Having taken a one year hiatus from racing bikes, I have been spending this year helping Danny Shaw in the Ducati TriOptions Cup support series at BSB. This is Danny’s second year and I was glad to be able to roll my sleeves up and help in any way I could as Danny and I have have become firm friends since first meeting at Anglesay in the No Limits Racing paddock.
I have not written about this year as I prefer to let Danny’s social media accounts do the talking but after the weekend we have just had, I feel it is worth a write-up to give an insight into what the teams around riders actually do in the paddock.
There is the typical race weekend and then there was this race weekend. I’ll start by describing a typical one just for reference.
Danny and family arrive in the big white playbus on Wednesday night and on Thursday morning he waits to get guided into his paddock space at which point he and anyone else who has arrived starts getting the awnings set up. We have evolved our setup this year and it now involves a 3×3 attached to a 6×3 awning giving us a lot of room for bikes, guests, team and children. With the awnings set up and strapped down, the floor needs put down then the bike and tools get set out along with tables for eating, tables for the tea urn (critical) and the TV.
Once set up, it’s a case of attending briefings, getting scrutineered, getting tyres, fuel etc. First time out is on Friday for free practice, then Saturday will have qualifying and race one, Sunday is race two. Being a support series, the Ducati races tend to be at fairly unsociable hours, often it is one of the last races on Sunday evening. On Thursday and Friday night we all eat in hospitality, making things a bit easier. Saturday night has turned into BBQ night along with a few beers.
Between races, we typically maintain the bike – tyre/wheel changes, fuel drain and refill, brake maintenance and any tweaks we think will help. We also debrief and make notes from the previous race and record any changes. When a race starts we send someone down to pit wall with all the gear on a scooter, while someone stays to make sure Danny gets away ok, they they sprint to pit lane to catch up. Then its pit lane duties – looking after Danny on the grid, tyre warmers etc then pit board duty through the race. Parc ferme can be over 20 mins so it’s a bit of a chore, but is a good opportunity for a lot of banter after the race.
At the end of the weekend, the task of taking everything apart and fitting it into the truck jenga-like is not one anyone looks forward to but many hands make light work.
All of the above assumes you start and finish with an intact bike and rider. Not so this weekend. Danny arrived having rolled his bike at Cadwell the Thursday before, making a proper mess. He deployed headless chicken mode, running round pulling all the bits together and brought us what was a surprisingly complete bike on Thursday, we finished it off and it was in good shape to take us through the weekend – we thought. Not so.
During practice we had cooling issues which involved a lot of work to bleed the system and try to guarantee a fully functioning coolant system. Danny took off in qualifying only to be black flagged after a few laps with more overheating issues. Having diagnosed a more serious issue, we were faced with significant work to rebuild the bike to get Danny back on track for the race. Qualifying was on Saturday morning, by race one on Saturday evening we had rebuilt the bike and were ready to go.
On lap one Danny had a big crash, finding a false neutral at the end of the Wellington straight he put himself over the bars, took out another rider and properly wrecked the bike. It was in worse shape than it was after Cadwell and I’ll be honest – we were confident that was game over. Danny had taken a big whack and the bike was a wreck.
Nope – Danny wanted back out so it was game on. The bike went back to frame, engine and swingarm and we started again with a lot of donor parts from Highsparks. We worked until after 1am Sunday morning and again from 9am through to having a scrutineer come to the awning 40 minutes before the race before we had even wheels fitted.
Danny made it to race two, started 23rd and finished an excellent 18th with the bike working faultlessly apart from a soft brake lever towards the end of the race. We celebrated as if it was our first podium – the relief and pride that we could work so hard as a team and deliver reliable bikes to the grid was incredible. Even better was the number of riders and teams who acknowledged our work and commented on how well we had pulled together. That means a lot in a paddock full of very experienced people.
Now it’s over we are all exhausted and Danny is off to hospital to make sure he hasn’t broken himself. We are aiming to be at Assen in three weeks so lots of work to do to get the bike and Danny race fit, but now we know what we are capable of I’m confident we will be there and fighting for points.
Other notable events at the weekend – Danny was chosen to give pillion rides on race day, if they were looking for the rider most likely to scare the bejesus out of someone they made the right choice! He also got a spin on the HP4 Race, something only a very small bunch of people can claim given it sells for £70k and is produced in very limited quantities. Travis has started collecting rider autographs and being Travis Shaw, he now has riders queuing at our awning for a chance to sign his book, I kid you not. This weekend we had Tarran and Taylor Mackenzie, Michael Laverty and Jack Kennedy all arrive looking to get their name in Travis’ autograph book.
All in all an emotional, exhausting and ultimately very rewarding weekend which I, along with Chris, Aiden and Danny will long remember. Thanks to all the support from Steph, Heidi, the kids and all in the paddock who helped us out when we were most in need. It means an awful lot.
Photo credits to Neil Pidduck (apart from the crappy ones).