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

1 comment:

  1. Oh Scooble, you forgot to mention the 13 ribs in my back, the vertebra in my neck and the scaphoid in my left hand. Was I really grumpy when Allie phoned me? I have no recollection of that :-)