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Final Round – Donington GP, October 2015 – the last ‘Hurrah!’

Donington Park is situated directly under a busy flight path into East Midlands airport. As such it endures deafening plane noise for 18 hours a day. Therefore its sensitivity to motorbike noise seems bizarre, but it’s a fact of life and for this reason there is no practice day on Friday of a race weekend. That means that my first lap is in qualifying on Saturday morning. For a ‘slow starter’ like me, that is challenging.

Back to the start…leaving late because my day’s leave from work was cancelled at the last minute, we managed to get to Donington Park near Derby around 7.30pm Friday and get set up ready for a weekend of solo and endurance races. Briefed on Friday night, scrutineered and signed on on Saturday morning, all ready to go.  Saturday morning was cold and foggy, but the air cleared in time for my first session.

I know Donington well, but it’s a fast track and dragging my brain from work speed to race speed takes a lap or two. I knew I hadn’t managed a decent lap and sure enough qualified 16th. In race one, hard work saw me climb to 10th place by the end of the race, happy with that from a field of 29 in my class.

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I have glossed over a bit of drama here, because between solo qualifying and solo race was Endurance qualifying. Danny went first and on the first flying lap slung his shiney new S1000rrr down Craner Curves. I went out and knocked in a few laps and whilst what looked like half the paddock were left to reconstruct Danny’s bike, he took a spin on mine to put us in 12th spot on the Endurance grid. It looked like Danny’s bike was done for, but by some minor miracle and with a cast of thousands Danny was back out to bag podium finish on his first solo race. The man is a machine.

We lined up for Endurance start and I was starting. Sprinted to the bike, thumbed the starter, nothing much seemed to happen apart from everyone else rode off apart from me. After 10 presses of the starter and absolutely no response, not even an error code, we started pushing. We ended up pushing into pit lane and just as Danny went sprinting off with the transponder to take his bike out, mine fired into life. Unfortunately the Safety car was now out due to another incident and we lost 3 or 4 laps before even getting on track. We did what we could and bit by bit clawed back the places. Of 48 teams, we finished 20th, 6th in class. Given the disadvantage my mysterious bike fault caused, I think that’s pretty good progress. Very disappointed to have given us such a hard task in the last race, new switchgear on the shopping list for the winter methinks. BMW stuff is notoriously delicate after being crashed, mine has had a couple of smashes and was never replaced. But what a time to let me down…

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One stand out moment was on the start finish straight when something caught my eye while I was WOT in 5th, a huge triangle in the sky ahead of me turned out to be a Vulcan bomber. By the time I looked back at the track it was almost too late to get through turn one. I was nearly the old Vulcan Bomber’s last victim…

Saturday night was great fun with Danny’s mates, a few ciders were required to recover from the 60 minute queue for food (come on Donington, please?!), then it was a relatively early night. Next morning and I was in a lot of pain, I have been having back problems and my shoulder and neck was very painful. Lots of Deep Heat, Brufen and water helped and to be honest, I can’t say it held me back in the races to follow.

Three races on Sunday, some theoretical hope of managing a top ten finish in the No Limits Cup 1000 class, so I was determined to put in a good show. 12th on grid for race two, finished 10th again. One frustrating point was I couldn’t break out of 1.42s. This is not a particularly impressive time and no matter how hard I pushed it seemed I couldn’t break into 1.41s. During the break I put a new type of brake pad in and bled the brakes again. What a difference. Immediately dropped into low 1.41s, finally, and went from grid position of 17th to a third 10th place finish. It was an excellent race, from a very poor start a great first lap saw me claw back my places and then dicing with Mark Thompson for the second half of the race but not able to make the pass.

Final race saw a depleted grid and an opportunity for a few cheeky points. Another bad start but made it back and was breaking my balls to catch Jason Hill when the chequered flag came out. Great to see Jason back out at the sharp end after some problems, good end to the season for him finishing 5th with me 6th. Mat Rawlings went down in front of me, but looked to be uninjured. And just for the record, the weather was beautiful.

At the end of the weekend I was pretty sure I would be outside the championship top ten, but was happy that despite poor starts my performance had been solid. To find out on Monday that my zero DNFs and perseverance through the year had delivered a 9th place was superb, I’m well pleased.

The only sour note from the weekend was a typical Donington Park one – any mobile phones left unattended were swiped, along with a bicycle apparently – eight phones that we know of including Heidi’s. The security guard was quite happy to share this information after he scrounged a cigarette from my friend and smoked it behind my van while boasting about his expert skills at hiding from management so he can smoke on duty – after we told him we had lost an iphone. He was also telling us about how under resourced the track was, with no track sweeper on standby to deal with any spills. A real company man!

No Limits coped admirably with a significant number of crashes due to cold track conditions – despite everyone being warned about being careful. Another well organised weekend.

I’ll post a follow-up blog to review the year, but that was Dony. Next stop Cartagena in February, with a complete bike rebuild between times. Have a nice winter everyone!!

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