Michael Neeves – MRO Powerbike blog: Rain, crashes and Bemsee Rookie racers.

A soggy Brands Hatch
Since it’s been resurfaced, Brands is super-slippery in the wet and now almost as bad as Donington when the heavens open.

The Kent track used to be really grippy and you could set lap times close to your dry pace and get a serious lean-on (check out the picture of my old R1 at Brands, taken a few years ago), but not now.

At the Focused Events trackday I did on Friday, every one of the sessions was red-flagged becuse of crashes. It was carnage. Sunday’s Bemsee Rookie day also saw its fair share of fallers, but more about that later.

Baptism of fire
I’ve been lucky enough to have done lots of track riding over the winter. I’ve been on the new RSV4 SE at Jerez, GSX-R600 at Almeria, GSX-R750 at Monte Blanco, 848 Evo in Siracusa, all the 1000s back at Almeria and a GSX-R750 instructor’s bike at Racedays in Jerez.

They’ve all been road bikes and you get used to their feel around a track, from their street-based tyres and supple suspension set-up, to their long gearing.

To be honest, riding my BMW Park Lane S1000RR for the first time at Brands on Friday was a shock to the system, especially on a wet track. Everything is so raw and direct on a race bike, its sensory overload and a little frightening, if I’m honest.

The suspension is stiff, the bike is light and the power is insane. Park Lane fitted an Interceptor fuel control unit over the winter and it now makes even more power than last year – a staggering 193bhp at the rear wheel.

I used the ‘Sport’ riding mode for the conditions, which gives a softer throttle response, lots of traction control and ABS. It was really nice to have the electronic riding aids and judging by the dash lighting up like a Christmas tree various times a lap, they were working hard for their money.

Fortunately, I went home with the bike in one piece, unlike a lot of the unlucky riders on the day.

Tyres and suspension…
…these are the two main differences to my S1000RR to last year. I didn’t get to try the new Ohlins set-up in anger because of the conditions at Brands.

What was impressive was any changes we made, no matter how small, you could really feel, which was a good sign, but I could never get the bike feeling soft enough to give me lots of confidence in the slippery conditions.

I think it’s more to do with the relatively soft road bikes I’ve been more used to lately, so I need to get used to a race bike again.

I got to run my Dunlop wets for the first time and they are exactly as I remember them: brilliant! As long as I was upright, I could accelerate and brake as hard as would normally do in the dry.

The BMW would even wheelie along the Cooper Straight in third gear, such is the grip of the rubber, which was weird with rain streaming down my visor. It goes against everything you think is possible, being able to give a bike that much stuck in such slippery conditions.

Bemsee Rookie training day.
Bemsee saw an incredible 85 new riders going for their ACU licence at the weekend. What credit crunch?

Along with a number of other regular riders from the club, I helped out training some of the Rookies on Sunday: Ben Murphy, Martin Janz, Michael Clarke and Rian Hamilton.

Unfortunately Rian broke his arm last week, so couldn’t ride, but the other guys are all doing the Rookie 600 championship this year. The conditions caught Ben and Michael out, but apart from their bikes now needing a bit of a spit and polish, they’re ok.

It was good fun splashing around with the enthusiastic Rookies and see them at the beginning of their steep racing learning curve. I also got to spend more time on the Beemer, which was good as it’s now starting to feel like mine again.

It really bucketed down at the end of the day and strangely the track was grippier in the sopping wet than it was in the damp.

Good luck to all the new racers this year!

BMW Park Lane
BMW Park Lane has been so inspired by the success of the S1000RR, they’re getting more involved in with racing and formed a division called BMW Park Lane Motorsport.

As well as running me in MRO, Stef Cappella in National Superstock, they’re busy building customer S1000RRs for various different championships and selling spares and parts to racers – everything from fairings to rearsets to exhausts.

They will also be at every BSB meeting and most MRO rounds with a service and parts back-up, so if anything goes wrong with your S1000RR, they’re on hand to assist from a technical standpoint and have a truck-full of spares, from levers to engines and electronics back-up.

All advice is free and labour rates are heavily subsidised, should you need them.

They’ll also be at five Focused Events trackdays this summer, hosting BMW customer days, where you can also try my ‘sister’ race bike, in full superstock spec, painted up in the same colours.

Contact: www.bmwmotorradparklane.co.uk, for more details.
My next outing is the first race of the MRO Powerbike season at Brands on 4/5th March. We made a quick video in the rain on Friday, so keep a look out for that.