Brands hatch race report
NGRRC Round 1 &2
Friday test day
Despite an early start we managed to arrive late at Brands, due to Ali’s sat nav diverting us off the M25, down the M11 and back into London, almost back where we’d started. Still, Canary Wharf looked very sci-fi in the gloomy greyness of Friday rush hour.
Eventually we made it to Brands, got ourselves set up in the garage and set about changing wheels as it was not only pouring with rain, but snow was still gathered on the grass around the track. Very soon we hit our first issue: the new wheels wouldn’t go on. Turned out to to a bit of a seized rear brake caliper and a slightly mis-aligned spacer, and we soon got that sorted out with the help of all-round good guy Neil Pearson.
I’ll happily admit I’m not a fan of wet riding, despite having a good few wins in the wet on the 400, I wasn’t relishing the prospect of heading out on the 600. Eventually we got the wheels in, and no sooner had I set off down the pit lane than an almighty wobble came from the front end. I pulled straight back into the pit, and we quickly realised the front wheel I’d bought was very bent indeed. So we hadn’t even done a lap and we were half way through the day and down to one front wheel. Not exactly the dream start we had been talking about on the drive down.
Wheels and tyres swapped, and I ventured out onto the soggy Tarmac. Again, more problems: the ridiculously light 85 spring we’d put in the rear shock was still too stiff, giving me absolutely no confidence that the rear end would grip once I leant the bike over. I struggled on through the day with frankly pathetic lap times, and Ali clearly as disappointed as I was in my lack of pace.
We’ve been struggling with the rear Ohlins since buying the bike, and I had pretty much made up my mind to junk it at that point. The thing has been off to various suspension specialists and Ohlins dealers without us ever getting it working properly. At that point National Superstock 600 rider Leon Jeacock popped into the garage, looked at the bike and told me my gearing was all wrong and an 85 spring was definitely too light.
Within minutes we had the rear shock out and Leon set about the thing with vernier calipers, a spring jack and some tools. Having identified the spring had miles too much preload, he swapped the 90 spring back in and got it roughly set up. With that we went off for dinner then set up my tent and went to bed. Only I’d forgotten to bring a heater so I pretty much lay in a frozen canvas cocoon for a few hours before getting up to prepare for practice.
Saturday race day
Practice confirmed that the bike felt better, but I was still having confidence issues riding any harder. The freezing rain wasn’t helping and I was becoming more nervous with every rider I watched slip off in front of me.
I started the qualifying race from 17th on the grid, a decent start saw me make a good few places into Paddock Hill Bend, only to continue to slide back down the order as I failed to gain confidence in the tyres. The reward for my hesitance was a xx place finish, leaving me with a lot to think about for e championship race in the afternoon.
Again a decent start pushed me up the order into Paddock, and try as I might I still couldn’t convince myself to push harder. Doubly embarrassing was that my mum and brother had come to watch! Again the race had a heavy rate of attrition, leaving me to pick my way round the stricken riders like wacky races.
The 11 laps counted down and I crossed the line 23rd out of 38 starters, out of the points and disappointed in myself. Unfortunately Leon had high sided and gone to hospital, and his BMC racing team mate also crashed out on the oil at Graham Hill.
I sulked off to the showers, came back, gave the bike a clean, tided the garage and had a bit of a think. I know the bike is making reasonable power, but I just wasn’t getting it through the corners fast enough. This was confirmed when we looked at the Gps datalogging information from Ali’s QStarz which we’d had on my bike. looking at my data versus Leon’s, i was changing gear, braking and accellerating at the same points, but all at lower speeds due to not carrying the corner speed. The tyres were fine, the suspension was definitely better, so the only culprit had to be me. One of the hardest things about racing is admitting you’re not trying hard enough.
Ali then backed this up by giving me a telling off all through our curry, but I felt slightly better when we realised the couple at the ext table were in the middle of splitting up! We soon escaped to the Kentagon and a quick nightcap with National Superstock rider Pete Carr. Pete confirmed my lack of application by asking me ‘which class are you racing in?’ Guess he hadn’t noticed as he lapped me on his way to the race win then!
Luckily my brother had brought me a heater so I managed a much better sleep… Or that could have been the curry coma.
Sunday race day
On opening the flap of my tent, I figured out it was still raining despite being in a garage, as my tent was sitting in about 2 inches of water. Still, made the tyre choice easy, wets again.
Practice was uneventful, but I definitely felt more comfortable on the bike, and could feel the suspension changes had made the bike much more balanced and predictable. Again I lined up 17th for the qualifying race, made a good start and jumped up a row or two. As we reached Druids I got alongside Triumph Triple Cup runner and fellow Racer contributor Max Symonds, and made the move stick as we drove down towards Graham Hill bend. Max is recovering from an injury sustained last season, but it helped my confidence to get ahead. I managed to finally find a rythmn on the bike and map lap times we within a couple of tents of each other throughout the race. I had a good battle with xxxx xxxxx on his neatly prepared R6, but couldn’t quite get on terms as we crossed the line. Xx place was ok, and I was pleased I was able to finally start to feel comfortable with the bike and get stuck in to a bit of a battle.
A light, calorie-conscious lunch (plate of chips), and back to the garage to fuel the bike up, check tyre pressures and get ready for the championship race. While I was having a quiet think to myself, Leon’s dad Rod came by and gave me a talking to. He reminded me that I used to ride the 400 well, and that if I wasn’t prepared to try harder then I might as well throw my money down the drain. Err… Cheers Rod! Did the trick though as I steeled myself to push harder and ignore that feeling the bike was going to fall over. Another good start and I stuck with a couple of riders for the first 2 laps. We reeled in the group ahead and began a race-long 6-rider battle. Two or three laps in and the conditions started to take their toll, a lot of riders crashing out, including round 1 winner Pete Carr on the exit of Druids. The race was great, the riders in front swapping places as we all jostled for position entering every corner, each rider lining up the guy in front and having to defend from the guy behind. 7-8 laps in and the ZX6 in front of me took to the grass in the left-right flick before clear ways, and his wayward bike narrowly avoided skittling me as I took an interesting line to avoid him. Still covered me in mud though.
I lost touch with the group a little, and just as I got back up with them the chequered flag dropped. I knew I’d finished further up the field, but was thrilled to see on the results sheet that I’d got 10th place.
Now to see if we can replicate that in the dry…