Let’s go racing

Monday, 4th April

The dull ache from my shoulders as I watched the last remnants of the weekend vanish down the plughole in the shower this morning only served to remind me of the physical aspect of endurance racing. However, that’s only about 10% of the story…sn_050403_2

While it would be technically correct to say that the weekend started on Saturday, it’s more fitting to say that it actually began about 9 months ago, when Scotty first mooted the idea of an endurance ride for the year. Sol quickly joined us, and the rest of the story is detailed in the preceding pages of the race diary. The organisational aspects of endurance racing are exacting, to say the least. Really, we need a team manager to oversee things. As it is, the past few weeks have been a blur with me sorting out the brakes and suspension, Scotty sorting out the KRC membership and entries, and Sol rallying people together to get a full team for this weekends racing. Miraculously, it all came together perfectly, and so we found ourselves at Snetterton bright and early on Saturday morning. The real start of the weekend…

We had a days practice booked, but didn’t bother booking a garage ‘cos last time we did, other teams just piled into it without offering payment, or even asking. So this time we thought we’d give it a go ourselves. So, we fetched up, noticed that garage 9 was empty (for a KRC endurance race you are allocated a garage for the day. Ours was to be garage 9 for the Sunday) and so unloaded our stuff into it and started faffing around. The helpful Snetterton security waited for us to unload everything, and get the wheels off the bike before charging in like a bull in a china shop and accusing me of breaking in. What a twat. Unsurprisingly, he had a black eye. If he’d continued to point at me and swear I would have blacked the other one. Anyhow, we moved out to garage 20, and shared some space with Benny Brewerton and the S&D team, one of the more serious KRC teams. We got the bike ready, and I got into my leathers for the first practise session.

The first half a lap was utterly astonishingly good. The motor was running beautifully, and at tyre warming speeds, the handling seemed good. The rebuilt shock was a million times better than the old one. However, as I upped the pace, the misfire that had plagued us in the previous session came back again, and the soft rear spring was getting a bit overwhelmed by the grip offered by the super sticky Pirelli Intermediate tyres. I handed the bike over the Sol and Scotty, who confirmed both findings. Over the course of the next couple of hours we changed plugs twice, checked the output from the coils. checked the wiring to the ECU, everything. And every time we’d go back out, the bike would run fine for 3 laps or so, and then start misfiring again. So, we took the decision to have some lunch and have a ponder. It was decided that Sol and Scotty should head back to Sol’s to grab the standard wiring loom and CDI units, as the Yoshimura stuff seemed to be running a little lean.

While they whizzed off in Scotty’s time machine (it must be. I have no idea how else they could do a 2.5hour journey in under two hours) Mark and I busied ourselves with fitting a heavier spring (big thanks to the Team UKRM chaps for the loan) and generally trying other things, including running the bike with the fuel filter and dry-break in the fuel hose removed, just in case it was a fuelling problem. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t. So when Sol and Scotty reappeared, we started a complete rebuild of the electrics…

First thing was to take off the Yosh CDI and loom, and throw it in the corner. That was easy. Then came the laborious process of replacing the entire wiring loom. A lot of the connectors had been butchered when it was converted to the Yosh stuff, and so this was a long, drawn out process involving lots of tea, and lots of soldering. Still, by about 7pm we had a bodged up loom that would let us fire the bike up on the standard CDI. Or so we thought. There wasn’t a spark. Not a sausage. All the other electrical systems were good, but we just couldn’t get a spark. For the better part of two hours Sol, Mark and I pored over the wiring diagram, scratched our heads, and got progressively more despondant as it looked like we wouldn’t even be able to start our first race. However, Alex from UKRM popped his head into the garage, and had a look. He pondered. He pontificated. He too scratched his head and couldn’t work out why the ECU appeared to need a switched circuit back to itself at one point. And then, a flash of inspiration. On his Kwack there was something similar, but there was a resistor in this circuit that wasn’t shown on the wiring diagram. It’s purpose was to act as an anti-hotwire device. One of the ECU inputs needed a 9 volt signal. Give it 12 or 0 and you get no sparks. So, we replaced the stock CDI with a Suzook race kit item, and were instantly rewarded with a big fat spark.

I went home, thinking that we should at least be able to start the race tomorrow, but we didn’t have a clue how the bike was going to behave.

Another early start to get to Snett by about 7am. We swapped yesterdays tyres over for a nice new set of slicks, and started getting things ready for the race. The format was for 15 minutes of untimed practice, followed by 15 minutes per rider of qualifying. I took the bike out in untimed practice, and it was apparent that the misfire was still there. I felt like crying. We all did our best with it in qualifying, but the best we could manage was a 1:24. We were being outdragged by 600s down the straights. Finally it stopped altogeher at The Esses while Scotty was on his qualifying session. Things looked bad.

After a bit of diagnosis, (grabbing hold of the exhaust headers to see which one was cooler) we knew it was cylinder #4. We replaced the plug cap. It made no difference. We replaced the coil with our only spare. It was crap, and blew the main fuse as soon as the power was applied. I was getting ready to go home and kick the cat… But then, Mark had a brainwave. The HT leads were bonded into the coils, so we thought we couldn’t change them. However, Mark cut it off at the coil end, dug out the old bit, and reconnected it. We fired it up with about 30 seconds to go before the pitlane closed, and crossed our fingers.

sn_050403_1The plan was for Scotty to take session one, Sol to take session two, then me to take session three, and repeat this pattern until we either finished, or killed the bike. So. Scotty took the Le Mans start, and we all held our breath. Apart from Sol, who went for a cuppa with Sue. After 10 mins Scotty was back in, saying that the misfire had returned. I pulled on my helmet, and decided to go for a bimble. To cut a long story short, the engine was running beautifully. I think that Scott may have had a moment where the previous two days worth of crap burned off the plug and it chimed in and out a few times. However, I did a 40 minute or so session, consistently in the 1:19s with some forays into 1:18s. Handling was good, the engine was good. In short, it was a promising start. I handed over to Sol, who immediately started running down in the 1:17s. He came in after 20 mins. The rear tyre was completely shot. After one hour. Gulp. We did some twiddly things with the knobs on the back, and sent Scotty out. 20 minutes later, he was back with arm pump. So I got on, and had a fantastic time with the new suspension settings working well, and the tyre nicely warmed up. Sol then took his session, and again, started rattling off 1:17s.

This pattern continued for a while, and that rear tyre lasted three hours with no real drama. However, we fitted a new one, and it was my time to go out. Only we didn’t put the new tyre in a warmer, so it was stone cold, and unscrubbed. Oh, and Sol backed the rebound damping all the way off while I was sitting on the bike. I accelerated out of the pit lane, peeled into Riches, and got thrown clean out of the seat as the back compressed, then did a pogo stick impression before squatting again and overwhelming the lack of grip offered by the rear tyre. I have no idea how I stayed on. It wasn’t skill. It was luck. I turned into Sear at 4mph, and again the back just pogo’d around on me. I finished the lap at 3mph, got back to the pits, and screamed obscenities at anyone who would listen. I was very unhappy. Sol put some more rebound on the back, and I went out again. At least it was rideable now, but I’d lost all my confidence, and was riding like an old woman. I doubt if I got below 1:20 this session. After 40 mins I was called in for a refuel, and I went to sulk in the corner.

Sol and Scotty went out, and we’d killed that tyre too. The same symptoms, with a lot of tearing up on the right. The Pirelli technician reckoned it was ‘cold tearing’. So, we had 40 minutes left, and I was sent out on the 3.5 hour old tyre that had been turned around. It was like riding on marbles. Still, I kept the bike running, and took the chequered flag 6 hours after we started,

What a great feeling. I was shaking my fist in a mad fit of celebration as I crossed the line. Which, as anyone who knows me will testify to, is completely out of character for me. I dropped the bike off in Parc Ferme, and we packed up, retrieved the bike, and all went home.

A million thank you’s to everyone in the team for putting up with my temper tantrum, keeping the bike running, marshaling, timekeeping, fuelling, and everything else. Thanks also to Team UKRM for lending us spares and knowledge. I can honestly say, that this was (so far) the absolute pinnacle of my racing. Last season on the TZR I was deliberately doing as little as possible – packing light, and just taking the bare minimum to go racing with. If the bike stopped, I’d just pack up and go home. This was all well and good, but ultimately unsatisfying. A bit like eating a McDonalds when you’re hungry. It serves a purpose, but that’s all. Endurance racing has just taken things to a new level – the actual racing is only part of the effort. And being able to share the highs with the rest of the team only makes it better. I’m hooked.

All images copyright Kailah Eglington, Motorsport Marketing. More images available here.

Wednesday, 20th April

It’s Wednesday, and I should be working. However, my work PC is currently loading Win XP SP2, so it will probably be out of action for the rest of the month. Which gives me time to get things up to date here. Firstly, you’ll notice the lovely photos above. All supplied by the fantastic Kailah, at Motorsport Marketing. Thanks Kailah.

Secondly, we’ve been fiddling with the bike. The 6 pot brakes have been replaced with 4 pot calipers from a GSX-R600, on the grounds that a lot of people think they work more consistently. I’ll give the chaps at Performance Friction a call later today to get some pads for them. At the same time we also did the fiddly things like changing the oil and filter, and a general cleanup. I’ve got a stronger spring to fit to the shock, big thanks to the Team UKRM chaps. This should enable us to get the back end working better for the, um, heavier riders in the team who keep tearing up the rear tyres.

Finally, for now, the regs for the 24hr race have arrived. Blimey, there’s a lot of things to think about between now and then. In no particular order:

  • Where to get 500 litres of fuel? I can’t see my local petrol station being too happy when I try and pump it into jerry cans.
  • How to transport the fuel. Am I going to put 25 full jerry cans in the back of my car? I think not…
  • We need some ‘retroreflective’ numbers making up.
  • We also need some patches on our lids made of the same material.
  • Lighting… I need to buy lights, and bodge them into the loom. Do we wire through a relay? Or just a big switch and thick cable?
  • Pit crew. We need lots of people.
  • Motorhome. We need somewhere to kip.
  • Tyres. SC2 or SC3 rear slicks? Or will it rain?
  • Noise. We need to keep below 98dB. I suspect this means we will need to find a standard exhaust system somewhere.
  • Me. Am I fit enough? Will I last 24hrs?

And that’s just the start of it… Still, looking forward, we’ve got the entry in for the 6hrs at Brands Hatch next month on the GP circuit, and I reckon we’re going to go well there. Time will tell…


Tuesday, 26th April

More work on the bike last week… Firstly, I finally got around to fitting a quick action throttle. This was surprisingly easy, involving only a bit of spanner twiddling, and 5 minutes with the dremel to take a few mm off the end of one of the cable sheaths. Very neat. And it makes quite a difference to the amount of throttle travel, which will make life easier for certain in the 24hr race. Next up, we dropped the 6 pot calipers off, and replaced them with a set of renovated 4 pot calipers from a 600 SRAD. This may seem like a retrograde step, but a lot of people have commented that the 6 pots, while undoubtedly powerful, lack ‘feel’ and consistency. I can say that I didn’t have a problem with them at Snett, but Sol, who was 2s a lap quicker complained of exactly these two things. So, we put the 4 pots on, and I need to order up some brake pads. Finally, we replaced the 8.8kg/mm spring with a 9.5kg/mm spring. This should suit Sol’s and Scotty’s weight better. It will be a bit harsh for me, but I can live with that.

And, finally, I ordered up some new sprockets and a new chain. The sprockets are essential, as we need to drop the gearing for Brands in a few weeks. We’ll need a new chain before Snett, and it’s good to have a spare in the kit anyway.