Cadwell Park Thundersport GB Report
Whilst washing my hands in the sink at Doncaster North’s Services I catch sight of myself in the mirror. Looking back is a man with a plan, a man 11 points down on the GP1 championship lead. A man riding in good form who has finally found something that works for him with his ZX10. A man who is going to leave Cadwell in a good points position for the final at Mallory in a few weeks time. Little did the man know what a cock up of it I was going to make!!
Cadwell park is like my Kryptonite, whenever I go there something goes wrong and I’m powerless to do anything about it. I’ll give brief rundown of my Cadwell disasters over the years:
1998 – First time there, crashed my 350LC, dented the tank that my Dad had just fixed from a crash at the previous meeting (sorry again Dad).
2002 – Jo came to watch me for the first time and got food poisoning, I ran off at Charlies 2, during my fight back through the field I knocked Bruce Birnie off at the Hairpin (sorry Bruce).
2003 – crashed my RS250 in patchy damp conditions during the first laps of pre-season testing, the bike was knackered so I went home. Later that year my ZXR400 fuel pump died on the warm up lap. At the next meeting the engine blew up.
2004 – crashed at Charlies 2 taking several layers of skin from the back of my hand.
2005 – my mate overtightened a brake pad pin and cracked the caliper on my GSXR1000, rushed about and managed to get out in the race.
2006 – GSXR 1000 engine dropped a valve down the Park straight.
2007 – My first front row start at BSB and I jumped it!
2008 – Race cancelled for poor weather.
I decided that Cadwell Park hated me and as I wasn’t campaigning in any particular series for a few seasons I didn’t go back. Last year the Thundersport round clashed with the TT and I wasn’t overly disappointed to have missed it!
So back to this weekend, my first time there for nearly 5 years. I entered the test day on Friday for obvious reasons. It started in wet conditions and remained that way for the rest of the day. I was happy with how the bike was feeling and qualified myself 2nd on the grid for Saturday’s race. Warm up on Saturday morning was patchy damp, I went out to get a feel for the bike on the drier sections of the course. All seemed well and I felt ready for the first race.
With the track slowly drying out I debated with myself about the merits of putting a new rear tyre in or running with the (one race old) one left from Anglesey. With damp patches on the track I wanted confidence early in the race, and scrubbing new slicks in on a damp surface is never a great experience. Come the start of the race the track was completely dry so I elected for a new rear; giving it some work to do on the warm up lap I was happy that it was scrubbed in.
I got a good start and led into the first corner, pushing hard into Park and around Chris Curve to the Gooseneck. As I changed direction in the Gooseneck the rear tyre, still a little cold on the left side, didn’t even make an attempt to grip, causing the bike to lowside, and I slid off at about 80mph. The bike and I were both in pretty good shape, happily sliding along, until we both hit the kerb. I spotted the bike airbourne and briefly thought that it was coming my way but it bounced off the other way with bits exploding off it in various directions as I overtook it. Even Usain Bolt can’t boast to being faster than a ZX10 but at this point I was! I rolled over and dug my hands in eventually stopping before I hit anything. The marshals were immediately there and had picked the bike up before I’d got back to it. Clearly it was going nowhere. Leaning against the tyre wall I gave it a brief check over, it didn’t look too bad. The fuel tank was leaking where the seat unit had smashed from it and the back subframe was bent but other than that it was just the usual footpegs/bars/levers etc. The marshals were very helpful, although they managed to remind me that my points chances were taking a big knock with Alex Heaton and Phil Crowe also crashing out, Peter Baker had a ride round to finish third. Yeah thanks for that one, we all had a bit of a laugh which is always the best thing to do in these situations. Apparently the sector marshal had been witness to my last, and biggest, crash at Anglesey (you know it’s a big one if the marshals remember it from three years ago!).
I pushed the bike back up the hill into the awning – Ted (my 2 yr old son) looks across and announces that he’s eating an ice cream. Then he looks at the bike, “Oh Daddy, your bike!!” he says struggling to find the words to describe what he was seeing (I could think of a few!). So we got to work, Jo drained the fuel to stop the tank from leaking, I replaced the stand bobbin so we could get it onto the paddock stand and assess the damage. The subframe was bent, and I don’t mean by a small amount it must have been at 25 degrees to the direction it should have been pointing. The seat unit was demolished, on its way to destruction it had split the fuel tank (the seat mounts to the rear of the tank since its modification for the Isle of Man TT to increase its capacity). Left hand footrest hanger, handlebar, crash bung, engine cover etc etc…..
Dave Hewson, one of my TT racer mates, came by to see how things were. Being a local boy he knew of a local frame straightener and welder, a quick replacement of the handlebar and bits to get the bike mobile and we were on our way. The frame straightener did a great job heating and bending the subframe back to shape, despite his specs being wonky on his face the whole time I was there! The fuel tank was still pretty fresh as fuel had only been in it 2 hours ago so we decided that sealing it up with chemical metal was probably the safest option rather than attempting to weld it and blowing us all up (we were near Cadwell Park and I didn’t fancy my chances). We took the front wheel out, to check the discs/wheel were straight and to remove the mud which was wedged between the tyre and rim. Trying to fit the front wheel back into the forks was a three man job, the left hand fork leg must’ve been bent in the crash and now needing pulling out by about 3mm to get the wheel in. At this stage there wasn’t much any of us could do with it so I’d just have to try it in morning warm up, race on it if it was ok and get it sorted before the next meeting.
Back at the paddock, it was now gone 7pm. Jo and I got to work on the rest of the bike. Obviously all health and safety practices were put into place during the repair, including squinting whilst angle grinding a seat bracket held between my feet (all the while Jo had her hand over the open fuel tank cap!). We were getting to the point of finishing and I was drilling the new screen when the drill bit packed up and cracked through it. If anyone in the Cadwell Park paddock, or indeed reasonably locally to the circuit, heard loud obscenities being shouted (sorry Mum) at 11.13pm on Saturday you will now understand why. I’d been fixing this bike for about 12 hours and this pushed me right over the edge (has anyone seen the film “Falling Down” where Michael Douglas loses it during a really bad day and starts killing everyone?). An old screen refitted, I got into bed with just the seat unit to mount in the morning.
Up early the following morning with just a few jobs left to do, things were going as badly as expected. The seat was mounted with three bolts, the fourth bolt wasn’t going to go in without some major surgery and morning warm up was approaching. I broke open the club racers favourite, gaffer tape, and wrapped it around the seat and subframe, job done I’ll sort that bit out later. The fuel tank was found to be leaking from somewhere else, so that was back off and out with the chemical metal once more. We got it sorted with around 10 minutes to spare. As I was getting onto the bike for warm up Ted gave me his usual high five and told me to “stay on the track daddy!” Why didn’t he tell me that yesterday! I guess that someone somewhere put him up to that little statement!
Warm up was interesting, the bent fork leg was taking its toll through the bumpy Charlies 2 section. With some restraint I was happy to race the bike for a “damage limitation” couple of rides. The grid for Sunday’s races was set from lap times in qualifying, Saturday’s warm up and the first race. The only dry session of these three was the first race and I didn’t complete a lap so I was set to start from 19th for the day’s racing.
I got reasonable starts in both races and rode as hard as I felt comfortable to do. Nearly losing the front through Charlies on the bumps in the first race reminded me that the bike was not up to its usual standard. I finished 7th in both races, with Pete Baker taking 5th things could’ve been worse. I’m just frustrated that even after 15 years of racing I’m still capable of making such a schoolboy error.
This leaves me 31 points down on the championship lead with just the Mallory Park final round to go, which includes the re-run of the Anglesey race (so four races in total). There is still a chance of the championship, having missed a round whilst at the Isle of Man TT I didn’t think I’d be anywhere near at this stage so on to Mallory and hope for some better luck.
Many thanks to all those that helped out over the weekend, Jo, Ann, Ted, Dave Hewson and gang, Craig Beggs, Shaun Boyle, The Robinson clan. It was a huge effort on all parts to get the bike back to something like useable, but we got there in the end.
The ‘Quote of the Meeting’ came this morning (Tuesday) from Richard at Maxton Suspension. Jo had dropped my forks off to inspect the damage on her way to work and Richard called me to talk it through “you raced on this?!!!”