Well, rather than the normal routine of an entry per day, I’m just going to have a single entry for the month of July. This isn’t laziness on my part. (Well, not much…) but I’ve been away on my hols, been busy at work, been busy on other projects, and been travelling to Sol’s house on a regular basis to get the bike ready for the race at Pembrey at the end of the month.
So… What needed doing to the bike? Well, firstly there was the normal stuff like oil, filter, brake pads, and general checking of fasteners to make sure that nothing was about to fall off. As well as that, we wanted to put the old tank back on to try and get around the fuel problems we were having last time out at Snett. And, finally, we took 10mm out of the preload to get a sensible amount of static sag at the rear. We were planning on fitting a nice little Magura hydraulic clutch conversion kit, but ebay threw a fit and refused to let Sol buy it. Which is a shame, but hey ho. We’ve got through three races this year with the standard clutch, and although it hurt, it worked OK.
The strip of the bike revealed very little in the way of horrors. In fact, the bike has survived it’s endurance racing remarkably well. We’ve stripped a thread on the subframe that locates the seat unit, but that’s not terminal. What’s the worst that can happen? Erm, on second thoughts, best not think about that too graphically. So, things were cleaned, fluids were changed, tea was drunk, and the bike was made ready for it’s next outing.
Of course, with everything going so well with the bike, something else had to go wrong… And sure enough, it did. Two days before the race I was struck down with some kind of vomiting bug that my youngest, Millie, had picked up at her nursery. So, Friday night saw me up all night with my head down the toilet, emptying my stomach. Not a good start to the weekend, as I completely failed to get any sleep, and we had an 8 hour drive the next day to get to Pembrey.
So, Saturday came around, and I was feeling very tired, and very weak. I tried drinking water to rehydrate, but it just came straight back up. Had there not been 6 other team members relying on me I would have just crawled back into bed and stayed there for the weekend. Instead I slipped out of the house at 6am to get to Sol’s to load up and hit the road. I had to stop twice on the way to throw up, which wasn’t a good sign. Anyhow, we loaded up the van, during which activity Sol managed to twist his back and I threw up again. At this point it might have been fair to assume that someone was trying to tell us something. We got to Crouch End to pick up Scotty, and began the long haul down the M4. At Reading Sol stopped for some lunch. There was no way that I was going to keep anything down, so I just crashed out in the van and tried to get some kip. It kind of worked, but I was still feeling very out of sorts.
At about 4pm or so we crossed the Severn Bridge, and right on cue, it started raining. Every single day I’ve spent in Wales it has rained. Except the days that it has snowed, that is.
Eventually, at about 6pm or so, we got to the circuit, and started unloading stuff. The Pembrey paddock is pretty dire really. There are no garages. Instead, the pitlane is divided into ‘depots’ about 2 metres wide for each team to house the bike, spare wheels, tools, tyres, mechanics, food, kettle etc. etc. To make matters worse, by the time we got there we didn’t even have room for the van, so come the race tomorrow we needed to ensure that everything we could possibly need was in our depot, otherwise we’d need to run 400 yards back to the outer paddock for it. At about 7:30pm the others decided to go for food in the clubhouse, and I crashed. Completely. I didn’t have the energy to take my shoes or jacket off, or get into my sleeping bag. I just crawled into the tent, and slept. And slept. And slept.
12 hours later I awoke. The first thing I noticed was that I felt hungry which was a good sign. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to ride today, but I’d give it a go in practice and see what happened. I crammed down some Lucozade, and muesli. It stayed down. This was a good sign. So, I got into my leathers, the bike was made ready, and I hopped out for first practice. It was immediately apparent that my arms weren’t up to any heroic braking, but other than that, I felt OK. I needed a map, however, as I shot off the circuit onto the runoff when I forgot which way to turn, but other than that, things looked good. I could race.
I got off the bike, and reported the good news to Sol and Scotty. Sol then admitted that he might not ride as his back was still bad, and Scotty had so far spent all morning in one of Pembrey’s luxuriously appointed toilet blocks as the world fell out of his bottom. It was shaping up to be a very trying weekend…
Qualifying was dispatched with our normal routine of taking it very easy so as not to crash, or wear the tyres out. Consequently we qualified 31st out of 32, and I had a best time of a somewhat pathetic 1:12. None of us were bothered by this, as the Le Mans start is a bit of a lottery anyway, and it’s easy to pick up about 15 places if you’re at the back. Conversely, it’s also easy for the chaps at the front to lose about 15 places. Sol was due to take the first session, and I was going to hold the bike on the side of the track as Scotty was occupied in the toilet again. So, the flag dropped, Sol scooted away in about 16th place, and I tried to climb back over the pit wall. There are no gates in the Pembrey pit wall, so the bike holders are expected to climb over an armco barrier, and a 4 foot high wall while wearing full leathers and racing boots. Of course, I fell off, and there was an audible squelching noise from my rib cage as I landed on top of the armco.
So, on top of everything else, I now had a very painful set of ribs as well.
Sol rode his normal fast stint, with the bulk of the laps in the 1:08s, and regular forays down to the 1:06s when the urge took him. We called him in on the hour, threw another tankful of fuel in the bike, and off I went. I was never going to set any lap records, obviously, but soon settled into a nice easy rhythm of 1:10s, with the odd 1:09 when I accidentally found a good line. An hour later I pitted, and handed over to Scotty, who always seems to draw the graveyard shift as far as tyres go. Scotty was running very similar times to me, and after an hour he brought the bike back again for a new rear tyre and fuel stop.
So, half way through the race we were all still going, up in about 24th place, and everything was running like clockwork thanks to the chaps in the pit. The bike was behaving perfectly, with the suspension working well for all three of us.
The second half of the race was much like the first, only faster. Sol got his times down to a blistering 1:04.5 or so. I got down to 1:07.5 after a right battle with the splendidly nice chaps at Kawasaki Newcastle. And Scotty brought the bike home with another display of grit and determination as his legs cramped up through dehydration. And, as we put the bike on the stand in the Parc Ferme, it started raining.
I think this is the first race we’ve done this year that has gone 100% to plan. Stop every hour for fuel, and a rear wheel change at 3hrs. No unscheduled stops at all. The tyres lasted well, the bike performed perfectly, and the pit crew could not have done a better job. A fantastic team effort.
The journey home was long, and very, very tiring. I finally got home at 2am, and fell into bed. I’m typing this up three days later, and to be honest, I’m still knackered and in need of about 12hrs sleep. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go and have a bath and get some sleep. My ribs are still very sore, and I daren’t sneeze.