ICGP and European Classic Endurance
Donington Park 5th / 6th May 2017

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Donington was going to be busy busy for me, it was round one of the Classic 4Hr Endurance Championship and second round of the ICGP, so two bikes to ride in a very tight schedule.

Both teams were happy enough for me to ride each otherís bikes as long as it didnít directly effect any qualifying or racing.

We got to Donington on the Friday afternoon and met up with both teams, Eddie and team TBR were all setup in paddock two near the hospitality units. The bike as always was looking mint, he and Ally had been working hard since Paul Ricard and fitted new fairings, new engine to try and a new instrument display with change up lights. Alfís Motorcycles team and all the other Endurance teams were not allowed in until the car trackday people had vacated the garages at 18:00, then it was like a scene from the Charge of the Light Brigade, cars, vans, trucks all queuing , pushing and shoving to gain advantage to the garages.

Action photos: Pete Morris

The irony is they are all pre allocated so there isnít much point in panicking too much. When they did get in and we unloaded the van the bikes had a new colour scheme and looked the business, it didnít take long to get the garage and pit wall set up ready for practice and we then all went back to the hotel for the evening.

 

There was no action on Friday so Saturday was going to have all free practice and qualifying for both classes, first up was the ICGP. It was cold, wet and windy in the morning and the ICGP free practice was 10:00 the weather was due to clear up later in the day so I thought better of it and parked the bike until qualifying later in the day. The free practice for the Endurance bike was a 40 minute session that all three riders had to play with, both Mick and John hadnít done much riding this year and the conditions although better werenít great so I decided to let them have it all to themselves and Iíd just go out in the first qualifying session as I was rider one.

The second ICGP race was scheduled just before the start of the Endurance race so I wouldnít be running across the track on Sunday - Jonny had that honour then Mickman giving me a breather before I jumped on.

However we still had to qualify the bike, everyone has their own session then times are added up and divided to give a mean time.  Me out first on the race bike, no tyre warmers so a few steady laps to get some heat in the tyres but there was still the odd damp patch off line and it was still cold but I felt confident and soon got going and the times started to come down and down. The biggest problem was traffic, there were lots of entries and new classes using stock 600's and the speed differential was enormous. I came in after about 12 laps feeling good, the bike was near perfect and apart from a possible gearing change I said to leave it alone. I managed to get into the 1:16s and was quickest so that was a good starting point for our qualifying.

Then came the first qualifying session for the ICGP machine, the bike was basically the same as I raced it at Paul Ricard apart from a gearing change recommended by Lea Gourlay and it went really well. Apart from going into the Old Hairpin and McLeans the front would patter on a closing throttle which would upset my corner entry speed.

 

There wasnít much chance to come in to the pits during the session and it was still good but I felt we could improve, the good news I was quickest anyway on a provisional pole position.

The Endurance qualifying continued later in the afternoon first with Mickman who rode really well and was second quickest, then Jonny bombed round to be quickest in his session.

So it didn't take a rocket scientist to work out we were on pole for the start.

 

Alf and the team were jubilant particularly as we ended up leaving the gearing alone so there was virtually nothing to do other than prep the bike ready for morning warm up and the race in the morning.

The last thing of the day was the second qualifying session for the ICGP, the sun had been out in the afternoon but now approaching 18:00 is was getting cold again so we put an extra strip of tape on the radiator to keep the engine temperature up and I went out again.

 

We had made a few minor tweaks to the suspension and it did seem to help but I was now getting the odd slide in the faster section of the circuit.

 

I kept an eye on my pit board and I went slightly faster but noticed I was second quickest, Phil Atkinson was on the case.

I pushed a bit harder and saw P1 on my board so signalled to come in.

 However for whatever reason going down Hollywood towards Craner curves the rear tyre slid, I thought I had saved it but a second slide this time a massive one soon high sided over the bars and crashing to the ground.

I hadnít crashed for ages so it took me by surprised to say the least. After tumbling for what seem ages, catching and getting caught up with the bike I finally stopped.

I was winded and laid there for a while working out which bit hurt most, I was short of breath after landing on my back so thought Iíd be better off getting to the barrier out of harms way.

 

I started to crawl on my hands and knees but looking up it was over 50 meters away so decided to wait for the doctors car as the practice by now had been stopped.

They quickly bundled me into the back of the doctors car and got me into the medical centre where I was pronounced fit to ride but with a suspected broken little finger, not bad after getting off at around 120mph I thought.

Phil went slightly quicker after the restarted session so I ended up in second place in the middle of the front row for race one on Sunday.

Both teams asked was I OK, I was really but I was putting on a brave face as I was feeling slightly second hand at this point, so making my apologies and popping in to see what I could do back at team TBR we sloped off back to the hotel. Eddie and Ally were already on top of the job stripping down the bike. Unfortunately it had ingested some debris so Eddie decided to drop in the spare engine, the rest of the bike was remarkably undamaged considering where I had gone down, normally bikes there come back in carrier bags. A fairing, screen, master cylinder reservoir, exhaust and foot peg and she was looking smart by morning.

 

The next day the ICGP races came first and early too, 9:35 out on track however the weather had gone slightly warmer so we pulled off one strip of tape from the radiator. Warming the bike up again and green flag off we roared on to our warm up lap. Back to the line red lights on, engine revs up, lights out and I stalled the motor!

Not the best place to be with a dead engine on the front row, riders from behind don't expect it and there has been some horrendous crashes at the start, I put my hand up as high as I could, put my leg in front of the footpegs to protect my legs if some did hit me and prayed.

Thankfully my prays were answered and everyone missed me, then jumping off the bike a push started but the motor was all gassed up and even though it started it wouldn't pick up cleanly, it took all the way down to the end of the pit lane before it cleared and by then everyone including the tailend guys had disappeared down Craner.

Not trying to panic I settled in to the lap and thought this is now a damage limitation race, there was no way I was going to catch the leaders so got my head down and ticked off the laps. I caught the first riders by the start of the second lap but the field was already spread out and to make matters worst there was yellow flags all the way down Craner and up to Schwantz which meant I had to potter along following riders all through this section for a couple of laps. I saw my pit board showing my progress through the field in the 11 laps I had to salvage something from the race, and with a couple of laps to go I was in P6 and could see a few riders in front. I now pushed hard passing them and crossed the line to take the chequered flag in third place with George Hogton-Rusling in second and Phil taking the win, the better news was Phil wasn't in the Championship so I had in fact grabbed second place points. Eddie and George back at team TBR were chuffed and quite relieved with the result, it could have gone better but also so very much worse.

There was a break before the second race so I reviewed the footage from the start to figure out what went wrong, on review it was simple I wasnít holding the revs high enough. The one thing for sure I was going to rev the spuds of it for the second race start as I never want to be in that position again.

 

The sun was out now and the temperature had come up so everyone was looking forward to a better race, the second race for some reason was almost double the length at 20 laps which is along time on the bike, well a TZ anyway. Lights out this time with the tacho needle buried in the red and we all screamed down to Redgate for the first time. Phil got the hole short with George sat on his tail and me riding shot gun, as the race was a long one I think everyone had decided to settle down for a few laps and then push on but no one told George who was ridding like a demon getting inn front of Phil down Craner and setting off like a rocket.

We hung on and quickly the three of us pulled clear of the pack, then on about lap four I saw something drop off Phils bike and then it pored out smoke for a few second, it looked like the remote reservoir from the rear shock.

I thought this is not going to end well but I couldnít do anything about it at this point so dropped back a little as I thought he would end up crashing and I didnít want to get caught up in it.

However, the smoke stopped and he didn't seem to slow down so I pushed hard and got back onto the rear of the duelling pair. But things werenít right George seemed to slow a little and occasionally Phil did to so the three of us ended up swapped places, then I saw the odd puff of smoke from Phil's bike again.

Now I could see the reservoir against the rear wheel, I got alongside him down the start finish straight and was going to get in front and attempt to let me know by pointing down but he out braked me into Redgate. I couldn't and to a point didn't want to get near him as he could crash at anytime, George had by now dropped right back with mechanical issues so I just followed Phil for the rest of the lap.

Going down the back straight the was a huge puff of smoke from his bike and when he turned into the chicane he had a massive high side, he ended up laying in the track and I knew they would stop the race which they did.

As he was in the track we were held for some time at the entry to the chicane while the ambulance attended to Phil, while we waited I asked the riders were they happy to call it a day and everyone said 'yes' but the marshals said we had to reform on the grid and have a five lap fresh race, but once we formed on the grid again the consensus of opinion was we should not race so the clerk of the course made a decision and called it a result.

As we had had not done three quarters of the race it would only be half points but at least I had the highest amount of points.

 

Although it looked serious for Phil it turned out he had dislocated his shoulder thankfully not too serious, it was a relief because it never a good thing to see.

 

 Now it was time for the Endurance race, the sighting lap and start procedure had started by the time I got to the garage so I just went out onto the start line to wish Jonny good luck and have a quick chat with some of my other Endurance racer family.

The practice start went well but in the real start the bike didnít start up well so Jonny had his work cut out as he came through for the first time in the middle of the pack. He rode a blinder and just before he pitted to hand over to Mick he had got up to forth place.

 Mick was ready and after the fuel went in he was off for his session. All was going well until about seven laps in, Mick seemed to have settled down and was lapping quickly but then crashed at Redgate. We could see the bike being recovered to the side of the barrier so I shot off down on the scooter to see how much damage there was. Mick was very disappointed but fine and the bike wasnít too bad either. The main components were intact including the front brake master cylinder, but it took about another 10 minutes to get the bike back to the garage so we could start the rebuild. The team pulled together like a well oiled machine with everyone branching off with individual repairs, engine fired up and sounded good, brakes intact, silencer dented but still there it was just the fuel tank that was the issues as the fuel lines had been torn off.

 Less then ten minutes later I was rolling down the pit line for my session, I was going to do a couple of test laps and if all was OK I would stay out and push hard to see what we could do. Amazingly the bike felt good, we had to change wheels so the tyres were cold and after a few small slides and laps I got my finger out and started putting laps together. The traffic was hideous the closure speed on some riders was ridiculous and I had to use all of my experience to second guess where riders would be and going before I got to them. Most of the time it worked out well enough however there was also the odd extremely close pass and I do apologise to some riders I must of made them jump out of their skins time to time

 

We were dead last by several laps but by the time I pitted we had come up to twenty seventh place and set the fastest lap of the weekend in doing so.

Jonny was ready for me and another super swap over and he roared away for his session, then he pushed on and we climbed a few more place before he pitted and Mick was ready to take over. However Alf heard the motor and didnít like what he heard, he is very quick at picking up the smaller detail others did hear or see, quick check of the oil and starting the motor again and it was puffing out a little smoke, not too much of an issue but the bottom end sounded like a an engine speed rumble it wasnít going any further, there was no point really as we were still so far back we would still have to push hard right to the flag to get anything points wise and the motor wouldnít have done it.

 If we were at the front we could possibly eased right off and cruised round to hopefully grab some points to it wasnít to be. Lady luck just wasnít with us again but both Phase one bike failed and Team Force were out too so at least we werenít on our own.

Alf and the team were obviously disappointed with the result but as I said to Alf he had I thought the best bike out there and starting from a dissevered pole it was clear to everyone we had it too.

Round two of the Endurance is a Spa on the 30th June and round three of the ICGP at Sachsenring on the 17/18th June. See you there.