Brands Hatch

 

The first proper outing of the season was always going to be met with a little trepidation despite the two attempts to do some constructive testing in February around the recently re-surfaced Brands Hatch circuit. One of those aforementioned test days ended up being quite destructive, and both were very unproductive due wet weather and an over abundance of oil and coolant.

Check Nicks Blog on the Motors TV Website http://blog.motorstv.co.uk/

What I’ve found amazing is how delicately we’ve been handling the new fairing panels, looking all shiny and freshly lacquered, especially when you consider the likelihood of them kissing tarmac at some point this year (collectively we had 8 crashes last year!! Not a record we want to beat.) Sorry Mark & Kevin but it’s the truth.

 

Gentlemen Start your engines

Fail to plan and you plan to fail, or so the old adage goes.  Well we had a plan but we hadn’t planned for every failure.

We rocked up to Brands Hatch earlier than scheduled on the Thursday night to blag a decent space near some electrics and power our new mobile palace.

When I say new, what I mean is its as new as you could ever expect from a caravan costing £200 that’s waiting to be another Top Gear victim, but importantly it was warm, it was dry and we could make ourselves a nice cup of tea in our little sanctuary.   On the down side we’d been allocated pit garage 26 which was a mile away from the nearest toilets (depending on your desperation!) a forced march away from the track restaurant and a marathon distance away from the Michelin/Protyre service truck.

Friday:

Friday is the official ACU test day and boy was there a serious number of bikes queuing up to get noise tested.  Ducati Duo Championship, Mini Twins, Maxi Twins, Junior & National Endurance teams, Motogrande & Michelin power cup 600’s and 1000’s.

The weather was a surprise to say the least.  We half expected rain, sleet or snow, not and I still can’t believe it, sunshine, it was almost warm, what the hell!

Were first out in the blue group and my initial thoughts were bloody hell this is fast.  Scary, rear wheel hopping, front end sliding fast. The two days of worthless testing we did in miserable February conditions were a good 20% slower than this. Each corner seemed to front up to you like an arrogant pitbull wanting to bite your bollocks off.  Whatever you do, don’t piss off fido!

Bit by bit my brain eventually managed to catch up and by lunchtime my lap times were almost respectable.

Clutching at straws

 

After a nutritional lunch of peanuts and caffeine (okay I’ll admit the planning phase failed to include a section on food and drink) once more we step out onto circuit.  I’ve barely wound open the throttle upon exiting pit lane and I can feel something is not right.   I turn down paddock hill bend, open the throttle to the stop, the engine screams it way towards the stratosphere but I’m not going any faster.  THAT is some serious clutch slip.

Back in the pits I lean the bike up against the wall and set to work.  Sure enough it’s a clutch problem.  The pressure plate has begun disintegrating and needs replacing, not exactly an everyday part that’s in abundance in a paddock so its time to go visit our old friends Ducks Cross who I happen to know have a spare engine.   After the usual banter  and criticism about how mechanically unsympathetic I am, Martin kindly loans me the part I need to fix the bike.

An afternoon spent slowly fixing the clutch on my own didn’t allow me time to get back out on circuit again… the team is never about when you are in desperate need of someone with mechanical experience… Oh how I wished I had never muttered that under my breath and boy did I need them there on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday:

Another good nights kip (the caravan is so much better than living in a tent for a weekend, best £200 investment ever) both bikes scrutineered, they look fantastic in their new clothes, they’re fuelled up, Skip and Rich turn up and were good to go.

Rich spots an oil leak around the clutch cover (I never said I repaired it 100%), a quick inspection identifies a missing bolt, a quick torque up but the team want me to do a drive through to make sure that nothing falls off.  The out lap follows an in-lap, the bike feels good, a nice big stoppie outside our garage and Rich gives the thumbs up to carry on. Another outlap and…it’s the chequered flag.  Bugger I never managed to complete a single timed lap for the Endurance Superpole.  Guess its up to Nick.

The only trouble is Nick has been struggling with his suspension set-up since Friday morning, never more determined to do well and trying as hard as he might he just can’t seem to pull together a decent lap.

Checking the timing sheets we’re going to start the Endurance Superpole race in 32nd place out of 32!.   Not ideal but we’ll rise to the challenge, besides which the Timed practice for the Michelin PowerCup is right before the Superpole race so I’ll be in with a chance to get my eye in and be on some nicely cooking rubber right before the race start.

Endurance Superpole:

We don’t have long to wait before were called into the assembly area. What with my 53 second lap in the PowerCup timed practice I’m nominated to do the first stint and it looks like the boys are going to try and keep me out for as long as possible.

Revs up, clutch biting, red light on, and 1,2,3 heartbeats later the lights go out and 32 bikes scream towards paddock hill bend.

All that’s going through my mind is that I must force my way through the traffic as soon as possible.

Start 32nd

Lap One 21st

Lap Two 19th

Lap Three 18th

Lap Four 17th

Lap Six 16th

Lap Seven 12th plus were 1st in class

Lap Fourteen…. Disaster

Turning into paddock hill bend I change down a gear and something gives, I change down again and something breaks.  The gear selector change shaft has broken, with the bike in 4th gear. The same thing happened to me last year at Cadwell Park.  I’ve not been out long enough to have got a significant lead on all those I’ve overtaken but I have no choice but to coast back into the pits.

Rich collects the transponder from me whilst I stand with a stricken bike stuck in 4th gear at the stop box entrance to pit lane. (After some more stoppie action puts me on my arse as I almost missed the stop box.)  Dejectedly we put the bike on its stands and whilst it sits there looking sorry for itself awaiting surgery we hope Nick can recover time lost.  30th overall, its small consolation but it’s better than nothing and at least were in with a chance as long as we can fix the bike again.  After all we did just go from 32nd to 12th in seven laps, and we were running 1st in class before the issues.

Once more we borrow a few parts off the Ducks Cross team and later on in the day Brian and Jayne turn up to lend a hand.  The whole team is on the case, this should see the bike fixed in no time at all, fantastic. Sure enough its quickly bolted back together, so I do a quick shake down test from the upper to the lower paddock and were back in the game, Go Apex Racing.

Sunday:

The heavens open and what was a nice circuit on Friday & Saturday is now the Greasy, oily and crappy circuit we tested on a month ago.  I go out for back-to-back PowerCup and Endurance warm up.  The first of which only confuses me, is it the brand new tyres? wet circuit? Why is the gearbox clunky? Something feels a little off centre and I don’t think it’s me.

I flick into the pits and am then almost straight out again to do the endurance warm up.  Yep something is definitely up and then it hits me, confirmed, signed for, written in neon; the bike jumps into and out of gear going down paddock hill bend nearly kicking me out the saddle.

I persist with it, trying not to use fifth gear, trying not to change down until after the corner, I try every combination but its no use. 4th, 5th and 6th gear have had it and if I stay out on it we could be looking at it bending the bike, me, another racer or all three.

One of the hardest things to do was admit defeat.

Apex Racing was going to have its first DNS.

DID NOT START