I can’t remember being quite as apprehensive about a race weekend as I was for Oulton Park. On the way to Anglesey last month, I wasn’t feeling it and bad things happened. I rushed to recover from the resulting broken scapula with a lot of physio and the bike repairs were last minute as I had to wait until my arm was mobile. My friend John from Northern Ireland was coming to race with me so I was determined to be there and to ride, but I was quietly unconvinced that I wasn’t fooling myself about my fitness to race.
I have never been good at Oulton – it’s not a track with a great deal of margin for error which may be one reason I’m reluctant to throw myself at it, but it has been a bit of a monkey on my back. 2015 my results were terrible, 2016 on a shortened version of the track again I was awful having had my confidence knocked at Cartagena.
Friday practice was a bit mad in the morning – lots of red flags as they only had enough marshalls for one at each post meaning any bike down on circuit could not be moved and needed a red flag. In the first session I had the fear good and proper – the front felt remote and about to wash out at every turn and I was really worried I had finally lost my bottle. But session two was much better and I was able to put the last crash behind me. We were in with the fast 600s and 1000s and were pretty much outclassed, although holding our own better in the afternoon. I was able to use techniques Crafar had taught me to make braking easier and more effective. By the end of the day I knew my arm wasn’t going to hold me back on race day.
Qualifying was in the wet on Saturday morning, but I was happy enough with my performance as I felt relaxed – a big improvement over my last wet race at Dony when I was convinced I was going to crash and rode like a novice. Qualified way back in 29th but was happy to have stayed upright and hoping for dry races as per forecast.
Race one was 30 mins away and the ground was still quite wet, we opted for wet front, inter rear. Then a red flag in the preceding race, then a spectator was injured in a separate incident, by the time we went to track it was bone dry. Only John and myself on anything but slicks! The race went well in my head – John got away from his better grid position well but I muscled my way through on the first lap. I thought I had made significant gains in the first few corners and felt like I was going well.
When I got the results I was gutted! Finished 29th. Obviously the positions I made up in the first few corners were riders who had passed me at the start. The race was ended on a red flagged 5th lap due to rain in the tree section of track catching out two front riders. In reality, the red flag probably just saved me from further shame and a very expensive tyre bill.
Race two was dry (but only after a couple of downpours which only just dried up in time – I’m so over wheel changes – and starting from 32nd is never a good way to begin a race. I finished 29th and made an improvement to my lap time without it ever feeling on the edge. It was a really hot and muggy race and I was glad to see the ‘thank f*ck’ flag on lap seven. I knew I was ahead of John having passed him into Lodge on lap one or two, but was convinced I could hear him on my pipe. But this was the best I felt after a race all year – I felt I had found a rhythm and was getting back to some sort of form with much better confidence. Now chomping at the bit for race three.
Starting from 29th in the final race three, at least I was creeping back up the grid a little. This was a long ten-lap, hot race, but after the first few laps I settled into an endurance-like pace. I was in no man’s land with Thomas being the only bike close. He passed a few laps from the end but unfortunately found neutral on the last lap handing me back a place – I couldn’t have passed him otherwise. Finished 25th so again, going the right direction but nothing to write a blog about…
For context, the fastest lap of the last race was Mav Platt doing a 1.44.2, I did a 1.52.5. I’m ok being five seconds a lap off someone like that, but not eight seconds. John had looked at previous results and told me my previous best was a 1.56, but since checking I know it was a 1.53.6 so disappointing to be only just beating a time from 2015.
I do need to reflect a bit though. This year I crashed at Cartagena, took 17 points home from Silverstone and stayed on despite a collision, had a terrible Brands Hatch, got taken out and injured at Donington Park, crashed and injured at Anglesey – so it hasn’t exactly been plain sailing! The standard in our race has gone up very considerably since the Pirelli guys joined us and that can only be a good thing – but it means if I want points I’m going to have to start pushing out of my comfort zone. To do that, I need confidence in myself and my bike – this last round will have gone a long way to achieving that.
Observations from John who races in Ireland were that it was a very well organised event, the races are noticeably longer and he couldn’t believe how high the standard of riding was. All good to hear. He had a great time and went home happy after a lot of beers and a decent curry in Runcorn on Saturday night – a benefit of the one-day event is no sitting around, a free Sunday and the option to get wasted on Saturday night.
Whilst I can’t help but feel disappointed in not being closer to the guys I want to be challenging, I need to take away the positives. I remembered what it is to enjoy racing again, I now know I can complete a race weekend without incident. And if I am honest, my aspirations were to be able to ride and to come home in one piece – so I did indeed achieve my goals. Now time to start challenging myself – Cadwell Park in August!