Let’s get ready to rumble….
After a winter training it was good to be finally getting ready to race at the second round of Thundersport GB at Donington. With most of the country snow-covered for the week running up to the event, it was never going to be a warm weekend! As I was still waiting for some parts to arrive for the 600 I was just going to be out on the Knight Road Racing Ducati. I hadn’t ridden a race bike since the final round of Thundersport last October and hadn’t ridden a Ducati (or any big twin cylinder bike for that matter) in anger ever, so it was going to be a learning weekend.
We met up with Alan Knight in the garage for the test day on Saturday morning. I had a sit on the bike and positioned the levers etc. I’d start the weekend on the 1198R and if all went to plan then I’d move onto the 1198RS, which was a different animal altogether. First impressions of the bike were good, it took a bit of dialling my brain into the bike initially, being so used to banging a bike down through the gears and hearing it squeal! Listening to the engine at what appeared to be tick over then cracking the throttle to receive immediate surging power from the mid-corner was a shock. After a couple of sessions I moved onto the RS after the lunch break, my first session ended early with an electrical fault. Over the winter Alan had fitted some new performance bits to the bike; swing arm, shock linkage, faster motor etc etc. The meeting was about getting some decent results, some signatures for my Mountain Course licence and setting the bike up. With the boost pack attached (with such high compression the on board battery wasn’t enough to turn the engine over) the bike boomed into life. It sounded like all hell was about to break loose, the exhaust thudding away and the clutch rattling its head off, I thought I was getting onto the doomsday machine!
My initial move with the bike was to pull the forks up flush into the yokes, I was finding that the bike wanted to fall on its side a bit too easily and I was having to catch it on its way into the turn. The next session started and the bike was a clear improvement in this area although was struggling to hold a tight line when into the throttle with too much pumping from the rear shock. Overnight Alan and I set the rear sag height and put a stronger rear spring in the rear. Qualifying went ok for me, the grip from the rear was loads better at the corner exit but the mid-corner was actually worse. I pressed on and ended up 13th on the grid.
I figured that a new rear tyre would bring the grip that I was missing for the first race. The race got under way; I had a reasonably rubbish start, the dry clutch in the Ducati required a slightly different technique to the “clutch-slipping-rev-the-tits-off-it” routine which had served me so well in the past. The bike was hard work for the first half of the race, very nervous at the rear until the heat got into the tyre. By mid race I was making some progress and feeling like I could start to push the tyre. The bike was shockingly fast, in fact for the whole weekend I didn’t come across anything which would beat it down the back straight. If I could gain some rear traction in the mid-turn then we would be in business. I crossed the line in 12th place, pleased enough but knowing that there was loads more to come from both me and the bike.
Some more changes to the rear ride height overnight were in order. I was happy with how well the bike was turning but felt that with some more weight on the rear tyre it would get some heat into it sooner and give us that grip that we were searching for. Morning “warm up” wasn’t exactly very warming, with the ambient air temperature reading 1 degree c, half way down the back straight I couldn’t really feel my fingers. Normally at this time of day I’m heading off to work on my CG125 with the heated grips flat out. One piece vented race leathers aren’t exactly designed to be warm!
Race two on Sunday morning got started and I got away much better from the start line. Alan had suggested to get the clutch out as quick as possible and use the tall first gear (and brutal power) to drive it to the first corner. I still struggled for grip in the early stages but was happier with it. We were clearly going in the right direction. I pressed on and once again set my fastest time of the race on the final lap. The rear tyre was finally starting to look like it had done some work. Up to now it’d looked like I’d polished it instead of raced on it!
The bike was still an absolute wheelie monster. Lifting the front wheel in fifth gear down the start finish straight and was to the point of flipping between McLeans and Coppice in fourth. Id never ridden a bike with the same amount of stomp. We decided to move the wheelbase back hoping to eliminate this issue and also work the tyre harder. As it happened, chain length, available sprockets etc put the idea on ice so a further change to the ride height, tyre pressures etc was in order for the last race of the weekend.
My best start of the weekend followed and we had clearly got the bike further in the right direction. The nervousness from the rear was improving at every adjustment. It was coming into its own earlier and earlier in the race. A stoppage gave me another chance to adjust the rear compression and this minor change set us even more in the right direction. My fastest time of the weekend came on the final lap. Despite another 12th place finish this lap time put me on a par with the guys in 8th place, the distance to the leaders was coming down. The weather had cooled down even more for this last race, my time improved but the leader’s had deteriorated which was encouraging.
All in all a good weekend, the Ducati was excellent and full of potential. With some decent warm weather (the air temp didn’t break 6 degrees all weekend) and some further set up it will be an absolute flying machine. It was interesting to be involved with the bike’s development, get some laps in on a big bike again and gain those all important signatures. Huge thanks to the Knight Road Racing guys/girls for their help and the use of their bikes. Once again thanks go to Kemtile Hygienic Flooring without whom racing wouldn’t be possible for me at all.
The ZX6 is now in a much better position, with another week’s worth of evenings spent putting it together. I only need suspension and fairing to complete the project. This will be all sorted for my next outing at Oulton Park for the Wirral 100 meeting at the end of April.
Interestingly I will also be out on a minitwin at this meeting. Howard and John Tipping (not a skip hire company, just a father and son by the way!) have kindly supplied the use of their SV650 for the meeting. I’ve never ridden a minitwin on track before and it’s been a long time (8 years to be exact) since I raced a ZXR400 which had comparable power. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve scheduled to do the test day on the Friday before to get the engine run in on the 600 and hopefully a few laps on the minitwin. The Saturday’s racing will see me out in six races in total, it’s going to be a busy day!!!