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!