Mallory: Thundersport GB Finale
The final of the Thundersport GB series was in sight and I was still cycling regularly but with the temperature dropping my morning ride to work had started to get slightly uncomfortable. One morning in particular I got caught in heavy rain at Helsby (the mid-way point) and was soaked to the skin by the time I arrived at work. When commuting by motorbike I’ve been hit by waves of water from trucks passing in the opposite direction – with the waterproof gear the effects are nowhere near as bad as when wearing lycra shorts and vented cycling shoes. I sought some warmer wear and lights, determined that I’d not let the dark/cold/wet winter spoil my hard won summer fitness. The most amusing of these purchases was a set of cycling tights, note that they are cycling tights not just tights! Not being a regular tight wearer I wrestled about getting into them on the first day, for some part of this process I was laying on my back appearing to be doing the caterpillar! I reckoned that I would never become a cross dresser but now know how they must feel, I feel your pain guys! Now my winter ride is a breeze my knees are no longer purple on arrival at work and I can take the (expected amount of) abuse from my colleagues. I did find that they left my ankles slightly exposed though. Day two in my new winter attire saw Jo burst into laughter as she walked in to find me with tights on and socks on the outside, looking like a throwback from Fame (they weren’t fluorescent socks by the way). “Socks on the outside Mackers, really?” she quipped. I countered “To be fair Jo it’s broad daylight and I’m wearing tights I don’t think that the sock thing really makes a difference. Only Peter Pan, Robin Hood and I are in this position!” You comedy genius Mackers I thought to myself…!!
So onto Mallory Park I had a deficit of 31 points in the GP1 championship to sort out. The Mallory round earlier in the year had been, for the most part, wet. I’d got a good idea on set up and with now a few rounds under my belt on the Kawasaki I was happy enough that I’d be somewhere near the pace required. I entered the test morning on Friday to check the bike over as I’d had to carry out some fairly extensive repairs after the Cadwell crash. Maxton had built a new fork leg during the break, the left hand leg had taken the biggest hit and had bent both the upper and lower leg. With this in mind and a small adjustment to the fork oil level the bike was feeling pretty good. Qualifying went well and I ended up 4th on the grid with a time just shy of my personal best. Alongside me was Mark Littler, Luke Stapleford and John Ingram, none of whom were Thundersport regulars so I was happy to be in front of the riders that “mattered”.
That evening Jo and I took Ted, who’d turned three on Wednesday, on his first lap of a race track. He’d learnt to ride his push bike without stabilisers a couple of months earlier and this was our first chance to get him on track. He did a great job, I gave him a bit of a push up the hill to the hairpin but he kept pedalling all the way to complete the full circuit of nearly 1.4 miles. Jogging alongside down the start-finish straight I started to wish I’d brought my own push bike!
The first race on Saturday morning started in slightly patchy conditions with it being more wet than dry so most of us were out on full wet tyres. I got a good start but was over cautious especially in the early stages. I seemed to be struggling to hold a line in Gerard’s and could only manage 6th place. This put me one place behind Pete Baker, who I really needed to be in front of, it wasn’t a disaster but wasn’t the start that I’d needed. Race 2 was the re-run of the cancelled Anglesey race. I was having a good weekend at Anglesey so would start this re-run from pole position. The race was run in much better conditions than the morning race had been but there were still a few spots of damp on the tarmac. I got a good start but was again struggling especially in the early stages. I held my own later in the race to finish in 3rd place but with Pete Baker winning it effectively put me out of contention for the title win. I put my problems down to an issue between the seat and the handlebars with my cold tyre confidence having taken a big knock at Cadwell.
Another lap with Ted that evening, he stopped for a wee against the armco half way around Gerard’s. With my issues in Gerard’s this weekend I could’ve quite easily p!ssed on it too! Then we headed back to the paddock to collect my 3rd place trophy. When I came down from the podium Ted was in floods of tears as he’d seen other kids getting taken onto the stage. Oops, I promised him that if I got a podium the following day (which wasn’t looking hopeful!) then I’d take him up with me.
Sunday morning warm up was patchy damp again so I gave it a miss, with nothing really to be gained, as the weather was looking to dry up later in the day.
Race 3 began in pretty much the same way as the others had, I started well but got swamped in Gerard’s on the opening lap dropping me to 8th by the end of the first lap. I made a move after 4 laps into 7th, the freight train of riders ran from 8th up to 3rd place. I was having trouble making the bike hold a line especially mid-corner in Gerard’s and down through the Devil’s Elbow. This problem was costing me two or three bike lengths onto the start-finish straight each lap. It was an issue that I’d had all weekend really but with the track not having been properly dry before I’d assumed that it’d been me just not trying hard enough! In this race I could clearly see that I was fighting to hold the bike on line while others were picking it up and driving away. I made the time back up in other areas but whatever I tried, different lines/approaches, I simply couldn’t get the bike to do what others were able to. I crossed the line in 7th after being unable to make a successful move on Mark Littler.
Disappointed with how the weekend was going I was now mathematically incapable of winning the title and was only 1 point ahead of third in the overall standings. Don’t get me wrong if I wasn’t going to win the championship I wasn’t overly concerned about what position I ended up in, but there was a certain amount of pride at stake! I decided that things needed to change, the problem wasn’t with me (probably) I needed the bike to hold a tighter line which would enable me to get onto the throttle sooner. Looking back through my suspension notes from previous meetings I decided to drop the forks 3mm through the yokes and went a couple of clicks harder with the rear shock damping. My thought was that the bike needed more weight on the front so I could get it turned harder, sooner, so that I didn’t end up trying to get the throttle on with the bike still banked over hard and causing the rear grip issues that I’d got. I also fitted a slightly softer compound rear tyre in a hope to maintain the rear grip now the weight bias was heading further to the front.
The race got underway, predictably I was 3rd into the first corner and faded whilst struggling on cold tyres. Getting shoved wide at Edwina’s entry (that sounds wrong!) lost me the drive out on the exit and another place was lost. Then as I tipped left, whilst on full throttle in 4th gear, up the hill to the hairpin, the rear tyre spun up. Now I’m not sure whether it was me or the traction control but one of us caught it, I reckon it was my lightening fast reactions to be honest! The bike gripped, rear wheel spat back to the left/right/left/right and I landed back in the seat. I got straight back to the throttle with bikes streaming past either side. I was furious with myself, at the last round I’d crashed on a cold left hand side of the tyre, here I was trying to do the same thing again. Only an idiot doesn’t learn from his own mistakes! I pressed on and could see Mike Dickinson, who I needed to beat to hold onto 2nd in the championship, in 3rd place then a sea of riders with me tagged onto back on in 11th! Great!! The good news was that the changes had worked and the bike was a huge improvement. I think if this hadn’t have been the case I’d have probably decided that I didn’t need this in my life any longer and pushed the bike into the lake! But I was now holding my own out of the Devil’s Elbow (never one of my strongest corners) and making time on the exit of Gerard’s. I made great progress through the field, putting passes into Edwina’s and the hairpin. I got through to 4th place by the 11th of 16 laps, with Dickinson a second ahead I pressed hard. The changes to the rear shock, had actually had made the bike slightly more unstable on the bumps exiting Gerard’s. A good few times I was exiting hard on the throttle in 5th gear, hit a bump, the bike kicked off the top and started weaving. I was now in a “who gives a sh1t, the weekend has been a right minger and I now really want a podium” type of mood and convinced myself that everything would be fine if I just kept the throttle open as the bike slapped it’s way onto the back straight, it was “‘aving it even if it didn’t like it!” I made up the time on 3rd place and made my move on the brakes with 3 laps to go. I pulled a small gap to take 3rd place in the race and 2nd in the championship. What a relief that I’d sorted the bike out, to a degree, and could now ride it the way that I’d wanted to. If only I’d made the changes to the suspension earlier in the weekend. It is all a learning curve and the ZX10 is a much more sensitive bike than my Suzuki ever was.
I kept my promise and took Ted up onto the podium with me. He clapped the other riders up, held my trophy and randomly waved at no-one in particular! All in all a great end to a difficult weekend racing. I was happy to have held onto my 2nd place overall but disappointed that I couldn’t have a better go at winning the title. As I’d missed a round of the championship, whilst away at the TT, I didn’t expect to be in the running for the overall win. It would’ve been nice to win though in the knowledge that I was a round down on everyone else. My own mistake at Cadwell really hurt my championship hopes alongside the Anglesey race getting postponed when I was having a great weekend at one of my favourite tracks. But I’m sure that everyone in the series has these same regrets and that is, after all, what a championship season is all about.
So thoughts now turn to next season. Currently I have no confirmed plan except that I will be competing at the TT. The rest of the season may be slightly more disjointed than previous years. I will race as much as I can afford to do in the early part of the season in preparation for the TT. From the TT onwards, I have no plan so far. Financially with a 5 figure sum outstanding on credit cards at the moment I cannot carry on and keep getting further into debt. I love racing but times are hard!
I’ll keep the blog updated with news over the winter. No doubt I’ll have some more perverse cycling tales to tell. I plan to ride in a few local trials, as I do each winter, on my trusty Beta Techno too. (Techno, Techno, Techno. 2 Unlimited, 1992, ask a teenager of the 90s if you don’t get it!).
To end the season all that remains is to thank all of the people involved.
Kemtile Hygienic Flooring: Whose support has kept me racing. Without their help I’d have been forced to give up two seasons ago. Alongside this the managing director attended Mallory and spent his weekend carrying tyres/wheels to the tyre truck.
Jo/Ann/Ted: Who have been amazing all season, driving the van and caravan to the track during the day, starting setting everything up for me to roll up late evening after work. They are always there to help pit board, remove wheels, cook dinner, air my frustrations etc etc etc. Ted sat next to me at Cadwell as I was, head in my hands, studying my poor Sunday result sheet. I looked across to him smiling back at me and said “none of this really matters Ted”.
Infront Motorcycles: A valuable source of advice, parts, tyres and help trackside. Always at the end of the phone to talk my mind straight again when it starts bouncing off to every part of the bike.
Bike Devils, Llay: A no nonsense company who fulfilled every promise that they made to me this season.
Maxton Suspension: Who I regularly owe money to and always call at stupid times over the weekend for advice.
Hairy Snid Racing: My apologies that the 600 didn’t turn out as well as expected at the TT. Another great group who have delivered everything that they promised and expected very little in return.
roadracingsupporters.com: Without whose help this blog would never have happened. Their input has helped me enormously.
Quill Exhausts/JB Racing: Who have helped without question for as long as I can remember, Cheers Jim.
Norton: Who gave me a great opportunity and experience on a bespoke motorcycle. Which I hope we are able to continue improving on into next season.
Motul Oil, RST Leathers, Knox, Speedycom, APM Graphics, GB Racing, Hel performance, Morello Services (series sponsor), Ingram Civil Engineering, TAG Scaffolding Services, Dunlop, Daytona Boots, Bob Beese, A&S Transport, Howard & John Tipping, Daniel Cross, KS Performance, RLR Motorsport.
Many Thanks to all who have made kind comments about my blog, I enjoy typing it as much as I hope you do reading it. I always wanted to be a journalist, where did it all go wrong???!!
Posted: October 24, 2012