A weekend to remember. And one to forget.
Why is it that everytime I visualise how something's going to turn out, it almost always unfolds in a completely different way?
Monza was my second race in the 848 Challenge, my third race in total. I had high expectations for the track and thought that seeing as hardly any of us had been there before it would make a really interesting race with the odds being more, well, even.
Since Assen, my first race where I finished 13th and 15th, I'd fitted a K-Tech DDS rear shock and K-Tech SSK front fork piston kit. Suspension is where I felt I was lacking at Assen and with this kit, I had a bike that was capable of a top-ten finish.
I had issues from the very start: Our first sessions were on Saturday. and my 848 kept getting stuck in 6th gear, meaning I couldn't shift down. So at 3 points on the circuit I found myself hard on the brakes but fishing around for a gear. More often than not, I didn't get one.
Even though we had six practice sessions, I only went out in two of them and managed 8 laps in total; my name seemingly a permanent fixture at the bottom of the time sheets for the practice sessions.
I cadged advice, experience and knowledge form the various mechanics and riders in the garage, trying to diagnose my problem. Racer Mike Edwards and his mechanic Harry have been a great help to me from the start and we set about greasing up and rebuilding the linkage to try and fix the issue. It didn't work.
So I went into qualifying with just a light grasp on braking markers and a bike that didn't want to give me gears. Fairly predictably I remained at the back. However, on returning to the pits, I noticed damage to my fairing under the gear lever. In what seemed like a last-ditch effort, I hacksawed off a large chunk of fairing.
The result? I could shift back from sixth again. All along the problem was the fairing; at high speed it was moving under the lever with no clearance making downshifts impossible until the speed and wind pressure had dropped. Frustrating? Just a bit...
So I was to start Race 1 on the back foot but confident I could make amends for the lack of tracktime and subsequent poor qualifying times.
The downpour before Race 1 didn't help my cause. I don't have spare wheels and therefore couldn't switch to wets. I lined up on the grid of 18, with the only other rider on dry tyres being 848 Challenge guest, former World Superbike rider, turned presenter and BIKE magazine tester, James Haydon.
I felt reassured in the knowledge someone else was going to be going through this with me. Until I saw his mechanic legging it onto the grid clutching a wet front. Great!
My pace at the start was steady, I knew I'd be racing on my own. Five riders fell off on the first lap. The remaining nine laps seemed to take forever. Infact, looking at my lap times, they did!
So come Race 2, I'd had some decent track time, my gear issues were a distant memory, I just had to get stuck in. And I failed spectacularly. I just couldn't cut the pace and never got into the groove. On lap two I clipped the inside kerb on the exit of Aqua Minerale and took a huge detour through the gravel towards the air fence, with enough time to think: 'Why don't you not hit that and head back to the track' which after a moment of brain-freeze, I did. . My lap times were leagues away from where I expected to be and I came across the line in 18th, 0.7 seconds off 17th place man Dan Cruickshank.
I'm not sure what I learnt from the weekend, I didn't have enough time on the bike to really get a feel for the new K-Tech suspension and never felt like I put together a lap that 'worked'. At any level of sport, a lack of practice time is never good but at this level it's a guaranteed last place.
My one high-point of the weekend? Meeting Troy Bayliss, legend.
Watch an onboard video lap from Monza
Posted: 19/07/2011 at 13:44
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