Garf at Oulton by Kerry Rawson

My delayed 2015 season has finally started with a trip to one of my favourite tracks, Oulton Park in Cheshire. After the disastrous track day there where I managed about 7 laps in total I was a bit apprehensive, if keen, about how the bike would handle and about how rusty I would be.

The day started off early and the 60 odd mile run to the track. I had got a garage with Pete as my generator had decided it wasn’t going to generate any electricity anymore, and in all honesty having a garage is a lot less effort and quieter. In the garage and minimal tools and bits out of the van (petrol, wheels and changing tools mainly). A quick run down to scruitineering bay and to see what’s what and if I can race at all. I am fairly confident, but I can quiet easily over looked something on a new bike…. and low and behold I had. I had forgotten to put the metal dust caps on the wets, D’oh!

Anyhow, stern words with myself and it’s time to get set for the wet practice, in group 3. Out on bike the handling is much improved, without the steering damper and it’s kanckered bearing. I have raised the front forks so they are flush with the yokes as I didn’t have confidence in the damper, even though I have had a new bearing fitted, there is something that just looks “wrong” with it fit and I didn’t want that nagging voice in my head worrying about it. As soon as I got out it was much better with out the damper. The only problem was someone had sprayed what looked like petrol all round the track. So I got a grand total of a lap and a bit before the session was red flagged. As we were coming in Tom #420 started doing some sort of weird sign language and shouty thing at me, I knew it wasn’t my fuel/oil, but I was wondering what he was on about. Back in the pits and it becomes obvious, my shark fin has fallen off (at Hislop’s apparently). I knew I should have loctited that on, so it’s a quick trip to Denis (DTR) for my reserved dry new Metzeler RR tyres, and while I am at it I went for the new profiled 180/60 set, as I had heard good things about them.
I miss the recall for my practice to be restarted fitting my new replacement shark fin (now loctited on) but a wonder down to Race Control sees me get another ticket as I needed at least another lap to fore fill the requirements of 2 laps in practice to take part in races.
Out again in session 5 and the conditions have improved to the point where my view we will be racing on dry tyres. Nothing to report on the session really, just seat time. I am very slow but working on my confidence and building speed slowly.

I change the wheels for the first race, the Street Stock 700s, and wait for the call. A couple of friends have turned up and are keen to see me do well, despite me telling them I am sort of building confidence this weekend. As I set off for the warm up lap a problem that I though was just eagerness bites. The clutch is exceptionally grabby. I felt it before when going out on the practices but thought it was just cold or me being ham-fisted. This is not the case, there is something not quiet right. The initial bite and drag is fine, but a millimeter of clutch movement and it’s engages fully. I decide the best plan is to start from the back rather than put myself in the firing line.
As I line up at the back I try to engage first gear and I must have got giddy or something as it goes into second and stalls. I frantically try and get it out of gear and into neutral, as it won’t start in gear, but I am being too aggressive and keep jumping from first to second, second to first. I am eventually told to start from pit lane… as if some magic words are said I then get the bike into neutral, fire up and trundle down the pit lane as everyone else races for the first corner. Bugger.
There is a long gap between me and the rest of the riders, not to worry and I need to keep my head.

The race itself mainly consists of me getting more use to the bike. I am determined to catch someone, anyone, they are a far way off after my slow trundle down the pit lane (with a cheeky pip of the horn to alert my friends as to why they can’t see me in the melee that is the start. I am more concerned with how I feel the bike behave. It’s been 4 years since I had to learn a totally new bike and then I had done a full trackday before hand rather than the simply 7 scary laps I managed here the time before. I am riding very stiff, not trusting my old braking points and no way as fast into corners. I manage to catch and pass a couple of people and get lapped (not overly happy about that, I like this circuit and consider it one of my best) before seeing the flag. I draw positives from the race. I like the new tyres and I can feel the potential of the Yamaha, it seems to pull a lot harder than the Gixxer. I just need to get into the corners like I did on the Suzuki.

The 600 race is next, and follows a similar pattern. I go to the back, but this time I am not a total spanner and get into first and only loose about 5 seconds at the off. I can see the group peel into the first corner at least. I am still not able to “attack” the track like I would do on the Suzuki. I am rolling off early, as my brain is still wary of the front doing it nothing, nothing, nothing, EVERYTHING steering despite it not doing it since taking the steering damper off. I am slowly building into it, much slower than I expect and take time to pick off one or 2 riders (including Matt Webster #99, Hi fella πŸ™‚ ). The down side of removing the steering damper is a rather “flappy” bike over the bumps. The lively front isn’t helping my confidence much but I can deal with it but it is a conscious thing and is something I never had to really had to think of before. It’s only over the tops of the hills (Hill Top, Lay Hill) when on the power and coming out of Druids. Still… it’s not trying to kill me so it’s all good πŸ™‚

The finals are much of the same. All building speed and moving the braking points deeper, harder and earlier on the power being the plan. After a conversation with Kerry (great photos as always πŸ˜‰ ) and Mark, who have come to see me during the break between races, I make a mental note to relax more, as they say I am get initially ready for the corner fine and then go to looking really stiff and nervous going into the corners they have been at, such is the power of the mind over the body.

The first of the finals is the Street Stocks. I get a reasonable start considering the clutch issue and electing to start from the back of the grid, I am starting to “feel it” more and generally starting on the long road to recovering some pace. It also helps I only loose about 3 seconds the start as I get my best of a bad bunch of starts. There seems to be a bunching up at the first corner too, which helps me stay more in touch. The race is red flagged on the second lap, due to a nasty looking coming together at the entry to Shell Oils. I have no idea who is involved, as I never look. I ride into the pits thinking this is going to be a long delay and then virtually straight away get called back to the grid, that’s a good sign for the downed riders.

Once again I get a reasonable start, all things considered and set about what I am now trying to achieve. I aim more for braking points I used to have, thought I can’t bring myself to go into Clay Hill’s turn or Island like I used to, though that may be a bit rust on my riding as well. I end up on my own fairly early on, I can’t help but wonder if having someone just a bit ahead may have spurred me on to better times, but the R6 is no longer the biggest most costly mistake I have made in my head. I even start to work a bit on the bits that Spike trained me on, not too much but it’s all just better. A gear higher here, on the throttle there increases and relax and let the bike flow and trust it not to spit me off.

Back in the pits and it’s only a pop the warms on, fuel in and quick drink and then we are called for the 600s final, there is only one race between, so I am going to struggle physically on this one. Lights out and we are racing, wow am I un-race fit. I end up having a nice little dice with a novice bib wearing James Griffths #31. I pass him but my age old demon of not being able to go as quick when ahead as when I follow strikes. He must has tagged on my rear wheel and when the inevitable lapping happens, he sneaks passed, cheeky git :). The racer spirit makes the issues I am having with the bike vanish and the inner voice starts shouting “We are not having that!”. We only have a lap or so to go and I have a plan to just make sure I have get close coming out of Druids and just rely on my braking into Lodge. Going in to up on the left at the top and preparing for Druids, Tom Vear #420 sticks his GSXR inside lapping me close but no issues for me, but he lets it run in and runs in on James on the turn in for Druids. Fortunately James sees him as he tips in and lifts a bit, all very close to a tangle, so much so I am laughing in my helmet and planning how to stick to the inside of the mess of bodies and bikes I am expecting to disappear off to the gravel. There is no contact much to everyone’s relief, Tom waves an apology as he shoots off. This has put both me and James out of position for our run to Lodge. He might have been more spooked than me, if he knew how close it was, he would be anyhow ;). I am set on my course still and my plans remains the same and with James’ line messed up probably more than mine it is a simple pass on the power and hold the inside of the corner, out and then gas to the flag. Job done.

Tom is still apologising on the run to the pits and we have a little impromptu debrief just outside the holding bay which is all laughs, giggles and an over use of the word “man” as both a prefix and post fix to sentences πŸ™‚

So that’s it.
Race day done on the new bike. I’d like to say it was a quantum leap for me but I ended up 4 to 5 seconds slower per lap than I had done on the GSXR. Considering how little time I have had on any bike since Thruxton last year, let alone only really getting the practice laps before the races, I can’t really expect too much. I am not happy I am not quicker straight off but I am happy I am faster every single time out (despite me begining to struggle physically at the end of the 600 final), so that’s a positive I am taking away. I won’t be able to get on Castle Coombe so my next outing is Thruxton, as I couldn’t justify No Limits’ Donington meeting the week after. I have bought a new clutch plate pack to sort the clutch out and intend on doing a track day or even 2 just for seat time, so I am more “on it” next time πŸ™‚

Photos by Kerry Rawston and Glyns Photos

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  1. Dave formerly #17 now #22

    Good to see you still out and racing pal, I’ll see you at Thruxton for a few beers. I had a go on an R6 last Sunday at Cartagena and I was impressed, sure yours will come good once you are used to it.

    1. Garf

      Wotcha fella.
      It’ll be good to catch up at Thruxton. Are you bringing the Ducati out for a spin?
      It was starting to come by the end of the day, just need more time.

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