Saturday, 30 August 2014

IOM 2014 Day 9 - Prep and R&R

Friday is the last day of qualifying and those last laps on the Ducati and Suzuki were good enough for me to qualify 22nd in the Formula 1 class on the Ducati (8th fastest Privateer), 11th in the Supertwins class on the Suzuki and 25th in the Senior class on the Aprilia. Well pleased with that and the personal bests we've been getting on almost every session.

A great photo of the wee Suzuki coming out of the Cregg-ny-Baa that appeared on the Manx TT Radio Website - Fame!

Sunday morning was spent prepping the Ducati for the Formula 1 Classic TT race that was scheduled for Monday. Check everything. Then... check it again. It seems like the soap has fixed our fuel leak... 3 laps of practice and not a drop leaked... should be good for a 4 lap race. With new tyres on and everything triple checked, by 14h00 she was good to go.

Oil sample taken and sent out for analysis - fresh oil for the race :-)

After solving the pain in the ass of the Chevy battery running flat because of of faulty interior light switch/loose wire, I could finally spend some time with my beautiful wife Alex who flew out on Friday night for the weekend and to help in the pits for Monday's race.

Ducati all prepped and ready for the Formula 1 race

The main opposition for the race - Bruce Anstey riding the Padgett's 500cc Yamaha Grand Prix bike.
120kg and huuuge power - proper GP stuff! Could be a bit frightening around the IOM. Kudos to Anstey for riding it!

Beautiful beaches south of the Isle

At the Calf of Mann

IOM 2014 Day 8 - Final Practice

Although we weren't racing, Saturday was the first day of racing at the Festival of Motorcycling - the 500cc Classic race. Before the race we had a short practice session for the Ducati and after the race a longer session where we could have a run out on the Aprilia and test the new fork springs. It was an early start with the road closing at 09h30 so we were up till after midnight prepping the bikes.

Burning the midnight oil...

We get the Duke through skrootineering and into it's tyre warmers up on Parc Firme. Pretty soon and we're blasting our way down Bray Hill. There was rain earlier in the morning and the course was damp most of the way around. I took it easy and tested the changes we'd made - they were good. I was quite please with a standing start lap of 106mph in those conditions.

A few carbon repairs needed

After the practice session, the 500cc Classic race was run. Unfortunately my friend Mark Herbertson got a DNF in lap 1 after engine troubles during practice week.

We get the Aprilia through skrootineering during the race and are out for a few laps afterwards to test the new springs. The harder springs will help the bike bottoming out and diving on the brakes, in turn helping to keep the rear wheel on the deck under heavy braking. It also allows us to dial in 5mm more sag on the front. The bike feels better - still good over the bumps, but much better on the brakes. It also seems to wheelie a lot more over the bumps and at gear-changes.

Ex-Gibenau Desmosedici on display

I can't remember my laptimes on the Aprilia, but they were good. There were a number of incidents during the session and that evening and we were saddened to learn that night that Tim Moorhead had lost his life on the Mountain in one of the incidents. Sincerest condolences to Tim's family and friends.

Tim Moorhead was a Newcomer in 2012

After the practice session, there was a parade lap with the who's-who of TT racing on historic TT bikes to commemorate Joey Dunlop's TT career. Kevan managed to blag his way onto Glencrutchery Road and got selfies with just about all the celebrities. I've spent the last few years doing the Manx Grand Prix and Classic TT in the company of these famous riders, when I saw all Kevan's selfies, I realized I don't have any pics with these legends. I made a mental note to get at least one in the next few days.

Steve and Mandy with TT legend John McGuinness

We've worked hard and improved the bikes every practice session and set personal bests in almost every session we went out in. I was happy with the bikes and ready to take them out to race. With only two short practice session remaining during race days, and me happy with the bikes, it was more than likely that I won't be doing any more practice laps. We'd put in the effort and reaped the rewards. All that was left was to race prep the bikes and go racing.

 Some of Kevan's selfies from Glencrutchery Road...

...more who's-who

Steve Plater on Hizzy's bike

Steve Plater and Mick Grant

Thursday, 28 August 2014

IOM 2014 Day 7 - Faster, Faster!

With only 2 practice sessions remaining and only 2 laps done on the Ducati 888, it was critical we fix the fuel tank and get out for Friday's practice. So we were up early and stripped the fuel tank again and tested it again. That's when we found the leak. The boss on the bottom of the tank where the fuel pump wires come out was cracked. It was finer than a hair.

This twilight shot looks like it was taken at Cornk-y-Mona

First prize would be to get it welded properly. We went for it. A message on Facebook quickly brought us a few alluminium welders in the Douglas area. By 08h30 we were phoning around. One guy was recommended down on Peel Road and he could do it for us. We got the tank to him before 10h00. He had a look and said "No problem." The crack was in a tight corner so it needed to be cleaned up a bit - this would take an hour or two and he had another job on the go for the dairy. I suggested that I clean it up and bring it back in an hour. He said that would be great and that it would only take 15 to 20 minutes to weld.

Back at the garage, I got stuck in with my Dremel. I cleaned it up real good to make sure the guy had a good starting point for a proper weld. We drop the tank back off with the guy by 11h30 and return to the garage to prep the Suzuki. He'll call when done.

I impressed myself with the neat job.

By 13h30 I haven't heard anything. I start to worry and give the guy a call. He couldn't talk and would call me back in 5 mins. 10mins, 20 mins... no call. I call twice. The phone just gets hung up. So I drive down to the guys workshop. When I arrive, the tank is lying upside down on a bare metal workbench. Its still warm, the weld doesn't look great and when I turn it over, it is full of scratches and scrapes. The idiot that welded it just dumped it on a steel workbench and dragged it around upside down. I was pretty pissed off and explained to him in the nicest possible way that metal actually scratches paint and that he's a fucking idiot. They should stick to welding bits for udder pumps. Muppets!

And here's the job by the 'professional' welder....

To top that off... when we test the tank, it leaks even worse than before. The fuel just pisses out now. Great!

Thanks for fucking up my tank mate!

We swiftly try plan 'B'. Soap. I find some soap which just happens to be the perfect constituency and work it into and around the weld. The fuel leak stops! We re-assemble the tank, load the bikes and head up to the paddock where we are very late for skrootineering.

We are seeded in both practice sessions so luckily on this day, being late isn't too much of an issue. We get the Suzuki through skrootineering and I'm hooning down Glencrutchery Road on it while Kevan gets the Ducati through.

Ducati 888 - held together by Clinique!

The changes we made to the Suzuki are working and she is easier to ride. Easier to go fast on. I get Ballagary, the right-hander after the Hawthorn pub, end of Cronk-y-Voddy straight and Ballacrye bend absolutely flat-out in 6th. Something I couldn't do before. It feels great! What a rush! And what a difference it makes to my laptime - 107mph average on my second lap. 3mph faster than my previous best that I have been trying to better for the last 4 years!

Our hard-working trolley suffered a blow-out...

The two laps are over too soon and I'm back in Parc Firme feeling under the Duke's tank for a fuel leak with her brimmed tank. It's dry. Sweet! I swing my leg over her and open her up down Glencrutchery Road.

We have out best yet run out on the Suzuki...

I hit 10000 rpm in every gear... she flies. Between 8000 and 10000 she is soooo sweet. She just keeps on pulling. I'm loving it! We'd made some changes on the old girl too and she was feeling better. None of the big wobbles I was feeling on Monday through fast, bumpy, cranked-over sections. More stable but harder to turn in - I was working the bars hard. Something to improve for Monday's race.

... and on the old Duke

I missed a lot of apexes and ran wider than I'd like on a lot of fast turns. Everything felt just that little bit faster but just a little bit more in control. I land up doing my personal best on that bike on the second flying lap - just short of 110mph. Yeeeeeha!

IOM 2014 Day 6 - When in Doubt - Don't

Thursday morning we tackled the Ducati fuel leak again. We were getting pretty good at stripping the fuel tank out by then. We also looked into solving another problem we had - the Aprilia forks bottoming out and causing the rear to lift and sway all over the place under heavy braking.

Over the mountain in the morning things didn't look too promising

Dave Hagon of Evomoto in Ramsay is a K-Tech/Ohlins dealer and also super helpful. We were in luck, he happened to have a set of 10Nm K-Tech springs on the shelf. I loaded the Aprilia and headed across the mountain for Dave to fit the new springs.

With the fork-tops off, we found out that my forks are pretty old and have longer springs than the later, more common ones. But Dave is a top bloke and quickly machined up a custom set of spacers so we could fit the shorter new springs. My fork oil was also hanging - this is only after about 15 laps of the TT Mountain Course. I didn't want to change too much and didn't have time for a fork service, so Dave just topped up the oil by 5mm.

I got back to the garage and we prepped the Aprilia and Suzuki because there was no Formula 1 practice for the Ducati on Thursday evening, besides... we had a fuel leak that I wasn't happy with. Just before we load the bikes and head to the paddock, the heavens opened up. Great! I was really looking forward to testing the new springs and some other changes we had made to the Suzuki.

Norton Rotary ready for pratice

We waited the rainstorm out then loaded and got the bikes up the paddock and skrootineering. The roads dry pretty quickly on the Isle of Man, but with the heavy rainstorm and cool temperatures it would stay damp under the trees that cover much of the course. With 3 good practice days already behind us, the practice session was declared untimed and most riders elected not to go out.

We got both bike through skrootineering and ready to go. I was uncertain. The forecast for Friday and Saturday were good. Would I learn anything on the damp track? Would I be able to push hard enough and brake hard enough to test if the new springs were a step in the right direction? I had my doubts. I remembered something I'd say to myself in my helmet during first few years here while learning the course: "If in doubt - Don't". I elected to not go out.

More camera artistry from Kevan

We went up to pit-lane to retrieve the bike as the bikes were being warmed up for evening practice. The ground shakes with the sound of 50 classic bikes and Supertwins warming up. The tension, nervousness and excitement is real and felt so strongly in pit-lane and Parc-Firme just before the bikes go out. The smell, the sounds. Fantastic!

Mark Herbertson getting ready for a ride around

Because there were so few riders out there, Kevan had managed to get the little Suzuki positioned behind Bruce Anstey, Nick Jefferies and Lee Johnson... and in front of Michael and William Dunlop. "Damn!" I thought... "I might have learned something tonight". It was then that I had a strong urge to get my leathers on and not be a spectator. It was tough, but quelled that emotion and knew I had to stick with my gut feeling and decision not to go out.

Bruce Anstey with the MacIntosh Norton

Michael Dunlop

Nick Jefferies

William Dunlop

Michael Rutter

Most riders that went out only did 1 lap, the few that needed qualifying laps did 2. Reports back were that the conditions were poor all around the circuit. In the end I am glad I was a spectator :-) We loaded the bikes up, dropped them at the garage and headed to Jacks on the Promenade for a steak with Warren and his crew. After a good meal and some track banter, we tried something else to fix the Duke tank back at the garage. At 23h30 it we were knackered, my eyes sandy and the tank was still leaking... now worse than before...

Dinner at Jacks

Stripping the tank is like doing open-heart surgery

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

IOM 2014 - Day 5 - Faster!

On Wednesday, we're up early to tackle the Duke's fuel leak. We try a few more things in the ally tank, but by 14h30, the leak is worse. Bad enough for me to not take the old girl out. Disappointing as we intended to get her out and get laps in on her before the other two bikes because her race is sooner (on Monday).

Getting the Aprilia through the top of Baregarrow

I cast my eye across the garage and onto the Aprilia. I think out loud "What does the Aprilia need for a practice session?". Kev and I quickly go through a list and get cracking on prepping her for a run around the TT Mountain Course. We had already prepped the Suzuki earlier in the day. We get them loaded later than we'd like and and up to the paddock for skrootineering.

Working on the Duke

One of the things we tried for the Duke fuel tank... new 'o' rings

More long waits in queues and very little sensible organization in pit-lane where we start for the first session.
They have changed the seeding for this year with two seeded groups. Bikes numbers 1 to 15 in group 1, and 16 to 40 in group two. This is good because being #21 in Supertwin (Suzuki) and #32 in Formula 1 (Ducati), I go out in the second group. I just missed being seeded on the Senior bike (Aprilia)  with #42.
Going out in a seeded group means you have a better chance of faster lap times with less traffic (people around you are running simmilar speeds) and no newcomers to get past. One of the most dangerous things for me on the course is getting past a Newcommer on a fast bike. They don't really know where they are going, the lines, the braking etc. and they wander on the course. This unpredicatbility makes them very difficult to get past... especially when they are being clever and blast past you in the straights. Dangerous.

Stafford Evans' immaculate Ducati 888. A beaut!

As a result of us getting up to the queues later than anticipated (trying to fix the Duke), it's a bit of a rush.We get showed to a place so far back in the non-seeded queue, we can't even reach a power point for teh tyre warmers. 10 minutes after we're parked up, the pit-lane 'organizers' start queueing bike 30 yards ahead of us. I'm not happy with this so we move the Aprilia forward to this new queue. We get some stick for this and there is tension in pit-lane but my days of being shoved to the back are over. The pitlane organization is very poor. Disappointing.

Pit-lane organization... poor.

The session start on time in glorious conditions. Because I'm in the non-seeded queue, it's a bit of a scrum to get down Glencrutchery Road and once on the course, there is a lot of traffic. I get past the slower riders safely but firmly. No prisoners are taken.

Just after Doran's, there is a rock embankment on the left of a tricky right-hander that tighten's up on you. One should miss the first apex, head for the rocks that are painted white and turn right very late to get the second apex and not run too wide for the next left-hander. A rider  got this wrong. Waved yellow flags, I slow right down and pick through the soil and debris on the track. Green flags at the next section and we're on our way again.

Wearing in a new set of sliders...

The big Aprilia is feeling good but still bottoming out under heavy braking despite the tweaks we made. The rear wheel is off the ground and swaying about far too much for my liking. Stiffer front springs are our next option.

More traffic on my next lap but I'm getting through it well and am smooth and flowing. The marshals are still clearing up the incident after Doran's so it's not a clear lap. Despite this, I my personal best ever lap of the TT Mountain Course: 112mph. Awesome!

Coming in on the Aprilia...

Going out on the Suzuki 10 minutes later

Kevan gets the Suzuki through skrootineering, on the warmers and warmed up by the time I get back to Parc Firme. I head off for a few laps on the wee bike. The difference in acceleration between the big Aprilia and the little Suzuki always make the Suzuki feel like there is something wrong with it. Within a mile or two I'm used to it and wring the wee bikes neck... everywhere. It's good fun... the changes we've made to the bike enable me to get some sections absolutely flat-out where I had to roll before. It's an awesome feeling when you get section right around here.

John McGuinness was having a bad day on his Classic 500 with reliability issues

On the second lap, there is a fair bit of traffic because we're out with the classic bikes. It's safe and far easier to pass the classics, they don;t have as much power and with experienced riders on-board, their lines are predictable and they know where they are going. We get a good second lap in. On both laps I set a new personal best for the little bike: 106 and 107mph. Well pleased with that!

Fast lap war-stories with Warren Verwey after setting personal bests

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

IOM 2014 - Day 4 - All Qualified

Been absolutely flat-out with the bike for the last week so a bit behind in the posts. Yesterday was out first scheduled race, but it has been postponed till this afternoon because of poor weather - give us a chance to catch up a bit... roll-back to Tuesday last week...

Parc Firme and Glencrutchery Road

With my first laps under my belt on Monday and both the Aprilia and Suzuki prepped and ready to go, Tuesday wasn't too busy. Kevan and I had a look at the Ducati and started prepping it for the next session.
Because we had time, we decided to fix the minor fuel weep at the back of the tank where the fuel pump wires go in and the reserve warning float is. We stripped the tank out and tried a few things. We only made it worse. A job for tomorrow as we got the Aprilia and Suzuki up to the Paddock and scrootineering.

Kevan on the wee Suzuki

Massive queues again and a long wait. We got the Suzuki through and Kevan just got the Aprilia through by the time I was up in pit-lane and just about to head out for a few laps on Suzy V - the wee Suzuki.

Conditions were dry and sunny... but a bit cold and still quite windy. Not as bad as Monday night though. I head off down Glencrutchery Road and take it easy - I let the course come to me. By the time I'm up at Ballacraine I'm more comfortable and getting into it.

The 3 or so more bhp that Gary Smith found in the carbie are definitely there on the track. I'm doing 9800rpm down past the Highander. Sweet! Time for longer gearing :-) But the little bike is hard work. She' s flicking her head a bit and is a bit of a handful. I'm knackered by the time I get back from 2 laps. We need to make changes.

I take 10 minutes rest, have a drink and a banana and hop on big Betty. The first time I wind the Aprilia's throttle to the stop and hit 10 000rpm in every gear is always a bit of a shock to the system. I get forced backwards in the seat and hang onto the bars for dear life. Bray Hill seems so much faster on the big Vee Twin.

The Aprilia is a big bike and takes some muscling around. I feel like she's not turning in as well as I'd like and pushing the bars to steer through quarry bends and other fast corners is like having a gym work out.  But on the whole, she feels good... just where we were in the last practice before last year's cancelled race.

Home safely

On the second lap, I start running through some sections a little quicker than the lap before, get on the gas earlier and generally pick up the pace. She feels good, but is still bottoming out in the forks heavily and is very unstable under heavy braking, with the rear wheel in the air and swinging all over the place. Something to improve.

A good night's work with 4 laps under our belt - 2 on each bike now and we're all qualified. On the Suzuki I did 103 and 105mph - my fastest ever on the wee bike. On the Aprilia I did 107 and 110mph, just a few seconds off my personal best! :-)

Later that night we learned that Stephen McIlvenna lost his life on the Mountain Mile that evening. Stephen was a Newcomer the same year I was and went on to win the MGP Junior race in 2009. Very fast and experienced - he will be missed. Condolences to Stephen's friends and family.

Stephen McIlvenna - RIP