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!