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!