John Rees, Keevil, April 27
Bike: Kawasaki ZXR400, Club: NG Road Racing Club
I needed to get away early to avoid being caught up in the mayhem. I knew that if I got caught up in the crowd, I'd be there for the duration. All I had to do was be decisive and rely on instinct...No not instinct...Years of conditioning in the drinking establishments of Yorkshire meant that my instincts were telling me that I had to stay in Leamington on Saturday night for my house mate Cherry's 30th Birthday party and get bolloxed. Thankfully I managed to buck the urge and tore myself away into the sanctuary of Rich and Cath's house for the night with a sole bottle of wine.
Phew! So thanks to this moment of weakness I arrived at the track feeling quite refreshed despite the early start and with no pissing about with the tent I could concentrate on essential bike preparation during the hour before my practice.
Once that was sorted I spent the 59 minutes left just generally bumming around chatting to Rich about all the new bits and bobs he'd had done to his bike and trying to remember what the circuit's like.
My practice came and I just rode around as usual, trying to learn the circuit again. What a terrible memory, it wasn't that long since I was last here practising and I still couldn't remember which gear to be in for the bends, braking markers, etc. The only bit of excitement was Rich nearly taking me off when he left his braking just that little bit too late, which unfortunately ended with him dropping his bike but luckily not damaging anything other than his wallet.
I finished the session thinking I need at least that time again to try to learn anything! Funny... I seem to remember thinking a similar thing just after leaving school.
For the first F400 race I was starting on the second to last row. No doubt about it, the lads I gauge my performances on at the moment are Rich Halford and Pete Mitchell. Alan Percival used be included in that list until he managed to blow me into the weeds – consistently.
Rich and Pete are both starting way up the field, but I'm confident that given Rich's form with his starts it won't be any advantage at all.
We all seem to get away okay, without any dramas and I manage a reasonable start going into the first bend in about my start position. We separate out and I end up in a brief scrap with Dave Bearcroft (the bloke I knocked off pre-season at Llandow) in his first race back from ahem... the incident. I eventually get the better of him after a few corners of trying to keep a 3ft minimum gap for fresh air in all directions between us at all times.
About mid race distance I can just see Rich and Pete at the end of the back straight as I'm coming onto it so I set about trying to catch them. Without success though, all I can do is very slowly close the gap and we cross the line with Pete 25th, Rich 26th and me 27th, but with half the straight between me and Rich.
It had been raining on and off all day, but in short showers and we'd been lucky so far. The second F400 race was no exception as we lined up on a perfectly dry grid.
I had Pete to my right and there was a gap in the row in front of us over towards the right of the circuit, so I nodded my intentions to him and he confirmed he had similar ideas, also using the typical bikers communication method of just nodding away.
We both got away okay, but shortly after the plan went slightly awry. One of the riders a few rows ahead must have stalled on the line, and we both saw him very late. I thought I could make out his trembling as we both blasted past either side of him with just millimetres to spare but thinking back he was probably just nodding his head furiously, obviously praying to some sort of biking god!
After the field settles out Rich comes past me (turns out he'd stalled it on the line as well!) and I catch Pete as he's dicing with another rider. Rich seems to get away as Pete is held up and manages to stretch out a bit of a lead. I manage to get past Pete as well with just a lap to go so I start nailing it to try to build up a bit of a lead, not looking behind at all.
Coming out of a mega slow hairpin in first gear before a right hander I go to knock it into second just before the bend and find neutral. I've got no choice but to coast around the bend then get it into gear at the other side.
I look over my shoulder after I've sorted it and was relieved to find Pete a safe way behind, I was expecting him to come hammering past on the exit. I stay ahead and we finish in 25th and 26th respectively, with Rich finishing 23rd, and Alan claiming more championship points with a 15th.
My favourite race now - the Novice 400, and it's all to play for with championship points up for grabs. I start from the back in this one and again it's not a start to set the world alight but pretty consistent.
I can eventually see Pete in my sights and he's having a battle with Dave Bearcroft, so I think I'll have a bit of that. Coming into the medium paced left hander before the extremely long back straight I'm within striking distance. The two of them are so close though, I decide not to try any out-braking but instead take a late apex getting on the gas early.
I just drive past them both! Something which would have never happened when I was riding the KR1s, and I'm feeling pretty smug as we head into the tight hairpin at the end of the straight. I'm as late on the brakes as I dare to make sure neither of them can get back past, when Pete comes sailing past me on the outside!
I can't believe it, he's made it stick and I have to keep a tight line around the bend as he's on the outside of me. Straight after is a right hander so it's my turn for the outside and I've got the phrase 'no way sonny' going round in my head as I keep it pinned with the closest I've ever come to some fairing bashing during a race.
I eventually cross the line just ahead of Pete. Seems silly really, all that effort just to finish 18th, but it is the sort of close racing that I love. Don't blame you for staying out of that one Dave. Didn't manage any championship points though, dropping me down to 12th in the Novice championship.
Overall a superb days racing, especially considering the weather forecast, which resulted in me regaining my confidence and getting used to the bike further. Still a little bit to go to get to last years best but just being able to race against some of the lads I was racing last year was a great laugh.
Many thanks to everyone on the day for their hospitality and to NGRRC for what was probably the smoothest run day yet I've had with the club.
Special thanks to Rich and Cath for putting us up on the Saturday and of course Nicola (you just need to knock a few seconds off the lap times now without telling me!).