OK, nothing automotive or motorsport related in this post I’m afraid. A simple plug. Most readers will already have been nagged but I’m not going to apologise
I don’t think I’ve ever done anything for charity before but when my friend’s daughter died last year and he said he was going to do a charity bike ride to raise funds for the local cancer care centre I said I’d join him.
Jenny was 23 when she died, we’d known her since she was small, she’d been in school with our kids. She lived for 12 months after her cancer was diagnosed and I know the last few weeks were particularly harrowing for Rob and Kez, her parents.
So next Wednesday I’m flying out to Paris with Rob, Jenny’s brother Sam and a bunch of others who knew Jenny to cycle back from Paris to Swansea. Thursday we ride from the Champs-Élysées to Val de Reuil then on to Caen. We get the ferry overnight then ride from Portsmouth to Bristol on Saturday, heading back to Swansea on Sunday. It’s about 85 miles a day which isn’t the furthest I’ve ridden in a day by a long chalk but doing it 4 days consecutively will be fairly hard work. There are only a couple of us in the team who have doing any ‘proper’ cycling before, most of the guys have bought their bikes specifically for the ride. They’ve done variable amounts of training it has to be said, some are now pretty fit while I suspect others will struggle!
I’ve personally contributed the cost of the trip so any donations will be going straight to the charity, Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre who gave great support to Jenny and her family. We’re a team of 17 doing the ride and we’ve managed to reach our target of £24,000 but every additional donation will help. We’re using the BT MyDonate website as they don’t take any commission from donations, just the charges made by the credit card. So if you feel inclined to contribute please visit our BT MyDonate page, even if it’s only a small contribution.
On Monday evening I had a little trip over to Bristol after work to collect the upgrade engine. It was supplied by a breaker called KDM who turned out to be a nice pair of guys in a farm on the outskirts of Bristol. They showed me the frame the engine had just come out of – immaculate apart from a very small ding just below where the tank would be. This had prompted the insurance company to write the bike off; the owner must have been gutted. Anyway, the engine looked lovely and was complete with exhaust headers, airbox, loom with all the associated gubbins, exhaust power valve motor, dash etc. The swap will have to wait till the end of the season as although the engine mounts are supposed to be the same I’ll need to do quite a bit of work on the loom and because the newer model has secondary injectors the airbox is taller so that will need some work, probably including modifying the rear bodywork.
It’ll be interesting to see how much difference it makes, Kawasaki claim 188bhp versus 175 for the model I currently have in there.
The only other work on the car prior to the trip to North Wales was to deglaze the brake pads. I hadn’t touched them since fitting them at Silverstone and the braking had quite noticably deteriorated especially when cold. I then hopped in the car to take it to the filling station and got to the end of the drive having forgotten I’d pushed the brake caliper pistons back. That got my attention but fortunately a couple of pumps and I managed to stop in time. After working them a few times to re-bed them in the brakes were much better.
Anyway, on to the race weekend … this is a long one so bear with me and get your popcorn ready.
So off I trotted on Thursday evening after work electing to take the scenic route via Aberystwyth and Porthmadog up to Anglesey. It was slow going and having averaged a speedy 37mph it was all going swimmingly well till the motorhome broke. A misfire followed by loss of power and loads of black smoke from the exhaust stopped me in my tracks, or rather in a forest track at the side of the road. I was in the middle of nowhere and was delighted to find I had no mobile signal at all. So I got the bike off its rack and cycled a mile and a half back down the road to the last house I’d passed and borrowed their phone to ring the breakdown company. They said their chap would be with me in about three quarters of an hour at 9:35.
The lady in the house thought I might get a signal at the top of the next hill after where I’d stopped so I cycled back to the motorhome then carried on about 2 miles to the top of said hill and did indeed get a signal. I managed to let Jen know what had happened and gave Austen a ring as he was saving me a space in the paddock. By now I’d lost about a pint of blood to the midges and it was uncomfortably dark to be cycling round the place with no lights so I waited for the breakdown truck.
He arrived and had a poke around for nearly an hour concluding that he suspected it was the turbo and he couldn’t fix it. He then drove off to get a signal for his phone to call a recovery truck. An hour later he came back saying I didn’t have recovery included in my insurance and I needed to go with him to get a signal to pay an additional £280 over the phone. When I got through this turned out not to be the case and they agreed I did have cover. But there was no driver available who could do the mileage required – an hour and a half to get to me, 4 hours to Swansea then back again. So they said they’d have someone there at 5am. Meanwhile back at Camp Anglesey the resident Transit experts reckoned it might just be an intercooler hose popped off. My recovery guy was sceptical but we looked when we got back and confirmed that it wasn’t so simple as that. Back to plan A. By now gone 1am.
So after laying awake for ages trying to decide whether to get recovered to home (and then trek back up in the Audi) or to get taken to Anglesey I decided on the latter as (a) it would mean I wouldn’t miss any testing or racing and (b) I reckoned there was a good chance of someone in the paddock having the expertise to fix it. So I arrived at the circuit in the recovery truck at about 7:40 and set up camp with Austen as planned. I’d probably slept less than 2 hours and was feeling pretty frazzled but tried to put the woes behind me and concentrate on the testing.
The first qualy session was pretty uneventful. I was determined to progress a bit this weekend after the constructive day with Tim Gray at Donington and managed to get to within 2/10 of my previous fastest time in the Fury. The second session I got just within my previous fastest despite it being cut pretty short when we were red flagged first because of a spinner I think the second time when poor old Tim Hoverd’s conrods made a bid for freedom. I missed the third morning session as I needed to have a look at the motorhome – investigation revealed a low engine oil level and oil in the intercooler hoses suggesting a leaking turbo seal. The turbo impeller seemed intact and with no play in the bearing. Heather Gaunt had been fantastic during the day chasing all her Ford contacts to identify the model of turbo for my motorhome. She eventually sourced one in, would you believe it, the Ford dealer in Swansea! We were planning to get it couriered up to Anglesey till we got the price … £1160 + VAT I decided that was just a bit too steep.
The BDN’s engine had spat a load of oil into the catch tank which had overflowed so I cleaned that up and tipped the oil back into the engine. I went out for the next session and spotted a plume of smoke behind me so I pulled in to the pitlane to discover I’d left the funnel in the filler hole resulting in oil spraying onto the exhaust secondaries. Doh! So I dashed back to the motorhome, cleaned it up and went out again. I managed to go a bit faster again and was steadily gaining confidence and finding my way around the track.
So far it had been quite a nice day but part way into the second afternoon session the heavens opened. Quite a lot of the cars went in but I decided I needed to carry on. I gradually pushed harder increasing my corner entry speed and found that the car just went into gentle understeer. It wasn’t dramatic and it was easy to catch and correct. I then went a stage further and started applying the loud pedal a bit more firmly and discovered that it was very easy to provoke nice gentle oversteer on the exit. Again it was easily catchable and undramatic. After a couple of laps of this I was driving round the track grinning like an idiot, it was the most fun I’d had in the car since I built it. The final session was also very wet and for the first time in the wet I couldn’t wait to get out. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time hooning around, the circuit was pretty quiet due to the weather and there’s loads of runoff in most of the corners so it was good for confidence. To add to the fun towards the end of the session there was oil around the exit of Rocket and around Peel. It might all look pretty slow and undramatic in the video but for me it’s a major step forward.
The car had been great all day with the only issue being that this engine doesn’t like having so much oil in it as the previous one and spits it all out. A chat with Tony confirmed that it’s always been like that and he recommended just filling the oil to the bottom of the sight glass which seems a bit alarming but of course the billet sump is quite a different design to the standard one and that still leaves more oil in than the standard one. The engine pulls like a train, I’d been aware for a little while that the old one was starting to run out of puff. Poor old Austen had been rear ended by a Locost and missed some of the afternoon sessions as he and Ken reconstructed his rear undertray.
Jen came up on the train on Friday so after picking her up from the very quaint Ty Croes station (where you have to tell the guard if you want the train to stop!) the social part of the weekend was about to begin. Friday night was pretty wet and we spent much of the evening huddled in Austen’s bus where we had a very sociable evening. Jen and Austen’s dad Ken became progressively noisier as the evening went on and mysteriously this seemed to correlate with the size of the stack of empty wine bottles. Very odd.
Saturday morning was pretty showery but it soon cleared up and it was sunny and warm with a pretty dry track with only a few slightly damp patches by the time we went out for qualy. I didn’t rush to the queue and was near the back behind Rob Grant’s purple Fury heading out onto the track. After picking our way past some of the slower cars in the first lap I then spent a couple of laps chasing Rob around and soon became aware that I was a bit faster than him and needed to get past. Unfortunately the faster boys soon caught us and every time one went through I had to catch Rob up again. It’s a tricky circuit to pass on but in the end I was right behind him coming into the Banking hairpin as Al overtook both of us and I overtook him exiting the bend. Sadly I hadn’t seen the waved yellow flags for Paul Rickers who had spun a bit further on. This then got me an invitation to Race Control for a slap on the wrists from the Clerk of the Course. He was very nice about it though and took my previous good behaviour into account My brother Andy arrived at lunchtime having worked like a trojan trying to find a replacement turbo. Sadly he’d failed but it was good to see him anyway.
I ended up qualifying 19th out of 26 for race one and 20th for race two with a fastest lap of 1:16.75, a further improvement on my times. Tim Gray allegedly had a master switch failure on lap one of qualy so was starting from the back of the grid for each race. I reckon he did it deliberately to have a bit of fun
Preparation for Saturday’s race was going swimmingly well until I strapped myself into the car in the assembly area, stuck nomex my balaclava on followed by the helmet. Next comes gloves except I only had one So Jen ran back to the motorhome to get it as the other cars were heading out of the assembly area for the grid. I unbuckled to check I wasn’t sitting on it. I waited a while but the marshal said I’d need to start from pit lane. After another minute or so it was clear I was going to miss the start as there was no sign of Jen so I just shouted out asking if anyone had any gloves I could borrow. The fire marshal ran over and swapped his pair of gloves for my single glove and I stuck them on and headed off down pit lane. They were a heavy duty pair of gloves with nice thick palms, reinforcement over the knuckles and they were about 2 sizes too small for me, so apart from not being able to bend my fingers and not being able to feel the steering wheel they were ideal. I was then held by a red light at the end of pit lane, as the last car passed it went green and I was off. As I left pit lane I came upon a scene of carnage as Austen, Tim Hoverd and Dave Watson had all come together in the first corner. There were cars and bits of fibreglass everywhere and my first thought was that pit lane wasn’t such a bad place to have started from!
So into the Banking I was dead last apart from a couple of cars who’d been caught up in the melee. I got past our new boy, Arthur in Geoff Mason’s old Spire exiting Church, then David Wale came past me into Rocket. I was then chasing the tail enders to get back towards my original grid position, I passed Stephen Dean on the way into Rocket next time round then Ed Scotney a lap later in more or less the same place. Then I was behind Steve Malyon who had given me a comprehensive drubbing at Donington but he was tussling with Rob Grant and I sneaked past Steve on the way up to Rocket next lap and was then behind Rob. The next lap but one I got a better exit from Church and that was my overtaking spree done. The man who’s responsible for my improvement, Mr. Gray, then lapped me with a couple of laps to go, the only other person to lap me was John Cutmore on the last corner before the chequered flag. I’d had a great race, still lots of work to do but a vast improvement, I actually felt I’d been racing rather than trundling round at the back of the field. My fastest lap was 1:16.87 so about the same as my qualy lap. Apologies for the poor quality video, I forgot to clean the camera lens.
Once out of parc ferme I got back to the motorhome to find Jen and Andy hadn’t been able to find the glove. We hunted high and low until in the end after about an hour my niece Helen found it. In the car. With the other glove underneath the helmet in the passenger seat area. The only possible explanation was that I’d picked the helmet up to put it on with the glove tucked inside it and I’d worn the helmet with the glove inside it
It seemed the damage to Austen, Tim and Dave’s cars was mainly bodywork so they spent the rest of the day piecing their cars back together. Austen seemed to have come off the worst having first of all come together with Tim then been hit by Dave which then spun him round back into Tim again. Most of his sections of bodywork were damaged and he and Ken had to patch it up with aluminium strips, some GRP resin and gaffer tape.
Saturday evening was the annual RGB BBQ when we host the marshals and a jolly good evening it was too. Sunday morning turned out fine and sunny again and I was looking forward to starting from the grid this time. All went well and we got round the first couple of corners without incident although there were a couple of spinners just after Church, including I think Austen who was having a torrid weekend. I then had a good couple of laps before becoming firmly ensconced behind Colin Spicer in his Fury. He was a little quicker than me around turn 1, but I felt quicker than him everywhere else, especially so around Peel and the left hander after the corkscrew. It’s a difficult circuit to overtake though and even though I had managed to up my game and my confidence levels I was determined not to screw it up by being over aggressive and getting myself into a pickle. Although frustrating being stuck behind Colin it was still a great race and not only was my fastest lap a 1:15.83 (a whole second improvement) I did that on lap 2 when historically my first few laps have always been my most tentative. It was only when John Cutmore commented on it in parc femre that I realised it was the first time he hadn’t lapped me, in fact the only person to lap me was Tim Gray.
So, I was a very happy bunny. It got even better when I was awarded the coveted Driver of the Day sticker for having finally started to get my act into gear and made some progress.
There was just the one fly in the ointment – a dead motorhome. Austen and I did however have a cunning plan which did pan out after a fashion although it didn’t go entirely smoothly. First we had the patrolman who checked it out and eventually concluded that we were indeed correct in that he couldn’t fix it. He then called a recovery truck which turned up about 2:30, we then left at about 3pm. The driver informed us he was taking us as far as Telford services on the M54 where another truck would take over. After waiting there for about an hour and a half the truck duly turned up but the driver couldn’t do a lot as he was low on diesel and couldn’t get the filler cap off his truck! Within half an hour another breakdown van had turned up and sorted that out and we were on our way again. At 11:30 we arrived at Cardiff West services to be handed onto yet another truck. He turned up at about midnight with a truck that was nowhere near big enough to fit our van on and rang in for a bigger truck. He said it would be with us in 45 minutes which turned out to be a bit of a porky as it ended up being over 3 hours. We finally pulled into our village with the sky starting to lighten at 4:50 almost 15 hours after leaving Anglesey. I then had to unload everything and get it the 150 yards up our drive as the truck couldn’t get up there cos of the trees. Jen and I slumped into bed at 5:15 with the alarm set for 7:30 to go to work …
So the weekend hadn’t been without its woes – Austen had sustained yet more damage and failed to finish either race, I’d spent about 28 hours travelling there and back and had a broken motorhome. Despite all that I’m left feeling very upbeat, my driving’s still got a long way to go but I feel that I’ve turned a corner and am now in a position to continue to improve and go faster in the car. The next race is at Donington and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with my lap times there.