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!

Please don't forget to give our ads a few clicks, we really need the pocket money to fix the bike now!

Thanks and cheers for now;)

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