Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Classic TT - The Bike

It is done.

I took the plunge and have acquired the basis for a Classic TT race machine. It's the most I have ever spent on a bike... by a long way. I'm still whincing... thank god for credit :-)

On Saturday I picked up a new Italiano beauty fro John at Made in Italy Motorcycles. A 1992 Ducati 851 SP3 - #507 or around 600 made. It's taken a month or two of learning about these bikes, searching, kicking tyres, deliberation and some anguish... but there is some method to this seeming madness of pressing a so-called 'Collectors' bike into service on the isle of Man.

Took her out for a blast on Saturday evening.
Hard to believe this gal is 20 years old... handling is so sweet... must have been an incredible machine in her day.

... she looks like a Ducati...

...she feels like a Ducati...

...she sounds like a Ducati...

...she's made like a Ducati.

Now... with the help of some friends we're gonna turn this road-going lovely into a sweet-handling, Manx road devouring, super-strong, stone-wall booming, rosso-flash of nostalgia at the Classic TT in August.

Oh shit... wtf have I got myself into now!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

DTRA Flattrackin' - Round 1 - King's Lynn

Got home from the disappointing, but ultimately successful (got a Manx GP Qualification race finish) Desmo Due racing at Oulton Park late Saturday afternoon. Swapped the Wee Monster and road race gear in the back of the van for the Flattracker and flattrack gear.

Stars 'n Bars
Thanks Steve Mann at MTS Classics for the help with the paintwork
Thanks Tom Whiting for the awesome pic

Up early on Sunday morn and cross-country to King's Lynn for the first round of the DTRA National Flattrack Championship. Winter is finally over and the sun was shining.

Flatbed race transport

More Thunderbikes than you could shake a stick at! Lots of new bikes and new blood.

Robert Williams' uber-cool Steampunk Ducati

Got setup and skrootineered (new for this year). Out for practice. I was slooooow. I'd entered the Thunderbike and National Pro classes (because I lost my 'Restricted' status last year) so had two practice sessions. Tried to pull my finger out in the second, but was still dawg slow.

Skrootineering!? Awfully organised these DTRA fellows!
Heat one for Thunderbikes and I'm drawn on the front row. I make a good start and get into turn one in second or third... then I start going backwards. Eventually finishing 6th. You gotta finish in the top three when you start on the front. Bugger.

Paddock neighbour Drogo Michie between heats
Next two heats were pretty much the same... 6th and 6th. But from the back and middle row, so improving. Carried on improving by finishing in the top 4 in my last 3 heats. That's a bit more like it! Got some useful riding tips from the current Thunderbike Champ, Neil Martin that I was trying (when I remembered)... it was working.

Battling with Co-Built Geoff Cain
Thanks Tom Whiting for the pic
I'm a bit of a slow burner. The same in road racing... I get faster with every lap of every session. Doesn't really play into my normal road race approach which is not to do Friday's testing/practice, rock up on Saturday morning and go straight into qualifying and then 2 short races. Not exactly helping myself. Oh well... it's the taking part they say...

Rest between heats
Dimitri Coste drove all the way from Paris for a bit of flattrack action on his classic BSA

I qualify 8th in the Thunderbikes and an unbelievable 8th in National Pro. Up until the end of last year I had only ever made one semi-final (top 24) in the Pro class. And now 8th! Well... it was a reduced field... and I think I got lucky in two of the heats. I'll take it.

I love the closeness, banter and bustle of the flattrack paddock... always someone to help, someone going out to do battle and someone coming back with war stories
Thunderbike Final - I got a new starting technique (top secret) that I'd been using effectively all day. I start from middle row, far inside. Revvs up, tape shoots up and we're off. I make a good getaway and make it up to the back of the front row by the time we get into turn 1. Nice.

Working on the new 'Neil Martin' technique
Thanks Tom Whiting for the pic
By the afternoon, it's a groove track. It's fast. But off the line it's very marbly... get onto the marbles and you're in trouble. Makes it really difficult to pass. Starts are key. I slot into 5th behind Geoff Cain and Guy Sutherland. They don't make any mistakes... I try and put pressure on Guy, but he keeps it on the groove. We do the whole race and finish in a three bike train. 5th in Thunderbikes... happy with that!

Great to see the old faces back for more dirt slidin'
National Pro final up next... the last race of the day... the blue ribband event. I line up in the same place as the Thunderbike final. Another good start and I'm in the thick of it in turn 1. By lap 2 things have settled into the 'groove train'. Two places ahead, George Pickering makes a mistake, goes wide and I follow Pete Boast through to 6th place. Sweet!

Keepin' it fast and efficient
I'm working hard and pushing to the edge to keep up with Pete. George comes back at me and shows me a wheel on turn 3 entry. We battle hard. My corner exit is strong... but I'm struggling to get into the corners fast... the big old Thunderbike just wants to head for the barrier. I hang onto 6th for another few laps, Pete only making 4 or 5 bike-lengths on me... George pressuring me on the entries... me driving hard out the turns.

On lap 5 or so, George shows me his wheel again... I hang on. As I hit the apex and start the drive out, I get a nudge from behind... just enough to push me onto the marbles. I'm down and sliding on my arse. "Fuck!"

Pushed onto the marbles... man down...

 ... sliding swish into a grating grind...

... I can still save it!
Thanks Tom Whiting for the brilliant crash sequence... first time one of my offs has ever been caught on camera!

Gear-lever knackerd again. "Shit! Bollocks!" I wheel the bike to the centre of the track. Pretty disappointed to be knocked out of the final. But happy that I got up to 6th.. and happy that was giving it everything :-) That race was the fastest and hardest I've ever ridden a flattracker. I learned a lot in those few laps (and thanks for the tips Neil!). Now... if only I can ride like that in every heat and every race...

Mixed results, but had a smile all the way home... bring on round 2!!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Desmo Due at Oulton Park

Drove up to Oulton Park on Friday afternoon for the Ducati Desmo Due qualifying and racing on Saturday. Lovely sunshine, but a cold breeze kept it at about 12 degrees. Through skrootinering, sound test and signing-on. Bike fuelled, tyre pressures checked and pretty soon we’re out for qualifying.

Oh dear - all that winter effort and now she's bent...
Just about all the guys have been out for a few sessions in the morning practice. I need to take it easy and work it up to speed. We get waved onto track at about 17h00. I go out last, leaving a big gap to the next guy. I hang back… testing the new clutch, scrubbing the new brake pads and discs in. Lap one done… lap two with a bit more welly to get some heat into those tyres. 
Postman Pat engineering vs. metal. Postman Pat wins!
The Wee Monster is pulling well… maybe it’s just the placebo effect, having spent money on her I believe she is faster :-) The corners are rushing toward me a bit faster than I expected - a bit rusty. Lap two… all’s steady. She’s feeling a bit too much on the front – falling into corners and then having to stand her up before reach the apex. Need to sort that. 
Half-way through lap three and into the second chicane… tight right, tight left, short-shift and bring her around the next right… clunk! Screeeeeeessssshhhhhhh... My shoulder hits the tar and I'm sliding down the track on my side... I come to a stop on my back just a metre into the gravel. 
Gravel down the poor girl's throat...

 Surgically removed with a chewed wine-gum.

“Shit! Fuck! Bollocks! What the hell happened there?!” I wasn’t pushing or going hard… tyres not up to temp… maybe. The front just washed out as I passed the apex. Never had that before.  Even on a Ducati. I’m fuming and stalk across the gravel to sulk behind the barrier.

Ploughing the field...

I go through it umpteen times in my head. I don’t know what happened… front just washed out. Maybe I should have been taking it even easier on those new tyres. Dunno. After the session, the recover van comes around. They’ve already collected Kevin Ellis whose bike and body looks a lot worse for wear than mine. Load the bike and get back to skrootineering.


Damage didn’t look too bad at first, but it took me a good few hours to get it straightened out. Gravel and chunks off grassy soil everywhere – cleaned. Tank front clip broken – repaired with lock-wire. Airbox ripped off – gravel cleaned out of throttle bodies and cable tied back. Throttle damaged – repaired. Number-board broken – fixed. Brake master cylinder ripped off and pipe stuffed with soil – cleaned, repaired and brakes bled. Rear-set and foot-peg okay but brake lever not returning – repaired from bits of other rear-set parts. Rear hub filled with gravel – cleaned out. Seat lock broken – cable-tied. Tank dented and handle-bar bent – gonna have to live with that. Looks like there is some sort of fluid on the front-right tyre... but hard to see with all the gravel dust and soil. I spot a bit of weepage from the brake calliper nipple. Think it must have been that so I sort it. 
Miraculously the footpeg survived... but rear-brake was binding so needed changing
Three spare rear-sets... and they're all for the left side! Doh!

I find a local eatery in the dark. Fill my belly, get back to the paddock and hunker-down in the van for some shut-eye. It's only 3 degrees outside and am just barely warm enough - not a great night;s rest. I wake to a glorious sunrise and frost... I forgot to cover the bike and she's a bit frozen. Sorry old girl. 
Early morning frost

I only qualified 29th of 31. Starting form the back of the grid… all I was going for was a finish. Didn't go to all this effort and expense to not get a qualifying signature for the Manx GP. 3 lap warm-up goes okay. I think I fixed my turning in problem... but not comfortable on the bike. Pretty soon and we're lining up on the grid. It's been a while since I've been near the back of the grid... it's miles to the front row. A confidence boost knowing that things can only get better :-) 
Breakfast of Champions!

Celebrity racers. Jakub Smrz (beanie) and the Padgett's Team using the race day at Oulton as a test for BSB in 2 weeks
That new clutch is a dream. The Wee Monster wheelies off the line and I'm up to the next row before carnage unfolds ahead of me. I see bikes and bodies going down and sliding across the track. Off the gas, onto the brakes and pick my way through the strewn bikes, bodies and debris. At least 3 bikes are down. 
A bit wonky... but functional... kinda

Within 15 minutes, we are back on the grid for a restart. I don't get as good as start, but am still up to the next row by the time I join the first corner melee. I make a pass or two but generally keep out of trouble. I need that finish. I'm not riding with confidence... don't feel great on the bike... and the bike is very slow for some reason. I get passed by class 'B' bikes down the straights and land up battling for the lower positions. I finish 17th. My fastest lap is 10 seconds slower than the fastest of the race - I'm a million miles off the pace... but I get that signature!

There's something on my front tyre... not good for grip.
After the race I find oil on my boot... and some on the front wheel. The front fork had popped a seal and was pissing oil. Could explain the crash I had in qualifying. My hopes of doing better in Race 2 are dashed. I pack up and leave Oulton Park with what I came for - a Manx GP qualifying race. Five done... just one to go.
Oily boot - bad sign

The downfall...

Friday, 19 April 2013

Monster Ready for Battle

This afternoon I head up to Oulton Park for the first round of the Desmo Due Championship (the original first round from 5 weeks ago was abandoned because of weather). The Wee Monster is all prepped and ready her first outing - looking forward to seeing how she fares after all the winter improvements.

New ally swing-arm, brake master cylinder and lightweight disc... 

...carbon mudguard robbed off my road Monster, lightweight disks and new sooper-dooper race pads... 

 ...custom lightweight belly-pan...

 ...ECU flashed - ditched the old clocks and ignition key...

...massive thanks to Mike at MD Racing for the sponsorship and engine work... 

... my first bit of carbon lay-up... ignition switch has built-in neutral light... 

...lookin' mean and hungry...

...some old nose-art stickerage from a few years back...

... cables and springs are too heavy... some elastic bands from the postman will do...

...single exhaust saves at least 2kg...

...ready to rumble!