Rider: Richard Halford, Bike: Yamaha FZR400, Club: NG Road Racing
John and Nicola stayed at our place on the Saturday and we all left for the circuit at about 6.30am. When we arrived we found Pete Mitchell who had saved us a spot about as far away from scrutineering as you could get without actually having to have to pay to get back in. The paddock was packed.
Alan and Lesley had camped the night before. First time they hadn't stayed in a hotel and the first time this season its rained - unlucky. On the bright side they could almost see scrutineering from where they were, well, almost. Paul Lumb with his wife and baby arrived and parked up with us and we started getting set up.
I got kitted up and pushed the bike to scrutineering. It all passed okay but I struggled pushing it back and had to stop twice due to my shoulder playing me up. And I'm unfit and overweight. Cath couldn't help push either as her shoulder is still sore from where she fell off her CBR250 last weekend (gravel and locked front wheel, a thing that everyone does at some point).
Thanks to the bits I'd bought from BDK Racing and the work James Holland from JHS racing in Bristol had done setting the bike up on the dyno I was really looking forward to riding it. Darren Hill has also fitted me some new Dunlop D207rr's, so when I saw the forecast was for rain I was a bit nervous to say the least. I spoke to Nino and explained the situation and he kindly arranged it so I could have two practice sessions to get the tyres scrubbed in.
First Practice. Went out with Pete, Alan, and John and followed them down the start-finish straight then didn't see them again until they lapped me.
I was having real trouble finding markers. I was either braking too early or two late and every time I changed my marker I also adjusted the amount of effort I was applying to the lever. Not good. Finished the session without a clue and it made me realise just how helpful having Ian Wiltshires circuit notes for Thruxton had been.
Second Practice. Did the first lap fine, following Martin Wilson around. Me and Martin have had some good races and in the past I have been slightly better on the brakes so on the second lap I thought I'd use his braking as a marker for mine. Coming in to the hairpin before the start-finish straight I sailed past Martin on the brakes and saw John in front. Then John started drifting in to my path as he was readying to peel in. I wasn't close enough for him to see me but I was catching him pretty damned quick! I braked harder, harder, harder and just when I thought I couldn't miss him I gave it an extra squeeze and lost the front.
I must have skittled past within and inch of his rear tyre. Behind, Pete was convinced that I'd hit him. As I slid along on my ass all I was thinking was " Thank buggery I didn't hit him " . As I was going quite slowly by the time I fell off there was hardly any damage to the bike, I was fine but my helmet was knackered. I went straight to scrutineering where they passed the bike and I donated my helmet so they can use it for scrutineer training.
I hadn't packed a spare lid so it was off to A&R racing where they sold me an all black THH lid for £70. Looks like an Arai from a distance, I quite like it. Also got some new ear plugs made up by Green Leopard.
They put plado like stuff in your ears and you can have pretty much any colour you like. I struggle with most ear-plugs. They are okay in my right ear but fall out off my left ear when I pull my lid on. Anyway, £45 for made-to-measure ear plugs seemed like a good deal to me, I value my hearing at a lot more than that. I was amazed by the lack of response by the rest of the paddock and the admission that half of them don't wear ear-plugs at all. I reckon they're going to regret that in later years.
First Race. I made a typically awful start and nearly stalled. I got passed by virtually everyone but was soon behind Pete and John. I was supposed to be trying to learn the circuit, but I ended up just riding like an idiot. On the long back straight all three of us were matched for speed, no real differences at all. As my bike is running significantly better than it ever has before I'd hate to think where I'd be if it hadn't had it tweaked.
Eventually I got past John, which was hard work as he has a good defensive style in the bends, and then I managed to pass Pete. They were right behind me though but Pete couldn't overtake because my riding was so erratic he was afraid I'd have us both off.
He got beside me a few times and at the top hairpin we did a synchronised corner. Nice. On the last corner of the last lap, Pete got better drive and beat me to the line by about 6 inches. That’s the second time that’s happened to me this season so I think I'll start weaving about a bit now.
So that is Pete 25th, me 26th and John 27th. By the end of the race I had some breaking markers but not points to let off the brakes. I still wasn't sure on gears either, which is amusing in a 'bloody hell that was frightening' kind of way when you go down one to many. Oh, and Stephen Pearce who I was battling with at Thruxton finished 6th! Told you his bike was fast, and so is he come to that.
Brian came over for a chat and offered to lend me some tyre warmers (top bloke) so I took even more advantage of Pete’s hospitality and got him to fire up his genny.
Second Race. Rode down to the first corner on the warm up lap and couldn't believe the difference in feel that warm tyres make (although it might just be a head thing). I still didn't have my race head on though, I feel really different when I am with the game.
Anyway, starting on the 7th row (of 9), Nigel drops the flag and we're off. Well, actually everyone else is off, I stall. How happy am I to be at the back of the grid? I put my right arm up and look at Nigel who has his hands over his eyes. Then I remember the starter button, press it and take off, looking at Nigel and sharing relief that I'm okay as I pass him. Although he was probably thinking 'Tosser'.
Mind you, I found my race head. I took two laps to get gears and braking and turn in points sorted and then started passing people. Eventually caught Pete and John and got past (don't remember how) and then there was a big gap ahead to Ryan Hilligenn and Martin Wilson, so I spent the rest of the race getting my gears right and what have you. Much much happier.
I eventually finished the race 23rd, John 25th and Pete 26th and we were all quite happy with our race. I think John and Pete might have had a right scrap behind me, they were both beaming.
Last Race. I was on the second row, so stalling was not an option. I've had enough of this race start nonsense, it was hard enough when I had the Exup valve fitted. Now I've got bugger all torque at low revs and as I stuff the start every time when I try hard it does more bad than good. So, I decide that I'll just pull away like I do in the paddock and then try and get the power on once I'm moving. Would you believe it, I arrive at the first corner around 12th, not bad. In fact, for me, really rather bloody good.
Once I'm moving I'm okay, so I crack on and don't seem to be being passed that much. I get past a couple of other riders due to them going grass-tracking and what have you and then Paul Lumb comes past me on the long straight. I hope he's running short gearing and he'll run out of puff because he's pulling away, but he's just fast. I stay with him until we get to the long straight again and then he's pulling away. I can't believe that I was dicing with him at Thruxton and again I can't imagine how much of a disadvantage I'd have been at if I hadn't had any work done on the bike. It is so much faster and more responsive now than before, even with a totally stock motor.
On the last lap as I head down the start finish straight I see oil flags on the corner. And I see them in plenty of time to think about it and I decide its been a good day, lets not spoil it. So I slowly ride the corner, gently pick up the bike and get the gas on and three bikes pass me. Bugger. If I wanted to finish in front of them I needed to get onto this long straight fast to stay in front, so now there's no way I can catch them. I get onto the back of them by the hairpin before the start-finish straight, but its not enough. I wasn't too bothered as I would rather stay on than risk it on a slippery surface. On the other hand, it wasn't slippery and I was running 13th and in the points and I finished 16th and with nowt. Arse.
It was good to see in the races that there’s no real difference between me, John, Pete, and Alan in terms of straight line speed. The bikes all make different power but me and Pete are quite big and Alan and John are a fair bit lighter. Anyway it means whoever goes fastest is doing it because of them and not the bike. So huge respect to Alan then for finishing 7th and for having a fastest lap a full 4 seconds quicker than mine. Just proves the point that I don't need more horses I just need to use the horses I've got better. John now seems to be back on the pace and we have been joined by Pete in our personal championship battle. Loving it.
Thats it for me with NG for a while. The next meeting is at Darley Moor at the end of June but as its a week before our wedding I won't be racing. I will be there watching though. I also miss the NG Donington round as we'll be on our honeymoon in Mexico, but my bike will be there as Darren Hill is going to race it. It was a bit sad after the day was over cause it will be a while before me and Cath get to spend time with everyone again and we really enjoy the atmosphere of the paddock. Its a really friendly place.
So that was Keevil. Big thanks goes out to all the NG bods and the marshals for such a well run day, particularly Nino for letting me out for two practices and for keeping it dry. Also to Pete for the hospitality and to everyone for the great company (and Brian for the warmers). Biggest thanks goes to James Holland for the dyno work he did. If he hadn't made my bike so quick in a straight line then I'd have been knackered, cause I was frigging useless in the corners!