Sunday, 25 September 2016

PPIHC - Sunday - Race to the Clouds 3

I get her stood up out of switchback number three in the second series of the Double-yous and am hard on the gas to set her up for the fast left hander. On the left: a wall of red, hard rock. On the right: just blue sky. The blind turn disappears somewhere left… ahead, just more blue sky. This is 'OhShit' corner. There is a famous YouTube clip of a guy in a four-wheeler that failed to turn left. Apparently he thought it was a different turn. The four-wheel metal box got airborn and flies down the mountainside. It lands and tumbles hundreds of feet below, spewing off shrapnel all the way till it stops - just a ball of mashed metal. A few seconds later, the driver clambers out!

We know where turn goes... “Wait for it… wait for it… wait for it… now!” I turn the bike in, looking for the three foot gravel gully between the vertical rock-face and the course edge. I swoop past it, bike cranked over and start feeding her gas. “Braaaap!”. “Nice one!” I smile to myself... “Braaapaaaaaaaaaap”. As I cross the central line, the back-end steps out…

Oh Shit!

Despite the traction control being on (albeit on a low level), the bike starts sliding sideways. Here is a perfect example of relativity in action. If the bike was doing this on a big MotoGP track, it would feel like it was a few inches out of line and nae bother. But up here, on OhShit corner, it felt like I was fourty-five degrees sideways and I was about to be launched in to outer space! Oh Shit!

I ease the throttle – no point getting out of a slide by high-siding yourself to the moon. The big girl is so well mannered and is back in line before I know it. I get her onto the meat of the tyre and drive to the next switchback. That wasn’t much fun.

Hard on the brakes again for the eighth switchback in the last sixty seconds. The lever is definitely coming back to the bar. Despite the brand-new HH sintered pads and race fluid, my brakes are fading. I guess those mass-produced-to-budget Brembos are just not up to the job. My old 1999 Aprilia RSV has been hammered around the UK short circuits for the last 11 years… older caliper and still on the original discs… never had brakes fading. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to!

After my moment at OhShit and with now with my brakes fading, I decide to just take it back a notch or two… enjoy the ride and make it to the top. “Take it easy… just get her to the top.” I mutter under my hard breathing – the Double-yous on this big bike at this altitude is hard work. I remembered to breathe between the switchbacks, so am still feeling strong. “Just get her to the top.”.

Through the fan-zone at Devils Playground on onto the desolate upper section. There are no trees or bushes… just a bit of whispy grass here and there. A spectacular landscape of rocks and boulders. As you climb to the summit, even the grass thins out. Just red rock and sand… it’s like being on Mars.

The first, fast, blind left-hander… as I’m tipped in, there is a greazy whistle-pig in the middle of the track. My line is through the middle of the right-lane right. That citter is in the left lane. “Just stay where you are you fat bastard.” No sooner had I thought that than he starts ambling toward the outside of the track…

There is only about six feet of track before the nothingness edge on the right. More space on the left… turn harder but at risk of pushing the front and landing up sailing through the nothingness anyway. Besides, that waddling fur-ball may stop, or change his mind and turn around. I’m not cranked too far over and all is stable n steady. It only takes tenths of a second, but I decide to hold my line… he keeps walking. Our trajectories are going to intersect… I grip the bars tighter and hang on.

Flldoup! I feel the brief impact. I hold steady and the big girl takes the poor piggy in her stride. ‘Multi’ ‘Strada’ – many roads… built for keeping you safe on rural roads too! It was quick and humane… marmot stew tonight! We were still headed to the top.

The next rider up with a cam was Masahito Watanabe on his sidecar – 9 mins and 4 seconds into his YouTube vid and you’ll see the effect of a cooling 120/60 profile Pirelli Supercorsa. 

If I had slowed up before the wildlife incident, I’d slowed up more after. The ride up there was fun, but by then I just wanted to get it home and see the summit. On that upper section I was a nearly 20 seconds slower than my fastest practice run. The riding wasn’t that much fun thereafter – probably because I wasn’t pushing. But, it sure was pretty!

Up through Carl’s. Godspeed. Cog-Cut… brake early. Up to Olympic where there is water across the course. I pick her up and pootle up the last 200 yards to the guy theatrically waving two chequered flags. We’re there! 14 110feet above sea level – the summit of Pikes Peak!

I brake early, but I’m going so slow I almost stop before I get onto the muddy, pot-holed gravel of the parking lot. No whoops, no yeeehas. Just quiet relief. We made it. Fuck, yeah. We made it.

I park up against a rock and join the other riders already up there for back-slaps and ‘well done’s. We can only get down again once all the cars are up at the end of the event - which they’r e hoping will be around 14h00 because of the reduced competitor numbers. I check the timing screen in the ‘hospitality’ area – 11 minutes and 21 seconds. My unspoken goal was to do a sub-ten minute run. I’m way off… that’s a bit crap. I get 4th in the Heavyweight class… just don’t mention they only accepted five entries ;-). Overall – we’re placed 45th… that’s out of 33 bikes and 66 cars. Kinda in the middle – that’s ok for a rookie. Looking at it that way I feel a bit better about it.

Interviews at the top... Rennie Scaysbrook was on it all week. He was leading by 8 seconds when he overcooked a switch-back. He hit the armo... he flipped over the barrier and his bike railed along it to a standstill with just a few scuffs. He remounted and finished second. Great ride and uUnbelievably lucky!

The rest of our wait at the top starts to really drag on. As competitors, we get a free meal from the cafĂ© at the top… it’s shit. Far more risky than the ride up! The best part of the wait is having a good chat with and getting to know some of the other of riders. Some spectating at Olympic and watching some of the cool cars coming up. The cars are a different world to the bikes. Some of them probably spend as much on tyres for the week than my whole bikeeffort cost me. Some serious, exotic, expensive stuff up there - no road cars without lights and just an exhaust.

Good job!!

 One of my favorite, bad ass cars that made it up. Just gotta love some Mopar muscle!

Just after 16h00 and we’re told to get ready for the descent. We all suit up and get on our machines. We wait… and wait. The weather starts to turn nasty… thick cloud forms below us. Soon, we’re enveloped in swirling cloud… then its starts to sleet… then hail. Lovely! After standing in this shit for 15 minutes I have frozen water dribbling down my back and I’m starting to get real cold. I seek refuge in one of the vans with Davey Durelle. We’re crammed in there for about 20 minutes while the storm rages outside. The storm passes and eventually we get the all-clear to head back down the mountain.

Thank you Mark Miller for the pic!

Thank you Marcel Langer for the pic!

We go down in procession. Slowing to a walking pace wherever there were fans lining the road… drivers and riders have their gloved hands out and it’s one continuous high-five all the way down. Some of the spectators cheering, clapping and so many thanking us as we high-fived. Little toddlers held up by their parents with their palms out and wide-eyed kiddies at knee-level stretching out. This is a PPIHC tradition… it’s awesome. It reminded me of one of the most poignant moments of my racing on the Isle of Man that happened a little over a year ago.

PPIHC 2016 - High five all the way down.

 TT 2015 - High five all the way up the return road.

I’m a bit bewildered by it all. At some places the procession grinds to a halt… and you just keep getting palms. I have enough high-fives to now last me a lifetime! There’s an ear-to-ear grin pasted on my face when I finally get down to the pits/paddock where Ant it waiting for me. Fist-pumps and big hugs.  Awesome job Dood! Awesome job Team!