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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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Donington – Or How Dogged Spirit and Raw Talent Can Achieve Anything

 

There’s a magic to the name of Donington. It resonates with significance from the past and from the present. And just saying it gives you a feeling of the promise of the future. It’s Valentino Rossi’s favourite track, and it is set at the heart of England, and at the heart of British motor sport. And at two and a half miles, it’s a long fast and complex track. It takes some serious learning before it can be ridden really fast.

That’s why it was doubly important that we get the most out of the meagre hour of practice time we were allocated from 4 to 5 on the Friday evening. We set off early, arriving at the track at about 2 O’clock in the afternoon. As we wouldn’t have access to our pit garage before 5, we parked up in the paddock and hooked the tyre warmers up to the generator. And we fettled and fuelled the bike in the mild spring sunshine. The birds were singing.  But they were struggling to compete with the sound of screaming bike engines as the No-Limits track day proceeded around us.

At 4 O’clock we were as ready as we were going to get. The engine had a new set of rings which I’d installed with the help of Baldrick the previous weekend. So we couldn’t just run the engine  fast straight away -  it needed to be run in. Gideon was therefore under strict instructions to do three laps with no more than 7000 rpm and then to come in. He did that, and we sent him out for another couple of laps where he could use full power for short periods. So off he went again.

Olly, Trog Racing’s web supremo, spiritual adviser, and whistler of happy tunes arrived just as Gideon went back out onto the track. We saw him go past the pits once . But then the bikes he had been circulating with came round again, but without Gideon. There were no reports of crashes, so after a nervous wait he was brought back in to the pits, the bike having cut out.

No spark.

Hmm. Can’t be too serious can it? Actually it can. A strip down of the alternator side of the engine revealed the problem. The nut securing the alternator rotor (which also times delivery of the spark) had sheared off the end of the crankshaft, rendering the crank, and therefore the engine, useless.

Disaster. Despondency. But no despair, as Olly whistled a happy tune.

I told Gideon that the problem was terminal, and that he probably wouldn’t be racing. He took it well. Afterwards he told me that he knew the team would pull the stops out to try to get him back on the track.

I went for a walk round the paddock asking of anyone had a spare engine. Eventually we found another engine in a crashed bike, and arranged to acquire it. It took 6 hours of solid work from myself, Olly, and the saintly Mark Hill to take the engine out of Gideon’s bike, take the engine out of the other bike, build a single engine from the two, and reinstall it into Gideon’s bike. At 11.30 we were doing the finishing touches and bleeding the cooling system, and it started to look as though Gideon would race after all!

Which was when it all started to go wrong again. Water was coming out again as fast as we could put it in. And it was coming out of the crank cases. This is not what you want to see. In fact it is terminal. And we were pretty much back where we started, with a dead engine in the bike. Except it was now midnight, and nine hours from qualifying.

It was despondency again.

But Olly whistled a happy tune. Josh, Mark’s son had heard that there was a possibility of sourcing a nice fully refurbished engine on Saturday morning. So we decided to go to bed, and start again in the morning. We were hoping that we could get the bike ready for an afternoon race, or racing in Sunday, to salvage something from the weekend. So off to our beds we went. Shattered. And worried.

I decided to get up early. Mark had worked so hard on Friday, I wanted to get there before him and make a start. So I was up at 6 O’clock. As I walked into the garage, I couldn’t quite believe the scene that met me.

“What’s kept you?” said a familiar Yorkshire voice.

It was Mark.

“Thought I’d make a start on getting ready to take that engine out.”

“It’s done” said the amazing man from Sheffield.

I was dumbfounded. Unable to sleep he’d been working on the bike all night, and the engine was back out, our parts removed from it, and the bike was ready to accept a new engine!

You can’t buy support like that. The man is a saint. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to repay him for that support, which was well beyond the call of duty!

So, in went a third engine. Amazingly the weather then played into our hands. Thick fog delayed racing, and we got the bike ready and scrutineered with seconds to spare before qualifying at around mid-day. Sadly the gear change was poorly adjusted, giving Gideon only 4th and 5th gears, making the slower corners difficult, and the hairpin in the Melbourne loop virtually impossible. But he did a few laps to learn the track, and qualified in a disappointing (but brilliant on two gears!) 21st on the grid.

For race 1 (and the only race on Saturday) Gideon got a fabulous start. He flew off the grid as though fired from a catapult, taking places straight away, and tipping into Redgate already in 16th spot. He then worked his way through the field. His lap times got better and better as he learned the track, and he finished in a brilliant overall 9th, and 3rd in the Nitro Newcomers’ Cup, earning a podium finish from 21st on the grid!

Sunday racing was equally rewarding. Gideon flew off the line like a mad thing in a cloud of heady blue two-stroke fumes, from his 10th spot on the grid earned the day before. Immediately he managed to get into the leading group. He stayed with them, with lap times improving all the time – three seconds a lap better than the previous day. He crept steadily up the field showing outstanding spirit, peaking at third overall (!!!) before falling back marginally to take the chequered flag in 5th overall and 3rd in his class, for another podium finish.

The last race was another solid performance, but a slight problem was robbing him of top end power, but he still brought it home in 9th overall, and 4th in the class!

It was an outstanding weekend. And it proves beyond doubt that if, in the face of appalling adversity, you whistle a happy tune, and have a saint and a talented rider on the team, you will succeed!

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Round 3 – Whilton Mill Zulu – Part 2

Sunday

As we tidied up on Saturday night it was raining. Everything went under cover. And we settled into the crisp sheets of the four posters in the Trog Racing motorhome – actually Gideon sleeps in the cab of Trusty Rusty, and I have an air bed in the back!

But its a restless night. It rains. And rains. And then it rains. At one point the rain hammering on the van wakes me up. I was just thinking it was very heavy, when its intensity doubles. Outside there are rivers running through the paddock, and you could easily hold a regatta at the bottom of the hill on the straight.

So, I set the alarm for very early – looks like I’m changing wheels in the morning.

But when I get up, it’s not raining. It is very very wet. But it’s not raining. A few other bleary eyed folk are already putting wets on their bikes. But I’m not sure. It’s before 7, and there’s two hours before we have the warm up, and probably 3 hours before we race. I decide to wait. But its tense. All eyes are on the sky. It’s overcast, and there is the odd spot of rain. But then there is the occasional break which allows hot sunshine to spill through onto the grateful tarmac. Which starts to steam.

The bottom of the straight is still very wet, but some good hearted folk are down there brushing water off the track. With 15 minutes to go, I see the early risers taking the wets back off their bikes and re-fitting the slicks. Looks like my inertia has paid off!

The warm ups pass without incident. Gideon says the track feels OK. We get the tyre warmers on and fuel up and, anxiously peering at passing thunderheads we wait for the chaos of race day to pick us up, chew us well, and spit us out. And before long, it doesn’t disappoint.

Into the holding area with the 50 he goes. I stay at HQ to get the engine on the 70 started, so it will warm up to 50 degrees before its first outing. I then dash over the track to meet the boys as they line up on the grid after their sighting lap. It’s still dry.

The start is chaotic. Twice the starting marshal walks off, but hands go up at the back, as damp engines stall. Engines scream, and then (more…)

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Round 3 – Whilton Mill Zulu (Part 1)

Thursday

The Trog racing motorcade arrived at the Paddock at sunset. And all was not well. It was all looking a bit…empty. Enquiries amongst the few other racers revealed the problem – only evening practice on Friday. Right. Break out the beers then.

Friday

This led to a relaxing morning. We didn’t get up until about 8.30! I would have spent the day changing tyres, but the FAB Racing truck didn’t arrive until the afternoon. But there was useful stuff to do. The forecast was looking changeable. And changing weather means changing wheels. So we spent a bit of time filing chamfers onto brake pads, so that the disks would slip in more easily when we are under pressure. This proved to be far from a waste of time…

Finally, at about 4 o’clock we got in the track. Gideon took the 50 out first. It was warm and dry, and the track was grippy. We put a brand new set of wets on the 50, and he went out on them – the last thing we want is to go out in anger on a wet track with brand new tyres. So we took the opportunity to scrub them in on the dry tarmac. After 4 laps I had a look – they were getting there, and starting to look like emery cloth, but not overheating or tearing up. So out he went for a few more. After 8 laps they looked perfect, so we parked the 50, and left the wets on.

The rest of the evening was spent on the 70, looking very competetive, and setting a blistering pace. Shame the weather didn’t look like this for the rest of the weekend!

Saturday

I am dreaming of a gorgeous tropical pool, with water falling through the verdant jungle canopy. But the dream clears and a more sober reality comes into focus. That pitter patter is the rain playing over the outside of Trusty Rusty. Good job we left the wets on the 50…

So its up early and off to buy a new set of wets for the 70. And before breakfast I am sweating (more…)

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Round 2 – Whilton Mill (Part 2)

Sunday

The night reminds us that it’s April. It’s cold. And in the back of old Rusty, it’s positively frigid. But there’s no time to lose, and the tyre warmers are on the bikes before 7. And as usual, the first thing that Gideon knows about a new day, is a bacon sandwich. But the sun is shining. And the early chill gives way to a spring warming. And the rural calm gives way to the sustained frenzy of race day.

There’s a five minute warm up for each class, and the bikes are circulating by 9 o’clock. The track is warming and the tyres are cooked. And all I can think as bike after bike screech past me is “It’s not a race, boys!”. But it is.

The first race on the 50 is memorable. It’s one of the best and tensest races I’ve ever watched. (more…)

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Round 2 – Whilton Mill (Part 1)

Well, the forecast was looking better and better. By the time we left, it looked like we might get away with no rain at all! But it was Whilton. The Whilton we knew. And the Whilton we remembered with a mixture of affection and sheer terror. There’s something about the place. If you expect the unexpected you won’t be disappointed!

Friday

For some reason – well, due to a previous booking of the track for karts – we didn’t get the usual all day practice session on Friday. Practice was limited to a four hour session on Friday evening. So we had a relaxing (but long – roadworks on the M1) drive up, and pitched up in the paddock in the early afternoon. The Southern Death Racing HQ was duly erected, friends and rivals were greeted, boy was fed, bikes were fuelled, and tyres were warmed. And eventually, we got on the track.

It was a glorious sunny evening. Perfect. (more…)

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Round 1 – Llandow (Part 2)

Sunday 27th March

It’s a struggle to get up, and even a bacon sandwich doesn’t rouse the boy. But this is just the lunacy of British Summer Time – so not much sleep!

Tyre warmers go on before I even think about coffee. I put a brand new rear on the 70 last night, and I want to get it as hot as possible so that the boy can scrub it in when he gets his 5 minute warm up. It took a lot longer than that to scrub in new rubber on the 50, but people who know these things say it’ll be fine…
(more…)

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Round 1 – Llandow (Part 1)

Thursday 24th March

We arrived at the paddock in Llandow quite late – about 10.30pm – and then had to unpack. We kip in the van, so needed to get the awning up to unload the bikes and everything into to give us room to kip. So I went for a quick wander round to say hello, but when I got back to the van, the boy was rolled up in a duvet in the cab, snoring. Right. Decided to leave him, and unloaded and set up – took me until after 1.00 a.m.

I cracked open a bottle of Jameson for medical reasons, and slept well!

Friday 25th March

It’s Wales. It’s not even April yet. And it’s warm, dry, and sunny. Have I been teleported into a parallel reality? We sort the tyre pressures, fuel up, get the tyre warmers on, and sign in. We’re in a new league here. No more minimotos. We’ve got the GP50 which he raced in a few rounds last year, and the new GP70 which he’s only been out on once. But he decides he’ll go out on the 50 first.
(more…)

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