Saturday, 21st May
Since our first 6hr race at Snett a few weeks back, I’d been itching to get back out on track again. Endurance racing seems to suit my way of riding far more than sprint races, and I’d enjoyed myself thoroughly at Snett. Sure, we had a few niggles, and had spent longer in the garage than we’d have liked, but it was still good experience. We’d taken the following problems away from Snett:
- Tyre wear. We could kill a rear in under an hour if we tried.
- Misfire. Traced to the coil that fires #1 and #4.
- Rider fatigue.
- Brakes inconsistent.
To remedy these, the following changes were made:
- Stronger spring on the rear. The reasoning was that the soft spring just wasn’t suiting the damping rates, as we had to have the compression damping set to maximum to make it rideable.
- New coils fitted.
- Lots of training. But, more importantly, Scotty had discovered a miracle cure for his arm pump. I tried it before some exercising, and it seemed to work. Would it work for him in a race though? Also we had fitted a quick action throttle to save on arm movement.
- 4 pot calipers fitted. Concensus seems to be that the standard SRAD 6 pot calipers have plenty of power, but lack feel.
All we had to do now was to ride it… We had got lucky with a van this weekend with the guys from Cambridge M/Cs loaning us their lightly detuned scud missile. Sol (bless ‘im) got everything loaded up on Friday while I had to work late and wait for Faye to finish her shift before nipping over to Sol’s and getting my head down ready for the early start in the morning.
I awoke at 4:45am to glorious dawn skies and sunshine. I love the stillness of an early summers morning. My spirit feels at peace with my surroundings, my head feels clear, and I feel completely relaxed. It’s a shame the only time I see these mornings is when I’m about to pump 3 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere on a race bike, but I’m doing my bit for the environment by using unleaded petrol and recycling the metal drums I get my agent orange defoliant in. Anyhow, we had a cuppa, and hit The Road to Brands. The journey was pleasant, and before I knew it, we were unloading the bike in garage 25, getting our breakfast, and getting scrooted. The wind was picking up, and it was clouding over, so the forecast of showers looked like being accurate. Sol took the bike for the 15 minute untimed practise, and came back reporting that the misfire was still there. I went out for 1 lap of my timed practise, and it was immediately apparent that the bike was completely unrideable. It was cutting all four pots anywhere at random, then coming back in full chat. Not that it mattered in my session anyway, as it was red flagged after two laps due to an enormously pyrotechnic accident at Graham Hill. We replaced the plugs, and sent Sol out for his timed session. By now it was raining, so we were resigned to a crap grid position as we had completely missed the dry qualifying. Sol came back, and complained that the tyres were good, but not up to trying to put in a qualifying time. Scotty took his 15 minute session, and said exactly the same. So, we parted with 250 quid for a new pair of wets, and it immediately stopped raining and the sun peeped out from behind a cloud. Money well spent. Expect droughts and heatwaves for the rest of the season now.
I was due to take the first session, so I climed aboard for the sighting laps. I followed a ‘prilly out of pitlane, and followed him as far as Surtees. I wanted to ensure that the misfire had gone, so out of Surtees I gassed it hard up the straight. 3rd, wheelie, woohoo!, 4th, wibble from the bars as it’s still a bit light, 5th, hold on, over the crest, FFFFFFAAAAAAAARKKKKKKK! The pace car was stopped in the blind hollow at the bottom of Pilgrims drop. I had to brake ****ing hard to avoid hitting him. If I’d been going any quicker, I think I probably would have tail ended him. I was (and still am) more than a little shaken up by this. The rest of the sighting laps passed without incident or any other potentially nasty accident, so I lined up for the Le Mans start next to Champ.
I’m unsure if this incident was my fault or not. Was I meant to be caning it that hard on a sighting lap? Did I make a mistake by passing the ‘prilly? Did I miss an announcement in the riders briefing that the pace car would be out at this point? I dunno. Rest assured, I’ll never lead another sighting lap though.
Anyhow. Back to the plot. I lined up next to Champ, and immediately wished I’d gone for a waz before the race, as I was suffering from chronic pre-race nerves. Then I remembered I’d actually been for two, so there was nothing I could really do anyway. The nerves weren’t made any easier by the fact the bike was on slicks, and the track was damp. The flagged dropped, somewhere some bullshit no doubt stopped, and I ran across the track, jumped on the bike, and promptly stabbed it into neutral while trying to pull away. Bugger. The first few laps were a bit slow and wibbly, as I was nervous and the track was damp. However, the track dried quickly, and I started to get into a groove. Talking to Champ, we both reckoned that mid 1:45s would be a good time to aim for, and I kept an eye on my lap times: 1:51, 1:51, 1:49, 1:48, 1:47, 1:47, 1:47… I just kept my head down, and kept going. The bike was handling well, the tyres were working nicely, so I set about relaxing, and letting the cambers on the track do a lot of the work for me. I’d just passed my ‘4 laps remaining’ board, when the heavens opened again. I slowed right down, then realised that in fact, I didn’t have to. I came in 1 lap early, as the puddles were getting a bit iffy in places.
I handed over to Sol, who plumped for inters rather than slicks – I think I would have done so too in that situation. Although the track was drying, it was still decidedly wet in many places. Sol rode a sterling session, as always, with metronomically consistent lap times on the drying track.
Scott took session three, and rode for about 20 mins before coming back in – the track was now completely dry, and the inters were overheating and sliding around too much for his liking. We fitted the slicks, and sent him out again.
With hindsight, fitting the inters was a mistake I reckon. An easy one to make, as in Sols position I probably would have insisted on inters as well. However, in fitting and removing them, I reckon we lost 10 minutes or so in total. More than we would have lost had we stayed out on slicks. Still, we now know just how good slicks are in the wet, so next time we’ll be a bit braver and stay out on them a bit longer. Unless it’s snowing in Wales again…
Session 4 was mine. The track was dry, the slicks were warm, time to go… Yeehoooo! Geronimo! Rider to brakes. Come in brakes. Please. I’m approaching Hawthorn at 150 mph. Please. Brakes, please. In my haste, I’d forgotten that Scotty has small hands and uses all four fingers on the lever, while I use two, so I’d trapped my fingers under the lever. It was probably the fastest I’d ever been through Hawthorn, but we made it. I’d like to say that this set me up to run quicker through this corner every lap, but it scared my so much I just couldn’t steel myself to do it on purpose. I wound the lever back out again, and carried on. A couple of times during the session I had to repeat the operation, as it appears our adjustable span lever quite liked its new found autonomy, and started adjusting itself during the session. My laps times were slightly slower than the first session, as the rear tyre was now getting on for 2.5hrs old, but there was only a second in it. 1:48, 1:48, 1:48, 1:48… Again, 10 minutes before the end of the session, the heavens opened. This time I just went bananas, and carried on. The shower passed, and the track was already drying by the time I got my pit board.
We were 4th in class at this point, something that quite amazed all of us. The Team UKRM chaps had gifted us a place by coming a cropper at Westfield, which was gutting for them after their recent run of form, but I’m pleased to report that Alex was up and about after a fast get off, albeit with a bit of a limp. We were also the leading Pirelli team in class – if we could keep Wrinkly Racing (our nearest rivals for this prize) at bay for the rest of the race we would get some free tyres for our efforts.
We took a look at the tyre wear while the bike was stationary, and Sol decided he would go out on the same tyre. Considering that at Snett we killed these tyres in under an hour I was very happy with the way the setup was working. Sol immediately started hitting 1:46s, and even a banzai 1:45 before bringing the bike in 10 mins early when the tyre finally let go.
We lobbed a new rear in, and it was Scotty’s final session. He was worried about running for 70 minutes, given that his arms hurt so much at Snett that 20 mins was the most he could manage. However, the man is nothing if not determined, so he got on, and rode the best ride of his life. 70 minutes of utter consistency. Wrinkly Racing were gaining on us, but at the line we were 20 seconds ahead of them. 4th in class, and three free tyres for our work.
I was (and still am) bouncing up and down about our result. A fantastic effort by all – Sol, Scotty, Mark P, Wiz, Fizzy, Andy B, everyone who turned up. Sadly our elevated postition meant a photo-shoot for the Pirelli chaps, so I got my best smile on, and even donned a Pirelli baseball cap for the occasion. Then again, for £350 worth of tyres, I’d pose for a photo in a Pirelli codpiece if necessary.
Next up, Snett, 24hrs. Gulp.
Tuesday, 31st May
Only it isn’t… A month before the race, the KRC have announced that it’s not going to be a 24hr race, but an 8hr race after all. This is incredibly irritating, ‘cos I’ve ordered, and paid for things like lights, switchgear etc. etc. Ho hum. Looks like they’ll all have to go back then. Also, given that RWL had sponsored us on the back of the fact we were doing the first 24hr race in the country, I really hope they don’t want their money back.
But what really irritates me is that I spent huge amounts of time getting fit for no good reason whatsoever. So now I’m back on the pie and chips diet for the rest of the season.