Tuesday, 28th June
Well, seeing as the month is nearly over, I guess I’d better get something written down here while I still have the chance… The complete lack of words for this month may be construed as a lack of activity on the bike front. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As you’ll remember from last month, the 24hr race that was planned for this month had been cancelled at the 11th hour. This left us with a bit of a headache, as we’d secured sponsorship on the basis that we’d be racing in a 24hr race, and had spent a lot of the money on things like lights. A few quick phone calls soon determined that most of the suppliers would take the kit back and refund the money which was very handy. As far as the sponsorship money goes, Scotty had come to a deal where we would still get the sponsorship cash, but we’d pay for the entertainment and accomodation for the corporate guests ourselves, about £1.5K all in. Which still left a nice lump sum to compete in the newly arranged 8 hour race. So, the deal was done, hands were shaken, money changed hands, and we sent the bike off for a respray.
While the bike was being sprayed, Sol and I got on with the business of prepping the rest of the bike. Not really much to do this time out, as everything was running nicely. We still weren’t happy with the handling, but seeing as we’d completely run out of adjustment on the shock, there wasn’t really much we could do other than buy a new shock. At £600 or so, this wasn’t really an option. So, we just got on with things like changing the oil, brake pads etc. etc. A few weeks later and a couple of trips down the M11, and we had the bodywork back, ready to fit. Sol got in touch with Ambient Graphics to arrange for the logos to be made up. Here’s the final result:
Erm, it’s a bit pink, isn’t it? Oh well, not to worry. Ambient Graphics did a fantastic job on the logos. £40 all in, and turned around in a single afternoon. We really couldn’t have asked for anything better. Anyway, so we had the bike, and we had the money. Best go and race it then…
The plan for the revised 8 hour race was that scrooting, practice and qualifying were to be held on Saturday, with the race on Sunday. Which was fair enough, but it meant an overnight stop at the circuit, which I wasn’t entirely chuffed with. I know, I used to love camping, but to be honest I’m getting a little bit old for it all now. Anyhow, that’s by the by. We had a good turn out promised for the weekend, so I loaded up the car, and headed up to Snett early on Saturday morning. Sol and Fizzy were to bring the bike up in Fizzy’s van, and we’d be meeting up with everyone during the course of the day. We got to our garage, unloaded everything, and went for a cuppa and plate of grease at the Snetty clubhouse. It must be said at this point, that the new owner of Snett, Jonathon Palmer, is spending an unfeasible amount of money on the place, and one of the main beneficiaries is the clubhouse. Top marks. Very well done. Although being charged £2 for a banana is a bit much to be honest. Still, it’s a 100% improvement on the old place, so I, for one, am not complaining. Scrooting came and went, and the main talking point on the bike was understandably the colour scheme. Still, the scroot couldn’t fail us on account of bad taste, so he slapped his sticker on the bike, and before we knew it, we were out for practise.
Every time I open the throttle on this bike for the first time of the day it takes my breath away. Today was no different as I popped a little mini wheelie-ette out of the pit lane onto the circuit. The first couple of laps were dog slow just to get dialled in, and then I tried winding up the pace. Boing-wibble-wibble-wibble went the bike through the bomb- hole. It was quite good fun, so I did it again next lap. The lap after I decided to try and work out what was actually happening. Basically, the bike was compressing so quickly and violently in the dip that it was running out of suspension travel almost immediately, with predicatable results on the handling. Sol and Scotty scooted out for their practise, and dspite winding up the compression damping to maximum, we couldn’t dial the problem out. A mood of weary resignation settled over us, until one of the chaps in the garage next door introduced us to a passing factory Ohlins technician, who just happened to be at Snett. Our saviour! He took one look at the shock, asked us what was happening, and twiddled a few clicks here and there. He was very suspicious about the shock internals, as the symptoms we were reporting just shouldn’t have happened with settings we had on the shock. We thanked him for his help, and promised to drop the shock into his van later if it didn’t work properly still.
To cut a long story short, it was crap. He’d set it up according to the factory settings for the bike, and it was unrideable. It was like riding a Harley Davidson through a giant bowl of trifle. We qualified in 33rd out of 35, with one of the other teams not posting a time as their gearbox went pop. So, our 142bhp missile was 33rd out of 34 at the fastest circuit in the country. Obviously something amiss…
As agreed, the shock was removed, and we wandered over to the mobile Ohlins Operating Theatre. The first comment of our new found friend, “Vot eez dis pees ov zhit?” hardly inspired confidence. He scratched his head, looked around, scratched a bit more, and announced that the shock was actually out of a ZX-6R, and had a preload adjuster from a 1991 shock of unknown origin grafted onto it. In other words, a pees ov zhit. Ohlins man set to work… To sum up, here’s what he found:
- Shim stack completely up the swannee. The wrong shims, in the wrong places. In his words, “all this would dampen would be your enthusiasm”
- Shim stack retaining wotsit fitted upside down
- Bump stop rubber fitted upside down
- Spring too short – it was becoming coil-bound
- Gas pressure 25% too high
- Missing collar from pre-load adjuster
So, the damping was wrong, the spring was wrong, and the pre-load was wrong. In short, it was a perfect paperweight. He consulted notes, graphs, and spreadsheets. In the end, he came up with a new spring, and a completely new shim stack, based on Ohlin’s experience of racing GSX-R superbikes. He carefully put it all back together with the words “ven you use zis tomorrow? You vill theenk I am God” as he simultaneously extracted ninety quid from Scotty’s wallet. A neat trick. We had no time to test, so we just bolted it back in, and hoped for the best. It was obvious that the preload was about 5mm too high, but by this time we were all tired, hungry, and wanted nothing further to do with shocks. The worst that would happen would be a bit of instability in a straight line, but we’d only notice that if the rest of the shock was working properly.
We retired to the barbie… And an epic one it was too. Animals were incinerated, sausages were consumed, and we found a new use for WD40 as a barbeque accelerant. Fantastic. I had my one bottle of beer, and got my head down for an early night. Zzzzzzzzzzz…
Sunday morning dawned bright and early, and we got up, broke camp, and got down to the garage. The bike was fuelled up, and got ready to go, and climbed into my leathers. We had a 15 minute untimed practise this morning, and Sol and Scotty scooted out to check on the suspension. The smile on their faces said it all. We now had a bike that handled. All we had to do was ride it. I had drawn the start session for this race, so I climbed into my leathers, and got ready to go. The warm up lap passed without incident, so I climbed off the bike, and sauntered over to the other side of the track ready for the Le Mans start. My bladder was feeling uncomfortably full. I had to go for a quick waz on the pit wall in full view of the entire grid. Luckily I wasn’t the only one… Anyhow, once that business was complete, the flag dropped, I toddled across the circuit, and jumped on the bike. I got a half decent start for once, and started pootling around. After about 20 mins Champ got past me, then promptly tried to drive out of Russells in 12th gear, so I just nipped past him again. However, he outbraked me comfortably into The Esses, and steadily pulled away. I wasn’t unhappy though, as last time here he was running down into the 1:15s, which I’ve never been anywhere near.
Splutter splutter cough splutter bluuuuurgh…
Bollocks. About 40 minutes into the session I’d run out of petrol on the back straight, at the furthest point from the garage. The marshals helped me off the circuit, and then tried to get me across to the infield. About 5 minutes passed while they decided what to do, but eventually the gave up, and directed me outside the circuit, and back onto the access road. So far so good, but this meant I had to push over the bridge. No chance of that, and if I accepted assistance, we’d be penalised. I thumbed the started button more in hope than anything else, and it fired up on what was left in the float bowls. This gave me enough ooomph to get over the bridge, and coast down the other side to the garage. Phew…
Scotty went out, while Sol, Fizzy and I had a post mortem over what had happened. We decided that we’d forgotten to top it up after morning practise, and that was why we’d run out unexpectedly. Hey ho. These things happen. At least it wouldn’t happen again… Or so we thought. 45 minutes into the session, and Scotty went missing. The same thing had happened again. We fuelled up to the brim, and sent Sol out with new tyres, and instructions that we’d bring him in at 40 minutes. He came in at 30 minutes, complaining that he’d run out of petrol. A quick glance revealed that there *was* some fuel in there. Then the penny dropped. The old tank had a spigot welded onto it that was attached to a breather. The new tank didn’t. So it was relying on a breather in the cap which obviously wasn’t breathing enough. We drilled it out, and carried on. All thoughts of a nice schedule went out of the window now, as we had no idea how long a tank would last, or whether our quick fix would cure the problem.
To cut a long story short, it alleviated it, but didn’t cure it. We had enough fuel we worked out for a 50 minute session at the most. I went out for the final session at 5:09pm, leaving me with a 51 minute session…
One of the things I like about endurance racing is that you really have to think about things other than just going quickly. For instance, all afternoon I’d been running comfortable 1:18s when I wanted to, dropping to 1:19s when I got a bit tired towards the end of my stints and wanted to conserve a bit of energy. No problems. I could have done this all day. However, mindful of the fuel situation, I backed off for this last session, and ran consistent 1:20 and 1:21s. The front tyre was now pretty well shagged, which meant I couldn’t hold a good line at Riches, but no matter – I just let it drift a little wide, and got on the gas a second later. I could see the minutes counting down on the board. 13… 8… 5… 3… 2… Next time around would be the start of the last lap. As I braked for The Esses the motor fluffed as a blipped the throttle. I was so low on fuel that any acceleration or braking was now starving the engine as the fuel sloshed away from the outlet pipe. Same thing happened as I accelerated out of Russells. I crossed the line for the last lap with the engine starting to splutter. Could I make it another lap? I caressed the throttle as gently as possible, using no more than 6000rpm up the straight. Out of The Esses and I had to open it up towards The Bomb-Hole. Splutter… Again, I rolled off, and let the float bowls fill up with what they could get. I laid the bike on it’s side through Corams, and it cut out again. I had to pick it up to let the fuel cover the outlet pipe again. Only Russels and about 200yds of straight to go. We spluttered our way out of Russells, and I came over to the pit wall to wave at our team on the way past. We’d made it!
Wiz was first into the Parc Ferme with a stand and a beer. I was so knackered I couldn’t get off the bike for 10 minutes. During that last session my wrist had been so painful with the heavy clutch that I’d quite literally had tears in my eyes as I was downshifting. We’d never have lasted 24hrs.
But, importantly, we lasted 8 hrs, and improved on our 33rd qualifying position to 20th at the flag! 6th in class, and 10 points thank you very much.
Post-script: We found out why the fuel stop strategy wasn’t as expected. The old tank had been extended to cope with the demands of life as an Isle of Man TT bike. So we’ll be getting that one sprayed up before the next race.
As always, enormous thanks to everyone who helped out. We really couldn’t do it without you. A fantastic team achievement. It’s taken me over an hour to type this up, and it’s still only an abbreviated version of events. What a fantastic way to spend a weekend. We still have our record of 3 finishes from 3 starts, and we now have a bike that stands a chance of being competitive if we’re not careful with it.