The trip down didn’t start well. The M5 was shut due to an accident around Birmingham, I made a detour around Wolverhampton, through to Kidderminster to cut out the section that was shut. Unfortunately everyone else had the same plan and towing a trailer around ring roads with lots of roundabouts and traffic isn’t the best way to make the 250 mile trip fly by. Needless to say I got there late, around 23:00 and meet up with Doog and Helen who have made it down for the test day through the Friday. Up with the tent, and find out I haven’t packed the pump for the blow up bed. Just what you need for a good restful time for a race weekend. The upside is that Doog has his awning up and space for my bike, gennie running, kettle and all thing to make it a home away from home, which is a bonus.
The Saturday starts nice and bright. The weather forecasts have been a bit of a mishmash of “showers” to “rain possible” with the occasional “fine”. I am glad to find it’s the later at the moment, a bit breezy perhaps but nice and sunny. I get the bike off the trailer, quiet as I can, so as to not wake Doog and H, and get set for scrutineering. It’s at this point I met by Doog all in his scrutineering overalls. Apparently he has been up for ages scruiting other bikes. The CBR is stickered up and deemed fit to race as is my kit and it’s off to race control for my practice pass. I am out in practice group 1, which is the quick group with the fast boys and girls.
Before the days practice and races start I go off to find people to say hello too. First point of call is Joanne, #52 in the Mini Twins, as I have been handed the race program with her SV gracing the front cover, also to see if her tyre warmers are still available for sale. Luckily they where, so that’s another thing sorted.
The practice rolls around and it’s time to reacquaint myself with the track. I have only been here once before and that was at the end of February when I got my ACU licence when the weather was less than warm. I never really clicked with the place over that Sunday due in part to the weather, a river running over the track and also it was the first time out on the bike of the year, so this well needed practice. I had decided, after a lot of discussions and changing of my mind multiple times, to stay with the Dunlops but up the pressure a bit on the front. This has made it a lot easier to ride from the off without the vagueness and the feeling it was flat on the first few corners. I take it steady for a few laps and let my mind get everything back into focus. Once I have the feel of everything I gently up the pace. All too soon the flags comes out. Looking at my lap times, later that evening, I am going in the right direction. Nothing spectatular but nothing risked either. I am trying to be smoother and hoping this will translate into speed. I have a few lines to try and I am building up confidence, and with it speed through the kink out the back of the circuit (Woodlands), an area I struggled with at the test. It’s strange but I feel more nervous at this event than I did at Cadwell and I am keen to “Get on with it”.
For this weekend I have decided only to do the 600s and the Newcomers this weekend. The Open was a bit daunting at Cadwell, though the extra track time was very worthwhile, and so as I am not overly familiar with Pembrey and it’s shorter distance I decide it’s better to stick to the 2 class. This means I have a lot longer to wait between races (2 on the first day and 3 on the Sunday). I spend the time catching up with people from the last round at Cadwell, I could have sworn half of them said they weren’t going to be here and it’s good to catch up with them all. Dan (17 in the Formula 400s) has got his Yamaha back together after his off last time out, as has Daz (#76 600s) who I missed totally at Cadwell due an indiscretion on his Gixxer. The wait for the first race, the 600 qualifier race, is a long one. There seems to be a large number of bikes down. I deliberately don’t take much attention to keep my mind off those elements of the sport and try to stay focused on the racing itself. I pay some attention and know that the first corner, Hatchet’s, is the place where most of the troubles is happening. This isn’t a great surprise as it’s a tight first corner after the start finish straight. Still there seems to be more accidents there than I would expect so maybe a little caution is required. The race is called and I make my way to the grid, 29th. Unlike at Cadwell it’s 4 a breast and the grid numbers are painted on the track so there isn’t the need for mental arithmetic this time around. What is needed however is the knowledge that there are 2 lots of numbers, one for cars and one for bikes. So after a bit of looking like a tit I find my way to the 29th BIKE grid slot. We are waved off on our warm up lap and everything is as it should be. The front is good and grippy without the feel of under inflation feeling from the front tyre. I am still not sold on the Dunlops, whether this is the tyre’s make up or the 190 cross section or simply in my head I don’t know, but as I go around the lap I warm the brakes up a bit, as they can be a bit spongy on the first stop I have noticed and the first corner will demand a good bit of confidence in them.
I line up, in the correct spot, and await the lights to go out.
Out they go and I get my traditional rubbish start. Not my worst, but by no means a good one. I am swamped by everyone. Sod it. There is a bit of congestion at Hatchet’s and I close up on the group. From there it’s on to Spitfire’s. I am in touch but not in a position to do anything about those in front. Into the long left hander Dibeni Bend. Still in touch and closing in, this is good. Through the Esses and hurtle towards the Old Hairpin. I am close enough to try a move, but I am not confident enough to try anything. Out on to the back straight and through the kink. The bike in front rolls off a bit more than me into Woodlands and I get a good run at him. I am all over the back of him now on the way to Honda. I have a plan to get a run at him up to Hatchet’s, hoping I get a better drive out on to the start finish straight. I get a reasonable drive out and a good run. This is it. Can I do it? Out from the slipstream to the inside for Hatchet’s and brake when they brake. YES! Got him. This is great. Next! I have run in a bit tight and have lost a bit of speed, I don’t need to do anything heavy handed to protect my position and head off toward Spitfires and the little group that seems to be formed. I later find out this is Neil Swinton number #175 on his 675, but I never could find him in the pits for a chat, Soz fella.
I catch up to a bit of and exploded group of 5 bikes running sort of together, well more of a 3 and 2 group. Doog, (#101 ) on his SV getting going a backwards a bit from his 8th palce start as the 40bhp missing from a Mini Twin verses the 600s in line 4s starts to show, #113 Kieran Ryan, #8 Luke Smith, Mark Webster #195, Craig Lewis #297. It takes most of the lap to get fully up to them and I can see the gap reducing constantly, which is good for the ego and the confidence. The following lap into Hatches I try the same move as I did on the Neil #175. It’s a total carbon copy of it the previous move and again it works. The slower exit gives Neil the chance to get a bit of a run at me but I hold to the line into Spitfires and it’s time to close on the others.
Through the rest of the lap I make up the little ground between, well a couple of people and I start planning on doing the same again into Hatchets as it seems to work quiet nicely. By the time I catch up the group consists of Doog, doing sterling work fighting a vanguard action on his SV. His lack of horse power down the straights should make for easy picking, however he is a bit of a demon on the brakes into Hatches. In fact I get a front row seat demonstration of this. I am thinking of nipping past the orange ZX6R of local lad Craig Lewis (#297) but he also has eyes on doing the same to Doog. Down the start finish straight Craig goes past Doog and then goes back to the racing line and hits the brakes. Only for Doog to switch to the inside of him, where I had been planning on going and had indeed been setting off in that area, and run in later to re-pass. This is awesome fun, and I try to follow Doog, but I go in a bit tight and can’t get it stopped, turned and out quick enough and get pushed back to again. This doesn’t stop the grin being spread wide across my face. There are many more laps to make it stick.
I start to think of other places I can get a run but passing one bike is hard enough and with 2 of them going at it, it makes it even harder. I half think of lunge into the old hairpin, but a defensive line by Doog while Craig goes for the more traditional line means there isn’t really and room. I get a good exit and I can half get along side before Woodland’s kink but I have left my brave bills in the awning and decide better of that move. Out through to Honda and back on the start finish line we go. Doog, Craig then me. Again Craig gets passed the SV yet once again Doog just switches back and out brakes him. This was a bit more expected this time and I try showing a wheel up the inside of Craig, but he doesn’t yield the place.
Laps are starting to run out but I still have time. I am staying good and close and even have to roll off in places to make sure I don’t tag them. I think my plan might need altering but I shall have a go, if possible, into Hatchets. I leave a bit of a more space in the entrance into Honda and try to carry a bit more speed. My thinking is to take away Craig’s attack on Doog and get one ,or both of them, simply on speed and take a defensive line into the corner. The extra speed works well. I get up alongside Craig, not Doog though. I brake fairly late, but not too late and complete the manoeuvre without really having to go too defensive as it’s more of an out drag rather than out brake type. I am a little off line but not too bad. Another one down, now for my Team Cheese mate.
By not having to go really tight I haven’t lost much, if any ground on Doog. I have no idea how many laps are left by this point. I have no idea how many laps we have done. I can’t rely on the last lap board to tell me when there is only lap to go either, as there is a good chance I will be lapped. (For good chance read certainty). So I need to do something soon.
I get close to Doog through Spitfire’s and into the long, long left of Dibeni’s Bend. From there the tracks goes into the Esses. There is a bit of track where you can open the throttle between the end of the left and the entrance of the right, well at my level at any rate, watching the fast guys there is simply a left then right. The fact that it’s about power and not brakes, I have the idea to go around the outside of the left, get on the power and hopefully get ahead before the right using the extra power of the CBR to get the job done. Amazingly this is what happens. 2 bikes in half a lap! I think the helmet is the only thing stopping my head flipping over as I am smiling that wide. I am not out of the woods yet though. Knowing that Doog is better on the brakes than me I need to be cautious into the Old Hairpin and not give him the chance to get back at me. Once through there extra power should see me away from him. I take a tight line into the Old Hairpin and get on the gas good and early. There isn’t the slightest sign of a wheel down the inside or outside. I fight my natural instinct to roll off for the Woodlands kink and head round as fast as I have ever done it before. Then on to Honda’s and around to complete another lap. I then have to pick a braking point for Hatchets… Will I have got enough of a gap to not take a defensive line. I reckon so and take the normal racing line. There is no Suzuki up the inside as I turn in. I look up the track a bit to see there is an empty track ahead. As I tip in to Spitfire a bike goes up the inside, which I am not expecting. It isn’t a bike I was expecting and throws me a bit off my game. I am being lapped and as one comes, there is normally more. And indeed there are, in to the long left 2 or 3 more come through. I try to tag on to them to get a bit of target, and a bit of a helper on lines, braking points. I stay reasonably in contact, learn a few things but ultimately can’t match their pace. I fall back to cross the line and take the flag. Lapped on the last lap, again… Damn it. But this was a good race. Lots of over taking, moves and I can’t tell you how much fun I had. I thought Cadwell was fun, and it was, but this was another level of fun.
Back to the pits and it’s time for tea and medals… well tea at any rate, that and chats around the paddock. It’s a fair old wait for the next race and there is a good amount of banter between us all and the time flies by and the call to grid isn’t as long away as it really is.
The race is called and we filter out on to the grid. I have had a few people give me pointers into the starts, but it’s all a bit new and likely to be hit and miss, as some of them are contradictory. This time I line up where we finished the first race, 29th in this case. I filter up along to the grid slot, the right one this time, on the outside of the 8th row. As we are waved off on the warm up lap, I hold back a little and then have a cheeky practice start to see if the advice I have been given pays off. I get a reasonable launch, all be it without anyone trying desperately hard to stay ahead I have no idea how it’ll stacks up to everyone else.
We get back to the start and the revs rise. The light goes out and we are off. My start is probably the best I have ever had and I am in with the rest as I get towards the first corner. In front there is some smoke and a spinning white and red bike along the floor. I have no idea of what is happening, I look to where I can go, an escape route as it were. I filter through the carnage, of what I believe is one bike, and head off out towards the second corner, Spitfires. As I am shockingly in touch I try and see if I can make any more moves, this isn’t happening but at least I can have a think about it for the first time on the opening lap. Those of us that remain sweep around Denibis and into the Esses. It’s here that the red flags come out. Damn it. Ohhh what happens now? I have no clue. I’ll just have to follow everyone else. I never thought to check up on what happens in the case of a red flag. We are held on the track just opposite the holding area. Lots of shouting through helmets mean I have no real idea what is going on or happening. After a length of time we are shepparded around to the grid again. I am no more the wiser as to what’s going to happen. There has been some talk of “reduced laps” but as to what or how many I don’t know. An NG official wonders down the grid showing a board saying “6 Laps 2 Warm Up Laps” ahha, so that’s what going on. We wait on the grid a bit longer and as we are doing so it starts to spit with rain. Is this the first shower that they have promised? There are a few of the lads on slicks that are looking around and shrugging their shoulders and obviously concerned about the change in the weather. We are set off on the 2 warm up laps and I get another chance to practice a start. This one isn’t as good, and as the laps go by a little light rain hits on the visor. It’s not to much and I have made the decision that if it’s as light as this I shall try and ignore it and just go for it. After all I am not that close to the limit of traction.
We get round the 2 laps and line up. Once more we are off. I get a crap start, kagarooing a bit and bogging down a bit all at once, a bit of a talent that. Shockingly I am last into the first corner. Well it was fun last time going past people so I’ll have just as much fun again I hope, working on the assumption I am quicker than those in front of me, not always the case. Everyone seems to tip toe around the first corner. I have dropped back bit more than I had at the previous start and I am having to work my way back to the people ahead of me. The rain is splashing against my visor a bit though it’s not much it still a bit of a concern. I go through the start finish line dead last but closing fast. I get a good run into the first corner on the second lap. I try my trusty move to the inside on Craig (297) and slip quietly into the place. I am not sure if Craig is being caution because of the weather or the accident or just brakes early but it’s a not as contested as it was last time. I am able to get along without losing any time on to the others. So much in fact that I am right on the number 175 tail going in to the right hander of Spitfires. I wonder if I can use the quick dive at the Esses if I stay this close to him through the long left. As we come out of the Esses, II get on the power hard and send the move up into the inside. Again I am not sure if it’s because of the weather but I seem to be able to make the move easier than I expect and I am all ready on to the back of Doog. This is even better than the first race. 2 overtakes again in the first half of the lap. Yet I am not finished. I have a good exit on the Old Hairpin and let the extra 40bhp over Doog count and shoot straight passed him on the exit, as he has been defensive into the corner not knowing that I had been a little bit further back and not been a threat on the brakes into the corner. I am loving this! Again I do as little roll off as I can muster through Woodlands to increase the gap a bit to Doog and I away.
There is a little gap now to the next bike and I am off after him. It takes the best part of lap and a half to close in on him. It’s #113 I see from the results but I have no idea at this point, all I see is a bike ahead, with a stubby under seat exhaust. I try running in to Hatchets as I have before but to no result. He’s a bit later on the bakes and I bog down massively as I only go down to 3rd not second in my excitement to get stopped and get passed. This gives him a bit of a rest bite and I have to once again close a bit of a gap that he stretches. By the time we are through Woodlands again I am back with him. Another lap goes by and I once again have a look into Hatchets,this time I’m a little closer as I come through Honda much cleaner nd I get a good look up the inside and slip passed. I defend a bit into Spitfire and try to build a gap. I look up the track and see nothing ahead. Everyone else has pulled the pin and gone. I can see them in the distance but I can’t seem to pull them back. Obviously I try my hardest and in trying a bit too hard I run wide at the Old Hairpin, not enough to let anyone back at me. I still try, head down, bum up running as quick as I can hoping, all be it optimistically that those ahead will come back towards me. The last lap flag comes out and I keep pushing… the bikes ahead aren’t getting any bigger and I think I have to be happy with my position as it is. I flash past the chequered flag and the race is done. I then realise something. I haven’t been lapped. I have done the race distance, granted 1 lap fewer than it should be but I wasn’t lapped. That’s a first. I came close at Cadwell, being pipped on the last corner but this is the first time I will appear on the results without a +1 Lap to my name. Don’t get me wrong as I am still according to the official timing +1:10.82 behind and another lap would have seen the dreaded +1 but hey, I’ll take that as a cherry on top of the cake 🙂
This is it for racing for the day. The delays of earlier have meant that the upto 500cc Newcomers will be the first race in the morning and my Open Newcomer will be second. As the adrenaline subsides I realised that I am totally bush whacked. I want nothing more than to have some food and go to bed. A quick run out into the town for some fish and chips and then back to the circuit. There is a charity auction on in the club house for Mason White (a young lad that has Epidermoloysis Bullosa) and I can’t miss supporting that. After that is time to call it an early night to be refreshed and ready to do it all again tomorrow.