Sunday, 25 September 2016

PPIHC - Sunday - Race to the Clouds 3

I get her stood up out of switchback number three in the second series of the Double-yous and am hard on the gas to set her up for the fast left hander. On the left: a wall of red, hard rock. On the right: just blue sky. The blind turn disappears somewhere left… ahead, just more blue sky. This is 'OhShit' corner. There is a famous YouTube clip of a guy in a four-wheeler that failed to turn left. Apparently he thought it was a different turn. The four-wheel metal box got airborn and flies down the mountainside. It lands and tumbles hundreds of feet below, spewing off shrapnel all the way till it stops - just a ball of mashed metal. A few seconds later, the driver clambers out!

We know where turn goes... “Wait for it… wait for it… wait for it… now!” I turn the bike in, looking for the three foot gravel gully between the vertical rock-face and the course edge. I swoop past it, bike cranked over and start feeding her gas. “Braaaap!”. “Nice one!” I smile to myself... “Braaapaaaaaaaaaap”. As I cross the central line, the back-end steps out…

Oh Shit!

Despite the traction control being on (albeit on a low level), the bike starts sliding sideways. Here is a perfect example of relativity in action. If the bike was doing this on a big MotoGP track, it would feel like it was a few inches out of line and nae bother. But up here, on OhShit corner, it felt like I was fourty-five degrees sideways and I was about to be launched in to outer space! Oh Shit!

I ease the throttle – no point getting out of a slide by high-siding yourself to the moon. The big girl is so well mannered and is back in line before I know it. I get her onto the meat of the tyre and drive to the next switchback. That wasn’t much fun.

Hard on the brakes again for the eighth switchback in the last sixty seconds. The lever is definitely coming back to the bar. Despite the brand-new HH sintered pads and race fluid, my brakes are fading. I guess those mass-produced-to-budget Brembos are just not up to the job. My old 1999 Aprilia RSV has been hammered around the UK short circuits for the last 11 years… older caliper and still on the original discs… never had brakes fading. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to!

After my moment at OhShit and with now with my brakes fading, I decide to just take it back a notch or two… enjoy the ride and make it to the top. “Take it easy… just get her to the top.” I mutter under my hard breathing – the Double-yous on this big bike at this altitude is hard work. I remembered to breathe between the switchbacks, so am still feeling strong. “Just get her to the top.”.

Through the fan-zone at Devils Playground on onto the desolate upper section. There are no trees or bushes… just a bit of whispy grass here and there. A spectacular landscape of rocks and boulders. As you climb to the summit, even the grass thins out. Just red rock and sand… it’s like being on Mars.

The first, fast, blind left-hander… as I’m tipped in, there is a greazy whistle-pig in the middle of the track. My line is through the middle of the right-lane right. That citter is in the left lane. “Just stay where you are you fat bastard.” No sooner had I thought that than he starts ambling toward the outside of the track…

There is only about six feet of track before the nothingness edge on the right. More space on the left… turn harder but at risk of pushing the front and landing up sailing through the nothingness anyway. Besides, that waddling fur-ball may stop, or change his mind and turn around. I’m not cranked too far over and all is stable n steady. It only takes tenths of a second, but I decide to hold my line… he keeps walking. Our trajectories are going to intersect… I grip the bars tighter and hang on.

Flldoup! I feel the brief impact. I hold steady and the big girl takes the poor piggy in her stride. ‘Multi’ ‘Strada’ – many roads… built for keeping you safe on rural roads too! It was quick and humane… marmot stew tonight! We were still headed to the top.

The next rider up with a cam was Masahito Watanabe on his sidecar – 9 mins and 4 seconds into his YouTube vid and you’ll see the effect of a cooling 120/60 profile Pirelli Supercorsa. 

If I had slowed up before the wildlife incident, I’d slowed up more after. The ride up there was fun, but by then I just wanted to get it home and see the summit. On that upper section I was a nearly 20 seconds slower than my fastest practice run. The riding wasn’t that much fun thereafter – probably because I wasn’t pushing. But, it sure was pretty!

Up through Carl’s. Godspeed. Cog-Cut… brake early. Up to Olympic where there is water across the course. I pick her up and pootle up the last 200 yards to the guy theatrically waving two chequered flags. We’re there! 14 110feet above sea level – the summit of Pikes Peak!

I brake early, but I’m going so slow I almost stop before I get onto the muddy, pot-holed gravel of the parking lot. No whoops, no yeeehas. Just quiet relief. We made it. Fuck, yeah. We made it.

I park up against a rock and join the other riders already up there for back-slaps and ‘well done’s. We can only get down again once all the cars are up at the end of the event - which they’r e hoping will be around 14h00 because of the reduced competitor numbers. I check the timing screen in the ‘hospitality’ area – 11 minutes and 21 seconds. My unspoken goal was to do a sub-ten minute run. I’m way off… that’s a bit crap. I get 4th in the Heavyweight class… just don’t mention they only accepted five entries ;-). Overall – we’re placed 45th… that’s out of 33 bikes and 66 cars. Kinda in the middle – that’s ok for a rookie. Looking at it that way I feel a bit better about it.

Interviews at the top... Rennie Scaysbrook was on it all week. He was leading by 8 seconds when he overcooked a switch-back. He hit the armo... he flipped over the barrier and his bike railed along it to a standstill with just a few scuffs. He remounted and finished second. Great ride and uUnbelievably lucky!

The rest of our wait at the top starts to really drag on. As competitors, we get a free meal from the cafĂ© at the top… it’s shit. Far more risky than the ride up! The best part of the wait is having a good chat with and getting to know some of the other of riders. Some spectating at Olympic and watching some of the cool cars coming up. The cars are a different world to the bikes. Some of them probably spend as much on tyres for the week than my whole bikeeffort cost me. Some serious, exotic, expensive stuff up there - no road cars without lights and just an exhaust.

Good job!!

 One of my favorite, bad ass cars that made it up. Just gotta love some Mopar muscle!

Just after 16h00 and we’re told to get ready for the descent. We all suit up and get on our machines. We wait… and wait. The weather starts to turn nasty… thick cloud forms below us. Soon, we’re enveloped in swirling cloud… then its starts to sleet… then hail. Lovely! After standing in this shit for 15 minutes I have frozen water dribbling down my back and I’m starting to get real cold. I seek refuge in one of the vans with Davey Durelle. We’re crammed in there for about 20 minutes while the storm rages outside. The storm passes and eventually we get the all-clear to head back down the mountain.

Thank you Mark Miller for the pic!

Thank you Marcel Langer for the pic!

We go down in procession. Slowing to a walking pace wherever there were fans lining the road… drivers and riders have their gloved hands out and it’s one continuous high-five all the way down. Some of the spectators cheering, clapping and so many thanking us as we high-fived. Little toddlers held up by their parents with their palms out and wide-eyed kiddies at knee-level stretching out. This is a PPIHC tradition… it’s awesome. It reminded me of one of the most poignant moments of my racing on the Isle of Man that happened a little over a year ago.

PPIHC 2016 - High five all the way down.

 TT 2015 - High five all the way up the return road.

I’m a bit bewildered by it all. At some places the procession grinds to a halt… and you just keep getting palms. I have enough high-fives to now last me a lifetime! There’s an ear-to-ear grin pasted on my face when I finally get down to the pits/paddock where Ant it waiting for me. Fist-pumps and big hugs.  Awesome job Dood! Awesome job Team!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

PPIHC - Sunday - Race to the Clouds 2

The timing loop start is a few hundred yards up the course… so no need to get a Dirttrack-type on-the-milli-second start-line blast-off. Just get her off the line in my own time… firmly. Start as you wish to proceed! I get her going without fuss and give her beans through first gear. Up to second then short-shift as I tip her into the first left-lander – the timing loop is just on the exit of this first turn –I try and get her smoothly in and drive hard out while tripping the clock.

It starts – thousandths of seconds flashing by so quickly they are just a blur. A thousand moments later, digital ‘1’ appears under the ‘sec.’… let’s try to get as few of those as possible. Tick-tock-tick-tock… I try get on the gas hard at the exit as I setup for the first fast right-hander just moments down the course.

Feck! This is hard. From standstill, with no warmup, then trying to push the limits around a fast turn within a few seconds. Imagine this: Arriving at a track you have never been to before. You go out on a road-bike you have hardly ridden before and go around in cold, early morning conditions for just 3 laps. Two days later, you roll up to the start line on the same bike, but now you’re in a race. No warm-up laps. No sighting lap. That first turn you’ve only done 3 times before, in different conditions. You’ve got to do 10 minutes of laps as fast as you can. Then it’s all over. This is what Pikes Peak is like. It’s hard!

I’m tentative on the throttle… trying to feel the traction. Seems okay… I get her upright and pour on the coals down the very short straight for the next right-hander. It should be nearly flat-out… but I throttle off way before and then feel my way to the entry. “What a knob! Go, go, go!” I chastise myself. Next right hander I’m only marginally better.

At the TT you go from zero to flowing, flat-out 150mph turns, downhill, lined with kerb-stones, poles and garden walls. It took me a year or two and many practice starts to get my head into that. Probably at least fifty stand-still starts before I could do the turning jump through St Ninians and Bray Hill flat-out. But once you ‘know’… you ‘know’. Your mind overcomes that feeling that you’re just about to get mashed into the stonework and it’s going to hurt like almighty-fuck. Your mind overcomes this in a fleeting moment and with ease… because you ‘know’.

Despite the hours of study and well over a hundred on-board starts, I still hadn’t got my head into these Colorado turns… or these turns into my head. I didn’t ‘know’ and my body closed the throttle and hit brakes way too early – it was involuntary. My mind was screaming at my self-preserving instinct… “Stop fucking around and GO FAST!”.

You got no second chance here. On circuits you go round in circles… if you screw it up one lap… soon you’ll have another go at it to get it right. I had one chance at those first three turns… and I screwed them up. Fuck.

Into the first of the left-handers. I set it up out to the right and turn in late… I pull the Big Duck over and start carving an arc to the apex. I cross the double-yellow line in the centre of the course. The bike has a little two-wheel slide. Shit! WTF? I don’t remember that in practice! A bit un-nerving. Out to the right again for the next left-hander… carrying bit more speed. Shit! She just slid over those lines again. This sucks.

I’m trying to get on the gas earlier and harder… but she feels as if the rear is just about to let go. I was warned about this all week. Practice is early morning, a lot cooler and surprisingly grippy. Race day is always a bit later, warmer but counter-intuitively slicker. Weird. There are theories of dust and spectator traffic pissing coolant on the course. The best I’ve heard is that as the tar warms, it sweats. It was sweating like a net-vested short-order burger flipper.

I slow things down in my head to try speed things up on the course. Keep focussed… ride to the conditions. “Remember where you are on this squiggly line to the clouds… what’s next? And what’s after that? Where do I need to be? Can I go faster? Give it more throttle? Get off those damn brakes! Don’t turn in too soon!” I just try and relax into it, make no stupid mistakes and keep it flowing. Despite struggling to know how fast I can get into turns, it starts to come together. Right-right-left-right-wide open-brake-down one-in deep-left-right-right… like a ticker-tape rattling through my head.

By the time I’m stretching the cables down the short ‘Halfway Picnic Grounds’ straight-away, lined with spectators, I’m really starting to enjoy it. I’m treating it as a fast blat on my local roads with no traffic to make room for or to think for. I can carve wide lines from white-line to white line. This is fun!

On some turns there are about three feet of tar on the other side of the white line… inviting… tempting. Despite the sliding on the middle-lines, I give it a go, hoping the white lines have a bit more grip than the yellow. Front end slides as I cross the line, I apex, then slip on the way out again. Nah – just as slippy, just not worth it.

Up through the fan-zones at Ski Area and through the beautifully cambered, one-eighty degree uphill sweeping turns. More crowds lining the course through Glen Cove. I take it easy through as I feel my tyres rumbling over the loose gravel on the inside of the turn. I give myself lots of room going into George’s Corner – “Late, late, late!” I get the best line through there all week and can get on the gas hard and fast. The full-race system on the Multi reverbing off the steep rock-face on the outside of the turn sounds awesome!

More crowds up through Cove Creek and I’m just loving the fast triple right-hander leading up to Elk Park. “Right… keep turning… right… keep turning… look through the turn… right…”. I approach Elk Park a lot faster than in Wednesday’s practice - this is the first time I’ve done this section on the Big Red Duck. I brake early – the heavy girl takes some stopping… “Whoooah, girl. Whoah.”. Remembering Carlin’s coaching, I run her deep into the outside lane for the switchback and drive a wide arc in the middle of the course, avoiding the steep incline at the apex. Nice!

Up the steep hill towards Ragged Edge - I’m unsure how fast I can get through this turn where the course just seems to end in an expanse of clear blue sky. I err on the side of caution and have loads of room through there and even more through the next fast Armco-lined left. Hard on the gas for the short squirt before more heavy braking for the first series of Double-yous.

One, two, three Double-yous… fast, blind, blue-sky right hander… just… keep… turning…

The Armco for the start of the next series of Double-yous pops into view. Nice! Switchback number one, number two, number three. The tall, heavy Duke is a bit of a handful through these switch-backs and I’m giving myself plenty of time and room on this very unfamiliar stretch. Careful on two… that’s the turn I screwed up a few times during practice. On the brakes into three I think I feel the brake lever coming back to the bar a bit more than before. “Huh? Are my brakes fading?”

Saturday, 23 July 2016

PPIHC - Sunday - Race to the Clouds 1

Been back at work... nose to the grindstone. The race write-up was done in pieces while I travelled... so it got kinda long. Here is part 1:

Sunday 26th June, 01h30. My alarm wakes me from dreams of mountains, sky and a single track going up. With sleepy eyes in the hushed, warm stillness of the suburbs, we get our stuff together and we’re out the door by 02h00. 02h15 and we hit the back of the queue which is already down to the turn-off a mile or so from the park gate and a few hundred yards along the route 24 dual carriage-way.

We crawl to the intersection then on the climb up to the gate. Spectators are being waved off the entrance roadway along the way and into a big parking lot for ‘Santa’s Workshop’ – a creepy, bizarre Santa theme park. I guess it makes sense in winter when covered in snow… but having a ‘Pensioners Day’ at over 30 degrees in summer is just weird. By 03h00 we’re through the gate and climbing the few miles to the race paddock.

We find the bike paddock – a rough clearing on the side of the road just before the car paddock (the dirt has been graded flat for the cars). Head and hand-held torches pierce through the dust like light-sabres. We are directed by one of these waving sabres to a small space – I get in okay and drive into the rough ground as far as I can, stopped by a big log. We have space behind to offload and not block the road.

We unload the bike and get her setup. It’s a strange atmosphere. Trucks, vans and cars everywhere… moving, backing-up, parking. Crowds everywhere… crew, organisers, spectators. All moving in some sort of hushed, organised, chaos. We make sure everything is set before the roll-call, rider’s briefing, morning prayers and then driver’s briefing. We curl up in the quiet warmth of the van to try get some more sleep.

I wake when it’s already light, the edge of the van door digging a crevasse into my back. “Uuuugh… “. I move around to try get comfortable. No chance of that. I am thinking to get up and about, stretch the stiffness outta my bones and see what the craic is in the paddock when Travis appears at the window. “Morning!”

Travis was at a friend’s wedding the night before and then still gets up early, rides through the queues and crowds to get to the paddock by 06h00 to help out. The Man is a legend in so many ways.

By 06h30 the stream of spectators going up the mountain is thinning out. “Paul?” “Here!” - Roll-call. I’ve never had roll-call at a race meeting before. Rider’s Briefing: “Course looks good. One of the Squadra Alpina will go up before we start and report back on conditions. Have a good run and stay safe.”
Morning prayers led by Doug Chestnutt – short and sweet, followed by some shit coffee from the burger van at the start line. Tyre warmers on, pickup our transponder then to Driver’s Briefing. Notes about the running order, conditions and safety. Double check everything on the bike… check all my gear. Go through the course map and an on-board refresher as we wait for the 08h30 start.

Before the start, Carlin Dunne from Squadra Alpina goes up the course and reports back: wet and icy through the last few turns. There is a 45 minute delay to the start. This year they are trying a new ‘Hot Grid’ system for the bike start. 20 bike ‘garages’ under awnings and with power for tyre warmers are setup along the road leading to the start line – all setup courtesy of Ducati USA. Thanks guys! The first 20 bikes are setup there and as they start, the subsequent starters fill the garages. Being in the Heavyweight class, we’re one of the last bikes away.

The first runners start… every 2 minutes or so, another bikes blasts off the start line. Our garage opens up and we wheel the bike up and get her back on tyre warmers - she’s never had her boots so toasty! There is a red flag and proceedings come to a halt. We wait it out under the awning. Even that early in the morning, the sun is harsh… would be unbearable in leathers with no shade. The garages are also fenced off from the public… apparently in years past it was always quite hectic, packed with punters jostling around while you were trying to focus under the blazing sun. This new setup is good.

Eventually things get going again and the riders ahead start moving up to the start line. I keep stretching, keeping lose and relaxed and start focussing on the job at hand. I think through the first sequence of turns. Get my mind into gear. No sighting lap… just roll onto the start line and go from zero to bat-shit in a few seconds. A bit like the TT.

“Have a good one… GO FAST!” I say to the three Heavyweight riders ahead of me. I give my wife a hug and kiss – she wishes me luck. Helmet and gloves on.


Ant and Travis get the Big Red Duck started up, off her warmers and ready in the hot-grid lane. I swing a leg over her. Go-fast wishes and fist-pumps all round. Then I’m bimbling down the spectator-lined hot-grid lane to the start line. Phud-phud-phud-phud-phud-phud… the big girl from Modena is about to get a thrashing of her life for the next 12 miles. I hope she’s up for it… I am.

The starter is waiting for me. I stop 5 meters from the start clock – another new thing for this year. The starter looks me in the eye and nods. I nod back. He points the green flag at me and then at the clock… the count-down starts. 10… 9… I flip my visor down and make sure it’s locked in place… 8… 7… I make sure my glove straps are secure… 6… 5… I prod the gear lever a few times to make sure she’s in first gear… 4… 3… I slowly let out the clutch just to the point of dragging… 2… 1… I start feeding her throttle… 0… the light goes green.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

PPIHC - Saturday - Rest

The early mornings were taking it's toll. I had kindda kept my body-clock somewhere between Colorado and Austria time... so it wasn't so much the early wake-ups, it was just lack of sleep. Five days on the trot with only 4 to 5 hours sleep. Just not enough for me. By six in the evening every day, Mr. Sandman had chucked grit in my eyes and my were bloodshot. I was just damn tired.

There is a cool 'Western Wear' store near the retail park just a mile from the cottage. we tried on some hats... I bought one :-)

Saturday we slept in... got my first proper sleep in about a week. We had a nice lazy breakfast before going to collect the wheels with new tyres on for the race and a few other errands in Colorado Springs. Ant and I then did a bit of prep on the bike for the race. Ant finished off the prep and Alex and I took a walk to the nearby 'Garden of the Gods'. It's quite spectacular.

I then took Alex up to the top of Pikes Peak... I used it as a last real-life refersher of the course. Left, right, right, right, left, left, right, right, left, right... I was remembering it! It's so scenic all the way up. The views from the top are breathtaking.

I was still pretty tired, the heat didn't help. All week it was in the low to mid thirties. Mid-week when we were up in Denver with the Big Red Duck, it was thirty-eight in the shade. At one mile above sea level, the sun is angry... you start burning within 20 minutes. We got back to the cottage in the late afternoon and the Big Red Duck was all set and ready to go. Thanks Ant!

Loads of old-timer American iron around... most of them still in daily use.

Marajuana is legal for medicinal purposes in Colorado. I the little town of Manitou Springs, it is legal for leisure use too. It's a booming business with a dope shop on every second street corner. Maggies Farm had a big parking lot that was always full... a hundred yards down the road was thier overflow parking that was always busy too. A bit like Amsterdam for the Brits, folks come to Manitou Springs just to get stoned!
We crashed out for another siesta... my body had many hours of catching-up to do! An hour later I was woken by the regular afternoon thunderstorm. The light and summer weather in Colorado is very much like Johannesbug, South Africa - where I grew up and spent most of my life. Similar altitude, similar bright, hard light. Warm, dry and dusty. Most afternoons, huge, black Cumulus clouds roll in. Thunder and lightning. You can smell the rain... then a ten minute downpour. Clouds move on and the sun shines again. Everything washed and clean.

Loads of eclectic shops with cool stuff... like this one where you can get oil lamps, guns, ammo, tools, dungarees... everything you need for your western mountain adventure!

That evening we went to downtown Manitou Springs for a walk-around to check out the hippies and crazies and for the best steak in town at the Keg (local opinion that we have confirmed). We got back to the cottage and were in bed before it was dark - we had to be at the gate to the park well before 03h00. Between 03h00 and 06h00, they let the spectators up the single-carriage roadway. If you get there much later than 03h00, you'll be queueing for miles all the way back into town.

My head hits the pillow and I dream of a single-track to the clouds... tomorrow we're goin' racin!