After a busy week racing at the North West, I was invited by Harley-Davidson to be guest rider in the XR1200 Trophy at Thruxton – and I jumped at the chance.
Racing in front of a packed BSB audience on the UK’s fastest track? How could I turn it down? Here are a few highlights of my weekend and hopefully an insight into what goes on.
Sunday 29th May
Up at 4:30am to pack the borrowed BMW K1600GT for the long road-trip from my house in Yorkshire all the way down to Thruxton near Andover.
With race leathers in the top box, a change of clothes in the right pannier, and my girlfriend’s kit in the left and her on the back we were fully loaded. We left at 5.30ish yet arrived at the track just before 9am – not bad going!
I’m greeted in the paddock by the friendly Harley staff and Ian has the bike immaculately prepared. The race truck awning full of Harley-Davidson XR1200 race bikes is mighty impressive, too – if a little scary.
I catch up with regular riders from last year, among them ex-GP star Jeremy McWilliams, but we stand around chatting so much we nearly miss signing on!
We’re due out at 1pm and it comes around quickly. As I throw on my race leathers in the back of the Harley race truck I’ve not even had time for lunch.
My technicians have given me a basic setting and transferred the gear lever position to a race shift, but that’s about it. It’s a case of learning the bike and the track. It’s my first time at Thruxton.
I take it relatively steady, learning the lines and trying to control the big Harley. On the brakes the big XR is surprisingly good and ground clearance isn’t really an issue. But the more you fight it the more unstable it becomes. The key is to be gentle and light on the controls, the opposite, in fact, of how I normally ride.
The first session is red flagged after a huge crash involving Performance Bikes’ Kev Smith and Michael Booth. Turns out good mate Kev has broken his leg in a few places, which personally puts a downer on the event for me. I know racing is risky but you never want to see a mate in pain.
Qualifying takes place at 5:40, and turns out to be a nightmare for me, too. Maybe I was tired after the long ride and 4:30am start or distracted by Kev’s crash. The bike handled fine and I’ve no excuses but I still ended up second last, with a dreadful lap time.
Monday 30th May
After a full night’s sleep in a hotel and some much needed advice and guidance from McWilliams I feel way more positive ahead of the 10 minute warm up.
It was slightly damp with rain running along my visor but I went nearly a second quicker than I had done in qualifying – just shows what a good night’s sleep can do. The speed wobbles had vanished and I was enjoying riding the Harley: being smooth and short-shifting was the key.
Unfortunately the heavens then opened and we all had to switch to race wets. The conditions were a nightmare – more a case of survival than racing – but I got a great start and, as we tiptoed around on the first lap, I was actually enjoying it.
The Harley seemed to find plenty of grip on the exits, but we had softened the suspension way too much and it was weaving through the fast stuff. Still, it wasn’t too scary and despite getting soaked it was a laugh.
I was comfortably sitting behind the guys in front of me and thought about overtaking but it would have been risky and I was only there for one round so thought it best not to take out the regular championship contenders.
Despite the freezing conditions and rivers of water running through my leathers I enjoyed my time on the Harley. The XR handles a lot better than its bulk and size suggests.
Get well soon Kev and huge congratulations to James Webb who won. He came past me like I was going backwards and must have huge balls for going that quick in those conditions.
Keep an eye on the Harleys at the next round at Knockhill for some close and exciting racing.
If you fancy a go yourself and have got a National licence give Harley a shout, the can provide you with a bike, tyres, technicians, everything, for one round only if you wish with prices starting at £2500. Just turn up and ride. Big thanks to Harley UK for the opportunity, http://xr1200trophy.harley-davidson.co.uk/