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!

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