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Spring 2013 Racing Update

I’ve been a bit too busy to do proper write-ups of the last couple of rounds – new job and general life getting in the way. So here’s a quick update for the record.

 

Snetterton

 

Off to East Anglia again. A mixed weekend of weather, and a mixed bag of results. The boy is gaining in confidence, and results belied the fact that the times are getting better. He is being let down by his starts, and giving himself a lot of work to do in the races. Once he gets into the groove his lap times would put him mid-field, but he is not achieving that as he is struggling to catapult the 450 off the line.

 

Cadwell Park

 

We decided it was time to get a bit more track time, to help the lad to really start to ride the bike fast, so we entered the F400 and Minitwins and the RRV 450s. So we had eight races and two qualifying sessions over the weekend. We were really grateful for support from Motopodd whose contribution allowed us to keep the show on the road. The schedule was pretty gruelling, but we did start to see great improvement in the starts and got a lot of food for thought on the set-up of the bike. And as usual, some great racing on this fabulous track.

 

Oulton Park

 

Only one day of racing, so two races in each class. But what a weekend! It was one of those weekends where we just had to keep scanning the skies, and there were some downpours, but we also got some great close racing! There was one particularly great performance in the mini-twins, where the boy absolutely caned the bike, staying with the leading pack from start to finish, scoring a well-deserved 7th place, and only a few thousandths off fourth! Sadly he threw it at the scenery in the last race, but the last race is the time to do it, and there was only damage to the plastics.

 

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Donington Delivers Ups…and Downs!

So we set off to Donington for the first time since our amazing and eventful weekend last year, where we had three engines in the RS125 in 24 hours. So it has some memories for us. But what was concerning us most as we headed north up the M1 was the weather – and in particular the white stuff that was lying around in the countryside. The further North we got, the more of it there was. And we got really worried as we came over the last bit of high ground before cresting the hill that overlooks Leicester. Up there it wasn’t just the off bit of snow up against the hedges in the shadows – there was proper snow cover. Looked like it was going to be another cold weekend. And it was!

We were using the short circuit, without the Melbourne Loop, as it had been a struggle to get the track usable at all! A week before it had been covered in a foot of snow, and it showed – deep banks of snow were piled up around he track where they had been dumped by the snow ploughs. It was rather surreal to be racing at Easter, with deep snow piled around the track. But that’s England for you!

So on Friday we ran on wets once again, despite the track being bone dry. Amazingly, we still hadn’t had the dry tyres on the bike at all in 2013!

So in bitterly cold conditions we sent the boy out for his first practice session.

And all looked good. He was circulating at a decent pace, and each session he built up the pace a little bit more. But we were struggling, as we had been at Brands, to keep enough heat in the tyres, despite running the wets – the track temperature was just very very low.

The boy looked pretty comfortable throughout the day – with mixed classes on the track it was difficult to tell just how quick he was, and we didn’t really have a sense of what would be a good time for him. But he was far from the slowest on the track.

In the afternoon the temperature actually rose marginally, although still only to about 5 degrees. But it was enough for us to try the dry tyres, and at least get them scrubbed in for qualifying. So out he went on a set of brand new dry tyres in the later afternoon. We hadn’t managed to warm the tyres for long enough before the session, so the boy was instructed to give it two or three laps,taking it very easy, to scrub in and warm the tyres a bit. That only gave him two or three laps to wind it up a bit. And to make things more difficult, some traffic stopped him from really getting some pace up. At the end of the session the tyres were still far from at their optimum working temperature, but still looked nicely scrubbed in.

After scrutineering, as the sun started to dip towards the horizon it got colder. And colder. And then it got colder again. So we decided to drop the water, and fill up with antifreeze – amazing that this can be necessary at the end of March!

Sunday morning was bitter. And despite the forecast for a cold dry day, we started to get flurries of snow, which came and went for the rest of the day – fortunately never enough to dampen the track. But conditions were far from ideal.

Qualifying was mid morning. And as the temperature had come up slightly, we decided to run with the dry tyres. It was a frustrating session – there seemed to be some problem with the timing and for multiple laps, the system did not record a time for him, but we could see on the track that he was chasing – and reeling in – one of his main rivals who also progressed from Superteens this year. So all was looking good. Finally he caught the old rival, but then they circulated together for a few laps until the end of the session.

This worked against him – as the last position we’d been able to show him was 10th, which was right on target, but in those last couple of laps a few more fast times went in, and he was relegated to 14th with a time of 1.21.202 – an average speed of 86.761 mph over the 1.957 miles of Donington Park. But it was still an encouraging performance, His old rival had out-qualified him, but only by about four hundredths of a second. In fact only one second separated him from 8th place!

Our friend Tony – to whom thanks are due for his kind support at this round – gave Gideon a pep talk, explaining that as he’s reeled in his rival, he was clearly faster, and should have perhaps taken the opportunity to get past and put in an even faster lap. Every day’s a school day in racing!

The first race was a marvellous spectacle. The bikes make the most astonishing sound as they roar off the start line, but Gideon had a poor start, giving himself a lot of work to do. But he got to work without delay, and immediately made up a place round the tightening right hander that is Redgate. A great battle then ensued between four riders with Gideon in the middle. Lap after lap their times crept down as they struggled to outdo each other. We saw them tip into Redgate, and then got another glimpse as they took the Craner Curves, but we never knew what order they would have shuffled into after the agonising wait when we saw them again coming round the Fogarty Esses and onto the Wheatcroft Straight and across the line.

What was clear was that this little battle was catching the group in front, but sadly they never quite got there before the chequered flag came out. But Gideon’s pace had improved quite a lot, with a best lap of 1.19.818 and an overall average speed of 86.648 mph! And to top it all, his 14th place saw him ahead of the rival he had been battling with in qualifying.

The second race was another great spectacle, that shortened my life without a doubt. After another less than perfect launch off the line a duel emerged between Gideon and his rival from the last race. They came over the line thousandths of a second apart time after time. Gideon was now getting a much better line into Redgate, where he had been vulnerable in the previous race and was giving no quarter. Finally his rival made a last ditch effort to get past, taking the inside line into the esses, getting a nose in front. But Gideon knew he was there and had anticipated the move, setting himself up for the inside line, and getting the drive onto the straight, retaining a well deserved 12th place, by two thousandths of a second!

And that was about the best Donington Park had to offer, as it all went the shape of a well known fruit after that!

Monday continued cold, but we decided to keep the dry tyres on for the early morning 10 minute warm up. And out he went. But not for long.

After a single lap, he came into the pits – with no clutch function. Investigation revealed that the cable had pulled through the actuating arm on the crank case. The mechanism was irrecoverable, so a new one was sourced. Fitting it was not exactly straightforward – it meant removing the clutch cover, and centre, to allow access to the clutch push rod. It was a good job we had some time before the race.

But we were ready. At least we thought we were.

They flew off from the line but immediately it looked like Gideon wasn’t comfortable. And sure enough after a few laps he came into the pits. There was far too much free play in the clutch which he was struggling to disengage. We managed to sort it fairly quickly, and sent him back out to finish the race. In retrospect I wish we hadn’t.

In sight of the chequered flag, on the last lap, he did the decent thing and moved off the racing line to allow the leaders through, and then, on the cold unused tarmac, he opened the throttle to follow them over the line, but disaster struck. The rear let go of the cold tarmac and spat him off in a nasty high-side.

He was OK, but bashed and shaken up. As was the bike – but we were able to get it ready just in time for the final race. But at this stage of the game, the bruised boy was riding for a finish, which he delivered, still picking up s few points, as a number of others didn’t manage to stay aboard in the deteriorating conditions.

So we survived what Donington had to throw at us – and true to form, it found a few things to test us! But it’s onwards and upwards, with more experience gained and lessons learned. Look out Snetterton – Trog Racing is coming. And we are hungry.

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Brands Hatch – March 2013

Brands was always going to be more of a learning experience than a real all-out dash for the chequered flag. Gideon had only ridden the RRV450GP once before – at the Mallory test day a couple of weeks ago – and he hadn’t ridden a motorcycle before that since the last 125 race in October.

But circumstances chose to make things even more difficult. For a start, I was not well. Actually, that’s a slight understatement, as a chest infection with asthma had seen me in hospital with breathing trouble in the week beforehand, and on the Thursday, I was unable to walk more than a few steps. So it was only through the marvellous help afforded by Mark (The Saint) Hill, and the wonderful Olly Moore, that we made it to the track at all. Olly really deserves a medal, as he drove direct from his job in Leeds to Brands Hatch to help us out, without so much as a sleeping bag . Seriously, these guys will get their reward in heaven.

Add to this poisonous mix, the cruel weather – monsoon on Friday, followed by zero degrees with snow flurries by Sunday – and the stage was set for a difficult weekend!

We had a plan. We know that Gideon is quick, but he has lacked some consistency. The RRV450GP is a two year project for us. So we want to build consistency, and we want to build pace gradually, learning the bike and its limits, and making sure that we finish as many races as possible.

Conditions for practice were shocking. It rained and rained and rained. It didn’t even ease off – continuous heavy rain. At least there were no doubts about tyre choice!

So out he went into the Brands Hatch regatta. And all looked well. I was determined that there should be no pressure – this really was about learning the bike, and not about trying to beat anyone, pushing too hard, and throwing the bike at the scenery. But we did secretly time him in the afternoon, and it was clear that the boy can ride the bike, despite the relentless downpour. Times were around 1.04 – not blistering, by any means, but not dissimilar to other riders, all of whom seemed to be trying hard to stay aboard in the shocking conditions.

So we survived a day of practice, and were pleased by the boy’s mature attitude to learning the bike, and not pushing too hard too soon. And we spent the evening doing what we could to dry out some leathers that were more of a wet-suit!

Saturday was better weather, but still damp and getting colder. We sent the boy out for qualifying, again with the same plan – find space, ride at your own pace, and build up a rhythm. And don’t take risks you don’t need to. And that’s what he did. Unfortunately the rhythm was interrupted by the pinlock on the new Shoei misting internally, and robbing him of vision. He had to pit, and all we could do was to rip off the pinlock. That was a bit disappointing – that’s why we use a pinlock, after all!

But the times were very encouraging. A 56.9 second lap put the boy in 8th spot (well inside our top 15 target), until the last lap of qualifying, when a few more fast laps relegated him to 11th. Still we were very pleased indeed, for a first time out in anger!

And so they lined up on the grid for our first race on the RRV450GP. The bikes sound awesome – 17 rasping v-twins, barking, growling, and spitting pure aggression. As the lights go on the note rises to a sustained chorus of searing rage. And then they launch towards Paddock Hill which awaits them with unseen off-camber dropping-away menace.

But it wasn’t a good start, and the boy is nearly last dropping away into Paddock Hill. But he’s not giving up. He takes one back down Paddock Hill, and gives chase, and his times show that he is catching the group ahead of him, and has times as good as the mid pack riders chasing the leaders. But this is a very competitive class, and no quarter is given. Eventually he catches the group ahead, but decides not to risk trying to mix it, and follows them for the last couple of laps, and sees the chequered flag, safely finishing his first race. And that’s what we asked him to do. 12th place from a start in 11th, and we are happy – although we’ll need to work on that start, just as we did on the 125 last year.

The second race, late in the afternoon is similar. Not a great start, but promising pace, and again kept his head as others came to grief, picking up good points for a finish in 13th place. Another finish – which is what we were looking for.

Sunday was cold. Altogether more difficult. And very cold. Difficult to describe how cold. And with odd flurries of snow just to remind us that is was cold. In your bones cold. It was dry, but there was no chance of using the slicks – we needed the softer compound of the wets, as it was very difficult to keep any heat in the tyres. And to make things worse, HMT had run out of new wets, although they said they MIGHT have a rear for us in the afternoon. So in the morning we ran on the wet that had been on the rear all weekend, and was looking pretty flaky on the right hand side.

The first race was another endurance test, with the boy clearly struggling for grip on the rear. But he fought on bravely, and did what was necessary – bringing it home and bagging some points. We put a brand new wet on the rear for the final race, but it really didn’t seem to help. The boy did very well to keep the bike on the black strip in the very poor conditions, and brought it through the chequered flag, to put a few more points on the score.

Interestingly, the brand new wet tyre we had put on the rear, which I expected to be destroyed by 12 laps on a dry track, came back in looking brand new. Something odd was going on here – the boy had been complaining about very poor rear grip, and this suggested that the rear tyre just wasn’t working and generating and retaining heat. Something seemed to be amiss.

A trip to Steve Jordan Motorcycles has started to throw some light on it. We discovered two problems, one of which would definitely have caused very poor rear tyre performance. The rebound damping on the rear was far too high, so the tyre would not have been making good consistent contact with the track. We also discovered a problem with one of the front forks, which did not seem to have been repaired properly following some accident damage earlier in the bike’s life. Indeed the left fork may be slightly bent! This puts Gideon’s performance into a whole new perspective – he was reasonably competitive on a bike that was fighting against him! Either way, the bike is now at Steve Jordan Motorcycles, and our suspension will be working spot on for Donington. So watch out Donington – Trog Racing is coming to get you!

Finally, huge thanks to Steve and Sarah at Steve Jordan Motorcycles – they understand the pressure of racing, as they are racers too – they really kindly shifted their workshop diary around to accommodate us so that we will be ready for Donington. Really ready!

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The 2013 Race Bike is here!

We have a gorgeous (and nearly new, at 1 year old) Aprilia RRV450! We started it up for the first time, and it sounds GORGEOUS!

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Mallory Park – The Final Push

So it was off to Mallory Park again, for the final round of the season. By now we were pretty familiar with Mallory, having been here more than any other UK circuit. We were here for the pre-season testing, three days for the last Thundersport round here earlier in the year,and twice for the Benjamin Gautrey Foundation events. So we didn’t really have to worry about learning the track! And, for the first time this season, Gideon’s Mum was in attendance!

Luckily Mark “The Saint” Hill was able to be there early, and grabbed us one of the first-come first-served garages, so when we arrived it was a fairly easy job of unloading the bikes into the garage, and parking up behind them, where we could also plug in to the garage electricity supply, which meant heating in the van – a nice luxury for a late October meeting!

It was dampish on Friday morning, but the forecast was good. It was pretty frantic as ever, getting Gideon out of bed, into his kit, and getting the bikes down to scrutineering ready for the practice sessions in the morning. As Thundersport were still running additional races to make up for the cancelled day at Anglesey, we only had the morning for practice, and then the 15 minute qualifying session in the afternoon.

The strategy for the weekend was pretty simple. Gideon was in third place in the Nitro Newcomers championship, 46 points clear of fourth. The plan was to avoid heroics, not worry about podiums, and concentrate on solid performances and finishing races – so basically to stay on the bike! This proved to be more challenging than you might imagine, as one of the things that makes Gideon such an exciting rider, is that he struggles to turn it down from 11 out of 10..ever!

We sent the boy out in the first session on the wet bike, as the track was still damp with dew, although it was drying quite quickly. He looked pretty comfortable as he circulated – not blisteringly fast, but not too slow either. In the second session he went out on the dry bike. He didn’t look quite so happy this time. When he came in he was complaining about gear change problems. I immediately suspected the new rear-sets I had fitted after the last round, and we adjusted the linkage, which did the trick,

In the third session we put the stop-watch on him. Again on the dry bike, and the track temperature was starting to improve. He was circulating with lap times of around 1.04. That’s not bad for Mallory, where the lap record is just under 1.01 for the 125s. We checked the pace of some rivals, and they were all in a similar range, so we seemed to be on course.

After what seemed like a frantic busy morning of checks, fettling and refuelling, the qualifying session was called. “No heroics” I said to him as he left for the collecting area “first or second row of the grid will be perfect”. So we were looking for anything up to 8th place. And even third row would be no disaster, as he seems to have his starts sorted now.

The first lap is never worth looking at, so I waited for him to come past the start-finish. He was head-down with throttle pinned, and it didn’t sound as though he lifted at all for Gerrard’s. It’s amazing to watch the faster riders tipping into the the long right hander at full chat, and holding it, with elbows brushing the kerbing! But I was slightly disappointed to see the place as he went through the trap – 11th. But it would do. I guessed he was doing what he was told, and not taking any chances. As usual I was wrong.

Next time round he was chasing a fast bike some distance ahead. He flew through the trap, under the bridge and tipped in to Gerrards at an impossible angle, going round the outside of several slower bikes. This looked like a quick lap. And it was. 4th – first row of the grid. That looked a bit better! But he wasn’t finished yet!

He seemed to spend another lap composing himself, and then saw his position on the pit board, and I saw him tuck in and pin it for another flying lap. I watched as he catapulted round Gerrards, hanging off the bike, and losing leather from the elbow of his suit. That looked to be on the limits of traction! Then there’s the awful minute waiting for him to reappear on the left-hander onto the start-finish. When he appeared again he’d made a real impression on the bike in front. He was at a ridiculous angle on the downhill left-hander, and used every inch of tarmac to get safely onto the start-finish, where he tucked in and pinned it for glory.

1.00.836! Pole position. And faster than the lap record by a tenth or so, although as it wasn’t in a race it doesn’t stand as a new record. But it’s still pretty quick! No-one would go quicker all weekend!

Saturday morning was wet. It wasn’t raining, but the track was wet. As the sun broke through I was sure it would dry pretty quickly. It didn’t. So it was out for the warm-up on the wet bike, but we were sure we’d be on the dry bike for the first race. But the track just seemed to take for ever to dry, and when the race was called it was till too damp, so he formed up on the grid on the wet bike.

It was a decent start, and as the boys emerged from the cloud of blue smoke, and screamed past the pit wall towards Gerrards he’s kept with the front row boys, going into Gerrards first and emerging fourth, showing that the wet bike doesn’t quite have the oomph of the dry bike. But it was till looking good, although one more bike crept past and between the third and sixth laps he was holding 5th, and 3rd in his class, but matching the pace of the leaders,

Bearing in mind the strategy was to just finish races, we were more than a bit gutted, when he failed to appear on the 7th out of 10 laps. It seems the rear let go on the exit from Gerrards – the fastest part of the circuit, although luckily the well watered grass gave a forgiving run-off and there was little damage to boy and bike.

The second race was again on the wet bike, as the track just didn’t want to dry, despite the sun sand absence of rain. A blistering start shot him into the lead, but something just didn’t seem right, and he slipped gradually down the order. We were grateful that he stayed on the bike, but finishing 11th is not what Gideon is used to. He complained that the bike didn’t seem to be making good power. A trip to the dyno later revealed it was giving 31 BHP which is pretty good, so suspect the earlier high speed crash had shaken him more than he thought.

But we were still holding 3rd place, but now by a much diminished 13 points. We discussed how he would really need to stay on the bike on Sunday…

Sunday was foggy and damp. But this time it did dry quicker. The warm-up was in the clearing fog on the wet bike, but the first race was dry at last – or nearly dry at least. And it was a blinding race, if ultimately tragic. He flew off the line into second place, showing fantastic pace. But had number 58 on his tail. Eventually he got past, pushing Gideon into third, but first in his class, by the penultimate lap. That’s still a great result, and would have sealed the championship. But part of what makes Gideon a good rider, is the hunger for the win, and he went past the rider in third, re-taking second on the the brakes into the hairpin, but was perhaps too eager on the brakes, and both bikes went down, robbing both of podium finishes. It was deeply sad, but you have to remember that it’s that killer instinct that makes him the rider he is.

So for the final race, he was only 8 points clear. He had to stay on, and he had to beat the rider in 4th. So no pressure then!

Another good start saw him circulating with the leaders, but this time it was a mature race, and he knew it was his last chance to deliver. He was concentrating on not taking risks, and sensibly let the leaders go, and after around six laps we were able to signal to him with the pit board that it was in the bag, as the rider in 4th in the championship was off. His relief was palpable, and he eased off further, touring in the last few laps, but still picking up 3rd in his class for a podium on his last 125 race!

https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/398218_545784168780365_1807556709_n.jpg

So it was something of a nail-biting finish to the season, with Gideon being Gideon as ever, astonishing us with just how fast he can go, but giving us plenty to worry about as well! But he is starting to mature as a rider, and next season will be a great opportunity for him to work on being quick and consistent!

It’s been a great season’s racing, which we will remember for the rest of our lives. So I just want to take the opportunity to thank a few people who made it possible. Huge thanks go to:

 

  • Mark “The Saint” Hill, the crew-chief, for being there, and basically making it happen,
  • Thundersport GB for the best organised racing you’ll ever encounter,
  • All the Marshals and recovery crew whose services we’ve needed a few times!
  • Dunlop
  • Ian Newton and InCompetition
  • Aprilia
  • Motrac Racing for engine work, race preparation, and help and advice
  • Daytona for the superb boots
  • Shark for the lovely helmets
  • Alison my lovely wife for giving up holidays and just about everything else!
  • Olly Moore for support both temporal and spiritual
  • The Benjamn Gautrey Foundation
  • The folk at therevcounter.com for their kind help and support
  • And all the other Superteens riders and their families and friends who made it all what it was.
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Glory at Gorgeous Cadwell Park!

Cadwell Park isn’t exactly conveniently located. Well, not if you are based in South London, it’s not. There just isn’t a direct motorway route to the wilds of Lincolnshire. So it was a long drive in the Trog Racing Transit, through the Dartford Tunnel, up the M11, a bit of the A1, and then what seemed like an endless trek on A roads through the countryside.

But it was worth it, when we arrived. Cadwell Park is just spectacular. It is set in gorgeous hilly landscape, with a mixture of open parkland and woods. And the fabulous narrow strip of black snakes through it, following the contours of the land, resulting in a challenging track to ride, and an amazing track to watch.

It’s sheer spectacle made up for the rather poor facilities – no electric hook up, resulting in the endless drone of generators in the paddock…

Friday morning was damp and dreary. It had rained during the night, and it looked like it meant to continue on and off for the day. And the dry bike needed to be run in. But we thought we’d send the boy out on the wet bike to start with, and if there were n dry conditions later, we’d put the wets on the dry bike for a session, just to get the new piston bedded in.

When the first session went out the boys were rather tentative. I watched from the grandstand at the mountain. Everyone who’s interested in bike racing will have seen the mountain, and the spectacular shots of bikes taking to the air. But nothing prepares you for the reality. It is an insane piece of track! After a sharp right, the track rises sharply at about 45 degrees or more, before levelling and dropping away. It just looks mad! I couldn’t believe the bikes would race on it. But that’s what was planned!

The pace increased steadily as the day progressed, and as they came over the mountain, they were having trouble getting the front wheels back on the deck! Everyone said it takes time to learn Cadwell – its over two miles, and very complex and varied, as well as very narrow!

But apart from a minor off caused by an inexperienced rider braking mid corner, we had a good practice session, and managed a session on the dry bike with wets. Times tumbled from 2.09 in the first session to 1.56 in the last session. But a pattern was emerging. The riders who had been to Cadwell before had significantly better pace than those who were riding it for the first time.

And that pattern was repeated in the early evening qualifying session. Still in the wet, the bikes screamed past the pit lane, and I kept an eye on the times. I could see that Gideon was putting everything he had into it, but he couldn’t get the time down below 1.57. Eventually on lap 6 he managed 1.56.433, and that was his fastest lap. So he’d be starting from 8th on the grid, which, on Cadwell’s narrow grid meant third row.

So adequate, but not blistering pace. Gideon was reasonably happy with his performance, but said he just didn’t know what else to do, and couldn’t quite see where the faster riders were getting their pace. I just hoped that a night’s sleep would consolidate the learning of the track, and that he’d be able to put that to good use in the racing.

Saturday dawned bright, and cold. But dry. So we were glad we had the dry bike run-in and ready to go.

They went out at 9 for a 10 minute warm up, and again Mark “The Saint” Hill and I watched from the mountain. And it was looking good. The boy’s pace seemed to have improved, and he was flying over the crest with front wheel aloft, but getting it down neatly, and powering away towards the woodland section. But as soon as it had started, it was over again, as a 10 minute warm-up at Cadwell is barely four laps at race pace.

Finally we were on the grid for the first race. Gideon’s starts have not been brilliant on the dry bike, but we had been for some practice and were hoping for the best. The start on the sighting lap looked pretty good, and was promising.

The pit wall is down in a steep valley. You see the bikes emerge from the woodland on a fast right hander of Barn, and then they scream past, before taking a flat-out left of Copse up the hill, where you lose sight of them for what seems an age. You then see them briefly as they come over the mountain and head back into the woods, where you lose them again before they re-emerge coming round the right into the start/finish straight.

 

The bikes lined up. I could barely watch. The lights came on, and blue smoke drifted up the valley as twenty engines screeched. Lights out, and they were away.

At last a decent start! Gideon picked up a place or two, and it looked as though he went round Copse in about 6th place. Then there was the agonising wait for them to reappear. Finally the leader appeared over the mountain, hotly pursued by a tight freight train of four bikes, with Gideon at the back of this formation, in fifth place.

As they came round Barn for the second time Gideon pulled out of the slipstream and took fourth as he tipped into Copse. The freight train continued for another couple of laps, and with the pace increasing, they dropped the rider in fourth, so three bikes circulated tightly together. They were now doing 1.53 laps!

Another couple of laps and Gideon came round again in the middle of the three, having taken another place. He was now running in third – his best ever position, and he was looking hungry and threatening! On the penultimate lap, before we saw them, we heard on the commentary that the rider in second had gone down, so as they came round Barn we saw first the leader, then two seconds later Gideon in hot pursuit and closing.

We were standing on the pit wall cheering as he took the chequered flag, punching the air! First in his class and second overall! And he posted the fastest lap of the race at 1.50.504! It couldn’t get any better than this. Could it?

The gorgeous weather held into the afternoon. In fact it got rather warmer in the sun, and we suspected the lap times would be even better. As they lined up on the grid I crossed my fingers hoping for a decent start. When the lights came on it sounded as though the afternoon would be torn apart by the two-stroke wail. And then they were gone.

This time Gideon left the line like a stone from a catapult. He launched the bike forward, just keeping the front wheel down with his body weight forward, and from 8th on the grid he took Copse seconds later in fourth place! This was looking good!

When they reappeared over the mountain the leader was only a couple of bike lengths clear and Gideon was seemingly attached to the rear of the bike in second. And we didn’t have to wait long for him to make his move, as third time around he came over the mountain in second place. As he came round Barn and tucked in for the short straight he looked very quick. And the time confirmed he was catching the leader. Fourth time around he was faster again at 1.48.645! And as the race progressed he got closer and closer until they took the last lap flag virtually side by side! Into Copse they hurtled with Gideon taking the racing line, and going into the lead!

It seemed an age until we saw them again, but we could hear the commentary. He was back into second. I assumed that would be it, but the boy had other ideas, and wasn’t letting go. I knew they were in amongst back markers now, so anything could happen, and all I really wanted was for him to stay on the bike and see the chequered flag. But when we saw him again he was once again in the lead over the mountain. And finally, holding his nerve and his pace despite the efforts of the rider in pursuit he flew round Barn a couple of lengths clear, and, for the first time on the 125, took the chequered flag and the win!

As if that weren’t enough, we then had the Anglesey re-run, a double points race using the Anglesey grid to make up for the day lost to high winds in Wales. And this time he was at the front of the grid in 3rd. Another great start sent him into second place straight away, and he sensibly followed the leading bike closely into the second lap. Then we heard on the commentary that the leading bike had gone down. We hoped he hadn’t taken the lead at that point, but our worries were needless, as he appeared over the mountain in the lead, and a couple of seconds clear of the chasing pack. And that is where he stayed. He was faster than the pursuers, and his pit board confirmed this to his as we showed him +2, +4 and finally +6, so he had no need to take risks. But it was still an agonising wait for the chequered flag, giving him another fabulous victory, and the small matter of 50 points!

After a performance like that there were a lot of expectation on the boy’s shoulders on Sunday. It was still dry in the morning when they went out for the first race. And the start was superb, taking Copse in second place. But perhaps the pressure was just too much, as that was the last we saw of him. He had taken the lead, but then lost the front at the Goose Neck, and ended up in the tyres. But he was OK, and we had four hours to sort the bike out, which, in the usual way of cable ties and duct tape we did.

So it was important that he finish the final race of the day. It had rained about an hour beforehand, and the track was drying. It was difficult to choose tyres, but in the end we went for dry rubber. We were one of only three who made that choice, but it proved an inspired choice (yes, Mark, you were right!) . After a decent start he was fifth round copse, but the lap times confirmed that he was the fastest thing on the track after a couple of laps. And he started to pick them off reaching third place by the second lap. There followed a great battle with the rider in second and it took a few laps for Gideon to get past, but we were screaming like idiots as he came past the pits in second place. He was the fastest bike on the track again, but it was too late. The battle had held him up, and the leader was over two seconds clear. But it was another great race, displaying pace, and tactical maturity, and delivering a well-deserved second overall, and first in the Nitro cup!

Despite the crash on Sunday morning we were absolutely delighted with our most successful meeting yet. Gideon is really starting to show what he can do!

 

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Anglesey Coastal – Blistering Pace at Trac Mon

It’s a long way from South London to Anglesey. On a good day you might expect the 300 or so miles to take you upwards of five hours. But we had the joy of doing it on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend. And that made for a very long drive indeed. The final tally was about nine hours on the road. But the reward is something very special indeed. Trac Mon is a fabulous track, in the most beautiful setting you can possibly imagine. It is right on the coast of Anglesey, and you can see the mountains of Snowdonia in the distance – it is genuinely breathtaking. It’s also really nice to hear Welsh being spoken – everywhere, from the burger van, to the maintenance folk, Welsh was the language of choice.https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/320292_453123541399239_95330210_n.jpg

As this was the Grand Prix of Wales, the timetable was a little different to usual. We only had half a day of free practice, and then straight into qualifying on the Saturday afternoon, followed by two days of racing on Sunday and Monday.

We were up very early on Saturday morning. It had rained in the night, and the ground was wet, so we assumed we’d be running on wets all day. But the first job was to get the bike and the kit scrutineered, We got there early, and the queue wasn’t too bad, and both bikes passed without problem. So we settled into our garage, and waited for the first session.

When Gideon’s session was called, the track was still quite damp. But it wasn’t raining, and in places it looked like a dry line might soon appear. The boy went out, via noise testing, and onto the track for the first time. He looked quite comfortable, although not particularly quick. The stopwatch said he was around 1 minute 38 to start with, but he was feeling his way round the track and I knew there was more to come!

You can see quite a lot of the track from the pit wall – the bikes fly past the pits, and then into the flat-out left hander of turn 1. You then lose them for a while as they disappear down to the banking. But you see them again as they exit Church and along the long curve that is the fastest part of the track, which then continues quite steeply uphill to the sharp left of Rocket at the top of the hill, where you lose sight of them again. We don’t use the Tom Pryce Straight and hairpin, so the nest time we see the bikes is as they descend the insane corkscrew, and come back onto the start finish straight.

The second session came, and this time the track was dry enough for the dry bike. Out he went again. This time he was circulating at around 1 minute 30, and the times started to drop further. But he seemed to be struggling in some places – in particular he seemed to be having trouble at the top of the hill, and looked like he could be quicker round the sharp left.

A nice Irish guy, who was new to the series asked me what a good time was. I told him I didn’t really know, but that Gideon was now on 1:28s, and I suspected the boys would break 1:20 before the end of the day. It turned out I was right, but Gideon still wasn’t going as quick as I thought he could go, and a couple of rivals were looking very quick indeed. So we had a think after the session.

Gideon said it felt like a brake was binding on left turns. We suspected the front, and Olly cleaned up the pistons and we fitted new pads. We also went up a tooth on the rear sprocket, and down a jet size, as the weather was warming up.

The next session looked more comfortable. Gideon was pushing harder and harder, and the lap times continued to come down. And, he seemed to have sorted out the left at the top of the hill, and was now taking it in some style.

After the lunch break we prepared for the first session in anger – 20 minutes of qualifying, where we’d really see what everyone could do.

Gideon tends to go best when he has some space, but has a target in sight that he can try to catch up with, so we’d told him to try to find a fast rider, and chase them. And off he went on the tail of a rival. He was looking comfortable, and after the first lap the timer showed him an 12th place, with a time of around 1:24. That’s not bad, but I’d been hoping for more than that.

After another lap, he’d had enough of this chase, as his rival didn’t have the pace we’d hoped, so he went past, and his next lap was a bit quicker. And ahead of him – some distance ahead – we could see a rider who was well placed last season, and normally now races in the 450 class, but had entered the 125s for this round only. I could see that Gideon had him in his sights, and as he screamed past the pits, his body language and determined crouch said that this was going to be a flying lap.

He tipped into turn one looking very fast indeed, and disappeared from view. When we saw him next he was flying out of Church and then nose-down to get the drive up the hill. The left into Rocket looked perfect again, before he disappeared again. Then he came into view at the top of the corkscrew. He’d clearly gained on his target, and then executed a neat and fast descent of the corkscrew, before powering knee-down round the final left onto the start finish.

I peered at the timing screen, and jumped for joy as I saw him leap from 11th to 2nd place, with a time of 1:20! But it wasn’t over. His momentum through the timing beam was fabulous and he stayed tucked. He was obviously feeling like there was more to come, and was going for another flyer.

This lap looked ferociously quick – neat out of Church, tucked and flat-out up the hill, and a lovely flick into the left at the top. I could tell he was quicker again as he came round the final left – he had to touch the kerb to deal with the additional momentum.

I waited for the time……pole position with 1:19.7!

He drew breath for a lap, and saw his pit board, but when he came around the next time, the board was telling him that someone had gone faster, and he was down to second. I confess I didn’t think he had any more in him, and that he’d have to fight to stay on the front row (first four). But he reacted to the board with another absolutely blistering lap.

Back on pole, with a 1:19.475!

And that was where he stayed. Four riders managed to break the 1:20 barrier, but no-one could catch Gideon. First pole position of the year!

Sunday was a gorgeous day. Bright and sunny and warm. And our first race wasn’t until mid-morning, so it was a tense wait. Finally the 125s went out for their first race.

Pole is a tricky place to be – it’s a lot of pressure to carry. I could hardly watch as the starting marshal walked off and the lights came on. The engine screamed in pain, and…lights out! It wasn’t a brilliant start. Gideon is pretty much the heaviest rider out there, and it makes a difference with the launch, and he was about 5th round the first corner, giving himself some work to do.

But his sheer pace started to show as he started to cut through the field. The times showed that he was the fastest bike on the track. He picked off bikes one at a time until after about four laps he was with the leaders, eventually executing a gorgeous overtake at the top of the corkscrew to take 3rd position.

But the leaders were two experienced racers, and although Gideon had the pace, he couldn’t get past, and they were actually slowing him down. This allowed another old rival to catch the leading three, and a fabulous battle erupted between Gideon and the rider in fourth. It was some of the best riding I’ve ever seen – real heart in the mouth stuff, with Gideon riding fast, but defensively. But his win-it or bin-it attitude has matured a little, and he eventually conceded the place on the last lap, deciding that the finish was more important than taking the risk of a crash, when his rival went for a dangerous pass. He was fourth by thousandths of a second – but still an excellent podium finish in the Nitro Newcomers cup.

This was a brilliant race, and one of the best performances of the season, but Gideon wanted more. As qualifying had shown, given space Gideon was the fastest on the circuit. But in a race situation it was clear that he was untouchable round the tighter parts of the circuit, but he was being reeled in on the long fast uphill curve, and he was losing the ground he’d made up in the bends, and having to do it again.

So we took a risk on gearing the bike for slightly higher speed.

Ultimately the gamble didn’t really pay off, although the second race was another spirited and brave performance.

The change in gearing meant the start was even more difficult, and Gideon was around 6th at the end of the first lap. This time he was on the tail of the rider he’d chased in qualifying, and who’d won the first race. But lap after lap Gideon got past him around the banking only to be taken back on pure top speed going up the hill. And he was also challenged from behind by another old rival, who was also able to gain ground up the hill, only for Gideon to slam the door at the top of the hill, before pulling away again around the tight section. But this intense three-way battle slowed all three a bit, and the leaders broke away by a few bike lengths, to have their own tussle just up ahead. And this is the pattern that continued through the race, with Gideon still finishing with a good podium in the Nitro cup.

Monday morning was…interesting. It had rained during the night, and the track was wet, but what was more troublesome was the gale blustering in from the sea. With gusts of 50 mph it was difficult to stand on the pit wall, and I doubted that the 125s would be able to stay on at all. And the paddock was chaotic, with awnings damaged, and destroyed!

Proceedings were delayed while weather reports were gathered, and factors considered. Eventually at 9:45 Thundersport made the sensible decision to call off the days’s racing. We’ll get an extra race at Cadwell, with the Anglesey grid.

So it was a short weekend, but a very sweet one, with Gideon showing that he has really matured as a rider, and now has the sheer pace to take the race to anyone on the grid!

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Testing the Aprilia RRV450 at Mallory Park!

At the second Wednesday academy provided by the Benjamin Gautrey Foundation, In Competition were good enough to allow Gideon to test one of their gorgeous RRV450 Aprilias! Gideon had a 20 minute session on the bike, and immediately took to it, showing fabulous pace and composure for a first ride on this amazing racing machine!

Gideon is now really keen to race a 450 in the Aprilia Challenge in 2013!https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/484590_397807213619674_1740554938_n.jpg

 

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Benjamin Gautrey Foundation Race Academy at Mallory

We had a great day at Mallory Park, despite heavy rain in the afternoon.

The series of three days is provided free of charge for all the Superteens riders by the Benjamin Gautrey Foundation – a truly inspirational organisation remembering Ben by helping other young riders to live their dreams, as Ben did. Do take any opportunities you may get to support Ben’s mum Lorraine in the fabulous work she is doing.

The morning was a series of classroom sessions with British Superstocks racer Steve Brogan and organisers which included a range of stuff including sponsorship, interview techniques, preparation, and fitness and nutrition. It was really interesting, and Gideon and I learned a lot.

In the afternoon we had observed track sessions. The rain was a pain, but watching the boy taking Gerrards flat out in the wet, with his elbow brushing the kerbing was a white-hair inducing experience!

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Rocky Rockingham

It’s difficult to know what to make of Rockingham. It’s certainly not like any other circuit in the UK. I’ll come clean now, and say that I don’t like it. But we certainly had our moments there!

Rockingham, unlike the other tracks we race at, is purpose built. It’s actually a huge banked oval, with massive stands that will seat some 70,000 spectators, but I don’t think the Nascar racing it was built for ever really took off, and the main bike series don’t use it. And I think we worked out why that may be.

The bikes use a section of the banked oval, and then turn into the spaghetti hoops of the twisty infield, which is deceptively fast despite the labyrinthine switchbacks. The surface is unlike any other we have raced on, and absolutely destroys tyres. And as it is built on an old industrial estate, there’s no grassy run-off – there’s just ghastly globular kitty litter which looks like blast furnace slag. For those that crash, it is unforgiving to bikes and riders alike.

But having said that, Gideon was going well all day Friday in practice. The bike had been well fettled, and we were getting very competitive BHP. But the track took some learning. And we had some experimenting to do with gearing, as we’ve never raced at Rockingham before.

But as the sessions went on things were looking really promising. Gideon was going six seconds a lap quicker at the end of the day compared to the beginning, so something was going well!

Saturday morning dawned and all was looking good. We had the gearing worked out, we had new tyres on, and we had our jetting sorted. Our session was later than usual, and when they finally went out, it was warm, and conditions were perfect.

I nervously watched the timing screen as the bikes flew past on their first lap – you can’t tell much from the out lap, but Gideon’s time even on that lap was looking pretty impressive. It’s a two mile track, so there’s an agonising wait for them to come round again. When they did, Gideon was second fastest! This was looking good! My heart was in my mouth as we waited for the next lap time. Finally the bikes flew through the timing gate.

Pole!

That’s they way to do it!

Well, almost, as before they came round for the fourth lap, I saw people waving at me. Me? Yes you. Oh. Gideon had hit the back of another bike that had slowed unexpectedly, and was in the kitty litter. And that was the end of that.

The wait to get him in was agonising, but he held the pole position until the very last lap of qualifying, when he was relegated to second, but retaining pole in his class. So he only did three laps – it’s a good job they were quick ones – his best ever qualifying position.

But the crash had consequences, Gideon’s helmet was wrecked, a fairing was utterly destroyed, and various bits bent badly. And Gideon had t go to the medical centre for assessment. And we only had a couple of hours before the race!

Sadly Mark “the Saint” Hill was not there to help with the bike. His boy Josh had broken his hip earlier in the day, (get well soon Josh!), so it was just me and Olly. But first we had to sort the boy.

The medics didn’t like the look of Gideon’s middle finger on his left hand. It seemed to be broken right at the tip. But after much biting of lips while gripping doctor’s fingers, he was finally passed fit to race. But he was carrying a lot of pain, which was not exactly helpful. But Olly and I got the fairing off the wet bike, and persuaded it onto the dry bike, changed some pegs and levers, and generally bodged things together and got the bike re-scrutineered in time to get the boy on the grid.

But the crash had taken its toll. Gideon circulated bravely in the first race, but his pace was nowhere near what he is capable of, and we could see him shaking his hand, and we knew he was suffering. But he finished the race, and got some points in the bag, which was very brave considering he was nursing a broken finger.

So we refuelled, drugged the boy with whatever pain killers we could find and waited for the next race.

This race was better. Gideon tore off the line in a haze of blue and circulated at a much more respectable pace. It was a sensible race, where he let the others make mistakes, which they did in numbers, leaving Gideon with a very respectable podium finish – second in his class!

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Sunday was supposed to be wet. But somehow it never quite was. Nevertheless Olly managed to stitch the broken fairing back together with cable ties and duct tape, and eventually we had two bikes just about fit to race.

But again, things did not quite go to plan…

Gideon got a fantastic start in the first race, and looked as though he would stick with the leaders. We had high hopes, as his finger was less swollen, but when the bikes came round after the first lap, Gideon was not amongst them. He’d taken a tumble at the same corner that took him off in qualifying. We weren’t pleased. When we got him in unhurt this time, luckily, he was told in no uncertain terms, that he needs to ride within his limits, and make sure he finished races. Although, to be fair to Gideon, there were a LOT of crashes at Rockingham, including some of the Superteens stars, many of whom had multiple crashes, and Gideon’s record of crashes in races is not too disastrous.

But it was important that Gideon finished the last race.

And that is what he set out to do. His start was not the best, and he got caught in some traffic, so the leading group got away. But Gideon rode a very sensible and mature race. He knew it was too risky to try to reel in the leaders, so he followed the chasing pack of four around for the remainder of the race, before passing all four of them on successive corners on the last lap to secure a podium finish – third in his class!

So the weekend ended on a high. But we were not inspired by Rockingham, despite its top notch facilities. And I’ve only just finished repairing the bikes! We really hope Josh Hill is with us on the track again soon, and we’re ready for action at Anglesey!

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