Wednesday, 10 September 2014

IOM 2014 Day 14 - Senior Race

Early morning Friday and the rain was being driven horizontal by the fierce wind. Not quite ideal racing conditions on the Isle of Man. Or anywhere. Once the rain stopped, the strong winds persisted... good for drying the track... bad for racing motorbikes in. We load up and head up to the Paddock where an hour delay to the start is announced to allow the track to dry more.

The Aprilia up through skrootineering, fuel topped up, tyre warmers gently getting 80 degrees into the tyres and rims and we're all set. It's sunny and the track has dried out nicely by the time the 45 minute horn sounds. But it's quite chilly and very windy.

Pretty soon I've got my gear on and am heading up to Parc Firme for the start of the Senior race - the blue riband event of the 2014 Festival of Motorcycling. When walking up for practice or a race, I pull my cap low over my eyes and stare at the ground 6 feet ahead of me and focus on the job ahead. If I look up and around, I'll see someone I know and they or I will start a conversation. I just get my head down and focus.

Thanks Justine for the pic

Up in Parc Firme, we get an update on the course conditions from the Clerk of the Course. Damp under the trees and very windy - take care. Then we're up on Glencrutchery Road. Bike warmed up, tyres toasty, fuel brimmed - we're good to go racing for four laps of the Isle of Man. The tension and excitement mounts as the first bikes on the road scream away from the start line - the race starts.

We edge forward in the queue. Helmet on, check visor, gloves on, stretch, stay loose and relaxed... focused. Hand-shakes, fist-pumps and shoulder-slaps. Hop on the bike and tip-toe it through the sea of photographers. Then we're alone in penned off start area. Just me an the bike. Focus. Think... speed. Speed!

Thanks Kevan for the pic

My friend, Warren Verwey is starting at number 40, just 20 seconds ahead of me on the road. He blasts off down the track. I close and lock my visor. Next up, is my mate Tim Devlin on his old steelie 600. I hook first gear and ease out the clutch, I roll forward toward the start line. "Clunk!". The bike stalls. Crap. I hit the start button. Nothing. Shit. I switch the key on and off to reset everything, hit the start button again. Nothing. Fuck! The Starter walks back a few paces to me, places his hand on my shoulder and taps it. Shit! The clock is ticking... time to go!

Warren Verwey on Glencrutchery Road

I then remember that the bike has to be in neutral to start - bloody road bikes! I look for neutral with my left foot. Click. Click. Click. Click. Up, down, up, down. 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd. Click. The green neutral light on my dash lights up. I hit the starter button again. "Chigga-chigga-vroooom!". I stamp down into 1st and make my start of the Senior Manx Grand Prix 2014 from 5 yards behind the start line and 5 seconds after the clock started ticking. I'm annoyed with myself and red line the aging machine in every gear all the way down to St. Ninians Crossroads.

Ahem... the start line is here... would you please start your motorcycle.

C'mon Son... it's time to go...

Peel left, hit the jump, muscle the bike toward the apex on the right. That was easy. Now left. The bike doesn't go left as quickly as it should and as I go over the crest I catch a massive headwind. It's like someone put the brakes on! Whooooah! Left... left... left... I have to roll the throttle to get back on line for the right kink through the bottom of Bray Hill. Bloody-hell! I've never felt wind like that!

Huraaaaah! We get rolling 5 seconds too late...

Throttle to the stops in annoyance.
Thanks Justine for the pics.

The headwind lifts the front of the bike up more than usual over Ago's One and Two. But I'm ready for it on the rear brake. Into the tunnel of trees, over the jump and hard on the brakes down to The Quarterbirdge. Through safely and flat-out. Faster. Faster! I get settled in quickly, but the wind is strong and I'm getting blown off line unexpectedly. Take it easy. Ride to the conditions. I keep a bigger gap to the kerbs than I normally do. By the time I reach The Appledean, I have Tim a few seconds ahead and I'm reeling him in. He's good on the brakes and just a little too far ahead for me to get him at Ballacraine. Up through Black Dub. Tip in to the blind left-hander and 'Whoah!'. I have to tuck my shoulder in to avoid contact. That wall was close!  Bloody wind.

I use the torque of the big Aprilia to drive past Tim coming out of Laurel Bank. Down Cronk-y-Voddy straight and I'm carrying 500 rpm more than usual - tailwind. Knowing I'm carrying a few mph more than usual, I take care through the super-fast right kink at the end and over the bumps. It's hard work having to constantly correct your braking, turn-in and lines because of the wind.

The jump through St Ninians - about 155mph on a flying lap

By the time I get to Sulby Straight for the first time and through the kink, I can see another rider in the distance, just disappearing through Sulby Bridge. I chip away at the gap up through Ramsey and onto the Mountain section. Over the Mountain I'm gaining seconds. By the time we're heading down through Brandish, I'm only a few seconds off and I see that it's Warren. Warren posted a personal best of 115 mph during practice in only his second year at the Manx (awesome Dood!). Starting 20 seconds ahead of me and with my start line shenanigans, I thought I wouldn't see him in the race.

I keep closing the gap through the Grandstand and the super fast section all the way to Ballacraine. I nip up his inside as he takes a wider line at the Glen Helen Hotel. I then get a false neutral up though the next uphill right-hander - Sarah's Cottage. I lose so much speed, expected him to come back past me as I stamp down 2 gears through the gearbox. He doesn't, but I know he's breathing down my neck and I pin my ears back. He can't get past down Cronk-y-Voddy but I can hear him right behind me. I know he's not going to be happy that I caught him on the road and is going to try get back at me. That's when I started to feel the arm-pump.

Warren and I dicing on the greatest race track in the world

I have never suffered arm-pump before. My lack of bike-time and the tough race conditions were taking it's toll on my body. My forearms were burning. My hands couldn't grip as before. I couldn't squeeze the brakes as hard as I'd like. I started to struggle the push the bars hard to counter-steer.

Warren makes his move down Sulby Straight. On the power, he drives past. I want to wave as he goes past, but it's too bumpy, too risky. I take it all in and savor the moment - racing on the best race circuit on the world with my friend. Money can't buy it!

Warren and his crew - Mike Dickenson, his Dad Andre and Curtis before the race

I tuck in close behind in his slipstream. I'm feathering the throttle through the kink to avoid rear-ending him. With my arm-pump, I'm struggling to brake properly, so I'm early on the brakes and he starts to get away. Up through Ginger Hall and the bumpy sections all the way to Ramsey and he gaps me by two seconds or so. I'm struggling to hold on. I know I can get him back on the mountain though, it's smooth up there - I don't have to work so hard with holding on and there is not too much heavy braking. I bide my time.

Sure enough, I catch Warren through the uber-fast three right kinks at the end of the Mountain Mile. I am flat out through them and behind his back wheel by the time we tip in at Mountain Box. He holds me up a bit through the next few sections before I push past on his inside at the Bungalow. Up Hailwood's Rise and and I pass Justin Collins too. The big torque of the Aprilia was helping me a bit on the mountain with so much wind. I was punching out of the turns quicker and making up time on acceleration.

Signpost Corner

By the time I'm cruising down pit-lane (at about 40km/h ;-/ ) and looking for my pit-box, I'm about 6 seconds ahead of Warren. I find my box, pull up next to my crew, fumble a bit with the key, but get the gas cap open. Kevan is sloshing in more fuel. Visor and screen clean and a drink from Steve. "You're fuckin' flying Paul. You're fuckin' flying!" Steve gives me encouragement as I try and stretch and relax my forearms. "You're 10th!". Holy crap! I think. 10th in the the Senior... keep going... just keep going.

Fuel tank full, Gas cap closed, key in and turned,off the stand, hit the start button. Nothing. Huh? I rock the bike forwards, I feel that she's still in gear. As on the start line, she won't start unless she's in neutral. Fuckin' road bikes! Just then, Warren pulls out from the pit box behind me. 'Bugger - gonna have to catch him again...' I'm thinking as I do the 1st to 2nd gear and back again gear-lever twiddle. Bloody hell! I'm struggling to get her into neutral. Trying the most sensitive touch. Click, click, click... the green light on my dash fails to go on. I hear the a guy in the next pit box shout across to me "You need to find neutral." Yeah, no shit. I'm working on it pal...

Click, click, click... tick, tick, tick... the seconds go by. Using the lightest touch possible, I feel 1st disengage, and there is no click up to 2nd gear. The green light is blazing. "Yeah! You bitch!" I hit the starter button so hard, it twists around the handle-bar. I keep pushing and she fires into life. Careful not to stall, I pull off and cruise down pit-lane. Another 10 seconds lost. Shit! Bollocks!

Wtf is neutral? Tick, tick, tick.... third pit-lane f-up in the week. What a muppet!
Thanks Justine for the pic.

I chase after Warren on an empty track. By the time I'm braking heavily for Quarterbridge, my forearms, especially my right, are killing me. I know I've lost loads of time on this lap. The last lap of a 4 lap race is the only proper flying lap. I wanted a personal best. I decided to sacrifice the third lap and a few race positions to go for that personal best on the last lap. Personal Best times are more important to me than race positions around the Isle of Man.

On the road alone again

Braking early and not as hard on the big braking areas, using my legs against the tank of the bike instead of countersteering and rolling the throttle on with my fingers (like a monkey would do), I was trying to rest my forearms as much as possible. I knew I was losing time, but if I could save enough strength for a blistering last lap, it would be worth it. I had to consolidate. The wind was still strong and I still had to fight through a lot of fast corners. That was a looooooong lap.

By the end of the lap, the pain had eased in my forearms. I tested the countersteering and heavy braking through Cronk-y-Mona and into Signpost. Aaaaaah, that's better. Down through the blind Bedstead (love that corner) and the Nook (hate that corner) and I was g'ing myself up to pull the pin on the last lap. Around Governor's Dip and then hard on the gas for the quickest lap I've ever done.

Small jump going through Union Mills - #36 started 50 seconds ahead of me on the road

"Braaaaaap!", "Braaaaaaaaaaaap!", "Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap!". As I approach the Grandstand, I see some red movement. I approach at around 140mph to see a marshal frantically waving a red flag. Huh? Really? Now? I slow down and there is another marshal at the entry to the return road, in the middle of the track, waving a red flag. Isle of Man rules: red flag means you stop where-ever you are on track at the next marshal's post. I slow right up and filter into the return road as directed by a marshal.

The Gooseneck - leading to my favorite part of the course, The Mountain Section. 10 miles of riding heaven

I get back up the return road to find only Warren and another rider in Parc Firme. The other riders ahead of me on the road must have just got through to the next Marshal's post. With all racing stopped under a red flag, there couldn't be a better place to have it happen. Two other riders join us. With the first 35 or so riders on the road already through and on their final lap, I know that this is the end of the Senior race and a result will be called. No chance of a proper flying lap.

War stories of our dicing on the roads...
Thanks Justine for the pics.

We're all happy and somewhat relieved to be back safely. It was a tough race, real tough. Warren and I exchange war-stories of our lap 2 battle before the Clerk of the Course announces that there are 2 incidents that the 2 air-ambulances are attending to and with no air-ambulance cover, the Senior race is over and a result will be called. I am disappointed not to have a go at my personal best in lap 4, but am also relieved. That was a hard race and I didn't have anything left in me to do more than 1 lap... and I'd have to dig deep to do that lap too. I'm really pleased that it's over and we're safe... but disappointed that my last lap of the 2014 Campaign ended with a red flag.

Thanks Justine for the pics

The race result was rolled back to the 2nd lap. This played into my hands as my conserving 3rd lap and pit-stop cock-up didn't count toward the result. I later am surprised to learn that my 2nd lap dice with Warren had taken me up to 8th place at the end of lap 2. Awesome! It didn't work out so well for Warren who was on fire in lap 3 and well into the top ten.

Evening meal with friends for a job well done :-)

8th in the Manx Grand Prix Senior... I could hardly believe it! Some luck there... maybe... but after so many luckless campaigns, I was due a bit of fortune. I still had to ride the wheels off that big old bike for those first 2 laps. My first lap was 113mph from a standing start. My second lap, including the slow-down for the pit-stop was 114mph. I'd got that personal best after all.

Third replica in a week - Team SpeedTherapy's best results ever!
Thanks Justine for the pic.

It makes me chuckle. 8th in the Senior or what is basically a road bike with clip-on's, throttle, rear-sets, race bodywork and an exhaust/airfilter, power-commander AND - it's 11 years old! Nothing special about that bike... ok... maybe the color-scheme.

The day ends with sadness when later that afternoon we learn that Gary Firth, in his first year on the Isle, lost his life in one of the incidents. Condolences to Gary's family and friends. As many have said - he was doing what he loved and was living the dream.