International Classic Grand Prix
Paul Ricard 15th / 16th April 2017

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Photo: Morgan Mathurin

Having been out at the Goodwood Members Meeting a few weeks before on the TBR350 (Team Beale-Roberts 350 and coming away with our first win of the season, I felt confident about the bike here at Paul Ricard for round one of the ICGP.

I have ridden with the series a few years ago and know the circuit well so I was very confident about coming away with a reasonable result, however these old 350s no matter how much time and money you spend on them you still have to have lady luck riding with you, reliability is always an issue.

There was a free practice in Friday morning with Q1 later in the day, Saturday Q2 mid morning with race one late in the afternoon, then Sunday no warm up and race two early in the afternoon.

As it turned out we arrived at the circuit late afternoon on the Thursday to meet up with the team of Eddie and George who had driven the motor home and bike down.

They were super organised and we completely setup with a great spec in the paddock on arrival, had flow down as I needed to get back home for the Monday so there was no way I could have driven even if I wanted to.

The bike was up on the bench ready for me to sit onboard to set the bars, levers, pegs etc all of which had been changed from the Goodwood machine. The bike looked beautiful and after a quick sitting for set up we decided to get an early night ready for free practice the following morning.

The technical staff came round and scrutineered the bike and clothing in the awning (a nice change) and once warmed up we all wobbled out for our free practice. Right away there was a problem with the tacho display, it was a digital unit which should have given me RPM, exhaust and water temp and lap times however the only thing that seemed anything like correct was the lap time.

Both RPM reading and temperature where wildly wide of the mark and with the engine having a certain operating range it was easy to end up over revving the motor and loosing out a lot of top speed as a result. I was really finding a good rhythm and after about 8 laps plug chopped the bike to make sure we could check the reading that we had gone the right way with the jetting.

 

The times however looked good but with only hand held timing available for now it was unclear who was quickest but listening to other riders we were much quicker than anyone else. The handling, carburetion seemed good but the power was slightly flat at high RPM.

For our first qualifying session in the afternoon the temperature had risen so we decided to weaken off the carburetion to help the bike rev at the higher RPM.

The suspension felt good at this point so I thought it better to leave it be for the moment.

I stayed out for about six laps and felt good but exciting the chicane on the back straight the bike lost power and felt like it had lost a cylinder, not like a seizure but not good so I clutched the bike and rolled over to the barrier and waited for the recovery transport.

It turned out just to be a plug cap had jumped off so an easy fix.

The times to were very quick with a 1:27'4 which was almost 4 seconds faster than the entire field which at first made us doubt Eddie's stop watch but when the time sheet came out there was no arguing about it!

The tacho was playing up and I felt that the bike was still a bit flat at the top end RPM but as the tacho was all 'purple-monkey-dishwasher' I couldn't be 100% sure what I was revving it to and if I was over revving it I was loosing out not just on acceleration but top speed too.

 

Eddie and George seemed over the moon and to be honest I was quite chuffed even if the bike wasn't working exactly as I wanted.

 

The only major issues were the front wheel was touching the radiator and had in fact rubbed through one of the vanes causing a small water leak, George sprang into action and effected a temporary repair.

 Then we had to figure out how to stop it happening again, so we dropped the forks through the yokes as much as we could and stuck on to the radiator a small section of plastic to act as a slide plate for the wheel if it touched again.

The tacho still wasn't working even after we had reset it with help from the instruction manual but still no joy so we borrowed a new Scitsu tacho from Lea Gourlay, and after a lot of fiddling around fitting a water temperature gauge we were all ready for our second qualifying session on Saturday morning.

Q2 went very well and the bike now fitted with a working tacho I could more accurately work out when to change gear and the times reflected the improvement with a blistering 1:25'7 even though everyone else had improved their times too I was still over 3 seconds quicker than the rest of the field.

Race one soon came around in the afternoon but now the temperature was really hot so we took off a little tape from the radiator to aid cooling and left all the settings as we ran the bike in Q2.

I got a good start leading into turn one then leading the field up onto the back straight before the red lights came out as a rider had high sided at the first chicane, we rolled back to the pit lane then given just a sighting lap before a slightly reduced distance restart.

A great start again with George Hogton-Rusling hot on my heals for the first couple of laps until his top hose popped off pouring water onto the back wheel and bringing him off luckily without injury.

 

But even after only three laps I was over 7 seconds clear of second place Ian Simpson having a battle with Jean Paul Lecointe so I just pressed on to take the win again after the red flags came out on the last lap.

 

Over night the local mountain winds got up and even thought still warm and very sunny the conditions were far from perfect.

We discussed changing the gearing due to the wind as we didn't want to over rev it down the back straight, it was near perfect for race one but changing the gearing now would effect the bike in some of the corners and without testing I thought it too risky and we stick with our original settings.

There was almost a jump start in race two as the starter held everyone for ages on the red lights and several riders ended up creeping forward crossing their start box, including me.

 

We rolled back and this time it was a clean start but in the back of my mind I thought if they have penalised me for moving with a time penalty I better get my finger out and open a decent lead to help if any penalty was imposed.

A great start again this time Simmo had a better race and was pushing me so I couldn't relax.The wind was indeed proving difficult and on some of the long fast corners the wind was getting under the bike causing me to run wide, the result I ended up lapping much slower in this race.

Thankfully I pulled steadily away from Ian and built a 10 second lead taking a second win and also there was no time penalty…

Both Eddie and George were chuffed with the result so for me it was mission accomplished, Pole position, two wins and a new lap record.

A great start to the season but I have no illusions that its going to be easy, yes we had a good result here but a Championship is about building a points lead and keeping it going constantly climbing onto the rostrum.

 

See you at Round two Donington Park on May 5-6th.