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.

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