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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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