Missed the first practice session because I hot-wired the side-stand sensor wrong and the Duke just cut out as soon as the clutch was let out. I couldn't test this in the late night-before prep. Got is sorted and out and managed 3 sessions of practice. I left the SD card of my wee camera at work so had to lug the big cannon along... but it's a far better tool.
'Race Dad' Gordon and the Co-Built framer
The gorgeous Zaeta mk. 2 all the way from Italy was being campaigned by Marco Belli. More of this machine on Sideburn.
Although the Duke is strictly speaking a Thunderbike, I'd entered both Shorttrack and Thunderbike class. I'd be dog-meat against the Shorttrack boys, but I need as much track time as I can get to learn this sidey-ways racing.
Skooter Farm's John Lee and Stevie Coles have a bit of race chat before the action begins .
Jacopo Monti's old-skool number-boards. Jacopo came all the way from Italy for a play on the clay only to have his bike not start. Bummer! At least he managed to get out for a heat and 'Last Chance' on a borrowed bike.
Jason's immaculately prepared C&J Rotax framer...
Including a cool electric start thingy-ma-jig
Attention to detail was fantastic! Silver-leaf numbers and about 17 coats of lacquer... Jason's bike is beautiful!
As in the case of the Shorttrack class (36 riders), a series of heats are run with 12 riders at a time to determine the 24 runners for the semi-finals. In the case of the smaller Thunderbikes class (18 riders), the heats determine the 12 runners for the final.
You've got 3 heats in each class to try make the final. Being in 2 classes meant I had 6 heats to run in - good track-time. I started off slow and was lapped by the eventual Grand final winner Ade Collins in the first heat. But I'm a bit of a slow starter and soon got going. By the third heat I was starting to get the knack of it.
Rider of the day Tom Woolley was fast! 4th in Grand Final and winning the Thunderbikes on his CCM machinery.
A problem I had all day was the sound of the Duke. With road exhausts on it's was far too quiet. When other bikes with open and race pipes were close by I couldn't hear it rev. It's so smooth and with no rev-counter and sliding around on dirt, I struggled to tell if I was in the right gear. I managed to get her into 2nd or 4th a few times. 4th is ok, a bit slow but 2nd was just dangerous!
In the last Shorttrack heat, I was passed by 4 riders early on... but I managed to hang onto the back of them till the finish. It wasn't enough to get into the Semi-final, but made the 'Losers Final'. I was fast enough to be on the outside-front row of the 3 row start... right on the blue-groove. I should start like a rocket from there with plenty of grip on the race line and most of the other riders on loose stuff that they'll just spin-up on. Game on!
Front row... man with the red flag ambles off. Revs up. Jeeesus! I can't hear a thing! So just hold the Duke at about 1/3 throttle. The tape goes up and I feed out the clutch... the rear tyres grips, she lurches forward and 'clunk'. She stalls. Fuck!
I brace myself, waiting for the impact from behind... but with only 3 rows behind, everyone behind gets past in about a second. I hit the starter... 'click'... again... 'click'... again...'click'. Bollocks!
By now the field are through turn 1 and 2. If I wait any longer they'll be around again before I'm off the racing line. I pull in the clutch, quickly push the bike to the centre-track and watch the race from there. I curse my front-row jitters and think of phase II of the Duke project - a louder exhaust.
Marco Belli on the Zaeta in the 'dash for Cash'
In the last Thunderbike heat I'm passed by a flying 'Sideburn' Gary. I manage to hang onto his coat tails for 3 laps before making a mistake and running wide.
Last year with the bone-smashing Ducati I missed the final by one place. This year I make it! I start on the back row, next to 'Co-Built' Anthony Brown who crashed out of the last heat.
The tape goes up and I get away cleanly. I'm on the loose stuff so slither a wheel-spinning snake all the way to the first turn. Anthony's on the blue-groove, gets a blinder and is just a baby-blue blur in the middle of the pack. First turn mayhem and the race settles. I think I'm passed once and make a pass. I land up hanging onto the back of 'Red max' Steve on his awesome Harley XR. Man, that big VeeTwin with open pipes sounds fantastic when hard on the gas and sliding out of the turns. Yeeeeha!
I can't get closer than a few yards and soon the chequered flag is being waved.
Grand Final first turn. With beautiful sunny weather, there was a blue-groove all day... fast when you keep on it... scary when you miss it and land up on the outside shit.
2009 European, UK and UK Thunderbike champ Boastie getting it sideways out of turn 2.
Ex european and UK champ Marco Belli has to be the most stylish rider out there. I wanna ride like him!
The new Zaeta not only looks fantastic, but goes like stink too!
I'm just starting to learn how this flattrack malarkey is done. I'm ok coming out of the turns, but waaaay too slow getting in... and this is where you overtake. I also make too many unforced mistakes and on a blue-groove track like yesterday you lose 1 or 2 places everytime you miss the groove.
Brilliant to see all the guys again and be back in the thick of it... AND my first final!
A great day on the clay!