Sunday, 15 December 2013

The final push

Brands Hatch October the 5th and 6th was the final meeting of the season and I was determined to end it on a high.
This was the time of year to look pragmatically over the last year and determine if there was anything more I could do to improve my performance.
My experience this years was somewhat limited having only done 4 out of the 8 meetings, but even in those 4 meetings, it had been a very steep learning curve.
I think my biggest epiphany so far was putting the very ill KR at the head of the 4th row on the GP track with only 46hp on tap.
This was a real wake up call to me, that made me realise that in order to ride at my best, I needed to be calm and not get too anxious.
It was a situation very similar to real life, in that often when you won't something the most, you end up messing it up by trying too hard.
I thought long and hard about this, and even though it was important for me to end the season with a good performance, I simply made that goal something I was aware of without becoming too obsessed with it.
It seemed to work, in that the weeks leading up to the race, my mood was calm and relaxed, and even though there were small waves of anxiety that would rush over me from time to time, I was able to handle them with a cool head.
Now that I was getting my head going in the right direction, I then turned my attention to the engine.
After experiencing so much engine trouble over the year, either having excellent drive but poor top end or great top end and poor drive, I decided to fit the Bob Farnham top end that I had spectacularly exploded at the end of last year. The left hand cylinder was fine, but the right hand one had a large score down the thrust face and the plating had cranked near the exhaust port. After asking around on several forums as to who would be the best company to repair my damaged cylinder, I eventually settled for Aptec. I acquired a new piston which I had sent to Aptec in order for them to hone the cylinder to the right size, and after about 10 days, Aptec returned to me a beautifully repaired KR1 cylinder. I set about building up the engine with Bob's top end and took it through at least 5 hot heat cycles to help bed the engine in.
I was booked in for the Friday practice session, and I planned on taking it easy for a few of the morning sessions, and then get my head dialed in during the afternoon sessions ready for Saturday race. Friday morning turned out to be wet, which didn't really bother me, as it gave the engine a bit of an easier time. I slotted the wets in and was out in the joint F400 and minitwins practice sessions. I settled in to a comfortable pace, and once again noticed that I was overtaking many of the riders out on the track. As the pace felt quite easy to me, I decided to take the opportunity to experiment with my riding. I had already got the bike sliding a bit in some of the corners, and I could do this quite consistently on demand, so in order to determine how far away from the edge I really was, I progressively squeezed open the throttle a tiny bit more as I was coming out of Clearways whilst the bike was already sliding. Sure enough, the back started to spin up a little bit more to the point where it really was sliding a bit too much for my liking. Even though I had an idea in my mind that this is exactly what it was going to do, I felt that it was important to validate my own thoughts against actual reality, as I was sure that there 'may be' times I may wish to push it a little harder, and it was important that I had a clear picture in my mind of how the bike would react instead of relying excessively on guess work and luck.
In my Second wet session, I was happily riding round at what felt like a normal wet cruising pace, however, the back end was really starting to misbehave, especially coming out of Clearways when it would start off as a gently weave and get progressively worse down the start finish straight to such an extent, that the only way to cure it was to BACK OFF! - sheesh, thats not like me at all! The uncontrollable weave was plying heavily on my mind, and the first thing I thought was that somehow, I was doing something wrong on the bike. I thought back over the last session and how I was riding, and to me, there was nothing I was doing wrong. I then started to inspect the bike, and it was then I found a shiny nail embedded into the centre of my wet tyre and was looking quite deflated. It was quite clear that the back tyre was losing air during the last session which was causing the awful weaving. Getting hold of a second hand wet was going to be difficult for the weekend, and I wasn't going to buy a brand new one simply for the last race of the season. Anyway, the forecast had said that Saturday and Sunday would be dry, so I may not even need to buy a new wet.
During the lunch break, I put the dry tyre in the back, but kept the wet on the front and went out in my next session with this wet/dry combo on a semi wet track. I still found though, even with this odd combo, I was still passing many riders out on the circuit (but not as many as before), even when some of them still had full wets on. I started to open the bike up a little more during this session, and even with conservative jetting, it had reasonable amount of drive with a reasonable top end. For the last session of the day, it was fully dry, so I switched to a full dry setup. I then noticed during this dry session that some of the open class F400's and the faster minitwins started to come past me. The main lesson I learnt from the last Brands GP meeting, was that how my state of mind affected the way I rode. With no pressure on me, I knew that my accuracy would be better, and as a result, riding should become easier and lap times should come down. In the last session, I made a conscious effort to be as accurate as I possibly could. I took a wide sweeping line into Paddock, making sure that I spotted the apex at the descending crest and aimed through this point to the apex whilst getting the throttle off idle at the top of the hill and gently winding it on as I approached the apex. I adopted the same approach for Graham Hill bend as well as the big wide entry arc going into Clearways. I felt as though, by riding smoother and with less stress, I was using less energy which all helped in the amount of concentration I had available to me. After my last session, I cashed in my AR Racing voucher which I won in my last meeting and treated myself to a brand new Pirelli rear tyre. Throughout the year, I had used SC2 compound scrubs that I had treated with tyre softner, however on this occasion, I opted for the softer SC1 compound on account that the track temperature was going to be a bit cooler and the theory says, that a smaller lighter 250 should work better with the softer compound. After packing up for the day, we made our way up the hill in the drizzling rain to the Kentagon bar for a quick shandy and a discussion about the days events and our plans for the weekend. I turned in early whilst Allie and Ginny went to visit the Cable stable for a cup of tea and a chat. I awoke Saturday morning to piercing blue skies and cold October temperatures. Qualifying was to start at 9.00, and after an Egg and Bacon breakfast sarnie thanks to Ginny the Chef, I jumped into my kit ready for the first of my qualifying session which happened to be the F400's. I filtered out onto the track and made sure that I wasn't boxed in too much. After having a bit of a tussle with some slower riders, I settled into a comfortable pace, making sure that I was as accurate as I could be. Overall, I felt confident that I gave a reasonable account of myself, and as it turned out, I had qualified 13th on the grid again as well as lead rookie. A few sessions after the F400's, I was up for the TSGP qualifying. I turned up a little later than I would have liked, and I rolled out onto the grid in about midfield. I found straight away, that as soon as I started in my qualifying pace, I was surrounded by much faster 250, 350 and even a 750 race bikes. I would comfortably get past them on the corners, only for them to blast me on the straights and hold me up in the corners. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with being held up and this was damaging my qualifying efforts. About 4 laps in, the red flag was out and the session was stopped. We all cruised back to the pit lane and form up for a re-start. I took the opportunity to filter my way to the front of the grid, so that this time, when I get out on the grid, I won't be held up by the 'slower' faster bikes. I formed up next to Dean Stimpson (the current TZR champion) who is an incredibly quick rider. Whilst waiting to go out for the restart, I thought about my lines and techniques and had a few ideas I wanted to try. When the qualifying session was restarted, I got to work straight away and I immediately felt smooth and fast and the pace was just coming to me with no effort at all. The rest of the session flew past in a blur, and I felt happy that I had given a good account of myself, however, I didn't know at the point exactly how good it was. When I got back to the pits, I parked the bike up casually set about mixing up some new fuel. Dean Stimpsons Dad dropped by for a chat, and commented on how well I was doing in the last session, and it was then he told me that I had qualified 2nd in class, and only 0.1 seconds behind his boy Dean and 5th overall on the grid against purpose built 250, 350, 500 and 750 race machines. I was gobsmacked, I knew I rode well, but 2nd in class (ahead of GPF class winner Dan Williams on a 3XV TZR) and behind the legendary Hero Dean Stimpson was quite an achievement. My confidence was good, my plans had paid off and it seems that my techniques and preparation were working and I felt ready and raring to go out there and demonstrate that pace in my next race.
I felt a new wave of confidence come over me as I realised that all my mental preparation and the studying of my lines and techniques were actually physically materialising out on the track.

My first race was the F400. I formed up at the head of the 4th row and got an average start and had a bit of a battle with Matt Barber, another fast novice on a TZR250. I would catch Matt going into Surtees and continue to catch him down the short straight and was within striking distance at Paddock which I managed to make stick on a few occasions, but Matt's pace going into the hairpin was so much quicker than me.
I really felt that I was pushing the bike down as hard and as fast as I dared going into the hairpin with a great deal of effort being put through the bars. It seemed obvious that I was doing something wrong, but I couldn't exactly work out what it was in the heat of the race. Nevertheless, I managed to tail Matt for the rest of the race and came home as 2nd Rookie and 3rd sub 64.

I had a few hours to spare before my next TSGP race, so after parking the bike up in the paddock, I wandered over to the bottom of Paddock Hill bend to watch Allie and Ginny in the F1 sidecars.
Allie had qualified 2nd to last I think, and as the race started was still near the back as they rounded paddock for the first time. As the race went on, Allie seemed to lose touch with the group in front but was still in front of Mariane and Claire on an F2 outfit. Towards the latter part of the race, the leaders were catching Allie, and the first pair managed to pass her cleanly along the cooper straight, however, when Allie came around Paddock this time, her line looked quite tight coming in, and the next thing I knew, the back wheel started to slide out and continued to spin round until the whole outfit was almost perpendicular to the track, and it was at this point, the outfit flipped over, catapulting Ginny out of the chair whilst Allie continued down the track upside down still inside the outfit. Ginny stumbled and rolled around for a moment as if to find her bearings and then staggered towards the inside of the track whilst one of the other leading sidecars narrowly missed the back of her, unfortunately, as the next sidecar arrived at the top of Paddock, they could clearly see Allies capsized outfit in the middle of the track and Ginny stumbling off to the right. The driver took quick action and jammed on the brakes which immediately put it into a sideways skid and was heading straight for Ginny who was clearly oblivious to what was going on. As the outfit was about to capsize, it slammed into the back of Ginny and punted her with some force further down the track slamming her face down with quite some considerable impact.
The red flags were out and Marshalls were already starting to run onto the track.
Allie was immobilised inside the outfit like an upturned tortoise whilst Ginny had manage to crawl on her hands and knees to the side of the track and slump down and lay there motionless.
The Marshalls faffed about trying to get Allie out of the sidecar whilst it deposited such a large pool oil at the bottom of Paddock Hill that Marshalls were having to pull stricken seagulls out such was the size of the slick.
The ambulance was soon on scene and secured Ginny in a neck brace, gently lifter her into the ambulance and carted her off to the medical centre.
I was pretty shocked and stunned and feeling pretty tearful by this time and was deeply concerned for both my friends well being, so I quickly rushed up to the medical centre to find out how they were.
I had to wait for what seemed like hours whilst they checked both Allie and Ginny out.
Allie seemed Ok apart from a few bumps and bruises and looking a bit dazed (more so than usual), but Ginny was in a lot of pain, still in a neck brace and was being fed oxygen having broken her collarbone and wrist and also had a large wound on her left hand where her Furygan glove had split open like a banana.

After further examination, the medical staff discharged Allie, but said that Ginny would be taken to Kings College Hospital trauma unit.
Team Cable joined me at the medical centre and everyone helped me put my nerves at ease, but for the next couple of hours I really felt quite emotional and upset and was in no state at that point to continue racing until I felt safe to do so.
I therefore opted to miss my first TSGP race (even though I qualified 2nd) as there was no way I could have given the race my full concentration which I thought could be quite dangerous for me if I was distracted.

By mid afternoon, my nerves had calmed down enough ready for me to enter my next race which was the F400. I was 14th of the grid for this race, one place behind Matt Barber. I got off to a good start and was mixing it with a few of the faster 400 riders and had also learnt from the first race that I was attempting to square the hairpin off way too much which meant that I was putting a lot of force on the bars. To overcome this and to go in faster, I simply let go of the brakes earlier and pitch the bike in at a shallower angle towards the apex. It worked, my corner entry speed was much quicker and the bike also felt more stable and I was able to stay with Matt through the hairpin.
I felt that my riding was good, but the trauma I had experienced earlier during the day still played heavily on me in the back of my mind, took a slight edge off my aggressiveness and race craft and I felt that there were clearly a few occasions where I could have put in a few passing moves but didn't feel quite so comfortable so I hung back a little waiting for a slightly cleaner place to pass. However, I did one again manage to come home 2nd Rookie.

Due to the number of stopages during the day, including Allie and Ginny's crash, the last TSGP race was postponed until Sunday morning..

By then end of the day, we had acquired the contact details of the hospital Ginny had been taken, but hadn't had any luck getting through to them.

Later that evening in the Kentagon during the days prize giving, Allied had managed to get in touch with Ginny who was rather grumpy and pissed off that no one had come up and seen her, so we felt rest assured that her grumpiness was a sure sign that she was feeling much better.

On Sunday morning, I managed to speak to Ginny in hospital, although battered and bruised was comfortable and stable and in much better spirits. Funnily enough, she was very apologetic about making me upset and told me to go out there and 'give em hell'.
Hearing that Ginny was Ok(ish) definitely lifted my mood, and I once more felt able to do battle.
Sunday morning was cold, calm with piercing blue skies, and I could feel after the first practice session, the engine felt crisp and responsive.
I was up next for the TSGP race, and because I missed my first race the day before, I had to start from the back of the grid. This was going to be tough, however, I got a flying start and after a few laps I dispatched a few of the slower faster bikes, I was up there in the leading group of the GPF machines. Three of the riders were on TZR250's , one of which was Dan Williams (GPF Champion) on a full SP spec V twin TZR250.
 I was all over Dan in the corners, but his bike just took off down the straights.

Next up was Ben Mills on an old TZR250.
Even though my KR1 should have been faster in a straight line, there was hardly anything in it between his bike and mine, but I did manage to get close enough to take him twice at paddock only for him to jam it between me and a TZ350 going into paddock on the next lap. The move was so harsh and unexpected, I had no choice but to yank on the front brake. This violent move sent the back wheel into the air whilst I doing at least 70-80mph. With the back wheel fish tailing several inches off the ground, things started getting a bit too 'wobbly' for my liking, so I had no choice but to immediately let go of the brakes and quickly pull the bike down as hard as I dared.
Ben and Me battling it out!

I managed to stay on track, but it seemed clear to me that Ben was out to make a point and after seeing Ginny carted off to hospital, I was in no mood to do the same.
It was a close frantic race right up to the chequered flag, and I just missed out by fractions of a second in claiming 3rd place thus also missed my opportunity in getting a ride round for a victory lap in the winners open top car.

Clearly feeling that I had got some of my mojo back, I was all set for the next F400 race.
I got off to a good start, and could see a fast group of riders up in front of me and and found myself gaining on them fast. One of them was Emma Jarman who had recently came 2nd overall at Cadwell Park only a few weeks earlier.
I soon caught up with the group of three bikes, and it seemed to me that they were sand bagging all at the same pace. I put in a bold move and  rode round the outside of Emma at Surtees, however, with clearly more power, she re-took me on the straight, only for me to out break her going into Paddock.
I was desperate to get past all of them as I could feel that they were limiting my pace, however, with all this dogfighting mayhem going on, Matt Barber who I passed early on in the race, used this advantage to join in the fight. The pair of us were now not only battling with each other, but also with the other 400's. I adopted my signature overtaking move round the outside of Matt at Surtees only for him to 'park' it in front of me going into Clearways. I got a good drive coming out of Clearways, and I could tell that the back tyre was well on the limit as I could feel it spin and slide as I wound on the power. I caught Matt down the straight, and put in a daring late braking manoeuvre on him going into paddock and realised that I had slightly over cooked it and needed to keep the bike banked over longer in order to stay on track. I drifted wide whilst the little KR protested by bobbing and weaving its way to the side of the track, but I still managed to keep it on the black stuff and out of the kitty litter.
I still kept it ahead of Matt and as we approached Clearways again, I slammed the KR onto its side and could feel the bike lose stability, but my lesson from the wet practice, told me that I still had a little bit more left so I took the risk and kept the power nailed as I banged it up through the gears as I felt the back wheel slide from under me, but just enough so that it gave me enough grip to drive the bike forward. I was back in touch with the 400's again, only to get baulked at the hairpin  and I was shouting in my helmet "get out of the F#@king way, cant you see we are trying to race", and that's when Matt got past me again and remained in front for the rest of the race.
So once again, I had crossed the line as 2nd rookie and 3rd sub 64.
I went over and congratulated Matt after the race and he expressed his amazement at the way I could ride a bike so clearly out of shape AND keeping it nailed at the same time. - "yay, I was getting a bit of a reputation as a hard riding nutter" - not bad for a middle aged woman!!
Looking back on that race, I am please to say that from start to finish, I really felt as though I gave a good account of myself and adapted my techniques and attitudes to come away with a good feeling of accomplishment.
I felt that in this last race I really felt that I could accelerate the bike hard and fast coming out of corners, I knew I was taking a big risk powering it on out of some of the corners, but in the back of my mind, I had this remeasuring gut feel that I knew what I was doing. However, in doing so, I had completely ruined a brand new SC1 tyre that I had only fitted at the beginning of the weekend.

however, there is always more room for improvement, but I am proud to say that it is all moving in the right direction.
As the day and the season came to a close and experiencing such a roller coaster of emotions, not only particularly today, but the whole season I was well and truly relieved that I had ridden with skill and control, stayed on the bike and without any mechanical incident or failure.
So in 2013 after only completing half the rounds, I won 15 trophies and finished 4th in the Bemsee Rookie championship with a points scoring average just 0.5 points below that of the eventual Championship Winner Matt Barber.
However, Ginny and Allies accident was once again a very sobering moment that makes you realise that although racing is probably one of the most frantically exciting things you could ever do in your life, it also very dangerous, and its a danger that you must respect at all times.

Tune in for my next instalment where I talk about preparations for the 2014 season

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Do it right or don't do it all

Only having got effectively one good race out of my last meeting (albeit massively down on power), I decided to put all my efforts in to get my engine sorted for the next round at Cadwell park on the 14th and 15th of September.
I sent the disappointing dyno graph of the cylinders to Mark for analysis. Marks initial conclusion was the powervalves were not working. So in order to test this, I planned on getting the bike down the SBS motorcycles in Lancing so that I could test it on their dyno. I set about refitting the top end Mark had tuned, but before I could do that I needed to order some gaskets.
I ordered a set of base gaskets and head gaskets from Cradley Heath Kawasaki who usually provide a first class service, however, what I received two days later was only half my order.
It was obviously an administration error, however by the time all the gaskets had turned up, I was unable to fit them in time and get the bike on the dyno, so I booked it in for the week after (one week before Cadwell).
So I hired a van for the day, took the bike up to SBS and put it on their dyno. The first run showed that the fueling was way off, excessively lean in the midrange and too rich at the top, and the maximum power was still a very low 48hp. I adjusted the needle position to address the midrange, and fitted a smaller jet for the top end, however, despite the changes, the power was even worse.

Although fine tuning of all the different jets would probably upped the power a bit (maybe about 2hp), the general trend still showed that something with this top end was drastically wrong.
So I packed up the bike into the back of the van and drove home and had a sulk (with a large chocolate cake - because I'm worth it).

I really didn't have that many options. Of the three top ends I had, all of them required unique pistons. Marks development top end had worn out pistons that had partially seized twice, the top end I had just tested clearly was not up to the job, and the Bob Farnham top end still had a mashed head and scored barrel from last years crank explosion and a pair of very old standard pistons with unknown mileage.

Of course, I appreciate that my little 250 is always going to be down on power with the rest of the 400's out on the grid, but technically speaking, if everything was set up correct, it should at least be competitive with the best sub 64hp bikes in my class. Although I don't mind using a tired old engine to get out on the track if I really need to, I always strive to be as prepared as much as I can prior to a race meeting to minimise the stress and hassle on the race day, and knowing that you have a reliable well prepared bike underneath you also helps to boost your confidence. I wold much rather not go at all rather than turning up on a shed that has been cobbled together with spit and pieces of string.
I know in my own mind, that I would feel frustrated out there knowing that even though I may ride well, it all counts for nothing at the end of the day if the whole package isn't sorted as well as running the risk of spending considerable time and money getting to a race meeting only for the bike to blow up at the 11th hour.
So I made the decision to cancel Cadwell, and spend what little time I had left in preparing for the last meeting of the year in October at Brands Hatch.
The plan was to acquire a new set of standard pistons and rings and get the Bob Farnham head re-machined and get the cylinder repaired at Aptec, or failing that, acquire a set of TZ250 A pistons and rings for Marks development top end.

All I want to do is just get on the thing and ride it without all this hassle.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A slight glimpse of magic

Following on from my last meeting in Snetterton, I had quite a few modifications to make to the bike. Firstly, there was the troublesome footrests and gear change mechanism and secondly there was the fitment of the new Dymag front wheel. The gearchange mechanism was replaced with two straight connecting rods, attached via rose joints and an outrigger assembly which was far more robust than one long rod with a curve in it that was far more likely to bend. Fitting the new Dymag within the forks was a simple case of making up some new spacers, however, as the wheel was originally manufactured for another bike, it wasn't a simple case of taking the discs off my current wheel and putting them on this one. After some thought, I considered that the best option (although not the cheapest) was to get a set of bespoke discs made up that suited my setup. I got several quotes from a few companies that varied between £220 and £600. I decided to go for the cheaper option and supplied all of the disc dimensions to Stealth Performance. Several weeks later a very nice set of wave discs turned up, however, despite being explicitly clear about the dimensions and providing sketches, the offset of the discs were slightly out which meant that the discs were slightly further apart than what they should have been. However, as the pads in the callipers were slightly worn, I was able to fit the discs. I really wanted to use the wheel for the forthcoming trackday and race meeting at Brands Hatch on the GP circuit, so I got in touch with Stealth and they told me that they would accept the return of the discs if I happen to have used them.

Brands Hatch GP Circuit.
Although we had a great summer this year, I was dreading doing a trackday or race day in some of the searing temperatures that we had been getting recently. The weather for the day was forecast as ‘pleasantly warm’, and I am glad to say, it did exactly what it said it would.

I was called out for my first session, so I swung my leg over the bike and trundled off down the pit lane. I did notice though, that every now and again, there was a horrible graunching noise coming from the back of the bike. I managed to do one lap and pulled in to do some investigation. Ginny and I pulled put the back wheel, inspected the chain, sprockets and cush drive and couldn't really see anything obviously wrong with it, it was then I noticed that one of the bolts holding on the new footrest bracket was far too long and it was catching on the chain every now and again. The bolt was replaced and the back end of the bike was re-assembled and I went out for my next session. I was starting to pick the pace up in this session, and the bike felt good especially round the fast Hawthorne’s corner within the wooded section of the circuit. After about 5 laps, I was just setting myself up for Graham Hill bend when I felt an almighty clonk from the back of the bike and a brake calliper shaped object whizzed past my helmet. Clearly this was an important piece of equipment that was previously attached to the bike. Fearing that the safety of the bike may have been compromised, I decided to not even try and make the corner just in case I might crash so I took to the grass and let the bike come to a natural rest. The rest of the bike still looked intact with no untoward damage, so I started the ike up and made my way back to the pits.
It turned out that whilst I was tending to the left hand side of the bike, Ginny was tending to the right hand side and had only done the rear caliper bolts up finger tight, so after a few laps, the bolts worked lose and the caliper flew off. Fortunately, the marshal saw what had happened and managed to find the caliper and return it to me in the garage. The Hel brake line though had snapped clean off and the caliper had actually put a hole in one of the spokes when it got momentarily jammed in the back wheel.
I cleaned the mud off the brake calliper, purchased a new set of pads (as one of them flew out in the incident) and a new Hel brake line, filled it up with fluid and I was ready to go. There was some drag though on the back brake caused by some slightly bent brake pad pins, but it wasn’t a showstopper.
In my next session, I did remember to switch the camera on and got some footage of a few good laps, but as is the case on trackdays, the big litre bikes always seem to get in the way on the corners and blast off down the straights, so although it can be fun riding round them, its not too good for lap times. I was still setting my lines and gear change points during this sessions, which made for some 'interesting' lines round some of the corners. After completing a few good laps, I then headed back to the pits to ‘contemplate’ my lines.

In my last full session of the day, I had plenty of bike bikes to play with and being well aware that hard racing moves are frowned upon on trackdays, I made extra sure that my moves were clean and decisive (well, I thought they were anyway).
So all in all I managed about 1 full session and two half sessions, but I did come away feeling pretty confident about my gear change points and lines for the forthcoming meeting.
Between the trackday and the Bemsee meeting, I stripped down the rear brake calliper, replaced the bracket with the bent pins, replaced all of the calipers seals, re-greased the pin assembly and put it all back together. Fitted a new 520 chain (cut to fit), replaced the gearbox cover and clutch gasket as they were both weeping oil and inspected the pistons. I did notice that both of the pistons had signs of wear on the thrust faces, so I took the opportunity to fit a brand new set of pistons and rings as well as a set of my own cylinders and head that Mark Jordan had specifically tuned for me.
I acquired the hire van on the 15th of August, and as soon as Gin and I loaded up the van, we were off to Brands Hatch for the race weekend. We arrived in the early evening just as an evening trackday was finishing and set about erecting Allies new 6x4 tent in the evening sun. I was only booked in for Friday afternoon testing so that I could check out my new cylinders and head so took the morning pretty easy. In my first session of the afternoon, I managed about two laps and noticed that the bike refused to rev over 9k. As this was a new unknown top end on the engine, I had deliberately restricted one of the air intakes as a precaution just in case the engine was running too lean. The opposite turned out to be true and the engine was running far to rich, therefore, I removed one of the restrictions and the engine seemed to run much better. My next session was wet, so I chucked in a set of wets and went out to see how the bike felt. At once I noticed that bike would pull like a train from very low down the rev range, but would soon run out of puff by the time it hit 10k on the rev counter and slowly climbed up to about 11k and would go no further. However, the low down spread of power was ideal for the wet, and I felt as though I was getting good drive out of the corners. The last session of the day turned out to be dry, so it was back with the dry tyres, and I found whilst out on the track that I didn't have to change gear as much which made my riding much smoother. I was still concerned about the lack of top end power though, however, the mobile Dyno would not be available until after qualifying the next day.
For Saturday qualifying, I decided to leave the bike as it was, so headed out onto the track and started circulating at a comfortable pace. I noticed that I felt relaxed on the bike and the post analysis of the trackday was really helping my accuracy and speed through the corners. Towards the end of the session, one of the top riders in the championship got along side me going into Paddock Hill bend. As he had the inside line, I let him slide through, however, I noticed that over the next lap, although I was losing out by some considerable margin down the longer straights, I was staying with him and even catching him on some of the corners. I was really expecting one of the top riders to be significantly faster than me, and I was quite pleased that I wasn't simply blown away.

After qualifying, I took the opportunity to get the bike dynoed, and found out that it was running incredibly rich still and the power was only 46hp! I later found out that I had qualified 13th on the grid (very nearly 12th) as well as being the 4th Sub 64hp bike. 13th was the head of the 4th row, and bearing in mind that the top bikes out there have about 82hp, to qualify at the head of the 4th row on a 46hp 250cc bike on the GP circuit was quite an achievement. I was very concerned that the bike was putting out such little power and also running so rich. I did not have any smaller jets for the big 35mm carbs fitted to the bike, so I opted to change to the smaller standard 28mm carbs as I had a bigger range of jets to play with.

 All of Saturday was dry, right up to the point where I lined up on the grid (on the 4throw) for my first race of the day. During the sighting lap, I could see spots of rain on my visor, and some of the other racers were getting a bit nervous, nevertheless, we all lined up in our start positions. When the lights changed, the rain really started to come down and many of the riders were clearly concerned about the wet conditions and started to signal to the marshals to stop the race. Halfway round the first lap, the red flags came out and the race was stopped. We trundled down the pits and were each told by a marshal that we had 10 minutes to change our tyres. I quickly headed back to the pits, and even though I was assisted by Ginny in my tyre change, I eventually changed to wet tyres and was just tightening the rear axle nut when the race got started without me. As I missed the first race, I had a few hours to spare before my next one, so once again I made my way up to the Dyno to see how the bike was running. The Dyno revealed although the mixture was much closer to optimum (still slightly rich), the power had only marginally increased by about 1.5hp, but to about 47.5hp now.

I decided to leave the bike in its current configuration though for the last race of the day.
When the last race arrived, I was placed on the last row as did not manage to start the first race, this clearly made me a little miffed. I was determined to make a good start, so I set out on the sighting lap at a fast pace to ensure that my tyres were nice and hot. I lined my bike up on the outside of the track, and decided that the best option was to take an outside line round the first 4 corners whilst every one else jostled for position. I got of the line cleanly and my outside line tactic was working well and I managed to pass about a third of the field on the first lap. During the next few laps, I was pushing hard especially into the hairpin where the back wheel was fishtailing in the air as I hit the brakes hard and slammed the bike over on its side. The new Dymag made quite a difference in fast directional changes, however, such was the ferocity of the direction change, the back suspension would squat and the expansion chamber would touch down on the ground which caused the back wheel to step out on three consecutive laps.
I proceeded to pick off a few more riders each lap and was then later joined by Emma Jarman on her 400 Kawasaki whom I had passed on the first lap of the race. Lap after lap, Emma would get alongside or pass me down the straights going into Hawthorne’s or Paddock, and lap after lap, I would brake later and dive up the inside. Round the back of the circuit, the bike would drive hard and strong from the apex right through to the kerb stones on the exit. Between the complex of corners round the back of the circuit, the straights were short enough so that I didn’t lose out and I was able to pull a bit of an advantage until it came to the longer straights again. Emma eventually got passed and managed to stay in front on the last lap, but I felt good that I was riding confidently and accurately and was beginning to feel yet again, glimpses of my old magic coming back. Despite starting from the back of the grid, I did manage to bring my little KR1 home as the 2nd rookie though behind Mat Barber who was riding extremely well on a Yamaha TZR250. During the evenings presentation, not only was I awarded a trophy for 2nd rookie in the F400 class, but the announcer also commented on the fact that I had not only qualified as the top rookie, but I had also managed to qualify on the 4th row…..on a 250 KR1, and for that, I was awarded the AR Racing £75 voucher for rookie of the day. In my return to racing, I largely believed that I went un-noticed in the paddock as a midfield rider, and although I can sometimes feel good about my performance on the track, by and large, I don’t really believe that many people are taking notice (except the ones cheering me on), so it came as quite a pleasant surprise to find out that someone somewhere was sufficiently impressed by my riding to give me an award.

After the presentation, I set about removing the head and cylinders that Mark Jordan had tuned for me and re-install his own development top end as it was clear that although the drive out of corners was strong, it was really limiting my top speed. Sunday morning I finished off the build, but missed my warm up session though. As my first race was going to be after lunch, I had sufficient time to put the bike back on the Dyno. It was immediately obvious that this engine setup not only revved much higher but also significantly increased power, and power was now up to 56hp. I was pretty confident going into my first race knowing that I had much more power, however, I knew it was going to be much harder knowing that the engine lacked drive coming out of corners. I knew that I needed to keep my corner speed up in order to keep the revs up in order to keep the power up, which is something quite difficult in a field of 400 four strokes who like to ‘park it’ mid corner and wind it open down the straights. I lined up on the 5th row of the grid, but as I did so, I noticed that the temperature gauge reading was quite high (88 DegC) and getting hotter as we sat there waiting for everyone to become ready.
As the lights changed, I tried yesterdays tactic of going for the outside line, but found myself boxed in by other riders who were all going what seemed like a pedestrian pace.
I was shouting in my helmet ‘GET OUTTA MY WAY’ as they dawdled round the next few corners whilst the group in front started to get away. I eventually managed to break free of the dawdling bunch and put in a fast lap, but I soon noticed that the bike seemed to be lacking even more midrange power.

I once again had a dual with Emma Jarman which lasted for a few laps up to the point where she came past me on the straight heading towards Hawthornes. I tucked in behind her as best I could, but by this time, I was already at least two bike lengths behind. She sat up to brake for the oncoming corner, I left it a bit later and started to gain on her, but by this time, she had already started to tip into the corner, there was no room for me up the inside, so I decided to be a bit brave and try for the outside. We both arrived at the apex at about the same time, Emma on the inside, me on the outside. I hit the gas hard in order to get a good drive out of the corner and the rear tyre started to lose grip, I quickly shut off, and the tyre then snapped back in line, not sufficiently hard for a high side, but just enough to tell me that I was starting to push it a bit to hard, especially round the fastest corner on the circuit.
By the end of the race, I had managed to cross the line once more as the 2nd rookie but found the race much harder than the day before due to the really narrow power band, however, on the plus side, it did make me ride that much harder. On closer inspection of the water level after the race, I noticed that the water level had dropped quite significantly which probably contributed to the very high temperature and possibly even loss in power.
Before the next race, I topped the radiator up to full, and I was determined to do much better in the last race of the day. I got a mediocre start, and was once more boxed in during the first few corners, and despite riding really hard into corners to keep the engine revs up, the bike didn't seem to be pulling as hard as it could be. I was 2nd rookie for most of the race, however, with two laps to go, two 400 Kawasaki’s stormed past on the straights and I was unable to make up the gap before the approaching corners. I finished the race as 4th rookie, narrowly missing one more trophy by one position.

I was so shattered at the end of the day, I felt as though I was going to feint. It had once again been a weekend of non stop action, pulling the bike apart, rebuilding and multiple Dyno sessions. Now that is was all over, I helped Allie and Ginny disassemble the large tent, pack it into her van as well as load all of my bike and bits into the back of my van and drive home. I was soaked with sweat, had blisters from my racing boots and all I wanted was my bed!

Over the next few days, I rested my aching bones and started to tear down the top end of the bike again. I noticed that when I removed Marks development cylinders, both pistons had partially seized and had long black streaks down them, fortunately, the cylinders looked unscathed. I sent pictures of the Dyno curve to Mark to analyse, and he seemed to think that the powervalves were not working and the power curve should continue going up from 9.5k and not tail off as it seemed to be doing. I was pretty sure that the powervalves were set up correctly and cycling open and closed as they should, but I could think of no other reason why the engine wasn't putting out the power it should have been.

So in preparation for my next meeting at Cadwell on the 13th to the 15th of September, I will be putting Marks tuned top end back on and hoping that I get the top end power which he believes those cylinders should have.

In conclusion, looking back over the weekend, I felt that with the engine that produced good drive off the corners really played to my strengths in that I get back on the power smoothly and progressively almost as soon as I have finished breaking and drive it smooth from the apex, right through to the edge of the track which is where I make up most distance on riders in front. I realised looking back, that my state of mind during qualifying and my fist race felt very similar to a familiar state of mind I experienced all those years ago which I had long since forgotten about. I had a confident decisiveness, clarity of vision that enabled one corner to seamlessly flow into the next which encompassed a sense of oneness with the bike which up to this point, I had not experienced. My positioning and timing on the track was subliminal. It was abundantly clear in mind where I should be on the track and what I should be doing way in advance of doing it. Its been years since I felt like this, and even though I probably wasn't riding as hard as the very fastest riders out there, what I was doing I believe, is taking full advantage of my current experience and deploying it consistently and accurately lap on lap without being held back by anxiety or fear, which all helps to add yet more experience.
Although it seems obvious now, but concentrating on accuracy was the key to a fast lap instead of simply trying to go into a corner faster and accelerate out harder. By having a clear vision in my mind exactly where I wanted to be, I was consistently kissing apexes and peeling in at just the right point. The confidence and certainty I had with my positioning allowed me to naturally push the bike harder with no effort what so ever. Although it may have been possible for me to push just as hard whilst be slightly less accurate, I am pretty certain that if I wasn't concentrating on my position so hard, then my consistency would probably have also suffered, and being inconsistent is the last thing you want happening if you are pushing really hard, otherwise, if you end up missing apexes and turn in points, your more likely to run off the track.
I believe the lessons I learnt all those years ago riding two strokes, and especially the TZ250 GP bike has still stayed with me to a certain extent, and I am slowly starting to trust my judgement and feel of the bike as I re-familiarise with racing again.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Wake up call

Snetterton 20th, 21st and 22nd of June.

The weekend almost didn't happen.
Nearly a month before, I had booked van hire with a new company in Worthing to pick up the van Thursday evening and deliver back Sunday night, all of which was cheaper than the previous place.
I took Thursday off as leave, but up to that point, most of the preparation was done, and all I had to do was organise the contents for the trip and pick up the van.
Thursday morning, I phoned the van hire company and asked what time I could pick up the van - "what van?" they said, "we have no van booked in your name".
I had spent nearly two months preparing for this event, spent nearly £500 in entry fees and the whole thing was about to go belly up if I couldn't get hold of a van.
It turns out that my debit card had been declined, however, they didn't think about getting in touch to let me know. Fortunately, a van was available, and it was bigger, so all came good in the end...phew!

 With the van acquired, we loaded up and was on the road to Snetterton by 6.15pm and got to the circuit at around 9.15 set up the Gazebo and had a nice bowl of chunky soup in Allies camper van before turning in to bed.

Friday morning looked dull but still dry to start with, but as the dark clouds came rolling in, I decided to change to a full set of wets as it started to drizzle. I was up for first practice, and I managed to get out on the track for just one full lap right as the heavens opened, went straight through my leathers and left me drenched within seconds, so I was pretty pleased to see the chequered flag come out.
In my first full session in the rain, I started off gently and progressively increased my pace and was cruising round the circuit at a comfortable pace, trying to get familiar with the new track layout.

 For some strange reason, the right had side of my visor was steaming up, leaving the left hand side clear, this meant I could see oncoming left hand corners quite easily, but in order to see the right handers, I had to twist my head to the left in order to see the corner. This was not ideal, but it was good enough to see where I was going.
The new sections were quite hard to learn as Snetterton is a very flat track and the corners look quite blind going in.
Later on with the misting cured with some special visor anti misting spray, I upped the pace a little more as I felt comfortable. Even though is was in the Formula 400 practise group, only 3 riders came past me all day in the wet practise sessions. I don't know if its because I am fast in the wet, or that everyone else wasn't really trying. Its odd, because I never used to regard myself as a wet weather rider, and to me, my pace in the wet doesn't feel fast, it simply feels as though I am cruising round a wet track, where as my pace in the dry feels physically hard as I wrestle the bike from one side to the other, hang off and drag everything on the deck and clench my bottom every time the back tyre starts to lets go.
I was still on wets in the last session on a track that was rapidly drying. The track was neither fully wet, neither was it fully dry, however, I found myself still circulating at a 'wet' pace, and was subsequently being passed by other riders on wet tyres, riding at a semi dry pace. It was then I realised what kind of pace you could ride at on wet tyres, which is actually quite fast.

I lined up for qualifying for the formula 400 class in the evening on a bone dry track and was still setting my gear change points as the session came to a close. I was a little disappointed to qualify as the 7th sub 64 bike and hoped I would do better in the race.
Friday evening turned out nice though, the weather was calm, the sun was out and people were having barbecues in the paddock and all was calm.
Allie bought us all dinner in the club house, I had a larger shandy which went straight to my head and then settled in for the night on the parcel shelf of Allies camper van.

In the early dawn light of Saturday morning, the weather became more blustery and the rain came down in fits and starts. I got up early and set about changing back to wet tyres as it looked as though I would be needing them for the Thunderbike Qualifying session. 
Thunderbikes is basically an open class structure where anyone can run just about anything from old bikes to one off prototypes classed by engine size.
Half the Thunderbike class had qualified in the dry the evening before, and the other half were qualifying in the wet this morning.
I got out onto the circuit whilst the circuit was still wet, but a dry line was appearing in a few of the corners. My pace felt comfortable and I was having a good time and passed other more powerful bikes with relative ease as they 'pussy footed' round the corners.

Saturday was horrendously windy, black clouds would roll over from the north, dump their contents on the track, before disappearing south. My first race was in the Thunderbikes, and the weather must have changed between wet and dry at least 3 times in the race just before mine. It looked like it might just stay wet, however, the race before mine was red flagged due to an incident, and within that time, the wind had started to dry the track out.
My race was called, so off I went to the collection area, where I was assembled on the 3rd row. All of the other bikes in front of me were 1000's and 750's as well as several rows behind. I must have been the smallest bike for about 5 rows.
As I sat in the collection area, the sun came out and dried the track even further. I looked around at the rest of the competitors who were all on dry tyres, I had serious reservation about the longevity of my tyres in these conditions.
I got a pretty poor start as I didn't slip the clutch enough off the line and lost a few places, one of them to fellow 400 rider Gary Jarman. Garry pulled out about 10 bike lengths on me to start with. I pushed it a little more and found my self on the back of Gary's bike as we headed down the long Revitt straight, Garry pulled out quite a considerable amount down the straight, but I soon made up the distance on the brakes going into the Esses and was back with him as we tipped into the fast left hander.
As I was getting ready to change direction, Gary flicked his bike into the right hander and the back wheel slid out form under him and sent both him and bike spiraling across the track right in front of me. Conscious that target fixation could also cause me to crash, I aimed for the inside of the turn as both rider and bike slid away from me leaving my line clear.
I kept pushing for about another lap until I found myself coming round the long fast sweeping Coram curve and the back of the bike was starting to get quite unstable as the tyres started to over heat and melt. I contemplated staying out on track, however, I knew that the tyres would get even more unstable and would probably chuck me off, not to mention ruining a good set of tyres which I would probably need for the rest of the weekend anyway, so it was at that point that I decided to pull in - Retirement #1.

Lunch was called early, so I took the opportunity to change back to dry tyres. The Formula 400 race was the second race after lunch.
During the race before mine, black clouds materialised over the circuit, dumped a down poor, then quickly disappeared. We had no time to change back to wet tyres, so I lined up in the assembly area on dry tyres.
As I sat in there in the assembly area,  I would say that about two thirds of the rest of the grid were also on wet tyres.
I got off to a very slow start and tip toed round the circuit at what felt like a leisurely pace and then started to pick it up as I gained more confidence and gathered feedback. I was taking it smooth and easy round the fast corners, gently guiding it in and applying the power as the bike felt stable and easing it off as the back started to squirm and spin up. I was rapidly gaining on the rest of the field, even those on wet tyres. Lap after lap, I would ride round the outside of Coram and stuff it up the inside at Murray's and also gain hand over fist going into Richies. Again, this didn't feel like racing, it just felt like 'fast cruising'. Given a few more laps, I am confident that I could have upped my pace even further and taken quite a few more places, but as it was, I came home as 2nd Rookie.

The Thunderbikes in the afternoon turned out dry, and luckily this time I also had dry tyres fitted.
The Thunderbike race was a hoot. Here I was, a rookie girl on a 250 road bike mixing it with 600's 750's and 1000's on one of the fastest circuits in the country and stuffing it in any gap I could find (or make) and make quite a nuisance of myself to these masters of point and squirt. Even though I have no idea where I came in that race, it was a great opportunity to practice race craft, line up other riders for overtaking manoeuvres and maybe teach them a thing or two about cornering, instead of relying on the

My last race of the day was in the Formula 400's. I got a reasonable grid position and a reasonable start and found myself putting the experience of my last Thunderbike race into good practice as I pulled off a few sneaky moves here and there to gain a few more places, however, I found on a few occasions as I tried stuffing it up the inside at Murray's, that I entered the corner in neutral instead of first gear, which totally screwed my line and made the bike unstable. The same happened later going into the tight right hander at Oggies where I couldn't change down, lost concentration and realised at that point, I wasn't going to make the corner. I stood the bike up, shot off the track and thought I was about to dump it in the dirt, but manged to keep it upright and rejoin. I was finding that I had to make more of an effort to change gear, and as such, I wasn't concentrating as much on my racing. It was at this point that I decided to pull out of the race - Retirement #2.

After I got back to the pits, it became clear that the gear rod that Dickie had made up had started to bend, which in turn changed the position of the gear lever making it difficult to change gear.
As it was the end of the racing day, I removed the left hand footrest assembly and started to replaced it with the old Raask footrest that I had previously used so that it would be ready for the next day.
Unlike the last time out at Brands Hatch, I actually checked my finishing positions and knew this time I had come second in the Rookie class, so instead of missing the awards ceremony, I quickly got changed in the back of the van and made my way up to the packed club house whilst Gin finished off fitting the replacement footrest assembly.
After standing around for ages in a packed clubhouse, each of the riders who were eventually called up to collect their awards for the days racing and were were received with a loud round of applause and the odd cheers and whistles. The announcer got to the results for the Formula 400 race and started reading out the trophy winners in reverse order. Walking up to the front of the packed club house to receive my award after such a long break from racing made me feel pretty proud of myself, even if it was for second place. But a little part of me continually yearns for that Number One top step trophy, and although I know I need to be realistic about my chances with all things considered, I do know that without that yearning I wouldn't have even gotten second place.
Anything worthwhile is never easy!

Sundays weather was even more blustery than Saturday. We secured some ratchet straps onto a chain link fence and Allies camper van to stop the Gazebo blowing away. Practise was dry, but because of yesterdays over run, and races from the March meeting being re-scheduled into today's programme, the timetable was haphazard, thus, practise was only two laps. I felt that the bike was losing power the day before, so I decided to to a plug chop at the end of the Revitt straight so that I could look at the spark plugs and determine how the fuel mixture was running. 
On the first lap, I cut the engine flat out in 5th gear and pushed the bike back to the pits.
It was then I noticed that not only had one of the powervalves reversed (keeping one of the exhaust ports closed when it should have been open, thus restricting the engine from top end power) but one of the screws had come out of another leaving it in a half open position. The plug looked black on the left hand cylinder which was to be expected with the powervalves not working correctly. The right hand cylinder lloked dark brown though which indicated it was safe, but could have possibly come down one size more.
I installed a new screw in the powervalve and shortened the linkage in an effort to stop it reversing.
After Gin and I finished working on the engine, the rain lashed down, so we opted to put the wet tyres in.
About 10 minutes before my first Thunderbike race of the day, the wind was strong and the track was drying fast. Gin and I ummed and arred over which would be the best tyre choice. We decided to keep a wet front and choose a dry rear. With a few whirls of a spanner and a ratchet, the back wheel was in.
We then stood outside, looking up at the skies and about 5 minutes before I was called to the assembly area, we whipped out the front wheel and put the dry front in too. That must have been the fastest wheel change over the weekend.
I lined up in the collection area, there was a dry line appearing on the track but still damp at the edges.
As I got off the line, I took it easy for a few laps and starting reelling in some of the bigger bikes.
I was having a right ding dong with a 996 Ducati and a Suzuki TL1000R. Both of them would stomp off down the straights leaving me for dead and start breaking just about at the same point where I'm changing up to 6th!
Lap after lap, I would catch up, get baulked into the corners and was denied the opportunity to ride round the outside due to the narrow dry line which I had to stay on. As I approached the end of the Revitt straight, I could see myself gaining on the two bikes in front at a ridiculous rate as they braked way too early, I could see that my closing pace was fast, and I would need to time it right in order to swing past at the appropriate point. I picked my line, and as the Ducati swung left in front of me, I immediately switched right and aimed for the outside and sliced past on the brakes and ran tight into the next right hander stuffing it up the inside of the TL1000 whilst the little KR protested by bobbing and weaving on the brakes as both the front and the back were starting to let go. I extended my lead all the way from the Esses to Murrays, only to be sucked into their passing wake as they stormed past halfway down the start finish straight.

After the race had finished, I had discovered that the left hand powervalve had reversed again. The little rose jointed tie rod that connects the powervalves had run out of adjustment, so from my big box of spares, I  fitted a smaller one and re-assemdanbled the linkage.
I had noticed that during some of the dry races, the front end of the bike would patter going through fast long sweeping corners such as Corams and Hamilton whilst I waas feeding the power on. It didn't feel as though there was a series of bumps, so I concluded it was some handling characterisitic of the front suspension.
It just so happend that the Steve Jordan racing team were in the paddock that weekend, who are specialists in all things suspension. So off I went to see some advice about setup. I explaned the situation to Steve, who explained that as I was putting power on, it was taking weight off the front, which in turn was causing the front to patter. Steve recommended a couple of tweaks. Firstly, he said that I should either lower the front (by dropping the forks through the yokes) or raise the rear by increasing the spring preload. As I had previously had ground clearance issues, I opted to increase the rear spring preload. Secondly, he also recommended increasing the rebound damping for the forks by a touch to slow down the rate at which the fork extends. I increased the the rebound damping by about a quater turn.

The first Formula 400 race was definitely dry, I had to start from the back of the grid of 40 bikes as I had retired from yesterdays race though, so this was going to be quite tough.
I got off to a good start and the first corner was quite crowded, but I managed to hassle my way past some slower riders who clearly were not committed as me. I progressively caught other riders as the race went on and I was pushing the bike hard lap after lap.
I got in behind Dan Hardy on his ZXR400 and a few other riders in the infield section of the circuit, but felt as though I was being held up in  the corners.  I lined Dan up going into Montreal just before the long Revitt straight, I got a good entry and accelerated through the apex and was catching Dan rapidly until he opened the throttle, and at this point he must have pulled out at least 150 yards on me by the end of the long straight.
As Dan got to the end of the straight, he braked way too early and I could see myself closing in at a great rate of knots (hey, I've done this before). I pitched it in left, swung round Dan on the outside of the left hander at the Esses and stuffed up the inside going into the right hander, slipped the clutch hard on the exit and pulled out an advantage going into the Bombhole;

I was aware the last time at Brands Hatch that I was getting some serious lean angles, with the fairing and footpegs touching down at some of the corners, so in this race, I made a conscious effort to hang off the bike more in order to use less lean angle.
I felt as though I was practically climbing off the bike and being dragged along behind the bike on my knee sliders which took one hell of a beating in this race. On one of the laps, as I approached Oggies, I  stuffed the little KR up the inside of a 400 Kawasaki, literally threw the bike on its side, pointed it round the corner and wound on the power whilst everything was on the deck. It was at this point that the back tyre started to let go. As I felt it go, my buttocks clenched and thought this could be one hell of a highside. I resisted the urge to back off completely, so I just backed off the power slightly and the slide decided to run its course and kindly gave back traction once it had finished without as much of a twitch. I then picked the bike up and snicked it up an extra gear, I tipped it into Williams, banked over hard, fed the power in smoothly from the apex, I could feel the back just spinning up slightly so I picked it up slightly to get onto the fatter part of the tyre and kissed the kirb stones on the exit....poetry in motion!
"Hey, I think some of the old magic is just starting to come back."
This is one of the reasons why I like two strokes so much, you see, when you hit that sweet spot in the powerband, the responsiveness of the engine is so crisp and precise and you feel that there is so much more of a direct connection between your right wrist and the back tyre which you don't quite get with a fourstroke of the same power.
I managed to fight my way through some tough traffic for this race and my pace was definitely improving, but by about three quarters race, I had run out of riders to race against and lost a bit of my focus to keep up the fast pace. Despite starting from the last row of the grid, I did manage to cross the line as third rookie.
I did find though, on the warm down lap, that the bike was starting to lose power, and eventually stopped as I exited the circuit. After a few kicks it was clear the engine was dead. I checked the tank only to find that I had totally run out of fuel.
I was unable to select neutral as the gear shaft had bent again, so a few helpful spectators helped to push the bike back to the pits.
Back in the pits, the rose joints at both ends of the gear mechanism had come loose and the long shaft had also deformed.
Gin and I replaced one of the rose joints, repaired another and reinforced the aluminium rod by inserting a couple of hastily modified tent pegs down the hollow shaft in order to give it some extra support.
Because the day had been so frantic with so much maintenance and wheel changes, I decided to miss the last Thunderbikes race and concentrate on the last F400 of the weekend.
The last race had put me in a decent grid position on the 5th row.
As the lights went green, I got off to a good start, but about a lap in, the rain started to pour. As the track got  wet, my pace slowed quite dramatically and I started to lose touch with the other riders I was dicing with. It was as if I had reset back to full wet mode, whilst the track was neither fully wet or fully dry.
I could see the group in front pull away from me, however, I knew I was better than this as I had blinding race in wet conditions on dry tyres the day before. After about one lap, I had a serious word with myself, and started to up my pace again and started gaining back the distance that I had lost on the pack in front. I re-pased two of the riders as I finally re-adjusted to the semi wet conditions. I was comfortably upping my pace, and as I tipped the bike into the left hander of Murrays and went to select first gear, my foot went straight down. I quickly glanced down to see that the left hand footrest was upside down and had done exactly what the right hand footrest had done at Brands Hatch the last time out in the TSGP race.
I pulled off the track just before the start finish straight for Retirement number #3.
Back at the pits, Gin sheepishly admitted that she forgot to tighten the footrest bolt after she had adjusted the gear lever position (no tea for Ginny then).

On Reflection
The whole weekend felt like non stop action from start to finish and Gin and I were thoroughly exhausted from it all.
I knew going into this weekend that it was going to be tough, considering that this was only my second meeting at a very fast track that had been highly modified since my last visit, but I feel that with everything that went on with the weather, the tyres, the gearchange and the powervalves, I really didn't have a chance to give it my best shot even though I did come away with two trophies.
The first meeting of the year was a bit special for me, which may have spoilt my expectations bearing in mind that I have considerable recent experience at Brands Hatch over the past couple of years and that the track doesn't distinguish between fast and slow bikes as much as Snetterton does. But, then again, even back in the days of old, it wasn't unusual to come away with no trophies at all from time to time, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself.

....but I really wants that Number One shiny thing......"my precious!"

Friday, 14 June 2013


The first round of the year was effectively my return to racing after an 18 year break and coming away with 8 top 3 finishes and 6 trophies, I felt elated that the Scooble was well and truly back in the game.

However, as the weeks and months past, the elation subsided and I found myself looking back at the weekend with a critical eye over my performance, and I really felt that I could have done so much better.

The second round of the year was soon after Brands at the Pembrey circuit in south Wales, however, I needed to do some investigation with the bike, and although I could have fitted it all in within the time between the two races, I would have been rushing around and getting all wound up and stressed.
I made a promise to myself, that this time round, I would take the racing at my own pace and take my time in enjoying it and savoring the whole experience which is something that you can quite easily miss if your running round like a amped up stress bunny.
I was well aware of  the subsiding elation and my 'fix' like obsession to continually escalate my performance race on race in order to maintain that addictive high.
Intellectually, I knew that I was a 'junkie', and I knew that if I left this addiction unchecked, it would run me into the ground emotionally, physically and financially and I knew I had to keep it under control.
I was well aware that once you hit that very dark place, it affected concentration, the ability to prepare and ultimately personal performance and the only way it seems to pull oneself out of this pit, is to jump in further in the hope that you can turn it around and come out on top or spiral down even further.
When racing gets to a point when there's considerably more pain than pleasure, you really have to ask yourself whether what you are doing has any kind of benefit at all.

I therefore decided to self regulate my dosage over the year in order to maintain some kind of self control, however, it was very very hard.

Even though I missed out on going to Pembrey, my friend Allison and housemate Ginny went along to compete in the F1 sidecars. Gin got to do a practice day in an F1 outfit, whilst Allie and her driver competed over the weekend.
I spent the weekend alone, reading about all of the updates as they happened via Facebook and really wished I was there in the thick of it as Pembrey was one of my favorite race circuits. Although I am pretty sure that I am not as fast as I used to be, my best time on a production Yamaha TZR250 back in the day would have put me in the top 6 of the Formula 400 race!
However, from what I hear, the Pembrey weekend was absolute carnage with multiple red flags and a few competitors carted off with broken bones - Get well soon all!
I also opted not to do the Oulton weekend, mainly because Allison wasn't competing in the event due to the TT sidecars clashing with this meeting as well as never having ridden at this circuit (and it being such an enormous trek to the other end of the country).
All my preparation therefore, was all going towards the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of June meeting at Snetterton, which was a circuit I was quite familiar with (except for the new 300 section).
Although I love to ride my bike as fast as possible, I also like to feel that I am riding at a competitive pace, however, I knew that Snetterton was going to be a tough one based on the fact, that the circuit is extremely fast and will suit the more powerful 400's and that the rest of the competitors will be well and truly up to speed having previously done three meetings this year, whilst I had only done one.
The junkie part of me so wants to be up there, mixing it with the fast riders and being part of the elite, and I find it so hard to try and reign that part of me in and take a far more considered approach, bearing in mind, my age, my familiarity with racing and the speed of the bike. But I also know, I need a little part of that junkie to spur me on and inspire me to ride 'out of my boots' in a way that would ordinarily be way beyond my 'normal' ability.
Sheesh - even thinking about it gets me nervous...

Ok, back to business, oh yes, the preparation.
Following the last meeting, I was a little concerned about the condition of the coolant. I asked Mark Jordan for advice, and he guessed that the off colour of the coolant could be due to residual rust within the coolant pipe, however, this wasn't just a brown tint, this looked more like the morning after a bad curry!
This was definitely not rust.
I pulled off the radiator and the head and had a look at the mating face between the cylinder head and the cylinders, and it appeared to me that the head gasket had failed between the powervalve shafts and the water jacket.

As you can see from the above picture, the hole around the vertical shaft on the right has a brown stain that extends into the parallelogram shaped port to the left of it.
Fortunately the leak didn't appear to be too significant, otherwise, it would have pressurised the coolant system and blown the coolant out of the system (or leaked past the water pump seal).
Nevertheless, it was an issue that needed to be solved. It didn't look as if any machining would need to be involved, and so it looked as if a replacement head gasket was all that was needed to cure the problem.
Mark also recommended smearing the head gasket with the special Hondabond HT black goo as a further belt and braces solution to ensure a good seal.
The top end of the engine looked quite safe, the pistons were quite dark in colour which indicated that the mixture wasn't running too lean.
I acquired a new head gasket and a small tube of HondaBond HT (expensive stuff!) and set about reassembling the top end of the engine as well as replacing some of the powervale oil seals as he engine had given itself a nice liberal coating of burnt two stroke oil and fuel mix - ewww!
I also took the opportunity to get some plates made up so that I could fit the Steel Beet footrest hangers that I stole from my NC30. The Beet footrests had seen better days, but they were significantly less chunky than the heavy industrial looking Raask ones that were already on there.
I also made the rearsets adjustable just in case I needed any more ground clearance, (however, looking at the scrapes on the side of the fairing and some of the action photographs, I think I'm probably leaning it over far as is more than is reasonably sensible!)
I also took the opportunity to build another spare engine from the big pile of bits that was sitting in my garage.
I had one set of flowed crankcases, a brand new reconditioned crank, standard clutch and gearbox and a set of Bob Farnham cylinders (with a mashed head).

The bottom end was assembled, and I took the head to Dickies to clean up the head banging damaged caused by the previous big end failure.
In the meantime, I wondered how I could make my bike faster.
I was probably a few BHP shy of the 64hp limit, so the only other option weight.
I started looking around for a light weight front wheel as I had already added some considerable weight to the front end with the addition of the chunky ZX636 forks, 310mm discs and wider ZXR400 wheel.
After a few weeks of trawling Ebay, doing research I ended up with a very nice Dymag..

Anyway, as you can see, its a Dymag wheel which was originally fitted to a CBR954.
Its not going to be a straight fit (nothing ever is), so I'll have to get some bespoke discs made up to fit, either way, it was still a considerable saving over a brand new one from, Dymag.
Unfortunately, it won't be ready for Snetterton, but I am pretty sure it'll be ready for the next Brands round in August.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Scooble returns (the sequel)

Scoobles great comeback was more of a great disaster.
The thousands of pounds I threw at my return amounted to about one full days worth of racing.

Although it was only one day, I could feel in the last race, that I was really starting feel so much more comfortable on the bike and I was really starting to throw it around. There was a noticeable change to  my body language on the bike. I was really start to literally 'get my head down' and also hanging off the bike more and dragging my knee round the left handers which I wasn't doing before.
For a small brief moment, I was starting to feel some of the 'old magic' coming back.

I relayed my racing exploits on the KR1S forum, and the legendary Mark Jordan who knows just about everything there is to know about tuning KR1 engines as well as being the world production land speed record holder on a KR1S asked if I wanted my engine tuned by him.
Did I ever!
....And so began the preparation for the 2013 season.
I sent the  seized crank and the bottom end with a leaking a crank seal back to BDK as well as another spare crank that could cannibalized for spares.
BDK did a complete rebuild for the seized crank, and also replaced all of the seals for the one that was leaking and assembled it in the cases.
I took what amounted to about three complete engines in several plastic bins up to Marks house in Coventry, however, Mark thought I was coming the next day, so I had to leave all my bits in his car porch ready for when he got back.
In order to get the best out of a KR1S engine, the ports need to be widened so much, that it is no longer viable to use the standard pistons as the rings would get caught in the ports.
Marks solution is to use the pistons from a 1983 TZ250, otherwise known as 26J pistons. 
Unfortunately though, the 26J pistons are about as rare as a very rare thing and thus generally pretty hard to find.
I eventually tracked down one piston from Padgetts and one piston from Fondseca, promptly paid through the nose and got these sent to Marks house for him to complete the tune.
Anyway, the cold winter months passed and Mark was out of the country quite allot on business.
It got to about March and Mark hadn't finished my engine, however, what he did do was offer me one of his own development engines and a set of Jim Lomas expansion chambers for me to use whilst he finished my engine.
So in late March, we met up in Dorking just off the M25 and he gave me a large box of bits as well as one of his engines, which I promptly slotted into my frame. Whats more, the engine Mark had given me also had a F3 close ratio gearbox.

In between the preparation for the forthcoming season, my friend Allison (Alicia Albion) who was returning to sidecar racing also after an 18 year break, asked if myself and Ginny wanted to attend a sidecar tryout day at Lydden Hill race circuit in the middle of March. The sidecar tryout day is basically a practice day for sidecars, where the drivers allow other ACU license holders get to act as 'ballast' for the day.
I had only done sidecars once before, and that was for one practice session in a 600cc F2 at Brands Hatch in 1992.
The day started misty and cold and the fog was so thick to start with that you couldn't even see the other end of the track. The fog lifted later in the morning, but the conditions were still quite cold and damp. I was allocated two different sidecars to start with, and whats more they were the 1000cc F1 outfits.
I was genuinely concerned because I know the G-force these things generate is phenomenal.
My first sidecar ride was with Matt Mckaurin in a lovely looking black and orange long wheelbase LCR Yamaha R1 outfit. Matt the passenger did his best to run me through the hand holds and my position on the platform. I tried to remember everything Matt had told me as we rolled out onto the track.
During the first session, I was doing my best to move about, but I was finding especially around the long right handers, that I was trying to brace my leg against the corner of the platform, however, the G-Force felt so strong, that it took all the strength in my right leg to stop my leg from collapsing beneath me. My thighs were burning with the shear effort and I was finding that in order to maintain my position, I had to hold on extra tight with my hands, which in turn was causing arm pump. After about 4 laps, I simply couldn't hold on much longer, and I knew that if I forced myself to stay out, then I probably would have fallen out. I tapped Adrian on the back and we pulled into the pits and I rolled out the side of the platform in a steaming heap whilst  wheazing like an asthmatic weasel and apologised profusely to Adrian for cutting short his session short. Adrian said I shouldn't beat myself up to much, but I was seriously disappointed with my pathetic performance, and gave myself a good stiff talking to when I got back to the car.
My next session was about 45 minutes later with the British F1 sidecar contender Barry James in the Team Cable LCR Yamaha R1 outfit.
Prior to going out, I asked Barry if I could climb over the outfit. For about the next 15 minutes, I visualised every corner on the track and adopted what I felt would be the right position for each corner, making sure to pay attention to where my hands, feet and legs were and also ensured that my knees were locked into position to counteract the strong cornering G-Forces.
We rolled out onto the circuit, and I immediately felt much more comfortable. As we approached a corner, I would using the braking forces to force me up out of the tucked position and up and behind the driver to aid traction on the front wheel. When the driver finished braking, I then started to slide my body over the back wheel to help with drive coming out of the corner. At first, I was concerned that I should be looking where I was going, but I was finding it difficult to locate my hands in the cutouts on the side of the fairing. Usually, I am a bit of a nervous passenger, but in order to stay safe, I had to trust that the driver knew what he was doing so that I could then look down at the hand holds to ensure that I was holding on in the right place at the right time and using the G-forces to visualise where I was on the track.
The second session was so much better than the first one, and I could really start to get a feel for these strange three wheeled beasts.
For my last session, I was out again with Adrian and I took the opportunity to extend on what I had already learnt and having a great time throwing myself around the platform and hanging right out on the only left hander on the circuit. It was still hard work though, and I could feel my entire body throbbing, and despite the near freezing conditions I was working up a bit of a sweat. During the day, Ginny got talking to classic sidecar driver, and managed to score herself a ride in the chair for the rest of the season. Here's her blog;

.....oh, look, a pound coin!

My entry was in for the Bemsee meeting at Brands Hatch on the (11th Practice) 12th and 13th of April. As is usual for trackdays or race meetings, I usually take a weeks leave leading up to the race meeting for last minute preparations because you can guarantee something is always going to go wrong.
The week before the race meeting, everything was done, all I needed to do was sort out the tools and order a Gazebo as this time I hadn't booked a garage.
I ordered the Gazebo on the Saturday and by Wednesday it had arrived and I had nothing else to do.
I spent nearly a week, pacing about, worrying that I should be doing something, but not knowing what it could be. This was the first time ever that there wasn't some kind of last minute panic that would result in me staying up to the small hours of the morning the night before the race because something had gone wrong or needed fixing.
On the Thursday night, the van was packed, and Ginny and I drove the hire van to the circuit whilst our friend and fellow F1 sidecar passenger Allison drove her borrowed Talbot camper van 15 minutes ahead.
We got to Brands Hatch at about 8 o'clock, unpacked the van, assembled the Gazebo and put the bike inside and we were done, ready for the race weekend.

Friday practice started off dry in the morning, and I managed about one damp session on dry tyres before the rain really started to come down. I quickly changed to the wet tyres and went out for several sessions.
I really hadn't had that much experience of wet tyres, so I took it really steady to start with before progressively upping my pace. It was then I realised what a 'good' engine actually felt like.
Last year, I was struggling to keep up with TZR250's, but with Marks engine, all I needed to do to get past them was to simply twist my wrist and be done with them.
I felt confident that I was at last on a good package and my pace started to increase. As long as I didn't do anything silly with the throttle, I could maintain quite high corner speed through the turns, although I hadn't quite got to the stage of getting my knee down in the wet.
During my second to last session, I was having a good dice with another rider on an NC30 Honda. He would storm pass me going into Graham Hill bend, and I would take him going into Surtees. For several laps this happened, until I observed the line and technique he was using when going into Graham Hill.
I would more or less square off the corner, whilst he would take a much faster sweeping line. I modified my technique to do the same, and instantly found myself going through the corner much faster and put an end to his sneaky overtaking manoeuvres to stay in front for the rest of the session.
I felt as though I was learning a whole new different type of riding style whereby, I would set the bike up early for the corner, and as soon as I had finished braking, I was back gently on the throttle, progressively feeding in the power. When a bike starts to get close to the edge of adhesion, you can feel it start to move around, however, throughout Friday, I was pushing the bike harder and harder, but so far, the bike was not moving around.

At the end of practice on Friday, I put the bike in the Gazebo, and we made our way up to the Kentagon for a nice warm tea and some cheesy chips which made us all feel that much better.

Saturday morning looked dry and windy, but the track but the track looked damp in places, so I opted to go out on dry tyres for for practice/qualifying.
Fortunately for this weekend, the Two Stoke Grand Prix race and the 400 races were spaced apart.
By the time the 400 race came round, it had started to rain, so Gin and I quickly changed back to the wet tyres. I qualified on the fourth row for the 400 race, however, in the wet conditions, I was careful getting off the line as I didn't want the bike to wheel spin and lost a few places going into Paddock Hill bend. Even though I had built upto a comfortable pace yesterday in practice, I wanted to feel the conditions first before settling at a pace I felt comfortable. After the first lap, I started into a rhythm and could see that I was rapidly catching the bikes in front. By mid race distance, I had the 400 riders representative Garry Jarman in my sites and was rapidly closing him down. I got a great drive out of clearways and passed Garry going down the start finish straight, and for the next few laps extended my lead further and passed a few more riders to finish the race as 1st Rookie and 3rd in the sub 64 class (at the time, I had no idea where I had finished in the race as I had already started to lap some of the slower riders).
I also qualified on the 3rd row for the Two Stroke Grand Prix class and got off the line pretty well, but found in the pouring rain, the rain was sticking to my visor and I couldn't see out. I tried wiping my visor with my glove, but that only smeared a film of oil and water across my visor and made it worse. I could see out the edges of my visor, and did contemplate carrying on, but I felt it was far too risky in these awful conditions so I pulled in.
The rain continued throughout the day so there was no option but to stay on wet tyres.
After lunch, I formed up on the grid for the second 400 race.
As the lights went out, I madly slipped the clutch, and the bike shot off the line and made up quite a few places, this was looking good.
However, as I lifted my left foot to change into second gear, my left foot had caught the footrest again and folded the footrest into the upright position and I couldn't change gear.
Once again, I entered Paddock Hill bend in last position.
I was then able to kick the peg down and then set about chasing the rest of the group.
I pushed harder than I had all day and was rapidly catching the riders in front. I kept up my momentum and I was slicing through the field like a hot brick through a jewelers window. Although I had badly messed up the start, my pace felt great and could feel myself learning and applying new techniques as I raced round for the remaining laps and rapidly closing down the riders in front.
Even though I started the race in last place, I still managed to cross the line as the third Rookie (again, I had no clue as to where I had come).
The weather had closed in really bad after the 400 race, and the meeting was brought to an early end, so the next Two Stroke Grand Prix race was postponed until Sunday morning.

After a long days racing, I changed out of my wet leathers, had a shower and Allie, Ginny and I walked up to the Kentagon for a refreshing cool drink and to be sociable. The Kentagon was packed, but we manged to find a table and exchange stories of the days racing. Sitting opposite us was Danielle Cooper who we had met and become  friends with last September. Danielle then told me that I had missed the awards presentation and that I had won some trophies. It was only then I realised how well I had done in the days racing, and my mood immediately picked up.
By this time, an uninspiring rock band had started making a din worse than a bunch of Classics being noise tested, so we opted to retire back to the camper van and have a hot bowl of pea and ham soup

On Sunday morning, the track was looking quite damp and cold  so I opted to stay on wet tyres for the practice session
However, by the time the Two Stroke Grand Prix race came round, the track was looking as though there was a dry line appearing, apart from a few damp patches under the trees at the hairpin. Gin and I changed to a new set of dry tyres that had been fitted by the Race Services van that morning.
Because of my DNF in the Two Stroke Class the day before, I started from the 5th row of the grid.
I got off the line well, but found that the bike felt incredibly skittish and the front wheel felt quite light and vague. It was then I realised that I hadn't checked the tyre pressures when the new tyres had been fitted.
I pressed on though, and applied the new techniques that I had learnt on Saturday in the wet, but this time, in the damp conditions the bike was really starting to bob about. On Lap four, I was progressively applying the power coming out of the hairpin, when the revs shot up and the back wheel tried to overtake the front. I held onto it well and brought it back in line before re-focussing and getting back down to business  I was mixing it with the proper open class bikes and by the end of the race, I managed to cross the line in 3rd place.
When I got back to the pits, I checked the tyre pressures, and both of them were about 10psi over their recommended pressures, no wonder the tyres felt skittish!

The 400 race was much later in the morning and by this time, the track was well and truly dry.
I lined up on the 6th row of the grid, and I was determined that this time I wasn't going to fold up my footrest. I got a good start, and was quite confident about the conditions having tested them out earlier in the morning.
My pace felt good, and I was putting in a few good passing moves, it looked as if a lot of the other riders weren't quite so sure about the conditions and were hesitating going into Surtees at the end of the Cooper straight. I was making hand over fist as I approached riders coming into this super fast left hander. I could see Emma Jarman up in front on her 400 Kawasaki. I kept my corner speed up and round round the outside of her going through Surtees before banking hard over into Clearways. As I drove out of clearways down the straight, I was expecting Emma to come stomping past me as she was on a much more powerful bike, but she didn't. I kept up the pace, and up in front I could see Emma's dad Garry also on a 400 Kawasaki. On the last lap I was gaining on Garry, and like most other riders, he backed off a little going into Surtees. I kept it nailed through this fast 80mph left hander, and as Garry lifted his bike up to go through the next right, I made my move by riding over the curb stones and stuffing it up the inside and spoiling his line going into Clearways. I kept it nailed coming out of Clearways and down the straight towards the finish line. Although I knew I had a good engine, I also knew that Garry had an 82hp ZXR400 and the sprint to the line was going to be close. I ducked down behind the screen, pulled everything in I possibly could and hoped that my little KR had the legs on Garry's 400. As we approached the line, I could hear the scream of Gary's bike as it pulled along side me to pip me to the line by 0.1 seconds - Darn!
I was please with my ride though, and my race craft was getting quite slick and manged to bring the bike home as first Rookie again as well as the third in the Sub 64, however, my pace was good enough to get second in the Sub 64 class!

...pitching it into Surtees
After lunch, I was out again in the Two Stroke Grand Prix race.
I was placed at the head of the third row and had a clear view of the track ahead. As the lights changed, a few of the faster GP machines came past me into Paddock Hill bend and a few more were trying to muscle their way in up the inside. I held my ground for the first lap and then started to up my pace. Going into the hairpin, a Honda RS250 was doing his best to get past me, but I quickly shut the door as I pitched the bike into the apex. I knew the Honda had the legs on my KR, so I knew I had to keep the pace up through the next few sections before getting onto the straight. I extended my lead enough over the Honda so he would no longer be threat, and by this time my sites were firmly set on a yellow 250 Rotax in front of me. I tucked into the slipstream of the Rotax down the Cooper straight, and I could see as we approached Surtess, the rider sat up and braked, I lined up the Rotax for a passing manoeuver as I closed in for the kill. I rode over the bumpy kirbstones coming out of Surtees and got along side the Rotax and blocked his line going into Clearways. We rubbed shoulders and fairings as we approached Clearways, this was really starting to get a bit physical. I held my line and pitched it into Clearways and tucked in down the Straight. The Rotax was determined to get past and was attempting to muscle up the inside going into Paddock Hill bend, I let the brakes run a little more which allowed me to extend enough of a gap to stay in front. I then took a defensive line going into the Hairpin, got a good drive out and stretched my lead enough to make a comfortable gap. I had clear track in front of me now with no one to chase, or so I thought. During the battle with the yellow Rotax, Kev Richardson on a Yamaha TZ250L, sneaked past on the inside going into Clearways. I stuck to the tail of Kevs bike, and although I was close, I couldn't quite get close enough to make a move and by the end of the race, I had once again crossed the line in 3rd place.
That felt like a great race, I was pleased with my start, my riding s well as my race craft.
After the race, Kev cam looking for me to congratulate me on what he thought was a great ride for a Rookie on modified road bike.
Kev and I chatted for a while and he told me that he had been racing since 1968 and used to race RG500's against the likes of the legendary  Barry Sheene back in the day

After my last performance in the two Stroke Grand Prix class, I was looking forward the the 400 race. I got a reasonable start off the line, but got baulked within a group of riders going into Paddock and a large bunch of riders came storming passed. Ovver the next two laps, I picked my was past the group, but by this time, the group in front had extended such a gap that I was unable to close down before the end of the race. Although I rode pretty well and even came home as the first Rookie again, I only manged to come 4th in the Sub 64 class.
I was pretty washed out after that race as the sun was beating down hard now. I relaxed in the camper van, drank my last two bottles of Lucozade and contemplated the final Two Stroke Grand Prix race.
I knew that I could improve my performance in a few areas, namely going into Paddock Hill bend.
Although the close ratio gearbox gave me good drive coming out of the corners, the spacing of the ratios meant that I was going into Paddock Hill bend in 3rd gear and not 4th which I would normally do using a standard box. The extra time to change down the extra gear was affecting my corner speed going into Paddock. I decided to modify my technique by changing down to 3rd as I tipped the bike in and not before as I felt this would give me better corner entry speed.
In order to get a 3rd overall in the Two Stroke class, all I needed to do was finish in front of two other riders that I had clearly beaten in the two races I had competed in over the weekend.
My mind was set for the last race of the day. I got off to a flying start, and was in touch with the leading bunch as I entered Paddock, when I noticed this time, I was unable to put my foot on the right had footrest. I immediately assumed that I had folded the peg back with my leg and I desperately fumbled to get the peg folded down, however, the peg had actually flipped upside down and was nearly hanging off.
On this occasion, it seems that the bolt that holds the footrest had come loose and the whole assembly was just hanging there. This was clearly a show stopper. I cursed as I cruised around for the rest of the lap, however, I kind of counted myself lucky that it happened right at the start of the race, as if it had come loose during the race, it could have seriously affected my ability to control the bike

....Shhh, I'm not here!

So all in all, I came away from the weekend in my first full meeting in 18 years with no blow ups, no crashes, three wins and a 3rd in the Rookie class, two 3rds in the Sub 64 class and two 3rds in the Two stroke Grand Prix class and narrowly missed out from adding another trophy to the 6 I had acquired over the weekend.
All in all, I was tired, but happy that I had last made the comeback that I hoped to achieve.

Returning to work after the hectic weekend was a massive culture shock.
The drudgery of returning to 'normal every day life left me incredibly deflated low and really quite uninspired.
I had once again discovered the overwhelming crash of emotions following a good weekend of racing. When people say racing is a drug, they REALLY mean racing IS a drug, such is the intensity of emotions that you go through. Once it is over, your brain becomes depleted of mood regulating chemicals and what you feel is very similar to the kind of lows drug users experience after coming down off a hit (or so I am told)


Although the week was very boring, I did manage to get a little news story printed about me in The Argus.

Look Mum, I'm a celebrity!