Saturday, 31 August 2013

IOM 2013 - Day 14 - Supertwins and Senior Race

Up early on Friday to get the bikes loaded and up to the paddock to meet Steve and Ian and get them through skrootineering.

Bikes through (with a bit of sweet-talkin' from Steve) ok and set-up in Parc Ferme. All set for the race at 10h15. Then a delay is announced. And another. The weather is overcast and there is fog on the mountain. More delays and finally a race start at 12h30 or something like that. Too much waiting... but I keep focussed and am ready for it when we line up on Glencrutchery Road for the start of the Supertwins race.

I only managed to do 2 laps of Qualifying on the little Suzuki. The 'shake-down' first lap of 2013 and a second scrappy lap through heavy traffic. My other two laps didn't count for qualifying. Because we start in qualifying order this year, I wasn't as far forward in the queue as I'd have liked. No worries... 'catch and pass' would be the mantra.

The flag drops and I red-line the little Suzuki all the way down Glencrutchery Road. Flat out down Bray Hill, only off the gas and braking for Quarterbridge. I press on... I almost get Ballagary flat-out. I catch the rider that started 10 seconds ahead of me just before Ballacraine. Good work... keep going.

I'm going faster through sections than I have ever been on the little bike. The personal best laps from earlier in the week have pushed me forward. Flat-out. With a few more rpm due to the shorter gearing, the little bike is working hard, but going well. The lengthening of the wheelbase by 12mm in a effort to make her more stable hasn't worked. The bars continuously flick in my hands as I hit bumps while flat-out mid-corner. It's real hard work... but I can't get off the gas.

Pit crew - Steve and Ian

I get one or two big flicks that almost turn to tank-slappers. I'm riding that little bike to her limit. Just hold on tight and keep that throttle wound up!

I catch and pass another rider just before Ballacrye. Another two as I get into Ramsay. I struggle to get past them as they are on fast Kawasakis. They gap me over the long uphill drag up the mountain. Then they hold me up in the corners. As we get to we plunge into a white wall of fog. The visibility is about 50 yards. Okay in a car doing 30mph... but on a bike, in a race, on a mountain road... a bit disconcerting.

Running into traffic at the Gooseneck

We approach Brandywell - I know I'm strong around there so set him up for an outside pass on the fast kink before. I'm onto the 6 of the next fast Kawasaki and we get through the fog on the run down the Windy Corner. I tuck into his slipstream. A few times I try to pass on the run down from the mountain, but every time I dart out of his slipstream, it's like I hit a wall and he starts pulling away. With only 73bhp, the wee Suzuki doesn't have enough power.

Union Mills - Stephen Ault on No 48 made up this gap and passed me easily less than half a mile up the road.
We need more power Cap'n!

I eventually get past on the brakes into Signpost. Flat-out down Bray Hill and then the long flat-out section to Ballacraine. On the hill up to Ballahutchin, the Kawasaki easily comes past me. Through the turns he's holding me up. Frustrating!

We get to Glen Helen and I see a marshals waving red flags. We are directed off the track at Swiss Cottage. Race stopped. I have a chance to meet the Kawasaki rider. Stephen Ault - a Newcomer. He was going very well... I learn that his Slick Bass tuned motor is making around 97bhp!

Red flag at Swiss Cottage - time for a photo and a chat

The Travelling Marshals pick us up and we cruise back to the Grandstand in convoy. Race was red-flagged due to deteriorating weather. To be rerun at 14h00 as a two lap race. We get the little bike back on tyre warmers, gassed up, battery topped up and I have enough time to visit the Hailwood Centre for a sandwich. Re-focus.

Re-start and I'm on it. As I hammer down Bray Hill, I see rain flags and droplets splatter on my screen. Easy on the brakes into Quarterbridge. Easy on the gas coming out. Into Braddan. Waved yellow flags. Slow down. Stephen Ault started 20 seconds in front of me - the long scrape-marks on the tar lead to his bike in the fences. I get through okay and get the hammer down. Into Snugborough... fast, flat-out left-hander. The rain is streaming across my screen. Track getting wet... will there be enough grip to be cranked over flat-out?


Let's try. Nerve-wracking. You push as hard as you dare. Feeling for grip, hoping the tyres find it. It's more in the mind than anything else. Your brain screams that the track is wet and there is no grip and you'll land up in the flint wall at 120mph. You have to push through that. Silence the screams. Focus on what you're doing. Feel what the bike and tyres are doing.

Again, I catch the next rider as we get to Ballacraine. An easy pass using corner-speed on the exit - timed perfectly. On the dry sections I am pashing harder and faster than I have before on the little bike. Flat-out where I used to roll... end of Cronk-y-Voddy... Ballacrye. Man, that feels good!

Back on the mountain and there is rain and more fog to feel one's way through. Back down to Douglas and it's raining as we come through the Grandstand for the second and final lap. I think of the section ahead: flat-out Bray Hill... in the wet! I figure if I get though the St Ninian's jump okay, the rest of Bray Hill will be fine.

Bottoming out through Begarrow

I keep the cables stretched through St Ninians and wince as I go through and hit the jump. She lands perfectly so I keep her pinned all the way to Quarterbridge. More rain patches all the way to Ballacraine. On the dry side of the course I am going faster... but still fighting the bars. I am tiring. Top of my back, neck and shoulders are starting to ache. Down Sulby Straight I have a chance to think of the Senior race scheduled for an hour or so later... I'll be knackered. Crap!

There yet more rain and fog over the mountain... but I press on. This is a race. Everyone is pressing on. Got - to - go - faster.

Back down to Glencrutchery Road and I am relieved to pass the chequered flag. I normally don't mind wet racing conditions... but around here it is wet one mile, bone dry the next, then damp patches and then the fog. Not much fun and mega stressful.

I get back to Parc Ferme to hear that the Senior race has been cancelled and this is the end of Manx GP 2013. I am so knackered from holding onto that flighty little Suzuki that I'm relieved. But, that feeling is soon replaced with disappointment. I was so looking forward to getting out on the Aprilia and bettering Wednesday's fastest lap.

Most vans are packed to the rafters... spot the 3 bikes.

Of course, as soon as the decision to cancel the rest of the meeting was announced, the weather cleared up and we had a beautiful afternoon... the sun even shone. If we had started the Supertwins on time, we would have finished before the crap weather and the Senior would have started after the weather (with maybe a 1 hour delay). There was a 'standby' session scheduled for the evening and one for Saturday morning. Apparently these could not be used because there would not have been enough marshals. They go to the trouble to get extra road closure permission, but cannot organise the marshals. They didn't even make a call for more marshals. Silly.

It's a shame... I think decisions are made with the weight and fear of litigation hanging over them. It's like there is a lawyer who knows nothing about motorcycle racing on the Isle of Man sitting over the shoulder or the clerk of the course. Some hasty and poor decisions. So the whole event just kinda fizzled out. Everyone was feeling quite deflated.

We like prizes!

Oh well... my efforts in the Supertwins race were enough to get 19th place out of 66 entrants... and a coveted replica :-) My overall laptimes were rubbish, but some of the dry sector times were fast :-)
So that's it for another year. Gonna get the van and bikes packed now for my ferry early tomorrow morning. We're going home in my van on the ferry... and that's always a good thing!

Only my third Manx GP replica in 7 campaigns :-)
Racing on the Isle is tough

Thursday, 29 August 2013

IOM 2013 - Day 13 - Final Prep

Spent today getting new tyres fitted and doing final prep on the bikes for tomorrows races. Check, check and check everything. Then check again. Also made a few small changes to the bikes. Going about half a tooth shorter gearing on the Suzuki... mainly to get 11mm more wheelbase to try stabilize her a bit. I've been easy on her during practice... tomorrow she'll have to work a little harder. Also added 2mm of pre-load to the Aprilia to try stop the forks bottoming out.

Weather forecast is iffy. I have inters fitted to the Suzuki that I can run in the dry and a set of inters on rims ready for the Aprilia in case we need them.

Need to be up early to load the bikes solo and get them through skrootineering. Man, I'm missing having Nic around to help. In the paddock, Ian and Steve will help out and be in the pits for tomorrow's two stops. Will certainly need the help if I am to change the Aprilia wheels between races.
Time to get some rest... going to be a busy day tomorrow!

Follow the races live

Supertwins: 10h15-12h00 #31 'Suzy V'
Senior: 13h15-15h00 #50 'Betty'

IOM 2103 - Day 12 - Last Practice

On Wednesday morning was the running of the Manx Grand Prix Newcomers races and the Junior. I had prepped the Aprilia the day before and hauled up to skrootineering before the roads closed at 09h30. We were up on Glencrutchery Road for the race start to wish the Newcomers we knew a good race. While that race was underway, we got the Aprilia through skrootineering and ready for 1 lap of afternoon practice.

Well done on Peter Minns and Dominic Herbertson, both finishing their first Manx GP, earning replicas and setting very impressive lap times on their standard machinery. Peter and Dom finished 4th and 6th respectively in the 'Newcomers B' on their Supertwins.

Peter Minns and father Ken

Peter getting off the start line

Warren Vervey got a good 10th in the Newcomers A with blistering lap times. When I saw his name on the start list and it rang a bell. We were at the same Primary School (Bryandale Primary in Johannesburg, South Africa) and in the same year. Turns out that he lives just a few miles from me in Silverstone. More than 30 years later and we meet on the Isle of Man. It's a small, small world!

Dominic Herbertson on Glencrutchery Road minutes before his race - what pre-race nerves?

Dominic gets off the line

Proud Dad Mark after the race

Also a great result from Alex Pickett on his Ducati 848 all the way from Australia. Unfortunaely the standard fuel tank isn't big enough for him to do 2 laps on it so he had stop for fuel on every lap. He came 8th in Newcomers A after setting the fastest qualifying time last week. I don't know what they've been telling the Newcomers, but a bunch of them have been so, so fast this year. This old goat may struggle a bit against them in the Supertwin and Senior races come Friday!

Alex and Chris Pickett from Australia - Chris was on one of the other Ducati 888s in the Formula 1 race on Monday
I headed back to the garage during the parade lap and Junior race to work on the Suzuki. James Cowton had a storming Junior race, until the last mile. He was leading by 26 seconds until he ran out of fuel at Governor's Dip on the last lap. His fastest lap was a mammoth 119mph... close to the lap record. Flattrack's 2012 Thunderbike Champ Neil Martin is spannering for him... the standard fuel tank just isn't big enough for the speed that James is now riding the bike. They're looking at blowing the tank out to get an extra litre or two in for the Senior race on Friday.

Our little corner of green in the paddock

Gabriele Burne was running well and achieved her 2013 goal of a 100mph lap on lap 2 riding her 700cc Suzuki SV. It sounded gorgeous! Unfortunately, Gabs slipped off at Guthries on lap 3 and was airlifted off the mountain to Nobles Hospital. Fortunately, she slid down the road and the only damage was a thump to her knee and some damaged ligaments in her shoulder. Hope you feel better soon! (The lucky girl is considering riding in the Supertwins race on Friday)

Here is another awe-inspiring story from that day's races:
History maker Chris Mitchell is an inspiration to others

The Suzuki exhaust is knackered. Didn't want to risk it blowing to pieces during the race so replaced it with a carbon 'Termignoni' from the old Ducati.
After the Junior race, we headed up to Parc Firme. I had got the Aprilia right near the front of the queue. I guess it was because everyone else was so busy with the Newcomers and Junior race bikes. With heat in the tyres from tyre-warmers, I headed flat-out down Bray Hill for the last lap of Practice.

The lap was going okay and there was very little traffic being at the front of the queue... but for some reason I kept on missing my usual lines. I wasn't making any mistakes... but just landing up in places I wouldn't have normally been on the track. It felt a bit uncomfortable. Half-way through I was telling myself just to relax into it and not try so hard. Peg it back a notch.

The bike ran beautifully and the changes we had made worked out. New gearing was spot-on. She felt stable. Back-end was really loose under hard braking though - afterwards found that I had been bottoming out the forks. Will try fix that for the race.

My lap-time: 110.5mph... from a standing start! A new personal best, bettering my previous best I set on the old Ducati on Monday by 1.5mph. Yeeeeeeeee-ha!

That Pirelli Supercorsa is starting to work now!

Now... we just got to do that 8 times on Friday :-)

IOM 2013 - Day 11 - Rest

Tuesday was a day of rest. Spent the morning getting new tyres fitted and trying to find the source of a worrying clunk sound from the rear wheel/suspension of the Chevy. We couldn't find anything... hope she can get us home on Sunday without trouble.

Started prep on the Suzuki SV650 for Friday's race as we only get 1 lap of practice to Wednesday and decided I needed to get out on the Aprilia for that seeing as I've only done 3 laps on it. It was a chilled-out day.

My Brother and teammate Nic left the island to get back to work. Nic came all the way from South Africa to be part of this year's campaign. He was on the ferry over with me and has been brilliant in helping prep the bikes, spinning spanners, loading the machines, off-loading the machines, spending hours in skrootineering queues, helping with practice change-overs, general support, encouragement, company and someone to bounce ideas off.

He's also a first-class cook and whipped up fantastic meals after a long day with the bikes. One and a half weeks on the Isle with bikes, bikes, bikes.

Thanks Nic - you're an absolute Champion! I couldn't have done it without you Chief!

Nic giving to Duke a toon-up!

Sadly, my partner Alex also had to leave the island to return to work on Tuesday. Although only here for a few days, Alex has been fantastic in her support while here and from afar for the last week of practice and especially for the last few months. Putting up with my long hours in the garage, frustrations, crankiness (only when hungry...) and general selfishness that racing is. Thank you my Sweetheart. I Love you!

My own Brolly-girl!

Alex also had some awesome team-wear made up - tee-shirts and hoodies with luscious embroidery. For years I have wanted to have some team-wear made, but went for a set of new race tyres instead and made some amateur iron-on stuff. This is proper factory! Thank you Sweetie-pie!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

IOM 2013 - Day 10 - Classic TT Formula 1 Race

A late post, but I temporarily lost my camera with the pics... got it back now... :-)

Monday was the first race day of the 2013 Isle of Man campaign. The Classic TT Formula 1 race on my Ducati 851 SP3 (1991) that I have spent every last minute (and penny) building and preparing since getting her as a road bike in late April.

There were 64 entrants in total. The top 24 riders are 'GP' riders - professionals and top TT competitors... some of the best real road racers on the planet. A lot of them getting paid to ride and most riding other peoples' very tricked-up (and expensive) bikes. The other 40, like me, are 'Privateers'.

Half of Sunday was spent going over the bike... and going over it again. Everything triple-checked. A mechanical failure wouldn't only mean not finishing the race, it would probably be seriously detrimental to my health. Got to make sure everything is 100%.

The night before. Check. Whisper. Pat. Think. Check. Caress...
Got the bike through skrootineering by 08h30 and with the Classic 350cc race in the morning it was a case of hurry up and wait. With Alex, Nic and Ian as crew, we got everything prepared and set for the race quickly. This left a lot of time to wait around. The hour delay to the race start didn't help either. I don't think I've felt this nervous before a race since my first ManxGP in 2005. I just tried to relax and focus.

My friend Mark Herbertson in the morning's Classic TT 350cc race on Alan Harmiston's immaculately prepared Matchless. Unfortunately, Mark broke down on the first lap :-(
Five minutes before the race start, we roll the bikes onto Glencrutchery Road. The atmosphere is electric. Bikes being warmed up, last second checks, nervous twitching and all around "Go for it. See you back in the beer tent."s.

Pit crew hurrying up and waiting

We'd warmed the bike up in Parc Ferme 15 minutes earlier to let it get a good heat soak. I had qualified 32nd and was to set-off around 5 minutes after the No 1 rider on the road (some Michael Dunlop fellow). With the sound of higher qualifiers blasting down Glencrutchery Road, we edge forward. Ten riders in front and I hit the start button. Nothing. I can't hear the engine or fuel pump priming with the roar of engines around me, but I know the bike isn't starting. Shit!

I fiddle with the switches... hit 'Start' again... nothing. Again. Nothing. We're now about 8 riders away from our start. If we don't make it, we have to go to the back of the queue. Crap!

Oh fuck! She's not starting...

I shout to Nic "Let's bump it!". He can't hear me, so I use sign language. Despite never having tried to bump-start this bike before, I figure it's worth a try. Push! Run, run, run, jump, drop the clutch... braaaaammmmm. She roars into life! I'm only 4 riders away from starting. Shit! That was cutting it a bit fine.

Phew! A bit unsettling.

I'm still doing last second checks and clothing adjustment and am a little flustered by the time I roll onto the start line. Starter's hand on my shoulder - I stare down Glencrutchery Road. I don't wait for the starter's shoulder tap... I switch my focus to the little Manx flag that the starter uses as a queue. I see it move and we're off.

Almost 20 years since the last Ducati 888 raced on the TT Mountain Course

First, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth gear flat-out before I hit the jump over the traffic lights at St. Ninians. I'm airborne at over 120mph and land. The bars going squirrely in my hands... not a headshake, but front-end twisting about. We made some suspension changes after the last practice hoping to improve the rear-end. We've now solved the rear-end problems, but created a bigger, more concerning problem in the front. I don't mind the rear squirelling around a bit... but having the front do it around here is definitely not what you want.

Shit! I mutter under my breath. It's gonna be like this for 4 laps... gonna have to live with it and get used to it... fast. I hit the bottom of Bray Hil... and the front waggles around again. Bollocks. It's a bit disconcerting and I'm a bit unsettled from the start-line no-start-up. I'm a bit scrappy going through Union Mills. I just keep it pinned, let the bike move about under me, let the course come to me and try relax into it.

My brother Nic has been an absolute champion helping with everything

Every corner I'm trying to eek out those extra few tenths of a second. Trying to go faster through sections than I have been before. Pushing the edge of the (my) envelope. I keep chipping away. I have the rider that started 10 seconds in front of me just a few seconds ahead by the time I get to Ballacraine. I push on, trying to gain a few yards on him in every corner. I chip away at the gap. About 10 miles later I make a clean pass on him coming out of Glentramman towards Conker Trees.

The rest of the lap goes well and by the time I'm flying down Bray Hill for the second time, I have got used to the feeling of the front wallowing around. I just hang on... and keep it pinned. The next lap flies by. My screen and visor covered in flies too. On the run down to Brandish I check my gearing: 9900 rpm - perfect!

Hustling the old girl through the Gosseneck

Down towards Hilberry and I remember that I have to make a pit-stop to refuel and get my visor and screen cleaned. I round Cronk-y-Mona and hope my pit crew have seen to little light above my number on the scoreboard light up. I've caught the next rider as we get to Governor's Dip.

Into the pits. We make a great pit-stop and are all ready to go. The last few litres of fuel gets an airlock and slowly bubbles down. Shit. Ian is topping up. It slowly bubbles down. Ian tops up... the seconds are ticking away. After about what seemed like 15 seconds, I lose my patience and shout: "That's good, let's go!". Fuel-cap back on and she fires up on the button first-time. Phew!

Seconds later and I'm gunning her down Bray Hill for the third time in a hour. I must have passed the other rider during the pit-stop because there is a clear track ahead of me. Nice work pit crew!

I keep her ticking over... doing the same as the last two laps. Getting through corners just a little quicker, arriving at the next one just those few mph faster than I have before. Its all just that little bit faster. Soon, I've got the old girl flat-out down Bray Hill for the last time.

Last lap. I'm thinking that of she has made it this far, she'll go the distance and I wind her up just that little bit more. The last lap is normally the fastest during a race - its the only real flying lap - no standing start or pit-stops.

One of my goals before I got to the Isle of Man this year was to do a 105mph lap on the 22 year old bike. Putting together best sector times from practice, I knew she was capable of this. I was sure I had done or come really close to 105mph in one of the first two laps. But I had to make sure... and the number 107 popped into my mind. I said to the old Ducati "Common girl... just one more... just one more..."

Just that little bit quicker. Hold the throttle open just that little bit longer, get off the brakes just that little bit earlier. Common Paul. Push it. Faster... Faster... Faster.

I was exploring the limits and it felt fast. I got the lines right and was safe... giving myself a lot of margin. Well, at those speeds, the margin for error is still just about nil, but racing motor-bikes is 80% in the head. I was thinking ahead and pushing harder through every corner.

I say that the Ducati didn't miss a beat but downshifting on a corner through Glen Helen, she coughed. My heart jumped and I gave her some soothing words for the next 3 miles... all while wringing her neck!

I hustled her up onto Glencrutchery road for the last time. As in the first lap, catching a slower rider just at Governor's Dip. A second or two lost, but I didn't care... I could push her home from there. I crossed the line in a total time of 1 hour, 25 mins and 26 seconds. We made it!

Racing on the Isle of Man is super-tough on machinery... especially a 22 year old Italian bike. Ducati have a very poor record on the Isle with a finish rate of less than 50%. That's not even counting all the bikes that never made the start line and broke during practice. Going to the Isle of Man to race a Ducati is against the odds. It felt awesome to finish the race. Absolutely awesome!

 Somewhere on the last lap, I lost most my knee sliders!

On the return road to Parc Ferme. She spluttered a lot. I think she's running on fumes and we were a litre or two short of fuel. Lucky! She was an absolute beaut around here. We struggled a bit to get the set-up right... but most competitors with limited budget and no full-time engineers struggle with that around here. Considering this is her first Isle visit and that we kinda started from nowhere... so I'm dead pleased to where we got her in just a few practice sessions. We had a minor oil-weep from the clutch push-rod but other than that she was absolutely perfect.

It sure feels good!
Our average for the race was 105.9 mph. Fastest lap was the last at 109mph. That is the fastest I have ever lapped the TT Mountain Course! We finished 14th overall with only 29 finishers out for 64 entrants. Best part: 3rd in class (Privateer) and earning a TT Silver Replica for our efforts. Finished just 2 places behind TT legend Nick Jeffries on his Honda. Fantastic result!

After the race, we had a practice session.
I took the little Suzuki out and did two 104mph laps on her :-)

Blistered hands... battered body. 6 laps of the TT Mountain Course. Good training for Friday when I do 8 laps!
Thank you to RedMax Steve Hillary for building such a strong, fast engine. Peter at Oronero for those lovely carbon bits... my brother Nic, girlfriend Alex and friend Ian for your support and help through practice and race day... and all others for your encouragement, help and support. It's been epic!

TT Silver Replica

Still got one practice session on Wednesday and then two races on Friday (gulp!) on slightly more modern machinery. Roll on!