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Stick to the SV650, wee man.

As a practice likely to present a positive contribution towards a long and happy life, highsiding powerful motorbikes is not a great choice. In fact due to the likelihood of loss of life/limbs/faculties/mobility/motorcycle/self respect, it is a decidedly poor selection of pastime.

For the uninitiated, a highside is when the back of a speeding motorbike decides to overtake the front but part way through the manoeuvre decides instead to throw itself on its side, thereby catapulting any human who was previously straddling said bike skyward. The closest equivalent is jumping out of the sunroof of a car at speed. A happy ending is highly unlikely for either rider or motorcycle.

Classic highside

Contributing factors to the likelihood of a highside are increased angle of dangle, reduced coefficient of friction and increased power applied through the rear tyre. So gassing it through a wet off-camber left hander is a good place to start.

A lowside, in contrast, is a cowardly manner of removing yourself from a travelling motorcycle. It involves slowly laying the bike on its side and sliding carefully onto the tarmac.

There were three crashes I am aware of at Jerry’s race circuit in southern Spain last weekend. Big Blue, Marc Marquez and me. Two of these riders took the easy route into the gravel, lowsiding their way off their bikes in slow motion like ungainly leather slugs. One (the man who won the MotoGP series this year) went crying to hospital for a shoulder operation, the other moaned for two days about his staved finger.

The third stuntman was I. Having spent the morning enjoying an open pit lane riding my S1000rr on Sliperelli wets – the brand new rear having been carried to Spain as hold luggage – I started to build pace during an afternoon session. The section from corner two to exit of four was the section of track I had spent most time trying to get right and I am confident my line was good. But without so much as a by-your-leave or even a hint of a warning the rear let go at 70mph. I was highsided across the track, the bike ended up just in the gravel and me much further in. I don’t remember much as I landed on my back and was knocked cold, but I wasn’t too nimble to my feet when I did come round.

Head first to avoid damage to important bits

But did I whimper? Did I whinge? Not me. Besides it only hurts when I move. Or stand up. Or sit down. Or turn my head. Or walk. Or breathe. Or lie down. Particularly lying down. But as I say, not a word of complaint from I. Despite it being very, very, very sore. And the bruises are huge. Like across my fat arse and down my gorgeous thigh. But I don’t even mention it.

I’ve not even mentioned the huge bruise and extreme pain.

What of the bike and gear? Well the bike has been worse – it didn’t tumble but it did swallow a lot of gravel both down it’s throat and also up its exhaust as it managed to end up with the exhaust pointing forwards. So new exhaust, sticky out bits and fairings. Another beautiful Arai is toast, although insurance should cover it. BKS leathers are intact (they really are exceptional) and my Held gloves appear undamaged. X-rays in Spain and UK confirmed that my skeleton is in no more pieces than before the crash, which is nice.

Warning – this is the bit when I get preachy, shoving ‘lessons learned’ down your throat like you can’t think for yourself…

Back Protectors.

For the love of all that is holy, never go on track without one. One look at the pattern of damage on my pastey carcass would tell you that immediately. I can also tell you that based on the pain in my back a week later I am confident I would not be walking today had I not had a back protector on that day. I’ve always worn one and always will. Despite the utter agony I am quietly tolerating without even mentioning it, I am truly grateful that all I have is torn and twisted muscles. Baz Luhrmann reckoned suncream, I’m here to tell you its back protectors.

So what else happened? Well we got to see some real racers in action, from both the Irish racing scene and the MotoGP paddock. We got to spend a bit of time admiring the MotoGP Aprilia garage and chatting to one of their techs as well as having a great chat with an Ohlins tech in the hotel bar. On our way to the flight we got to watch the MotoGP lads put in a few practice laps on the 2020 machines too, amazing to see.

But what was most impressive was the professionalism of the Irish racing contingent. I knew Blue was coming with a ‘new’ bike, a late model S1000rr but not the 2020 model. I was expecting something pretty flash but I hadn’t appreciated the technology leap from my 2010 bike to this rocketship. It turns out that weight saving, higher performance and reliability have been achieved through the intensive use of one particular space age material…

Duck tape.

For it was duck tape that constituted 80% of this BMW. From the front to the back, it was liberally employed on a vast range of applications.

And not only on the bike. Helmet technology has clearly progressed significantly since I bought my old-fashioned Arai, because the latest Shark lids now use not only duck tape – but also superglue – to hold the visor on. Fascinating, Arai really need to start paying attention to these cutting edge developments.

Another aspect of the Irish paddock strategy is electrical safety. As a retired H&S man, Phil loved sharing space with these guys.

Yet another aspect of Irish racing strategy that never fails to impress is how paddock space is maximised, using every available inch of space in search for ultimate efficiency. It’s like Blue packs a self-inflating lifeboat at the bottom of a giant toolbox and within five minutes of arriving pulls the orange pull-cord and runs. The resulting carnage is what we live amongst for the next three days.

Space age seating amongst the carnage

One side-effect of this ultimate tool-spreading strategy is the absolute iron-clad guarantee that Blue is the last man packed up. Every. Single. Time.

What about Phil ‘Ginsters’ Miles? The man who wasn’t sure if he was over this whole trackday thing seemed to leave with a definite spring in his step. And no wonder. Having sorted his suspension he started taking chunks out of his lap times and was banging in some smooth laps with great lines. He ended up making a considerable improvement on his previous PB and I have a feeling the GSXR won’t be for sale any time soon… Phil also insisted on waiting around while the little Spanish doctor lady x-rayed and probed me, for which I am very grateful.

Me? Well I shared my remaining time between self-medicating regular doses of cerveza and being a fairly useless pit bitch, all the while not once mentioning the excruciating pain I was suffering.

Worth a mention of Track Sense who deliver hassle-free, professionally run track days every time. Highly recommended alongside No Limits for the very best Euro trips with great customer service.

A great trip with great company, you really can’t beat a good euro. But always wear a back protector.

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Let’s go to Croft, she said.

Croft
/krɒft/
noun: A croft is a fenced or enclosed area of land, usually small and arable, and usually, but not always, with a crofter’s dwelling thereon.

Circuit
/ˈsəːkɪt/
noun: a roughly circular line, route, or movement that starts and finishes at the same place.

On planning my 2019 year of racing, I knew we would be missing some rounds. Donington 1, Donington 2 and Croft were the three, the first two out of necessity and the third out of choice. But the Mrs decided we should do the last round so I started doing some research on this ‘Croft’ place. At this stage all I knew was it was ‘north’.

I started by checking Google maps on my phone but as the blister gradually formed and finally started bleeding over the screen, I gave up scrolling northwards. This was clearly uncharted territory.

Upon asking around, the best indication of where this mysterious place was was the explanation ‘it’s Stocky’s local circuit’. The hairs on my neck instantly stood on end, the blood draining from my face – a place that breeds Stockys is no place for a city boy like me…

Taking Thursday off to travel, we set forth in our trusty Sprinter to venture into the wilds. At first the four-lane motorways provided a sense of security, flanked by execs driving shiny new German saloon cars at speed. As the hours turned to days, our surroundings became less and less familiar. Trucks, driven by broad-shouldered men with odd facial hair and wearing checkered shirts, suspender belts and stockings. Roads with only two lanes. Ancient estate cars being driven at 45mph, nursing the odometer gently past the 450,000 mile mark.

As we warily trundled on, so the light faded as the coal dust blocked the sunlight. The smell of lard, generations old but still in the same pan, clogged the aircon whilst the industrial smog caught the backs of our throats. An overwhelming sense of Brexit filled the air. This was no place for southerners.

The sat nav flickered, gradually losing signal before finally surrendering and displaying a simple but poignant recommendation…

Turn Around. Now.

The tarmacadam roads morphed into dirt tracks, liberally coated in generations of animal excrement. The Mercedes slithered and writhed in objection as we pushed on – we had come this far, we would see the fabled Croft Circuit if it killed us. We suspected it might.

This was clean caravan when we left the south

Following the stars, we made it to the entrance gate where the gatekeeper – clearly a position of significant standing in this community – demanded a vehicle pass before entry. Clocking the bedraggled whippet attached to his sagging trousers on a length of hairy bailer twine, we thought it best to comply – Cerberus was quite clearly rabid.

We were granted free passage, albeit followed by a suspicious stare. The flames from the pyres at the entrance to the main paddock caused lines of pitchforks to glint in the darkness. This was a local paddock for local people. We drove past, looking the other way.

Banished to the airstrip, we approached gingerly, unsure if the comically oversized rats spread across the crumbling stone surface would stand and fight or give way. They sloped off to the hedgerow but with an attitude that suggested they would return, possibly in numbers.

The winds whipped around us as we tried to establish a secure base, without warning a vicious gust flipped the awning, tables and all. Knowing we had only minutes to spare before the vermin in the hedgerows regrouped, the structure was righted and we set about adding ballast and locking down. This was going to be a rough ride. Caravan door shut tight and lights off, we lay in bed staring at the ceiling listening to the gales try to rip our camp apart. The rain drove against the caravan in heavy sheets, ratchet straps transforming the awning into a parachute on the side of the caravan. What madness was this? What had possessed us to keep going even past Leeds? Past Leeds?!

Northern class – White Range Rover reg plate ‘LOO’ parked beside what were undisputedly the season’s worst crappers. I plopped in my own caravan rather than reverse up to one of these.

A calm descended in time for practice day morning. Track soaking, I limped out on wets to find out which way the track went. Badgers and ferrets scattered from the track as we approached, riding on the pleasantly winding trail through the fields until a final corner which could only have been designed by a very bitter and twisted human being with a serious grudge against bikers. Second lap was alarming as the track bit back, oozing a rainbow oil slick into the puddles the entire length of the circuit. These men are sick! They race on oil!! I’m not man enough for this!!!

Innovation… should have worn wellies

As it turns out this was in fact a certain Mr Mason liberally sharing the contents of his 650 twin with everyone else in the paddock and closing the track for most of the day… I fully expected to witness my first public hanging that morning, but the pitchfork brigade remained surprisingly calm. Maybe he is one of their own.

A wet session, a semi-wet session which destroyed my only wet tyre and a dry session and we were done. Zips closed, doors shut, we huddled together to wait out another onslaught from the northern weather. And it came, in waves. Awnings creaking and groaning, ratchet straps whipping in the gale, caravan threatening to roll and rain doing its best to shatter the windows. A long night.

Saturday was qualifying and race one for me, qualified 6th, finished 6th in a dry race. Fun if uneventful, I just couldn’t catch Mr Plummer ahead of me and just managed to fend off a challenge from the rear.

Our breathing became easier by Saturday afternoon as the coal dust had settled on our lungs and we quite enjoyed a relaxed afternoon/evening in our little corner of the airstrip, with some of the sun’s distant rays making it through the smog. Maybe it’s not as bad up here in the wilds as we thought, I opined over a chicken dinner. How naive.

Sunday, racing starts bright and early at midday. Mid-bloody-day? It seems the word that religion was all a big con hasn’t made it this far. To be fair, I wonder of they’re not all witches and warlocks up this way… Anyway the rain is of biblical proportions. The place is drenched. I walk round the empty circuit to check on conditions and it was here that I witnessed the highlight of my weekend, it made it all worthwhile. Please turn up your speakers and listen to some true northern race commentary. This is pure comedy gold. Message to Mr Neate – this man every round please?

When I stopped laughing, we had a race in the wet – finished P8, again behind Plummer this time having a race-long battle chasing him down. We were both lucky not to collect Mr Booth on his Ducati as he stalled out of hateful, nasty, ridiculous corner one but we made it past on either side and Mr Plummer held me off to the end.

Aerial view of the circuit

And that was it. The rain fell and fell some more. Not like southern rain that has the decency to stop every now and again, this just kept on until the circuit was flooded. Nothing to be done, No Limits called it. Quick check of the watch and the realisation dawned – if we get this right I could get home before the Indian shuts – let’s get the fork outta here! We shoved everything, soaking wet, into the van, hitched the caravan and made a run for home. Leaving the smog, the darkness and the rain behind we arrived home and the Indian stayed open another ten minutes so they could sell me my Jalfrezi. Proper end to the season…

Race for a Ruby. They shut at 10 on a Sunday…

As it happens I actually know some Northern folks, big thanks to Steve for popping along on his R-Nine-T on Friday and again with the family on Sunday. Great to catch up with them all – just sorry Sunday was such a wash-out (but then they’re used to it – they live here).

Respect to No Limits for doing their very best this weekend, nobody made it easy. This extends to the whole season which has been another great one, thanks to all who make it such a pleasure to be part of – marshalls, ladies with bingo pens at the gate, ladies with flags, office team, management. Top job, always.

What now? Well, I had decided that this would be my last race weekend. Time to move on and try something new. But apparently as a married man I am supposed to ‘consult’ with my better half on such matters and it turns out she has different ideas – so who knows?! Either way, whether I race again or not I have had an absolute ball over the last five years and have achieved more than I ever thought I might. Good friends, clean racing, proper fun and the odd trophy to make up for the odd broken bone.

Safe winter everyone and STAY SOUTH!

7th in championship having missed two full rounds, happy with that for my first foray into wee twins
The dry race.
Holding up 500s…

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Deadly Distractions

I do like a sport where, should your mind be distracted whilst partaking, severe pain or death typically follows.

Before motorcycle racing took over my life and bank balance, I used to strap lead to myself and drop to the bottom of the sea with a bottle of air on my back. It’s a serene experience and typically generates less adrenaline and fewer broken bones but it does have inherent risks. Like not being able to breathe 40 metres underwater with the prospect that swimming up for your only hope of life-saving air will inevitably deliver not just that oxygen you crave but also a side-dish of the bends and possibly a torso full of burst lungs.

Both the amazing environment that diving takes you to and the potential for harm means it is a great way to clear your mind of toxic nonsense like work and taxes.

Bike racing has the same effect whereby thinking about Monday morning whilst mid-race delivers either instant physical pain or the mental anguish of a humiliating result posted for eternity in the archives of TSL. Keeps you focused and guarantees a blessed, if temporary, relief from the real world. And that, for me, is the essence of a good hobby.

One other area of commonality between these two sports, apart from the potential for personal harm, is the responsibility of the community in each for the environment in which they enjoy their hobby. This is critical in order to stop people objecting to what we do and to keep it being freely (relatively speaking) available for the future. If you enjoy your sport, why not put a little effort in to keep it available for the future and avoid feeding the haters by giving them grounds to complain?

When diving we used to work to the mantra,
‘Take only photos,
Leave only bubbles’.

I thought I’d come up with a similar catchy phrase we can all aspire to live by at the race circuit, I hope this inspires you:
‘Take only smiles, trophies and TSL sheets.
Leave only four days worth of human waste, immeasurable quantities of burnt and shredded rubber, a hundred knee slider’s worth of plastic, a billion particles of toxic exhaust fumes, a trillion decibels of wailing four-stroke screams, the tortuous clanking of a thousand generators and lashings and lashings of sweet pastries.’

Note the above does not include leaving litter, tents, plywood boards, used tyres or indeed full portaloos lying round the paddock. Everything we leave has to be picked up by someone who needs paying and a lot of it costs money to dispose of, money that gets passed back to us in race fees the following year. If you brought it with you either eat it, leave it ground into the track or take it home. Here endeth today’s lesson.

So what happened at Cadwell? Well the weather was meant to be pure wet and windy, but I reckon we got away lightly. Test day was wet session one, drying session two and dry the rest of the day. Saturday saw only the endurance badly affected by rain and Sunday had the odd race in the wet but mostly dry. It was bloody windy though, dozens of destroyed awnings are testament to that. And it did bucket it down a few times.

It’s on weekends like this that investing in high quality shelters comes into its own and I have used Surf and Turf awnings for years now without incident. Thus it was with considerable dismay that upon unloading my van late Thursday evening I discovered the sides of my awning were tucked up safe and warm in my garage in Reading. So a huge ‘thank you’ to Dave ‘Nora’ Gregory for the loan of his awning sides, it made my weekend a lot less unpleasant.

The lack of preparedness didn’t end there. Over the weekend I learned that swapping between wet wheels with standard discs and dry wheels with Brembo discs causes my brakes to perform incredibly poorly. I also discovered that not fixing my rear wheel adjusters in place and only having one set of cush drive rubbers makes rear sprocket changes too difficult and promotes laziness. And we forgot the milk. And ran out of drinking water.

Compact and wind-resistant

I didn’t work on my gearing on Friday and so started Saturday with a tooth too few on the back. I qualified 13th overall and so was determined to get the best start ever to get behind the guys I wanted to be competing with. Queue worst start ever. Finished 14th, 7th in class.

I took the extreme measure of riding in emergency practice Sunday morning at 9am to try new gearing, it instantly felt better everywhere. Starting 14th in race two I got a much better start, ended up 11th and 6th in class.

Race three was a shambles, it tipped it down just before we were going out, went for wet front dry rear but the brakes were almost non-existent, tried to go back to dry front but made a mess of the change and missed the race.

20th on grid for race four, decent start and great fun battling with Team PR for a 14th place finish and 8th in class.

I started the weekend doing 1.48s, finished on a mid 1.45 (obviously on the last lap of the lap race as always). If I had started on a mid-45 I might have had the weekend I wanted… Many thanks again to Dave Gregory for some coaching tips, that with the change of gearing helped my progress. I never had so much fun round Cadwell as I am having on the SV, so despite a very average result from the weekend I’m definitely coming away smiling.

Great to see Arai support in the paddock, it was advertised at the start of the year but didn’t happen. They helped me out with my misting visor issues by proving the pinlocks I had been sent had a manufacturing fault.

Thanks to everyone for the support and especially – as always – my ever-supportive wife.

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Frae O’er the Mount

My friend John lives in Eglinton. We let him out for the weekend to play with No Limits at Snetterton.

Eglinton is on the island of Ireland. Ireland bobs around in the Atlantic wind and rain like a stubborn sweetcorn floater, mostly cut off from the modern world. Much of Ireland is now firmly in the 19th century with all the associated mod cons such as indoor fires, but there are a few forgotten wastelands on the other side of the Limavady mountains that hark back to more neolithic times. Eglinton is one such place.

Eglinton children are born, often four to five at a time, with ears bigger than their torsos and huge hobbit feet, already armed with thick, hooked, yellowing toenails on hirsute, fat toes. (Childbirth in Eglinton really is something to behold.) From these grotesque offspring the adult community of Eglinton farm earwax and toe cheese on an industrial scale in order to feast every Sabbath on a dish not unlike omelette in appearance but with a gag-inducing pungency somewhat akin to a post-Anglesey Endurance Race arse crack.

Big John, fuelled by this unique diet, has grown into his ears and feet as he is now in his forties and stands well over six foot tall – so looks slightly less freakish than younger Eglintonians. But his presence is nonetheless unsettling for many English folk. His arrival in the obligatory rusty white Transit, belching plumes of diesel particulate, served only to amplify the concern in the paddock over the arrival of “one of them’uns”.

Big John, a classic example of ‘Eglinton man’.

John entered the Pirelli race but the elite of the paddock have no tolerance for the incomprehensible mountain folk and duly sent Joe Francis on a new BMW to run John off the track at the end of the back straight in race one. A pretty shitty welcome for our distant cousin, I thought. John’s weekend improved when Toni, having noticed his furrowed monobrow, took pity on him and found a space in the more welcoming community of clubman racers. Here he enjoyed two good races on Sunday before leaving for the last coffin ship to the homeland on Sunday night.

The thing John was most impressed with on his visit? The impressive length and girth of a Snetterton Sausage and the fact it was free food on Saturday night…

Eglinton Graphics Co.’s best work showcased on the BMW

As the No Limits paddock could do with a few more hairy trolls to fill the last few grid slots, I would recommend that NL race weekends at the likes of Croft and Anglesey are advertised in the Irish bike press if they are not already (Papyrus in now quite widely available in Ireland). Ireland is severely lacking in well organised, quality race meets – No Limits is another level for those guys and is just a ferry ride away.

The well oiled Irish racing machine in full flow.

“But what about your weekend Peter?” I hear you cry. Well..,

Let’s get endurance out of the way first. I entered the Pirelli Endurance race on Bridgestones. I’m a clown. No Limits were very good about it but it could have really ruined my team’s weekend and so I feel very bad about it. Bad de Zoo. Moving on…

The cap of shame.

Practice on Friday wasn’t great, I missed first session due to a leaking tyre valve and only worked out the right gearing in the last session – but was some way off pace based on previous races.

Race results ended up as follows:

 StartFinish 
 Overall Overall In ClassBest Time
Race 1161272.13.6
Race 213DNFDNF2.15.0
Race 3141262.13.4
Race 4131382.13.8

Race one was me finding some pace and slotting in somewhere around where I should be given the quality field of standard twin riders at Snett. It’s funny, when I am going straight to Endurance after a race I don’t take the time to process what happened in the race and by Monday can barely remember any details – it’s also the only race not on camera so I can’t remember much about it.

Race two was more eventful, I had a four lap battle to get past a supertwin and got myself to fifth in class when my bike cut out at the last corner on lap six. It had done the same thing once in testing, both times when I left my downshift uncomfortably late into the corner. The bike on both occasions was very hard to restart, so I ended up limping into pit lane and losing all points. One thing I have learned is that getting down about what could have been serves no healthy purpose so it was chin up and move on. Just need to diagnose the stalling issue and either change the way I’m riding the pizza bike or fix the fault.

Race three was great, I really enjoyed myself and was happy with my time. Good, hard race and a decent result.

Race four I pretty much lost out from the start, letting too many past in the first two corners and making life difficult for myself. If I’m honest, I think I wasn’t awake enough going to the grid – I just wasn’t feeling the race face and it told in the result. A long week at work, lots of laps in testing, solo and endurance, lots of sunshine and a few ciders had probably taken their toll. But I finished happy after some decent scraps and good clean fun.

All in all Snetterton was a great weekend. Ran smooth, no stoppages for us, good clean racing and a few points in the bag. Heidi looked after both myself and Eglinton Man very well being the wonderful wife she is and as usual it was great catching up with a lot of familiar faces in the paddock. Great to see Chris and the boys pop in too, here’s hoping Danny Shaw and the team have success at BSB Snett this weekend.

Next round is Cadwell, can’t wait!

Couldn’t find a photo of the scutineer – but he looks like Timothy Claypole…
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There is no (G)god.

Back when even more people than today were illiterate and uneducated, some of the more forward thinking cave-dwellers decided, whilst high from smoking massive dinosaur dung reefers, that it would be great sport if they could tell everyone what to do. In order to make this happen, it was concluded that either violence or authority would be effective. Assumed authority was deemed to be less effort and more scalable.

And so the concept of god was born. Convince people of the existence of an invisible but immortal, all-powerful and terrifying superior being and they will live in fear and obedience. Then convince those same people that you have been selected as that deity’s Chief of Communications and by golly, life just got fun.

Over the centuries clever men fine-tuned the story. Eternity in heaven or hell was a good foundation for driving the correct behaviours, along with apparent control over droughts, floods and pestilence. And so long as you keep the majority of the population out of the joke, you’re laughing. Also it is important to ensure that any children born of the believers are brainwashed from the day and hour they leave the amniotic sac to avoid problems further down the line. The only threats to this wonderful strategy? Education, literacy and efficient communication.

Today, we have democratic governments, we have the legal system, we have global communications and we have law enforcement bodies. We have mass education to a high standard, we have the scientific method to disprove the magic and literacy is the norm (outside of Facebook). It’s over. Science, law and education have replaced any need whatsoever for organised religion. And yet, every Sunday, legions of otherwise normal people don special outfits, drive to an ancient house of worship in their freshly cleaned cars and pretend to be good people in front of a man (or woman, but this is rare as god doesn’t like women so much) wearing ancient gowns and a dog collar. And what does the congregation gain from this weekly ritual? A sense of moral superiority. They get to believe that they have the right to decide what is morally right and what is morally wrong. And these people have arbitrarily decided that racing motorbikes at Oulton Park on a Sunday is wrong.

And the ridiculous thing? We – normal people with normal hobbies – have to obey them. This is the reason that we get a measly three practice sessions plus qualifying on Friday and two races Saturday when we visit Oulton Park. I felt it worth providing some context…

An uneventful drive (the best kind) to Oulton on Thursday evening and we were set up before it got dark in fine weather. Friday morning practice dawned bright and sunny, session one was frustrating as I was caught in traffic for most of it – it was my first outing on the little SV at Oulton and I was sure it should be fun but I just didn’t get going. Plus I snapped my DIY bracket for my GPS timer, which didn’t amuse me. Session two was great – open track and as expected the SV was a proper hoot round a circuit I always struggled with on the S1000rr. Probably my most enjoyable laps of Oulton to date but I didn’t capture a time due to the aforementioned bracket snapping. Session three and the rain came down heavy just as we headed out, I stayed out with maybe four others on dry tyres (and dark visor) just to see how it felt. As expected, it felt wet and slippery. Having said that the R11 treads being pushed by 72hp were certainly better than slicks trying to push 200hp onto the tarmac.

The rain mentioned above didn’t stop. At all. In fact at points it reached biblical proportions. Until we drove home on Saturday evening. It was relentless and the track was soaked from Friday lunch time until Saturday night. The one benefit is it does away with any deliberations on tyre choice and any last minute wheel changes, plus there are many worse tracks to ride in the rain than Oulton.

Qualifying was at 4pm and I felt confident I would do ok on the smaller bike on wets. I popped in a clear visor, slapped a Pinlock in to stop misting and headed out. Whoosh – as if some invisible hand of god had wrapped a scarf over my eyes, I couldn’t see a damn thing – my visor misted between the pinlock and the visor. The only way it can clear is of its own accord, so I wobbled round peering out of the 1cm gap at the top of my visor I could see through. There was no option to pit – with only a short qualifying and knowing it would take minutes to get degloved, lid off and hoke out the visor insert I had to just suck it up. 27th on grid for race one. Let’s just say I wasn’t great company for the next hour or two (sorry Heidi!).

Look carefully and you can see the one clear spot at the top middle. That was my view of Oulton.

A chat with Danny on the phone for some advice and after a trawl of t’internet I set about a clinical sterile reinstall of a new pinlock on a new Arai clear visor ready for Saturday. Did everything to the letter and looked forward to race one when I would carve my way through to the front like a scalpel. But someone had other ideas.

Never knowingly classy

Friday evening and me and Missus de Zoo wandered through the paddock and had a couple of scoops before falling asleep to the purr of a thousand generators – completely forgetting to get scrutineered. At 7am I trudged to Technical Control to ask for even more time in the rain in the form of 8.45am emergency practice – something I have avoided until now but I had to sort out the visor issues. In emergency practice the visor was better, misting in one corner but being generally ok so we decided to run with it in race one. I then skulked off to scrutineering full of apologies and nodded sagely as the little beardy man delighted in his opportunity to condemn my late appearance. I’m sure passing judgement on my tardiness made his weekend so I was happy to let him play god. Come to think of it – he looked a little bit like the lord himself, only less impressive than I would expect an immortal, all-powerful deity to appear. Maybe it was the oversized boilersuit…

Overnight leather drying

I was ready to race after a delayed start on Saturday morning but before leaving the awning the new visor started to mist inside. I wasn’t prepared to risk it in a race so I ripped out the pinlock and headed out with a standard, untreated visor. During the race it would be fine one minute then I’d be blind the next, as the laps went by I realised it was parts of the track where I was holding my breath and then letting it out – so heading into the trees after the tricky Knickerbrook I was blind every lap. I tried to regulate my breathing and use the straights to try to clear the visor but it was a compromise and I couldn’t settle into a decent pace. Started 27th, finished 18th but with lap times of 2.15 I was some way off the pace. Not happy. 9th in class.

Can not see…

John, Laura, Amy, Danny, Steph, Travis and Olivia had all come to see us – it was great to catch up and very much appreciated. But a special thank you to John who at one point muttered about how old fashioned Fairy Liquid always worked for him. Remembering that this is exactly what I used to do on my road bike, I gave it a go – smearing the inside of the visor with the mild green liquid and polishing it off again. Perfect! No misting whatsoever in race two in the afternoon. Started 20th, finished 11th. I was only 8th in class, but I properly enjoyed myself. The second half of the race saw me open a 14 second gap to the man behind but with a similar gap from me to the guys I wanted to beat all I wanted was to know I was lapping something close to the guys in front. Sure enough my 2.09 laps were in line with the guys finishing 3-7th in my class, so I know I am competitive in the wet. Finally a decent run round in the rain and reassurance that it was mostly the visor issues holding me back.

Biggest frustration? That there were not two more races for me to try to redeem myself. I would have started 6th in class for the non-existent race 3 and my starts had been good. But god moves in mysterious ways and it wasn’t to be. Regardless, due to DNFs and no-shows I have moved from 6th to 4th in class despite my woes.

Special Bonus Adverse Weather Product Review Section:

GOOD:

  • Held HRD waterproof suit – bloody brilliant. Easy in/out, waterproof and you don’t know you are wearing it
  • Surf & Turf awning – rock solid when many lesser awnings were collapsing
  • Rola-Trac flooring – bone dry floor while water flows underneath
  • Mild Green Fairy Liquid – it might not be the best stuff to put on plastic visors but it did the job

POOR

  • Arai RX-7V visor with pinlock 120. It doesn’t work for the conditions we had
Held Wet Race Jacket

All in all a disappointing weekend given the results of the races before and the fact my friends had come to watch me, but these things are sent to try us. The rain didn’t ruin my weekend, it just added challenges and my kit just wasn’t up to the job.

Sunday – drying day…

If nothing else, I think what we have established is that if there is a god (there isn’t), then he clearly doesn’t like me being at Oulton Park, period.

Thanks to all those mentioned above for your support, always very much valued.

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The Anglesey Poo-Poo Train

There are certain things in life which I consider as guaranteed, taken for granted. The sky is blue, Triumphs break down, Toni is abusive and you face the crapper door when dropping the kids off at the pool.

It upsets my world when the certainties can no longer be relied upon. Such was the case on Friday when settling in for the first of my early morning donations to the Anglesey paddock log collection. Upon entering the only unoccupied trap in the row, I was confronted with a world at 90 degrees to the norm. The disconcertingly warm porcelain throne was sideways. Being a gentleman of open mind and full bowel I went with it, but in the following moments of contemplation it dawned on me that not only was I pushing yesterday’s heavily-processed Burger King in the direction of the man behind, but someone in front was also evacuating their innards towards me.

I was on the Anglesey poo-poo train and what a rollercoaster ride it was going to be!

Anglesey can be a cruel mistress if she’s in foul form. On my last visit I nearly lost my fiance over a cliff, attached to a semi-erect 3 metre square surf and turf awning in a gale, like a horror version of Mary Poppins tumbling into the Irish Sea. We survived that but I smashed myself into the corkscrew on a cold tyre the next morning fracturing my scapula and forcing Heidi to drive us the 5 hours home again. We were hoping for a better experience this time, happily it was.

This didn’t happen. But as Alex James wasn’t there I have to make shit up.

Arriving after ten o’clock on Thursday evening due to a delightful one hour addition to the five hour journey, we set up near the train station ready for practice day. I skipped session one in the morning in order to get properly set up and to conserve tyres – I was on wrecked rubber but wanted to avoid putting new rubber on for practice day. The weather was glorious and I had a world of fun on the little SV, gaining confidence, fine tuning gearing and finally scrubbing in a front on the last session ready for qualifying in the morning. Saturday would be a busy day with solo and endurance qualifying back to back, and a solo race immediately before our three hour endurance. The Iron Maidens ladies race team had asked for a stand-in as they had only one 600 rider, so I volunteered as track time on the twin, on a great little circuit like Anglesey Coastal, would be invaluable experience.

Qualifying went much better than anticipated, landing first in class and eleventh overall. Given my normally dire qualifying performances, I was pretty shocked happy with that. My happiness changed to frustration when I went straight back out to endurance qualifying and knocked another 1.5 seconds off my time which would have had me around seventh overall in solo, but it was good to know I had it in me.

Solo race one and my start was a weak one. The SV runs out of first gear very quickly and with no quickshifter, it isn’t what you might call elegant getting into second. But I pushed on and regained my positions ending a very enjoyable race eighth overall and first in class. Yep – first. As in – win a trophy. I didn’t have much time to think about it as we were rushing to get started for endurance, although someone coming off in the warm up lap sent us all back to the garages and shortened the race (back carriage of the Anglesey Express for you, whoever you are).

Endurance was great, my team mate has a great attitude, a slick riding style and she is definitely keen on continual improvement. Her other half has a huge depth of knowledge of bikes and riding them so was there to support Pam and I on the pit wall along with Heidi. We worked well together and in the end split the laps almost exactly 50/50. The twin wasn’t the roadblock I feared and whilst the top guys whipped past, the not so top guys couldn’t always get me off their tail despite a 100hp+ deficit. Great fun and good to get some real miles under my belt on the twin. We found a small oil leak at the end which had me a little worried for Sunday, but we had some free time Sunday morning to sort that and replace the tyres which had done over 100 laps.

100 laps later

Waking at 5am, I didn’t get the rest I had hoped for on Saturday night – the celebratory cider and American Hard Gums were not sitting pretty so I went for an early morning run around the railroad before getting to work on the SV. Oil leak sorted, tyres swapped, brakes bled, surfaces polished and breakfast consumed, we waited for racing.

Waiting. My what a lot of waiting there was on Sunday. I won’t make light of what was a very difficult day for the organisers (Saturday wasn’t plain sailing either), a series of accidents meant priority was the wellbeing of injured riders. Seeing the air ambulance make repeat visits to your circuit on one weekend is never good. I just hope they all make a full and speedy recovery.

When we finally got to track, I only went and bleeding won again?! From a nosebleed-inducing 8th on the grid, I fought back from another weak start for another big plastic first-place trophy and finished 8th overall. So the first one wasn’t a fluke?!

Race three and Richard Childs who had been keeping a lot of pressure on me in the first two races recovered well from a missed corner mid-race to make a good pass half a lap from the flag – I couldn’t find a pass back and followed him across the line. Second place for me and a weekend best Standard twin time of 1.17.2.

Race four was a disappointment. On a tight left at the end of the straight on lap one, the gap I was going for became a Ducati and grabbing a handful of brake when leant over on lap one inevitably dumped me on my head. Lucky not to be collected by everyone else (and lucky not to have taken out the Ducati), the bike and I were both well enough to ride back to pits. Another wrecked helmet, some sore ribs and a bent gear lever was the only damage. I came away pleased with myself that I was now fighting harder for track position, reviewing the footage I think it was what they call a ‘racing incident’. I also lost out on the best Standard twin lap of the weekend when Childs put in a 1.16.6, the Standard twin final race win went to Jackson in the end.

Bit close, maybe
Hiya!

Takeaways from the weekend? Apart from my lifelong understanding of regulatory cubicle layout being unceremoniously shattered, I come away thinking that my experience of racing over the last few years really helped my weekend. A cool head, a more strategic approach than ‘lunge everywhere’ and an understanding of race distance all helped me. The bike just works, I am delighted with it. I really can’t fault it at the moment. The crash was definitely just ‘one of those things’ and I don’t think there is much to be learned from it. It is great being in the paddock again with all the familiar faces, it really is a genuinely friendly place to be. One new experience was being spied on. An old fella was on his hands and knees outside my awning staring at my bike, I said hello and he barely acknowledged me. He moved around for a few different views, then off he went. It was only later I realised he was with one of my competitors. Just ask next time chap, eh?

70 points in the bag, three ornaments for the house and some bruised innards to take home, that’s what I regard as a good weekend.

My first solo win could only ever be dedicated to one person. A believer from the start and loyal to the end, a man who – on the day his Dad was waking up to do a 21 mile run – woke and immediately asked “Is Peter Pan racing today Daddy?”. First win dedicated to you Travis Shaw.

Huge thanks for the scores of people who have given my wins a ‘like’ or a kind comment, it really means a lot. It wouldn’t have happened without Heidi’s support and she is now taking on pit wall duties as well as all the other things she does to enable me to race. Best wife ever.

So onwards now with a new spring in my step. I can win things. Time to start strutting the paddock in socks, sliders and shades like the winner I am.

Peter the Chicken fucking Dinner.

This didn’t happen.
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My First Trackday

I popped along to a No Limits trackday at Mallory Park on Easter Monday because I prefer internal combustion engines to the Lord Jesus Christ. I went on my own because the few friends I have all ride ‘big’ bikes and are therefore scared of corners.

My newfound love of riding wholly inappropriate small-engined v-twins has opened up the wonderful world of crappy little race tracks to me, so my tick list of UK tracks can now get longer.

Simples

Whilst there a couple of things made me smile. Firstly, my setup was ridiculously easy/simple despite not being in a garage. Paddock stands, genny, a table and a chair and off we go! Secondly a fellow rider came over and said,”You look like a very organised fellow, would you have a cable tie I could have please?” at which point I invited him into my van to choose one of four sizes of cable tie from my cable tie drawer. Oh and as I drove out, a novice rider pulled in from the track pumping the air with his fist, as I watched on his mates ran round and bowed before his newly scuffed knee slider.

The boat

These things made me smile because they just reminded me of the journey I have been on. Like everyone I started biking on a wrecked RM125 in a barley stubble field as a yoof. By the time I moved to England I was on a TL1000R but as soon as I moved, with associated increase in wealth, I wanted my dream bike – an Aprilia 2002 RSV1000R. I got one of the last ones for sale new in 2003 and promptly booked on a road trip to Folembray, France to do my first trackday with RSVR.net. We rode across, me knowing nobody, and I spent a day on track and made it home safely. Quite an experience and that was that – I came home knowing I needed more time on track.

My dream bike with its dancing shoes on

The TLR which had been gathering dust in the garage was tracked and over the coming years the Aprilia was used, then a KTM SM950, a K7 GSXR750, the BMW S1000rr and most lately an SV650. I was a cautious rider, took a while to venture out of novice and spent an eternity in inters. I didn’t crash apart from a spill in the wet at Rockingham on the TLR. To this day, as anyone who has checked out my race results will know, I am best described as ‘steady’ – although my crash tally has rocketed spectacularly.

Silly, but fun, SM950

I think back to just how big a deal a trackday was in my early days – days of planning, fretting over what critical part of the gear would be forgotten, stressing about garages and all the hassle of bike trailers and parking them outside Holiday Inns in dodgy areas. Trackdays were booked weeks in advance. The thrill of losing the chicken strips, the endless search for the first knee down, the first session on wets, the tall tales of daring-do in the pub afterwards and the unshakeable certainty that we were experts and trail blazers.

The GSXR750 – the most reassuring track bike ever

Now I look on and smile at the riders for whom this is all new. I listen as they have the same conversations, celebrate the same firsts. With the move to racing, much of the buzz of trackdays is gone, they become a romantic past life when everything was simple and you just rode round and round. No need for awnings, for flooring, for ground bars and folding tables, for caravans, for six spare wheels and a dozen tyres, for tyre changing kit, for three gerry cans of petrol and two tool boxes, for ten sprockets and two chains, for fluid transfer, for GPS timers, for Sprinter vans and sticky numbers and pit boards and disability and life insurance. The contrast provided by Mallory on Monday was all the more dramatic as I had spent Saturday and Sunday in the BSB paddock with Danny, a whole new level of complexity (and cost).

S1000rr on its first track outing at Portimao, 2010

I have to say it was nice to just rock up, set out the bike, enjoy some laps in the sun and be packed up within 15 minutes. UK trackdays have their place and it is where we all cut our teeth – yes there will be disaster days with endless red flags, rain, running out of ambulances, oil spills – but when you get a good day they are worth the effort (actually Mallory had all of those apart from rain and was still a great day). Whilst trackdays might have seemed like a big event back in my early biking days they are all the more enjoyable now for their relative simplicity and lack of pressure. The basic, nimble SV650 and a little track like Mallory just makes everything all the more straightforward. Good, clean fun and where else in this world of Elf and Safe-ity would you get to launch yourself at the scenery for £150?

For the record, my tick box so far:

UK:
Anglesey (Coastal and International)
Mallory
Pembrey
Oulton
Cadwell
Donington (Full and National)
Silverstone (National and GP)
Brands (Indy and GP)
Snetterton (Old and new)
Rockingham (Both)

Europe:
Portimao x 4
Guadix
Folembray
Hungaroring
Jerez
Aragon x 2
Almeria x 2
Andalucia
Valencia
Cartagena x 2

More organised then than I am now… my old checklist
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