‘I’m not a piece of meat!’ & Oulton Park Thundersport GB Report.
After the TT and a bit of rest due to the rubbish weather, I got back on my push bike for the first time in ages. With testing for Norton and travelling around with bits of the ZX6 in preparation for the TT I’d not been able to get on the bike much prior to the Isle of Man. My usual 42 minute ride to work took more like 50 minutes (there must be a headwind I kept telling myself!). My journey home went much better and I was on course for a sub 41 minute, which is a good time for me in the 14 mile ride. I stopped at the lights near home next to an older lady on a push bike. She spoke to me a bit but I missed most of what was said as I had my ipod on (other musical devices are available) and she seemed slightly crazy. I got the gist that she wasn’t looking forward to pedalling up the next hill. As the lights changed and I accelerated away I shouted “race you to the top”. “Oohh I was always planning to follow, the view is much better from back here – cooorr!” came the reply! Feeling like my privacy had been violated and and that I was suddenly a piece of meat for old ladies to ogle at (!) I pressed on home.
As the TT approached, a friend of mine, Shaun Boyle got in touch and asked if I’d like to ride at the ThundersportGB Oulton Park round. Shaun and Barry Ikin run a team in National Superstock with Dean Ellison riding a ZX10. The Thundersport meeting was due to run a memorial race for Shaun’s son, Adam, who was tragically killed in a road accident 12 months ago. Adam’s Fireblade had been ridden towards the end of last season but had been dormant for 8 months. I felt privileged to be asked; I always liked Adam and both his and Shaun’s attitude towards racing. I’d never ridden a Fireblade in anger before, just a few test rides on customers’ bikes at work, so was looking forward to seeing what all of the fuss was about!
The TT went, on the whole, well for me and on getting home I looked forward to the Thundersport meeting. We turned up on Thursday night and I did a few bits on the bike to get ready for Friday morning’s test sessions followed by qualifying in the afternoon. The weather was great, although the morning was slightly plagued with red flags probably due to the usual “sun’s out – throttle wide open” attitude of most racers. The first session went well and I was really impressed with the bike, the suspension in general was a little soft for me and as a result I was struggling to stop into the chicanes/hairpin. The ‘blade was so easy to ride – I’d been to Oulton with the ZX10 that I’d raced last year and wrestled it around. Now I like a wrestle but the Zx10 was a handful, finding myself pinning the thing down and having to generally use my body weight much more. The ‘blade was like sitting back in a comfy chair and holding the throttle open by comparison. I added some damping to the front forks and rear shock during the session and, although improved, the forks were just slightly undersprung.
Changing the fork springs, and removing some skin from Shaun’s knuckle (sorry!) before the second session and the bike was again going in the right direction. More compression damping just provoked chatter going into Shell Hairpin, so I had in my mind to go harder again with the springs and leave the damping alone. My lap times weren’t anything spectacular but to be honest with traffic and red flags I’d never really got a good clear lap together. Some more changes for the final session saw me post my best lap of 1m 42.1 which was only 0.4s from my personal best ever. I was really pleased, the bike was making really good progress and was such a smooth ride I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw on the pitboard that the times were so quick, it simply didn’t feel that fast. With new tyres fitted for qualifying I was sure that there was more time to be had, I pressed on but the session didn’t flow quite as well for me as the last one. I managed to shave another 0.1s off the time to put myself 5th on what was a very high quality grid.
I still wanted some more support from the front suspension, as mentioned, but with wet weather forecast for Race day morning I figured it best to wait and see what came. Morning warm up was patchy damp and drizzled whilst we were on track, I pulled in after a lap with nothing to be gained and plenty to be lost. The weather was so changeable, with an hour and a half before the race and the track soaked, I’d figured that there was no way it’d dry out. As per normal I was wrong and ended up swapping the wheels from dry to wet and back again before the first race got underway.
I got a good start but took things a bit too easy on early on to cross the line in 9th place. Disappointed with myself for not pushing hard enough I was too concerned about the damp and didn’t try hard enough. Now in a race situation it was clear that the rear spring was too soft. Out on my own the lap times would come but in the heat of a race you tend not to be able to run the perfect line all of the time so end up being generally more aggressive. This was then pushing me wide on the exit in a few places. We sought out a harder spring eventually borrowing one from John Ingram.
My next outing was in the main race of the day for me, The Adam Boyle Trophy. With a large amount of Adam’s family and friends here to see the race, I wanted to do the bike justice as it was still sporting Adam’s colours and race number. I started from second on the grid and got a great start, just getting my nose cut off into the first turn and dropping to third down the straight to Island bend. The two in front slowly pulled a gap on me in the early stages, the rear spring had made the bike so much better and once I’d got my head around it I started to make the time back up. The leader dropped out of the race just as we had all bunched up in a three bike freight train. I was all over the rear wheel of Kyle Wilkes but always lost a couple of bike lengths before the best overtaking spots. I had my section of the track and he had his which evened us both out but I just never seemed to be in a good position to make a pass. I set my fastest time of the weekend 1m 41.8 just 0.1 from my personal best. A mistake on the final lap saw me lose a couple of seconds to cross the line in second place. A really close race, which was great fun, I hope I did those that mattered proud but was absolutely gutted that I couldn’t win the race in Adam’s colours – boy did I try!!
The last race went well and I settled into sixth place, dropping from the back of the group – as seems to be my style! – before pulling the time back and catching their rear wheel on the final lap. As we came over Deers Leap onto the start/finish straight on the final lap we were met with a wall of oil smoke so thick that you could barely see your hand in front of your face. I was on the back tyre of Phil Crowe and had a good run out of the final corner. Unsighted as I was half wheeling alongside him I shut off the throttle a split second later than he did and rolled over the line, into the smoke, in front of him to take 5th on the road and 3rd in the GP1 Class.
All in all a great weekend’s racing, setting a lap time to virtually match my personal best time, which I set at a BSB round about 4 years ago when I was younger and crashing didn’t bother me as much! I’d not ridden the bike, or a Fireblade, before Friday morning and it was refreshing to get on something untested and be able to ride it as hard as possible.
Massive thanks to Barry, Shaun and their team of supporters, I hope to have another run out on the Fireblade again soon; potentially the Anglesey Grand and Thundersport round at Anglesey, we shall wait and see.
Posted: June 24, 2013