Michael Neeves MRO Powerbike blog – Brands

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Wednesday 2nd March

I can’t believe the racing weekend starts as soon as Wednesday, but I have to clean the van and get it loaded up, so I can drive straight to Brands from work on Thursday night.

There’s so much stuff to pack: bike, wheels, tools, generator, stands, awning, spare wheels, tyres, chairs, microwave, cool box, food, riding kit, push bike, airbed, electric heaters, fuel cans, the list goes on…all for one person to ride one bike around a racetrack for the weekend.

Thursday 3rd March

Get to Brands in the evening and set up in the lower paddock. I’m not keen on the pit garages, you’re stuck there for the whole weekend, the wind blasts through them like a tunnel, you can’t see the action on-track and unless you’ve got a motorhome or caravan there’s nowhere to go and chill out.

I’ve got a new awning as a birthday present from the girlfriend, which is perfect. I’m sharing it with my brother Ben and his new R1, there’s loads of room and we can play our music nice and loud!

Spend a night sleeping in the van. There’s an icy wind and it’s freezing inside the van all night. It’s more a fridge on wheels than a Sprinter.

Friday 4th March

Thank god it’s dry. It’s flipping cold, though and I’m chilled to the bone after my night in the van. It’s practice day and it’ll be the first time on my BMW Park Lane S1000RR in the dry, with its new Ohlins TTX rear shock, 30mm fork internals and Dunlop slicks.

I’ve got the day to set it up, plus I’m instructing Bemsee rider, Jason Hocking in the afternoon.

The bike is a missile and the suspension is rock-hard. It’s hard to acclimatise after a winter riding relatively soft and friendly road bikes on the road and track.

My brain struggles to keep up with the speed and the grip from the slicks is phenomenal. I’m way off the pace, but it feels rapid. The first session is just a blur.

As the day progresses, I’m getting used to the speed and focus on changing the bike to suit me. Kais Performance have given me a base suspension setting and I don’t stray too far away from it, other than stiffening up the rear to deal with the immense grip of the slicks and adding more front preload to stop the forks from bottoming out. I’ve also pulled the forks through the yokes to help the bike turn sharper.

By the end of the day the bike is incredible. It steers perfectly, has loads of feel and grip. I’m beginning to figure out a way of riding through the corners, so I can use all its power on the straights.

If I rush through too fast I can’t get full throttle early enough, if I’m patient I can get the throttle to the stop in 4th and 5th along the straight.

The straight is actually a long undulating right curve, which taken flat-out is breath-taking. With the grandstand on the left and the pit wall on the right it’s like flying through a tunnel, but with the bike sliding, bucking, weaving and wheelying all the way to the blind Paddock Hill crest.

It’s like hitting the Hyperspace button and just writing that now gives me goose bumps.

My Bro is in the same boat as me and riding his bike for the first time in the dry today. He never jumps in feet-first like me, he starts steady and gets faster and faster.

He did the same last year on his old R1 and the little bugger ended-up showing me his wheel on more than one occasion.

Get the bike scrutineered, cleaned and I’m all done by 7pm. It’s dark now, so all there is to do is sit in the back of the van next to my electric heaters. The paddock is ghostly in the winter and there’s nothing to do, so it’s off to the airbed on the van floor by 9pm.

In the summer it’s a different story, with people having barbeques and generally larking around, but right now everyone has shut themselves away out of the cold.

Saturday 5th March

Two qualifying sessions and a race today in MRO Powerbikes. This is the day I’ve been looking forward to for the last six months. It’s the day I’ve been punishing myself for since the New Year.

I’ve trained and dieted hard for this moment and I’m fitter now at 41 than I was at 21. I can’t wait for it all to begin.

I’m trying a new battery-powered ‘MyChronLight Tg’ on-board lap timer this year from Aim. It couldn’t be easier to use, just strap it on to the bike and off you go.

It picks up the signal from a beacon provided, which you put out on the pit wall, or it reads the track’s beacon if there is one. You can set it to count down laps in a race, or time, for when you’re qualifying.

It’s always good to use a lap timer in qualifying. What feels fast is usually slow, so there’s nothing like a crappy time showing on the clock to kick you up the arse.

First qualifying session I’m fifth and the second I slip down to seventh, but will start the races on the second row of the grid, which is ok.

The Police are here and are checking engine and frame numbers – lots of bikes go missing over the course of the weekend and some of the grids get smaller.

I’m still tweaking the bike to suit me, the track and the tyres, I manage to finish third in the Saturday sprint race behind second placed Rob McNealy and winner Peter Baker, both on GSX-R1000s. Not a bad start.

Sunday 6th March

Two 12 lap races today and the nerves are in full force. Sundays are always more serious than Friday and Saturday. It’s just pure racing and no practice, but on top of that everyone is tired from being out in the cold for three days.

A bit of you is already starting to think about the job of packing up at the end of the day, driving home and unpacking again.

Lots of friends are here today, which adds to the pressure, especially as it’s so cold. I can’t understand why they would want to stand around freezing, but I’m chuffed to see everyone.

In the first race I get another third and nearly beat McNealy over the line for second. As it turned out it wouldn’t have counted anyway, as I jumped the start and got a 10 second penalty.

I have to turn the traction control off to start, or the bike bogs down. The only thing is remembering to put it back on again in the race. A huge slide going on to the straight on the third lap reminds me to switch it back on.

The second race I end up in fourth, beaten by a hard-riding Peter Woodall on his Blade. I’m happy with my results, given the lack of dry time in the saddle on the bike.

After all the months of waiting, Brands is over like a flash and I’m driving home in the van already. Just time to unpack and repack to fly out to Portimao and Sicily for the week for three MCN tests, which is where I should be now, as you read this.

Living the dream!


Big thanks to Bruce and Paul from BMW Park Lane, Dunlop, Kais Performance, Aim UK, Garnell Nutrition, Altamura, Locks Cycles, Ali, Ben, Paul Baker, Jimbo, Kerry and Gory B.