Friday 10 April 2009

Update for '09

I have to say A big sorry for the total lack of attention I have given this Blog in recent months.Several reasons; lack of inspiration would be the major reason. After the last meeting of last season, I had some big decisions to make regarding racing and the way things in life were going generally. As we all know, there's a big financial crisis in the world at the moment and after Brands Hatch in September, it hit me. Also I have spent a long time coming to terms with loosing Gyles.
That last meeting was a massive roller coaster of emotions for me. We also lost another rider at that meeting and added to that there was a lot of accidents. It was a generally good weekend for me other than that. We spent 4 days on track taking in a track day as well as the practice day and then 2 days of racing all in glorious weather. We all saluted Gyles in several inventive ways and I know if he was watching, he would have been having a great time.
I find it all hard to write about and to be honest, I don't want to go through it even 6 months later. I will try to put something in these pages at some stage, when, I can't say. When I can deal with it I guess.

So, this season for me is a non-starter. Money is the main reason. I lost the services of my engine tuner who really was the mainstay of any potential assault on the championship for this year.
We had planned a big engine development which was to give us a massive torque increase and a top out of allowed Bhp. Added to that some other chassis and handling tweeks. Things on the drawing board were really exciting and potentially would have put the bike at the very top for a title challange.
Running top six for most of last season we think, was just the start.
I could Aim for next season and may still have a go at it but the big stumbling block there is getting that motor sorted. The loss of my main man is the key to it all. So if anything happens, I think it may just be to have a bit of fun rather that a serious bid to be winning.

If things in the finacial arena of my life improve later this year, I hope to get out on track for at least one meeting before the end of the season.
That's it for now.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Snett again.....yet again!

That's three visits to the Norfolk Snetterton circuit this season, and lots of riders have complained about it too, including me. I don't mind the place, I could say I even like it, but three times is a bit much. I went to collect points, not take any risks and compromise the next round at the Brands Hatch GP circuit.If you asked me to go there again this season, you would have got a firm answer.

Several miles on the road and it hits me, bugger! I'd forgot my paperwork bag. Entries, tickets, licence, data sheets and the on board camera device, all on my desk at home. And that's after checking my check list at least a half dozen times. A quick call to the club and my licence wasn't a problem. " seen your mug shot enough times this season" . All cool, lots of laughter!

We couldn't have parked up in a more noisy position. I bloody hate generators. The wheeley bin made a welcome noise barrier but there was nothing going to stop the three loudest generators in the paddock that surrounded us.Sleeping with ear plugs in helps but is not ideal. Getting to the circuit late is never a good idea. Securing a good spot is so difficult when you're the last to arrive and just compromises the weekend from the word go. We even lost our usual spot.

I had suffered a case of brain fade during the Saturday morning warm up. After avoiding the damp patches through Corums curve for the past 6 laps, I decided to ride through one of them on the last lap. I know it's not funny but I spent all morning laughing every time I remembered sliding across the track and across the very wet grass on my arse at something like 110 mph. What an idiot! And I got a very wet arse.
I needed to sort my head out before the serious business of racing began.

Meanwhile, there was a smashed bike to fix.

If you read these pages regularly, then you will remember Simon saving the weekend with his mechanics skills at Cadwell earlier in the year. He had come to Snetterton for the weekend to offer his support and try to enjoy the racing..... I kept him busy again.
Also Colin and his wife Niki had come to the track for the weekend, basically because they're addicted and can't stay away! After crashing at Oulton and making a mess of his shoulder, Colin wasn't racing but had offered to help in any way he could. He gets bored easily and he's convinced Niki had payed me to crash to keep him out of her hair.
Dave, being local to the circuit and who I'd met here before, helped Colin and Simon to descend on the bike and begin repairs. I found a Sidecar team that were willing to bend the foot brake lever back through 90 degrees and begged a spare front brake master cylinder and lever from fellow Thunderbiker Andy Burbridge, now back riding after smashing his collar bone at Cadwell. The guys certainly saved the weekend with some improvisation to get the footrest hanger repaired and fitting all the busted parts. Good job we had spare handle bars too.
Well done guys, and thank you.

I had not done much to help except a bit of leg work. If it had been up to me to sort it all out, there would have been no way I would have got out to race that day. All this meant I could concentrate on keeping calm and not wear myself out, conserving energy for the sapping races to come. It makes it obvious how valuable it would be to have a pit crew. Even simple tasks such as tyre pressure checks and tyre warmer changes are energy sapping and when you have guys around to do it, you realise how great it is to not have to do it yourself. Simon enjoyed it a great deal and has agreed to become a permanent part of the team next season. While he loves the spannering, which I struggle with, I can get on with my focus; going as fast as I can on the circuit. I really look forward to working with him!

Myself, Joe and the 400 rider, young Danny Buchan. He's a tallent!

Thunderbikes and the EDIAsia 400cc class were to be mixed as we had been at Oulton Park. I was due to be starting on the second row in I think, 6th place. Because of the noise of those bloody generators, we were really struggling to hear the tannoy announcing each race. We normally get and 1st, 2nd and then a final call to get down to the collecting area. I went to the collecting area late and was sent to the back of the grid, along with getting on for half the Thunderbikes grid. There was apparently only one call.

All tight at the front

I wasn't happy after the race when I had realised what had happened but there's not a lot that can be done once a race has been run.
So the back of the grid was packed with Thunderbikers, all of us, naughty boys for being late. The problem was, were we to be at the back of the whole grid or the Thunderbike grid? Bearing in mind there was supposed to be a row gap between the two classes. It was confusing and dangerous as I wasn't sure what was going to happen when the lights went out. If you remember Oulton when there was a 10 second delay between starts for each class.
I think the whole grid was confused. As the lights went out some of the 400s didn't move until they realised others were. I had to hit the brakes at one point to avoid the confused guy in front. It was a terrible mess up.

One of the better start sequences.

I just had to make the best of a compromised start. There were a lot of bikes out there to get through as both grids started at the same time. It was going to be tough getting to the Thunderbike guys at the front. The race went by in a flash and was so hectic that I really can't remember what happened. I don't have the benefit of on-board camera footage to examine either, as the recorder was sat on my desk at home. I do remember trying to get at Joe Duggan who was in front of a 400 rider. On the last lap I was catching Joe quickly but had to get by the 400. Coming round Corums for the last time behind the 400 I pulled out from behind him in an attempt to get around the out side of him and have a stab at Joe into the chicane. I was so close to the 400 that the track was unsighted and I ran out of tarmac. I ran onto the grass and picked the bike up straight. I ran the grass for a long way and rejoined the start straight managing to hold onto my position in the Thunderbikes order.Out of around 38 riders I managed to get to flag in 11th place but this was 6th in the Thunderbike class. I had to be happy with that. I had got out and scored points against the odds and the result meant a good 3rd row start that afternoon in race 2.

Chasing a recovering Simon Peyto

I usually mention the weather. I guess I'm English for a start, but more relevant is how important it is at a race meeting. If it doesn't rain, it's less work, no wet wheel changes, more comfortable in the paddock and all the riding gear is dry; I hate pulling on wet leathers.
Apparently, the rain had been relentless on Friday practice but today was perfect, no rain at all and that's the way it stayed for the whole weekend. Fantastic.

After all the confusion and commotion of race 1, and that missed call, I had to make sure I was well aware of what races were on track and when I would be due to be called. We normally rely on the tannoy but it is a riders responsibility to be in the collecting area at the right time. I wanted the points this race to help cement a highly possible 5th in the championship. Andy Burbridge was holding the spot at the moment but was suffering with his shoulder and was struggling to finish a race. Before he re-snapped his shoulder at some point over the weekend,and was forced to pull out of the weekend, he managed to brake Gyles' lap record.
I immediately called Gyles to break the news. He then called Andy to abuse him, followed by some congratulations!

Race 2 was a better affair altogether. A good start and some great battling with Joe Duggan on his Ducati and a recovering Simon Peyto, who was still getting up to speed after smashing his hands at Cadwell earlier in the season.

Trying catch Joe and keep Simon Peyto behind. Great fun!

Simon got the better of me on this occasion and I had managed to keep Joe behind. He's getting faster all the time!

Saturday evening was a good evening with good friends and good food, and a drop of wine.
With ear plugs installed, a good nights sleep was in order.

Sunday and a very early rise for me. I think I must have been the first person in the paddock to get up. I enjoyed a coffee and some breakfast with the paddock to myself. It was a beautiful morning with time to get some positive thoughts going through my head ready for the days action.

With a second row grid slot in 6th, next to Joe and Simon, I knew I was in for a good battle. I was not disappointed. It was a great fight with the pair of them. I had made a good start and was up with the leaders but with them charging so hard it was soon obvious they were going to pull away. I kept my head down and swapped places with Joe and Simon several times but managed to gap them both later in the race and enjoy a comfortable cushion from them to the flag. It was classic racing for me and very refreshing from the last meeting here where I had spent most of the weekend just bringing it home with no massive battles for position going on.
I had felt really good in the race with loads of energy and strength. It showed in my lap time and a new personal best of 1:17.342. Nearly a second off the previous meeting. More good solid points too with a 4th place this time. With Andy pulling out. The 5th place in the championship was looking like a real possibility. I just had to keep getting good solid points going into Brands Hatch GP.

Race 2 of the day was equally as good as the first. A carbon copy pretty much. A 4th place finish and again good battling with Joe and Simon with my lap time just a couple of tenths off the mornings time.

I had come away with great points and salvaged a good weekend from possible disaster. Thanks to Dave, Simon and Colin that is!

Meanwhile at the front. Garry Budgen edged closer to the title with 3 wins, while Dan Wright got his first win in the series with two 2nd and a 3rd place, extending the gap to me in the championship. Phil Read scored three 3rds and a 2nd to solidify 3rd in the title.

5th for me is looking good!

Who wins the title goes down to the wire again!
Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit is the next and last round of the 2008 season. Round 9

Monday 22 September 2008

For my buddy

There is no way to convey the sadness I feel in my heart for my good friend Gyles. He sadly passed away on this day, 22nd September 2008. Even more choking is the fact he leaves his Wife,daughter and his new born son not forgetting Mum,Dad,Brother and whole host of good friends not least his best buddy Chris. I know, they all love him very,very much.
He hung on for almost a week.How that has been for the family, I can only imagine, It was bad enough for me. I dreaded this day, and every time the phone has rung, my heart leapt into my mouth.

Of course such an event makes a man question his reasons and motivation for taking part in such crazy things as racing. After a few conversations with some very long time racers, and my wife, I have decided to race next weekend at Brands Hatch and I will do so in Gyles' honour. His race number is 39. I will be running it on my bike for him.

I know this was a favourite shot of his

I guess I don't need too many fingers to count how many people have touched my life in a positive and significant way. Not to mention how many I could consider a real friend. I feel privileged to know this Guy and to have become good friends. I could write pages on his good qualities. He certainly enhanced my life. Living at totally opposite ends of the country meant that apart from race meetings, we never got to spend time away from the circuit together. I regret that immensely. I guess we made up for it on the phone and through e-mail, my wife calling us a pair of old women, chatting away.

I remember our first meeting at the race licence test day. We were moving in opposite directions in the pit lane on our bikes. We both stopped, looked at each other, shook hands and chatted briefly and promised to look out for each other at our first race meeting. It was then I knew we would be mates. We always pitched up together. It will never be the same again.

Gyles, I love you and will deeply miss you buddy.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Harsh realities of our obsession

I was going to spend the next couple of evenings writing about the high speed exploits at the last race meeting but alas, I really don't feel up to it.
I have just received some bad news today of my friend Gyles. While on a PB magazine trackday at Cadwell Park, he crashed his Guzzi heavily going into Hall bends and the bike followed him in and hit him. As I write he is in intensive care in an induced coma. I am not too "up" on medical issues but have been told the next 24 hours will be important and pivotal. I am not a religious man, but I feel myself praying for him. My feeling shit, is nothing compared to what his family are going through and as I cannot contact any of them, I can only wish the things I wish for them all here.

You can't leave yet buddy....

Sunday 31 August 2008

First time at Oulton

Still high from the buzz of Cadwell, we headed to Oulton Park for the first time.The first time for the club and for almost all of the Thunderbikes riders. Who would do better would depend on how quick each guy could learn the circuit in the four Friday practice sessions. That was all the time we were allowed. The Cheshire circuit is only allowed to run on a Sunday for a very limited amount of times per year. We were not one of those, so Friday practice and just the two races on Saturday were all we were going to get. It was worth it though. This circuit is awesome. Cadwell has been the one I have always looked forward to the most, but Oulton has emerged a serious contender for my favourite. It's a lot like Cadwell, but injected with steroids! Blind apexes over blind crests, flat out turns at full lean, the front wheel in the air more than at any other circuit, it's an amazing riders circuit, all action and mental as a box of drunk frogs.

With so many 4th place finishes recently, I was seriously pumped to do better. Dan Wright, for me, was the man I had to beat this weekend and as we were sharing a pit garage, he knew I was really gunning for him. The four practice sessions were to be run during the morning with the afternoon off.

The luxury of a pit garage, no generators buzzing away, running water and the loo was really close by too!You just have to share with a bunch of loonies!

The first practice session and Dan's bike suffered a fuel pump failure. I know how that feels!
He missed the session and was now on his back foot and would have to play catch up. The banter, as you can imagine, was rife in the garage especially as there was 6 Thunderbikes packed in there.

Plenty of laughs in here!

Practice was going well for me. I felt I was reasonably in touch with Garry Budgen and Phil Read and I knew I was running faster than Dan. Things were looking good for a podium. I even managed to get a sneaky look at the unofficial timing sheets from the day. Third fastest confirmed my suspicions although I needed another second or more to be able to stay with Garry and Phil.
In an attempt to maximise my chances, I spent the afternoon prepping the bike with a new set of tyres, new front brake pads, an oil change and a new set of clutch springs. I took my time and managed to get some relaxation time too, to keep in good spirits and state of mind for the following days racing.
I knew I was in with a chance of a great result and was trying to stay calm but my nights sleep was full of mad images of Oulton park's mad crests and turns.....

We were to share the races with the 400 class. There was to be a row gap between Thunderbikes and the 400s and they would start 15 seconds after us but only for race 1. This was good news for me as some of the front 400 riders are extremely fast and faster than any of the Thunderbikes at this circuit. It meant they wouldn't be getting in the way or influencing anything going on at the front of the Thunderbikes race.
Race 2 would be a normal start and fully mixed between the two classes. This would mean that the 400s would be influencing things for us. I was hoping this would actually help me...

Sunday warm up was brief, but enough to scrub in the new rubber, bed in the pads and shake out the sleep from my eyes. I was all over the place. The bike felt dreadful and I was convinced there was something not right. Of course there was nothing wrong with the bike.Back in the pits I had a serious word with my self but to no avail. I had got myself so intent on getting that podium that I had left my head in a bit of a mess. With added delays from accidents in the races before us just adding to the wait, the pressure rose. I just wanted to get out on the track and get it all over with. When finally we got out and started our warm up lap, I was again all over the place and shaking my head.

Now for the serious stuff.

Then finally the start line, front row start in 4th with Dan beside me then Garry with Phil on pole. All the horrible feelings in my gut disappeared as the lights went on, I could see the guys beside me edging forwards, revs high, I stayed calm and got the drop on the lights spot on and headed into turn 1 in the lead. It didn't last long as at the turn into Island bend, Gary came underneath me. Later in the lap Phil Read got by on the brakes into Lodge. I chased but could see the two in front were probably going to pull away and then on lap 2, the red flags came out, and the race was stopped. The whole grid was reformed at the start line but it was to be about 20 minutes before the re-start.

The new race, reduced in distance was a repeat of the first for me except Phil came by on lap 1 and Garry on lap 2.
As the guys began to pull away, I took a sneak over my shoulder to check on Dan. he was a fair distance back and with a little monitoring, I realised that elusive podium was becoming a reality. I kept my head down for the rest of the race, allowing myself a quick check to make sure Dan wasn't going to be a threat. The bike was on song and things were looking good. It felt great to be riding well and maintaining the gap to Dan. I knew it was going to result in My first Podium. At the finish I punched the air hard and with the biggest relief I have ever felt.
I felt an immense feeling of warmth and achievement to have got myself a trophy at last. I had certainly not expected to be winning a pot this season at the beginning of the year.
Phil had got past Garry to take the win. With these two battling for the Championship, race 2 was going to be all important for them both but someone else had other ideas and was about to spoil their party!

More light hearted piss taking..... I really enjoyed the company of the Thunderbikes guys in the pit garages. Bless em!

With an eye on the darkening sky, I enjoyed a really relaxed afternoon while we waited for the second and last race. I was feeling very comfortable and a surreal calm about the coming race. During the afternoon, Garry's pit crew member, Simon, had come into my awning with a look of aggression on his face. I thought I must have upset him somehow.
"what are you doing? You let those guys by. You don't have to do that, You CAN beat them. Don't let them by"
He went on further with my reply being that they are just too fast to keep behind.
This had got me thinking and a bit of a tactical plan developed in my head. If I could get away at the start, Hopefully the faster 400 guys would get in the way of Budgen and Read, enough to help me get away. I think this worked to some degree.

I left my departure for the collecting area really late but timed to perfection. As I arrived the grid was already taking to the track to form up on the grid. Superb! hot tyres and a quick release into the warm up lap is just perfect and I felt great.
I got the hole shot from 3rd on the grid and took off like I'd stolen the bike and was being pursued by the police. I rode on the limit from the lights and wasn't about to let up the pace. In the previous two part race, I was getting passed through the flat out left hander of Island bend and into the heavily banked Shell hairpin. Well, Island is supposed to be flat but talking earlier to Phil and a few others, it was clear that maximum commitment was going to be necessary to get through there faster and not touch the brakes. I managed to find my bollocks! nobody was coming past!
As the laps went by I continued to feel fully committed to every part of the circuit. Clay hill is a big place to be keeping the throttle pinned open as the front claws the air over the blind crest . I just kept the thing pinned everywhere. I really wanted to keep these guys behind and I didn't dare let myself look behind. Phil did manage to get by at the hairpin but over shot it and I stuck it back under him and retained the lead. Seeing the last lap flag was bizarre. I couldn't quite believe I was still leading the race. It was almost too good to be true. Then the inevitable. Phil made a great block pass at the hairpin, parking the Vyrus on the apex, leaving me nowhere to put my bike but to slot in behind and chase. I could see no way of getting by as we hurtled towards the finish. Deer leap leads onto the start straight and as we crested the rise I felt great to be finishing 2nd. Phil is a great guy and I felt like I had done a great job holding him for the whole race, and to get a better result than before had exceeded my goal for the weekend. Bonus for me!
As we went for the line I was expecting the chequered flag and when I couldn't spot it, it left me a little confused for a moment. Then I realised the red flags were out and just round the next turn there was a bike laying in the middle of the track. When I realised it was Colin and his ZXR yet again, and that he was also on the track with medical cars there too, I was worried. The marshals had held us before ushering us up the pit exit back towards the pit and at that moment Phil had poked me saying " you won that!".
In all the confusion and emotion of a good result and the fact a good friend was evidently hurt, it took the whole ride back to the pits and being stopped by Jeremy Hill and Sarah Jordan, before it had sunk in that I had actually won the race!

A nice big grin eh!

For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, if the race is stopped, the result is taken from the lap before. So Colin's misfortune was my good fortune. The least I could do was pack his van and make sure he got home. he was ok apart from a broken rib.
Phil got the lap record and I missed it by 4 tenths of a second almost exactly the same time as Garry. This was very satisfying.
I had actually finished 3rd on the track as there were two 400 guys that got by, one of which I had swapped paint with as we came together side by side. It certainly woke me up and was the biggest bang I've had so far in racing. Of course they were in their own race and were nothing to worry about.
It's really strange seeing my two trophies sat on the shelving at home. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I remember they are there.

My goals for this season were regular top 10 finishes with a top 6 being a bonus, and a top 10 championship position at the end. As things are at the moment, I am 7th in the standings and have a string of top 6 finishes. I hope for top 6 by the seasons end. I had never imagined I would win!

It would be nice to be needing a bigger cabinet!

Sunday 24 August 2008

Cooking at Cadwell. Part 2

The prediction of foul weather for Sunday came to nothing and we were greeted with sunshine that would stay with us all day. No need for hurried wheel changing is always a relief.
With the torture of deciding which bike to ride now done with, I felt good about the day ahead and able to concentrate on making the most of things.
I had changed the worn out slicks on the FZ for the newer 2 race old ones from the Guzzi the previous evening and felt confident enough to not take the warm up session. Less hassle, leaving more time to relax and get in the right frame of mind for the racing. I also changed the front brake pads for new ones.
With the Guzzi looking sad sat in the paddock unused, a few Guzzi supporters had turned up to watch and were to be disappointed. I felt for them but this is racing. A racer has to do what suits him best.

Race 1, row 2 start and I was feeling great. The previous day on the Guzzi really had made me go faster.

The now customary getaway off the start line put me into 3rd into turn 1 and I quickly settled into a fast pace. I got the feeling there was someone behind and I was soon to drop to 4th, but I kept the pace up following Phil Read and Garry Budgen closely and consistently in the low to mid 1:41 second range.

I had a close look at the back of the Alto Vyrus for quite some time!

I chased these two hard.

After the race I found I had smashed my best time by well over a second to 1:41.21.

Dan and young Danny start to catch me not long before the red flags come out.

During lap 7, Dan Wright finally got past but as the race was stopped due to a crash, the results are taken from the lap before the red flag and I had myself a 4th place finish. A shame the race didn't run the full 9 laps but I was really happy with the result and the way I had ridden. Consistanly running 1:41 was satisfying. My pace felt faster and I had pushed the FZ harder than ever before. Of course, a 4th meant it would be the first time that I would start from the front row and with the FZ getting away well, I was quietly confident I could stir things up at the front in race 2.

There was what seemed like an age between the first race and our second. Good time to relax, get the bike ready, watch a bit of the other racing and socialise.I even had time for a half hour of kip!

We bagged a nice spot under the trees.

I really enjoyed Sunday afternoon. Stu had turned up to meet me, another Yamaha rider I had got to know through the internet. He had donated some bike parts last winter and I chucked some tickets to the racing his way. I know he really enjoyed himself and it was great to be able to put on a good show for him and Simon, who had brought his wife along too.
Simon had brought his video along too and is to thank for the clips I have uploaded to this post.

The promise of a front row start was fantastic and I took to the grid with my head in a good state. When the start line official points his flag at the lights, and they come on, the world around becomes strange and numbed, almost like you are staring down at yourself from above. Trying to anticipate the turning out of the lights by the human on top of the start light gantry is a fun game. I can sense the bikes along side creeping, with my eyes looking past the lights, I can still see when they go out.

Out the lights went and I didn't see another bike for almost the whole of that first lap. As I lead the race out across the wide open fields of the first half of the lap, I remember thinking, someone has got to come past soon! It was weird and almost like I was out there on my own. I felt calm but at the same time pumped and was riding hard and on the limit, again, pushing harder than ever. It was a great feeling coming up over the mountain for the first time in the lead and into Hall bends but at the end of Hall and into the hairpin, Lee Hodge, riding the injured Simon Peytos' SV, stuffed it up the inside to take the position.

I chased him hard and reeled him back in along the start straight but was unable to do anything about his level of pace.
It was a short but very sweet experience, leading a race and a couple of laps later I had Garry Budgen and then Dan Wright come past. They were just a little too quick for me to challenge all weekend.No Phil Read? he had suffered a mechanical gremlin and pulled out early on. I backed it down just a little to stay safe and bag that 4th place and some more really good points.

Here's a great series of shots from Jules. Exiting mansfield corner and into the chicane before the approach to the Mountain.

What a race. My best so far and getting better. I hadn't quite managed to beat my best time from the previous race by a small margin but overall consistency had been good again and I had a great result and another fantastic weekend.

Hall Bends

and more Hall Bends

All the good points positions of the last few races have moved me up the table to 8th in the standings. Top ten is great but aiming ever higher has to be done. Top 6 is the goal for the end of the season. Now that would be great!

Oulton Park in Cheshire is next on the list. No Thinderbike rider has ridden there except Phil Read and that was 16 years ago. A complete unknown for all of us and with just 4 X 15 minute practice sessions before the 2 Saturday races, it's going to be an interesting meeting.

Sunday 10 August 2008

Thunderbikes. Some of the other bikes.

One of the Alto Perfomance teams' guys, Jules, takes pictures for fun and to supply the team no doubt. He is always willing to run off a copy for me at the end of a meeting. I would like to take the time to show off some of his handy work and at the same time show some of the other bikes racing in Thunderbikes. Jules takes some great shots and Cadwell is one of the most picturesque places to be shooting. Unfortunately, I don't have the software to cut the shots down to size and I don't suppose the skill either, so forgive me Jules, if this doesn't do your shots justice. Personally, I still think they're brilliant.

In no particular order...

Joe Duggan, new to the series this year and doing well on his Ducati 748

Rob Chapman on his gorgeous NSR250.

Regular John Hall. If you think you're too old, come at see John wheelie over the mountain at the young age of 61!

Gary Budgen. Missed the championship by 1 point last season.

My co.racer Phil Smith. This is engine number 3 this season. Spent the 2 previous seasons on a Laverda 750 formula.

Paul Martin. Suzuki SV 650. A popular bike for Thunderbikes. Altamura run 2 of these, The other ridden by Craig Ashall.

Mike Parry fields another Ducati 748. A nice looking example.

Simon Peyto, Championship leader sat in Hospital while Lee Hodge plays caretaker aboard The Diablo Suzuki SV 650. A superbly prepared and set up machine.

Peter Whitelegg aboard his Alto prepared Laverda 750 formula. Pete raced for Alto for a while before Read took over last season. Hope to see this out again.

Phil Read JnR aboard the Alto Vyrus. No forks can win! This is a feast for any engineers eyes. What an amazing piece of kit. Some say it's ugly, some say it's lovely.Either way, it's fast and can win.

Dan Wright on a Honda CBR 600 "steelie", very similar to Gary Budgens' and giving Gary a hard time.

Young Danny Buchan.Age just 15 years. Remember that name, you may well hear it a lot in the future. Kawasaki ZXR400. He was excluded from the results at Cadwell because the frame was deemed illegal. Too long a story to go into, but he was flying. He took the lap record. Excluded or not, nobody could take away from him, his outright pace. The championship would look different if he was a regular. What a talent!

Andy Burbridge on another Ducati. Andy is an old hand at racing but is out at the moment with a broken collarbone. He'll be back for sure! Not sure who took this picture.

The Inzane Ducati. Ridden by MotorCycle News reporter Michael Neeves. This bike runs on Bio Ethanol. Who says racing can't be green!

Ok so this picture was taken by me back in June but I couldn't leave out the Kawasaki ZXR 750s of Colin Walkey (blue machine) and Rob Bean. These two were at it hammer and tongs all race until colin fell at the mountain, putting him out of racing for a few meetings. That was scary, don't do it again Colin. Rob is also out at the moment with a busted motor. He'll be back I am sure.

This TDR 250 runs in the Yamaha Past Masters series along with RD250LCs,RD350LCs, TZR250s and RD350 YPVS machines. 2 strokes are eligable for thunderbikes and I am surprised we don't see any in our series. I like this bike a lot. It's really tidy and I had to
stick it on this page.

This is a Racing line image from Brands early in the season. Kev Furnish on his Suzuki GSXR 750. Gary Skellet also runs a GSXR 750 in Sheene colours. He's not had much luck with it though. It keeps breaking.

Here's a couple of moody shots from Jules, Both of Phil Read. They capture some of what racing is about....

There are a lot more machines racing in Thunderbikes.Last season there were somewhere around 80+ different bikes and riders entered in the series.This year we are up to around 50 or more. Some are regular entries, others are only occasional. I don't have images of quite a few of them and what I do have are rubbish. If you are interested to have a look at more stuff, Racing line Photography have some great shots of just about everybody that races with the club on their website archive. The link is on the right of this page.


Saturday 9 August 2008

Cooking at Cadwell. part 1

If you follow my blog regularly, then you'll know I love going to Cadwell.
This round was to be a little different though and my mental state as the weekend approached, was a bit shaky. Let me explain.
When we were racing at Croix back in mid June, The owner of Gyles' Moto Guzzi asked me if I would be interested in riding another MGS01 next season. Naturally, I was excited about the prospect and as Gyles was due to not be riding at Cadwell, it was agreed I would test the bike to see how I felt about riding it.

I think there were only ever 50 of the MGS01 made by the factory and they were built as a race bike and do not make a good road bike. I have been told that if you want lights and a number plate, it's another £2,000 please! Amongst Guzzi fans, this bike is the grail, so I am extremely privileged to be riding it, and with a price tag of somewhere in the region of £17,000, an expensive machine it certainly is, as well as rare. The only one racing in the UK.

The FZ has been a long journey for me, from the initial build and the hard slog to getting the bike to run and handle well, to improving my riding and getting the bike into the top 6. That was always the goal for me, to be consistantly running in the top 6. So now I am there, it's hard to go and jump on another bike.

So as Cadwell on the Guzzi approached, I found myself torn between the chance to ride the Guzzi and wanting to continue on my journey with the FZ. It is really difficult to get across how hard a decision it was to choose between the two. The FZ just had to go in the van too, just in case I decided to ride it and also in the event of a nasty with the Guzzi.

So Friday Practice came, and at last a ride on the Guzzi. The first thing you would notice is the weight. At around 220kg its a good 40 or more kg heavier than the FZ. There is however, more power, around 120bhp and something like 96fpt ( foot pound torque ) as opposed to the FZ with 95bhp and around 70fpt.

With the last Cadwell meeting just five weeks ago, the circuit was still fresh in my mind, so at least it should be easier to get my head around the Moto Guzzi, but there was all this weight! It is such a different machine to the Yamaha. I had to almost re learn the corners. The first session, and after several laps the weight began to take it's toll on my body. I remember thinking, how on earth am I going to last 8 laps on this?
I returned to the pits absolutely soaked in sweat and feeling a little down in the mouth. I was determined to give it another go and went a bit quicker in the next session. With just four sessions booked for me, I decided that the last would be for the FZ, just to keep my hand in should I decide to ride the old girl in the races.

The third session on the Guzzi and I was even more convinced I would struggle on race day. I realised I was not fit enough to hustle this brute of a machine as well or as quickly as Gyles.
When time came for the last session of the day, I fired the FZ. What a difference! So light and nimble compared to the big black beast. I felt instantly at home and so much happier. I really wanted to ride the FZ. That last session was fantastic fun and I really found a renewed love of riding the FZ. As they say, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. I was instantly on the limit with the Yamaha and feeling that I could push harder than I ever had before with this bike.
This is not to take anything away from the Moto Guzzi.

What a fantastic bike it is. It is a really planted to the road feeling. It has immense presence both on and off the track, and gives out a "don't you mess with me" look no matter where you look at it from.I'm sure it would scare the pants off anyone with a weak constitution.
So with the Friday sessions over, and race day looming, the dilemma on what to do became larger. I chatted with Gyles on the phone, I chatted with Jeremy Hill and several other people in an attempt to reach the right decision for me. The next morning would be the time to decide.Go with your gut feeling was the general advice.

Saturday at last, race day.
I had to give the Guzzi a chance and see how I got on. 1 minute 40 seconds was a tall order and matching Gyles was going to be near on impossible. Practice times from the previous day were taken from timing my on-board camera laps and the best was a 1:46. Mid pack times and not the top 6 I would have liked. Anyway I had to give it a shot.

Race 1 and I was to start from the second row and with all that big Guzzi torque I figured I could get up there at the start. Having not done a race start on this bike, I was looking forward to finding out how this bike would compare to the FZ. Gyles usually got away well but the FZ is renowned for getting away particularly well.
Well the start wasn't too bad at all. An initial bit of bogging down but as the torque cut it, I found myself heading for a small gap between Read and Budgen and tucked into 3rd into turn 1.

The first lap was ok and the guys in front of me pulled a small gap but as the next couple of laps went on, I began to struggle and the queue behind me began to form up. I was soon down a place, then another and the weight of the bike really began to show.

If a down change in gear is made too early, the front of the bike begins to perform a really strange pogo action and quite severe it is too. At the down hill entry to Mansfield corner, I found out just how bad it can be as I
braked a bit late and banged down the box in a hurried attempt to get stopped in time. The spirit of Zebedi hit the bike and I ended up going straight on and a trip across the grass. By the time I rejoined, most of the field had gone past.

At the same point on the track the next lap round, my foot slipped from the peg and I realised the peg had jumped ship and with it, the gear shift lever dangled helplessly from the bike. So that was it.No gear change and nowhere to put my left foot. I was almost relieved to have to pull in. I was absolutely knackered. The harsh reality of riding this bike hit me and before I had got back to the pit, I had decided that the FZ was going to get out for some fun.

I was feeling a bag of mixed emotions buzzing through me as I got the FZ ready to race that afternoon. A little unhappy that I had not got my head around the Guzzi as well as I had hoped but also pleased at the progress I had made with the bike. Conflicting feelings really but I had been confident I could get closer to Gyles' times than I had. I had run a 1:45 in the race. A full 5 seconds slower than he had run at the last meeting. Fitness would be the key and a lot more time on the bike. Also the suspension needs a lot of work to get it to suit me better. Excuses? yeah I guess they are!

It was not all bad though. I am sure that riding the Guzzi had made me ride the FZ better and quicker too. When I jumped back on the Yamaha for race 2, I felt more fired up and confident than at any point in any past races. I would have to start from the back in 23rd place but as we all lined up for the warm up lap, the two rows in front had each a vacant grid slot on the left hand side of the track. My slot was one in from left. A nice big gap to aim for and three rows ahead sat Phil on his fresh engined FZ. I remember telepathically asking Phil to move over to the right and let me past. At the start, it was like the parting of the Red Sea. The gap in front widened and just as I came up behind Phil, he moved out of the way and gave me a clean shot at more bikes ahead of him. I think I was 10th into the first turn. An absolutely blistering start!
I had Joe Duggan, Paul Martin and Adam Palfreman ahead of me and was determined to get past as soon as possible. I could see the guys in front of them getting away and it seemed like Joe on his Ducati, was holding things up. It took two or three laps to clear these three guys and by the time I had, the bikes in front were long gone. That's when Micheal Neeves started to make things interesting. Riding the Inzane Ducati800ss, Michael was doing a story for Motorcycle News about riding a Bio ethenol powered bike.

Michael Neeves chases hard.

He is a real fast racer and as he came past me I realised who it was. If there is ever incentive to ride on the limit, it's when someone with a reputation comes past. I got back past him and as each lap passed, I could feel the deep rumble of the Ducati vibrating in my chest, I could feel it was Michael and at one point, I took a quick peek to check. As I did, I noticed he was on his own and we had dropped the other guys.I continued to push relentlessly and hard too. Lap after lap and I kept the pace hard. I began to tire towards the final few laps but dug deep and kept up the fight. I managed to keep the Ducati behind to the flag and finished in 7th. I was ecstatic with that result and had enjoyed the racing more than ever. I knew my riding had changed too. I felt so much more confident in the bike and felt I could push more than ever. 1:42.6 had been my best lap here last time and I had dropped that to a 1:42.5 just a shade faster but on extremely worn out rubber. last time out I had been on new rubber and with a new set of tyres waiting for the FZ for the Sunday races I knew there had to be a second to chop off my times. With the prospect of 7th on the grid the next day, and Micheal Neeves not racing anymore, I felt super excited about the chance of a solid top 6 on the Sunday.

The day had been a really good one. I had finally come to a conclusion as to what to do about the Guzzi/Yamaha dilema, I had gone faster on the FZ and I had found another level in my riding. I had also kept up my now traditional Cadwell ritual of not either starting or finishing the first race of the weekend. That's three meetings on the trot now!
I was really pleased to have Simon turn up again. If you remember, he came to the last Cadwell and saved my weekend from disaster. Now I had the chance to get a good result and put on a good show for him as reward for all the help and encouragement he has given. He got some great video footage of some of the racing too. I will share that with you in the the next post.