon and sausages, I did exactly this.

On hearing that Lexy had been very ill during the night I simply loaded up the van, and drove home. It wasn’t a hard decision. It wasn’t even really a decision. The reason for selling the bike is to support my family financially. It’s no good doing that if I’m not going to be there for them when they need me. I spoke quietly to Scotty, and let him know that our final battle wouldn’t be taking place, and slipped gently away.

And no, I don’t mind admitting that there were tears in my eyes as I did so.

Racing has given me so much in the past few years. It’s taught me discipline, humility, patience, courage, exactitude. I’ve made friends that will last a lifetime. No man could ever ask for more. I know, deep down that this is only a temporary retirement. However, at the moment, it feels like I’m turning my back on a good friend.