Donington. One of the holy grails of UK bike racing, and rated by many as the finest circuit in the country. Also the location of the last race of the season, and as remarked back in 2004 it was to be my last race. I was pretty nervous about this for several reasons, but top of the list was that I’d never been to Donington before. Unless you count the times I went to the Monters or Rock festival as a spotty yoof. The haircut from those days has long gone, and there’s been a whole lot of water under the bridge – marriage, children, several job changes, moving to new parts of the country. In fact, just about every aspect of my life had changed since I’d last been to the place.
But, this is a race diary, right? So let’s talk about racing. Mainly thanks to stirling efforts by Sol the bike was ready for it’s last run of the year, and Mark W had kindly offered to drive it up in his van. Scotty and I were meeting up late Friday at my house, and then we all drove up in convoy early on Saturday morning. When I say early, I mean so early it was still nearly last night. There are very few good reasons for getting up before 5am that I can see. My original plan to drive up by myself was scuppered when my car failed it’s MOT so spectacularly that it was declared unsafe to drive. Oooops.
So, we got to Donny about 7am, and unloaded. There wasn’t a great deal to do to the bike, so I sat around getting more and more nervous about the prospect of spending all day at a circuit I’d never seen before. Scotty and I shared the untimed practice, as Sol had cheated and done a trackday a couple of weeks back, so at least he knew which way to turn after Redgate. My first couple of laps were probably the most timid since my first race at Lydden, all those years ago. I pottered around, feeling like an absolute novice. In fact, several people with novice vests on were passing me. I consoled myself by thinking that they had probably been here before. Timed practise saw Sol running 1:23, me doing 1:29, and Scotty doing 1:30. Oh gawd. I was completely, utterly, hopelessly out of my depth, and about 5 seconds slower than the next slowest rider. There was only one thing to do…
It was my turn to start this race, so I determined to tag onto the back of someone, and at least run some kind of pace until I either crashed, or found a half-decent line. The problem with this approach is that the first hour of any endurance race is very hectic, as most teams field their best riders to try and get a decent position as the race unfolds. Still, fortune favours the brave, eh? By chance, I found myself up next to Darren Curzon, a TZR sparring partner from a few years ago, on one of his first trips to Donny. So, I sat behind him for a few laps, then nipped past him into Coppice, only for him to do the same to me at Goddards. Wooo! This was fun! Maybe I wasn’t a helpless old todger on a bike.
Then Ron Haslam came past, going 10 seconds a lap quicker.
Still, I was relaxed, I was enjoying myself, and I was knocking out 1:23 and 1:22 laps, which was good enough for me. At the hour, I pitted, and handed the bike over to Scotty. We were 31st, but it was early days. Scotty rode sensibly and smoothly, and when he handed over to Sol we were, um, 32nd. Still, it’s consistency that counts, and Sol took that advice very well indeed. He was running nice solid 1:22s, with a couple of forays into the 1:21s, and when he pitted we were back up to 31st! A new tyre was slung at the back of the bike, and I took to the track for the last time.
- Chasing Champ for a few laps, and getting down into the 1:21 bracket. I was very happy with this.
- Pulling a fantastic 120mph wheelie off the crest under the Dunlop Bridge, with James Hurrell one side, and Ron Haslam the other, doing exactly the same thing. Synchronised formation wheelies with a GP god of yesteryear, and one of the UKs up and coming talents. If anyone has a photo of this moment I will happily sell my soul for it.
- My last knee-down moment. I’d taken my last-lap board, and spent most of that lap titting around just enjoying the experience. I then got to Coppice, and just gassed it hard and stuck it on it’s side to get my knee down for the last time. Only I overdid it, and got my boot and peg down as well. Had I lobbed it away at that point (2 corners from the end) I would have been very, very unpopular.
So that was that. I got of the bike, handed it to Scotty, and shuffled off to have a cup of tea with Faye and Lexy. I handed my dogtag over to Lexy, and told her to look after it. She gave me a big smile, and said “Daddy, I’m going to wear it when I get a motorbike”.
Scotty had a belter of a session, and had pulled us up to 28th place with some fantastically spirited riding. I know he’s struggled with the bike this year, but finally, he clicked with it, and looked smooth, comfortable, and fast. And then Sol took the last session, and with a stunning ride on knackered tyres lifted us up to 23rd place at the end. And, as he took the flag, the clouds parted, and there was a honking great rainbow behind the start/finish line. I couldn’t have scripted it better. (In the Hollywood remake of this diary we’ll get some white doves released and a 40 line choir to complete the effect. I also want Woody Allen to play the part of myself).
So that was that. For the race, we’d elevated ourselves to 23rd place overall, 6th in class. Rumour has it that our consistency has taken us to 4th place in the class overall this season. Which will be quite miraculous if it’s true, given that at the start of the season our endurance experience was pretty sparse to say the least.
This photo was taken about 5 minutes after the race ended. From left to right we have: Scotty, with beer in hand. Me, with my muggers hat on. And Sol, waving to the camera. Sitting in front of me is Lexy, and in front of Lexy is Charlie, Sol’s daughter and Lexy’s friend.
If I want to remember this season one way, this photo sums it up.
The evening party was just epic. The bike was turned into a hostess trolley while I was making up the Feu de Dieu (a drink involving lemon, sugar, good coffee and vodka) for everyone, we incinerated some animal, Stoo fell off a unicycle, Henry was pushed down the pitlane wrapped up in old tyres, and Champ went one better than my effort at pissing on the startline by relieving himself from the starters gantry.
Enormous thanks must of course go to everyone that has worked with us this season. Mark W on the spanners, Fizzy on the fuel rig, Emma W on the pit wall, Wiz and Toni for everything they did, Luca for helping out at Snett, same with Pask. And, for dedication above and beyond the call of duty, Mike N for marshalling his way around the country. You’re all stars. There’s other people I’ve forgotten, no doubt, but I’m hopeless at remembering things like this.
Of course, the final member of the team was the bike. What a trooper. We all winced a little bit at the cost of the engine rebuild at the start of the season, but it was worth every penny. All we’ve done is change the oil, filter and plugs for each round, and it hasn’t missed a beat. The suspension is now working properly, and (apart from the rather heavy clutch) it’s supremely comfortable, and easy to ride. Just what you need for an endurance racer. And it’s for sale. mail me if you’re interested.
So, what have I achieved while racing? I’ve raced two-strokes, four- strokes, GP bikes, production bikes, supermoto, minimoto, endurance. I’ve built my own bikes, I’ve built bikes for other people, I’ve raced other peoples bikes. I’ve raced up and down the country, I’ve raced in France, and I’ve raced on the Isle of Man. I’ve been quick, and I’ve been slow. I’ve had accidents, some big, some small. I’ve got a few trophies, and I’ve got a few scars. I’ve made friends that will last a lifetime, and I’ve lost a couple as well. There’s been a lot of laughter, and a lot of frustration. It’s safe to say that racing bikes has had a marked effect on who I am, and my outlook on life. But, for all this time, there has been one constant in my life. Faye, I owe you everything – I couldn’t have done it without you by my side.