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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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)
Look Mum, I'm a celebrity!