Pride comes before a fall. I was proud of my performance at Silverstone. Brands was a faceplant.
Friday practice day was very cold, I struggled to find confidence on worn Bridgestones. First session was terrible, as per, second session I was within a couple of tenths of my PB so things were looking ok. I was running into the limiter at a couple of points so I dropped a tooth on the rear sprocket and that seemed to be a better setup, but my times got worse. I persevered, but not only were my times worse but they were increasingly bad. By the end of the day I couldn’t get near my early morning time and was getting pretty annoyed. I put my new slicks on for the last session and did a couple of laps, they felt better so I put my times down to worn tyres and started thinking about race day.
I take pride in presenting a very well maintained and clean bike which uses top components, this has ensured that in four years of racing I have never failed scrutineering – until friday night when I was told that the shark fin I have had in place since 2013 would not pass. This is from a scrutineer who has been around for all that time. They shut scrutineering before I could fix it and then set up again on Saturday morning at the other end of Brands Hatch. You can’t run an engine until 8.30 and I couldn’t push it all that way and back, so that left things tight on Saturday morning. When I got there they didn’t even inspect the bodge I had engineered. Why take three years to spot something that is deemed a fail?? They did the same to another S1000rr, same scenario – shark fin that had always passed failed. I don’t dispute the reason for the fail, but I do question why it took three years to spot!
Saturday and qualifying was a disaster. It started to drizzle as we were getting ready, I went with wet front and slick rear but as we lined up we realised it was far too wet. I did three laps and my sphincter got a proper workout, with the rear stepping out at every throttle opening. I didn’t care where I ended up on the grid, just wanted to get back to the awning in one piece! Many others were caught out too, some with slicks on the front, whilst others had made the right call with wets. Qualified 21st.
Race one started wet and ended dry, I opted not to join the first corner Paddock Hill scrum which I predicted would involve casualties but didn’t, although there was a faller after Druids which was fortunate not to take more down. It took me a long time to find a rhythm and I finished 20th. My time put me 19th on the grid for Race Two on Sunday so I was hoping to start clawing my way towards points on Sunday. Glad to finish for the day in all honesty, I felt like I was a long way off where I wanted to be.
Race Two and I was optimistic about working my way up the grid. I got a good start and decided to push to hang on to the bunch of riders I wanted to be chasing. But I couldn’t get power down, the bike was bogging and I was getting frustrated until I realised I still had the traction control turned up from the rainy race the day before. It killed the drive onto the straights and I just went backwards through the pack. On another track I might have tried to change the setting mid-race but not at the Indy. I was angry with myself and ended up overshooting Druids sending me back four places. It was the longest, most miserable race I can remember. Finished 26th and put myself 28th on grid for Race Three.
Race Three was shit. No excuse of a wet track, no excuse of the wrong traction settings, no excuse of a bad start, just no excuse yet I was awful. I finished 23rd and put myself 25th on grid for the next race. Starting to get really annoyed at this point…
For Race Four I went back to the gearing I had been using on Friday morning because, frankly, I had run out of other ideas. It helped, but I was still poor finishing 21st. But early in the race I did remind myself to enjoy it, whatever it was and I had a great scrap with Rawlings and Joyce – two riders I have enjoyed battling with before and whom I have a lot of trust in on the track. I lost to both of them, but had great fun trying to stay ahead and then later to keep up. I felt I was pushing harder, the gearing was better, but I was gutted when I saw my lap times – they didn’t reflect the effort I was putting in.
Heidi basically couldn’t speak to me after that for fear of having her head bitten off, we packed up and the silence was only broken by frequent loud noises as I kicked or punched things in a rage. I don’t remember feeling that low after a weekend of racing. My hopes and aspirations just felt like pie in the sky ideas and the feeling I couldn’t escape was embarrassment – I felt I was making a fool of myself. Luckily for Heidi we were in separate cars on the way home, I would have been very poor company. But I used the time to talk to myself and try to find positives.
My starts were excellent. My worst start at Brands was probably the best I had done in forever and they got better. I normally count myself lucky if I have only lost five spaces into corner one. By the end of Sunday I was jumping places from the start and it felt easy to do, over and over. I changed one thing and I hope it was the magic bullet and I can forget about bad starts.
One other positive was that I only went backwards in one race. (Clutching at straws, I know, but humour me).
The Club 1000 race is filling up with riders who previously raced in the Pirelli Cup, so we have a few much faster guys riding – that will inevitably mean points are harder to come by from now on. The Club race was intended to be for Clubman only this year, I assumed the veterans in Pirelli would all be National license holders but it seems nobody upgrades. It’s a shame No limits and Pirelli couldn’t come up with a better deal. Using Bridgestones in the Club series saves you £60 per weekend plus you have the choice of any tyre you like, why would anyone pay more for less choice and a worse tyre (IMO) in the Pirelli Series given the choice?
Overall this was one of my worst racing weekends I can remember. But I don’t feel like it will affect me too much, I’ll park it and if I get the chance I will spend more time at Brands because clearly I have a lot to learn. I did try to work out where I was slow by trying to sit with the front runners when they lapped me – Graham Hill is a weakness and possibly the braking for Paddock – but it’s hard to spot. I need some time there to work out where I can find two seconds, it may simply be that I need to be much, much more aggressive because at Brands you cannot afford to slack for a second. I have booked a couple of track days on other tracks to get more bike time, that won’t do any harm either.
Big thanks to Neal, Emma, Ellie, Tommie and Peter for coming to see me and I can only apologise for the shameful performance! And to the long-suffering Heidi, “Sorry!”.
To the injured parties from the Endurance race – get well soon.