European Classic Endurance
Spa Francorchamps 1st July 2017

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Everyone was looking forward to the Spa round of the Classic Endurance as Spa is such a magnificent circuit and just about everyone’s favourite too.

 

The race was to be held on Saturday evening starting at 20:00 finishing at 00:00 meaning at least half of the race should be in the dark or more if the weather was poor and the forecast wasn't good.

 

Friday was going to be busy with both qualifying sessions for all three riders and the night practice too making it a long day at the office. We arrived there late Thursday afternoon walking into the garage to find the pit box set up and more or less ready for action.

The bikes were ready to go to scruteneering but need the relevant paperwork that the riders had to collect when they signed on.

 

Clothing too had to be checked then signing on and collecting our coloured arm band dictating which rider group we were in. I was down as rider one, Mick Godfrey was rider two with Jonny Barton third rider. This doesn't mean you have to start the race or run in this order it just helps to identify the riders.

 

Friday was cold and threatening rain however for my first session it started slightly damp but dried out by the end of the session, I was a little curious cautious and as a result was disappointed with my times when I returned to the pits.

I was also struggling picking up the pit board on the wall as it was well into the braking area making it tricky to eyeball in this zone.

 

Mick and Jonny had their turns and we were in the top ten on the provisional pole so I was hoping the weather would hold for our next qualifying sessions. Thankfully it did and I pulled my finger out and posted the second quickest time and when Mick and Jonny did theirs we ended 4th on the start grid for the race.

 

We then had to sit around and wait for the sun to go down to do our night session but we weren’t looking forward to it as it had rained late in the afternoon and it wouldn’t be dry by the time we were due to get out.

 

Normally you get a 45-60 minute session for all three riders to go out and do their minimum of three laps, however this time we had separate 20 minute sessions.

I was quite pleased as I was rider one so I was first out but Jonny had his lip out as it would be 23:30 before Jonny did his session, but we hung around anyway to give him support. I found the lights set up too high and reported it to Alf, as I had been stuck out with the pace car and used most of my time up. I was pleased with my pace and was quickest in the slippy conditions by almost 3 seconds!

The riders meeting was 10:00 the next day with our warm up session at 18:30 so the three riders and Rupert acting manager all trotted off to the meeting. These rider meeting can be very drole and protracted as they are normally done in French, German and English so everything spoken had to be translated but thankfully it was decided to just do French and English making it a much shorter affair.

There were the normal daft questions at the end which if the people were awake they would have heard the explanation during the meeting so you can imagine there was an amount of tutting as they were asked. It finally ended with a stampede through the door.

It had been raining all day and by the time our warm up session came around we all didn't want to go out, normally we wouldn't but the transponder was playing up so I drew the short straw and had to plod round to check it worked, the pace car came out again and added to the misery. We hadn't tested the Avon tyres which normally would be the best option in these conditions and I was disappointed at the lack of grip so I tried the Continental option and that didn’t seem any better.

I had to make a judgment call and I went for the Avons as I had more experience of them in the wet.

There was only another 30 minutes before the start procedure commenced with the pit lane opening for 3 minutes to get out and round to the start line.

 

Jonny said he would hold the bike for me so off I went to do the sighting lap. The conditions were awful and after the practice start we formed at the line again. The clock ticked round and at 20:00 the Belgium flag dropped and we all roared away into La Source for the first time.

 

I made a great start and was up behind the leaded on the run down the hill to Eau Rouge, passing him down the long straight after Radion.

I could hear the pack on my heels so pushed as hard as possible but it was so easy to fall off as the bike was constantly sliding around. I lead over the line for the first time and just kept on going opening up a reasonable lead before pitting after my countdown board came out.

Unfortunately I hit terrible traffic on my last lap and Team Neate closed up pitting at the same time.

 

Jonny was going out next and set off after the Neate machine we held onto the lead for a while then lost a bit of time in the pits putting some oil in the bike and then Mick got out for his session.

When he pitted we had dropped to a close fifth place. I knew I had to push and rode as hard as I could pulling us back up to  second place when I handed over to Jonny again. As Jonny's session was almost over there was a huge crash at the end of the main straight from Radion, one bike had gone down after blowing up and the next 4 bikes crashed on it's oil. There was bikes and debris all over the track so the pace cars came out. It was clear there was going to be a long delay which wasn’t going to help us as we needed clear track to close the gap. Rupert made the decision to send me out again to push to the flag and get us back into a rostrum position.

However each rider is only allowed to ride for a maximum of 45 minutes and Jonny's time was almost up so he had to pit while the pace car was still out. Normally you would never do this as you loose so much time waiting for the second car to come around but we had no option. I went out with 42 minutes to run but the pace car stayed out for another 15 minutes. It was clear from the crash scene they were struggling to make the track safe and eventually put the red flags and lights on ending the race. With the timing of the pace car and our forced pit stop we ended up in 6th place. Great to finish but disappointing not to get the position we thought we deserved. Alf and the team looked generally relieved as it had been the first finish for some time due to various issues.

I was glad too as I was really struggling with the grip but I guess it was the same for everyone.

 

Next round Imola. Ciao.