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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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