Sunday, 19 October 2008

Racing in Joigny - France! What - No Leathers!

Wow....... what an absolutely Top weekend!

After the ignition problems at Cadwell I wasn't sure things would come together to be able to go! But after feeling better with my riding on track at Cadwell, I sooooo wanted to go over to France and basically just get track time!

I have always been a fan of small twisty circuits, so this kart circuit south of Paris looked good to me. A few guys from England were going..... Stuart Day, Bert Conneely, Phil Bevis, Chris Geyton, and Charlie Edmonds amongst others, so I thought it seemed like it would be fun.

I'd asked my old mate Matt Gooch if he fancied coming along, and he jumped at the chance, and of course my son Miles wanted to go, so I took the plunge and decided to go for it and booked the ferry! However......... a bit of a problem.... new ignition was fitted, but within minutes of a test run round the car park it had been wrecked!

Ralph Remnant came to the rescue ( again) with the loan of his spare Motoplat, which Paul Baker was going to take with him, so we could fit it when we got there ( scary!)

So..... 7.15 Friday night there we were on a SpeedFerry, myself, Miles and Matt enroute to deepest Francais, armed with sat nav and big bags of snacks!

We had a good journey, even negotiating the periphique of Paris successfully, Matt did the driving on the last leg of the journey and we got there a bit before 2am. All was quiet when we arrived, so we unpacked the scooter so Miles and I could sleep in the van, Matt was in tented accommodation!

Had a reasonable nights sleep after the journey, then awoke at 6.30 with a start, sat up and suddenly realised....... Damn..... No leathers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 10 minutes of swearing and cursing ensued as I sat not quite believing my own stupidity!

As the rest of the guys woke up we said hello to everyone, the general conscensus being as the rules were quite 'open', just wearing 3 pairs of trousers and a jacket would be ok! I started to feel a little better....... at least if push comes to shove I could at least get on the track!

Matt and Miles went off into the nearest town - Joigny - where they had found out there was a motorbike shop....... wonder if they sold leathers! They didn't! However Matt did come back with a jacket with some armour in it......... no trousers though. By this time I'd fixed the motoplat so was ready to go.

So it was a jacket, and 2 pairs of stout underpants I reckon! I'd just put on two pairs of trousers when Sticky very kindly came to the rescue with the offer of borrowing his leathers as A - his bike was still in pieces as he changed his clutch and B - he was in a different race class to me! Sticky - you're a hero mate!

Now..... all I needed to do was wedge my finely chiselled physique into them! legs were ok..... waist was ok...... problems were with the chest! I had to breathe in and squeeze myself into them an inch at a time! I felt like Dita von Teese in some sort of corset! But once into them, they were surprisingly comfortable....... even though they had a definite Power Ranger look about them!

By now we'd had a proper look around..... John Howe was also here, along with a couple of guys on road scooters from Cambridge Lambretta who were doing the track experience class.

There was basically no scrutineering as we were English Professionals! It has to be said there is a distinct difference in the general preparation of bikes across the channel lol

So....... first practice...... oh no..... the organisers were giving everyone transponders to put inside their leathers for timing! Not sure there was gonna be any room in mine lol!

The circuit was certainly very tight and twisty! Pretty hard work, with only one straight really, well two, but one had a chicane in the middle............. just before a tight left hand bend where after a couple of laps the only French full frame Lambretta rider went down heavy trying to keep up the quicker English Lambrettas. This caused a stoppage as he was taken care of and ambulanced off to hospital to get his broken shoulder sorted! This caused a minor ticking off for the quicker English guys - too fast they were told! Hhmmmmmm ........!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We got two timed practice sessions which would be used as qualifying for the afternoons racing. I liked the circuit more and more during the sessions and lap times came tumbling down as I experimented with lines and riding style. The circuit surface was very grippy indeed.  I ended practice qualifying 13th out of 19 ( would have been 20 but the frenchman was not going to be coming back!)
First race I managed to pass a couple of Vespas, but after running wide a couple of times still learning lines I got re-passed. It seemed a flipping long race compared to our English races and I have to admit to be relived to see the last lap signal...... actually relief turned to laughter as there was no signal, just a French guy sticking his thumb up to signify the last lap! Across the line I was 12th. Of course Charlie led the way at the front!

All too quickly it was time for the second race. The start was all a bit botched really. The start line officials started lining everyone up but seemed to give up and everyone just moved forward and placed themselves where they liked, then suddenly a guy lifted a flag and dropped it...... I wasn't even in gear and was actually just getting into some sort of position! So I lost a few places and found myself in a group of vespas! I spent most of the race in a battle with a french guy wearing ankle boots and a pair of grey cotton overalls! We passed and re-passed each other till I decided I'd had enough of that and really concentrated for a couple of laps and pulled a gap! Across the line I ended the race 10th, so overall a 3 place improvement and fastest lap nearly 2 seconds quicker.  I was by now really loving the circuit.

In between races I was getting out of the leathers and taking them over to Sticky, who was racing a small frame Vespa and was having some great battles with a dutchman also on a small frame.  As the day went on those leathers seemed to get heavier and heavier and were certainly very sweaty in the heat!

A very relaxed and leisurely lunch break gave us plenty of time to chat and circulate around.
We were made to feel really welcome by the French riders and organisers. They seemed really pleased we had made the long journey and were pretty blown away I think by the speeds of the front running bikes! Lunch was a barbecue, sat in absolutely superb weather... it was pretty hot! There was a couple of dealers stalls to look around , some lovely road scooters, even a Vespa 50 with original pedal shaft! We wondered how much that would be worth!

So...... the third race !!!!!!!!!! Oh how great it would be to 3 or 4 races in England! I decided after the shambles of the last start that I was being way too polite and if the rest were not going to stick to the allocated grid then neither was I! As the flag dropped I was already underway and a gap opened to the left - so I dived across and filled it, diving up the inside of a couple of P ranges and brushing shoulders as I forced my way into the almost dead stop right hander. I'd passed about 5-6 bikes, but ran wide on the second bend and let a couple back past. I was now a few places higher up than the first two races and was very much dragged long by some quicker guys, which felt great, and indeed after only about 3-4 laps I saw the guy with the grey overalls (who I had spent most of the previous race tussling with) about half a lap down on me.

It very much felt like I got into some kind of groove and felt I was going quicker and quicker. As the race progressed a couple of the frontrunners threw themselves down the track, and I picked up some more places. The scooter felt great and I was really leaning now, knee even skimming the tarmac in a couple of places! I felt the most comfortable I've felt on the scooter since starting racing again. All too soon now we got the last lap thumbs up. I knew I'd finished much higher and lapped much more quickly. Across the finish line I knew I'd probably just had one of my best ever races. I immediately felt very emotional, as I thought about how much my Dad would have loved to have been there. He ALWAYS was there when I used to race, and I miss him around now I'm racing again. Its 3 years since he passed away, but I still miss him massively, and this suddenly was one of those times, and I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I completed the slowing down lap.

My old mate Matt and my son Miles were waiting for me as I peeled off the track, and they were beaming great smiles. Miles told me I'd made him proud, and that meant such a lot to me.

By now dusk was falling, racing was all over for the day. In the evening ( after most of the English guys had dashed to catch a ferry) the French did a great presentation with very generous prizes. For the Brits Charlie was first overall for the meeting, Chris Geyton third overall (as he'd like I collected his helmet prize on his behalf) , Bert Conneely was 5th overall, and I was classified 8th overall even getting a prize of sunglasses and gloves! To say I was chuffed was an understatement!
The day ended much better than it started and I can honestly say that I really struggle to think of many better days I have ever had involving scooters.

The French put on a fantastic event and wild horses would not keep me from going back next year!

This has been a long old blog entry, and I feel I've only really scratched the surface of a great weekend.

More thoughts and observations to follow!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Cadwell Park - Sunday 28th - Day 2 !

Well........ Sunday dawned damply........ I opened the doors of the luxury executive accomodation (the van!) to see clouds and definite feel of rain in the air.... which to be honest I was kind of looking forward to as historically I've always gone well in the wet.

Most of my local club - Grantham Daytrippers were coming over - Miles was riding with them on his Dragster and had been looking forward to the ride.

Anyway, I had this nagging doubt after yesterdays escapades with the first non finish of my second time around race career, so I decided to bump the scooter up and check everything was ok again. It started up straight away fine, so I ran it around a while in the paddock, then decided to give it a few more revs up the entrance road....... pop ....bang .... misfire..... then stop....... oh dear...... so it wasn't the coil after all then!


So as most of my local club and friends arrive it was off with the ignition..... this time the ignition pickup has most definitely clouted the flywheel, and it has actually knocked the head round out of line!

Reckon its broken again!

Much scratching of heads and the general conclusion points to a twisted crank (?).  I felt gutted.... there I was , my local circuit, 25 friends and family there, and I'm not even running!

Ralph Remnant, amongst others, comes over and offers his spare Motoplat ignition - which has a far greater clearance.  So we proceed to take the old one off and Ralph brings his ignition over and kindly fits it, whilst I'm running around finding earth leads, and bracket for the coil.

Biz and Mick formulate a plan to cut plastic!

Jigsy next to me is a hero as he offers his spare plastic cooling fan.... cheers mate! Biz and Mick from Datrippers SC are set on with Tony O'Brien's soldering iron trimming down the fins and centre of the fan to fit onto the Motoplat.  Scotty provided a decent earth strap whilst several interested parties sneaked a look at what was going on!

Bizarrely, Chalky White who tuned and built my motor also introduced himself along with the guy who made the ignition setup - he recognised it as he was walking by!

What - no spark plug? We won't say anything about trying to start it without fitting one!

Once the Motoplat was all fitted there was only a few minutes to the start of race 1, so we were rushing to make sure it ran ok..... it wouldn't start!  Ralph told us we'd need loads of engine revs in first gear as the Motoplat needed revolutions to generate a decent spark.  Still no luck and we were feeling knackered pushing the damn thing!  So in steps Ralph and Chris Geyton who started it up on the SRP rollers.... what a great gadget that is!  Mental note to add to shopping list!

It ran fine and revved cleanly - result!  A little vibration... but sounded and felt fine!  Game On!

Race 1 - relieved to be running, I'd pre-warned friends that motor had problems so don't necessarily expect a finish!  Got a great initial start off the line, but then a vibration kicked in and I backed off before going for it again, with a second wind I took a wide line to the right up the first hill and managed to pick up a couple of places, setting my sights on Jigsy, who I slipstreamed down the main straight, but the extra grunt of his Group 6 bike was too much.  I was a little reluctant to go totally flat out - I was a little reluctant to use full power as I had visions of wrecking Ralphs Motoplat.  I made a right hash of the left hander before the Mountain on both the first laps - right in front of my friends!  But managed to get it right after I decided it would be very embarrassing to run off the track there!

Race 1!

As the race went on I started to feel more confident and was riding around the problems, lapping around 6 seconds quicker than the day previous.

Just about everyone was on wet tyres as it had been quite damp through the Woodlands section, but as we were on the track a dry line quickly formed, and as it turned out I reckon everyone would have been fine on dry tyres.

Race over............ I wasn't last, and I wasn't lapped...... which was progress as far as I was concerned!

Race 2 - Decided to just try and go for it..... but had a less than desirable start and got bogged down, tried to go for the same wide line, but came across Tom Oliver and a Group 6 bike sliding down the track.... people running off the tarmac to avoid the carnage...... but it put me close to Jigsy exiting Charlies and along Park Straight I used full throttle which I'd been reluctant to do in the first race, I was reeling him in and almost alongside him into Park bend, which we both managed to make a little bit of a mess of!  We stayed close the whole of the first lap till we got back to the start straight where he got a better drive and pulled away a little, then came drunkmonkey the little bugger........ still, at least I was being passed by Group 6 bikes!

Lap 4 and all of a sudden the Coventry new boy on Bert Conneeely's old engine came by me as I started to sit in a comfort zone.  This gave me a wake up call and I went the fastest I'd ever gone through the Gooseneck - conquering a demon there - and dived up the inside into Mansfield being pretty late on the brakes.

I then pulled away and across the line had pulled a gap.  I got a big cheer from friends as I pulled off the track.... cheers guys!

Phew...... above all I was happy to have finshed both races, wasn't last and wasn't lapped again!

We hung around in the vain hope of getting our third race, but it was not to be.

Overall there were lots of positives to take from my third days racing, I had felt comfortable on the scooter - no doubt in part due to riding my road scooter daily for the previous three weeks (car troubles!)

I felt I'd made a small but significant step in feeling more comfortable and a little quicker.

As for the state of the engine...... well the initial assessment of twisted crank proved to be incorrect! The crank was checked by Chalky White at Replay scooters - It was only two thou out!  Refitting the crank and starting the bike with a new ignition pick up revealed that there was still a problem though as the new pickup head was also smashed as soon as the engine was given any decent revs!

After cadwell I really wanted to do this race in France that a few of the guys were going to...... so the next week and a half was spent messing around with crank and ignition, till eventually I gave it up and contacted Ralph with a plea for the Motoplat to be sent over to France with Paul Baker....... and very big crossed fingers!

Thanks to Chalky for prompt checking of the crank and ignition....

So...... Friday 10th of October saw me loading the scooter into the van with no ignition setting off on the 450 mile journey to Joigny in France - with a little bit of wing and prayer feeling!

What would racing in France be like? >>>>>>>>>>>>>

Find out soon!