Thursday, 4 September 2014

IOM 2014 Day 12 - Race Day: Supertwins

Wednesday morning was bright, sunny and dry. Good conditions for a little bit of racing around the Isle of Man :-) The Junior race is in the morning with us on Suzy V, the carbie Suzuki SV650, in the Supertwins race around lunch-time. There is a senior practice session in the afternoon (1 lap) so we take the Aprilia along just in case I'm up for a lap after the race.

Suzuki all prepped and ready to runble!

My good friend Warren Verwey is in the Junior race. After getting the wee Suzuki through skrootineering and ready for the race, we turn our attention to the finish of the Junior race. Warren has been on fire all practice week with him and I swapping personal bests mall week. He comes home in 10th - a brilliant result on only his second Manx GP. Well done Wazzy!

Warren on it!

I head back down to the van to get ready and get some food down my gullit. We are short of a pit crew member so I ask my friends in the paddock. Mike Minns, fresh from putting in another great performance in the Junior (14th) offers to help out after his shower. Thanks Mike!

Parc Firme has the usual buzz of excitement before a race. I am approached by Manx TT Radio for a live interview. He asks about the weather. I thought that was it, but he knew me by name and that I've always raced VeeTwins around the Isle (the Aprilia is the only VeeTwin in the Senior race). The interview moves to the subject of VeeTwins and he then can't shut me up! I give my point of view on the rules for the Supertwins class and that the Kawasaki ER-6 has become the only competitive machine. The class rules should be opened up to allow other machines to be competitive... like Ducati. 2 minutes of fame!

The weather? Beautiful.

VeeTwins... aaaah, well now... you see... blah, blah, blah...
Thanks Kevan for the pics!

We get the final instructions from Clerk of the Course Phil Taubman over the tannoy. All's set around the course for a good race. We then push the bike up to Glencrutchery Road. Starting at number 21, there is less of a wait from when number 1 blasts off down the road. I prefer that. Hand-shakes, back-slaps, "See you back in Parc Firme" and "Have a good one." all around. Soon the first rider on the road is away and the queue starts moving forward.

I just love this part of racing on the Isle of Man. Up on Glencrutchery Road, your turn to go as fast as you can on the greatest race track in the world just minutes away. The tension, the focus, the excitement, the anticipation, the poignancy. I feel alive.

Steve and the Suzy V on Glencrutchery Road
Thanks Justine for the pic!

As we move forward, I start to block everything going on around me out. It's like someone turns the volume knob down and twists the focus ring on the lens of life. It's as if I'm in a dream, a movie, someone invisible and just observing. Everything goes quieter and into soft focus. Everything slows down.

We get near the penned off area just before the start line where only bikes and riders are allowed. I swing my leg over the wee Suzuki that my crew have already started, warmed up and are blipping the throttle on. Last fist pumps from the crew and I paddle past the crowd of white-bibbed photographers into the penned off area. I am aware of the crowds behind the barriers in my blurry peripheral vision, but all I see is the back wheel of the rider in front of me, all I hear is the burble of the 650 Vee Twin between my legs, all I am thinking of is twisting that throttle to the stops and holding it there as long as I dare. All I am thinking of is speed.

The moment...
Thanks Justine for the pic!

The rider ahead pulls off as fast as he can for his race start - I'm off in 10 seconds, 9, 8... I clunk the gearshift down in to first gear, ease the clutch out and roll the red bike up to the start line. The Starter places his hand on my shoulder. I focus far down Glencrutchery Road and on to the St.Ninians crossroads in the distance. "Flat-out!" I whisper to myself. I switch my vision to the man ten yards away on a small white podium holding a flag at his side and watching a stop-watch. 3, 2, 1... he flicks the flag. I'm easing the clutch out and feeding on the revs as he does this and the Starter simultaneously taps my shoulder...

Braaaaaaap! The tacho quickly sweeps to 10 000rpm... I hook second gear. Braaaaaaaaaaap! Third. Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap! Fourth. Focus on the hedge. Fifth. Sixth. The jump at St. Ninians isn't really a jump on the small bike from a standing start, but it's still pretty quick... 130mph quick. Down Bray Hill and I want another gear. I feel for one... but the bike just revs and the gear lever hits a dead-end. This is as much as she has... I hold her flat out all the way down the hill and up the other side until the trees close in - flat out through the right kink. I roll the throttle as I approach the hump in the road and left kink at the Alexander drive junction, then gas it up as I hit the hump. I normally go down one gear for that - today I take it in 6th.

Hard on the brakes, down a steep hill with a full tank and tyres not up to temp. Quarterbridge has been the end of many riders races. The wee Suzuki stops quickly, but not quick enough for the extra speed I'm carrying today. I run deep. Fortunately, Quarterbridge is very wide and I manage to turn the little bike through the middle and get on the gas as soon as I can.

A a number sections I can now do flat out on the little bike that I couldn't do flat-out in previous years... Ballagarey, DJ's, Gorse Lea, end of Cronk-y-Voddy straight, Alpine Cottage... and more. I keep that little bike flat-out as long as I dare. I catch the rider ahead before we get to Ballacraine. Just after Ballacraine, my tacho dies. Shit. No rpm, no temp... we're gonna have to fly by night. Just keep her lit.

Down Cronk-y-Voddy straight and Jamie Hodson, rider #22 powers past me. Bugger. The 12 year old, carburettor fed little Suzuki is outgunned by just about all the bikes in the Supertwins class. Her 77 horse-power against the 85 to 95 of the other bikes is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Time to be street-wise. I tuck into Jamie's slipstream and hang on.

Jamie holds me up a bit through a lot of the twisty sections, especially 11th Milestone all the way to Kirkmichael - a section I love. I can't make a pass... the wee Suzuki just doesn't have enough oomph to make a pass stick. This continues as we pass a few other riders all the way to Sulby Straight. I hang onto Jamie in his slipstream down the long straight. I'm giving the little Suzuki all she's got. Twice I pull within a foot of his back wheel and pop out of his slipstream. I gain a wheel on him and then start falling back rapidly. I tuck back behind him and wait.

I set-up a pass on the brakes at the end of the long Sulby straight. He knows this is coming and brakes later than usual. The little Suzuki may be one of the slowest bikes out there... but with an Aprilia Ohlins/Brembo front-end and at only 150kg, she is one of the best stoppers. I get level with Jamie at the tip-in point, am on the inside and nip ahead of him. I go like a scalded cat, trying to gap Jamie before the next straight.

I manage to stay ahead, but up the Mountain Mile I hear the drone of his Kawasaki pull beside me and drive past. I tuck in behind again. I know I'm strong over the mountain and just wait for my opportunity. It comes at the next set of corners. Later off the throttle and onto the brakes into Mountain Box and I'm past again. I know I can gap him over the mountain and back to Douglas. I get me head down and crack on.

First lap is 106.8mph from a standing start. I press on. Bray Hill flat-out and the little bike is going well. Jamie powers past me again down Sulby Straight on lap 2, there is traffic and I can't get past at the end of the straight. It's only as we approach Ramsey that I can push past the other rider, Jamie is in the distance. Frustrating. I reel him in over the mountain and am on his six by the time we're blasting down Glencrutchery Road again.

I was so focused on getting tucked in behind Jamie for the roller-coaster of Bray Hill, that it was only when he popped up and braked for his pit-stop that I remembered that I had to do the same and have a pit-stop. It took a second for me to realize this... I stayed on the racing line to avoid rear-ending him and hit the brakes hard... harder! Jamie and another rider just ahead of him were on my left at the entrance to pit-lane, track to my right. I didn't want to swerve in and risk hitting them. I tried to get past on the brakes. Rear wheel in the air. Oh shit! This isn't working.

Too fast! Two bikes on my left, live track on my right, pit-wall straight ahead. I knew that if I overshot pit-entrance and paddled backwards on the live track I'd probably be disqualified. I tried to steer the bike into pit-lane, but with the brakes at maximum and the rear wheel skipping across the tar, that wasn't happening. I pushed my weight as far back as I could in a half-endo. The foam-pad wrapped pole at the entrance to pit-lane was approaching very fast. I gritted my teeth and braced for impact.

Clunk! The rear wheel hits the road and the bike stalls just as the front fairing of the little Suzuki kisses the foam. Just a kiss. Fuck! That was close. I quickly find neutral and paddle the bike backwards, fire her up and cruise into the melee of pit-lane. My little pit-wall adventure was all over the live commentary - they saw the imminent crash, lost sight of me behind the foam padding, ten seconds later I'm cruising down pit-lane. They were confused and I was pissed-off that I'd lost time. My crew were wondering why it took me so long to get to them. They had no idea what had just happened.

Cruising to my pit-box... as if nothing happened ;-)
Thanks Justine for the pic.

A good pit-stop with Mike Minns manning the fuel-cap and visor/screen clean, Kevan on the refueling and Steve with the paddock stands and drink. I'm a bit angry with myself for cocking-up the second pit-stop in a row. I channel this into riding that little bike hard. As hard as I could.

Pit-stop. Steve checking the status of an oil leak. "Fine mist. You're good."
Thanks Justine for the pic.

For the next two laps, I ride that little bike as hard as I have ever ridden. With no tacho I was just revving her by ear and kissing the 10 500rpm rev limiter. She was working so hard, I expected her to blow up at any second. I kept pushing. I knew I'd lost loads of time to Jamie Hodson and catching him again on the road spurred me on.

Great pit-stop from the crew!
Thanks Justine for the pic.

I flew through the Grandstand and onto the last lap. "C'mon girl... just one more lap". I said to the Suzy V as I stroked her tank and revved her for all she was worth. Half-way through the last lap and I caught Jamie again. I got past him on the brakes into Ramsey Hairpin. I wrung the wee Suzuki's neck to try gap him before the Mountain Mile, I pushed as hard as I dared in every corner. Faster than I'd ever been before.

Mike Minns making sure I get going. Thanks for your help Dood!
Thanks Justine for the pic.

I knew if I could hold him off up the Mountain Mile, I would have a clear run home. I must have pulled enough of a gap before that long, flat-out section becasue I didn't see Jamie alongside me again. I pinned my ears back. Up, up, up... over Hailwood's Rise. Downhill to the finish... the under-powered Suzuki could roll home now. But the race wasn't over, I knew Jamie was only a few seconds behind and I kept her lit.

I went so fast through the 33rd (a very fast, sweeping double left-hander) that the wee bikes rear 160 Supercorsa started sliding. Go fast, turn left. Almost like Dirttracking... but with head down, feet on the pegs and at 120mph! Onnit! Oh man, that felt sooooo good! A huge grin on my face.

Thanks Justine for the pic.

I keep it steady for the remaining miles to make sure we see that checkered flag. For those 4 laps and 150 miles of racing, I rode the wheels off that little bike. Under-powered and outgunned, she was an absolute champ to put up with that cable-stretching hammering I gave her. She didn't miss a beat and just kept on going and going and going.

Thanks Justine for the pic.

Back in Parc Firme and Warren is disappointed to miss the podium by only 5 seconds. A fantastic ride - Warren's second race of the day and only second year on the Isle. A brilliant result! I congratulate and console him at the same time.

We finish 9th in the Supertwins race. The first Suzuki home and a fastest lap of 108.8mph. I am thrilled. After so many years of trying, I finally prove to myself that I can ride around the Isle. I feel that I have pushed to the limits of the machinery. I couldn't have ridden that wee bike any harder - I gave it all I had... and it paid off. Another personal best and another Replica for the shelf.

Two top-ten Supertwins finishers - who would have thought?
Thanks Justine for the pic.

Big thanks to Kevan Flanagan for all the help over the fortnight and slick refuelling, Mike Minns for crewing, Steve Mann at MTS Classics for crewing and helping me with all those little jobs, fabrication and bike prep, Gary Smith at SDC Performance for getting the most out of that little bike. Mike Dickenson for setup help and advice, Warren Verwey for the friendship and motivation, Justine Verwey for the pics and all those who helped and supported. And, of course, to my beautiful wife Alex for all your love and support. I couldn't have done it without you!

She worked hard. Job done!


  1. Man ! Great Job!
    Super read, just as if you're with you on the bike....

    Jealous is an understatement... :-)