Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Snetterton, the great race, but rotten results...

We arrived at Snetterton after doing trackdays prior to the race, finally putting us in a position where we had less to do on the race weekend, as I knew the track and had a bit of set up already.

The weather was beautiful too - full sun and 25deg all weekend! South African weather! We set up camp and then decided to catch a tan and ice cold...water...with fellow SA racer and flat-mate, Bjorn. Team Gecko-Skin...

Later that evening our new team mentor, Jason Davis, and family arrived and we soon had our own little campsite going!

Friday, we made the most of our first practice session getting some good times in, but we still had about 1sec to find to be fastest. I couldn't get the bike to corner where I wanted it to, and struggled to hit apexes and get the power on for the long straights. It was so frustrating losing all the drive I was!

We now had a jigsaw puzzle to solve! I immediately made my Dad and Jason very busy, fiddling settings we had used previously, until we resorted to changing fork springs, multiple times... We set out for qualifying later that day, having spent the afternoon contemplating different suspension settings to fix my cornering problem. With the bike still not feeling right, we managed a 4th place for race 1 on Saturday - this was actually a good sign as I wasn't happy with the way it was performing and we still made the front row!

We fiddled and fiddled some more, eventually running out of options for the front forks, turning our attention to the opposite end. As a last resort we start fiddling the rear shock and looking at changes we could make, only to notice, after taking out the rear suspension, to find the spring we were told was installed was actually a different one. One that was far too soft for my weight! This immediately shed light onto our handling problem and the pieces of the puzzle came together!

We got the correct spring fitted and took a flyer (educated flyer albeit) with base settings and held thumbs that it was close to par for the race on Sunday.

Braai time soon came around and we enjoyed a great evening with Jason & family and the likes of fellow South Africans including Bjorn and Phil Atkinson. I then headed off to bed to rehearse my changes.

The next morning was looking good and I felt great about the direction we had gone with the bike. Unfortunately there was to be a thorn amongst my roses in the form of a bad cooling pipe routing. Not having built our own bike, other people tend to overlook small, but important details.

The coolant overflow pipe was routed out the front of the bike, not into the belly pan, something we never noticed not having our own garage to strip the bike down in. When I arrived at the start line in the heat of the day, my bike overheated on the line, and instead overflowing water going into the belly pan, it leaked onto the track causing the marshals to stop the start and remove my bike from the track, resulting me not being able to start the race.

I was utterly and truly livid. I knew we had the setup to run in the lead comfortably, was on the front row and had the determination to complete it, but it was all being taken away from us for no good reason! I am not an emotional person, but I felt such emotional pain sitting on the side of the start line, I couldn't watch or even look at anyone. I knew what I had lost and not for any of our own fault, and I needed those points badly after Oulton park.

I took it on the shoulders and focused all my efforts on Sunday's race 2, and I needed to as not starting race 1 would put me 8 places back in 12th for race 2.

Having spent the whole night plotting my race for Sunday, the morning came upon us. Once again sunshine and heat covered the pink-skinned crowds, setting the scene for a good race.

I took up my position on the 3rd row and waited for those lights to go out...

Once the race was on, I made the most of the Triumphs torque off the line and then especially abused its chassis on the brakes into turn 2's hairpin corner. I had a grudge and it may have helped me be a bit more aggressive than usual, but by turn 3 I was up to 3rd place, ahead of the pole sitter! By lap 2 we were in the lead and pulling!

My bike, in 2nd, while I take a close look at #77s exhaust pipe

Pole man, Rob Guiver got held up at the start, but Phil Atkinson was in hot pursuit of me and soon him and I had a 5 sec lead! The race was turning out incredible, only to be interrupted by the safety car half way through. This, unfortuantely, was the start of our new set of problems... The rule book!

We finished the race in 2nd place after the incidents, including Phil having to pull in to the pits during the race for a penalty... The podium celebrations finished and the then the protest and penalty appealing started.

The red and white safety car flag came out 1/3 of the way in to our 5th lap, but being held static, none of us noticed it in the heat of the race, until we crossed the start/finish line. This resulted in myself and Phil each getting 20 sec penalties! I was not going to take any more unfair decisions that robbed us of what we deserved, so I immediately appealed the decision as nobody slowed down for the flags because they were not visible enough. After 2 hours of debate with the Clerk of the Course and Stewards, we eventually came to the conclusion that myself, Phil and Rob were all still racing under safety car flags, which is a set rule with a penalty of 20 sec, and this was enforced on all 3 of us instead of just Phil and I as we were leading at the time. If I was going down, I made sure it would not be unfairly and I would bring everyone guilty of it with me.

A sour end to a great race, but the race the spectators saw was the true reflection and that may even be more important than the results!

After all the drama, I actually really enjoyed the weekend - sunny, hot days, socialising and laughing, braaing again, and some awesome racing on Sunday in front of the biggest and most spectacular crowd I've even seen! Apparently in the region of 80,000 people, BSB can really show even World Superbikes how to host a race meeting!

A huge thank you to Leatt, Forcefield Body Armour, Lawrence Watson, Jason Davis for all the help at the track and especially my dad who has just landed back home in South Africa! - Thanks Daddo, living as a 22 year old when you're 62 takes some dedication, and fortunately I'm lucky enough to have a dad that's more dedicated than that to my dreams!

We now have a long break 'til the end of July, so I'll be posting our European shenanigans in our time off!


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

'Orrible Oulton

We arrived at Oulton Park after a great stay with family in the beautiful town of Chester, including a week visit from my much missed mom! - thanks Kathy and Keith for the great hospitality!

The previous round at Thruxton saw us take two 2nd places and a double win in the premier class, so I think our expectations were high for Oultan, and they could have been justified if we had better circumstances. But it was not meant to be, as incident after incident took place.

We drove through the green forests of Tarporely to arrive at Oultan Park on Friday morning. We got set up in the Triumph Triple Challenge pit, and then sat back to admire the picturesque circuit built in the middle of countryside woodlands. It's hard to imagine a better setting! We then met up with ex British Superbike rider and 250GP ace, Jason Davis for some tips on the tricky and technical track.

With the theory under my belt, we stirred on Saturday morning for practice day, waited around all day long until 4:30pm, and got hit with a delay from another class' red flag. Our ONLY practice session, which was super important for me to learn the pace, was now only 10 mins long. We finally headed on track and I got a look at the famed circuit. It was to be even shorter lived as one rider binned it only 6 mins in and caused a red flag. Our session was now over and I had only done 4 laps!
I now had to qualify for the race with only 4 laps practice, besides our rain soaked trackday. I reeled in all the track knowledge I could and went to bed with my imaginary fast lap still stuck in my mind.

Sunday was qualifying and we went out late afternoon again, and this time it was weather that would prevent me from learning any more of the circuit. Sun all day looked brilliant for me to really get going and feel the fast pace. We rode out and I now had a 20 min qualifying session to try and learn the track, set up the suspension, set the gearing, learn the race lines, all on top of trying to put in a fast lap to qualify with! When I thought it couldn't get much tougher, on lap 3 it started drizzling...

I stayed out, but had to come in when it got too slippery and I risked crashing. My total semi-dry experience was now up to just 12 laps! We then had a 13 min warm up on Monday morning to look forward to trying to get on pace in just before the race.We settled for the night, and I once again, could only imagine doing a fast lap around the track, but still had no idea of exactly how to do it.

We were on early on Monday morning and I got out behind Phil Atkinson who was fastest in practice, and had Rob Guiver, who was fastest in qualifying, behind me. It was dry, and I was exactly where I wanted to be and ready to get in some experience. What else could possibly go wrong now?! On only lap 3, I was getting into the pace and building fast, when I turned into the first chicane and got the shunt of an uncontrolled Triumph 675 in my side, taking me out and sending myself and bike skidding into the tyre wall!

I was gob smacked, yet another set back depriving me of precious practice! Another rider who was chasing me, got a speed wobble and lost his brakes, not knowing to pump them before the corner, he ran straight through the chicane, crashing right into me!

We now had to rebuild the smashed bike in just a few hours before the race! Fortunately Jason and a few helpers gave us a hand in getting the bike back together with just seconds to spare. The rain came down, and we headed on track with our repaired bike. I was actually happy to see the rain as the other riders would now not have an advantage of track experience over me. We lined up on the grid and waited for the lights.

I got a great start and slotted into 3rd place! Opened the throttle down the straight, and found our luck was not done with us yet when the bike started misfiring and was way down on power. Other riders came blasting past me and I settled into a battle for 5th place. Eventually, my torturous handicap race ended with me in 7th, and 3rd in the premier class. So at least we got a trophy!

We immediately set about troubleshooting the misfire, only to find a kinked fuel line from the crash rebuild. This was starving the bike of fuel when I opened the throttle, thus causing us to use only 4 liters of our 10!

Race 2 was on later that afternoon, and this saw the rain subside and sunshine come through the clouds to dry the track! We took a calculated guess at suspension set up and headed out. I took up 7th on the grid, waited for the lights to go out and shot into 3rd again, behind Rob and Phil - just where I wanted to be!

I found it was a completely different track running 3-4 seconds lap faster than I had been in my brief stints on track. This made my gearing, braking points, turn in points, etc all wrong. two riders soon came past me and I had to settle to just work away at learning the track and bank championship points. We came home 5th overall, and 2nd in the premier class. Another trophy to lighten the mood and valuable points in the bag!

After this extremely testing weekend, I have learned a lot about learning! Sometimes it has to be done on the fly and the best just has to be made of a bad situation(s)! We are down to 3rd in the main championship, and still retain the lead of the premier championship. It's still a long season to go, and we'll just take each race as it comes.

Thanks to Jason for all the advice over the weekend, and helping get the bike on track after the crash, and to Stuart Long at Forcefield Body Armour UK for the quality protective gear - great to be involved with you!

We head to Norwich this Thursday for a trackday at Snetterton, so that means just a day at home before we're off again - all part of this great UK adventure! I will post some more photos as they come available.

Keep an eye out for updates over the next week, as it's also Donnington Park World Superbikes this weekend...Time to support our SA boys as well as my flat-mate compatriot Bjorn Estment in the support races!

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Thanks and cheers for now;)