Thursday, 13 September 2012

Donington Park - Finally On the Top Step

Cadwell Park was an incredibly difficult track to learn, and even more challenging to race on. I battled to stay at the front but the local knowledge eventually got the better of me, once again stripping of us the win.

We arrived at Donington Park with my mind fit from the technical Cadwell, so learning this World Super Bike circuit seemed a much simpler task.

With only one trackday under our belts, we set our sights on topping the time sheets as early as possible in the weekend to weed out any niggles in suspension. We finished our practice in 2nd place, harldy touched the bike, threw some fresh tyres on and got ready for qualifying.

Qualifying turned out to be the start of a very hotly contested weekend, with Rob Guiver, Phil Atkinson, myself and Chrissy Rouse being covered by 0,4s. It was eventful on track too with Phil and me possibly getting in each others' way.

Race 1 came around and thanks to Morne, Jason and our little team, the bike was ready to perform and I felt good about our setup. We entered the circuit behind the Nissan GTR pace cars and assembled on the grid, anxiously awaiting the 1 minute board. The teams and cameras cleared the grid, we set off on our warm up lap, returned to the line and set our sights on the lights.

The lights went out and we got off the line to the hole shot into Redgate (turn 1), I then attacked Craner Curves (the next set of fast sweeps) as hard as I dared to try break a lead. Nearing the end of the first lap, we braked hard to the Melbourne Loop hairpin where I was dive-bombed on the brakes by Phil Atkinson in 2nd. Unfortunately for him he couldn't get it stopped in time and crashed out of the race. I put my head straight back down and tried to bang out the fastest laps I could, extending my small lead by a second or two.

Nearing the closing laps, my brain was working overtime to get me safely and quickly around each lap of this circuit that we had such little experience of. With a lap to go, Rob was on my tail with only a 1 second gap when the red flags came out. Tom Ward had crashed and that marked the end of the race. We had done it! Finally we were awarded the victory that we had been working so hard for all season!

The team were going nuts when I arrived at the Parc Ferme knowing we were on the top step! Rob Guiver was a great sport and congratulated us as we headed up to the podium to spray the bubbly and collect our much anticipated trophy. The feeling was awesome when I stood over the crowd and sprayed the champagne from the step we had worked so hard to stand on. We headed back to the pits, elated, but I had race 2 to focus on as the rest of the team celebrated into the evening.
Sunday was time for Race 2, the tension was thick in the air and we repeated the routine to line up at the lights, waiting for them to go out. They did, and the race was underway. We got the hole shot into turn 1 and, again, I attacked Craner Curves as hard as I could to try break the pack to get a lead but this time the others were wiser to my tactics and there were more of them. Phil was hot on my heels with Chrissy and Rob in hot pursuit. I pushed as hard as I could to try break away and got the gap up to 1 second and managed to hold it for nearly the whole race. 2 laps to go and Rob Guiver was on a charge, chasing down the dangling carrot in front of him, which was me!

I had a small high-side coming out of Melbourne loop and Rob needed no more invitation as he was now right on my tail and made a pass on the brakes at the end of Park straight into The Esses. I followed him into the hairpin, braking where he braked and we both ran a bit wide, he had a moment out of the hairpin, which I capitalized on and planned to pass him back into the final corner, Goddards. I couldn't believe it when I missed a gear changing into 2nd, it hit the rev-limiter and I lost the ground I gained on him, but I had already dedicated to getting him on the brakes, I went through anyway but ran wide mid corner where he got back through, we crossed the line and I had to settle for 2nd place.

I pulled in to the podium and was greeted by our ever enthusiastic team, as well as the one and only, Carl Fogarty! I got a handshake and congratulations from Foggy and headed up to the podium to collect our trophy. What a day!

I was still very happy with what we achieved over the weekend. Rob has an edge on all of us in the final laps of the race at these circuits where he uses every single millimeter to gap us.

1st and 2nd in the Elite class for us was the best weekend we've had this season. We're back up to 2nd place in the overall championship, and have a nice lead in the Premier championship.

We are now back at our flat in Colchester after a testing 3 weeks of racing, travelling, practicing, repairing and now, finally, relaxing! Here's a quick breakdown of our schedule since Thursday 23 Aug (3 weeks ago):

  • Thursday - Pack and leave for Cadwell Park race weekend
  • Monday (Public holiday race day) - Finish racing at 4pm, pack and leave straight away, drive to Donington Park at night
  • Tuesday - Trackday at Donington all day, pack and leave for home in Colchester, drive at night
  • Wednesday - Prep bike, change oil, wash, etc.
  • Thursday - Leave for Silverstone, spend night at track car park
  • Friday - Trackday at Silverstone, pack and leave Triumph Live at Mallory Park, drive at night again
  • Saturday - Triumph Live 110 year Festival, fun race weekend
  • Sunday - Pack and leave, get a blow out on the caravan. Tyre rips apart fender and destroys cupboards and wiring. Eventually arrive home after spare wheel is wrong and AA take 3 hours to arrive.
  • Monday - Home and start fixing caravan in caravan park.
  • Thursday - Pack and leave for Donington Park, finish repairs at the track
  • Friday - Race weekend
  • Sunday - Race and pack and leave for home, drive at night
  • Monday - RELAX!

Just a taste of what life has been like here as a struggling, shoestring budget team that works out of our complex's car park and the back of a van!

A huge thanks, once again, to Morne, Jason & family, Eevie & Rab, Bjorn & Tam and everyone else who was supporting us over the weekend! It doesn't happen without my dad Mike, Lawrence at LD refrigeration, Jonny & the Moto Direct team and Stuart at Froceifield Body Armour!

Our next stop is the famed Silverstone GP Circuit in 2 weeks time. A bit of a rest now, then straight back to hard training.


Monday, 3 September 2012

Cadwell Park - The Mountain and it's Mental Race Track

The last 2 weeks have been nothing short of hectic, and our next 2 week schedule is just as busy!

After Brands Hatch, we had a month gap until our Cadwell Park race meeting. Luckily we had this time to get some practice in at the famous Lincolnshire woodlands circuit. We had a few trackdays with typical English weather of dry-wet-dry-wet-dry track conditions, including one dry session in which I pushed hard to find the limits of my bike on this unique little circuit. I found that limit, but unfortunately went sailing past it when the bike sent me sky high in a violent flick over the high side coming out of the chicane before the bottom of The Mountain. A huge thanks to Morne for grafting hard to get the bike ready for the race!

Being a long weekend, the "Party in the Park" (Locals nickname for Cadwell Park BSB rounds) starts on Saturday and ends Monday. We arrived on Friday to literally thousands and thousands of spectators already set up! The mood was set early for a cracker weekend!

We got set up and took a walk around the track to see if there were any more details to pick up of this rich circuit. It really is an amazing place, enticing over 75,000 keen race fans on BSB weekend doesn't happen for nothing! It has an awesome mix of fast/slow, on/off camber, up/downhill, smooth/rough, flowing/stop-start corners! I've never experienced such a mentally tough track to race on.

A lap of the track as I've experienced it:
Out of the last corner, off camber, slippery under the trees, 2nd gear roll onto the Start/Finish straight.
Full taps in top gear into turn 1 left-hander, back a gear with a slight touch of the brakes back to flat out up to the right hand flick into a double apex right hander, half way through the right, back another gear and roll on to the second apex and onto the 'straight' which curves right down hill, then curves left to a steep uphill.

At the top of the hill you hit the brakes from over 140mph (230km/h for the modern ages) down to 2nd gear, 90 deg right hander, up to 3rd and dip it in right again to the long Chris Curve, constantly accelerating, then off the rev-limiter onto the brakes into the Goose Neck (right-left flick) through a big dip between the on and off cambers, and accelerate down a steep hill. Hit the brakes hard on the off-camber, then dip in to the on-camber left, accelerate hard up to the flat, stop-start, chicane (This is where I got dismounted on my way out) and then on to the bottom of the famous Mountain section.

Hit the brakes hard and turn into the steep uphill left hander, it flattens out as you flick right, then stand on the pegs and hit the tar motocross jump called The Mountain! Front wheel high in the air, feel the back wheel touch down again after getting some air time, and back on the power up to the Woodlands section. Off-camber turn in right to on-camber at the apex, flick left, flick right over a little hill, flick left again, brake hard into the 1st gear right hander, back on the power hard and dip right into the grooved last right hander before it's off-camber exit onto the Start/Finish straight.

What a lap!

Nothing can replace local knowledge and experience, so I had real task on my hands trying to put in a fast lap on this extremely technical track. With full concentration, I could get a full lap together so qualifying went well with us in 4th with the top 5 cover by only 0.2sec!

Race 1 was a hot pace, 6 way battle for the lead, including a local wild card rider. I sat comfortably in 3rd and decided to wait until the last lap or two to make my move to the front. Little did I know that Chrissy rouse was going to dive bomb me on the brakes into the chicane, sitting me up and relegating me to 4th. Foolishly, I repassed him straight away at the bottom of the Mountain, I ran wide and hi cut back across me to shut the door. I lost all my drive for the Mountain and was now far off the lead. Focusing on regaining positions, I started making small mistakes, now taking the toll of being a foreigner to this unique track. I was soon overtaking again after a mistake over the infamous Mountain, and crossed the line in 5th. I was irritated at myself as we were well capable of winning the race, having held the fastest lap of the race until the last 2 laps!

The fast, but not yet consistent laps meant I would be front row for race 2 start, but have the challenge of inexperience during the race against riders who grew up club racing on this track. But we are here for a challenge, so we got the bike prepped and called it a night.

Morning warm-up went well with us being fastest most of the session, eventually ending 2nd, only out done by Rob Guiver.

Race 2 saw the weather become typically English...Wet-dry-wet-dry-damp in patches, then light drizzle on the start line. I decided to go with wet tyres but we never had time to put the soft wet suspension in. We were hoping it would continue raining during the race, but it quickly dried out! I got a great start and took the lead, followed by Chrissy Rouse, we pulled away from the field. The problem came form about mid race when my rear couldn't take the punishment anymore, I lost nearly all grip and the others started coming past. After a race full of retirements and crashes, one behind me nearly taking us down too, we crossed the finish line in 4th. Again, irritated with the result, but happy with what we had achieved in foreign conditions and track!

Fortunately we still took the double win in the Premier class, extending our lead in the championship points.

It was an incredible race weekend at this truly spectacular, complex circuit. Seeing the pros jump The Mountain in the Superbike class was mind-blowing, no other words! Check out this video to give you an idea of the place, bearing in mind that the camera flattens it out very much.

A big thank you to my Dad, Mike, who spends the race weekends back at home biting his nails and pulling his hair out watching live timing, Lawrence at LD Refrigeration, Jonny and the team at Moto Direct and Stuart at Forcefield Body Armour. We couldn't do it without the help of Morne, Jason & Donna Davis, Chris and Bjorn over the weekend, it's greatly appreciated!

Next up on our jam-packed agenda is Triumph Live this weekend at Mallory Park - Triumphs annual 'everything Triumph Motorcycles' festival, including a race, demos, live music, etc. Looking forward to it!

Cheers for now!