Thruxton Race Report

First time out on the Aprilia RSV1000, and at a track I've never been to before. I wasn't expecting brilliant results...

I'd spent the last couple of weeks diligently preparing the RSV. Most of the work was in spraying up the fairings. I loved the original colours - yellow and matt black with silver-grey flashings - so decided to replicate it. It was a lot of work, but worth it for the result.

There were also loads of little things to do, like removing lights, mirrors, fans and so on, changing the oil and filter, flushing the coolant with plain water and re-routing drain hoses.

As I say, I've never been to Thruxton before, and it usually takes me quite a while to learn a circuit. Normally I try to get on a practice or track day, and by the end of the day I'm just about there. Thruxton has very limited availability, so no chance of a practice. And riding a big, heavy fourstroke rather than a svelt 250 two-stroke, I figured that today might put an end to my boast that I've never come last in a race!

I managed to get a late entry in the Superstock class, for which the 'Prila is eligible - if a little slow against the mass of GSXR-1000's. The Superstock class shared its open practice session with the RSVs, but Superstock qualifying and race came before the Prilas. That would give me some valuable extra track time.

Practice

Blimey. I'm pootling round thinking "so was it a left or a right next?" with GSXRs hurtling past my ear about 50mph faster. I'm feeling very much like a mobile chicane as I try to get used to the new bike. With only eight minutes in the session I get five laps at most.

Superstock Qualifying

A fifteen minute session, and I begin to get the hang of things. Church is the worst - a mega-fast right hander. It took until the end of the session before I got the turn-in point roughly correct.

There's some pretty quick boys in the MRO Superstocks. Pole time was 1:20, and I was ten seconds outside that, and - I have to confess - dead last, if only by a fraction of a second. Technically, that put me outside the "110%" qualifying rule, but the Race Director does have discretion here, and as there enough places for all the riders, he could hardly really have disallowed one of his directors, could he?

Aprilia RSV Qualifying

This was marginally better. I qualified in 19th place out of 22 entries at 1:29, well with the 110% rule as the quick Prila riders were doing 1:24s.

Superstock Race

Phew - you know you're in for a quick race when everyone hoons off at what appears to be race pace for the warmup lap. Uh oh.

So how do you do the start on one of these things? No idea - have to suck it and see. Bit too much revs, it seems, as I pogo'd down the start finish straight, wheelying, dropping down and wheelying again. But the "first corner bundle" doesn't vary between classes, so my 250 skills were good enough to let me stuff it up between a few people heading into Allard.

So now we're racing. Jeez, this is scary. On the 250, I put hardly any weight on the front. Accelerating through turns takes the weight off the already light front end. But I kept mis-judging the corners, which meant I was shutting off and hence loading the - already heavy - front end. I expected it to let go any moment, but it managed to keep gripping.

The RSV engine is lovely at lower revs. But I kept bouncing it off the rev limiter, set at a lowly 10,500 rpm. Need some work there to get used to that.

Lots of people seemed to be lobbing themselves into the scenery - especially at the Complex. I tried to ignore them and get on with it.

At one stage I was catching a big pack of bikes. But then I screwed up going into Cambell - a sharp right hander at the start of the right-left-right complex. I changed down one too many gears. The RSV has a slipper clutch which copes with minor indiscetions, but not on this scale! The back locked solid and started to swing around on me. I pulled the clutch back in and tried again, with the same effect.

By the time I'd recovered this I'd lost the tow on the pack, and it was a bit lonely until the last couple of laps when I had a good tussle with a laddie on an R6. We swapped places a few times, but I made sure I was leading into the last corner. The yellow flags were out, but there were a bunch of front-runners lapping us. I figured there was no point in getting in their way as the other lad couldn't come past me - only he did. Of course there's no way the marshals would have known who was lapping and who was being lapped, so no chance of him getting a penalty.

They guy did come up and apologise after - saying he hadn't seen the flags - and offered to go and tell them in the race office. I really wasn't bothered - except that him beating me meant I was actually last! Still, we'll call that a moral victory and claim I wasn't last really.

Oh no, not the fairing

While apologising, the R6 pilot mentioned that my fairing panel had just missed him. What fairing panel? Looking down, I discovered that my whole right hand fairing panel was missing. What seemed to have happened is that the air scoop - part of the original fairing and hence the only genuine Aprilia part - had cracked in half and split off. This meant the full force of the wind had got behind the fairing and torn it away. I was gutted. All my hard work painting the thing and it gets wrecked without my even crashing!

I wasn't sure we'd be able to fix it, and for a while wasn't even sure I wanted to. But the rsvr.net boys lent me a panel and we gaffa-taped and cable-tied it in place.

Aprilia RSV Mille Race

Blimey, these things get through tyres fast. Two qualifying sessions and a race, and they were knackered. After short reflection, I splashed out another 200 quid on a pair of Dunlop's finest, and Clive Horton fitted them in super-quick time.

Better start this time, and I don't wheelie at all. I'm feeling a bit happier with the circuit now, and starting to get to grips with it. Still nowhere near the top boys' pace, but I didn't get lapped in this one.

I had a good scrap for much of the race with number 80. He seemed to be pushing his bike really hard, with the back end fishtailing around regularly. I had mine moving about a bit, but nothing like that badly. So I guess either my bike is faster and/or better handling, or my lines were better than his. Certainly our lines were quite different.

I'm used to a 2000 TZ250, possibly one of the best handling bikes on the planet. The Aprilia - basically a road bike, albeit a good one - is bound to be in a different league. I think I need to recalibrate a bit - and ride it more like my old RGV250, where you ride through the point where the handling goes off, rather than the TZ where you ride up to that point then back off.

I came 16th out of 19 finishers / 22 starters. Not particularly impressive, but not disasterous. Another place up and I'd have got a point!

Next race is at Cadwell Park - a track I know much better. Should be fun. All I've got to do now is spray up ANOTHER set of fairings!