Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Brands Double - part I

Back at Brands for the second time in two weeks

This last weekend we were back at Brands for hopefully the last two of our qualification meetings for the TT. Up early and head down south on Saturday morning. I had booked a garage and was stung 30 quid by the organisers, Hottrax for 1 space in a garage. There are 4 spaces in a garage… two weekends ago, we paid 30 quid for an entire garage… 7.50 per bike. With 32 garages it looks like Hottrax is profiteering a bit.

The list to things to do on candy over the winter

The Endurance Teams were out there on Saturday, so the small paddock area behind the garages was crammed with winnebagos, huge race trucks and lots of little cars belonging to hangers-oners. They were there since Friday and the organizers 'vehicle pass' system was a farce, as was the organization behind the garages. Everything took twice as long as two weeks before... and was twice as much hassle. Would that make it eight times less value than with ThundersportGB? Ok, maybe not, but I was still a little agitated by the time we were out for Qualifying.

Wreckage from the previous day’s testing in the skroot bay - what not to do on a test day.

It was cold, only 6 degrees, windy, overcast… but at least the drizzle has stopped and track was dry. Only having had the tyre warmers on for 20 minutes, I start out carefully and build up lap by lap. On my 5th lap I get rain splattering my visor. Out on slicks, I back off and within a lap there are 4 separate crashes around the track. Session is red flagged. I pull back into my garage and am finished with Qualifying despite the session starting again within 10 minutes. I’d done enough to Qualify 3rd on the grid. No, really... 3rd.

Shadowing Rob Garland

Race 1 – the clutch grabs and I make a poor getaway. 5th into turn 1. I square it off and get good drive down the hill, getting up to 4th… then outbraking someone on the inside of Druids to knick 3rd. Charge down to Graham Hill and do another on the brakes… easy through there on cool tyres… Surtees, McLean and I line 1st place up through Clearways… pop out the slipstream before the start finish line and make the pass. Was that it? Surprised to be at the front. Clear track ahead of me. I focus on settling into a rhthm – I only need to finish the race to get my 3rd Qualifier for the TT in the bag.

I just keep ticking off the laps, keeping it steady with a good pace. I cross the line 9 laps later – in first place!!! Candy’s maiden victory. 10 years of getting the crap knocked out of her across the country… and she finally brings it home in 1st place. Sweeeeeet! The marshals can hear my victory yeaaahas and whooops on the cool down lap. Fucking A!

Paddock Hill Bend - I thought that I was grinding out my belly-pan around Clearways... this pic shows that Paddock Hill Bend is where I’m getting her too low

Race 2 – I make a better start and get into Paddock Hill Bend in 3rd. I get 2nd on the brakes into Druids. Around, through Clearways and I’m on the six of the leader, Rob Garland on his naked bike. I get him on the brakes into Paddock Hill Bend. Clear track in front again… I settle into a rhythm.

I haven’t got away from the guys behind like I did in race one… but I race my own race… need to finish in 1 piece to be able to race on Sunday and finish my TT Qualifiers. “Steady away, son” I say to myself under my breath… a second later and a Suzuki GSXR SRAD sweeps under me and stands me up through McLean’s. No worries… I’ll get him at Paddock Hill and start lining him up through Clearways.

Paddock Hill Bend... followed by Rob Garland and an overzealous newcomer on a Gixxer

On the gas as early and hard as I dare. The GSXR is trying the same, just three feet in front of me. His rear tyre breaks traction while fully leaned over and he goes into a slow-motion lowside just a few feet in front of me. I pick the bike up mid-turn to avoid him and the bike sliding across my trajectory. I thread through the moving gap and something whacks me on the front right... I'm sure it was his leg. I’m headed for the gravel at a serious rate of knots. Fuck!

I haul the bike over to the right to get her turned. I almost make it, just running off the track onto the 12 inch strip of grass before the gravel trap. I straihten the bike up gingerly across the grass and usher her back onto the track... twist the throttle to the stops as the guy behind me gaps me by 20 yards. Jeeeeee-sus! That was close!

Damage from number 56... twisted and bent brake lever guard - probably saved my ass...
sorry about the paintwork Steve :-(

He even bent my footpeg!

I’ve lost all my drive down the straight and another rider catches me just before tipping in to Paddock Hill. I get on his case. He defends through Druids. I take a wide sweeping line and carve a darkie around his outside as we accelerate down to Graham Hill. Back into 2nd place. I settle down and start looking to hunt down 1st. He’s about 50 yards up the track now. I start to push. The tired old Pirelli slick starts to squirm and slide in protest. I back off, thinking of the next day’s racing – enough close calls for one day. I cruise home in 2nd.

Later, when I pickup a results sheet, I find out that Rob is in a different class… and I’m 1st again! Awesome! 2 wins from 2 starts. Fan-bloody-tastic!!

The Pirelli slicks had done two qualifing sessions and five races. They were moving around  quite a bit. I had an set of new inters knocking about the garage for the last few years - I thought Icd try them out for Sunday. It was dry, but real cold... and would be like that on Sunday. I also didn't like the thought of buying another set of slicks just for a qualifying race - hey, I just needed to finish one more race and needs all the funds I can get for the TT. So I changed the wheels then headed down to my Mom for another post-race scrumptious dinner :-)

An uber-successful day on track.

Oh yes! Candy’s Back!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Action Shots

Alan Bushell just sent me some cracking action pics from Brands Hatch two weekends ago...

Must have been from Saturday - pre SpeedTherapy logo on the flanks

Race 1 on Sunday... into the melee of Paddock Hill Bend

Andy Challis shadowed me the whole race

Looking at all my pics, I still ride old-skool style. #24 is down with the kids... 
I must try out this new fad tomorrow...

Superb! I think the tail section is in need of decorating...
Thanks Alan!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Candy's Back!

Since getting our TT entry, it's been balls to the wall. And the little item of getting 4 qualification races done before the end of April...

Saturday 7th March I was up with the sparrows for the drive down to Brands Hatch - the spiritual home of motorcycle racing in the UK. It was going to be a special weekend: my 10th anniversary of short circuit racing... same weekend... same track... same organizers (Dave and Bernadette of ThundersportGB)... and on the same bike!

Candy and the Chev-dawg back in service... old girls

Candy, the 17 year old Aprilia was being pressed back into service. I hadn't ridden her in two and a half years. In that time she was kept cosy in my conservatory... and robbed of many parts for the Ducati 888. Been spending a lot of time over the last few months getting her prepped and making some geometry changes (things I learned off my ManxGP RSV Factory - Betty). With such a long lay-off and so many changes, there were bound to be some teething problems.

Candy's last race

Out for qualifying in the 'Golden Era Superbikes'. Out of pit-lane... up n over the right-hander crest of Paddock Hill Bend. Aaaaaah - it's great to be back at one of the best, most compact motorsickle race tracks in the UK. Going down the dip at the bottom pf Paddock Hill and my visor instantly mists up. Huh? On the brakes into Druids... it's not mist. Blimey! It's fluid... spraying everywhere.

Druids - the only hairpin I have ever liked

As I squeeze the front brake, I have visions of the brake-lever pumping fluid all over me. Brakes seem to work ok... what's that smell? Ah. Petrol! As I brake harder, I get more drenched. Bollocks! "Please don't backfire Old Girl..." I grimace. I get off the racing line and tour back to the pits... getting a Saudi-soaking every time I touch the brakes.

Kade and Warren

I make it back to the pits without going up in a ball of flames. A old repair at the front of the fuel tank just didn't like being immersed in fuel fumes for two and a half years. I start looking around and asking around bemused fellow races and crew for a bar of soap (an old Classic TT trick ;-). I find some, but the fuel leak is too big. Out with the epoxy for a quick repair...

In the meantime, Clerk of the Course Dave allows me to go out in a later session for qualifying. Only 30 mins later... but just enough time for the epoxy to set and me to get out mid-session. I have to do at least 3 laps to be allowed to race. The repair is good and I roll through 3 laps just warming everything. Because I'm not in my proper qualifying session, my times won't count... but I start getting a rhythm going as the memories of the track come back to me. Faster, faster. Besides the Scottish Trials in November, I haven't ridden a bike since early Sept last year. Just limbering up.

Candy - lookin purdy.

Race 1 and i start from the back of the grid (30th). I make an appalling start... I'm so far back by the time we get into Paddock Hill Bend that I can't even make a move on anyone. "Common Paul. Wake up!". By the time we hit Druids I'm stuffing it up the inside of another bike. I start picking them off. My first time with a quickshifter and I'm struggle a bit with it - still blipping the throttle. I build the speed lap by lap and cut through the pack to finish 13th. The first (of four) of my TT Qualifiers in the bag. Good job! I really enjoyed that!

Job done!
Thanks Justine Verwey for the great pic!

The tank repair looks okay and I spend the next hour or two helping out and encouraging Kade Verwey (my friend Warren's son) and Max Lofthouse in their first ever road races. Warren was out on his trick BMW RR in the GP1 class as well.

Kade and family - his first road-race in the Aprilia Superteens

Ten years ago, my first race was delayed because of fog. The only thing I can remember about that first race was my crap start. So, nothing new there. It was bloody cold in 2005, but in 2015 it's just glorious. 15 degrees and brilliant sunshine... good track temp to keep those Pirelli slicks stuck to the tarmac. Looking at my time sheet... on lap 9 I break my Brands Hatch personal best... by half a second! On the same old bike with zero performance enhancing changes... just a few years more experience :-)

Gotta have a little Sideburn on the bike.
(drunk camera operator)

Race 2 comes up soon enough. The sun is lower and track cooled a bit. With nothing left to gain I go out and have a bit of fun. From last on the grid, I make a proper dirttrack style start and I'm in amongst the pack in turn 1. The usual Druids lap 1 traffic jam and I swoop around the outside and make up another 2 or 3 places. I pick a few more off during the race. By lap 9 of 12, I'm starting to get tired. I back off a bit, only to get passed on the second-last lap. No worries... need to save the bike, tyres and myself for Sunday.

Get thee behind me numero Seventy-five.

I get the bike ready for Sunday and then drive 30 mins down the road to my Mom's for and scrumptious post-raceday dinner and race stories. By 21h00 I can hardly keep my eyes open and crash out on the sleeper-couch shortly after. A great day :-)

The drive to see my Mom :-)

Sunday morning I get up at a decent hour. Brands hatch has a curfew until 10h00 on Sunday mornings for the local church. Church done, and I'm back out for warm-up with just one click off the rebound to try get my turned slick wearing a bit smoother. The track is a bit cooler than Saturday so I take it easy. Not worth going to high-side city on a cool track in warm-up. Warren and I both get out in the wrong session, so don't get timed.  The bike feels good and our grid positions for Sunday are determined by Saturday's fastest lap (all clubs should do this). I start 10th on the grid for Sunday :-)

One of the best corners on any short circuit - the fearsome Paddock-Hill Bend
Still gives me the heebie-jeebies driving across it.
The fear, disappointment, pain, determination, grit,  passion, joy and elation of all those that have experienced it - all is burned into the spirit of the track.

I prep the bike, only to have expanding fuel start pissing all over the place while I'm spending a penny. Another epoxy tank repair... this time it has a few hours to cure properly. Just 12 more laps needed. C'mon baby.

Race 1 and I make another good start making up a place or two. It's a lot tougher to get past other bikes at the sharper end. We're all running good pace; later on the brakes, running into the corners a lot faster and on the gas earlier than those down the order. I'm trying to find a way around a big silver Suzuki Gixxer. I show a wheel here and there. He's not gonna give it to me.

Early on the gas... watch the highside... keep it pinned... tuck... become speed.
You are pure speed!

By then I had also got used to the quickshifter... I'm on the gas as early as I dare through Clearways and keep her flat-out all the way to Paddock-Hill Bend. "Braaaaaaaapaaaaaaaarpaaaaaaaaaaaarp" the old Aprilia on full-chat with a quickshifter sounds awesome! I get alongside the Gixxer's inside into Paddock-Hill... he leaves too much space. I'm in. He runs it deeper than one should and then pulls it hard toward the apex. I see him steaming across toward me in my peripheral vision but I'm through. I half expect him to clip my back wheel, but I don't feel anything.

Old sparring partner Andy Challis on #20

Next lap, there are flags out at Paddock-Hill. He missed me, but bounced off the rider on my six and into the gravel. That rider behind was Andy Challis. Andy is also on an old Aprilia - I battled with him a few times in the Ducati Desmo Due races a few years back. He's onto me like a rash. McLean's is my weak spot at Brands. He's up my inside and outside around there for the last 4 or 5 laps. Trying as hard as I can to keep the bike from grounding out through Clearways and getting on the gas as early as I dare I manage to hold him off lap by lap. It's an intense fight but I'm in control. He has to take it from me... and I'm not giving it.

Ground clearance issues. Same issue caused me to crash at Clearways about 5 years ago.
Sorry about the scuff to your beautiful paintwork Steve.

Iconic Brands Hatch

It's a great contest and what racing is all about. In the end, I pip him by a few tenths, those Pirelli's laying down the rubber to make up for my poor ground clearance. In a very competitive class where around 140bhp is what you need to get near the front, I'm stoked to get 7th on my stock 1998 Aprilia with just 127bhp (measured 4 years ago...).

The second of my four TT Qualifiers in the bag. The clouds move in, the cold wind picks up, I'm knackered, nothing else to gain and a lot to lose - I decide to pack up and head home.

Sept 2005

March 2015
Same rider, same bike... different clothes... and faster.

Warren had a couple of good races in a super-tough GP1 class, Kade and Max pop their cherries without incident. My first objective was to get 2 qualifiers - done. My second was to finish in the top 50% - done. I head home having achieved what I set out to... and bagging my Brands Personal best. Best of all - an awesome weekend's racing with friends. It makes all the difference :-) Let's do it again in 2 weeks guys!

Max Lofthouse (far left) with his Dad, John (orange top - an ex TT and ManxGP racer) and a gaggle of supporting kids. Sharing a garage with awesome people - a big part of an awesome weekend!

Managed to get some hand-cut vinyl SpeedTherapy logos on her shapely flanks between races.
She drew quite a few admirers through the weekend, although most couldn't work out what marque she was.
I love the old gal!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

We're In !!!

Sooner than expected, last night I got news that both my entries for the Isle of Man TT 2015 have been accepted...

With record number of entries and tighter qualification times than last year, it's gonna be tough to get into the races. Judging by the numbers the organizers have assigned me, they obviously rate me as 'crap'. Nae worries... we're goin' to the TT!

Now... I just need some bikes...