Chris Walker columns from TWO magazine

Chris Walker, GP, World Superbike, British Superbike; he's done it all. And here it is, in his own words

I'm getting right good at this crashing lark. I've lost the front end eight times on the NSR500 and now I've had my first highside during qualifying at Catalunya, which is always a bit special. An oil seal popped out, dumped oil on the rear tyre and the next thing I know I'm being run over by Stigefelt. Haven't been run-over since I quit motocross and I'd forgotten how much it hurts.

I always thought it was the knobbly tyres that made it hurt so much, but it's not. Damn, it was like being thrown from a speeding train.

A nerve got trapped in the arm, and it seems to have a bit of a bend in it - but it's not broken. And then to add insult to injury I lost the front end again, at the same corner I highsided on. Always a good way to carry on. I like to get back on and fall off at exactly the same spot again so my confidence doesn't take a knocking!

People have been saying I've been looking miserable on the grid, so I've been making an effort to smile a lot. Although obviously I am miserable at the moment! On a good course of painkillers right now, which are pretty damn special. I need them, because I've either finished low down in the field or been battered to hell. Any finish is a good finish at this stage. I'm looking forward to Assen and Donington, though. They're circuits that I know, and that'll give me a bit more of a true indication of how wank I really am on a GP bike!

I come out of the garage now, and it's like walking the plank as I get near the bike. People behind me with knives and swords forcing me out onto it, and the bike's sat there like some flippin' shark waiting to devour me! It's gotta be 'rider error' though, because every other rider just pisses off during the race.

We've got a lot of restrictions on us as to what we're allowed to do to the bike set-up wise, but we're obviously missing something at the moment. It's not easy, though. You arrive at tracks you don't know, and by the time you know where the track goes you're already a day behind, and in this level of competition you can't afford to be a day behind. If we could change more on the bike it would help, definitely. The superbikes I've been used to racing have loads of adjustment built into the chassis, put the weight anywhere you wanted to. On the NSR there is no adjustment, and different bits aren't available to us: only factory riders and legends get those.

It's made a tough job even tougher. I don't have a totally unorthodox riding style, but I'm having to change everything I've learned over the last six or seven years in the way I ride a bike to suit the NSR. It's like riding someone else's bike. Normally, you know what you want the bike to do, and you make adjustments so that the bike does it. But not this time.

My confidence has taken a real battering, and confidence is what makes one rider special over another. When you're pumped with confidence, you get to the point where you're doing things on the bike that you yourself wouldn't have thought possible, and that's what makes a champion. Obviously I haven't been in a position to do that on the NSR so far. Every time I try taking a step forward, I turbo myself into a wall!

The team are behind me a hundred per cent, they know I'm trying and not just tossing off, and the British fans are still fantastic, I'm very lucky that they've stuck with me, because everyone - including myself - expected a bit more than this. But it'll come together in the end. Speaking to Doohan and McCoy, they both said that after every race weekend for the first year, they just wanted to go home. You just have to keep chipping away.

No excuse not to stop at Amsterdam on the the way back from Assen GP and stock up on porn for the lads. Actually, the last time I went to Holland to race and ended up in Amsterdam, went and bought a porn mag, and the centre pages featured the missus of the guy who was my team manager at the time! I don't think he ever saw it, actually. I never looked at her the same again. Didn't know she was into S&M...

Had a pretty hectic time recently. Red Devil, one of our sponsors, had a bit of a street party north of Barcelona, really nice little spot. Crates of Red Devil and vodka free, so got a bit wobbly, but I had to leave early and catch a flight from Barcelona to the post-TT party at Mallory Park to give a Pillion in a Million ride. I shied off it a bit at first, because the last one I did at Silverstone years ago, the bloke fell off! They ran a compo and they were like, "right Chris, you have to give this person a Pillion in a Million." So I was like, fair enough. Wasn't actually told what to do, and I was like, well, at the end of the day, he's entered a competition to go on the back of a bike with a superbike rider, so he obviously wants to be frightened to death. So I went as fast as I could for one lap, then on the slow-down lap all the marshals were gesticulating me to pull a wheelie. So I did, and the guy didn't make it. Straight off the back he was, and when I picked him up he was a bit cut and bruised. He was a top bloke, fortunately. So of course this poor girl I gave a pillion to at Mallory was told all about this. She was a bundle of nerves, but I rode so slow I reckon she could have gone round quicker!

My worst-ever pillion experiences were when I worked in a bike shop aged 17, working as a mechanic. There was this gay postman who somehow always needed a lift home when his bike was in for work, and they always made me give him a lift. He used to hang on really, really tight, and when you dropped him off at his place he'd say, "ooh, aren't you a good rider." Of course, I always took off like a shot!
Anyway, I'll see everyone at Donington for the British Grand Prix on July 8th. I'm right up for it and it's fantastic how much support I still have. I really am trying, though - just bear with me!

September 2001

I won't be riding the Shell Advance NSR500 at the German GP. It's all a bit political at the moment so there's not much that I can say, but they've replaced me with another rider and I feel that I've not been supported by the team as I should have been. After battering myself to pieces on their bike and trying to improve, it was the last thing I expected.

I'd like to tell you more, but like I said it's all up in the air at the moment. I guess we'd better start where we left off last month, which was on the way to Assen. This turned out to be a bit of a near-death experience. I was really looking forward to it, because Assen's one of the few tracks I've raced before and it's always a bit of a mega-mission shopping out there, what with the compulsory Amsterdam stop-off.

Anyway, we got to the track and the bike was feeling pretty good, and it was going through the speed trap faster than usual. Each session we'd knock off a second or two on the lap times and I was happy with the way things were going. Then on the last session on Friday, I pitted with about 12 minutes of the session left and changed the rear tyre for a compound that had worked well the day before and went out again.

Two laps later and I was off at 150mph and into the gravel. Can't remember a thing about it, though. The first I knew was coming-to in the medical centre on a stretcher with a collar on and a tube down my throat, hearing the 250s going by, so that must have been about half an hour after I came off the bike.  Apparently the back wheel caught the grass exiting this fifth gear right-hander and that flicked me into orbit, big time. Then I hit the track on my back and head, so a big shout to my Shark helmet is well in order. I must have been knocked out, but after endless head scans all I've suffered is bit of memory loss.

It still cost a bit, though, as the bike repair bill was bigger than the crash and the crash was huge! Only a few engine internals were salvageable - the rest was scrap. Forks, shock, swingarm and fairing were dead, the exhausts were ripped off and they took the cylinder heads with them, the wheels were gone - it was totalled. To say the team weren't too chuffed would be an understatement. But I'm sure it would have been cheaper for them to let me set the bike up more the way I want it. Still, that was always the problem.

After an off like that, there's only one place you're going. So it was two days in Assen General for me, where I got to watch the race in triplicate (my vision was that blurred) from my bed. They did more tests on me, because it was a pretty hard knock I'd taken, landing on my feet, hands, back and head. My fingernails were black and my left hand had swollen-up so much it looked like I'd done 10 rounds with Tyson with no gloves on. It was a relief to find nothing broken.

I was in a lot of pain though, so I asked for some painkillers, expecting a couple of Nurofen, but the nurse had other ideas. She came in, peeled on some latex gynaecologist gloves and the next thing I know she's shoved a suppository straight up my bum! I wasn't very happy at all, as up until then my bum was brand new. She wasn't the most handsome of nurses either! Obviously I had to tell the boys about this when they popped in, but as soon as the nurse returned, they told her I was still in pain. So I was there, all groggy and that, seeing three nurses and six pairs of rubber gloves coming at me, desperately trying to say I was alright, but I was too out of it. Cheers boys.

The original plan at Assen was to get some good laps in and crack another finish to boost my confidence for the big one at Donington. In the end it had the exact opposite effect, leaving me battle-scarred and not ready for action come the British GP.

When they told me in hospital that I wouldn't be able to ride at Donington, I was so depressed. At the end of the day, Donington was the race I'd been looking forward to most for the whole year. The one race where I could race in front of fans, on a track I knew I could do well at whatever I was riding. I was smashed.

After that it was just a case of chilling-out at home and trying to sort myself out. I was feeling better, so I made it to the Day of Champions, which was mega. It was going there, seeing the Stalker banners floating about the place, that convinced me I had to ride.Then I rode the bike on Friday morning and was like, 'oh my God, what am I doing?' I really wasn't at my best. I talked Eurosport round a lap of the circuit on my pit scoot that day and I reckon that might have been my best lap all weekend, I was feeling that secondhand!

Qualifying that afternoon things got better. By Saturday morning though, I was feeling whacked and in two minds about riding again, but by that time the second wave of Stalker banners had arrived which pumped me back up, so thanks to everyone for those.

Basically Donington was a total battle for me. At the end of the day I shouldn't have raced, but I was desperate to be out there for everyone. I know that in the end I didn't do a very good job, but feeling like I did, I was just chuffed to finish the race.

Then just before setting off to Germany I got a phone call from Jeff Hardwick saying that I'd be replaced for that race. I'm enormously disappointed. I knew it would be hard in MotoGP, but with the right support from my team I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was competitive.  Unfortunately the team hasn't been true to their word and decided to replace me without giving me a chance to adapt to the 500, which was an agreed part of my deal. I feel I've been made to suffer because of the poor financial position of the team. I'm devastated and I'm going to go away now for a while, think about my options and come back ready to face some new challenges. I'm talking to a few MotoGP teams, so we'll just have to see what happens.

November 2001

Daftest day out I've had this month had to be the supermotos gig for TWO with Niall Mac and Co. What a funny day that was - Niall fell off three times! One of them was my fault, I have to admit. He was sat there on his bike watching me do some cunning stunts, but I got a bit too loose and ended up slithering past him a bit too close, clipping his bike and sending him over the back and into a big heap on the floor.

Other things I've done included testing the British Superbike Kawasaki ZX-7R at Rockingham and attending the Blast event there. It was a shame more people didn't attend, because it could have been great. The Kawasaki test was real good for me because there's a chance I'll be getting a test on their World Superbike with Harald Eckl's lot. It felt mega getting back on a superbike after riding the NSR all year and all the crashing that went with it. It felt like coming home. After all, it's a bike I had two successful seasons on. It's changed a lot, thanks to two years' development, but it's still green and still feels the same to sit on.

It felt really nice, even though it's much more of a race bike now than when I last rode it. It's got totally different suspension now and more horsepower - it really is a monster. It still felt fast even after the NSR. As well as being good for me, the test was good for the Kawasaki BSB crew too, because I could give them some extra feedback on developing the bike, especially as I've got history with it. Best bit of the day though was actually being able to change stuff on the bike! We were never going to be reinventing the wheel but we did change the offset and wheelbase. It was just nice coming into the garage and saying, 'I'd like to do this or that' and having people just get on with it rather than pretending there was no point doing it because they weren't allowed to.

As well as riding the ZX-7 at Rockingham, I'm talking to a lot of World Superbike teams trying to get something sorted for next year, and the same goes for Grand Prix teams too and I've not turned my back on the British Superbike scene, either. So, from Rockingham we jumped straight into the car and made a dash to Harwich for the ferry to Assen for the World Supers, but in all the excitement I forgot to turn off the A14 and we ended up in Felixstowe. I grabbed the map, and from Felixstowe you're literally five miles from Harwich, but that's across water and there's no bridge. It's about 40 miles to drive it, so we had to break every rule in the book to get there on time. We made it with a minute to spare and when we got there I popped my head out of the window, all panicked like, and the woman in the booth says, "alright love, no rush, there's an hour delay". I was done in! I saw a load of teams at Assen, but it was a hideous experience because it was pissing down and we had no motorhome or hospitality to chill out in. We were wandering around the paddock like Big Issue sellers. Still, we'll see what happens.

One thing I'm not too short of right now is time, so I went for my first holiday ever before Assen. Having been flat-out racing as long as I can remember I've never had a real holiday - you know, the ones where you relax. It was brilliant! Having the attention span of a three-year-old as I do, I was worried I might get bored and on the first morning I was a full-on pain in the arse but I had a beer, chilled out and everything was cool. And I got my first proper suntan, too. I've been abroad enough before, but always racing or testing so I've always had my leathers on, so while everyone else gets a decent tan I just come back with brown face, neck and hands and the rest of me fully pasty.

Being out of a ride as I am at the moment means I'm all out of toys. Honda repossessed theirs a while ago, but fortunately my new bird is my latest toy so I am surviving without the dirt bikes for the time being! Basically I've got to get a seat sorted - I need my toys back - going into the off-season really isn't the time to be without toys. I've spent a lot more time at home than I would have normally and the relaxing's been good, especially getting a real chance to get fully fit again, but it's really hard for me at the moment, getting up to train and then having to watch the bike racing on the telly.

I've been watching Leon Haslam's progress with a lot of interest. I mean, when I was on the V-4 he was doing a mega job on the twin. I'd be on my side of the garage - in a world of hurt because I'd come off, or wasn't happy with the set-up and couldn't change it - and he'd be on the other side with Ron helping him out and them changing the bike all over the place. They were basically doing everything I couldn't, and I was like, 'why can't I do that?!" But now he's in the seat of the V-4 he's probably getting the same sort of trauma I did. I hope he doesn't get too bashed about for the rest of the season and his confidence stays intact. I've got to smile, mind, when people text me saying Jeff Hardwick - my old team boss - has been on TV saying what a cheap weekend he's having because I'm not there and then ending up with at least one of his bikes bent in the gravel by the end of the meeting!

Going to Mallory British Superbikes at the weekend was cool and it was good to catch up with everyone, but to be there and not riding was hard. I did get a few laps at lunchtime on a Kawasaki but I felt like a bit of a plonker out on my own - it's more the kind of thing they get the retired old boys to do isn't it really? But the crowd were wicked and made loads of noise for     me so I didn't feel too daft.

It's unlikely I'll be doing anything competitive before the end of the year though, because I'm still tied up in my contracts for this year. They restrict what I can do for what's left of the season - and coming off the back of the worst yearI've ever had my options aren't as vast as they normally would be. It's a case of working as hard as I can to get a World Series ride for 2002 - whatever happens I'll be out there racing!

January 2002

That's it, all signed and sealed and in eth bag, so for anyone who missed last month's column: I've got a full factory ride in World Superbikes for 2002 with Kawasaki and I am over the moon. To say I'm happy is an understatement - I was practically doing backflips when I found out! It is absolutely mega, especially after what has without a doubt been the year of my life, in more ways than one. It is just so good to have everything in the bag and sorted out at this early stage, and to have the ride that I really wanted.

But I won't think be sitting back for a quiet Christmas now - I'm too much of a hyperactive kid for all that. I mean in the few weeks since the deal was finalised I've done the Mettet Supermoto race, the Weston Beach Race and the final round of the All-Japan Superbike series at Sugo and I'm booked in for another massive enduro in a couple of weeks. I don't see things calming down until at least the end of next season. It's back to business as usual in the Stalker camp, and not before time.

The Mettet supermoto race was an absolute top do. Like I said last month, Foggy unfortunately broke his leg and so CCM asked me to step in - I pretty much bit their arm off what with having been sat on me arse for ages until then. So anyway, I went up there to check out the bike and have a quick test and where Whitham (who was doing it too) said he could imagine having his Christmas dinner through a straw after taking part, I took one look at the bike and straight away I could smell the fracture clinic. This was going to be a dangerous gig. Obviously I couldn't wait to get started.

So we flew out with Whitham and a few others for a mint weekend. Whit and me were both a bit stuck as to whether to stick our knees out or not, being road riders and all, but we got the hang of it and I even managed a sixth in the end, and came in as the top road rider there - the five guys ahead were all total motocross or supermoto legends, including diddy Stephane Chambon who won it.

Funniest thing though was Whit's bum injury. Obviously riding dirt bikes in leathers isn't the best plan and what with all the jumping about things can get a little sweaty... Anyway, poor old Whit comes up to me complaining his arse hurts, and asks me to take a look at it for him. Naturally I did, expecting to see maybe a bit of chafing and no more. Turns out though that he had what looked like a third degree burn right up his bum crack! Real nasty it was.

So I'm laughing my tits off at Whit in Mettet, I only went and got exactly the same thing myself in the Weston Beach Race after a load of sand got down me shorts half way through. Tell you what, it hurt like hell, although just for the record my bum is now brand new.

Weston was one of those things that just kind of happened. I'd mentioned it to a few mates ages ago about how it would be fun to enter again having not done it in ten years and promptly forgot all about it. Then a few weeks ago my mates were all like, "right we've got our bikes and entries sorted - you coming or what?" Well I couldn't back out then could I, so we ended up going down there in a posse of seven.

After getting the bikes scrutineered on Friday night, they're then stashed in parc ferme until the race on Sunday and so we basically spent our time until then getting drunk, obviously perfect preparation for raceday... Come Sunday morning and we dug the bikes out and rolled down to the beach. It was mad - there were 870 entrants which made for one hell of a crowded grid and made it a massive fight down the mile-long first straight and into the ninety-degree right-hander at the end, then it's back over a load of jumps and dunes to the start again. Three hours of that was perfect.

Had a few incidents though. I was struggling with the large-capacity fuel tank I'd had fitted to my KX250 for the event, and each time I filled up I could hardly ride the bloody thing for the first couple of laps is was that top-heavy - ended up going into the back of some poor lad and bending my front disc for the rest of the event. But finished 13th overall and made a walloping £80 in prize money too. I was made up.

Anyway, after all this messing about I was off to Sugo and straight in at the deep end for my first race on my new bike. It was good to find that I knew a few of the Kawasaki crew out there from when I tested for the Suzuki 8-hour back in '98 which made life a bit easier. And it was my first weekend with Harald (Eckl - team manager) and me new team mate Izutsu and they're a cool bunch all round.

Izutsu's a character. He is the full-on Japanese Superbike superstar - mega Mercedes with blacked out windows and all the trimmings, rolls up and just parks it right outside the garage and just struts in. Funniest thing was that ten minutes before morning warm-up he hopped on his pushbike to burn to the toilet and crashed, flipping himself over the bars and onto his head - it was gushing blood and he had a lump like an egg there for the rest of the day. And he still went on to smoke everyone and win the race.

Eric Bostrom was there out of the AMA too and I was using him as a bit of a yardstick as he's been kicking ass on a similar ZX-7 all year and neither of us had raced Sugo before. So to qualify in pretty much the same times and then coming home ninth with him in eleventh I was well happy.

I didn't set the world on fire I have to admit, but I did a proper job - with this being my first real test it was a case of getting my head down, staying on the bike and learning as much about it and Sugo as I could in the few days we had. I did feel a bit rusty but I'd expected that and now I'm in a proper team I've got all the backup and testing I could ask for to really get into full form for the first race in March.

The bike's really sweet too. Still big and green as I remember it but faster and better handling too now, and there are more development parts on the way for next season as we speak. It's still going to be hard against the mighty twins, but on the right day at the right track the bike's well capable of being all the way up there.

Best thing about Sugo though was I got another trip to Japan which meant another chance to sample their toilets  - they are mad. They have these really freaky posh ones all over the place that are red-hot from the minute you sit on them, and they've got loads of buttons for all the different functions at the side. Trouble is the instructions are all in Japanese so by the time you've found the flush button you've had your arse washed, blow-dried and your pubes weaved. Amazing stuff.

February 2002

Christmas has well and truly arrived in the Walker household and I've just been down to the forest for the biggest tree I could lay my hands on. All I need now are the presents to go under it. But at  least Kawasaki have promised me a new motocross bike to play about on so I just hope that turns up in time for Christmas day. After all, boy's must have toys.

But the biggest news since we last spoke I suppose is the few days testing me and the team have just had out at Kyalami in South Africa.

No messing about, we were straight onto a ten-hour (economy) flight to South Africa. Still I didn't feel so bad not going business class what with Harald the team boss being sat next to me and all. And it's not as if I really need the extra leg room is it? Me going business class is about as pointless as putting a baby in a double bed!

Best of all though, I popped some sleeping tablets before the flight which isn't something I've done before. I'm not the greatest sleeper anyway (too busy doing laps of some track or other in me head!), but on planes I'm dreadful. So I thought enough was enough this time and banged down the tablets with a spot of wine, and that was me gone. I was zonked for nine hours and woke up all refreshed and over South Africa. Result it was.

So after the best flight I've ever had, it was a shame my bags hadn't made it and were actually in Paris.
They turned up two days later but until then I was stuck in the clothes I'd travelled in. It wasn't pretty I can tell you - by the time my fresh kit arrived my socks had a life of their own. For the second day the team left me pretty well alone the smell was that bad.

And as for the test itself, it went real good. I'm well happy with the bike and the rest of the guys on the team are excellent but I'm still off the pace a touch from the lap times I'd like to be doing. Each time I'd come back in feeling like I'd smashed the lap record, and each time I'd be a couple of seconds off. I can't put my finger on the problem but I guess the process of building my confidence back up after last year's disasters and getting tuned into a big four-stroke again is more gradual than I want it to be and I'm just too impatient.

At the moment we're on last year's bikes because the new ones are still being built. We probably won't have those until the Phillip Island tests in January and I can't wait to get hold of them. Still, we tested some new …hlins forks, a few clutches and shocks and I got to check out Kyalami for real - good track it was. Only trouble was there were a few Brit lads from up North who were watching from the pitwall and all they kept saying to me was "go on man, get it reet 'oop. Stuff the lap times - just wheelie the fooker!" But I tell you, it's no easy job wheelying one of those bikes in South Africa, the air's so thin the bike's almost 20% down on peak power. I tried my best but it was like trying to wheelie a 400! Fortunately I managed to sort out a good one for them and they stopped slating me.

After the testing, me and the team went on a bit of a sightseeing tour, starting with a visit to a nearby lion park. There we were driving about in a hideous old pickup and one of the lads is squirting water at the lions to try and wake them up because they were so dozy. I was bricking it thinking that the pickup would break down any minute and we'd be lion food for the afternoon.

One of the highlights at the park is having your picture taken with the lions, and so obviously we all had to have a go at that. First up was my team mate, James Ellison (he's on one of the Supersport ZX-6Rs) who'd spent most of his spare time on the trip in the nearest casino, winning thousands of Rand. To be fair, it may have looked like a lot of money but it was probably only about a fiver.

Anyway, for these pictures they had a few lion cubs especially lined up for us, and they were that docile I swear they'd been dosed up with something pretty strong. So James goes up and gets a lovely cute picture of himself with one of the cubs, and then everyone else went up and each got a different cub.

Trouble was they seemed to wake up a bit after having their pictures taken, and by the time it was my go they were all a lot more alert... But I couldn't back down in front of everyone, so there I am with this lion cub which is getting more and more pissed off. Then it started scratching my legs and spitting and stuff, so where everyone else's pictures were dead cute and peaceful, I just look shit-scared!

But before all that jet-set stuff, I went and did a Fast Eddie enduro with a few mates. There's a big series of them throughout the year and this was the last one so we  thought we'd pop down for the crack. Always seems like a good idea this sort of thing. Until you're sat on the start line that is...

There were 180 other riders entered so it was a bit like the Weston beach race all over again although with a bit less booze and crashing - I only fell off the once this time. Then again it was a proper big one that left me buried in the undergrowth - took me two minutes to dig myself out, and when I did finally make it I was covered in that many twigs and branches I looked like the bloke who gets dragged through the woods on an R1 for the TWO Short-Shifts video. But it was a real good do, and I came in seventh overall which I was chuffed with. I'd had an excellent battle all race with Dougie Lampkin and had just taken him near the end when I went and fell off. Obviously at this point he sailed past while I was digging myself out of the undergrowth!

Tell you what, Dougie was so fast on the really tight sections of the course, while I was just absolutely rubbish there, barely managing to stay upright. I'll get him next time though.

Still, survived that one alright and headed off to the Irish bike show for a visit. Shame it was such a quick one though because it was a lovely place. There were some weird people there though - I was chatting to this one guy who was all done up in boots, leathers and all, and so I said, "Oh, come up on your bike have you?" joking like, and he said, "Oh no, I haven't got a bike at the moment..." That one flipped me out a bit I can tell you.

Otherwise I'm just keeping out of trouble over Christmas, eating turkey, training, and motocrossing. So have a good one, and I'll see you all in the New Year.

March 2002

My sister's wedding was on Christmas Eve and I gave her away, which was nice because I've been trying to do that for years! Dead enjoyable day, what with it being Christmas at the same time, we had loads of gold and silver everywhere instead of the usual white. Me Grandma and Grandad came up and got absolutely obliterated on booze at the reception, bless 'em. Embarrassed everyone, especially as my grandad is an 80 year-old bike-mad pervert! A perfect start to Christmas Day, although I managed to escape a bit early so I didn't feel too shit the morning after.

I still get quite excited on Christmas morning, and best present this year had to be a model of my NSR500 from last year. The label said "Maybe you can handle this one." It was a perfect model of the bike - before they let me ride it obviously, because it's in one piece. And I think the model has more adjustment in it than the bike I raced! Also got a trick Oakley watch, a digital camera, but no pants and only one pair of socks. Which is actually a real blow, because now I have to go and buy some. To be honest though, if I could only have one Christmas present every year, it would have to be a Terry's Chocolate Orange. Without one of those, it isn't Christmas for me.

Six days after Christmas when you have to take down all the baubles and decorations, me and a bunch of mates decided to go motocrossing - and I had a near-death experience on the way there!

I was minding my own business, riding along this bridleway, a bit misty but otherwise fine. Visibility was okay, maybe a sniper would have struggled to hit his target a mile away, but for the rest of us it was no problem. Certainly no excuse for me to hit what I actually hit! I looked at a bunch of lads playing football, and the next thing I know I hit this bloody scaffolding pole lying across the trail at waist height. Great big anti-Gippo device it was, to stop cars and that going down the lane. You can't miss it, unless you're me. Wham! Straight into it at 40mph! Went over the top of the bike and whacked both my thighs on the handlebars, two big deadlegs, and then obviously the bike landed on top of me. Which was a good thing, because it's quite new and I'm not. I was laid there for 15 minutes wondering if I was ever going to walk again. The kids who'd been playing football just ran off and left me there! Guilty consciences, or something. Fortunately after 15 minutes my paralysis passed and I managed pick the bike up. And that was the day I had to take down the Christmas decorations! I had three Christmas trees to take the decorations off and put back into the loft, and it took me four hours instead of an hour. I was a wreck.

Now ever since I've started racing, which is 16 years ago including motocross, I've never, ever not had a trophy at the end of the year. And then in 2001, no matter what I did, I didn't get one trophy. Not been on the rostrum once racing, not gone karting once, came 13th at Weston beach race, came 6th at the Fast Eddie enduro race, so basically I've gone without my regulation trophy all year.

So December 29th, there's an Enduro. And I was like, "right, I'm doing it. Got to win a trophy!" Got the bike all mint and ready for it, perfect working order, psyched myself up, got my parents to come along and watch (a special treat for my mum on her birthday!) Three of us went in, and although I didn't tell anyone, I was desperate to win! It went so smoothly it was unbelievable, apart from getting a branch in my eye which blew up like the biggest black eye of all time. Anyway, the bike was running like clockwork and my fuel stops were perfect, I was bang on-it - and I won! Not only that, but my mates won their respective classes. The three of us scooped all the trophies.

Except - there weren't any trophies! We'd all gone to this enduro, spent fortunes on chains, sprockets and tyres, dragged our mums and dads along, and no trophy. How tragic is that? "It was only a fun event," said the organiser. Fun? Three hours in the snow? On the 29th December? Er, hello? I'd pictured in my head where the trophy was going in the house and everything. They've promised to send me one, but at this stage I'm still trophyless for the year 2001. How bad is that!

New Year's Eve was the usual mess. Loads of mates, tequila and Absinth. Hideous stuff. Poisoned all my mates on it, and the stuff I bought was 15% stronger than normal. Quite literally like drinking battery acid, and the effect is immediate. Bosh! You're pissed.

Next official test is in Australia at the end of the month, which I'm desperate to get to. Over at Phillip Island, which I've never been to, so it's a chance to learn a new track and get to see everyone else and what kind of lap times they're doing.

This time last year I was so excited because of the challenge ahead, so this time I'm trying to play it a bit cooler! 2001 was pants, so 2002 I've got a lot of coming back to do. I'm not expecting to set the world on fire straight away, but sooner or later I've got to. No messing around anymore. Just want to get the Big Green Bus back out there at the first race at Valenica on March 10th, which is a track I enjoy.

April 2002

I've just been in Leipzig of all places, at the East German bike show. Hmm, lovely place. My team mate James Ellison - he's riding World Supersport for Kawasaki this year - was supposed to be there but was smart enough to accidentally miss the flight altogether, leaving me out in Germany on me tod. I was only there two days but it felt like a lot more.

That said, the girls there were very nice indeed. Loads of lovely, tiny petite things with excellent bums and that - not what I was expecting at all. Although there were some hairy horrors too, and no middle ground between the two. They were either cute as hell or they were full-on gorillas in the mist. Unfortunately though, what with daft early starts every morning we never made it out to the clubs and the dancing girls.

Still, it gave me a chance to meet the Kawasaki Germany bunch who were dead sound and friendly so it wasn't all bad, even though I couldn't understand what they were saying half the time - I can hardly speak English properly, let alone German. The only German I know's all from old war films, but walking about shouting "Achtung Spitfire Tommy!" probably wouldn't have gone down too well.

Biggest news lately though has to be the first big test session we've just had at Phillip Island which I'd been looking forward to since Christmas.

It was my first trip to Oz, and it's a pretty special place although our flight out there wasn't... I had to fly to Munich to meet the team, then we flew from there to Dubai, Dubai to Singapore, Singapore to Melbourne, and then a two-hour drive from there to Phillip Island.

It was like something out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the whole thing felt like it took a week. We were hanging by the time we got to the hotel, but they'd got our booking wrong and we had no rooms. Harald, James and me ended up kipping on mattresses in a box room behind the reception desk. It's good to see factory rider stardom is just as it always was.

We had a couple of days pottering about to shake our jet lag before riding the bikes, so took in the sights and sounds of Phillip Island and it's a pretty happening little holiday place. There's a pub there called the Isle of Wight - better known as the Pile of Shite. Fights every night, guaranteed, and when they do kick off no one bats an eyelid.

James and I wanted to take a trip to the circuit before we rode it but Izutsu, our team mate, had hopped off in our hire car with Haga and the Japanese bunch for a game of golf so we had to hire a couple of really gay-looking pushbikes instead - they were the only transport we could find.

But we made it, and it really is the business. Visually it's beautiful, looking out over the sea, and it's a cracking place to ride too. Only problem this time of year is the wind which gets really strong. Each day we were there it picked up enough to stop us all riding in the afternoons.

I got loads of laps in though because I'm just desperate to get right back on the pace and I'm trying that hard I'm actually going backwards. I'd come into the garage and the team would be like "try calming it down a bit," so I'd go back out and chill, and just go slower. That just frustrated me even more so then I'd go back to going as mad as I could - it was a real catch 22 kinda thing.

And with all the frustration, it was inevitable I'd come off which obviously I did. It was on the second day, coming out of the first gear hairpin and I was getting to the end of first gear and next thing I knew the back stepped out. By the time I thought I'd caught it I was wearing it! Next thing I knew the bike was catching fire, so I had to move pretty sharpish and put it out with my hands - I mean it's one thing to be a bit off the pace before the season starts, but burning out your brand new steed at the same time just isn't cool. Fortunately I got it put out, and was back on the case in no time.

As for the lap times, I got down to some half-decent ones on the first day and started getting back at home on the bike, then made some more headway on the second day and wasn't a million miles off the guys ahead, but I hit a brick wall on the third day and whatever I did I couldn't go any faster, while the others managed to up the pace. The end result was I finished up further down the time sheets than I really want to be at this stage.

I haven't made a bundle of changes to the bike so far mainly because I'm happy with it as it is, and there's no point really changing it until I'm going faster anyway. Checking out the data it seems like in the fast, fast bottle sections of the track I'm fine, but the time I'm losing is in the tighter, technical stuff where I'll be losing half a second or so on the top boys.

So I left Australia two seconds or so off the front-runners lap times and personally I reckon a second of that's down to not having ridden properly for a while, and the other second's all down to the kicking my riding confidence has taken in the last 18 months. But with the quality team I've got behind me this year, I've got everything I need to get right back where I need to be.

Valencia's next on the testing scene in a couple of weeks and at least I've been there before. I first tested the Crescent GSX-R there and I raced there on the NSR last year so I'll have a much better platform to work on my riding and the bike from so, hopefully, we'll see a big step forward there. I'd like to be closer to the times I need to do than I am at the moment but at least I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, unlike last year where I was really stuffed from day one no matter how good it all looked at the time. All I've got to do is let the speed come back rather than trying to force it, but being the impatient kid that I am this isn't easy.

But back at home life hasn't been without incident what with my mate having a monster smash while we were out 'crossing last week. He hit a deep rut, swerved off the track, hit a tree stump and got catapulted into a tree flat out. It wasn't pretty. Needed an air ambulance and everything. Turns out he'd broken his leg and eight ribs, some in two places. Poor lad's got his birthday today and he's laid up in ward six with an epidural and a catheter in - I'm just off to take him a Babycham now. Seeyas later.

June 2002

I don't know what I've done to deserve this but I seem to have been cursed by Pop Idol lately. First of all I go all the way to the other side of the world for the Phillip Island round, and what's the first thing I see when I get there? Australian Pop Idol. Great. But worse than that, I was on the Underground the other day, on my way to the Japanese embassy to sort visas and stuff for Sugo and who was sat next to me - bloody Darius. Carrying his guitar and everything he was. But he did have a lot of birds following him so he must be doing something right I suppose.

I have heard a rumour lately that my team boss Harald Eckl's making me and James Ellison eat baby food as part of an intensive nutrition programme. Well I can tell you he's not. Although he has done it to riders in the past, so does have form for that sort of thing but he's never mentioned it to me. I have actually witnessed James (Ellison) eating a mixed fruit pot of baby food, though but as far as I know that was his own choice. I'm clear of the baby food for now, but if I don't start finishing higher than ninth I'm sure it'll be coming!

Anyway, onto the racing. First up was round two at Phillip Island which was so much better for me than pre-season testing there. Straight away I equalled my best testing lap times, and then worked down from there. Didn't go so good in superpole though - I think I forgot to take my blouse off before I went out so I was back on the barbeque row - that's what Niall Mackenzie christened the fourth row of the grid when I was his team mate on the Boost Yamahas in British Superbikes. He'd had this torrid qualifying session at Oulton, came back into the garage and just said, "that's it, I'm on barbeque row." We were like, "you what?" And he said, "you know, the fourth row - by the time you get that far back no-one's taking it seriously. They've got the barbies out and all." And it's just stuck since then really.

So fourth row it was for me but it wasn't the end of the world as I usually get good starts. Which I did, and ended up with a pair of ninths. All in all, Phillip Island was a good one for me and the team. I'm feeling much more like my old self on a bike and the speed's coming back. Race two I had some good duels with Toseland and Lavilla, and Izutsu was doing the business too, climbing up to fourth. Obviously then he realised he shouldn't be doing that, got confused, made a mistake and fell off - good to see the bike mixing it up there at the front through, at least it proves it can be done.

After the race in Australia we went straight to South Africa where Harald had organised a great big team tour for us. It was excellent but it was a tour in true German style - everything very organised. One morning we were up at four in the morning for a balloon ride as the sun rose. Massive anti-climax that was. The bloke taking us up in the balloon was some pissed-up lad from Leeds who nearly had us in some power cables at one point. He was pretending it was all under control but the way he was sweating, we weren't convinced.

Still, a top weekend for the team, and with Andrew (Pitt) getting his first-ever win in Supersport everyone was buzzing. On top of all this it was mine and Harald's birthdays the day after the race so it was big celebrations all round.

My Bell's Palsy's getting better but I am struggling with being able to see properly as I get a sweat on towards the end of races what with still not quite being able to blink my right eye properly. There were times in the last few laps at Phillip Island where I would normally have tried a pass, but couldn't as I couldn't quite see properly.

Next up was Kyalami, and as it was my worst track in pre-season testing I was a bit apprehensive, but at least we had base settings to work with. As it turned out, I went out in the first session and instantly went faster than I had in the tests. I had a good set-up too and it was the closest I've got to Izutsu's times all year. Before superpole I was just a tenth behind him - he's normally had a good half a second on me. And I ended up on the third row, just avoiding the barbeques. Another good start and I was well away.

At least now I'm at a point where we can really work on set-up. Because I was off the pace in winter testing I haven't done as much set-up work as I would normally. I mean, if you're off the pace then there's no point in changing the bike - that's not the problem. I had to get that extra second and a half or so out of myself, and then work on the bike.

…hlins have done a lot of work on these new nitrogen forks we're now using and have made them feel so much better I reckon the front end's pretty much spot-on now. They were quite awkward to set up because they've got so much adjustment in them, but get them in the ballpark and they're awesome.
The hot weather's been helping my face improve loads and I can just about blink occasionally now, but sweat pouring into my eyes towards the end of races is still a problem. I've sprayed my forehead with deodorant before going out, I've had panty liners in my helmet, I've worn Bjorn Borg sweatbands, the lot, but to tell the truth, I reckon they've caused more problems than they've solved. The deodorant mixed with the sweat and stung the hell out of my eye, the sweatband flicked down at one point and covered both eyes, and as for the panty liners, I'd rather not go into that one...

I was actually told by the docs not to train while I've got Bell's Palsy, but there was no way that was happening. It just means I can't push it that extra little bit I'd like to. At least it is still improving though so I can do more each week.

Anyway, it's Sugo next and now I've got my entertainment visa - you can't race over there as a foreigner without one - I'm all set to go and it's one of those places anything can happen. I mean Izutsu won it last year on the Kawasaki. Should be interesting...

July 2002

It's been another busy old month this one, and it all kicked off with Japan and Sugo. 'Why?' is the first thought that springs to mind. Why do we go there? It is bloody miles away!

It was a big showdown meeting for us because there were loads of Kawasakis out - there was me, Eric (Bostrom), Yanagawa, a couple of other Japanese wild cards and of course, anchor man, ex-Japanese superbike champ and my team mate, Izutsu who didn't actually make it to the race after breaking his arm in practice. Unfortunately he'll be out for a while with that so Eric's standing in for him at the moment, but he's a good lad so that's okay. His crew are a sound bunch too. All dead American and they keep saying, "Go big EB!" every time. Really confused me to start with - felt like I was in Burger King or something. Then I found out it meant 'get on it', so that was alright.

Japan itself was as strange as ever too. What a place. It's like going to Mars! You can't understand a single word, read a single sign, and if you're in a restaurant that doesn't have pictures on its menus, you are doomed. And the rules - like you can't walk about with your shirt off in the street, or the best one, no crossing the road unless the green man's showing. You'll see people stood there, waiting to cross the road, not a car in sight, but because the green man's not on, they will not move. And if you do dare cross at this point, the looks you get - it's like you've just done a streak or something.

Real good laugh though, just not like anywhere I've even been on earth. Biggest benefit for me going to Japan though was that I can be tall for about the only time ever! The track at Sugo's pretty mad too, only spoilt by the amount of very fast Japanese riders there. And half of them on bikes tricker than any of us regular superbike boys have got - they tend to be riding an evolution of the bikes the factory riders have got with newer bits and stuff so they can test them out in race conditions. After all, if they drop out halfway through when the engine pops it's not such a problem. If the factory guy chasing for the championship does that though it's a different story.

Both races were real enjoyable for me too, apart from the last two or three laps in each one because I lost a couple of places both times. After you've gone balls-out all race, to drop a slot or two so near the end, and when you're riding your absolute hardest, is a bit of a pisser. It took the edge of the races for me a bit, but my lap times were the closest I've been yet to the leaders so I was well happy with that.

I'm still going on with this Bell's Palsy thing too although my face is much, much better than it was although I am still a bit lopsided. Still can't blink my left eye though but at least I can shut it now with my finger so I don't have to bother taping it up to sleep or anything daft like I used to. But the eye has got dead hardy over the last few months so it's not as painful as it was drying out during races and that even though I am still very aware of it.

There is one other problem with the eye though and it's when I'm in bars. See, when I blink my left eye stays open so it looks like I'm winking, and twice in Italy I was propositioned. By blokes! Flattery is all very well, but all that YMCA stuff isn't quite my scene you know.

Next up was Monza in Italy. Now this is one very fast circuit so it does play into the Kawasaki's hands a bit - top speed is not a problem. And riding the circuit for the first time it was phenomenal - obviously I've seen it before on the telly but nothing can prepare you for how fast it really is except riding there. We're talking 190mph top speeds down the straights and everything.

First race was fantastic despite my nightmare superpole. I was seventh going into superpole, put in a blinding lap, right on it, faster through all the checkpoints than the guys who'd already gone and I was getting all excited. Then I ballsed-up going into the last chicane, missed a gear going in and by the time I'd sorted it out and finished the lap I was back on barbeque row again! I was just like, 'what is this all about?'

The good thing was though, at least it was a mistake that put me on the fourth row and not me riding like a blouse - I'm feeling so much better on the bike now, much more like my old self. Got a good start too, like I do, and legged it into seventh place on the first lap and for the rest of the race there was a five-bike battle for seventh with me at the head of it and three laps to go. Then an over-excited Italian who'd never been to Monza before, on a Ducati and in front of his home crowd, ran into the back of me and had us both off. Fair play to him though, he had a problem with his front brake and he was very apologetic in the gravel afterwards. I can't really complain because I know I've got form for doing the same sort of thing in the past! And with only one working eye and being a bit winded I figured starting a fight wasn't a good idea.

Second race I got another quality start, but then had a bit of a ground clearance problem in right-handers. We'd fixed the bike in such a rush part of the exhaust was going down, although with three laps to go it had worn down enough that I didn't have to worry about it. So all in all, not the best of weekends, but by far the best I've ridden all year.

And now there's Silverstone coming up and I can't wait. It's just going to be ace to ride back at home again and see all the Brit fans. Some people have asked if it'll be daunting being back on the home stage again but to be honest, I'm not near enough the front yet for it to be that much of a problem. My biggest worry is the extra five Ducatis that'll be there for the Brit wild cards. As if I haven't got enough of those to deal with every week as it is! It'll just be fantastic to be back in an event where the crowd are all going gaga for the Brits again. So get yer banners out for me - I'm gonna need them!

October 2002

I'm in a good mood because we are on it right now.

On the way to Brands was where I left you last month, so I guess it's as good a place to pick up the story again. And there was a lot went on there for me - a couple of good results and, as I'm sure you've heard by now, I got myself a new job for next season. But let's start at the beginning.

Basically, right from the off, Brands was massive.

Absolutely, totally, huge. 126,000 people they reckon and from where we were at in the pits it felt like more. The crowd was bigger at Brands for Friday practice than it was at Laguna Seca on race day, and bigger than it was the whole weekend at Lausitz! They reckon it was taking some people five hours to get in and as many to get out again, but thanks to each and every one of them for making the effort. Basically, Brands World Supers is something else and although there's always the extra pressure to perform in front of the home crowd the boost they give all us Brit riders with all the banners, air-horns and that is mega.

So anyway, there I am in the motorhome Saturday night and I get the call-up from GSE Ducati. They want me for 2003, and they want me to come and sign my contract the following morning at 10am, right after the morning warm-up session.

Talk about excited. I have trouble enough sleeping before race day as it is, but after this I had no chance. I was like a little kid waiting for Santa to arrive!

So, morning warm-up comes around on Sunday, and I'm thinking 'right, you've just got to get through this in one piece and it'll be sorted'. But then warm-up was delayed. I was all over the shop - Colin Wright's a punctual man at the best of times so no way could I be late.

We get the all clear to go and so I leg it out there on my trusty green steed, but as luck would have it the boys have put in new discs and pads beforehand, and this is the one time all season they forget to tell me...

On an out lap at Brands, the first real time you come onto the brakes is at the end of that back straight, so I go to grab them and - nothing. I took one of those massive breaths, like you do, got the brakes going a bit and ended up running well wide, out onto the outside of the track where it's all covered in dirt and stuff, wobbling about with one foot down I was that desperate to stay up. I was like, 'nooo, not now, I've got to make it back'. But I made it around upright. I reckon the team might have known what I was up to and had it all planned - come to think of it, they did look a bit surprised to see me coming past the pits, and didn't have a lap board ready like they normally do...

After the session I was straight off to meet Colin and get the contract signed and all official, but it wasn't easy. I mean sneaking around the Brands paddock, at WSB, in Kawasaki leathers and going into places you shouldn't be to see people you can't be seen with isn't an easy job. I was considering tunneling my way over to him at one point.

But we got it done, and I ended up wandering back through the paddock, desperately trying not to look mega excited with my contract rolled up in my hand like it was a time sheet off the warm-up session!

To say I'm pleased is an understatement. I am over the moon and not only is it so good to have next season well and truly sorted this early, I really can't wait to get started.

It's a mega opportunity for me, and with Toseland as a team mate I'm in the best British team superbikes has ever seen. Oh, and I can mention the war again too now I'm not in a German-run team (only kidding lads).

Another good thing about the Ducati ride is I'll be leaving Kawasaki on good terms. Harald and everyone else involved there have all been very cool about things and I'll even be released from my Kawasaki contract early so's I can start testing the Dukes in October.

And believe me, I'm going to need all the time on that bike I can get. I know it's an excellent bike but even so I've got to get used to it and what it can do - it's a very different animal to what I'm used to. My first ever superbike race may have been on a Ducati, but since my half-season on the Old Spice bike in BSB back in '96 I've been on fours. Unless you count my time on two strokes in GPs last year but I think the less said about that the better, eh?

I know that as soon as I get on it for the first time I'll be like, 'oh my god, what am I doing here?', but I also know I'll be loving it too because there's no doubt it'll be an excellent bike and I just need a bit of time to get my head around riding it as fast as it can go.

Pretty much all my time on superbikes I seem to have been chasing those damned Ducatis, and now I've got a real pukka one to get on and try and do the business with. I'm just hoping to learn to ride it quick enough, soon enough that I can put on a good show as soon as next season kicks off.

Doesn't mean I'm not concentrating on the rest of this season though - there are still three rounds to go and after Brands I'm only five points shy of seventh in the championship so I'll be going all out to grab that slot if I can.

Which brings us back to the races themselves at Brands. Qualifying was good and I kept myself off barbecue row once more, although Shakey did out-qualify me again the clever little git. I'm all for wanting the homegrown wild card boys to do well you know, I mean that was me just a couple of years ago, but I don't want them doing too well!

Still, I managed to beat him in the races. Talking of wild cards, Rutter may not have had the most fantastic of races for one reason and another, but he qualified on the front row so a massive big up to him too.

For me I managed a sixth spot in race one which I was well happy with. I even managed to get past Bostrom on the last lap which was nice - I've hardly seen him all season! I know my bike's not as quick as his, so the only thing I can put it down to is the crowd making that much noise for me - must have gifted me a couple of extra mph.

As for race two, I went faster and finished nearer the leaders, but there were more people inbetween us and I came home eighth. Still, a brilliant weekend and I'm right up for Oschersleben next month. Bring it on!

November 2002

I won my first race of the year this month. Okay it was a local motocross meeting, but I was over the moon - it was the first trophy I've picked up since Brands Hatch 2000!

Oschersleben and Assen this month, but the real big deal this had to be the local motocross meeting I did with the boys at the end of our summer break. It was on the last weekend before the season kicked off again so with hindsight may not have been the best thing to be doing, but we went anyway...

The track's a proper old school motocross track - none of this man-made double jumps and stuff - and I always try for a race or two there each year just for the crack.

Anyway, I roped a load of mates into it and we spent a month training and prepping the bikes as if our lives depended on it because we were desperate not to turn up and get rubbished by the real crosser boys.

I was in the 125 expert class on me YZ250F - being a four-stroke you can ride them in the 125s, and I needed all the help I could get being a poofter road racer and all - but it dropped two valves after five laps of practice! I was gutted. Fortunately the local Suzuki centre had a rider there who lent me his bike. So I ended up with a 2003 RM125 to race and even won the last race of the day. I was over the moon - can't remember the last time I won a race! Got a trophy and everything - first I've had since Brands 2000...

With that out the way it was back to the day job and Oschersleben which was a big do for the team, it being their home round and all. There was even a dedicated stand for all the Kawasaki punters which meant a near deafening blast of airhorns every time you came onto the start/finish straight on anything green.

The track there's a funny one - one of those places where there's nothing to dislike, but not much to get your teeth into either. It was a pretty good weekend for me and the team though, apart from young Eric Bostrom breaking his wrist in qualifying and Izutsu struggling with his old wrist injury. It's one of those complicated breaks where you look quite normal within six weeks but strength-wise and feeling-wise you're still way off for a long time so at more physical tracks like Assen he's finding it impossible to get on the pace.

I qualified on the third row after we got the gearing well sorted and some more feeling into the front end. But to get that feel we had to run a soft front tyre which was a big mistake. Although we'd done more than race distance on it in practice, come race time I was pushing that much harder that with 16 laps to go it was all over the place and I went from '+4' on my lap board to '+0' with two laps to go as Lavilla closed, getting past with a lap to go which was frustrating.

The second race turned things around a bit though. We changed the front tyre, got the bike going loads better and I ended up in a race-long battle with Lavilla who's a strange sort of rider. He is fast, no doubt about it, but he's one of these guys who'll run at the pace of whoever's in front of him, then when he gets past he tends to ease back to his own speed again. So in race two I figured I'd sit behind him until near the end before making my move. Instead my clutch went with two laps to go. I was spewing! Wobbled round until the end and finshed fifteenth so at least I got a point.

I was smashed though because I was trying to keep ahead of Chili and Lavilla championship-wise, but after Oschersleben they'd pulled closer to me while Toseland who I was trying to overhaul had pulled away some more so while I'm not battling for a top slot in the championship it still matters a lot to me where I end up and it was a bit of a disappointing meeting overall.

At least there was the great Kawasaki party in the paddock to look forward to afterwards. Hmm... It was a typically German 'loads of beer and no atmosphere' affair which I can't say is exactly my scene but never mind. Not a bad do though and the Bostroms came along, as did Pitty and Kevin Curtain, who can in fact drink for the whole of Australia, and does on occasion.

And so on to Assen. We ended up with a load of us going there in convoy actually. There was me (with Heckles cadging a lift, obviously), Colin Edwards and Alyssia, the Hodgsons with young Toseland on board, Peter Goddard and family, Haga, Izutsu, McGuinness and Muggeridge, all with their families attached.

We stopped on the way at this real trick place with camping, golf, rock climbing and all that going on, that Peter Goddard knew about and ended up playing golf while we were there. Trouble is, the other guys were either proper good at golf or much better than they said they were, and I am - no word of a lie - absolutely wank at it! After a few disastrous holes we started getting stalked by these German course officials, who ended up shouting at us, yelling about how we had to "go on". We thought they meant to hurry up with our game. What they actually meant was get off the course... When they found us still playing a couple of tees later, they had a total sense of humor failure and marched us back to the clubhouse. Still, we got our money back so it wasn't all bad.

Assen itself was alright too although it wasn't the smoothest meeting of the year for me. The track changes for this year haven't spoiled it, but the new section has slowed the place down a bit. Still a very special place to race though, and as ever for Assen there were more Brits there than anyone else.
In practice we had more out-of-round tyres in the batch than you could imagine was possible which gave us all sorts of chatter problems we couldn't fathom out. New tyres finally cured the problem partially, but the set up we were then at was then all wrong. The bike was still chattering that bad come superpole time that when I got back into the pits it felt like I'd lost half my fillings.

But by Sunday we had an awesome set up only for me to get a stone thrown up off Toseland's back tyre as he headed into the gravel in the warm-up smashing into my foot and breaking a few bones in the top of it. Fortunately our team doctor sorted me out with loads of painkillers and I was alright to ride although it didn't look too pretty. But then my bike started leaking water on the grid so I had to start from pitlane on the spare.

Got well stuck into the race though, only for the rear wheel to break six laps in dumping me about as far away from the pits as possible so I had to walk all the way back with a broken foot. Which was nice.
Race two everything held up alright though, got a blinding start and what with the various dramas had a race-long duel with Bostrom and then Haga. Even though I couldn't quite have them I was still well happy with the end result.

Now I'm resting my weary foot in time for Imola and the end of the season. Seeya out there.

December 2002

What about Imola then? Well, I'd say it was a fantastic meeting to be at, but I'd rather have been a spectator than a participant. The Championship itself was coming to a massive head, but my own championship was pretty much over - whatever I did I wasn't really in a position to move up or down

It wasn't too bad though. Got a mega start for race one but then the tyre blistered, and in the second one I outbraked myself into the chicane on the first lap, earning a stop/go penalty for my troubles.

But as soon as the second race was over, I legged it back to the motorhome to catch the race on TV and see what had really gone on with Edwards and Bayliss!

Awesome or what? Edwards was excellent, as Peter Kay would say, "he's at the top, and he's going higher!"

Looking back on the season I'm well happy with it, especially after last year. I stayed on the bike most of the time apart from my wet topple at Silverstone and getting knocked off at Monza by Borciani after his brakes went, and scored points at every meeting too.

My team were excellent this year though, and the bike was just what I needed - it was a bike nobody expected too much of you on, and as my confidence came back it did me proud. It was always going to be hard to be nearer the front on it, but that was going to be hard for me anyway after my disastrous 2001. As it was the bike, the team and Kawasaki were all great at pushing me to get my confidence back so it's a big thanks to Harald, Theo, Sicco, and Georgie for an excellent year.

As for next year, second time out at all the tracks and on a more competitive bike I'm just desperate to get a shot at the Championship for real. All I need to do now is ride the thing and not be injured all winter.

There's plenty in the press about WSB not being as good next year with teams rumoured to be pulling out and stuff but they said that about the BSB last year and that was awesome. All I can see with people moving out of the series like Bayliss and Edwards have is that it other people get a shot at winning.

It is a shame to lose stars like those two but there are more behind them and to be honest, last season was a bit dull to start with but two blinding last races and everyone's talking about it being the best season ever. I'm just gagging to get back into it and bring on the Brits because there's a bunch of us all on quality bikes.

Since Imola, as you may have heard I've had an eventful weekend at the Mettet Supermoto race in Belgium where I managed to break my leg.

My bike was a Honda CRF450, a dead light nimble thing - just the way women should be really - with 55bhp as standard although I reckon mine was closer to 65 after GSE engine guru Stewart Johnstone had worked his magic on it. Definitely one of the fastest things there apart from the factory KTMs which I was chuffed about.

The first race was ace, invitation-only, with loads of legends like Stefan Everts, Stephane Chambon, Joel Smets, loads of 'em. Oh, and me...

Qualified on the front row though, got a mediocre start but still got it home in fourth which I was happy enough about. I badly wanted a rostrum, especially with not having seen a podium for so long so I was all guns blazing for race two.

And it was all shaping up nicely until a guy a split-second ahead clipped some tyres, moved them six inches into the track and I caught my foot on them. Didn't even fall off but it felt real strange so I had a look down, saw my foot was facing the wrong way and thought, 'that's not right', hoofed it round into the right sort of position wobbled back into the pits on the bike.

From there it was straight into the worst ambulance I think I've ever had the pleasure of travelling in - it was like an old trannie van with a red cross on the side. But, the guys at the hospital were awesome. I went in there Sunday afternoon and was all operated on and ready to roll by Monday dinnertime. Soon as they knew what I did for a living, that was it, they couldn't sort me out fast enough - if I'd have come home I'd still be in the NHS queue now! Reckon I halved my recovery time getting sorted out there so crap ambulances or not, it's a big shout going out to Belgian hospitals.

Getting home wasn't so funny though. Apparently my insurance policy paid to get me home so they said they'd lay on an ambulance... Well, I wasn't too keen but I waited for it anyway. But it was a no-show so by Tuesday afternoon when it still hadn't come I booked myself a flight home and scarpered.
Wish I hadn't though - I had a full Planes, Trains & Automobiles saga. After a taxi to the airport in Belgium got me to the plane, it all went wrong. Coming into Stansted we had to circle for ages so despite the taxi driver's best efforts to get me across to Luton station in time when we finally did land I missed the train. Got the next one though which stopped at every stop and finally got home what felt like a week after I'd left.

Oh, and it was great to discover winter had arrived while I was away too. Real nice that when you're sporting an open-toed plastercast. Nearly ended up with frostbitten toes.

Apart from that it was a quality weekend and I'd like to thank everyone who helped me get the bike sorted and get out there for playing their part in breaking my leg! Actually, being the sucker for punishment I am I know I'll be back next year...

But I've got no regrets - if I hadn't been there riding a bike I'd have been somewhere else doing something daft on one because it's what I do with my Sundays.

Obviously neither the team nor myself are exactly happy about the situation but, fingers crossed, if I mend as quick as I normally do then I'll be better for the end of November and the first testing session.

And I'm following my normal recovery method of keeping active - if you just sit there sulking it'll hurt more and you'll never get better at all. I am a bit smashed though because normally this is the time of year when I can chill out a bit and have a few beers. Instead I'm a bit secondhand and you never look as cool hobbling around the pubs on crutches with one leg of your trousers slit to the thigh do you? But there is always the sympathy vote with the chicks...

I'm gutted about missing the Weston Beach race but I'm more concerned with making a quick recovery and getting stuck into testing. After that it's going to be a case of!