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.
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!