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Trials and Tribulations

Fair warning folks – this could get ranty…

We arrived at Donington shortly after 8pm last Friday, the earliest we could get there without risking formal proceedings from our respective employers. “Friday?” I hear you exclaim. I refer you to RANT #1. We parked up in the middle of the huge empty space which was Paddock 3. “Empty space?” I hear you ask. I refer you to RANT #2. We got set up and ready for the morning. “What, no scrutineering?” you enquire. I refer you to RANT #3.

I warned you.

Seven o’clock Saturday morning and I’m kitted up and wheeling the bike to scrutineering. I return bike from scrutineering at 7.50 and rush to the last opportunity to attend the compulsory briefing. “Fifty minutes for scrutineering?” I hear you query. I refer you to RANT #4. I caught the last two minutes of the briefing and was signed as having attended it all. Yep – RANT #5.

Then it’s back to the van and get ready for qualifying at 9.20. This is a ten minute qualifying on a track which I can lap at 1.42. The session starts whilst people are still queuing for one bike at a time to be noise tested on the way out. There are 40 bikes in my category. RANT #6. The people who had been tested when the session was let out were sat in two lines, they let one line out before the other. RANT #7. Out lap done, second lap is a string of yellow flags so no overtaking, next lap ends with a red flag. No further information, back to awnings and tyre warmers on. Next minute we are back out so I rush out and on my out lap realise my chin strap was undone as I had been rushing. I knew I was under time pressure but I wasn’t prepared to risk it so pulled in, sorted the strap and had the chequered flag waved at me after my out lap. So no qualifying time registered.

We are on RANT #7 so far and I have not lined up for a race. That kind of sets the scene.

Starting from 23rd isn’t ideal. Starting from 23rd in the pissing rain is even less so. And so it was. My rain tyres are old, reflecting the fact they have hardly been used in three years. This reflects a high degree of luck on my part but inevitably leads to a lack of confidence and talent in the wet and a lingering doubt about the ability of the scabby old things to actually grip tarmac. I rode round like a pussy. Not the fleet-of-foot mouse-ensnaring tree-climbing sort of pussy, rather…. actually let’s stop there. I wasn’t very quick. I finished upright. That’s the best that can be said.

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And that was Saturday.

Sunday was a new day. All memories of the twat next door running his pathetic little genny on the redline until 10.57pm a distant memory, I prepared for a day of racing in the sunshine. First start was a blinder and from 22nd on the grid I made it to 16th at one point before some of the fast lads with no qualifying time put paid to that, coming from the back. Regardless, finishing 18th was a half-decent result and I had fun, even putting in an uncharacteristic manly block-pass on the last corner of the last lap to gain a position.

Ready for race two, with points only a few places away and feeling good. In the last race I felt I was a held back by a bit of a freight train, so I reckoned if I got away well I could stay in front of them next time out.

I started from 20th and cocked up my start. The bike started creeping on the clutch as they held the lights, instead of dipping the clutch the little mice in my wee head pulled the wrong lever and dipped the revs. Doh. I rescued it to some degree but it was a crap start and the first lap was a struggle to keep out of the slower pack. I was just regrouping down the straight and tipped in for Foggy’s Esses determined to get a good drive towards Melbourne Loop when a face appeared inches from my own. Attached to this face was a body, two legs and one arm. And a ZX10R. With no apparent means of retardation.

To be fair, it was probably a blessing I was there as I was the only thing stopping that ZX10R crossing the gravel trap, the wall, the track and hitting the bloody garages. The world went into a bit of a spin, I was aware of bodies and bikes in some form of Brownian motion and my only two memories of the event are the gut-wrenching sound of a new helmet being needed and the fairly convincing premonition that when the seemingly eternal tumbling would finally end, there may be a great deal of pain and expense waiting to greet me.

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Imagine my surprise when I could stand up and nothing was pointing the wrong way or folding where it shouldn’t. I tested the integrity of my right uppermost limb by shaking the only available hand of my somewhat bewildered looking fellow competitor and we set about lifting our bikes and enjoying the view of our race from the safety of the infield.

After an undignified cattle-truck journey back to the scrutineering bay, picking up a rather unhappy Mav Platt at the old Hairpin on the way, our sorry little bunch decamped and the lovely men in scrutineering removed the 10p sticker from my helmet thus rendering my £450 investment suitable only for growing herbs in.

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No time to fix the bike and my body was a bit battered, so thus ended Donington. Off home for a conciliatory curry and several anaesthetic alcoholic beverages. By the time I got home I was in no doubt that my left buttock had borne the brunt of our collision and my back and neck were now complaining about their little tumble. A hot bath, more beers, the end.

My BKS leathers once again stood up remarkably well, the Ti sliders doing a fantastic job to save the leather – but there is no mistaking it now, these are a racer’s leathers! My lid is toast, but again it did exactly what you would hope it would do. Visor stayed down and on as I face-planted the gravel, the shell absorbed a fairly hefty impact to the back of my head. The bike has had the radiator ripped off and the plastics are junk, but otherwise I had it ready to roll in an hour on Monday evening. The Beemer just keeps on taking the punishment.

Bruised-Buttock

I write this as I wait for my personal trainer to arrive on Tuesday evening. To say ‘I’m not feeling it’ is an understatement. My arse aches, my back aches, my neck is stiff. But hey-ho, life goes on and this is no time to be getting fat – Anglesey is only a three weeks away. Bike goes to Dynotech on Wednesday to get a niggling fork leak looked at again, I have to scour the garage to find enough intact panels to make up a fairing set – luckily this is my first left side crash as I habitually dump the bike on the more expensive exhaust side.

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Ok here goes – stop reading if you have enjoyed this thus far, or if you can’t be arsed listening to me moaning about stuff that isn’t important to anyone other than me – from here on this is self-indulgent whining:

Disclaimer – I have used No Limits since my first track days in 2003/4 and have been a brand ambassador ever since, they run the best track days and Euro trips in the mass market sector and are typically the friendliest and most accommodating company. Their race series from the outset was fantastic, it got lots wrong at the start but worked hard to improve. This resulted in huge success from both organic growth and the failure of the dysfunctional Hottrax brand. But things are going wrong. They would be easily solved if anyone cared enough to do it – all it would take is someone with some customer focus to take ownership of the Racing side of the house, someone who recognises that the business relies on customers and that customers leave if they don’t get what they need.  Most of my friends have left already, it is becoming difficult to justify not trying some other series myself.
That is not to say that No Limits do a bad job – many aspects of the running of their race weekends are excellent and most of the staff are fantastic. The computerised systems were hard to get going but work a treat and sign-on seems to have been very well sorted. But when you lose sight of who is paying who, no matter how well you run things you are going to upset people.

RANT #1
No Limits have completely lost sight of the fact they are selling a service. It is now down to the customers to keep visiting the website to see when they might be lucky enough to be able to spend more money. Donington practice day is a track day by definition and is on the Thursday – a royal pain in the arse to start with. It was agreed that NL would release the day for booking to ACU members first, then be opened to the public to fill the remaining space. Except NL didn’t bother to advertise to us that it was open for booking nor that it was going to be offered to the public at a certain point. As I pre-book the entire season and book practice days typically two months ahead of time, I didn’t realise I had not booked this one until it was fully booked. Poor communication, probably the worst aspect of NLR.

RANT #2
Hey – No Limits Racing – you’ve lost all your customers! Compared to one and two years ago, the paddock is empty. This is down to a lack of focus on the racers and not having anyone to act as a racer’s advocate. It’s a real shame – everyone loved the atmosphere in the paddock, but so many riders got pissed off with the poor organisation, poor communication, poor tyre deals and lack of customer care that it really isn’t the same experience.

RANT #3
Scrutineering finished at 7.30pm on Friday night. So unless you don’t work on Fridays or you live within 50 miles of the track, forget it. So we sit around on Friday night not being able to do anything other than sign in.  Then if you fail scrutineering on Saturday morning, you inevitably miss qualifying and your weekend is screwed.

RANT #4
Why does nobody oversee the scrutineers? Firstly, last month my bike – unchanged since my first race in 2013 – failed due to my shark fin leaving a gap wide enough for a foetus to squeeze its little finger between the chain and sprocket. This means one of two things – the scrutineers have failed to notice a safety issue every time since 2013, or someone was on their period at Brands.
Onto last Saturday morning, we form two orderly queues. The other queue is served by three scrutineers. Ours is served by one. And my god he is slow. Painfully slow. When I asked him why he was the only one serving my queue, he informed me he needed a shit and nobody would work beside him because he kept dropping his guts. Classy.
Once again nobody is thinking about what we – the paying customers – need, which is efficient and predictable scrutineering which is not a lottery based on which queue you join and which scrutineer you get. They need someone overseeing them to push them on and get the job done properly.

RANT #5
Why would you have scrutineering and mandatory briefings at the same time?
What is the point of a mandatory briefing if you get signed in without hearing it?
Just issue the briefing in writing – we can all read. It is clear from the delivery of the information that No Limits do not regard it as particularly critical either and it is simply a box-ticking exercise.

RANT #6
How stupid. Ten minutes qualifying and they noise test on the way into the holding area, the holding area not being big enough to hold all the bikes. Noise testing could be done anywhere at any time, the worst possible time is on the way to the track for qualifying – if you fail you have no chance to retest and your weekend is screwed, if you arrive at the back of the queue you lose critical laps.

RANT #7
Again, this comes down to fair service. It is important for qualifying to not get caught up in traffic, so people make judgements about when to turn up to the holding area. Go early, get out at the front but risk colder tyres. BUT what if you turn up early, join the front of one of two lines, then the marshall lets the whole of one line out in front of you? Again, no thought given to the needs of the racer.

MISC RANTS
It was agreed at the AGM that bikes would be let out to the grid and the gate would shut after a set amount of time, riders late to the grid would start from the back. This is being completely ignored and the riders who deem themselves most important rock up late while we all sit watching the heat spill out of our tyres.
The new tyre guys have no idea how to treat a customer. I queued up behind the person getting served in order to collect my pre-ordered £300 tyres. They served the guy in front of me then went back to changing tyres, seeing me there but choosing to ignore me. They ignored me standing by their credit card machine until someone came along behind me, they took their tyres from them, ignored me some more then went back to tyre changing. I am the only person standing there. Then someone else waits for a minute behind me before just walking in, interrupting the guy and leaving, then another person comes in and interrupts the person interrupting the tyre guy. At this point I said ‘Excuse me?’ and got told I should have shouted up. I told him I was taught to be polite and to wait to be served when someone was busy. He looked at me like I was a piece of shit and handed my tyres over without a word. Same thing – I AM THE PAYING CUSTOMER. I shouldn’t have to fight for attention. That’s the last penny they get from me if I can help it. You’ll all be thinking I should just learn to be more assertive. I disagree – I won’t fight for my chance to spend money with someone, I’ll go find someone who actually wants my money.

MINOR GRUMBLE #1
Alex James fucked off without giving me any photos to use in my blog ;o)

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