…and I don’t mean the kind with three cylinders and an oil leak.
Cartagena in February was my first time on track for many months after injury, and went really well so I felt quite positive going to round one of the No Limits Racing Club 1000 championship. But I was well aware that without having raced for the best part of a year, it wasn’t realistic to expect miracles. Many of the guys I raced with in 2015 are still there having done the full season last year while I was licking my wounds, so I couldn’t expect to be mixing with the front runners. Plus there is always new talent coming in which is an unknown.
Not a great day to be honest. It was very cold, very windy, I was using fairly rubbish tyres, work was distracting me really badly and an annoying headache in the morning turned into a real humdinger by late afternoon. My lap timer didn’t work properly, I didn’t eat properly and the bloody shower in the caravan didn’t work! But I learned my way round and worked on a few things I had been taught in Spain. There were a lot of spills – many weekends were ended before they begun with smashed bikes and injuries. We were lucky to have had only one red flag in our group, unfortunately it was my friend Andy who had to do a lot of running around to get his bike back in shape.
Anyway, main thing was I was all set up for Saturday and in one piece. Heidi arrived with the provisions at 10pm and Danny, Steph and Travis landed just before 11. One beer consumed all evening.
A downside of No Limits running the endurance race on a Saturday is there is very limited scope for solo races, so we had qualifying and one race all day. Qualifying was ok but was red flagged before I got a clear lap and we didn’t get to do a practise start. But 16th wasn’t shameful, happy enough.
Race one arrived and I was very keen to take a point home with me from the weekend so I was quietly hopeful that I could gain a place from my start position. In the event a bit of a spill at the link road meant a red flag, long stoppage on the grid and then two warm-up laps and a seven lap race (down from eleven). I finished 14th having made an average start and being stuck cruising in no-mans-land for most of the race, but pleased to take a couple of points and reassured that I could still compete.
In line with my new minimal-alcohol and healthy eating strategy, Saturday night was very quiet. We cooked healthy food on the BBQ and went for a couple of ciders in the bar. Early to bed as the clocks went forward an hour.
Sunday was a late start and late finish. First race was after 12 o’clock, so the track wasn’t as treacherous as it was first thing. The weather was beautiful, as it had been on Saturday – clear blue skies and sunshine – but this is March at an exposed track so the tarmac held no heat. Grip was very limited throughout the two days with mornings and evenings being fairly nasty.
Race two was better than the first, I enjoyed it and was able to stayed focused to finish a better 12th after starting 14th. I gave a place away on the last lap which was frustrating. At this stage I was beginning to realise I could set my sights higher and aim to be playing with the faster guys if I could hang on to their coat tails at the start of the race.
Race three was fairly dramatic, going into Vale on lap one two bikes ran very deep outside of me, heading off track. I kept my line but as I feared they pulled back across the track and one of them collected me. I felt a heavy impact and heard a loud crack, but was pleased to still be on the bike so I put my head down and got on with the race. The other rider fared a lot worse, with a crashed bike with kinked forks and a hole in his elbow. He came and apologised, but it was nothing more than a racing incident. My bike suffered a couple of cracks to the (brand new) fairings, my new silencer is now quite second hand and my boots lost some bits. Bagged another two points but also crept further up the grid with a new PB lap time.
Race four was the highlight. It had turned bitterly cold and there was very little grip to be had. I had a rider drop in front of me on lap one while trying to go round the outside of me into the link, I managed to avoid him. I saw a Ducati come off in fine style on Farm just ahead of us and then Andy Bishop went down seemingly for no reason into Vale. It was unnerving to see so many down in the first laps so I decided not to push too hard. I settled into 11th but stuck close to 10th and we both worked our way up on the 9th place man. I passed them both on Hangar Straight and held them off for another lap to take a ninth place – much better than I was hoping for out of the weekend.
|Silverstone International||Qualifying Position||Place||Best Lap||Points|
**Note my total points haul in round one last year was zero.
So I would say I am back and stronger than ever. I’m in the top ten at the first round, feeling good on the bike, feeling fit and I have things to work on which will only improve my performance. Credit to Simon Crafar for helping with technique and Andy White from KAIS has done a great job sorting my suspension. Danny Shaw helped with some good ideas on setup/gearing which helped too, I will be more inclined to make adjustments to the bike in future.
I would say the most encouraging sign for me is the way I crept up the grid. Our starting position is decided by best lap time in the previous race, meaning I was getting faster relative to everyone else each race. That has to be a good thing, right? And whilst my new PB may only be three tenths faster than my previous, this was in March on a stone-cold track compared to July. So relatively speaking I think my performance is notably better.
We had many friends pop by to see us and as always it means a lot – even faces I haven’t seen for quite a few years! Danny, Steph and Travis travelled 4.5 hours each way to help us out which is no less than heroic – but then my number one fan isn’t prepared to miss out on seeing Peter Pan race!
All things considered everything has combined to produce a performance I am happy with. A stricter eating and drinking regime, more focus and preparation between races, change of tyre choice, good training and technical advice, being more agile on the bike and staying fit while keeping my weight down – all these will help me get the best out of my races. Self-sufficiency is another goal this year, I can change tyres myself now which saves the hassle of dealing with the support service. I’m genuinely excited about the season ahead…
Now the focus is on Danny Shaw et al who are competing in the Tri-Options Ducati Cup, first round is next weekend at Dony. We’ll be there and are expecting big things from the ex-NLR crew. Best of luck lads!
PS – just a note to say how depressing it is to see other people’s’ bad luck. Mav, Dave Young, Andy Lyne, Andy Bishop, Dave Hall, Liam Murtagh and Steve Li – hope you all get sorted, thankfully no injuries amongst this list. First round in the UK is a nightmare.