So here it is. The start of my season, all be it a round later than I planed after my valve dropping at Cadwell ACU test day. So my first time out in anger this year and weather reports are “iffy” to say the least.
If you have been reading my blog then you will no doubt know that I have swapped the engine and only finished that swap and the rebuild on the Thursday evening, nothing like cutting it close 😉 So it was a bit of a wonder into the unknown, as to if everything was all in the place and in good working order. I rolled out for practice and everything seems to be fine. I am trying to get some feel and with that feel some speed, in the dry. It’s bright and dry but a little cool day. I am trying to remember how to ride the track again and the bike really. There are no horrible noises or anything. So on I start to push and try to remember my braking points and turn in points and the like. On the third lap just heading down the back straight and I hammer the brakes before going into Goddard’s I reach for the gear lever and there is nothing there. I am flat out in 6th and I have no selector. Fortunately I am able to bring it to a stop off the track and out of the way on the big run off areas. A quick look over and the C Clip that holds the selector on it’s pivot has made a break for freedom. What is it with me and gear selectors? Anyhow, I get the selector on it’s spindle and go the back route, or “World Superbike way into the garage” as the marshal tells me to do. A run around the stores does not bring about a c clip replacement, but a Kev Starkey has one spare for Rob Starkey’s bike (#2 in the Street Stocks) and he helps me out with it. So that’s that then. It’s too late to get out again, which is annoying as I need as much track time as I can, but it was a small issue and it’s dealt with and I have done the necessary 2 laps demanded by the ACU so I can take the start (check your rule book people 😉 ).
Suddenly there is a call for my first race, the Street Stock 700. It catches me and Kevin Davies on a bit unawares, there is a mixed grid of Street Stock and Pre Injection bikes. We hadn’t heard any call and it seems to be a final call to the grid without any others. I make it to grid and everyone seem to be in the same boat and there is a lot of flustered people in the holding area and late arriving bikes. I get to my grid slot, 24th which is on the inside, Shrek is less lucky and will have to start from the back of the grid, along with about 4 others. I am on the inside, just where I want ot be on the grid. The action at Redgate is always on the outside. I make a reasonable start but I am boxed in on the inside and I am not aggressive enough to force my way through. It starts it filter down down Hailwoods and towards Crainer. At that point I see Shrek come around the outside of me and about 8 others! Anyhow I have a think about following, but quickly remember I have a lack of that sort of talent 😉 I am a bit target fixated on the green Kawasaki in front of mean, and have a thought about following him under the GSXR 1000 of number 147 into the bottom of Crainers but I haven’t taken my brave pill, just as well as he runs wide and is retaken on the run in to the Old Hairpin. I am to tentative and get past by 2 bikes running out of the Old Hairpin, #130 (who I could have pushed him a bit harder out but it’s early days) and a much faster new comer 128 on the a Pre injection, who sweeps by and away. I follow and stay on the back wheel of #130, for the rest of the lap, thinking about having ago in to Coppice.
Out on to lap 2 and we, #130 and me dispatch a Mini Twin on brute power. Down Crainer and I starting to think where can I get him? Up to McLean’s and another bike gets between us as he can dive to the inside and I have the door shut on me so can’t follow. I close again on the brakes into Goddards and am gaining back all the way around the lap. We catch another newcomer and he thinks about go up the inside of him at the Old Hairpin, but has the door shut on him, I am now really on his back wheel. At McLean’s he can once again go up the inside, I try to follow but run in a bit to hot an run wide, damn it. I get a good drive and get underneath into Coppice, not wanting my carrot get away :). Down the back straight I am catching and catching. I make up my mind to have a go on the brakes and get a good pass in. Nice! It’s been a while but the buzz is now with me 100%. Who’s next? I can see 2 bikes ahead and now it’s time to chase them down.
It’s at this point I start having trouble shifting gear. It’s like the gear selector is stiff and not going back to the position it should be. I think it’s just stiff and start being VERY positive with the shifts, but it’s not that great. I am a gear too high for Redgate and can’t shift up through Crainer or Starkey’s. No great problem as I catch the bike ahead on the run into to McLean’s and for once I can just stick it up the inside. I am really enjoying this.
No matter how much I chase, and with a little interference by the selector, I can’t close down the guys in front. For the next 2 and a bit laps or so I can’t catch them back up I get close and another lap or 2 I’d probably have been with them, but there isn’t so I’ll have to settle for where I am.
Back in the pits I start about dismantling the shifter to grease up and remove the catching selector. I am looking at it when Kev Starkey comes over and notices a bolt interfering with the selector itself, this is because I haven’t tightened it up enough and it must have buzzed itself loose. I am a bit sheepish as I had thought I had been incredibly cautious to make sure everything was checked and double checked. I can’t believe I have missed it. Anyhow at least it’s a quick fix and we are good to go for the Open 600 Qualifier.
By the time it comes to the Open 600 the heavens have opened. I hate the wet, and I am not overly keen to go out there and race on a greasy track with the obvious dangers and my racing budget already having been given a kicking with the new engine. Still that is why I am here, to race, so I better man up.
I am on the outside of the grid in the Heat B qualifier, strangely in position 17 . I get a fairly average start, well by my standards, and go back a fair few places. I am too early off the throttle and on the brakes for Redgate. I am worried with the state of the track and being on the outside and this makes me too nervous. Last year there was a fairly nasty looking crash and it might have prayed on my mind to get around the first corner. It takes me until the Old Hairpin to get just one place back. I get another place back into McLean’s and see a good group of bikes ahead and close up through the rest of the lap. I drop a place to another slow starter at the old hair pin and close up on the back of a new comer coming into the end of the lap. I get a good drive onto the start finish and manage to get on the brakes into the first corner, Redgate. I find myself actually enjoying the race.. I know in the rain! I am closing up on the bikes in front, I have no idea who it is. Up through Starkey’s Bridge, and I have a bit of a run on him, and he seems to be early on the brakes into McLean’s and I just run straight through and gain the place.
The next few laps I can feel someone behind me, but I continue to chase the bike ahead, but I don’t catch him, The rain has stopped and even the sun creeps out. As the last lap starts I am aware I have someone just behind me. There is nothing I can do but hit my marks and make it difficult to get a run on. If I cover I go on to the wetter part of the track so I will just take my normal line and see what happens. Coming down the back straight I know I am late enough on the brakes to make it hard to come past me and yet someone comes along side me. There is no way he can stop in time and he goes wide into the chicane. I take my normal line and slam the door shut on him, just in case and fairly brutal, and drive for the line and the job is done! Without question my best wet race ever.It’s just a shame the last bit of the video is missing. New battery ordered as I don’t think the one is holding enough charge.
I get back to the paddocks an into the welcoming dry garage. Nothing really to change on the bike, the weather isn’t looking like it’s going to get any better so it’s just a matter of putting more fuel in and check everything is in place. I take a particular interest in the gear selector, but nothing is wrong with the bike now. The engine seems less “snatchy” at low speed pick up, which is good in the wet, so it’s a question of inching up the pace a bit in the finals.
Now I don’t have the videos for reference as to what happened in the finals and I really can’t remember much about them. I couldn’t tell you much at all in fact. All I really can remember is that I feel more and more comfortable as each lap goes on. I had decided to go out in a dark visor on the Street Stock race as the sun was threatening to pop out from behind the clouds and I didn’t want to have it reflect off the surface and dazzle me. It was a bit dark when everyone set off from the start line but I could see as well as with the clear visor. I make a bad start and I am once again too cautious into the first couple of corners and drop back a bit. I fight my way through in a couple of places and after a few laps I find myself out on my own, I am guessing there are a few following but no one shows me a wheel or goes past (that I can recall) and there is a big gap in front. Then all of a sudden the gap in front collapses and they just start coming back to me. I have no idea why, I don’t even know if I have got faster or they have got slower, but a group of bikes are now in front. I can see a number plate on one of the bikes, I believe it’s a 600 Suzuki so he’s in my class, and this gives me extra motivation to get in the mix with the group. Over the laps to the flag I get in among the group, out braking and out driving bikes with my new found confidence in the wet. On the last lap I get the GSXR of Chris Whitehouse #20, in my sites. He is ahead coming out of Coppice and there is no one between us. I had to clear another bike, I presume a Pre Injection, and it;s given me a bit of a gap to clear. There is one chance and that is to be brave on the brakes into the chicane. Alas I can’t close that much of a gap and get on the power to see if I can get him before the line. I get better drive, I have the grip, the line closing, closing, closing. Unfortunately the line comes too soon. I cross behind in 8th position 0.14 seconds short of 7th. Damn it. It was fun a great fun race though and I have got to be happy with it.
The final race of the day, for me, is the 600 Final. I have never been in an A Final before, when there is too many people on the entry to be safe on track (there was about 60 entries) . I am 39th on the grid, due to the late running of the day they allow more bikes from the B final into the race. Some of these are quick lads that have had problems in the qualifiers and the like. There is holes in the grid I notice, as people can’t fix bikes, don’t fancy the weather or 100 other reasons. What ever the reason it’s time to go racing.
What a cock up my start was. I had changed my visor before heading out. And did the full James Ellison, in the Brands Hatch round of BSB earlier this year- not seat the visor correctly in it slots. I tried to get it to clip in but in gloves I couldn’t do it. I wave frantically and a start marshall tries to help, but to no avail. “You’ll have to start from the pits” I get told as the rest roll off. Iget the gloves off and visor on in seconds, but it’s too late. Not to worry…. but then a call comes from the radio, I can’t hear it. “You might be lucky… it might be red flagged” I get told. “Yes… it has, you are lucky”. 2 Riders have gone down on the warm up necessitating a red flag. So that nulls my problem and I get to start from my original grid slot. Again I don’t know much about the race. The fast lads behind waste no time in getting passed me, with my trade mark dreadful start. I take a bit of time to find my rhythm and confidence. I follow No.45 Adam Franks, who got the drop on me at the start for a couple of laps before I pass him somewhere on lap 3. I don’t know where or how, I simply can’t remember. I then have Ben Murfitt’s number 69 Honda CBR600RR to chase down. I don’t know at the time but I managed this in the qualifying race and set about the task. The time I have lost due to my bad start, slow couple of laps and lack of confidence hurts me. I can’t get back to him in the reduced to 6 laps race due to a red flag. I was lapping over half a second a lap quicker and had got the gap down to under 2 seconds, but with the race shortened there was no time. Oh well
So to sum up day one of my season: I have got to be happy. I can ride in the wet, which is unexpected, all the bits are still on the bike and it’s running well with no real dramas. I wish I had videos of the last 2 races but what can you do? At least I learnt and kept the camera nicely charged up for the races on Sunday.
An 8th in the Street Stocks gave me 8 points… 92 to go to match last year’s total
Sunday’s report to come