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Back on the Pace at Snetterton!

Snetterton is set in beautiful fenland in the depths of East Anglia. It’s the driest part of the country, so it was with a feeling of some irony that we approached through heavy thundery showers, watching spectacular forks of lightning tearing through the dark and heavy skies. So we thought we’d be running the wet bike. Yes, that’s right – we are now in the happy position of having a wet bike and a dry bike!

We hooked up with Mark”the Saint” Hill who was already plotted up in our garage, with his son Josh awaiting his first outing on his lush R6. The plan was to get the second bike run in, and to get some track time, and finish a few races, building up confidence and pace after the big off at Oulton Park last month.

Snetterton is all about top speed on the straights. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need skill to ride it fast. The bike needs to be set up to get the most out of it, and you need to carry as much corner speed as possible to exploit the drive onto the long straights. And then there’s slip-streaming. At Snetterton a pack of half a dozen bikes can shuffle several times along one length of the straight – which makes for close tactical racing!

Friday dawned. It was difficult to tell that the sun was up through the grey dampness of the soggy East Anglian morning. And it looked like it was going to be a damp day, although we hoped it would brighten up in the afternoon, so that we could run-in the new top end on the dry bike.

So we sent Gideon out in the first session on the wet bike. All seemed to be well, and his pace looked impressive considering it was his first ride since the big crash. The day seemed to flash past – there seemed barely any time between sessions to check the bike and get if fuelled up.

After feedback from Gideon we thought we’d try different gearing, and went for a ratio that should give more top speed. This seemed to work, and we altered the dry bike too. But as sessions came and went it started to look like there wouldn’t be a dry session. So we decided to put the wet tyres on the dry bike, just to get it run in. And by the end of the day we had two bikes ready to go.

It was straight into qualifying on Saturday morning. But contrary to expectations, Saturday morning turned out to be dry! So we were glad we’d got the dry bike run-in and ready to go. Gideon went for it as usual, and was slightly disappointed with 7th position. But we thought it’s job done – its the first time out in anger after a big crash, and first time out after running in on a bike he has never raced before and he has achieved a second row position on the grid. And first or second row is what we were after. His time was 1.33.6 – that’s a decent time, but we think he’s got more in him!

The first race was also dry, and it was a great race. While the first half-dozen broke away slightly, Gideon got into a fabulous entertaining duel with Joe Thompson. The duel held him up a bit, preventing him from taking the race to the leading pack. But it really was a great race! And we, and Gideon learned valuable lessons from it. Gideon got the better of him round the twisties, and came onto the pit straight in the lead on every lap, but then Joe popped out of the slip stream, and got past on the straights. So the final position of 8th 0verall and 4th newcomer didnt really do justice to the quality of the racing.

Gideon was now doing 1.32s – so he’d carved a second and a half off his qualifying time, but it was not quite enough.A look at the data on the on-board computer gave us a clue as to what is going on. The bike was reaching maximum revs right through the box, but  not getting there in top. We realised that we’d overdone the change in gearing slightly, so we went up a tooth on the rear. That should help!

And it did.

The second race of the day was a very different matter. Gideon had got used to the bike, and we’d got more suitable gearing. We could barely see the grid as the lights came on and the engines screamed like demented banshees. The wind was drifting the blue haze of two-stroke towards us, and it smelled of oil and testosterone. Heaven. They’re off.

Gideon usually gets a blinding start on the regular bike, but he hasn’t quite mastered it on this one, so after the agonising wait, they screamed through the pit straight, and Gideon was in 9th place. Not bad at all, but he’ll want more than that! When they came around for the second time he’d made up a place, and the times show that he had now got real pace! He was catching the leaders, and his lap times were now just over 1.30 – three and a half seconds faster than qualifying! He was one of the fastest riders on the circuit!

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He kept reeling them in, until the race ended with a fabulous duel with Bradley Perry for 5th place, which he missed by 7 thousandths of a second, as the bikes crossed the line side by side!

Sunday greeted us with rain. And plenty of it. But the bikes went out onto the track for the first race on a drying track. Gideon catapulted off the line like a mad thing, and this time he was taking no prisoners. But a couple of laps into the race, the heavens opened, and the race proceeded in monsoon conditions. Olly, doing the pit-board, got totally soaked t the skin! But despite the rain, Gideon stuck with the leading pack and as they flew past the pits on each lap, the slipstream effect became clear. The half-dozen bikes in the leading pack were shuffling like a deck of cards, and came past in a different order every time! And Gideon was every bit as quick as anyone else on the track. Eventually he finished in a fabulous 5th, and 3rd in his class having lost a place to the slipstream on the final bend and straight.

The last race was a similar affair. It was as brilliant as it was tragic. This time the track had dried. Again Gideon got away well, and stuck with the leading pack, his position shuffling from 4th to 6th as they slipstreamed each other, and shuffle the pack. The pace was absolutely blistering, and Gideon broke the 1 and a half-minute barrier, posting 1.29s! But on the last lap tragedy struck. Gideon had got past Ross Simpson into 4th place and all was looking good, but Ross tried to jam it down the inside and the two bikes collided, and both ended up on the grass. It was a disappointing end to a fabulous weekend’s racing. But Gideon had demonstrated that despite his big crash, he has now got the pace to take the race to anyone in the Superteens field!

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Back on the boil at Snetterton!

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Ouch at Oulton Park!

You know when you get a funny feeling about something? I get that from time to time. Sometimes it’s right, and sometimes it isn’t. But this time I had a funny feeling that racing had more to throw at us, and this time I was right on the money.

The weather was perfect. And we managed to get away in the Trog Racing pantechnicon motor home at a reasonable hour for the long drive from South London to Oulton Park. We had a decent run, and arrived at Oulton in the warm sunshine of the early evening. Mark “the Saint” Hill was already there and set up, and Olly Moore was assisting in the Guinness disposal.

We were up bright and early, applying sun cream, and preparing the bike for scrutineering on the Friday morning. We had a new piston and ring to run in, so Gideon was sent out in the first session with strict instructions to keep below 9k rpm. Oulton is a gorgeous , long, and complex track. But it’s a nightmare to watch from the pit wall. You see the rider scream by and then you wait. And wait and wait, for what seems like forever. In fact it’s only a little over two minutes, but when you can only imagine what is going on along the beautiful strip of black tarmac that winds through the rolling Cheshire parkland, it seems like a lifetime.

In the subsequent sessions Gideon started to up the pace. He was really enjoying the track – he thinks it’s one of the best. And his times started to get better and better as the engine bedded in, and he learned the lines around the long and challenging lap that is Oulton Park. From times in the 2 minutes 20s while running in, he shaved more and more off until he was circulating at around 2.08 seconds a lap. And he was sure there was more to come!

Qualifying, in this two-day meeting, was on Friday afternoon. Gideon went out in the hot sunshine. The tyres were sticky, and the tarmac warm and dry. He went well in qualifying, but was slightly disappointed with 8th place. A second quicker would have got him on the front row, but we were pleased to be on the second row, as we know exactly what he can do from there in a race. As luck would have it, he had spent the qualifying session largely by himself, and I was convinced that if he had been in the company of fast riders, he could have squeezed out another second or more. As I said to him at the time, a second a lap over a long lap like Oulton park is nothing. We were confident that in the race, he’d take the action to his competitors. And that is what he set out to do.

All looked well in the ten minute warm up on Saturday morning. At Oulton you only get about three fast laps in ten minutes – one lap in, three fast laps, and an out lap, and you’re done!

The bikes lines up on the start for the first race. Gideon was absolutely pumped up and ready for action. The green flag was raised, and we heard the now familiar urgent wail of twenty eager Aprilia engines straining at their leashes. A blue haze gathered across the grid. The red lights were on. And then they went out.

The engine notes went from a wail to a painful scream, and they catapulted off the line. Gideon left the line like a scalded cat, getting straight into the action, and jostling for position. And then there was quiet.

And we waited. And waited. And finally after two minutes or so we heard the leaders, and then saw them approach. They flashed across the start finish line. I was furiously scanning the timing screen to check Gideon’s position. But his name and number did not appear. A quick check with the team confirmed my fears. He had not come round.

A check with the marshals put it beyond doubt. Off at Druids. Dammit.

Seems he had really got the bit between his teeth, and that he and Milo Ward had fought through the field and Gideon had taken fourth place. He’d then seen an opportunity to make a play for third , and had stuffed it down the inside of Milo at Druids. The marshal said that he’s out-braked Milo, but was carrying too much speed. He’d tried to carry it, but had run out of tarmac in the long fast right hander, and then tried to scrub off some speed, but touched the grass, and it was all over. 75 mph across the grass and into the tyre wall. The marshal said he thought he might make it – a brave move, he said – but he just ran out of road.

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We waited anxiously. Gideon arrived back in an ambulance and was taken straight to the medical centre. After a couple of minutes, Olly and I were allowed in. Gideon was shaken but bravely holding it together. Gently we eased off his boots and leathers to allow the doctors to take a look.

The marvelous medical team gave him a thorough check over. And the verdict was – a fractured finger on the right hand (ring finger) and a possible fracture of the shin, just below the knee. He needed x-rays.

His helmet was a write-off – but it had doe its job. The leathers had survived surprisingly well. And the bike looked worse than it was – fairing comprehensively trashed, but other than that the damage was just a brake pedal and a handlebar.

So that was the end of our weekend.

Gideon was given a pair of crutches, and was sat down with a cold drink while we packed up.

Back in London the damage to the leg turned out to be just soft tissue damage, and he has now been able t dispense with the crutches. And the finger is on the mend. We’re hoping he’ll have made a full recovery in time for the next round!

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TV Coverage from Mallory Park now live!

Mallory Park – Motors TV Coverage

 

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TV Coverage – Donington

Motors TV coverage from Donington is now available to view online:

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Magic and Mayhem at Mallory Park

Mallory Park is billed as “the friendly circuit” . And it is friendly, although our experience is that it would be a bit more welcoming if it had a more robust and capacious electricity supply in the paddock, and rather better bookable pit garages! But it certainly delivered on hefty doses of magic and mayhem for us – and that is what motor-sport is about!

In the absence of a pit garage, HQ was provided by Mark “The Saint” Hill’s large Aprilia branded awning, and as he’d been there with Josh Hill for the race school the previous day, it was all set up when we arrived. So preparations were reasonably calm as we got ready for practice on Friday morning.

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The weather on Friday was reasonably bright, although, there was a distinct chill in the air that reminded us that we were well North of the Watford Gap. We suggested to Gideon he build it up gradually. But the way he tipped into Gerard’s – the never ending flat-out right hander at the end of the start finish straight – was still enough to have my heart in my mouth.

Gideon gradually upped the pace, and we started playing with the stop-watches. This revealed that he was quick. But not as quick as one or two of his competitors, who were going round about a second or two a lap quicker. So we thought we’d try a little experiment. In the next session we selected a fast rider and sent Gideon out just behind him, and asked him to see if he could keep up – not to take any risks, or try to get past, but just to see if he could match the pace. They screamed past the pits about 20 yards apart, and tipped into Gerard’s. We could see them scream round the bend to the other side of the lake, and then lost sight of them as they reached the chicane at Edwina’s. When they came round again Gideon had closed the gap. And after two or three laps they were inches apart, and this freight train continued lap after lap. Things were looking good!

Well, they were looking good until Gideon failed to appear in a later session. I feared the worst. But when he was brought in, it emerged that he’d not crashed, but had lost his chain. So a new chain and sprockets were acquired, and some head scratching was undertaken at HQ. But we were ready.

Early on Saturday morning it was cold. But it was dry. And we were ready with a lovely set of brand new tyres for the qualifying session. We told Gideon that it would take a couple of laps to scrub them in, but even on his early laps he was no slouch. As the pace picked up so did my heart rate. Mark kept Gideon updated on his position with the pit board, as I shouted out the data from the timing screen. He kept pushing harder and harder. Plenty of people say they take Gerard’s flat out, but few really have the bottle for it. But it looked to me as though Gideon was as good as his word. He howled past the start-finish, just snicking into top gear as he passed his pit board, and you could hear the tortured engine note continue to climb as he hung off the bike round the endless arc of the bend.

5th fastest overall was the verdict of the timekeepers – so on the second row of the grid! And he was a mere nine THOUSANDTHs of a second off fourth place!

When the first race finally arrived, the weather was holding, and we got our only dry race of the weekend. And what a race it was ! It was one of the most exciting races I have ever seen.

Gideon catapulted off the line and was clearly taking no prisoners. He went straight into third place round Gerard’s and looked like he meant to stay there! The leader broke away and pulled out a bit of a gap. But he was pursued by a real race – a group of five bikes who were so close you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between them. Lap after lap they crossed the line in a single pack, five abreast, with impossibly close and exhilarating racing. They shuffled like cards, but the pack never broke up, with the timing screen showing Gideon in everything from second to sixth place.

The final lap was hard fought. Gideon started the lap in fifth place, and that is where he stayed until we saw the pack emerge around the Devil’s Elbow for the last time. Gideon saw his chance, and punched the bike down the inside line, taking fourth place, in sight of the chequered flag!

But that is as far as he got. Amazingly, on the lead into the final straight, the chain jumped the sprocket, and he cruised to a dignified halt, and the field screamed past.

It was a disappointing result after such a fabulous, entertaining and hard fought battle. So no points or podium, but plenty of kudos for a hard fought battle!

The second race of the afternoon was wet. Again it was a good start, and Gideon raced bravely in the poor conditions, again racing in the chasing pack behind the leader, and achieving a well deserved 7th place, and 3rd in the Nito Newcomers for his first podium of the weekend!

Gideon’s performance in the first race may not have delivered the points and podium that were so richly deserved. But it did deliver a fabulous time of 1.02.792 which was the third fastest time of the day. This meant that he would start the races on Sunday from the front row of the grid. And the front row means……brolly dollies! Gideon was very proud of his first time on the front row!

Sunday dawned bright but cold. But the weather held, and the ten minute warm up was on a dry track. But it was the last time we used the dry tyres.

When it came to the first race, the weather had turned, and as they formed up on the grid, we were treated to heavy driving rain and hail. But Gideon didn’t let that put him off, and capitalised on his front row position, and fought hard to keep in the top three as the race progressed. But he was hampered by a steamed up visor and visibility cost him places. But he still flew over the line in 5th overall, and 2nd in the Nitro Newcomers, fr a second brilliant podium. Unfortunately that’s not where it ended. Gideon hadn’t seen the chequered flag, and unaware that the race had ended he continued at race pace, and crashed on what should have been the slow-down lap. We’ve learned a lesson from that, and now have some anti-fogging kit!

Fortunately everyone was OK, and the bike was spruced up and re scrutineered for the final outing of the afternoon, which was in the sunshine, but on a wet but drying track. And another fine performance, again sticking with the pack at the front of the race, delivered a fine 6th place, and 3rd in the class, for a third well deserved podium.

Gideon was interviewed on the podium for Motors TV, were he thanked his sponsors AMI Direct and Daytona Boots, and also thanked Mark “The Saint” Hill and Motrac Racing for all the help they’d given us at this fabulous memorable weekend.

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Many thanks to Daytona boots!

Trog Racing,and Gideon personally, would like to thank Daytona for their support! In the picture below, Gideon is sporting a pair of the best motorcycle racing boots available, which arrived today from Daytona in Germany. We’re really impressed that a global brand like Daytona are prepared to support new riders in the sport.

 

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Grand Prix Racing Dream – Motors TV at 10.05

You can see Gideon’s races on the Sunday at Donington on  Motors TV at 10.05 tonight (Thursday 5th April). The Brands Hatch races and interview are now available via the Thundersport i-Player

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Tipped for a win!

A good writeup from last weekend’s Donington races here: Aprilia Challenge – Donington Delight

We especially like this quote: “…but my outside bet for a surprise shot at a race win has to be a toss up between Ross Simpson and Gideon Thomas who both have excellent style and just need to add a little more race craft to be bang on the money.

Good work Gideon – looking forward to Mallory Park in a few weeks time.

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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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