Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Getting the band back together

The Scooble Returns

After playing about for a couple of years at trackdays and terrorising some of the 'superbikes' in the advanced group, I asked myself whether I had 'still got it'.
Although I was definitely holding my own in the advanced group at Brands, I knew full well that trackdays and race days were totally different.

It had been nearly 20 years since I last raced and I was now in my mid 40's, so no spring chicken and nowhere near as fit as I used to be.
I couldn't really be sure if I still had it or not, but I wanted to think I still did.
Was I being over ambitious, was my ego running away with itself or was it some kind of mid life crisis to re-live some of my glory days of my youth now that life had got quite dull and boring?
I had all these questions running through my mind and it really scared me as I really didn't want to go fooling myself into thinking that I could once again be up there at the front, battling for the lead and winning trophies trying to chase that elusive Dragons tail.

I had to set myself realistic expectations, accept my limitations but at the same time, play to what strengths I still had left and to those that I had developed since.
I believe that now that I am older and wiser, I care less about what people think, and less inclined to buckle under the pressure of expectations placed upon me.
I also know when enough is enough, and see no point in endlessly banging away at a thankless task that's going to get me nowhere and cause untold stress when I should be focusing my attention elsewhere on an alternative solution.
So in retrospect, far from being set in my ways, I believe that I am more dynamic now in my approach than I ever was before.
When I announced to my friends that I would be making a return, they thought it was fantastic and genuinely looked forward to seeing me back out racing again on the track. They were confident that before long, I would be up there fighting for top positions even though none of them had actually ever seen me race before.
I reminded them that racing is nothing like trackdays, but they were adamant that I would once again be successful.
I felt honoured that they had that much confidence in me, and even though I didn't feel under pressure to perform, I knew the only way to find out how good I really am was to measure my performance against real racers in a real race.

And so, I starting laying the foundations for my return (Cue montage)
The key to good racing is the five P's;
·         Preparation
·         Prevents
·         Pi##
·         Poor
·         Performance

With the 5 P’s in mind, I set about doing a full rebuild for the KR1 engine. I sent the spare crank to BDK engineering for a full strip and rebuild with new bearings, rods, seals and pistons.
I bought another set of crankcases that I flowed.
Acquired a set of Vforce3 Reeds, Keihin PWK35mm carbs, inlet manifolds and air box rubbers.
I sent the cylinders and head to Bob Farnahm to tune and replate.
Fitted a new set of clutch plates and heavy-duty springs.
All of the above cost me well over £1000.

As my racing licence had expired nearly 20 years ago, I was required to start from a novice again and sit my CTC test. At the end of May 2012, I took a train up to Rugby and sat the test at ACU headquarters.
I sat in a classroom with about a dozen other newbies as the ACU official, talked us through the flags, circuit etiquette, safety whilst giving us his slightly misogynistic views on the world of motorcycle road racing.
Apparently, the lads should be out there racing whilst the lasses should be in the caravan getting the tea ready and cooking up a fresh brew!
Not wishing to disrupt the class, or get detention, I bit my tongue, completed the course, and got my yellow CTC certificate.

I planned on entering the Bemsee Brands Hatch GP weekend event at the end of July and everything seemed set and ready to go. For this meeting, I was entering the Formula 400 class.

The Formula 400 class consists of 400cc four strokes and 250cc Two strokes, much like the old supersport 400 racing class.
The class was split into those bikes that are over 64hp and those that are under as well as a class specifically for rookies all in the same race.
The majority of the grid consisted of Kawasaki ZXR400's, with a few Honda NC30/35's thrown in, and on the very odd occasion a Yamaha FZR400 or a Honda CBR400. Mine was only one of two KR1S's on the grid.
A good 400 is probably putting out over 80hp at the back wheel.

I had also booked Friday practice just to get dialed in and setup for the weekend ahead.
On the night before Friday practice, as I was about to put the bike in the back of the van, when I noticed a puddle of fuel on the garage floor. I thought that I had better check it out, so I removed the carb and noticed quite a lot of fuel in the read valve assembly. This clearly didn't seem right at all, as the fuel should over flow from the carb first before going into the engine.
I tried to turn the engine over by hand and the engine just locked - this was not looking good.
I removed both spark plugs, put it in gear and pushed it up and down the access road to my garage.
A jet of fuel emerged from the right hand cylinder. The engine and crankcase was saturated with fuel. It took a few more pushes to clear the engine of fuel. I then took the carb apart and found a stuck needle valve and blocked overflow pipe. I fixed the carb, put it all back together and bump started the bike. I ran pretty rough to start with, then started firing on both cylinders. I gave the throttle a blip, and a jet of fuel sprayed out of the right hand expansion chamber. The inside of the exhaust was also flooded too. I let the bike warm up for about 20 minutes and 'cook off' the rest of the fuel before putting the bike into the van, ready for practice next day.
My Housemate Ginny and I drove up the Brands on the Friday morning. One of the riders from the Yamaha Past Master series was my instructor for a couple of sessions riding a TZR250. Although my instructor was a proper racer, it seemed that my fully prepared KR1 just couldn’t keep up with the little TZR.
I checked and changed the jets, but this didn’t seem to make much difference, so I just carried on going as fast as I could, and decided to get it tested on the mobile Dyno the next day.
On Saturday morning, I completed practice and qualified on the 6th row in the 400 class, which seemed pretty poor. After practice, I put the bike on the dyno and found that the KR1 was putting out 40hp, where as with its current tune and bigger carbs, should have been putting out somewhere in the region of 58 to 61hp. Mark Dent the Dyno operator even said that he had never seen a KR1 put out so little power. A 20hp loss was a significant deficit and clearly indicated that something was quite badly wrong. I swapped the jets in the cabs and this made no difference at all. I then swapped back to the standard 28mm carbs as the 35’s clearly were giving no improvement. The peak power was just the same.
I went out for both of my 400 races, and found that I was being annihilated down the straights, and try as I might to catch up round the corners, I simply couldn’t keep up with the majority of bikes out there. I was getting so frustrated that I actually wore a hole through the bottom of my fairing because I was getting the bike over so far.
Several more changes in jets and the removal of the airbox lid made little improvement to the engine. The only other alternative I could try was another CDI ignition unit. Fortunately form me, Virginia Power who also rides a KR1S was also at the same meeting and happened to have a spare CDI unit.
With all the frantic activity on Saturday messing about with carb settings and Dyno runs, I ran out of time to test the CDI, so I would have to wait until Sunday.
On Sunday Morning, I put the bike back on the dyno to find that the new CDI made no difference at all.
It was clear to me that no matter how much messing about I was going to do to the carbs or ignition, this little baby refused to kick out more than 41hp.
I then decided to cut my losses, So Gin and I decided to do a complete engine swap for a standard engine that I had brought with me.
We got the bike up and running less than 10 minutes before I was due to race, and at this point, it had started to rain, and I hadn’t got any time to change to my wet tyres.
As I sat in the assembly area, the heavens just opened and the rain came down like stair rods. I had a Michelin cut slick on the front with zero tread on the sides. I thought about riding back into the garage and calling it a day, but I wanted to see how the new engine would perform. I lined up on the grid against other riders, most of whom were on full wets.
When the race started, I tip toed gently into Paddock hill bend and for the next lap, I could feel the front tyre shimmy every time I attempted to change direction. I managed about two laps in total in these slippery conditions.
As I was heading down the long straight coming out of the woods in 6th gear, I changed down two gears ready for Clearways, and it was at this point I heard this all mighty graunching noise and the back wheel locked up. As I was skidding towards the kitty litter, there was another almighty crunch followed by what sounded like someone rolling a cardboard box full of bone china down the stairs!
At first, I thought the chain had snapped and was flapping about, but I could clearly see the chain still going round.
I coasted into the kitty litter and watched the rest of the race before pushing the bike back to the garage.
I had spent the best part of 6 months trying to ensure that every little detail had been covered and the bike was in tip top condition, at this point I was wet, cold, tired and aching from all the rushing around and stooping over the bike the whole weekend as well as feeling totally despondent.

Later that week, when I pulled both engines apart, I found one gear cog had fragmented and killed the gearbox, and the other engine that was down on power had no visible evidence to suggest what the problem was.

I replaced the gearbox on one of the engines, however, for the other, I suspected that the fuel leak that I had encountered, may have caused the crank seal to leak, which on a two stroke will cause a loss in crankcase compression.
I took the whole of the bottom end back down to Bob Farnham to inspect.
Bob took the cases apart, inspected the crank, and the cases, replaced the outer seals and put it all back together again.

The last meeting was so depressing and because of the engine problems, I never really got a chance to test my steal.
Could my poor results really be down to just the engine, or was I really that crap?
I really didn’t know, but I was determined to find out by giving it one more go.

I entered another Brands Hatch meeting that was at the end of September. I had completely rebuilt two engines, and so I put the tuned engine back in the chassis a week before the meeting, but also found that I had a real hard time trying to get the water pump to seal properly and only managed to get the engine watertight two days before the race meeting. I got the bike up to SBS motorcycles in Lancing to test on their dyno and found despite the full strip and rebuild, the bike was belching smoke out of the right hand exhaust and still only producing 40hp – WTF!

I rushed home, pulled the tuned engine out of the chassis, put the standard engine back in and took it back up to SBS the next day and found that the standard engine was putting out 48hp (well at least it was a step in the right direction).
On the Saturday, the bike felt a little more livelier than the last time, and I qualified slightly better for the 400 race and was quite lucky to miss this start line incident that I could see unfolding before me...

Fortunately, all riders came away relatively unharmed.
I was still way down on power in the 400 race, but starting to feel a little more comfortable amd lap times were pretty respectable for a bike that was still at least 12hp down on power.

On the Saturday night, Ginny and I took the tuned cylinders and head, and placed them on the standard crankcases. On Sunday morning, I put the bike on the mobile Dyno, and I had now gone from 48hp to 51hp. Still not the 58 to 60hp it should be putting out, but it was still yet another step in the right direction. After getting the bike off the dyno, I was running late for my practice session, so didn’t have time to put the tyre warmers on, so I quickly joined the que to get out on the circuit. I was a little impatient to see what the engine could do, and on the first lap of practice, I tipped the bike into Graham Hill bend, and the front just folded under me.
I could feel the bike going down and I prepared for impact.

I gently put the bike down and slid to the side of the track. It was all pretty graceful really, and I really didn’t feel a thing, but my brand new leathers had now been christened with black scuff marks down the left side.
When I cam to a stop, I ran to the bike and lifted it up to inspect the damage. The bike didn’t look too bad. The clutch lever was snapped, the fairing bracket was bent and the gear change lever worn down. Ginny and I managed to repair the bike quickly from the parts in my spares bin and I was ready to go out again.
The bike was feeling good, however, my two races were back to back, so as soon as I finished the Two Stroke Gran Prix race, I had to form up on the grid for the 400 race.
The good news was that my tyres were good and sticky from the last race, the bad news was that I was knackered and found it hard to concentrate for the entire duration of the race.
I got a good start and was in touch with some of the established 400 riders on much faster machines but I placed about 5th place in the Sub 64hp class, which wasn’t bad, but I was sure I could do better.
During the lunchbreak, I changed from the Michelin cut slick to a Pirelli Supercorsa on the front as my front tyre was getting butchered and tearing up really bad. I also took the opportunity to increase the rear re-bound damping by two clicks to slow down the rebound as the bike was starting to 'bob about' mid corner.
In the first Two Stroke Grand Prix race after lunch I got off to a great start, but my left foot caught the folding foot peg when I got off the line and folded it back, so when I tried to change up to 2nd gear, I was unable to get any purchase on the gear lever and so I entered Paddock Hill bend in last place. However, the bike was beginning to feel more stable with the tyre and suspension changes and I caught and passed quite a few other riders on pure GP machines.
I came straight in from the Two Stroke Race, to form up on the gird in the 400 race. I got an average start and got involved in a real ding dong battle with another rider on a 400 Kawasaki. I would storm up the inside of him going into the corners, and he would blast me down the straights. This continued for about three laps until Paddock Hill bend when I was banked over hard, and just starting to crack the throttle open when I got a complete loss of power. This felt serious, so I quickly whipped the clutch in and the engine seized solid.
I pushed the bike to the side of the track and was later picked up by the recovery van.
Back in the pit garage, I tried to kick the engine over, but it was totally locked up.
As I set about putting the bike in the back of the Van, I was approached by Mick Stokes, the organiser of the Two Stroke Grand Prix class who awarded me a trophy for 6th placed 250 over the weekend – Result!
So after attempting to complete two meetings this year, I broke two engines (one of them twice), crashed once and won a trophy.
Certainly not the return to racing I was expecting, but things were getting better.

During the next few days after the race, I removed the top end of the seized engine to find that the right hand big end bearing had collapsed and seized the whole of the crank. Due to the big end failure, the piston had also hit the cylinder head and caused some damage and the crankcases suffered some minor scuffing, but fortunately the cylinders survived unscathed.

This racing lark is bleeding expensive!!

1 comment:

  1. Having just got back from my 2nd meeting as a passenger on sidecars with the first ending in a blown gearbox and the second spent pulling a gearbox apart and a clutch blowing I now know the feeling from the perspective of a racer as well as the mechanic - frustrating is not sufficiently descriptive for it :-(