Sunday, 14 June 2015

TT Day 14 - Lightweight Race

Friday morning - race day. Our final race of the TT campaign - the Lightweight. At 10h15 the race starts for 3 laps of the most iconic and incredible 37.7 mile strip of tarmac on the planet. We are rested and up for it.

We're at the garage early to pickup the bike and in the paddock unloading by 08h00. Thirty minutes later and Nic has the wee Kawasaki through skrootineering and in the assembly area. We get her on paddock stands, tyre warmers and top up the fuel. All set for the race.

The Speed Therapy Team

Deebs had to get back to the mainland after the second Supersport race so Mark's partner Kath stepped in to take up the water and screen cleaning duties for the pit crew. Soon the roads were closed and the crew were up at pitlane filling the fuel bowser. Our pit box was right at the top of pit-lane. This is good... just need to watch my speed down pit-lane after the refuel.

I warm-up and stretch. Get my gear on. I love this part of racing... the reflection... the focus. I walk up to the assembly area with 20 minutes before the scheduled start. Head down... I watch the tarmac of the paddock moving beneath my feet at 2 mph, the gray stone glinting in the light... soon it will be a blur and I'll cover more than 100 miles of it in the next hour.

As I approach the assembly area, I walk down the now familiar tunnel of spectators snaking up to where the bikes are. Many with cameras, phones and tablets pointed at me. A few nod as they wish me luck and I get a few thumbs-up. Into the assembly area with the teams, well dressed VIP guests, TV crews interviewing the top riders and photographers in white bibs snapping away, trying to capture the atmosphere, the anticipation and the excitement that builds before the race.

I check in with Nic. Fuel is topped up, tyres toasty, pressures adjusted, engine warmed up and she's good to go. I walk around the assembly area, finding other riders and pit crew that I know to have a chat and wish each other luck and speed with a handshake and some hugs. we want to all see each other back at parc firme after 3 laps.

Spot the Speed Therapy lid...
The Arai support during the fortnight was fantastic. You just drop your lid off and they clean it, dry the inside and prep the tear-offs for the next session/race... done in 30 minutes or pick it up the next day. Service :-)

This is part of the ethos of racing on the Isle of Man that I love. Just about all competitors I know want all other competitors to do well. I'm sure it's the same for the top riders fighting over the podiums. You want everyone to have a good race, go fast... and come home safely. You're out there to challeng yourself, to beat the course. Get that section you've been struggling with right. make that apex you've been missing all week. Hold that corner you've been rolling the throttle on flat-out. Quieten that voice that screams "You're going to die!" at every second corner. The TT Mountain Course - just a strip of road that our human-ness has turned into a mystical place of speed and endeavor.

Up on Glencrutchery road. I love the buzz up there. The focus, the emotion, the poignance. At number 40 away on the road, we have a shorter wait than with the Superpsport races. Less time for the tyres to cool in the light breeze. Less time to soak it in, less time to savor it all.

Within minutes of the start, I have my helmet on and am chanting the mantra "Fast, safe, smooth." to myself. We move forward in the queue. I get on the bike, fist pump with Nic, "See you in twenty minutes" and I'm padding into the start enclosure. "Fast, safe, smooth. Fast, safe, smooth. Fast, safe smooth.".

The view from start position 40 on Glencrutchery Road

The red Isle of Man flag drops and we're away. The little Kawasaki parallel twin revving her heart out in every gear all the way down to Quarterbridge. I'm focused and up for it. easy through Braddan Bridge on warmish tyres up to Union Mills and then we get the hammer down.

Lap one goes well. I'm feeling fast. I get through Ballagarey faster than I ever have on a small bike... just knocking the throttle till I see the apex over the blind rise and then tipping in and flattening it. I carry good speed down to DJs where I say "Hi DJ" as I crank the bike over to the left... throttle flat out, revs rising to near maximum as the tyre rides on the smaller diameter edge. My shift lights flicker though there for the first time in the fortnight. "Sweet!"


I see the next rider on the road at Ballacraine after the flat-out blast through Gorse Lea. "Let's catch him." I push on, narrowing the gap through every sector. Ballagh Bridge and I make a huge jump... I gain 10 yards on him. Ballacrye and I'm just a few feet from his back wheel. He's good through Quarry bends and his bike is fast down Sulby Straight. I have to roll the throttle in his slipstream. I don't want to overtake too soon and give him a chance of getting back at me before the 140 down to 50 mph braking zone.

Just before the flat-out right kink, I pop out of his slipstream and pull alongside. He's two feet to my left... we're leaned over and a tall, bright green hedge is two feet from my right at over 140mph. Thrilling! We both brake late. 5th gear, 4th gear... 3rd. We are level pegging all the way up to the tipping in point. I have the inside line to Sulby Bridge - I'm through.

Up, over the mountain and the bike is feeling a bit slower than in practice. It's about 10 degrees warmer ambient temperature and the bike is running about 15 degrees hotter. We had taped the radiators in practice because she was running a bit too cool. Now too hot. Damn. With Nic doing the fueling in the pit-stop, I don't want to cause confusion and un-tape the radiators when we come in. She should be ok for the rest of the race.

Down the mountain, back to the Grandstand and into the pit-box for our mandatory stop. The top teams all have huge tanks on their bikes and just do a stop without taking any more fuel on. They save about 25 seconds in the race. We have to sit there swirling and additional 8 liters of fuel in by gravity while the clock ticks.

With the tank almost brimmed, I get impatient. "Let's go, let's go!". In the rush to get going we get the fuel rag caught in the fuel cap... in a second or two it's released and I've fired the bike up and am trundling down pit-lap obeying the 60km/h speed limit. 6500 rpm in first gear. I hook 2nd, quickly realize my fault and stamp it back down to 1st. 7000 rpm. 58km/h flashes on the board. Lucky!

I think this is through Tower Bends

Back on track and the little bike is held wide open again. "Fast, safe, smooth.". On the run to Ballacraine, I feel what I think is clutch slip. Shit. I adjust the clutch cable while flat-out. I wind it in to its maximum. That's as much as I can do for the rest of the race. By the time I get to Ramsey the clutch is starting to slip again. Shit. Shit.

I try take it easy on the clutch... not so aggressive on the throttle. Easy on my down changes. I have to bring it home. Over the mountain - I give my pit-crew the thumbs-up as I fly past the Grandstand for my last lap. "Just one more lap... c'mon baby. Just one more lap.".

Our wee IOM Mascott given by Glenda and Dave came along for a ride around his home island

Down into Quarterbridge and I see the next rider on the road just disappearing around the corner. having a target always tends to pull me along. Something to aim for. At Braddan Bridge there are marshals in the track and yellow flags been waved. Some debris around.. another marshal running with a back-board and two others trying to get a rider out from under the recticell air-fence. I slow right down and trundle through. Around the right-hander, green flags and we're flat-out again. I can see the rider ahead again through that first sector to Glen Helen. I'm chipping away at his lead.

Into the windy, forested Glen Helen section. The tighter turns, change of direction and on/off/on the throttle makes the clutch work harder... and slip. A lot. I ride as smooth as I can. Up onto Cronk-y-Voddy straight and I can no longer see the rider ahead. I just got to bring this home... I mentally clamp the clutch plates in the engine together to stop them slipping.

Through the flat-out sections I have to keep rolling the throttle to 'catch' the clutch... let it grip then gently accelerate again. It's frustrating. I'm going through sections at 1000rpm less than before. I focus on being as smooth as possible and carrying as much corner-speed as I dare.

With John Trigger. JT built the Triumph engine and most of the chassis. Top bloke and probably the best Triumph tuner in the world who helped us out during the fortnight. Factory!

Onto Sulby Straight and I see the rider up ahead again... but through the bumpy Ginger Hall to Ramsey section I lose a lot of time with the clutch slipping as the rear tyre digs in over the bumps. I give up the chase and just want to bring it home. Easy on the down-changes... gentle acceleration. Less engine braking... but also less brake to carry corner-speed. Just nursing her along. I also take time to soak in the atmosphere. Crowds lining the roads everywhere... sitting on stone walls and grass embankments... some so close you could touch them if you reached out your hand. This is racing on the Isle of Man. This is the TT :-)

I run wide on a few corners because of my change in style and increased corner-speed. It feels scrappy... but I gotta keep going. Up to the Gooseneck and there are crowds 10 deep... I give them a wave as I start my final ascent up the Mountain. Less people... less reference points... but  smoother and faster. I love the Mountain section. I enjoy every turn.

Up over Hailwood's rise... as Douglas comes into view in the distance, I can smell the finish-line. I sweep around the 32nd milestone... 3 apexes taken as one. I love that corner! Windy corner - not so windy today and I drag me knee all the way around it. Beautiful! 33rd milestone, 2 super-fast apexes taken as one onto a negative camber... I hang on the throttle longer than I ever have on the approach. Down 1 gear and tip her in. Oh shit. I'm off line through the first corner...

I keep hanging off the bike... she squirms as I cross the white center-lines. I keep hanging off and turning. My mind is screaming for me to roll the throttle... I ignore the screams and open her up... flat-out. I hit the second apex perfectly and I rocket out the other side of the turns with two feet of tar to spare. Loads of room! Awesome!

Through the Cregg-ny-Baa

Keppel gate and down to the Cregg where the crowds are waving. Down to third and I drag my knee across the curb for the photographers on the inside of the turn. Brandish as fast I have before... clutch slipping on the exit doesn't put a damper on my spirits. Hillberry, and then Cronk-y-Mona... no brakes and keeping her almost flat-out in 5th through the 3 apexes. Signpost, Bedstead, the Nook, Governor's and we're hammering down Glencrutchery Road to take the chequered flag. Job done!

I stop at the beginning of the return road with the rider that was ahead on the road. We give a handshake and "Awesome race" to each other as the big stand of spectators clap. I cruise down the return road... hand out, high-fiving about 1000 hands all the way back up to pit-lane and then teh assembly area. I have never touched so many people  in such a short space of time. Old, young, men, women. I could feel all the love and positive vibes. Wow! Emotional.

Parc firme

Back at parc firme and Nic is there as I pull up. We hug. We've done it! Isle of Man TT 2015:
3 entries, qualified for 3 races, 3 race starts and 3 race finishes. It's been tough at times and a huge amount of work... but we've done it. Mark and Kath join us and we soak up the success. It's been bloody brilliant!