European Classic Endurance - Alf's Motorcycles

Motorland Aragon 28th - 29th October 2016

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Aragon was the last round of Classic Endurance series, we really needed to get a result or even a reasonable finish would do. Paul Richard we were last after spending over 90 minutes in the pit repairing the bike after a crash, Spa the engine seized in the second session so here we just wanted a finish to boost Alf's resolve for next years Championship. Last year here didn't go well either, while we were running right at the front before the motor went sick in the second session so this time we all had our fingers crossed.

Friday was going to be busy with free practice in the morning then qualifying for al three riders, and then night practice later in the evening. Saturday however we only had warm up mid afternoon with the race starting at 17:30, so plenty of time to prepare and catch up with all our friends in the paddock that we normally don't get the chance to chat with during the weekend.

Alf had been very busy at the shop and had prepared two fabulous bikes for our free practice. The T bike or practice machine had a new engine and was certainly the freshest motor wise and the race bike was now 100% after the Spa engine failure.

Practice went well, Mick out first then me and finally Jonny was the running order for practice and qualifying.

 

My first session was on the T bike it handled really well and went exactly where it was pointed but the motor was holding back slightly at high RPM, Alf thought it could be running a bit weak after inspection the plugs so jetted both bike up a little for the qualifying sessions.

 

Jonny and Mick were commenting that the bike was grounding out in some of the corners and after the big crash at Paul Richard Alf had lifted the race bike up on its suspension to give some more ground clearance.

Qualifying soon came around  and one by one we all went out for our respective sessions. I thought as the bike were in effect identical I would be able to go much quicker in qualifying but right away I was struggling to get the race bike to turn into the corners. I went over two seconds quicker than I did on the T bike but I was exhausted with the effort I was having to put into muscling the race bike around. After a big scary slide almost high side coming out of turn one I managed to post a 2:07.3 putting us in a provisional 4th place but I dropped the ball slightly by speeding down the pit lane and the course director punished the team by scraping my quickest time.

Luckily I did a similar time of 2:07.6 which kept our 4th place.

We were all baffled as to why the bikes felt so much different, Alf and the boys measured and fiddled about with the bikes but came to the conclusion there was only a small amount of height difference between the pair so it must be a slight change in the suspension settings.

For me it was a no brainer at this stage but we all said we would make some changes to both bikes in warm up and back to back them and make a decision from there.

 

Night practice was drama free apart from the left fork headlight failed and the race bike main light were too low, the session started in the twilight and the sun was like a lazer beam in your eyes at turns 2 and 7 for about 15 minutes until it dipped down behind the local hills.

As it was a very late start on Saturday we wrapped up the work in the garage and all went back to the hotel for an early night plus a few beers.

Saturday morning the weather was beautiful, bright sun and a crisp day if there was ever one.

Warm up was at 14:30 so we got the chance to watch a bit of the other events that were going on over the weekend. It was a Classic event for cars, trucks and bike so there was plenty to see and watch.

 

We only had 25 minutes to decide which bike we were going to use so Alf sent me out first on the race bike and then the T bike. The T bike had been changed to stiffen up the forks after Jonny and Mick mentioned it dived too quickly under braking, while the race bike had been lowered slightly at the front to help it turn in.

Once I had got some heat into the bike and tyres the race bike although better was still hard work and I missed the turn in 'twice' going into turn 12 but when I went on the T bike it was miles easier to ride and felt like comparing a 750 to a 1000. Jonny had a run round on the race bike just to get some more laps under his belt and as we were now going to use the T bike the race bike was going to get parked up anyway.

 The boys set about final preparations to the T bike for the race, new tyres, a nut and bolt check, oils etc while Rupert, Alf, Jonny, Mick and me discussed our race strategy.

I was 2 to 3 seconds a lap quicker than Jonny and Mick so it would make sense to send me out first then Mick or Jonny then me again and Jonny or Mick next, it would mean I would be doing more shifts than the other guys but better to keep out position.

However, we all decided it was a team event for one, plus we wanted to make sure to get the bike home and finally Mick wanted to start the race so JB the team coordinator let the organisers know that out starting order was Mick up first then me second out then Jonny number three.

Although the weather was still great with only one hour to go before the start of the race a classic race car went round the track with oil pouring out of the engine, not for one or two corners but the whole track.

The marshals did their best and with some road sweepers managed to treat the track.

Funny really as a similar thing happened at Spa so no one wanted to be first out this time Mick looked distinctly worried about starting. However it was fixed now and after a short sprint across the track Mick was off and running but the entire field or riders were struggling to figure out which line to take, when to cross the oil line and when not to and the effect was to protract the grid out massively over the opening laps. When everyone settled down Mick was running in a comfortable 9th place completing his session and pitting where I was waiting. Full tank of gas and brief chat with Mick about which was the best line and out I went for my 1st session. I quickly settled down and pushed hard once I had figured out which were the dodgy sections of track and which lines I could get away with.

 The sun was on its way down and in certain sections of the track even with a dark visor vision was an issue. I was really enjoying my time on the bike and passed loads of people and better still no one passed me (always a good sign that I was doing OK) then before I knew it my time was up and the 3-2-box count down boards came out, this is one of the time when you are out on track that incidents happen as you loose you concentration thinking about getting off the bike.

But I focused and kept pushing hard right until the pit entry white line. The team were ready and Jonny was chomping at the bit, another full tank of fuel and out he sped for his session. With me pushing hard I had passed a few riders and moved us up to 7th place right on the heels of 6th so now it was about being quick yet consistent.

Jonny was doing really well until he had done about 12 laps and he pitted out of sequence with a broken gear lever linkage.

Everyone rushed around and sorted the linkage and refuelled the bike however it was decided not to send Jonny out again but get me back on the bike to push hard to attempt to regain the time we had lost in the pits.

I threw my gear on and roared away down the pit lane.

By now the sun was right on the horizon, thank God I had the time to change my visor for a clear one but the sun was very bad totally blinding me out of turn two, seven and through the fast down hill kink, you just have to do the best you can until the sun drops below the horizon and as soon as it did after a few laps my time speeded up again.

Very quickly it went dark seemingly over about three laps and I was now in the total dark, there were some flood lights over the apex’s but there were so far away from the track the light was not much more than a glimmer on some corners, better than nothing however.

Once again I was really enjoying my time on the bike and had a couple a good battles with a few of the front running teams overtaking them and un-lapping ourselves, well at least getting a lap back.

We were sharing a garage with team Neate who were running in third place in the race and on target for winning the Championship, Steve Neate was out on the bike when I caught him up, I followed him for a few corners not wanting to upset the overall result but I then thought as I was lapping quicker I could get in front and maybe pull him along.

So I passed him and pushed on until I got the 3-2-box boards again. Mick was waiting for me and as I handed over I said the bike was great with no problems and just ‘go for it’ and off his shot for his session.

The team were buzzing as we were running in 7th and everything seemed like it was going so well, we had a 3 lap lead and the team behind us and on the same lap as the team in front of us so now it was important we just kept going. Then Mick pitted after only a few laps with the linkage broken again, 'breaking gear levers is normally my job' I joked with Alf but this time it was a quick fix and Mick was out again. But this short stop meant we had lost all the time I had pulled back in my session, and unless there was a disaster for the front runner teams this was were we were going to finish. Mick finished his session off and Jonny had instructions to 'bring it home'. Then as often happens with Endurance racing  two of the front running teams crashed out , thankfully without injury but out of the race so this moved us up into 5th place at the flag.

Everyone was so pleased we had made the end of the race and particularly please for Alf who puts so much time, money and effort into his racing.

 

Team Neate had a very dramatic last couple of laps as they had to pit for a 'splash and dash' ending up in second place enough through to take the overall Championship win, we couldn't be happier for John Neate who like Alf, had put so much effort into the year.

Massive thanks to everyone in the team because without everyone the simply wouldn't be a team, lets hope Alf can generate enough sponsorship and support for next years Series, I'm up for and hope we all get the chance to race together once more

Using two cameras we were able to record onboard video footage for the entire race...