Thursday, 30 August 2012

ManxGP 2012 - Day 13 - Betty Gets Better

Yesterday's Supertwins race was such and slow, easy ride that when I took off my helmet in Parc Firme, there wasn't a bead of sweat on my brow. I hopped off the wee bike content that we'd finished and immediately got the big bike ready for a lap of practice that was to be run within half an hour - needed to test those changes and see what's she's like.

On one of the laps I smacked my helmet on the steering damper...

Big Betty didn't disappoint. She felt a bit weird at first on semi-warm tyres with those changes. But I settled into the new feeling and by the 7 mile marker I started to wind her up. She wan't wheeling everywhere or shaking her head and fighting me. Now that's more like it! Compared with the sick Suzuki I had just got off, she felt like a missile! That was a fun lap.

Garage life! Today has been an easy day...

Maybe I was taking out my frustration of pootling around and the wee bike, mabe I was just warmed up. I blasted a 108mph lap from a standing start. Almost my fastest lap of the TT Mountain Course... ever!

Betty lookin' purdy

Just given her a full check and clean today... no more changes. She's all prepped and ready to rock'n roll! It's been such a quiet day that I have even had time to clean my leathers. Charging the cameras for tomorrow's race at 13h15 - hoping to have a good race and get some good footage.

Can't wait to get out there and GO FAST!

ManxGP 2012 - Day 12 - Supertwins Race

Was up early to get everything loaded and up to the paddock by 08h15. Little Suzy V sailed through skrootineering... topped up the fuel, pressures checked, tyre warmers on and she was all ready by 10h00.

To try cure the wheelie-prone flightyness of the big bike, I adjusted the front ride and rear ride hieghts (again) and wanted to add a link to the chain to lengthen the wheelbase - I measured about 0.5mm of space before we ran out of space on the swing-arm. It would be close, but I was confident we could do it.

It's been so wet on the Isle this year... that there's moss growing on the van...

I didn't have any spare master links with me and none of the race shops had links for an RK Tagaso chain. So Dennis Trollope helped me out with a new chain that he would help fit in the paddock. While the wheel was off, I managed to source a new Pirelli Supercorsa so treated the bike to a new set of tyres while Ian topped up the fuel for the pit-stop.

We managed to get the big bike all done and through skrootineering by 11h30 - giving us a bit of time to get the van hauled out of the mud where it was stuck, get some lunch and get everything ready for the race. It was a busy, busy morning and I didn't have much time to focus or prepare the way I would have wanted to for the race (not many pics either). No worries. Just get out there, give it sum beans and see what happens.

Put a wheel on the grass of the day-paddock...

By 13h18 I found myself focusing a thousand yards down Glencrutchery road with the starter's hand on my shoulder. He taps and I'm off for the 4 lap Supertwin race. As I pull away, the bike doesn't feel right. I almost stall as she fails to pull. I clutch her a bit and give her full throttle. She get's going and I'm flat out towards the first jump at St Ninian's crossroads. She feels slow... real slow. No acceleration. For fuck's sake!

I hit the jump flat out... but the wee bike doesn't jump. I'm going too slow.Things are not what they should be all the way down Bray Hill. It felt like my brakes were binding or something. It's like driving a car with the handbrake on. Everything is sluggish and slow. Like you're stuck in a jar of molases in winter.

We needed a tractor to drag the van out the mud

I get to Quarterbridge and a hundred possible problems are playing through my head. I need to check if there is anything wrong that could be dangerous so I pull over at the marshall's post. I hop off the bike and check as much as I can. I can't see anything wrong, nothing leaking and there is no excess heat from the disks or callipers. Strange.

I've lost a minute by the time I get back into the race. She's dog-slow and sluggish... the other bikes pass and leave me in their dust. I wringing her neck, but she's just not pulling... she sounds fine but is just not pulling. Everything happens a lot slower.

It plays on my mind and I keep her pinned, but constantly feel the footpegs for oil and have my hand down the fairing feeling for oil. I decide to push on for a lap and see if she gets worse. She doesn't, so I fly down Gelncrutchery road in slow-motion for my second lap.

Through the Bungalow
I'm not learning anything on the course. It's just frustrating. I'm going so much slower, all my braking markers are different. I try carry corner-speed... but it's an unknown to me so all I can do is keep up with other bikes through the turns but as soon as we hit any acceleration, they're gone. I figure that at least it's good practice for the pit-stop... and a finisher's medal is better than going home empty handed like last year. So I push on for the finish.

Those were the longest four laps of the TT Mountain Course in my life. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could... but knowing something is wrong with the machine you're hurtling around at speed, just feet from stone walls is a bit disconcerting. Whenever I saw a big group of spectators, I would wave... and I was playing games with myself to try keep concentration.

Approaching a corner so much slower made it hard to judge how fast to take them - I erred on the side of caution.

I didn't spend the last few months, time, effort, money and whatever else it cost to get another D.N.F. I do not know those words. I kept the trottle wound as hard as I could. The Wee bike reluctantly carried on. More than a week earlier, she was pulling 9500rpm down Sulby Straight... close to 140mph. During the race I think I saw 8200rpm once... I doubt she was doing 120mph... and she took forever to get there.

The best part of the race was our pit-stop... probably one of our best. Stop, cut engine, gas cap off (it was there!), fuel, gel pack, visor, screen, gas cap back, start and off. Thanks Ian and Stephen for a great stop. Two laps later and I was so glad to see the chequered flag. We finished! Hurrah!

Great photography from Dan Kneen

It didn't all go my way, but I got away with finishing 30th out of 35 finishers (don't know how I didn't come last) and 47 entrants. Lap-by-lap here. Fastest lap 98mph... I did 104mph last year with rubbish breaks.

Earlier in the day, Ryan Farquar won the Senior Classic race. But that afternoon we were saddened to learn that his uncle, Trevor Ferguson, lost his life at The Nook while running second on lap two in the Supertwins race. I don't know Trevor, but knew his face from the paddock. Condolences to Trevor's family and friends. This place can be cruel.

ManxGP 2012 - Day 11 - The Right Direction

Haven't had much time to blog... so a bit of a catch-up...

After Monday's washout, Tuesday was a beautiful, sunny day. Monday's cancelled programme was to be run, Junior Classic followed by the Junior and then a lap of practice in the evening. I wanted to get out on the wee bike seeing as I had only done 2 laps on it in dodgy conditions. But, with the race on Wednesday, the bike had to be ready and through skrootineering by 09h00 on Wednesday. That didn't give me enough time to get the tyres changed and prep it for the race.

This year I'm getting air over Ballaugh Bridge
So, with the help of my good friend Mike (MD Racing) and Dennis Booth, I made a load of changes to the big bike. I didn't have laps to test different changes, so the best practice of making one change at at time went out the window. I changed the front ride height, rear compression, rebound, gearing, wheelbase and tyre pressure.

Mike Minns giving it some down Bray Hill
The races went as per schedule on the dry, sunny circuit. My mate Mike Minns getting his second podium in the Junior race. Bloody well done Dood!

At 18h30 we lined up for a lap of practrice. Before I reached St Ninian's cross-roads, I sure felt the changes. The bike was trying to wheelie at every little bump and undulation on the road. Very nible through the turns, but also very flighty. I was off the pwer a lot just to try get her to keep the front wheel on the ground and to settle.

Prepping the wee bike... with a mind-boggling view of the Junior race just metres away.
With bike passing at over 130mph, this was a lucky shot!

She was turning in beutifully and holding a line. No more sliding either. So we are headed in the right direction - but mabe too far in that direction.

I got my head down and started really enjoying the lap. Besides a few sketchy places where there was water flowing across the track, it was all dry. At the end of Cronk Y Voddy straight I saw a shadow on the track to my right. I sat up early to let the rider through. It was Dennis Booth. He's got many years experience and is super-fast around the Isle.

A family effort - the Minns fanily celebrate Mike's second ManxGP podium

I hung onto the back of Dennis all the way to Ginger Hall. It felt fast! I kept the big bike pinned as much as I dared... she was wheelying and shaking her head everywhere. But with the new handling, she was awesome over the mountain. Huuuuge fun!

In the end I did a lap of 106mph - my fastest ever from a standing start. The bike was going well and I definitely got pulled along by Dennis. We're headed in the right diection and the bike can be improved :-)

Things are always falling off and breaking around the Isle - it's tough on machinery

I got back to the house grinning and carried on prepping the wee bike. By 23h00 It was done and  ready to race. I headed down to the ferry port to pickup Ian - my longstanding ManxGP pit Crew. Then hit the hay to rest the body for the Supertwins race on Wednesday.

Some new rubber for the wee bike. With variable conditions forecast, and not having a spare set of wheels or help to be able to change them fast, I went for the safe option of intermediates. They'll work in the dry and the wet. One less thing to think and hassle about.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

ManxGP 2012 - Another vid

Here's another I shot on Thursday night from the big bike. A flying lap with a bit of traffic and some damp patches... still managed a 107mph average :-)

Yesterdays cancelled scheduled is to be run today under sunny blue skies. We get 1 lap practice this evening after the classic and Junior races.

Monday, 27 August 2012

ManxGP 2012 - Day 10 - Another Washout

Today's racing and practice after have been cancelled... it's pissin' doon again. Rescheduled for tomorrow.

Give me a chance to sort out some of the onboard footage I've shot... here's my first vid. It was the first lap of dry practice and my second on the big Aprilia. It was a 105mph lap but I only got to Kirkmichael before the battery conked out.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

ManxGP 2012 - Day 9 - Jurby and the Beach

With the bikes prepped, there wasnt much to do in the garage. The weather was good, so I headed out to Jurby for the Jurby Festival to see what I could see. It was pretty much the same as the last two years... loads and loads of all sorts of bikes with celebrity riders thrashing some of them around the airfield circuit.

The bike parking just kept filling up... they were still arriving on any bike you could think of when I left

Nick Jeffries heading ouout for a blast around the Jurby circuit

I found the rider of the George Shuttleworth Speed Demon - playing the banjo and having a sing-song...

...afterwhich, he hopped on and did a few laps

After an hour of so I headed to a deserted beach on the north-west coast, had a walk about then went to the Laxey seafront. just lounged around and on my way out I bumped into Steve Mann and his wife Mandy. Steve helped me with the fabrication/machining for the SV front-end. It was good having a chat in the sunshine.

Ducati's GP13

There were some nice Doocardis there...
Not bad for a camera maker from Bologna

Made in Italy 

Then off for a run, a pubbie and now this. The forecast for tomorrow looks dire. I hope it's wrong and I can get my first dry lap in on the SV after the races.

Laxey seafront

Saturday, 25 August 2012

ManxGP 2012 - Day 8 - Sombre Mood

This morning I heard the sad news that Steve Osborne lost his life in last night's incident during practice. I didn't know Steve personally, but parked next to him and his son in the day-paddock on most days at last year's Manx and had a bit of paddock banter with them. Steve's son was a newcomer last year and Steve was giving the ManxGP a go for the first time this year.

The incident happened about half a mile down the course from the house where I'm staying. Last night's session was red-flagged then cancelled and when I got back to the house I saw the police taking a statement from the marshals at the post near the house - I feared the worse. I saw the statement on the MMCC website this morning. Condolences to Steve's family and friends - having raced since he was 16, Steve died while doing something he loved.

I was woken by the neighbor's two stroke ring-a-ding-ding. This morning was the start of the Manx 2 Day Trial

So, I was in a sombre mood this morning... the pouring rain didn't help. I went about getting both bikes prepped and making a few chages to Betty. At four, the rain stopped and the sun came out - the roads started drying nicely. Might be chance for a lap during scheduled practice after the Newcomers Race at 17h30. I havn't done a dry lap on the little bike yet so slung her on the trailer and loaded up.

This is why the bikes are prepped so meticulously - things just break and fall off around here

I got the the day-paddock to find it water logged and filled with cars - after the company that manages the paddock gave us instructions that the day paddock was for competitor vehicles only. I found out it was them that sent these 'officials' to park there. Nice. I let them know what I thought of it.

Pissin' doon

Bike up through skrootineering and haul the equipment (toolbox, fuel, tyre warmers, paddock stands...) up to Parc Firme. Then the Newcomers race is delayed. By the time it gets underway at 18h30, its announced that the practice scheduled for after is cancelled. Bollocks!

Day Paddock was mostly a mess... and where it wasn't a mess... there were cars parked

Haul all my shit down the hill again. Get the bike down and load it all up. Back up to the grandstand to watch the rest of the Newcomers race. Despite the sunshine, I quickly got cold sitting on the grandstand in the wind so popped in for a cup of tea in the 38th Milestone - it's a cosy little clubhouse type portacabin just behind the grandstand for Manx and TT riders. There I met the ex-Deputy Clerk of the Course and we shared some stories about Steve Osborne and some of my previous Manx campaigns as we sipped tea from porcelain cups. Frightfully proper I say! What, what?

All sorts of fabulous stuff at the Manx...

... this one with it's own wee birdie!

ManxGP 2012 - Day 7 - Qualification

One of the problems with the big bike on Thursday night was a vibration on the front wheel. First thing in the morning, I had a look. Didn't like the look of the balancing weights so whipped the wheel out to get it to the race-shop in the paddock for re-balancing (and get some footpegs). I had another look at the Suzuki but she was running worse than the day before. Bugger!

On the way to the paddock, I stopped by at Padgetts to see if they had time to have a look at the little SV. Finally, a bit of luck... they weren't busy. I got the bike to them as quickly as I could then set about prepping the big bike.

Suzy kindly lent Betty a footpeg

Around 2 o'clock, just as I finished prepping the big bike, I got a call from young Andy at Padgetts. The little bike was sorted! It was a rotten HT lead... the plugs weren't that great either. Turns out that not only is Andy a dab hand with the spanners, but is pretty clued up with  racing around here. He's been involved in the Padgetts TT effort for a few years now. We talked setup and came up with a plan to try sort the big bike's problems. Thanks Andy and Padgetts!

Skrootineering queue in the rain... if only it was like this every day!

I hauled little Suzy back to the house to get her clothes on and do final prep for practice. Now that she was fixed, I had to test her. It had been dry and sunny all day so was hoping to get the first dry laps in on the little bike.

The air-ambulances get going in the threatening conditions

Up to the paddock and skrootineering. Whilest in the queue it starts raining... and doesn't stop for an hour or so. But it dries quickly and the first practice session starts a little late - I'm in the second session. The first session is red flagged early and the riders returning are wet and say the course is still wet most of the way around and raining over the mountain. I decide not to go out. There's no way I will go faster than I did earlier in the week, neither would anyone else - so I would qualify. Also, I wouldn't learn anything and just be taking a risk. I start packing up when the Clerk of the Course announces that the session is cancelled due to an incident that they will not be able to clear for an hour or two.

Bikes being warmed up in Prac Firme

With qualifying now over, here are the results of the practice week:

Saturday - Cancelled
Monday - Little Suzy - Fog/rain on the mountain. Red flagged. 93mph
Tuesday - Little Suzy - Damp/wet. 94mph. Big Betty - Damp/wet. 94mph
Wednesday - Big Betty - Dry but red flagged. 52mph
Thursday - Big Betty - Dry! 105mph and 107mph
Friday - Cancelled

Suzy finds a new friend in Parc Firme - takes me a bit of time to haul all the equipment back down to teh van and get changed
Despite the fog and wet laps - I still managed to qualify Suzy. So far all I've been able to do is give the bikes a shake-down and do just enough to qualify. Two laps on each with times good enough and a total of five laps. No chance to test anything or improve the bikes. Final qualification is 39th of 88 for Big Betty and 36 of 47 for Little Suzy. Thankfully this doesn't determine the start position - so I'll be alright for the race.

Friday, 24 August 2012

ManxGP 2012 - Day 6 - Betty Gets Going

Not enough time earlier to blog about yesterday... so here goes...

Hussling the big girl through Greeba Bridge

Spent 3 hours in the morning trying to sort the wee bike. Cleaned all the fuel lines and doo-dabs after I found some old paint in the tank. Had a look at the carbs as well. Fired her up. She was better... but not right. I got to work prepping the big Aprilia.

Little Suzy V is not well...

Got everything loaded and to the day paddock in good time... determined to be at the front of the queue. Offload and ready to get the bike up to skrootineering 15 minutes before it opens. Getting my overalls on, behind me I hear "Clunk!". I spin around and the bike has fallen over... not on the sofy mushy grass side, but on the hardcore road side. "Fuck!".

Monster throttle-bodies and factory carbon

I haul the bike up and get her on the stand again. Check for damage. Clutch lever and footpeg broken. "Tree-fuckin-mendous!". My spares are back at the house. I didn't have time to be pissed off or laugh. Un-hitch trailer, breakin' the law back to the house, spares box. Clutch lever. Got it. Footpeg. Hmmm... a mingy one that they won't like in skrootineering. Got the same footpegs on the wee bike... she gladly donates one.

Leaking fuel does cosmetic damage... now sorted 

Back to day-paddock. Fix big bike and get her up to skrootineering. Join the long queue. Get through skrootineering okay. The good news is that I was four yards futher towards the front than yesterday. Yeah! Little victories... little victories.

15 minutes after skroot opens and we queue down the tarmac...

Practice starts on time and despite the dire forecast, although overcast, it didn't rain all day. Dry roads, tyre-warmers done their job, I edge to the front and open her up down Glencrutchery Road. The guy on the 600 next to me gets a great start and I follow him down Bray Hill. He holds me up, so I outbrake him into Quarterbridge. I pass quite a few slower bikes, but none hold me up too much. It's a good lap.

There is nothing like lapping the Isle of Man on closed roads... it's fast... so fast. I immerse myself in the moment - pure concentration and focus. It's other-worldly... hard to describe.

A nice Hailwood replica on display

I blast through onto lap two and catch more traffic down Glencrutchery Road. I still haven't got a clear run down Bray Hill this year. I'll get it on Wednesday's Supertwin race. I catch more traffic - a line of 5 bikes just after Greeba Bridge. The freight-train looks cool - but holds me up - I pick them off and finally get past them all somewhere after Handley's. One of them is my mate Neil Vicars on his SV... the big bike flies past the little one down Cronk Y Voddy... I'm holding on so tight I can't even wave.

Old skool

I bring her home safely from my first dry run. But there were some problems. Through the medium speed corners, the back of the bike was sliding... a lot. Especially places like Ginger Hall where the track goes off-camber. Another problem... the bike is hard, hard work to get turned when at speed.  I'm forcing the bars with all my might through the fast, flat-out turns. She's running wide. She was also shaking here head around a bit. Some things to work on. Not many practices left to work on them.

Ready for a few laps on dry roads... at last!

First lap was 105mph from a standing start. That's the same as I did in lap 1 of last year's race. My second lap was 107mph. Only 1 mph off my best. This bike is certainly better than the old RSV. It's faster and handles sweeter. I'm happy :-)

My hosts are brilliant... I came back to the house to some scruptious BLTs :-)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

ManxGP 2012 - Pic

Last night wasn't totally wasted... besides some onboard footage that came out ok... we get a good pic from the mountain ...

... looks like the left just after the Mountain Mile.

ManxGP 2012 - Day 5 - The Struggle

Every single ManxGP I have done lands up being a struggle. Yesterday the struggle started. I couldn't get to sleep last night. Woke up feeling crap. Got going on the bikes. Tyres changed Betty and a full prep - the forecast was good... gotta make the most of it. Two quick laps and I'll be qualified. I think I did enough on Suzy on Tuesday night to get her qualified.

I'm no mechanic. So a half-hour job takes me an hour... but becasue I wasn't really with it, the job would take me one and a half-hours. Making mistakes, having to redo stuff and doin dumb-ass things like spilling a litre of petrol on the garage floor. Things weren't going well from the start.
I had a quick look at the Suzuki misfire. It's not a low battery and it's not the usual water in the front plug. I'm going to have to get her nekkid and into bits to find the problem. What a pain in the fuckin' arse.

With everything taking me so long, I was later to skrootineering than I wanted to be. And for the third night in a row I unwittingly join the slowest queue. The skrootineer farts about doing other stuff and takes 20 minutes to go over my bike. Result is I start from the back of the first session. If things go well we'll get two smokin' laps in... if things don't go so well, it's normally the punters at the back of the queue who lose out.
#85 is James Cowton - Newly crowned GNC Thunderbike champ Neil Martin is spannering for him

Nothing I can do about that so I focus on getting out the gates and up to speed quickly. With just one bike to skrootineer, I treated myself and put on some tyre warmers so that I can set off like a scalded cat. I normally don;t bother with so much to do.

I go back to the van to get my kit on - find out I've forgotten my leathers. No problem... I have been carrying my flattrack leathers in the van for just such an opportunity! I get leathered up and go up to pit lane with my old helmet becasue I find that my new one's pin-lock is knackered. I thougt I got a bit of misting last night...

I get back up to the bike to find my tyre warmers have been unplugged somewhere down the chain of 7 extensions (becasue I'm so far back in the queue) and my tyres are stone cold. No problem, tyre warmers are a luxury - they're for pussies. Just have to take it steady to Union Mills.

Practice session starts and I wait an age to edge to the front of the queue - my eyes and throat are burning from all the monoxide exaust fumes. Lovely! Great for staying awake and focussed. I give the big Aprilia beans off the line and straight away feel the quickshifer cutting the engine at the wrong time when I change up. The bike lurches on every change. Fuck. I keep going. The circuit is beautiful and dry in the evening sunshine... the bike is pulling well and I'm starting to get the feel for that big beast. It's awesome.

"Hi team." "Yeah we've been red flagged 10 yards from the open track... after the incident."

Around Glen Helen and there are waved yellow flags warning of an incident. Frantic arms from the marshals join the waved flags and I round Sarah's Cottage to a rider being attended to in the middle of the track and scrape marks from the apex off into the trees on the left. I pick my way through, careful not to go over any debris. The next marshal post has green flags so I start getting Betty wound up for the Cronk y Voddy straight. As I hit the crest at the start of the straight I see the marshal up ahead taking out a red flag. He's got it out by the time I reach him and I'm pulled in at the end of the straight.

We wait 20 or so minutes while the rider is heli-vac'd out. That is the only place on the entire circuit that they have to red flag for a heli-vac. Apparently it' becasue as of last year one of the two pilots refused to land in the field near Glen Helen becasue the trees are close. The marshal post we're stopped at is the last one before the live track. How shitty is that? If I was just 10 seconds ahead I would have got through. If my skrootineer hadn't pissed about, if I have got one place further up the queue, if my tyres warmers had been left plugged in. If. Hey... if I was a bit further up the road I might have got caught in the incident.

We get the go-ahead to carry on. I pull out behind 3 or 4 other riders. I get the tyres up to temp and then the riders get in my way. I pass the last one down Sulby straight. While parked up I adjusted the quickshifter. It's better but still engaging over the bumps and lurching a bit. It's got to go.

I start getting into the flow of the big bike and use her power. She is fast. When I come around to complete the lap, we are pulled in. I only get two halves of a lap... most others get two clear laps. I am the first loser by quite a way. That sucks! Although... doesn't suck as much as coming off or a bike blowing up. Checking my lap times, they haven't credited 9 of us losers with teh time we sat waiting at teh marshal post that was after the incident. I put in a stonking 52mph lap. My slowest ever.

So... the struggle will continue and I will be back in the forcast crap weather this evening to give it another go. I hope I can get the Wee Suzuki fixed too. Not many pics becasue I didn't have much time or will to take any... or find any online. But I plugged my Go-Pro in and got some onboard stuff... just need to edit and upload.