...and why gearing can be a red-herring
A holiday and bike racing sounds like the ideal combo, but when you turn up to the track after four days on the beach, it's surprisingly hard to get motivated. Almost impossible infact. Persuading yourself that getting into leathers when it's already too hot in shorts is quite tough. I know, I'm not getting any sympathy from you, am I?
I hope the picture above gives you some indication of just how hot it was at Misano. I'm not complaining; it's better than a wet and miserable Cadwell Park, but if you're used to our style of summer, then standing around in leathers in this heat is about as sensible as putting a suit on and sitting in a sauna.
Which is why I stripped down to my pants after every session, just to stay alive.
Scrutineering was typically Italian: with about 70 bikes to get through in an hour, you'd think the scrutineers would be getting busy, but no, they turned up late, then sat in the shade while chatting on their mobiles and drinking espresso. Not really giving a shit. You think I'm joking? I'm not.
Welcome to Italy, where they don't have a word for queue and where scrutineering consists of: checking you turned up with a motorcycle. You did? Have a sticker.
It wasn't just the weather that was hot, the pace on track has hotted up too. Massively.
We had two Free Practice sessions and two Qualifying sessions, which is unusual for us UK 848 guys. Usually it's one FP and one Quali when we're at a BSB event.
During FP, the bike felt awkward. Most times I go out, I know it's me that can go quicker, but this time - genuinely - the whole job felt wrong. For the first time, the gearing felt way out. I was in-between gears on a handful of corners and knew I was losing time. I'm running stock 15/39 on my non-EVO 848, while most others appeared to be running 15/40 up to 15/42.
Y'see changing from the 39 rear sprocket to a 40 requires a new chain - which I didn't have. I cobbled a few bits together from the helpful chaps at Moto Rapido and P&H, meanwhile I went out for FP2 with a simple mission; to go quicker through the corners where I was at the top of 2nd, revving out, so I could instead hook 3rd but not lose drive on the way out. It kinda worked, leaving me with only two corners where the bike was sluggish on the way out.
I kept the gearing at 15/39 for Q1, hoping that by sorting the last section and going that bit faster, I'd be pulling the right gears to let the engine rev and go even better still.
Me and the tractor got it together and bagged 21st out of 33 in Q1, which for me is pretty good. Best lap of a 1'49.977 - a mere 5 seconds off pole. Blimey. Can you lot at the front slow down a bit?
Because I run on a limited number of tyres, I didn't want to cook them for Q2, so went out with the view that if I couldn't better my Q1 time within 2 laps, I'd can the session and save the rear tyre. While I didn't go quicker, quite a few others did, relegating me to 26th. Doh!
Still, despite getting knocked back in Q2, I knew I could run at a pace that would give me a chance of getting into the top 20.
Race 1 didn't go to plan: it's a fine line between coming all the way out to Italy and lobbing the bike away on the first lap or having a really average race.
I opted for the average race option, was way too cautious into the first couple of corners, dropping off the back of the guys I wanted to run with, so I spent the race bogged down and battling my way back to 26th unable to latch onto the group ahead. Still, a finish is a finish.
In Race 2, I stuck a big two fingers up to cautiousness. I wanted to come away with a top 20 finish, sub-49 lap time and beat a guy who usually finishes above me. I'd failed spectacularly at all three in R1.
Funny how, the gearing that felt awful in the first Free Practice, started to feel good in R2 and all because I was carrying that bit more corner speed and chipping away at the lap times.
I got a decent start, shouted a big 'Yes!' to myself as we drove onto the back straight and I was just a few inches off the guy I wanted to beat. It took a few laps to get past, but during those few laps, I felt something I'd never felt during a race: I was comfortable. I was keeping with the guys infront and not breaking a sweat. I could see where I could go faster and started to plot my assault. This is a huge difference to feeling like I'm out of my depth and clinging on for a finish.
I had no idea what position I was in, but I managed to get past the two guys ahead. The next pack were a corner ahead, but I felt I could go with them. That and the fear of being passed again meant I kept the throttle cable stretched where before I might have rolled off a bit.
The back of the circuit is so fast, it's where poor old Shoya Tomizawa died and as you peel into that corner, you're just thinking 'I hope this sticks' and it does, but you've still got one more braking marker to get right. Maybe this is the hardest corner on the track. As you fire into the second-to-last right (turn 13) at about flat out in 5th, you think there's no way you're going to get it stopped in time. You're braking just after the apex, still leant over, still flat in 5th but you get it hauled-up and before you know it you're onto the last right, with the lap pretty much in the bag.
It was through this section on about lap 6 or 7 where I really gained on the group ahead. That group of four guys was Fulvio Rizzi, James White, Stuart Poyser and Woolsey Coulter.
My lap timer flashed up a 1'48.130 on lap 8 of 10, while I was in no-man's land, trying to latch onto the back of that group.
I made a decent dent into the gap and crossed the line with one lap to go, about 50 metres off the pack. I felt sick through nerves, I really wanted it to end. I was fairly close to Woolsey Coulter who in turn was close to Stuart Poyser. I just wanted to get the middle section out of the way and if I could be on the back of that group into the fast right at the back of the circuit, I'd have a chance.
As we peeled into the first flat-out right, I could see Woolsey lining up on Stuart, he made his pass stick into turn 13: respect. That's a fast place to pass.
I knew Stuart would have a go back and if he did in turn 15 then I might be able to catch them both out into the last corner (turn 16) if I went through turn 15 with Banzai-like dedication. Stuart got the run on Woolsey out of 14 into turn 15 but had to roll the throttle as he was super-close to Woolsey's back wheel on the exit. While me and my Banzai-charge got a faster run through 15, grabbed the opportunity, and got up the inside of Stuart on the brakes into the last turn.
Had I known it would bag me 15th in our class and the last point on offer - my first this season - I'd have probably fluffed the whole thing up and ended up Banzaing myself.
Just to give you an idea of how much things have changed in the 848 Challenge since the series began, if you take my 10 lap race time and take out my fastest lap, my 9-lap time would have got me 3rd in the 9-lap race at WDW 848 Challenge in 2010, the first year of the championship.
Ok, so 18th in the race and 15th in class might not sound like much to write home about, but it felt like a proper race and I did the three things I set out to do. That one point crystallizes all the effort of the weekend and 16th would have been, well, pointless.
Posted: 04/07/2012 at 13:05
Posted: 09/07/2012 at 16:56
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