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Ready to Race with Triumph's Speed Triple

Triumph’s Street Triple beats the competition on the road, but how about on the track? We enter a completely bog stock street triple into a national race to find out

Despite there being 28 other riders lined up on the grid in front of me, and another five behind, this is the least of my worries. No, what is causing me the most bother at this precise moment is the rider occupying grid position 22. This man-mountain, who is currently dwarfing his Hornet 600, is so big he’s blocking my view of the starting lights. Somehow I doubt that Rossi has ever experienced this problem.

Somewhere up in the distance the man with the red flag points in the direction of where, I assume, the lights are and walks off the grid, instantly sparking a cacophony of revving engines. Thankfully the mammoth rider hunches down, revealing the lights, and allowing me to at least have a fighting chance of not being sat on the grid in a state of bafflement while everyone else buggers off into the distance.

Racing is a strange thing. If you sit down and coolly analyse the goings on it’s one of the most pointless activities known to man. Imagine trying to explain it to a Martian. ‘We go round in circles, burn loads of fuel, use up tyres and finish in exactly the same spot we started, only having used up lots of expensive things to get, exactly, err... nowhere.’ you can almost imagine his single eyebrow rising over his three eyes in bewilderment. But every weekend in the UK hundreds of people do just that (I mean race, not chat to people with mono-brows, that only happens in Peterborough) and this weekend I’m one of them.

Like most riders I enjoy the occasional track day, but recently after each I’ve found myself wondering how I’m riding in the greater scheme of things and often a little bit deflated. It’s all very well and good riding on track, but without a real aim it sometimes feels like I’m circulating for the hell of it. You might overtake a few people, and get overtaken yourself, but with such a varied mix of machinery is it the rider or the bike that is making the difference? So I decided to take the plunge and enter my Triumph Street Triple long termer into a race.

Since it entered onto the scene last year the Street Triple has beaten the hell out of all the other streetbike middleweights when it comes to group tests on the road. I freely admit to loving the bike and was intrigued to see how it, and myself, would do in a proper race on track.

So we entered into a great new series aimed at providing cheap racing for those after something a bit different to a race-rep: the Street Fighter class. The rules are simple. Bikes must have bars mounted above the top yoke and are split into two classes. Below 600cc (or 675cc triples or 750cc twins) with a maximum of 95bhp are in B, the rest in a, with a top limit of 130bhp. Most riders seem to have dragged their Hornet 600 out of the shed, race-prepped it, sorted the suspension and stuck on a set of sticky tyres, although there are a few odd-balls, most noticeably the hero on a GSX-R1100.

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preparing to race

First, prepare your tool

Preparation on my side involved drilling bits, creating an oil catch tank with a fibreglass repair kit, swapping brake lines and removing the licence plate, mirrors and glass from the headlights. That’s it. no suspension fiddling (the Triumph doesn’t have adjustable suspension), no tuning work (we couldn’t get the baffles out the pipes so it was even road legal sound-wise), not even the indicators were removed.

I could quite easily have ridden the bike to the track, swapped the tyres and got racing. In fact for the first qualifying session we didn’t have time to swap the tyres, so I went out on the Bridgestone BT-016 road tyres, and qualified 7th out of 12th. Although this only lasted until the rest of the field pulled their fingers out in the next session, demoting me to 9th in class and 29th overall. Never mind, I had a set of sticky BT-003 tyres and a demented mind-set for the race.

First-corner chaos

There is simply nothing better than the buzz of a first corner when you are racing. I love it. It sends tingles down my spine just thinking of it. The lights go out and you bump and barge your way towards the braking point, intimidating other riders out of your way by simply sticking your bike where you want it. They can move, I’m not. It’s not dangerous, just forceful and determined. Imagine the buzz you get when you beat someone away from the lights, multiply it by about a thousand and you aren’t even close.

Get into the first corner and there are bikes crashing to your left, sitting up ahead and all you are focused on finding the clear line, like a soldier picking his way through a minefield. It’s only really the first corner and half of the first lap when things are hectic and intense, after this the field starts to spread out, but the adrenalin rush keeps on going. Can you keep up with that group ahead? They are inching away, keep pushing, be brave, focus on braking markers. See where he brakes then go later. Unlike a trackday there is no pause. Does it look like a gap? Then take it. Don’t think about it, grab the opportunity with both hands and make the most of another rider’s misfortune.

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first corner chaos

In the morning practice sessions seven laps felt like an eternity, but during the race it was all over in seconds. Well actually it was all over a bit too early. just one lap in and I caught a glimpse of red lights as I crossed the start/finish line, backing off I cruised around for a lap expecting to see some carnage. Sure enough, more red lights, this time accompanied by flag- waving marshals, and the race was stopped, leaving the remaining racers to sit on the circuit until the bits of broken bike were shovelled up. a re-start was announced so it was back to corner-one chaos!

This time everyone made it around upright, but crossing the start/finish line again I saw some red lights. Backing off a bit I was looking out for more flag waving, which never happened, so I decided I must have been seeing things and carried on. But no, once again the lights were shining on the start/finish straight. This time I decided to be a proper racer and ignore it until I saw a man with a red flag jumping up and down, which I never did. What I did see, however, a few laps later was a man waving a yellow flag with a black cross and a chequered flag being waved. Waved flag? Race finished? The guy ahead seemed to be slowing down, so I cruised around for another lap, only to find the chequered flag being waved far more enthusiastically the next lap. arse. Then I noticed the red lights I kept seeing, which turned out to be the pit lane exit lights, warning riders not to pull out the pits! Double arse. Two schoolboy errors in one race, what a bloody amateur.

Back at Team Urry’s HQ (a battered gazebo next to a white van) I was relieved and disappointed. Relieved to be back in one piece and lapping a second faster than practice, disappointed to have made two silly errors and effectively wasted three out of my precious 10 racing laps. But that’s racing, like a round of golf you never get it 100% correct, there is always something to work on and the main thing was the Triumph was competitive.

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pushing yourself

Learn to push yourself

With absolutely no changes to stock the Street Triple was only three seconds slower than the fastest race-prepped Hornet, and that was with me on it making about a hundred mistakes. yes, firing down flat-out Craner took a bit of guts as the suspension was so soft it compressed badly, meaning I was dragging the tips of pegs, and the hard braking areas had the back end in the air, again due to soft forks, but overall the handling was fine, and I was sure there was more to come if only I could get my head into gear for the second race.

As my girlfriend will testify, a large majority of a race day is the race to do absolutely nothing. There is a lot of hanging around, waiting for your allocated slot and passing the time by drinking vast quantities of tea. It was during one of these tea breaks that Team Urry decided to bugger off at the exact moment that my race was called. A frantic flurry of activity ensued while I did battle with tyre warmers and paddock stands on my own before rushing to the collecting area, only to find it deserted apart from one novice rider.

Adopting my slot at the back of the grid behind the big lad I got a belting start, a decent run through the first corner and tagged onto the back of the top runners in my class. With something to focus on I tried my best to get my head down but try as I might they kept edging away.

The Triumph’s lack of midrange compared to the Hornets was costing me every corner exit and the pack kept frustratingly edging away lap by lap until I made a bit of a hash of the entrance to McLean's, scared myself, and allowed another rider past, who just happened to be the big lad from the grid! But I managed to knock another two seconds off my lap times with them now in the 1 minute 22 seconds area I was only 1 second off the leaders, which I was chuffed with.

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go racing

Worth it, then?

Racing is a double-edged sword. I returned to Team HQ with a bike intact and buzzing after riding harder than I do on a trackday. That’s the plus side. Would I be feeling as good if I was returning with a bruised body, bent bike and impending parts bill? I doubt it very much. But as Niall said, “Racing is like childbirth, you forget all the pain and suffering and only remember the good bits.” How would he know?

You get far more laps on a trackday, but nothing beats that buzz of a first corner and you will find yourself getting faster. What are the chances of an accident? That was the part that was playing on my mind, but I’ve seen more accidents at trackdays than I have racing. People don’t get ‘spooked’ if you pass them, brake at odd points and generally do the unexpected, so you can concentrate more on what the bike is doing, focusing your senses and reducing the risk of a crash.

The race paddock is full of some of the nicest people you will ever meet, all drawn together with the love of an expensive, slightly dangerous and largely pointless activity that is highly addictive and brilliant fun. as long as it all goes right.

The costs:

Race entry at Donington was £140 for two 10-minute practices and two 10-lap races. Van hire is around £45 a day, diesel depends on where you live, tyres are £240 a pair, fitting is £5 a wheel at the circuit, and it’s £15 to hire a transponder, a necessity to record your place/lap times. Sarnies are free if you speak nicely to the missus!

How do I get a licence?

Getting an ACU road race is a massive ball-ache, good old health & safety has seen to that. First you need to attend a pre-licence training course at a school such as the Californian Superbike School (around £200). With this done you need to get to Rugby (the ACU’s HQ) and attend a largely pointless four-hour training course and pass a multiple choice ‘exam’, it’s a piece of piss but costs £50. Next comes the eyesight test (about £25 at any optician) then you have to join a club and finally pay the ACU £43 for the licence. All in it costs about £400 and two days of your time. Are you surprised there are more people in the UK over 65 years old holding a race licence than under 18? For more information go to: www.acu.org.uk

Where can I race?

The Street Fighter class is part of the Thundersport GB club, run by Dave and Bernadette, www.thundersportgb.com. For other clubs contact the ACU.