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Neil Ronketti mailed me recently about starting to race. I helped him out some, and he sent me this diary of his experiences:

A more complete version of events can now be found here.


Late June, 1997. Can't exactly remember when.

I've just had one of my more stupid ideas - I want to go club racing. This is despite at present being sizeably in debt, and having just forked out a good few hundred quid to get my road bike up to MOT standard. Doing a bit of wandering on the internet I find the excellent Magsport page, and some sound advice from Roger Ford. He mentions that a TZR250 is a good way to start, and this seems good to me. I think I'd better talk to Faye about this before I make any firm commitments.

Next day

Somewhat surprisingly, Faye has agreed that this would be a good thing to do, despite me moaning for the past six months that I couldn't afford a new carpet for the living room. OK, so now I'm sure that I want to start racing, but there's an awful lot of arranging to do, and I'm completely lost. Send a note to Roger Ford asking for advice, and start thinking seriously about the whole affair. Firstly, I'll need leathers. No problem, they're on order from Crowtree at the moment. Next up, I'll need a license. Shouldn't be a problem, but I'll need to join a club. Which one? Then I'll need a bike. Where from? Do I just use the MCN classifieds and risk being flogged a dog? How do I get the bike to race meetings? What is involved in entering a race and competing? So many questions at the moment. I have a feeling this could turn out to be a bit of an uphill struggle for the first few weeks until I get the basic questions answered.

Friday, 27th June

A reply from Roger has answered the majority of my questions: Which bike? TZR250, as it's (relatively) cheap, won't scare the crap out of me, and I used to own one so know the bike inside out. Which club? BMCRC, as they're close by, and run a large TZR class. So, now I knew what club and class, and it's time to start talking to people and trying to find a bike. I write a letter to the BMCRC asking for help, and license application forms.

Sunday, 29th June

Spend a nice day at Snetterton watching the Race of Aces, and decide that yes, I really want to do this, and I should start putting some serious effort into actually getting things done. The racing itself was great. I casually mention to Faye that I'd also quite like to do sidecar racing if I could find someone to sit in the chair. At the moment an outfit comes hurtling around Russels, and the passenger misses his handhold and almost gets thrown clean out of the chair. She looked at me with one of those "if you think I'm doing that you've got to be bloody joking" looks.

Friday, 4th July

A very detailed reply from Dave Stewart at BMCRC confirms that they will be running the TZR class for a while yet, and it's a good class to get started in. As well as this, he's given me a very useful guide to getting started in racing , and the number of Ian Bassett who has a ready to race TZR up for grabs. So far everyone I've spoken to has bent over backwards to help me with useful advice, and helpful contacts. I phone the doctor to arrange a medical, and make a mental note to call Ian tomorrow.

Saturday, 5th July

Call Ian, but not in, so I promise to call back later. Also start looking for trailers to stick the bike on when I get one. I have a feeling this is going to be one of the biggest obstacles. I'd like to have a van to get to races, but I'd have nowhere to leave it when I wasn't racing, and besides which, I could never afford one.

Sunday, 6th July

Ian calls back, and is a really nice bloke, offering me all sorts of advice, ending up with an agreement to go and see him on Saturday to take a look at the bike and talk about the details of going racing, and looking after a race bike. This is good. Everyone so far has been incredibly helpful in putting up with my stupid questions.

Monday, 7th July

Go to the doctors, and get my medical done. Even the doctor is helpful and supportive, giving me a cheery wave and advice to be careful as he doesn't want to see me in the near future with any broken bones. Once the medical is done I send off the ACU application and BMCRC membership form.
Cost so far:
Medical: £25
ACU license: £21
Novice jacket: £5
BMCRC membership: £15

Tuesday, 8th July

Told Roger of progress so far, and the fact that the only things holding me up really are 1) sorting out a trailer and 2) waiting for my leathers. Lo and behold, within 10 minutes I get a reply offering to loan me leathers and trailer should the need arise. Looks like I'll need to sort out a towbar on the car sooner than I thought. Ask the lease company about fitting a tow bar to their car, and I'm told it has to be a nice official one. So, I can't pick up a twenty quid tow bar from Halfords and fit it myself. Phone around for a few quotes, and they are all in the £130 bracket. Looks like there's no option and I'll just have to stump up the cash.

Wednesday, 9th July

BMCRC membership turns up, along with entry forms for the remaining races of the season. Here I hit my first major snag. I don't understand the entry forms. I'm not too worried by this, as I've still got a long way to go before actually entering any races.

Friday, 11th July

ACU license, record card, and novice jacket arrive. I was expecting a handbook of sorts as well, but perhaps they realise I'm an incompetent idiot who probably couldn't understand it anyway.

Saturday, 12th July

Drive over to Thamesmead to meet Ian and his amazing performing TZR. I have to trust him on the mechanical condition of the bike and it's value, as I've never been this close to a race bike before. (Unless you count the time I stroked the seat unit of Schwantz's Suzuki at the Ally Pally show a few years back). Certainly the bike sounds fit, with a lovely crackle coming from the modified pipes. However, the colour scheme is complete yak. Well executed yak, but complete yak all the same. I agree to the asking price, and then ask if the trailer is thrown in for the price. No, it isn't, but I can borrow it if I need it. Ian & I then talk about racing in general, and scare the willies out of Faye by mentioning all manner of accidents and various fatalities over the years. End up by agreeing to buy a chest protector to go with the rest of the body armour I'm having built into my leathers. So this is it. No turning back now. I've got a race bike, so by definition I have to go out and ride it on a race track. Ooooh Gawd. What have I done?
Cost so far:
Bike: £1500

Sunday, 13th July

Off to Brands to watch the BMCRC races and meet up with Roger and Ian again. Can't find either of them. Not to worry though, as the racing's good, and I get to poke around the paddock and have a look at the rest of the TZRs there. Some of them look frighteningly serious, but at least there's one guy there who's got a TZR with a worse colour scheme than Ians (I suppose I should call it mine, but it won't really be until I've ridden it), and ĎTeam Henry' plastered down the side. Number 74, if you ever get to read this, you've made me feel a lot better. An announcement then comes over the commentary that Roger crocked himself in the open class yesterday, and was carted off injured. Ooh Blimey. Hope he's OK. The rest of the day is spent watching the racing from Clarks, and trying to avoid getting sunburned. I fail miserably in this respect, and return home with a bright red nose.

Monday, 14th July

Phoned Crowtree to check on progress of my leathers, and need to call back first week in August, and they should be able to give me a definite date then. Also sent a get well note to Roger. Hope he's OK.

Tuesday, 15th July

ACU handbook arrived this morning, and as suspected I don't understand a word of it. Spoke to Ian in afternoon to arrange for a time to come and pick up the bike, and he told me that Roger was in Queen Mary's with a broken leg. Hope this is not an omen... Anyway, with any luck I'll be picking up the bike Saturday, so I need to arrange to pick up the cash from my building society and get a tow bar fitted this week. Phone tow bar company - Yup, they can do it tomorrow, no problem. Phone building society - Can't pick up cash until next Thursday. Somewhat unbelievably this is the first thing that has gone wrong in my efforts to get on the track.
Cost so far:
Tow Bar: £129.95

Wednesday, 16th July

After lengthy and protracted negotiations with my building society I end up getting the cash to pay for the bike today. Chappie comes along to fit my nice new shiny tow bar in the afternoon.

Thursday, 17th July

Call Ian, and arrange to pick the bike up on Saturday. Looks like I'll need to clear a space in the garage, and arrange a trailer. At least one of these problems is quickly overcome by Ian calling me back and offering me his trailer. Blimey, that's handy.
Cost so far:
Trailer: £100

Saturday, 19th July

Drive over to Ians and pick up his bike and trailer. He seems pretty sad to see it go, and I can understand why. Spend a good couple of hours talking about how to look after it and race it, and end up with an informal agreement that Ian will be my mechanic for the first race I enter. It's starting to look like this might be at Lydden on 17th August, so I'd better get an entry form in quick. I also need to get a dog tag, and for this I need to know my blood group. Much to my embarrassment I haven't got a clue about this. I guess it's about time I started giving blood seeing as my chances of needing any have probably risen slightly since starting this whole episode.

Monday, 21st July

Sent entry forms off for meeting at Lydden on 17th August. Iíve only entered the three TZR races on the day, as a) Iím not sure how knackered Iíll be and b) Iím not sure how the bike will behave itself and c) It seems pointless forking out the extra money for more races until Iím certain I can do them. Once I get used to these things I might start entering a few more races over the weekend. Also contacted the National Blood Transfusion service to register as a donor and get my blood typed.
Cost so far:
Race entry fee: £65
Thatís a whole lot of money spent so far seeing as I havenít paid for my leathers, or actually ridden the bike yet. However, I guess it could have been done cheaper if Iíd opted for a cheaper class to go racing in. MZ250 for instance, could have picked one up for £750 or so. But, I think Iíve done the right thing as the bike is completely race ready, and came with a garage full of spares just in case. All I need to do is put petrol and oil in it. Funnily enough while Iíve been typing this up my bank manager called and politely enquired as to whether I planned to do anything about my overdraft in the near future. Ooops. I think therein lies a moral - It seems to me that racing is more about planning and preparation than actual racing. Unfortunately Iím crap at both planning and preparation. (And quite possibly at racing as well, only time will tell).

Tuesday, 22nd July

Ordered a few spares that Iíll more than likely be needing at the first few meetings. Duct tape, three-bond, fibreglass matting, cable ties etc.
Cost so far:
Repair kit: £70

Wednesday, 23rd July

Finally got to meet Roger over a cup of tea and promptly got sat on by his cat. After a lengthy chat we decided that Rogers leathers would fit me if I needed them, and so Iím all ready to go as soon as my entry comes in for Lydden on 17th August. We also tried to arrange some track time at Cadwell before the race so I can get used to the bike. Good job Rogerís got so many contacts. I was also slightly amazed to learn that heís planning on returning to the race track on 16th August, despite still being on crutches and having a large pin in his femur. Hard man.

Saturday, 26th July

Went to give blood today. To be honest, I wasnít particularly looking forward to this anyway, but the nurse took one look at me, realised how hungover I was, and told me to sod off, and come back next week.

Thursday, 31st July

Phoned Linda at Crowtree to see if there was any chance of my leathers being ready for 17th August. No chance of picking them up before 30th August. Sent a begging note to Roger to see if his spare set are still going, and when I can come and pick them up.

Friday, 1st August

Finally got round to becoming a blood donor. I really canít see what I was so nervous about - itís all very quick and painless, and I got to eat most of the biscuits thoughtfully provided. Unfortunately they wonít be able to tell me my blood type for 3-6 weeks, so Iíll just have to wait. Bugger.

Saturday, 2nd August

Picked up Rogers spare set of leathers, and they fit just about spot on. They look like theyíve covered more miles on the tarmac than the bike, but thatís by the by. To be honest, itís quite probably a good thing, as lining up for my first race in a brand new set of leathers is really asking for trouble. Whilst idly chatting about racing, Roger brought up the worrying topic of "Which way up is the gearchange?" I fervently hope itís the Ďnormalí 1 down shift of the TZR, as Iíve got enough to worry about in my first race already without having to learn a new shift pattern as well. Before I leave Roger makes me promise to tape over the "Ford" written on the back of the leathers on the grounds that "Itíll confuse the commentators". Secretly I think that itís because he doesnít want people thinking that the idiot wobbling round at the back on the field is actually him. Also contacted Mallory Park with a view to taking the bike up there for a Wednesday afternoon for a quick spin to try and get used to it. Just turn up on the day, 27 quid, and no need to pre-book. Thatís handy.

Sunday, 3rd August

Tried to take the bike out for a quick play round Sainsburys car park to get a feel for it before going anywhere near a track. Couldnít get the bloody thing started. Still, looking on the bright side Iím more than happy that this happened in the comfort of my own garage rather than after paying for track time up at Mallory. Iíll whip the plugs out tomorrow, as Iím certain theyíre fouled. Iíve also got a new battery to sling in there, as the old one is only really of any practical use as a paperweight.

Tuesday, 5th August

Call Ian to see if he fancies a trip up to Mallory next week to help out if things go wrong, and get me home if I stuff the bike into the wall somewhere around the track.

Thursday, 7th August

Call Dave at BMCRC to see if I have a place at next weekends meeting. Yes, I do, and my race number is 93. This is handy as the bike already has a number 3 on it from last season, so I only need to buy a number 9. Also pick up a dog tag with my name and date of birth on it from a local cobblers. Ideally I should have my blood group too, but I donít know this, so Iíll have to add it later. I also get to see the video of Rogers big accident at Brands a few weeks back , and start to question why exactly I want to do this.
Cost so far:
Dog tag: £4
Fuel can: £5
Measuring cylinder: £4

Sunday, 10th August

Take the bike out for the first time, around Sainsburyís car park. While thereís certainly no shortage of grip from the tyres, the engine seems a bit rough, and refused to pull at all below 8000. I put this down to three things: 1) The battery only had about 1 hour of charge in it, so was, to all intents and purposes still flat as a slow hedgehog 2) Inexperience with the bike and 3) Iím a cackhanded cretin with the throttle at the best of times. Hopefully itís number 1, as thatís the easiest to cure. Having said all that, the bike was still bloody fast when it pulled cleanly.

Monday, 11th August

Spoke to Ian & Roger about yesterdays testing, and both came to the conclusion that it is almost certainly the battery causing the bad running. This immediately made me feel a lot better, and is probably due to the fact that I tried charging a 4A battery with a 4A charger. I didnít know that you were supposed to use a charger of 10% of the batteries capacity. Roger then came to the rescue with "about 4 spare battery chargers at home" which is odd as the TZ he runs doesnít have a battery. Then again, I have three empty photo albums despite never having possessed a camera. I make a mental note to order another couple of batteries from M&P tomorrow, so I can have a spare in case I knacker one with another of my displays of woeful ineptitude. Iíve already made plans to Ďborrowí the battery from Fayes ZX-4 if I ever need to. Just remembered I also need to get a fire extinguisher from somewhere too, and I donít suppose theyíre cheap. I was going to pinch the one from my office, but it has a big label on the side saying "unfit for service". Donít think the scrutineers will like that too much. So, a 2kg dry powder fire extinguisher gets added to the shopping list. My neighbour has helpfully found a stopwatch for me, but the way things are going at the moment I have a feeling a calendar may be more appropriate.
Cost so far:
Another two batteries: £30
Spare fuel can: £5

Tuesday, 12th August

In an unparalleled display of enthusiasm I send off applications for the meeting at Pembrey on 7th Sept. As with this Sundays meeting Iíve only entered the three races over the weekend, for broadly the same reasons as before. Hope I donít stuff the bike at Lydden. I get in touch with Robin Szemeti who promises to send me a circuit diagram for an ingenious battery charger he designed to run off his car battery. In an effort to cure the poor running problems I put a freshly charged new battery in there. Starts first time, but still refuses to run cleanly below 8000, wonít take full throttle at all, and wonít take any load whatsoever after about 5 minutes of running. Bugger. Iím now starting to worry if thereís a) something seriously wrong with the bike, or b) something seriously wrong with me. Push the bloody thing back to the garage, and start stripping it to find whatís causing the poor running. The first thing I notice is that the airbox isnít properly seated on the carbs. This might cause some problems at full throttle, but wouldnít explain the inability to take any load when warm. I then notice that one choke cable is rusted solid, and whatís worse, the choke is fully on. In the absence of a spare choke cable to replace it with I just remove the knackered one, and seat the airbox properly on the carbs. While removing the rusty choke cable it conveniently snaps, so I canít try and lubricate and re- fit it. More expense. Thinking about it, the choke stuck fully on would explain why the bike wouldnít take full throttle, and why after 5 minutes running it wouldnít take any load at all. Not sure about the inability to run below 8000. Iíll have to take it for another test run tomorrow to find out. Iíll bet Jamie Whitham never has these problems.
Cost so far:
Race entry fee: £65

Wednesday, 13th August

Call Ian to ask his advice about the knackered choke cable, and he agrees that it would play a major part in the crap running Iíd noticed. He also mentioned that the pilot jets occasionally get bunged up with pre-mix, and that they might need a clean out. My sliders arrive from Wil at Wiz Racing, and they look rather funky. Apparently heís trying out some new ideas, and Iím one of the guinea pigs. Seeing as Iím not paying full retail (Cheers Wil) I canít complain. Part of the deal is that I get to put some Wiz stickers on the bike, so along with the sliders comes a selection of Wiz stickers in various designs. Strip the bike in the evening to try and clear out the pilot jets, but I can only get to one of them as the screws holding the float bowl on one of the carbs are done up so bloody tightly I canít get a decent grip on them with the screwdriver. I donít want to risk chewing up the heads, as then Iíll need to use a set of extractors to get them out, with all the assorted agro that causes. I then remember the spare carbs, and take a look at the float bowl screws on them. Theyíre all knackered too. I get the feeling that Ian has been through this process before me... Anyway, I clear out the one pilot jet I can get to, and give the bike another blat up and down the road. BIG difference. It now takes full throttle quite happily from 7000 upwards, and is absolutely flying. Needs lots of clutch slip to get away from the line, but thatís a technique Iíll have to learn. Iíve been spoilt riding large four strokes for so long where you can just twat the throttle in any gear at any revs and get away with it. Riding this thing is going to be a steep learning process, but bloody good fun. My testing has to be stopped pretty quickly though, as Iím riding round a heavily built up area, and the TZR is not exactly in the church mouse league when it comes to being quiet.
Cost so far:
Fire extinguisher: £20
Sliders: £cheap

Thursday, 14th August

Final preparation for Sundays race:- Strip carbs again and check both pilots and mains. Change gearing to 14/42. (This was an absolute git of a job, as the bike was geared 14/40, and the chain wouldnít stretch around a 42 tooth rear). Topped up fuel, and filled both spare cans with premix. Recharged battery. Re-lockwired both sump plugs, and the oil filler. (Not strictly necessary, but Iíve been dying to lockwire something). Check caliper bolts are tight. Check plugs. Check coolant. Give everything a final clean.
Cost so far:
20 litres ACU approved unleaded (ho ho): £12

Saturday, 16th August

Trailered bike to Lydden, and camped overnight.

Sunday, 17th August

Lydden circuit map

Well, I finished last, last and last, but I got home without blowing the bike up, and with all limbs the same shape, so that's a moral victory for me. In the process, I also learned volumes, about the track, the bike, and more importantly, myself.
Scrutineering was a git, as I'd parked at the top of a big hill, and scrutineering was at the bottom. The regulations state that no racing engines are to be started before first practise, so the push back up the hill in full leathers in 29 degree heat was not particularly enjoyable. Anyway, we sailed through without a hitch. First practise was for 12:30, so at 12:20 I climbed into my leathers, and headed off to the assembly area.
I have never, ever been so nervous. The collecting area was like a livestock market. Bikes of all shapes and sizes queued up behind the gate, and the noise, heat and aggression was staggering. We had about five minutes of this before the gate was lifted, and everyone shot out onto the track. This was it, the first chance Iíd had to actually open the bike up in anger. Into the first corner, tip it in, and whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, about 15 people went round the outside of me like I was going backwards. No problem, after all, my first corner on an unfamiliar bike is hardly likely to be at a fast pace. Coming out of the corner a chap on an RS250 shot past me staggeringly quickly. Blimey. However, after 5 or 6 laps Iíd got the feel of the bike, and noticed a bloody annoying misfire when opening up out of a corner. The motor would die for half a second, then come in full chat. At the time I thought it wouldnít be a problem, as Iím hardly likely to be going fast enough to worry about little hitches like that. The red flag came out, so I came off the circuit, went through the paddock, and queued up for another session. More of the same ensued.
First race - My demon start and second row grid position saw me fifty yards clear of the pack at the first corner. Unfortunately I was fifty yards clear at the back. Not to worry. I set about chasing the tail enders, and within 4 or 5 laps had caught them, in the process grounding out my fairing, and both pipes. However, I couldnít pass them. The misfire coming out of the corners was giving them a 5 yard headstart away from me from every corner, and I wasnít confident enough to go past on the brakes. I got to the second last corner, and noticed the leaders homing in on me pretty bloody quickly, so took a wide line on the last corner and let the eventual winner through on an RS125. Best lap: 51.8 something. (The fastest TZRs were doing 47s).
Second race - More of the same really. My start was even worse this time, and I was chasing like hell when a monster slide at the North Bend sapped my confidence somewhat. I know what caused it - In an effort to ride around the hesitation when opening up from the corner I was trying to open the throttle earlier. I got it too early, and the power came in with a big bang and the back span out. This time I got lapped three corners from the end, and was caught by three riders this time, including one on a TZR who gave me a thumbs up on the cool down lap, which boosted my confidence no end. Best lap: 52.4 something. Why was I going backwards?
Third race - Slightly better start, but still last by a long way into the first corner. Again, I was closing on the back markers, but lost out on drive away from corners. Another slide at the hairpin, but this time I was ready for it, and it didnít unnerve me so much. Last again, but I didnít get lapped this time. I was so happy as I crossed the line I thought my head would fall off. One of the marshals (Pete?) left his post and applauded me on the slow down lap, and I felt absolutely elated. Best lap: 51.3 dead.
Iíve learned lots. Hopefully for the next race Iíll have my starts sorted and the misfire cured. Looking at the time sheets if I can knock a second a lap off Iíll be up in 8th-10th place. I also need to get fit. Iím typing this up the day after, and my arms and legs are killing me.

Image (c) Alan Edwards Race Photography 1997
Image (c) Alan Edwards Race Photography 1997

Friday, 22nd August

Ordered a new set of needles and choke cables from my local friendly Yamaha dealer.
Cost so far:
Carb bits: £50 (ouch)

Monday, 25th August

Started preparing the bike for the next outing at Pembrey. Changed the gearing to 14/41 as Pembrey has a nice long straight(ish) bit. Put some mastic on the split link in the chain on the advice of Ian, as "Iíve had one go before, and it wasnít much fun". Replaced the screws on the carbs and airbox that had been chewed up before. Whipped the plugs out and cleaned them up. Iíll be replacing them soon anyway, but that will have to wait until funds allow it. Checked brake pads. Checked caliper bolts. Checked coolant. Checked steering damper mounting. Checked head bearings. Checked gearbox oil. The tyres are looking a little worse for wear after the Lydden outing, but theyíll have to do as Iím skint. Hopefully theyíll last for the meeting at Brands on Oct 4th as I think that will be my last for the year.

Friday, 29th August

Sent off entry for the Brands meeting on Oct 4th. This will have to be my last race of the year, as Iíve run out of money now. Iím looking forward to it, as everyone Iíve spoken to loves riding at Brands. Phoned Crowtree to arrange to pick up my leathers, but they wonít be ready until Wednesday. Bum. Oh well, I may use Rogers spare set again for the Pembrey race on Sunday, as mine will probably still be a little stiff and need a bit of breaking in. Weíll wait and see.
Cost so far:
Race entry fee: £75

Saturday, 30th August

Final bike preparation for next weekend - Completely stripped the carbs and rebuilt them with the stock needles. There was a fair amount of gunge in the pilot jets, which probably didnít really help the part throttle running either. It seems to me that at least 50% of the winning of a race is done before you even get to the track. Anyway, Faye was not too chuffed when I converted the spare room into a workshop for the afternoon to get the carbs done. 24hrs later the place still stinks of petrol and two stroke oil.

Wednesday, 3rd September

Finally picked up my leathers. They're a work of art, and far too nice to crash in. When I mentioned to Linda that I was wearing Rogers old pair she said "Not the white ones? I've lost count of how many times we've cleaned and repaired them".
Cost so far:
Leathers: £750 (and an absolute bargain)

Saturday, 6th September

The journey down the M4 to Pembrey was pretty tedious. Anyway, we finally made it to the track, got the tent up, met up with a few friends, watched the racing and sat in the bar. It started raining...

Sunday, 7th September

Pembrey circuit map

Sunday morning was grey, overcast, and it seemed the whole of the track was sitting slap bang in the middle of a cloud. It's the kind of rain you can't really feel, but it does a jolly good job of giving the track a thorough soaking. My hopes actually rose slightly at this, as this time round the TZRs were running with the supersport 250s, so any power advantage the supersports machines might have would be tempered slightly by the conditions. I went out for first practise, and immediately noticed that the misfire that plagued me at Lydden had gone, and the bike was pulling a lot more cleanly right through the gears. The wet track was made slightly more interesting by the oil in the braking area for the Hatchets hairpin... I was thoroughly enjoying the long, long Dibeni left-hander, but having problems getting a good drive out of the Brooklands hairpin. The kink at Woodlands was a real botty clencher. It took a couple of laps to work up to, but eventually I was taking it flat in fifth (about 100-105mph on the gearing I was running) with my knee on the deck. In the wet. Exactly the kind of place you think "I hope I don't have an accident here".
First race - Had a place on the last row of the grid, and was more than happy about this due to the aforementioned oil slick at the hairpin. (Why on earth do track designers always contrive to put a hairpin bend straight after the start?) Anyway, I didn't fancy being in the middle of a pack of supersports machines on a slippery hairpin, so I let everyone lead me round the hairpin while I simply picked the dry line after they'd all been through. First target - No57 on a KR1S. No problems - Took a wide line at Spitfires and held my line all the way through the ensuing left hander. This felt good - The first time I'd actually passed someone! Next target was my mate Robin on his indecently fast 73hp RGV250. Obviously I wasn't going to pass on the straight on my 50hp TZR, but I could hold his slipstream and it seemed I had a better braking point at the hairpin. Next lap I tucked in behind him, waited until Dibeni, and this time piled around the outside to hold a tight line into the esses. No problem. Next target, No70, a SS400 spec ZXR. Again, I was obviously going to have no joy on the straight, so I tried the same move next lap. Round the outside at Dibeni, and Crikey! She's changed line! My only option was to run onto the rumble strip, and the grass. Panic panic, get back on the tarmac, what gear am I in? Look at the tacho and it's reading zero. Bum. My grasstracking had loosened a connection to the battery and I'd lost the tacho. Worse, I'd also lost my powervalves, so I just had to watch the ZXR vanish into the distance. I thought about pulling out at this point, but decided to defend my position, which I did OK.
After the race, I got back to the paddock, and whipped the battery out to make sure the connections wouldn't come loose again. Put the battery back, and switch on the ignition to check the powervalves. They didn't want to move. At the time I thought it would be something simple. However, after 5 minutes of head scratching it looked like I might have to have the mechanism out to free it off. To cut a long story short, I'd lost a piston ring, which had buggered off in little bits, smashing the piston, before bouncing up and down in the head a few times, then dropping into the crankcase. No wonder I was down on power on the straight. End of days racing. I put everything back together, strapped the stricken machine to the trailer, and settled down to watch the rest of the days racing. It's amazing how much more relaxing it is to watch a race when you know you're not out there next.
I'm philosophical about the mechanical carnage. It was going to happen at some time, and I'd have preferred to have got another couple of races in before having to call it a day. However, I'm glad to have discovered the problems in the comfort of the paddock rather than suffer a seizure at the aforementioned 110mph kink. Wonder how I would have done with a bit more practise? Next meeting, Brands Hatch, Oct 4th. But first the engines off to see Graham File for a rebore and new pistons and head. All donations gratefully accepted...

Wednesday, 10th September

Off to see Graham File with the sick engine. Turns out the failure was due to a piston ring peg falling out, allowing the ring to spin and clout the exhaust port. Should be recoverable easy enough. Also got some sound advice regarding carbs.

Tuesday, 16th September

Call Graham to see about the engine damage, and luckily all it needs is a rebore, new pistons/rings, and a bit of work on the head to match the new barrels. With any luck I should be able to pick it up next Monday. A bit of good news today though... EMAP like my race reports so much that they've arranged to pay my race entry at Silverstone! This makes me feel a lot better about the whole thing.

Monday, 22nd September

Called Graham again to see about picking up the engine, and we've run into a bit of a problem. Some debris has definately fallen into the crankcase. Do we strip the crank out or just flush it through and hope? We take the decision to strip the crank out while the engine is already in bits. 30 minutes later Graham is back on the phone - Good job we did as the main bearings were about to expire big time. Luckily I've got a spare bottom end. I didn't plan on using it so soon though.
I've come to a decision - I've now got to sell my road bike to carry on. Bugger.

Tuesday, 23rd September

Took my spare crank over to Graham to have it fitted. At first he thought that the spare might be shagged too, but after a bit of cleaning up everything looked OK. I'm starting to have a few bad feelings as to how much this is all going to cost. Anyway, Graham agrees to work on the engine tomorrow, and I should be able to pick it up then. Also got around to building the battery charger from the circuit diagram supplied by Robin. True to form, it doesn't work. Bugger.

Wednesday, 24th September

Start preparing the (still engineless) bike for the meeting at Brands. Gone back to 14/42 gearing, changed the main jets, and give everything a damned good clean while the engines out. Drive over to Graham to pick up the engine. It looks fabulous, and hopefully should hang together a bit longer this time. Unfortunately he then presents me with the bill.
Cost so far:
Engine rebuild: OhMyGod£445
Sounds a lot (well, it is a lot) but this rebuild should keep me going through next season with only a change of pistons half way through. It's good that we stripped the engine when we did and found the dodgy main bearings, else I could have had a much bigger bill when they expired.

Wednesday, 24th September

Pick up some new plugs and gearbox oil. Nothing dramatic, I know, but it all adds up...
Cost so far:
Gearbox oil: £5
Plugs: £13

Saturday, 27th September

Put the engine back in the bike, and chase around looking for a new temperature sensor and air filter. The air filter is on the advice of Graham, and seeing as he knows more about engines than I ever will I'm prepared to listen to his advice and learn from it. The temperature sensor is because the pillock that built the engine previously glued the thing so tightly into the head that it snapped off when Graham put a spanner on it.
My race entry for Brands next week also arrives today. For some reason, I'm feeling more nervous about this race than I did for Pembrey. Not really sure why, maybe it's because of all the expense of the past month.
Cost so far:
Spares: £26

Sunday, 28th September

Final preparation for next weekend. The bike is in quite a different spec this time, so I'm not 100% sure what to expect. The changes are:
Change to 230 mains - Might lose a bit of top end poke and throttle response, but should be safer for the engine.
Change premix ratio from 33:1 to 25:1 - Broadly the same effects as above. However, if it increases piston life I'm prepared to suffer the slight performance drop. Also means I'll make more smoke in the holding area.
Reinstatement of air filter - To suit the 230 mains and again, improve the engines chances of lasting more than 4 laps.
Drop rear preload - The ride at Pembrey was a bit choppy, and I want to make it a bit more supple. However, I may lose a bit of stability in fast corners.
Drop front preload - in an attempt to get the thing to turn in faster. I should get more dive on the brakes, which in turn should allow me to turn faster. Might also give the front tyre an easier time. However, I may run out of fork travel.
Change from B10EGV to BR9EV plugs - On the advice of Graham, and because the jetting isn't so tight now we don't need to run 10s any more. Whilst rummaging in the garage I find a spare air filter and temp sensor. A little bit of farting around with the trusty multimeter and kettle reveals that the temperature sensor is OK, and as a bonus I get a cup of tea. Looks like yesterdays chase around for spares was largely unnecessary.

Monday, 29th September

Send off entry for Silverstone on 26th Oct.
Cost so far:
Race entry fee: £70 (Paid by EMAP)

Friday, 3rd October

Off to Dynotech to get the bike run in on the dyno and check the carbs. Nothing dramatic really. The bike was making 52bhp with a large hole in the midrange, and the CO readings indicated it was running pretty rich. Swapped the mains from 230s to 200s (I can't say I was happy about this as I paid for the last rebuild). But, the chappie at Dynotech said it would be OK, and he knows far more about engines than me. We were rewarded with 54bhp, no midrange hole, and a much quicker throttle response. Not bad for a simple jet swap.
Drove to Brands in the evening, and got stuck in a 15 mile tailback on the M25. Great. Arrived some time after 9pm, got the tent up, got a quick barbie going, and had a couple of pints in the bar. It all looked like being a good evening, until the band started up.
Cost so far:
Dyno time and jets: £75

Saturday, 4th October

Brands Hatch circuit map

Well, I've just had my best ever days racing, and learnt a whole lot...
Things started off in time honoured tradition with the rigours of scrutineering... This was made somewhat more challenging by the fact that the scrutineering was carried out at the top of a bloody big hill, and we're not allowed to start any engines until after scrutineering has finished. This racing lark is getting me fit OK, but it's mainly pushing the bloody bike up and down hills.
Practise - I missed the first practise 'cos I was still knackered from the push up the hill. Still, second practise was fine by me, so we all queued up and waited for something to happen. Once again, the holding area was a scary place to be - Loads of noise, heat, aggression and two-stroke fumes. After a few minutes we were let out onto the track, into Paddock Hill bend, and, where's the track gone? I was warned that the first time it felt like riding off the edge of the world, and that just about sums it up. The first lap was spent just getting the edges of the tyres warmed. Second lap, out of Clearways, and nail it hard down the straight. Blimey, this was fast! Much more so than last time out. Just saw 10,000 in top before braking (hard!) for Paddock Hill again. This time I was ready for the drop, but not for the sudden rise into Hailwood Hill. My arms bucked under the strain, and my dog tag was forced painfully into my chest. In 14 years riding on the road I've never felt anything like it. A couple of laps further on and we were red flagged after a spill at Surtees. So we all just queued up again, and more of the same ensued. All in all I was feeling pretty good. The bike was handling well, the engine was pulling hard, and I had learned which way the track went, and got some braking markers worked out.
1st race - Whilst queueing up in the holding area another TZR rider shuffled over to me and asked how the engine was going since the rebuild. When I replied that I was now running on 200 mains rather than 220s/230s he just looked at me and laughed. Hmmm, obviously he knew something I didn't... My seventh row grid position was just about spot on, as I didn't fancy going round Paddock Hill in the middle of a field of 37 bikes. So, I went round 36th. No worries though, as I set about chasing the group in front. I was gaining yards on the run down from Druids all the way into Surtees, but still didn't have the bottle to barge past people. Not to worry though, as I could hold a wide line into Clearways, then get a good drive down the straight. Doing this I picked off several, and finished 29th out of 37. Best lap was 59s.
After the first race Ian Basset (the ex-owner of the bike) came over, and we started chatting about the bike. Again, I mentioned the 200 jets, and he basically said that if I went out again with that jetting, I'd blow the bike up. Fair enough. We stripped the carbs and switched from 200s to 220s. When I took one of the plugs out to check, sure enough it was whitened from running too lean. Lesson learned... Experts give crap advice on occasions. Luckily I'd found out before it was too late. (Still a bit miffed about Dynotech charging me four quid for the jets though...)
2nd race - Broadly the same as the first really... 29th out of 37, but no idea what my best lap was as the computer was on the blink. (Yeah right. Heard it all before). The motor was still pulling hard on the richer jetting, and I felt a lot happier about it. One thing I wasn't entirely happy about was the oil slick left all the way round Paddock, Graham Hill bend and Surtees by a bloody sidecar. The slick at Surtees was particularly entertaining as the sun was now low on the horizon, and I couldn't see anything much at that point, let alone try to pick out details in the track surface. I only really noticed it when a 250LC in front of me nearly got the back wheel in front, accompanied by a big cloud of cement dust.
3rd race - Best of the day... finished 27th this time, but again I've got no idea what my best lap time was. The oil slicks had just about gone now, so I could concentrate on getting my head down and passing people. Which is exacly what I did. I was again last into the first corner (something I obviously need to work on there...) but quickly caught the tail enders, and set about passing them. Again I could get a good drive onto the straight to pass people, but this time I decided to try a few more daring moves... Dived past two going into Paddock Hill bend, and also got a few on the drag from Graham Hill through Surtees into McLaren. By the time I saw the chequered flag I'd opened up a 16 second gap on the last group, and was less than 10 from the group in front. Wonder what it would have been with a better start?
All in all, I'm more than chuffed with the way things went. OK, so 27th doesn't really sound like I've made great strides, but I've learned a) That overtaking isn't as tricky as I first thought b) Smooth riding is far more effective than aggressive ragged riding c) I need to improve my starts (badly) d) Don't always listen to advice from 'experts' e) Don't go to the bar on a Friday night - The band are crap.

Image (c) Alan Edwards Race Photography 1997
Image (c) Alan Edwards Race Photography 1997

Cost so far:
New plugs (to replace the ones ruined by bad jetting): £12
Pair of do-nuts: £1 (Got to keep my strength up...)

Friday, 10th October

Started getting a list together of which meetings I'll be going to next season. So far we have...

1st March Brands Hatch
15th March Donington Park
10th/11th April Lydden
2nd May Snetterton
30th May Oulton Park
20th/21st June Croix (France)
12th July Brands Hatch
8th/9th August Cadwell Park
12th/13th September Snetterton
4th October Brands Hatch

The meetings I won't be going to are:

16th/17th May Lydden
6th/7th June Snetterton
25th/26th July Lydden
6th September Mallory Park
17th/18th October Lydden
25th October Silverstone

The reasons for this are purely financial - If I win the lottery between now and next year I'll be doing all of them. However, I have to be realistic. The above entry fees are likely to cost me close to £1000. That's just for the three TZR rounds. I'd like to enter the novice SS400 races too, but that will put another few hundred on top. And this is before I pay for tyres, fuel, etc. Oh well. My road bike is now advertised for sale (cheers Rog) and the money I get from that will go some way to paying off my debts built up so far.

Saturday, 11th October

Started getting things ready for Silverstone on 25th. Check coolant, brake pads, chain, gearbox oil, head bearings, steering damper mounting etc. etc. I've kept the suspension settings the same, as the bike felt good at Brands. I've gone up a size on the mains to 230s to be safe. Also cleared out the pilots as they were gunged up with premix again. Not sure about the gearing - At the moment I'm leaving it at 14/42, though I have a feeling I may go up to 14/41. I can't tell until I get there and get some practise. I've also patched up my spare seat unit, as I have a nasty feeling that I might come a cropper. Not really sure why - maybe now that I'm getting a bit more confident about passing people I'm worried about getting over confident. We'll see.

Monday, 13th October

In a fit of enthusiasm I call Dave at bemsee to see about getting a ride in the novice supersport 400 at Silverstone. No problem. So, my final meeting of the year will also be my busiest, with 4 races. Two in the TZR class, and two in the novice SS400 class. There are some frighteningly quick bikes in the SS400, so it will be fun to pit my little TZR against them.
Cost so far:
Entry fee for extra rounds: £30

Sunday, 19th October

Off to Lydden to watch a days racing and cheer on Roger. It was really frustrating being there and not racing - I just wanted to get out there and have a go. Oh well. Next weekend. The racing was good. Rog rode like a man posessed in his final race to take a well deserved 3rd place. Impressive stuff for someone who's just come back from a nasty injury. The days most exciting spectator moment came when one of the classic sidecars burst into flames whilst negotiating the devils elbow. The driver and passenger got off pretty bloody quickly. (If this was the sidecar that dumped oil all the way around Paddock, Chessons and the North bend earlier in the day then it was a richly deserved fate. Sorry, but I have very little tolerance for this kind of thing).

Tuesday, 21st October

Got my race entry through for Silverstone today. I'm down as a reserve in the novice SS400. Starting to get those pre-race nerves again...

Sunday, 27th October

Silverstone circuit map

This was the last race of the season for me, and was also my first entry in the novice supersport 400 round. It also turned out to be a day of highs and lows...
Practise - Time for practise was seriously limited today, due to the large number of entrants, and the short day. I was due out for the first session, and so queued up nice and early. We were only to get about 6 minutes or so, which would equate to 4 or 5 laps, so it was important to get my head down and try and work out where the track went. At least everyone else was in the same boat. First lap, and straight into it - The track was smooth, grippy and fast... Copse corner was a real tester. The track is so wide here that really there is no one line through, so everybody seemed to be flying all over the place. After a couple of laps, it went like this - Cross start finish line flat in 5th, just notching top. Hold top until the 50yd marker for Copse, then sit up, brake hard, and knock it down to 5th. Lay it in hard, feather the throttle then nail it when the track opened up. Hold 5th, and let it over-rev a bit. Over to the right of the track, and just throttle off as the left at the start of Maggotts approached. Down into 4th, and clip the apex as I knock it into 3rd, and start braking hard and leaning right for the rest of the corner. Very late apex here, to get a good drive onto Club Straight. Down behind the screen, 4th, 5th, 6th. Drift right to line up for Brooklands. Brake bloody hard at the marshals post, and down into 4th. Very fast entry into Brooklands, then drift wide on the exit, and down into 3rd as I lean hard into Luffield. This was the grippiest part of the track, and it needed to be. Again, a late apex here to drive out towards Woodcote. 4th, 5th, flat through Woodcote, with the bike going unstable and heading towards the edge of the track... Cross the finish line flat in fith, and do it all again...
1st race - TZRs, Supersports 400s, and RD350s. This was always going to be a test for the little TZR. Some of the supersports machines are putting out over 20bhp more, and weigh a lot less. Oh well. Got a reasonable start from the 6th row, and started chasing people. Passed a couple of RDs, then up ahead noticed Clive Larrett on his TZR. Tucked in behind into Luffield, and passed him through Woodcote as I wobbled towards the tyres. Next up, Nick Wiles on his TZR and number 18 on an RD350. Passed Nick into Copse, and number 18 into Maggots. 3 seconds later he got me back again coming out of Maggots. Tuck in behind him down Club, and re-pass him into Brooklands. Same thing - He passed me on the way out of Luffield. This was fun! Again, tuck in behind, and re-re-pass him going into Copse for the last lap. He got me again at Maggots. This time I stayed behind, through Brooklands, and got a better drive out of Luffield through Woodcote and to the line. Got him by under 0.1s. Brilliant! 6th in class and a 1:14.29 lap.
2nd race - Novice supersports 400s, and singles and twins. I was at an even bigger power disadvantage here... We all queued up on the line, and waited, and waited, and waited. A GSX-R400 next to me overheated and dumped coolant everwhere. Still we waited. Eventually we were told to kill the engines. A few minutes later, we were allowed a practise lap. As we went into Maggots it became clear what the problem was. Oil, and a lot of it. Back to the line, and wait, and wait, and wait. Again, we killed our engines, and again we waited. Another practise lap. Eventually, we got away but the race was reduced from 10 laps to 8. As suspected, I was being blown away down the straights by everything and everybody. Passed a few, but really it was hard work coming so soon after the previous race. Made a bad mistake coming into Luffield on the last lap and got passed by a 500 Honda I'd passed previously. Best lap 1:14.24 but I felt like I'd ridden badly. I think the wait at the start and the sight of a large oil slick at Maggots had taken it's toll. Also I was getting tired.
3rd race - TZRs, ss400s, RD350s. Best of the day... Again had a good scrap with number 18 all the way round, again pipped him on the line. Finished 4th in class (nearly a trophy!) with a best lap of 1:13.69. The TZR lap record stood at 1:09.97, so still some way to go, but I was more than chuffed.
4th race - Novice ss400s, singles and twins. I was on the front row of the grid for this one, and wasn't entirely happy about it. However, he who dares wins, fortune favours the brave etc. etc... We all lined up, the starter raised his flag. Visor down, first gear, rev, rev... The guy next to me stalls. His hand shoots up, the starter sees him, and he restarts his engine. In the wait my visor fogs up, but I can't open it as my hand is on the clutch. Bang, the lights go green, and I give it a big handful to make sure I don't get torpedoed. Small wheelie off the line, and by the time I hit 3rd the front is down again. At this point I realised that I was heading towards the fastest corner on the track, and I can't see where I'm going. By the time I hit 4th the faster machines behind me are converging on me like a pack of rabid dogs. I hold my line though Copse, and it's hectic. Someone nudges my back wheel, and I knock fairings with another. By the time we get onto Club things have sorted themselves out a bit, my visor has cleared, and faster machines have buggered off. Next time into Copse, and I'm chasing an RGV250 and something else in front. The front machine goes down hard, and for a second I thought that the RGV and me would get caught in the melee. Somehow we both miss him, then I realise that the guy on the RGV is furiously wiping his visor, and sliding around a fair bit. We both back off, as I don't want to get too close to someone with oil on his visor and tyres. Sure enough, as we come around to the start line again the red flags are out. There are seven bikes in the gravel at Copse... We didn't get to restart, as we were running out of time.
So that's it - My first season racing. I've had to put myself in debt, sell my road bike and give up curry. And it's been worth it. Absolutely positively 100%. Next season I want to get a bit fitter, and try and improve on that 4th place. I want a trophy... I'd also like to thank everybody who has helped me out this year particularly Roger Ford for his patience and advice.



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