Thursday, 2 January 2014

It's the new year - time for a blog

Well Happy New Year,
that is that bit over and done with. I guess it is a time of retrospection and anticipation for the up coming months. Last year was quite a year for me. Starting back in March on a cold drizzly day at Lydden with Allie and Tricia. We had gone there for a test day, Allie, having talked me into passengering her on a sidecar, had got herself a ride on an F1 and was now badgering me to try to get a ride on an F2. This was ostensibly the reason I was there. Tricia was just there for the hell of it as she was already racing solos.
     There didn't seem to be many F2 outfits there and when we signed on I was told I was going out on an F1. Oh well, what the hell? Allie introduced me to the guy who would be taking me out and ran me through what to do. When we went out it was quite physically hard. I found that my left leg ached like mad from trying to support my weight against the g forces. Because it was wet I didn't go out to the left at all that day just clung on and hung over the right side thinking my leg would collapse any moment. I went out again later that day with another rider. His passenger tried to get me to assume a different position on the platform. I found this particularly uncomfortable and hard to do in the space as I have long limbs. This time I had to tap out after about 8 laps as I was dangerously close to falling off due to physical fatigue. I wondered just how these people managed to do what they did. I wondered how Allie would cope. She seemed just fine however. Could she really be that much fitter than me? Anyway that is where I met Tony and became his passenger on the classic outfit. I was going to be a racer. No longer just someone that hung out around the paddock being a mechanic and unqualified to say anything about racing.
     A month or so later and it was time for me to actually be this passenger on an outfit in a race. I wondered if I had talked myself into something more than I could do. I know I can be a bit gobby and mouth off at times. Here I was approaching my 55th birthday, a history of low bone density, not as fit as I was by a long way and I am about to start sidecar racing! Am I mad?
     As I described in an earlier blog, I nearly threw up before the start of the first race. I hyperventilated and got in a right old state. That disappeared as soon as we got going to be replaced by intense concentration and an inability to move to where I should as we hurtled around the track. 
     Those feelings of panic slowly subsided as I became more experienced and I learnt how to move better. We made changes to the outfit to better suit my needs and I started to enjoy myself. Unfortunately Chimay in July was to prove our last meeting of the year. I found myself feeling rather down. Due to other circumstances, Allie bought the F1 she had been racing on and intended to drive it and asked if I would passenger for her. Once again my brave mouth volunteered me for it. So my season switched from classics with a front exit to the massive feeling F1. This was fun too, but in a very different way to the classic. It was intense but also somehow more remote. It felt less involved with the driver and to some extent superfluous to requirements. I guess as Allie gets quicker that will not be the case so much. It was certainly not the case when I went out with James at Pembrey for a couple of practice sessions!
     As you may be aware from earlier blogs it all ended abruptly at the last meeting of the season when we spun at Paddock Hill and rolled. I was hit by another outfit and carted off to hospital with a rather broken body. Now as I write this all the broken bones are sorted and I am pretty much back to normal and ready to resume a fitness programme for this years season with one exception. The one injury no one took any notice of at the time was my right shoulder. No broken bones and every time I mentioned it they seemed to turn a deaf ear until one day they wanted to compare how my left shoulder was doing. Then they saw just what a mess my right shoulder was. Now three months later I have an ultra sound scan due in a few days time so they can try to see what is wrong. It is also about three months to the start of the season.
     Allie and I talked  about what I should do this year. When we originally talked about the F1 we agreed that the Classic and Tony would be my priority as I had committed to that already. Now we discussed whether I could do both and agreed that it wasn't the best idea in the world. I also quite freely confess to having some doubts about racing with Allie after the accident. I have gone through things in my mind to see what has and hasn't been affected by the crash. The classic outfit - no problem in my mind. Tony - no problem in my mind. F1 outfits - no problem. Allie - hmmm, not sure. I have my concerns. She is one of my best friends and I find myself not trusting her. That makes me feel guilty. It makes me wonder if I am just finding an excuse for being scared. Then I think about the statements above and realise I am not scared of any of those.
     Allie said she would ask another friend to passenger for her and I could be her 'dep'. I have agreed to this but I wonder if I will or not should the need arise. I tell myself I will see how she gets on and make a decision at the time. I feel quite guilty about all of this and have to remind myself that it is a potentially life endangering situation I put myself in every time I race and I need to have total trust in my team mate and they need to trust me. If I have doubts for whatever reason the sensible thing is to not do it. It doesn't make me feel any better about it though. 
     So that was last year. From paddock rat to sidecar monkey. I feel like I am quite the veteran racer already (I know I am not that by a long way). I think the highlight of the year for me was racing at Chimay. I rode out there on my road bike, had a fantastic weekend with amazing weather. I loved the circuit and the atmosphere. Tony and I were both bitten by the road racing bug and we want to do the Czech TT this year at Horice. (Maybe a few others if funds and commitments allow.)
     My old leathers were cut off me so I guess they are no longer of any use which is a shame as I really liked them. My body armour vest was also cut off but I have repaired that. Now I need to get my new leathers altered so that I can move about in comfort with my armour on. I managed to replace my race helmet with an identical one so I shall still have the 'hellrazor' nonsense on my head when I race. It was a mad looking helmet but I really liked it for comfort and protection. I have bought a less conspicuously painted version of the same helmet for road use as well, my old Shoei is now well past retirement age.
     I look forward to the end of my first race next season as I shall be able to finally remove my orange novice vest. That objective being thwarted by the crash last year. It is no big deal I guess. Once I start racing I am no longer aware of it but it is a bit of a pain having to remember it each time. At Chimay I raced without it as it is an ACU thing and only applies to the UK and there was a psychological niceness to it somehow.
    I look forward to this year with anticipation. Tricia is changing from the 400 series to Mini Twins as the anti-2stroke regs of the 400 series were getting too much. The strokers are so labour intensive too. She wants to race so I tried to persuade her that this would be the way to go. Ditch all the riding from a position of disadvantage and hard work to one of setting up at the start of the season and just race it with minor tweaks along the way in a field that is pretty much equal. Let her race skills shine through. I don't know how much influence I actually had on her decision but I am glad she has made it and look forward to her in the role of 'cat in a field of pigeons'. It will hopefully be a great year for Allie too. With only two meetings under her belt and a practice day and half a race of a third meeting, I think she has a lot of learning still to do. She has targets to achieve and I am sure she will do so. I am interested to see what the new colour scheme will be and how she improves. As for myself and Tony, we are going to field a 750cc engine in the revised categories of the CRMC and see how we do. Initially it will just be a slightly overbored SOHC Honda but we have plans to utilise the 836cc stuff if we decide to commit to the 750cc class. More on that if we do it.
     I also have an old F2 chassis in the workshop with an ever increasing amount of bits and pieces. This is a long-ish term project started by Allie and me. It was what we originally intended to go racing on. maybe we will stick something outrageous in it and race in the North Gloucs club's unrestricted class for laughs. Maybe we will put it on the road. We haven't really decided as yet. 
     This year promises to be an interesting one and it has already started so I can't sit around here chatting at you, I things to do, places to go and races to race :-)


Thursday, 7 November 2013

The rest of the 2013 season

Well it looks like I have been a bit remiss in my blogging. Nothing since June and it is now November. The season has finished and winter is setting in.
In July I rode my road bike out to Chimay in Belgium to meet up with Tony and take part in the Chimay Classic road race. It was scorching hot weather and a lot of fun. We had problems with the bike - timing I think - but we completed the races and both got bitten by the road racing bug. Unfortunately our plans to take part in the Gedinne road race the following month was thwarted and Chimay proved to the last race we would take part in this year.

All was not lost however as my friend Allie bought the F1 she had been passengering on and she asked me to passenger for her. She had never driven one of these before and so it was a leap into the unknown. We went up to Mallory Park for a Wednesday practice session to see how we would do.
Riding around the paddock area Allie seemed to get to grips with things pretty well. That is with the exception of her ability to judge how far out the sidecar was. We narrowly missed a wheelie bin at one point. A bit of ribbing and it was time to go out on circuit and see how things went.
We took it slowly and both of us spent our session getting used to where things were. The sessions went by with us getting quicker each time until we went out for our final session. We exited the pit lane and accelerated around Gerards then slowed down and coasted to a halt. I was looking at Allie expectantly wondering what was going on. It turned out that the throttle cable had pulled out of the nipple at the throttle. End of session and end of practice for the day. We sat the remainder of the session out on the grass by the lake watching the others fly round. Eventually the recovery van came to push us in. As I sat facing the rear with my feet against the front of the van we moved off. Just before Edwina's the van dropped back and we turned right into an entrance to the paddock. The entrance is one of those types with the offset fences requiring us to go through at an angle. We came to an abrupt stop as we went through because the sidecar wheel fairing collided with the fence post! Oh dear, fortunately there wasn't too much damage done.
The following week we were going to be racing at Brands Hatch on the GP circuit. Neither of us had ever done the GP circuit before and practice was on the Indy circuit! Not a lot of help in learning the GP circuit.
Anyway the qualifying session was our first taste of it and we managed a 2min 15sec. lap. Not fantastic but not the slowest out there. We were happy. By the end of the weekend we had managed to get just under 2minutes and we were very happy with that.
Looking good but we were being lapped. They are one of the top teams in the British Championships though.
Going through my favourite bend, Surtees. I love that bend on the GP circuit.

We did OK and came away happy with our progress. Still a lot to learn and improve on. Next up was Cadwell.
I enjoyed Cadwell on the classic but it was definitely hard work. The change at the bottom of the mountain is very fast and I wondered what it would be like on this F1.
I searched You Tube for videos to learn from and found an excellent one of Tim  Reeves and Gregory Cluze chasing the Birchalls. Who better to learn from? I studied this video for hours noting every move and position of Tom Birchall until I felt I knew exactly what to do and where.
Of course, I wasn't able to do what he did but it helped me to find my own way. I also got lots of advice from Adrian Hope of AMR and Ben Hughes. Both very competent passengers in the Bemsee series. The entries for this meeting were so great that the F1s went out separately to the F2s so this meant we had a less crowded track for the races. As I expected the changeover at the bottom of the mountain was fast but no worse than on the classic. I was learning more about positioning myself and was using the footplate above the cross member to enable me to get further out on the right hand bends. Again we were making improvements each tie we went out. Then on Sunday we went out on slicks and lined up as it started to rain. We did the sighting lap and lined up on the grid. We decided that we were too inexperienced to risk this race on slicks and so we pulled in on the first lap and returned to the paddock. The next race was also wet but this time we were prepared and went out on wets. For me it was a relatively relaxed cruise around. Merely sticking my leg out on the lefts and doing the usual on the rights. For Allie it was her most intense experience yet!

I now needed just one more race to qualify me to lose my orange learner vest. Our next meeting was the Indy Circuit at Brands. We wanted to get our lap time down to under a minute this time but had no idea how reasonable an expectation this was. We spent Friday practicing and on Saturday morning went out for qualifying - 1min 02sec. Not bad, 1 minute was certainly do-able.
We were definitely getting quicker generally. I was much happier with my positioning and changeovers. We lined up for the first race and set off on the sighting lap. This would be our first time on circuit at the same time as Marianne and Claire on their F2. We were looking forward to racing them as were they. Jon and Dom also on an F2 were also in our sights. They had been a bit quicker than us last time out at Brands but were definitely in our sights.
We had video cameras running front and rear to capture this race. The red light went out and we were off. Allie fluffed the start slightly with the engine bogging a bit. She soon had that sorted however and before Marianne could get past we were beginning to pull out from them. Jon and Dom were ahead but we were staying with them and in touch with the rest of the field. Being a shorter circuit this was a ten lap race. We were getting quicker each lap and leaving the girls behind until Allie had a gear selection problem at Clearways. Marianne and Claire regained a lot of the lost ground but we started to stretch it out again. Then on lap six we began to get lapped. Kev and Guy first followed by Sammy and Ben as we accelerated down Cooper Straight. We were flying round Clearways and onto the Start/Finish straight. Good acceleration and speed as we approached Paddock Hill bend. I popped my head up and watched the distance markers. At 300 I put my left foot up to the footplate and waited for the braking. As the braking force pushed me forwards I used this to help me come up and over the rear wheel and settled myself into position ready for the corner. As we hit the apex I could feel myself go light. The track drops away quite sharply here. This time however it was different. I felt the back end start to swing out to the left. Damn! We had lost it like this during practice for the GP circuit race and ended up on the grass.
I looked up as we went down the hill backwards and saw two big black lines from our tyres. I thought to myself 'Hold it straight Allie'. Then it slewed further round and I felt us topple over. I felt the crunch as I hit the track and then everything was just a blur of motion as I was thrown around.
I don't remember the next bit but apparently I began to get up and was hit by another machine that was spinning as it tried to avoid us. The next thing I remember is getting up and looking at my left hand. My glove had ripped partly off my hand and I was injured at the base of my thumb. I looked to right and saw other machines and tried to make my way off the track. I had the strange sensation of knowing I was trying to walk off but experiencing a feeling that I can only describe as my body flipping about like a fish on dry land. I realised at this point I was winded as I couldn't breathe and also realised that this meant I wouldn't get rid of my orange vest which irritated me somewhat.
The next thing I know was a marshal was telling me to lay down and stay still. I was saying i needed to get my helmet off as I couldn't breathe. He made me keep it on so I asked him to undo my leathers. That eased things a bit and I relaxed a little and let things happen. I was surrounded by marshals and other people. I was asked a lot of questions that I knew were to check whether I was concussed or not. I had taken quite a knock to the right side of my head that had cracked my visor at the pivot and so that was hanging off. I still felt somewhat irritated at these questions however. I asked about Allie and was told she was OK.
Eventually after repeated tellings off for nodding as I answered questions they felt I was OK and removed my helmet then strapped blocks to the sides of my head to immobilise my neck. I managed to see behind me enough to see that some guys were holding blankets up to screen me off from the spectators and wondered how bad I was.
A short trip in the ambulance to the medical centre and I was being examined and asked how attached I was to my leathers. Very was my response. They are tatty but my favourites, unfortunately they had to cut them off. While I was in there they told me that the other crew were OK. I asked if I could talk to them and was told they had already been released. I asked again about Allie and then she came into my line of sight looking mildly concerned. I also found out that Tricia and some other friends were waiting to see me. I was allowed to see Tricia and I could see she was very upset and my heart went out to her as I tried to reassure her I was OK. I was on Morphine by this time and my humour had returned as they loaded me back into the ambulance to take me to hospital.
I was x-rayed and CT scanned and found I had 13 ribs fractured in my back and a multiple fracture of my left collar bone. A fracture of my C7 vertebrae and a wrist fracture and scaphoid fracture. Bugger.
I got out after three days and Allie drove up to get me. Tony had phoned and offered to come and get me which moved me a lot. Various other people had phoned or texted to ask after me.
I found out that everyone had jumped in at the circuit to help repair the damage to the outfit. Tricia and Chick had almost climbed the fence as they had been watching the race right where we crashed.
Apparently it had looked horrific and I am quite glad I couldn't remember being clobbered.
It is now one month on from the crash and I am beginning to move better. My hand is healing but my wrist is still very stiff. My left shoulder is improving but my right shoulder is very weak as I discovered later that I had wrenched the muscles and couldn't lift my arm. Most of my ribs are now fine, some of the lower ones are still painful occasionally. My neck muscles are stiff but I am working on all of this so that I am fit for next season.
It appears that the line Allie took was maybe a little tight. She thinks she went in a bit hot. The back end started to go and she shut the throttle off which just exacerbated the imbalance and so we spun. It was due to inexperience and hopefully we have learnt from it.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Third Race Meeting - Cadwell Park

I write this the morning after returning from my third race meeting.
Maybe I should start this one with some pictures of Anglesey and Darley Moor?
Not quite getting it right at Darley Moor. It all felt a little scary and insecure.
By the time Anglesey came along I had thought about the handholds and reworked things. I was also much more comfortable with the outfit and the feeling of being aboard it as you can see below.

Much more like it. These photos are by professional photographers as shown on the pictures. Check them out for some excellent photographs of the racing - maybe even buy some from them.
OK, after Anglesey it was back to the drawing board. The engine was overheating and we needed to improve the cooling. I made up a mould so I could create some NACA duct air intakes to get air over the engine. Tony fitted a 13 row oil cooler in place of the ten row one.
These were my fibreglass NACA ducts. My first attempt at making something out of GRP.
I fitted them into the fairing and felt quite pleased with the result. The next thing was to replace the handhold. It had been good at Anglesey but was a bit ropey looking. It was also a little too far back and was stopping me getting right out on the left handers. I had a look at the chassis and saw a rail under the platform that I could use to anchor a new handhold to. However we were considering replacing the 18mm plywood platform floor with aluminium. We were also looking at fitting a starter motor which meant moving the oil tank back and replacing the ignition system with a different type. This all had to be done in one hit as each affected the other. We arranged a day and a weekend when I could get up to the garage and work on it. I stripped off the floor panel and used this to mark out a rough floor plan on a sheet of ally that I had bought. It would require extra bracing to make it stiff enough as there were some quite open spaces without chassis rails to support it.
Using pieces of wood as formers I created  some bracing sections to rivet underneath and cut out the overall shape, leaving extra around the edge to create a turn down so it didn't leave sharp edges. Tony set about dealing with the ignition system and starter motor. I then set about making up the new handhold which had to be done as a two piece as it bolted down through the floor but was brazed to the engine top rail. The vertical part has a sliding section bolted together so it can be raised clear of the floor panel. This section is now about six inches further forward than previously and the oil tank is about that much further back.
We finally had it all together. Tony had taken the outfit to a dyno to test it a week previously and the new engine is putting out about 100hp at the back wheel - pretty damned good for a forty year old SOHC 750 Honda! It should go like a train at Cadwell.
On the Friday before the meeting we loaded it up along with all our gear and tools and set off for Lincolnshire. There was no practice day as there was a track day on the Friday so my first look at the circuit would be qualifying/practice on the Saturday morning. We spent the day setting up the marquee and checking over stuff. Then I had my first taste of an accident.
We hadn't even turned a wheel and were busy in the marquee when I went to step over the fairing that was laying on the floor. I misjudged my footing and caught my right foot on the fairing. Instinctively I tried to put my foot down to stop myself falling and came down on the edge of the fairing with my right shin hard enough to crack the fibreglass. My shin blew up like a balloon immediately and someone said I should go see the medics at the track. They looked at it and said I had a haematoma and needed to go to Louth A&E to get it drained. Tony drove me there and he sat and waited whilst I went through the process of getting checked out. I came out with a handful of spare dressings and some anti-biotics feeling rather sore, not to mention foolish.
We were scheduled for one race on the Saturday and three on the Sunday. That was going to be hard work. Cadwell is a physically hard circuit and very demanding on the passenger. I needed to know what I was doing, so qualifying was important for me. We were called to the holding area and as we rode down the outfit was not running well. As we had a starter motor we turned off the engine while we waited for the previous session to finish. Then we got the all clear to go out on track. The bloody engine would not start! Fuel was pouring out of the two right hand side carburettors. Damn it! We resigned ourselves to missing the qualifying and images of Anglesey flashed through my head as we pushed the outfit back up the hill to find out what was wrong. On inspection we found flecks of black rubber in the float bowls. It seemed that the fuel hose was breaking down and shedding its lining. This was jamming open the needle valves and causing the carbs to flood. We cleaned them out and installed an in-line filter just before the carbs and that cured the problem. It is the littlest things that sometimes destroy all the efforts made. With nothing to do now until the afternoon race we relaxed. My thoughts turned to what I was committing myself to and I began to have thoughts of quitting. My leg hurt, it seemed we spent so much time working hard for little or no time on the track. The idea that I might be hurt or even killed whilst racing scared me and I wondered if I should just pack it in. Then it was time to get ready for the race. My stomach tightened and the pre-race nerves bit down. As we rode down to the holding area I sat on the platform looking casual and smiling. Once there I spent the minutes stretching and making sure the muscles around my spine were flexed and warmed up. The whistle sounded and the engines started as the gate opened and out we went. An old ex-racer had been giving me advice about where to position myself and when. I concentrated on this as we went through Hall Bends and round the hairpin down to the start line. I practiced my movements trying to figure out where and when to move. We were at the back of the grid having posted no qualifying time. The green flag waved and we moved off for the sighting lap. Now I would get a look at the rest of the circuit and another look at the part we had just done. Down the straight into the left hander at Coppice. Up the hill moving back in to get ready for the right hander at the top and Charlies.  Then it was a slight downhill straight and a left hand curve as it went back up before the right hander at Park, through Chris Curve and watch for the rumble strips on the last right hander to tell me to move left ready for the Gooseneck. Down the steep hill to the left hander at Mansfield. Along the straight and staying in for the right hander at the chicane ready to get out for the left handed exit. Stay in position ready for the left hander at the bottom of the mountain and wait for the loading to drop off and make a quick move over the right then back down for the crest. Stay there for the right and fast across to the left into Hall Bends. back in for the right and shoulder out for the left then hard over the right for the Hairpin down the short straight and hard over again at Barn and cruise down to the grid. That was my first sighting of the circuit and only practice. Now I had to do it for real as we waited for the starter to drop the flag.
Down it went and we had a very slow start as Tony struggled to stop the engine bogging down. The close ratio gearbox was designed for a solo machine and has a very high first gear. Once he got it going we began to accelerate very fast but by then we were in last position and losing ground. My mind raced as I struggled to take in what was going on and think about what I had to do. At Coppice I got out to the left to find four black and white posts coming straight at me. I dodged them at the expense of the balance of the outfit. I could sense Tony having to correct for my movements - more time lost. Up the hill and the engine sounded like it was struggling. I found myself with an internal struggle as the advice I had been given conflicted with my instincts to get out over the rear for the right handers at Charlies. The it was down the hill on Park Straight. I stayed kneeling beside Tony as we began to go uphill and felt the sidecar wheel lifting as the slight left hand curve exerted its force. I needed to be further over to the left here. OK no time to correct now but remember it next time. I positioned myself for braking and the entry into the right hander at Park. Again conflict inside my head. This didn't feel right, the physics of the situation whirled around inside my mind as I tried to stick to the advice I was given. Vectors and force diagrams whirled. This was taking my concentration away from racing. Here come the rumble strips to mark my move for the Gooseneck. Out left and down the hill. Do I stay out or get in? I stayed out and wished I hadn't as we braked for the left hander at Mansfield. That was hard work, get in next lap there is plenty of time to get out again after the braking. I messed up through the chicane causing Tony to have to slow more as we lost traction. Then out again and we accelerated away towards the bottom of the mountain. Ok out . . . now! back in . . .now! and over the right. I had no time for inner mental conflict, my instincts took over and I braced my left leg and went out over the rear of the seat unit, That was fast and hard, I heard the wheel scrabbling for grip and the rear end slid out but we were round. Get back in now and get ready for the left after this next right. Now! back in and down. the sidecar wheel lifted a little as we rounded the slight left before the hairpin and I was up and out again for the hairpin. It seemed my inner conflict had resolved itself. Whilst mindful of the advice I knew now that many of these right handers required me to get over the back of the seat unit and not stay in beside Tony. If only for my own concentration's sake. I leant my body back in for the short straight to Barn and back out again for Barn itself. We flew round the bend and began the acceleration down the start finish straight as I crouched as low as I could. Tony had problems with the gear changes and the ride was very jerky but we had done our first lap! I was learning with each lap and although I was making mistakes I was getting better each time.
I never know how many laps we have completed, I just know that we have done a few and some time soon it will be the last lap flag. I looked for it as we crossed the finish line but didn't see anything. I knuckled down and concentrated on what I was doing but was seeing more of what was around me and I saw sidecars littering the side of the track as we went round. We would get a placing just by attrition by the look of it. I wasn't aware of anything behind us but as we hit the start straight again Brian and Vicky came thundering past us with Vicky punching the air as they went through the chequered flag. It was over, we had completed our first race but just been lapped at the line by the winners.
Afterwards I was talking to Vicky and she was saying that at one point they had been coming up behind us so close that she was mentally screaming at Brian to slow down before she stuck her head up my bum! I had been totally unaware of this. All thoughts of quitting and worrying about things were gone. I was elated. I wanted to go out again but that was it for Saturday. Tomorrow was going to be a hard day. We sat and had a beer and talked about the race and the problems we had each encountered. Especially the start. I suggested he give it more revs and I would position myself further forward to reduce the traction on the back wheel to enable it to spin up a little. We also discussed what we could do to reduce the gearing. It was apparent that the carbs were fuelling too much as well so I suggested we drop the needles a notch to reduce the mid-range fuelling. The dyno testing had all been at full power and I don't think they considered the rest of the range.
The first race on Sunday we lined up and the start was not good. Tony let the clutch out too quickly and we bogged down again. As we got going though we found ourselves hemmed in by another outfit trying to overtake a further outfit and we had to back off just as we were picking up. We did eventually get past that one and we began to fly. I was much more confident of my moves now and made far fewer mistakes. In fact a couple of times on the mountain I made the switch perfectly and the feeling was amazing. It was the razor's edge between control and losing it. The result was we flew up the last part and the front wheel came up over the crest allowing us to enter the Hall Bends much faster. This made it noticeably harder for me to get across in time. I managed it though but it felt like when you sit at a drum kit and lose concentration then find yourself doing the different beats perfectly with your hands and feet only to realise it and lose the co-ordination completely. We increased our average speed per lap by 7mph over the first race and knocked 6 seconds off our best lap time. Tony still had problems with the gear changes but I had suggested he snap the throttle as he changed and he had tried this with some success but was still not quite getting it every time.
The second race felt better but the times were about the same. I had also spoken to another passenger about the posts at Coppice. He had said they were collapsible and not to worry about them. I ignored them in this race and hit the last one on the first lap. I don't know if it was a result of that or someone else, but, on the next lap there was the post laying in the track right on our line. We hit it and it whacked me across the end of my little finger on my left hand and I found myself with it perched across my chest like a baby. I flicked it over my shoulder and concentrated on the upcoming bend. Otherwise it was much the same as the previous race. By the third race I was tired and we were packing everything away in preparation for a quick getaway. Out we went and I could feel that my changes were ragged. I could feel myself sliding around on the platform and unable to do anything about it. I was just happy to finish the race.
Four races completed, that was, of itself, an achievement. I was shattered and it was all I could do to get out of my leathers. As I write this I feel battered and bruised. I ache all over and can't wait to get to Snetterton next weekend to see my housemate Tricia Roberts racing and maybe get out with James Sirrell in his F1 sidecar for practice. My next race will be in Belgium at Chimay in July. This is a road race and will be a first for both myself and Tony. In the meantime he is going to get some other sprockets so we can reduce the gearing and maybe some slightly smaller main jets. But the outfit went well overall, it just needs some fine tuning now. I need to put something on the ally platform to give me grip and we need to fit a piece of angled ally along the edge where Tony's left leg is to stop me leaning on it and interfering with his ability to change gear. I will be riding out there on my road bike and meeting him there as he is visiting his family in Dresden. I am looking forward to this one and I know that I will have the same fears prior to the start, I will consider quitting and then it will all go as I get on the track. It is all part of the game it seems.

Monday, 20 May 2013

My second race meeting

Tony and I have finished building the new race engine. He fits it into the outfit and we arrange to take it to M&P in London to get it set up on my birthday. There is a big rugby match going on at the nearby Twickenham stadium and it takes ages to get through the traffic. We spend all day trying to overcome problems with the carburettors only to find out it is a leak in the gauges. We do finally get it set up sufficiently well to feel confident that it is OK for the race meeting the following weekend. I had three gigs that week but things have conspired to make me miss all of them. My road bike fried the battery when the regulator failed and Tony had to take me and the bike home in his van. The vacuum fuel tap had blocked and was flooding the engine. I bought a new regulator and fitted it. Then I set about fixing the fuel tap. Take it apart, clean it, check the diaphragm for leaks. All seems ok, the plunger moves, the O ring seal is OK so I refitted it. It leaks again. I repeated this a number of times but by this time I had to remove the spark plugs to pump out the fuel in the cylinders. The rear one is not too bad to get to but the front one requires the removal of the radiator and is really fiddly to get to. Oh well, it has to be done. It didn't feel good as I started to unscrew the plug then it went slack and I knew I had a problem. The thread had sheared away from the hex part of the plug and it came out minus the thread. Damn it! Now I had to remove the cylinder head. It was obvious that the plug had never been out in all its years. I removed the carbs and they were filthy. I unbolted everything except the front exhaust header pipe. I knew that I would have problems here as the nuts had all but corroded away. I managed to chop through them with a disc cutter and eventually coaxed the retaining collar free. I loosened the clamps around the other end of the header pipe but couldn't move it. By this time Allie had turned up and found me looking very morosely at a pile of filthy and corroded bike parts. We both tried to free the header pipe and decided that we would have to remove the collector section underneath the engine. It too was jammed solid. Eventually we freed the header from that by destroying the slotted section on the collector pipe. Now I needed a new collector section but at least I was able to remove the cylinder head  complete with header pipe still in place. Dickie, the engineer I would normally run to to deal with such things was away on holiday so I asked Tricia about another guy she knew of and got his contact details. A phone call later and I was no better off. He was up to his eyeballs in work and couldn't help me for a couple of weeks at least. 
     I needed my bike for transport to and from Tony's. Theseus needs the car for gigs and rehearsals as it is Brighton Fringe time and he is really busy. I need to be able to get to Tony's in order to do last minute prep for the racing. I manage to get the car one day in order to pick up some aluminium sheet so I can fabricate a duct for the fairing to guide air through the new bigger oil cooler. On the Thursday Tony drives down in the van and picks me up so we can spend the day working on the outfit. We load up all my gear and the ally sheets. I spend all day repositioning the oil cooler and fabricating the ducting. A few days before Tony had picked up some oxygen so we could fabricate new hand holds and braze them into position. At Darley Moor I had raced it with the handholds that were there. This consisted of a rail running at low level from the back to the front of the platform alongside Tony's left leg. This offered me no real bracing against acceleration and braking forces. It was also so low that the angle of my arm when trying to pull myself back in after a left hander was awful. I had studied photos of other passengers and outfits to see what they had and came up with an idea of how I could modify the rail. I decided that if I left it attached at the front mounting point and cut it somewhere near the back I could bend it slightly up and past the oil tank before taking it vertical and then at right angles to attach to the frame rail that runs over the engine. That would give me a really good bracing point and a higher level hand hold to pull myself in and back for rapid changes from left to right. The vertical section would be my handhold for left handers and the horizontal section running to the frame rail would be my handhold for right handers. I tried it out in the garage and it immediately felt ten times better than the old set up. I could pull myself back in with ease and get myself really over to the right behind Tony. It looked a bit rough and ready but it felt great and I can modify it later to pretty it up. It also freed up some room on the platform so that my movement wasn't so constricted.
     This was a huge relief to me. I had been studying videos of the Anglesey circuit as well as the circuit map. There are four left handers on the coastal circuit, two of them require very fast changes. There is a long sweeping right hander that comes into a very sharp left at Rocket and is followed by a right hand hairpin. Then there is the Corkscrew. This starts with a left followed by a right and another left. I know there is no way I could cope with that the way the outfit was set up.
     We finished working on the outfit at about 8pm on the Thursday and loaded everything up. By ten thirty we had picked up Carl and his solo and hit the road. We arrived after a very rainy journey at 3.30 in the morning and put some mattresses in the scrutineering bay and slept there until morning. Friday morning arrived with lots of sunshine. We set up the marquee and unloaded the bikes and gear. Practice was due to start in the afternoon. We ran the outfit up to check it was all OK but the clutch was dragging badly. We took it apart and put it back together, we adjusted it but nothing made any difference. We tried putting fewer plates in, that made it better but then it slipped. Something was wrong - but what? Tony kept suggesting that we put the standard springs back in in place of the uprated ones. I had studied the assembly drawings and explained that the springs couldn't be the cause as they merely pre-loaded the plates and were contained by two castings that connected solidly together. Tony couldn't seem to get this idea and kept coming back to the springs as we talked it through. I decided to explain how the system worked and then something clicked. As I was explaining why they couldn't I also said the only way in which they could be doing something was if they were warping the casting. Bingo! Tony said that the casting has suffered a bit of damage when a clutch broke previously. We checked the diagram and sure enough right where the damage was was in an area that would flex if the springs were strong enough. We swapped the springs for the standard ones and felt an immediate improvement. Just in time for practice/qualifying we finished reassembling the clutch.
      We had walked the circuit in the morning and I had the sudden realisation that what I couldn't see from the videos and map were the elevation changes and just how tight the bends were and how quick the changes would have to be. Another passenger said that the corkscrew was so quick that we couldn't hope to get fully out on the lefts and back for the right in time so it would have to be a weight shift of our bums. I was inclined to agree from our walk round. Now I would see as we went out for our first practice lap. Tony took it easy on the out lap to check everything out and it gave me a more relaxed time to try out my moves on the various bends. Rocket was a real hairy one. The last bit of straight before it is steeply uphill and the left hander is blind until you are almost upon it. Timing and trust would be everything here. Then the hairpin right, short straight and right again was all out over behind Tony. As we hit the straight the corkscrew is out of sight and I dropped down to get ready for the first left hander of the series. Then it came into sight and I realised I had plenty of time to get ready for it. The new hand hols were coming into their own. That first left at Rocket had been relatively easy and I was right out for it and back in for the hairpin. Now as we approached the first part of the corkscrew I eased myself out on the left and round we went. The right hander came up really quick but I was able to get in and over the back in time and back down and out ready for the left onto the start/finish straight. This wasn't so bad as I feared. Tony began to ramp up the speed as we rounded the left hander at the end of the straight. I was feeling confident and enjoying the circuit. Onto the short straight and toward the right hand hairpin at Banking. This is a lovely cambered right hander, the rear wheel started to slide and Tony controlled it well on the throttle. OK I need to relax my legs and dump my weight onto the rear of the seat unit to get as much weight as possible onto the rear wheel. Down the straight to Church and another right before the long sweep  to the right. I tucked in over the back hiding behind Tony to reduce drag. He was really starting to open it up now. The right kink before the hill and we flew up the hill. Whoa! He is going really fast up here and leaving the braking late. I began to start my move to the front to get ready to go out of the left at rocket but we were still flying. He's overcooked it! The outfit started to get all crossed up and was squirming under us as he struggled to shed speed and we ran onto the grass. Whoops. The rest of the lap got faster in a more controlled way but the big sweep after Church seemed slow. It was as though he was coasting it. Around the third lap I missed my timing in the corkscrew and we found ourselves in danger of tipping up and we missed the left hander at the bottom as a result and ended up on the grass. Score one to Tony and one to me. We finished the session uneventfully and came in.
     We talked about the session and Tony told me he couldn't get fifth gear. That explained the pedestrian pace on the big sweeper. He also said the brakes were a bit rubbish. hence the close call at Rocket. We tried selecting fifth gear manually back in the paddock. We counted the gears out . . click, first . . . click the other way, second . . . click, third . . . click, fourth . . click, nothing. It was like there was another neutral? We pondered this for some time but we couldn't figure it out. The only thing we could do was remove the engine and split the crankcases and have a look. First thing in the morning we began ripping it out of the frame and set about splitting it. Once we had it opened up we looked at everything. It all appeared OK. Tony went off to talk to the members of other Honda 750 engined teams to see if they had any ideas. Meanwhile I sat down with the manual and studied the diagrams. There were photos of the gear clusters in each gear. I worked out that of the three selector forks the middle one only operated the fifth gear wheel. I studied this and orientated myself. The fork is offset on the journal. I looked at that and then at what our selector fork was doing. The long side was opposite to the way it was shown in the photo! OK double check it . . . yeah I am sure that is the case. The fork itself has a curve to it. Does that corroborate what I suspect? I aligned the book so the photo was the same view as I had of the clusters before me. Yes, sure enough it was confirming my suspicions as well. About then Tony returned and I told him what I had seen. I showed him and asked him to confirm it. It was a five second job to remove the shaft and flip the fork over. We had missed the first race by now. Now the pressure was on to get it back together before our next race. As they called the sidecars we were almost there but there was no way we could finish up and get out there in time. We eased off the the pressure. Then there was a delay due to a crash in the previous race. Can we do it? No there was actually more to do than we thought so we continued at the more steady pace and resigned ourselves to not racing until tomorrow. Better to get it right than risk all.
     We finished up and checked we could get fifth gear - sure enough there it was. Today had been a shit day and we hadn't raced but now we knew that tomorrow we would get out there and get two races in. We retired to the clubhouse and celebrated with a beer or two.
      Sunday morning arrived with a somewhat fuzzy head. That 'beer or two' had turned into a bit of a wilder night than I was used to. It was worth it however, it served to let Tony and I bond a bit more and socialise together. Up until now it had all been about sidecars and engineering. It also allowed me to get to know some of my fellow competitors better and bond with some of the other female passengers. A couple of coffees and a good slug of squash cleared my head and rehydrated me and I felt ready to go racing. Oh yeah, racing - that was the reason we were here wasn't it? We got ready and went to the holding area. Once the previous race finished we were cleared to go out on the circuit for the sighting lap. 
     My feelings in the holding area? Last time at Darley I had felt that I might be sick and wanted badly to run away. Today I was saying hello to the girls I had met last night and laughing with them about wanting to go for a pee and having that tightening feeling in the stomach. So much better than at Darley. I was looking forwards to getting out there and trying out the outfit in a race. On the sighting lap Tony gave it some beans round the big sweeper. Damn, this thing pulled! Now with fifth gear we could really get a sense of what we had under us. At Rocket it was a bit clunky and the engine bogged a bit but I thought little of it. Probably just Tony getting used to it. Down the corkscrew and onto the grid. We were on row ten. Not bad considering the previous day. I looked behind and checked out who was there. It is always a concern that someone might ram into us. There were only a couple of more rows so not much to worry about there. Now concentrate on the man with the flag. He got the green from the guy at the back and dropped the red flag. All eyes are now on the starter. Down came the union flag and we were off. We passed a few others on the way to the first bend and I positioned myself out the front. Round we went, this was so much better than my fiasco at Darley. Back in and ready for the lovely cambered right hander of Banking. We tore off down the straight to Church and were going well. I was finding time to look behind and see who was there for the first time and enjoying myself. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't idly looking around and not concentrating. It was still very fast and hectic but I felt so much more confident with these new hand holds. They were working beautifully. We blasted past a Norton as we went up the hill to Rocket and then the gear change problem occurred again and they passed us round the left hander. We must have lost a good few seconds doing Rocket in too high a gear and they cleared off ahead of us. We screeched round the right hand hairpin and the right before the Corkscrew. Each time we gained on them round the lap we lost time at Rocket and just could not catch them again. They finished about six seconds ahead of us.
     Afterwards, Tony said he was having trouble changing down from third to second for Rocket. We checked the clutch adjustment but it seemed OK. Perhaps it was just because it was new and needed to bed in a little. There was nothing we could do. The brakes however, were a different matter. They had been awful. I decided to drop the pads on the front and see if they were glazed. If they were we could rough them up and refit them. Tony had gone off to watch Carl in his solo race. I dropped the front right and they looked pretty awful. Tony was still gone but Carl had returned and came over to look at what they were like. The first thing he said was 'they are road pads! No wonder they are crap'. He said he had a bag of race pads we could use. I waited for Tony to return before I went ahead. We then set about replacing all the pads. As he pumped the brake pedal to settle them all in afterwards we saw that the front brakes were not operating. Eventually we removed the seat unit to get to the master cylinder. It is a dual circuit one. The rear brake and sidecar brake operate from one outlet and the two front brakes operate from a second outlet. This second one was loose! We had raced without any front brakes, no wonder they seemed rubbish. It seems that pressure from the seat unit with both our weight on it had acted upon the banjo union and caused it to loosen so we lost all pressure in that circuit. We repositioned it and tightened and bled the brakes. After lunch we formed up for the second race. The sighting lap seemed OK and we took our position on the grid. As the flag dropped the outfit ahead of us stalled and their hands went up. I signalled to the outfits behind that there was a problem ahead and we went around to the left. As we accelerated past the pit wall we lost drive and the engine revved wildly. We coasted to the end of the pit out lane and pulled in. That was us done. The clutch had gone. All this way and we managed one race. A real disappointment especially after all the work we had put in. So, now we have a list of things to do before Cadwell Park in June. Then hopefully we will get to see the real potential of this new engine.
    First I have to get my road bike fixed . . . . 

Monday, 6 May 2013

My introduction

My name is Ginny Bourne, I am a few days short of my 55th birthday as I write this.

     In the summer of last year my friend Allie said she was thinking of going back to sidecar racing after a break of 18 years. She said she wanted to try her hand at driving one and asked if I would be her passenger. Without giving it any thought whatsoever I told her that I would and thought no more of it. I thought it was just a bit of an escapist dream. Some weeks later she told me there was a thing called 'The International Festival of Sidecars' at Mallory Park Circuit and they were doing 'Taxi Rides'. This is where spectators and fans can have a go on the platform to see what it is like. This was due to happen in October and would I go with her and would I like to have a go.

     I have ridden motorbikes all my life on the road but never been on a race track. In my youth I thrashed about on a Yamaha YDS7 250 and then progressed to a Suzuki GT500A. After that I bought a Norton Commando 850 MkIII and got involved in the 'biker' scene eventually joining the National Chopper Club. That was in the 70's, in the 80's after suffering a nervous breakdown or stress burnout (I am never quite sure how to describe it as I was serving in the forces at the time and continued to serve throughout without it being diagnosed to my knowledge) I estranged myself from my NCC friends and re-invented myself as a more mainstream biker hanging out with local clubs and riding a Yamaha XS1100. After leaving the forces in the mid 80's I went to work for Lotus in Norfolk as an R&D technician. It was there that I got closest to racing. The place was riddled with racers but I still never considered doing it myself. I had a test track licence and used to take cars out for testing. That was as close as it got. I still got my kicks tearing around on a motorbike on public roads.

     After leaving Lotus I went back to my original trade of aircraft technician and went contracting in Europe. The bikes took a sideline as it was not practical. On my return in the mid 90's I went to work for Ricardo Consulting Engineers in Shoreham and bought myself a Kawasaki GPZ1000RX. For the first time in my life I also bought a set of leathers. Wearing those on the bike made such a difference! I was used to denim flapping about and crappy leather jackets with collars flapping and filling up with wind. Unfortunately however, I was descending into another extremely heavy depression. This had been happening throughout my last couple of years in Europe and by '97 had really got me in its grip. I forced a breakup with my then partner and isolated myself again and existed in a world of darkness and a home that was merely trails through dust and cobwebs.

     It was about this time I was visiting family in Florida and was talking to a musician friend. He suggested I go and see a psychotherapist. Well he's american, what do you expect? On my return however I did investigate this. Four or five years of heavy depression in my late teens and early twenties and now a further four or five years by this point - I needed to do something to try to figure out why I was suffering so. I finally settled on one I thought might be able to help and settled in to a routine of weekly one hour sessions. I would talk openly about my exploits and experiences but blocked anything that got too close to areas in which I felt uncomfortable. For six months we played this game of attack and defence followed by me paying her for trying to get me to 'fess up my innermost secrets whilst I danced around sidestepping these attempts. One evening I was in mid-rant about something and she quietly asked me a direct question. It stopped me mid-word. I can still hear my inner voice saying 'well you either acknowledge this now, openly, or you get up and leave never to return.' That was the breakthrough that was required. I acknowledged this rather minor fact about myself and suddenly over the next few weeks a whole torrent of rather more significant 'facts' came pouring forth from somewhere deep in the depths of my mind. It was the start of a major change in my life.

     Although that initial series of revelations occurred within a few weeks it actually took about ten years to deal with it and change my learned responses in order to stop punishing myself over these issues. I had lost my job at Ricardo, gone through a tribunal. I realised my home in Shoreham was in need of major renovation which was exacerbated by my depression and lack of will to do anything. I sold a share of it to a friend and began a new career in a test lab with an aerospace company in Farnborough. I was commuting as the house couldn't be sold in the state it was in. It was now about 2007 and I was living in digs during the week and becoming depressed again!! I sat myself down and talked through what I was doing with my life. I had developed an interest in buying a boat and toyed with the idea of just sailing off and living on the boat. I had never sailed in my life but that didn't put me off. I had begun to play the harmonica while I was contracting in Europe and become quite good at it and played in bands locally. A friend I had met through this was in the process of selling his house, having bought a boat and was planning on sailing the Atlantic I went out with him and was sick as a dog. He asked if I wanted to accompany him on his voyage and I was giving serious consideration to this. I decided to hand in my notice at work. I had no dependants so there was no reason for me to be living this solitary life in digs away from friends. I had no mortgage and could live quite cheaply. 

     I ended up staying on part time at that job for another year earning good money as a contractor training up new engineers. The new found leisure time meant I could go out in the evenings and play harmonica and socialise with other musicians. I reacquainted myself with a number of them and one guy I had seen around playing drums but never really got to know came over and we became friends. It turned out he was an original founder member of the show Stomp and was the guy on all the posters depicted flying through the air in martial arts style with bin lids as shields. Before long I realised he had hit hard times and quite often other friends would suggest that he should take me on as his manager. That presented a problem. Did I go sailing or did I try and make a living in music. It was at this point I realised that the sailing thing was a mental escape from my lifestyle at the time. I went into music full time. 

   Theseus is a gregarious but tortured soul and he took me around all sorts of places and forced me to socialise. That was something I found incredibly hard to do. I could get up and perform musically but put me face to face with people and I was terrified. The inevitable compliments one receives as a musician from music fans was a nightmare scenario for me. I never knew how to deal with it, were they just being nice to me or did they feel sorry for me? It never occurred to me they might simply think I was actually a good musician. However as the years of this went by I did get used to it and gained in confidence. As I gained confidence I felt my old self resurfacing. I am a naturally gobby,  smiley, caring person with a rather dry sense of humour. I think over the last six or seven years we have helped each other immensely. It has been an emotional roller coaster however with some very hard times.

     So how does all this relate to the title of Sidecar Racing? It all seems a bit Ronnie Corbett so far hey?
Well, my good friend and housemate Tricia (who has a good blog on here at had for some years been building a hybrid two stroke 250 to do track days with. She had raced in the early 90's but given up. I started to go with her on the track days as her mechanic and general helper and supporter. I could see that although she got some enjoyment out of this it was racing that she craved. I spoke to her about it but she said that she couldn't devote the time end energy it takes to take up racing again. I suggested that she view it differently and instead of contesting an entire season she just pick and choose her races and view it as a track day where you could race. She considered that and last year began to contest a few races. I really enjoyed those weekends with her and the racing bug kind of entered into me too. Now here was Allie talking about sidecar racing.

     We filled out the forms necessary to do the taxi rides at Mallory and off we went in her little MX5. We arrived there quite early so while we waited for the signing on time to arrive we watched the racing. It was cold and damp and we saw a few sidecars miss the turn into Edwina's. Then we saw a rather scruffy looking outfit spin off completely and throw the passenger out. The driver had an orange novice jacket on and I jokingly said to Allie that he was probably the guy we were going out with.

     Signing on time arrived and we went to find out who we would be going out with. We were both going out on number 818. We searched the paddock but couldn't find the outfit. There was only one place we didn't look and that was the scruffy one we saw spin. Eventually we went to have a look there and sure enough the number in masking tape on it was  . . . . 818! Whoops. We introduced ourselves and chatted to the guys before they went out for their final race before the taxi rides started. We went off to find somewhere to watch from. A couple of laps in and 818 failed to come round. It turned out that they had gone straight on at the hairpin. The passenger had bailed out and the driver had hit the barrier and broken his shoulder. We went back to the office and got reassigned new rides. I was due to go out with John Longmore on his rather nicely prepared F2. As we stood in the pit lane awaiting our turns I got a little nervous. Everyone was saying don't hold too tightly or you'll get arm pump in one breath and in another saying make sure you hold on at all times or you'll get thrown out. I got as much advice as I could and made myself familiar with the hand holds and ran through where I should be for which turns in my head. Then I was kneeling on the platform and we were rolling out onto the circuit as it just started to spit with rain. It came out onto the end of the straight and into Gerards a long sweeping right hander. I climbed over the back and leant out over the back wheel and watched the grass whizz by my face as we accelerated round and onto the back straight. I had braced my left foot into the rear corner of the platform and as we approached the left/right/left of Edwina's I tried to get out of the left side of the platform and found myself going upwards instead! My foot was still jammed into the corner. John looked round at me and saw my predicament and eased up. I cursed myself and tried to mentally figure out what I was to do. By now we were heading up to the hairpin, I got back over the rear wheel and hung out as far as I could. Through the bus stop round the slight left and onto the start finish straight. This was exhilarating. I never did quite manage to figure the move over to the left on the next two laps but I got enough weight over to make it work then it was all over. No!!!! Surely we could go a few more times so I could figure this out properly. Damn, I was cursing myself and wondering when I could next get a go at this. 

     We drove back down to the south coast talking about our day. Sometime over the next few months Allie found a website and also found herself a rider that was looking for a passenger on an F1. She was getting herself back into racing and I felt a little left out. It felt like she needed me to hold her hand while she investigated the situation and then discarded me when she got a ride. I was a little put out by this. Then she told me that there was a try out day at Lydden Hill in March. Did I want to go to that? Tricia and I both decided to go with her and filled out the forms. Her rider also sponsored an F1 National class rider called Barry James. We went to sign on and I was due to go out with Barry.

     Again it was wet and cold. Barry told me to just stay in round the left handers as it was wet, it needed traction on the back wheel as well as some balance for the sidecar wheel. It is a compromise in the wet. This was not taxi rides but also not race pace it was somewhere in between. We went out and Barry opened it up. It blew my mind. The G force around the first right hander was incredible and the corner seemed to go on and on. I felt my leg starting to buckle under the force. I mentally reminded myself to lock my leg out straight. The monocoque chassis was digging into my side just above my hip then we approached the left hander. Ah! Relief, I slumped down into a kneeling position as we exited and headed up the hill to the hairpin. Up and back over the right hand side, grab the handhold at the base of the body, lock out my leg. I was thrown around as we bumped and slid our way round then I felt myself sliding backwards as we accelerated down hill towards the final right hander before the start/finish straight. I stayed over the rear wheel and then I heard myself grunt as the G loading hit again around the bend and acceleration as we headed down the straight. One lap done. I was knackered! I wondered how long we were going to be out for. On and on it went. Push as we braked, leg buckling as we loaded up the G's and hanging on for dear life as I was bounced around as we accelerated. A second's rest round the left hander and off we went again. Lap after lap. It seemed like forever. I was gasping for breath, my visor was misted up, I was hurting, my left forearm was pumped. My left thigh felt like it would burst any moment. Then we slowed and pulled in to the pit lane, it was over. I was so happy it was over but I needed to do that again. The adrenaline was sloshing around my veins. 
     Next I went out on the Team Sloane machine. I went over to them and they had me sitting differently. Instead of kneeling I was sitting on the side of my right thigh. I am a rather long limbed beastie and I couldn't actually get my backside flat like that and my chest was forced into the chassis handhold. It was very uncomfortable but I tried to do it. We went out and I found it so much harder and more physically demanding like that. About two laps before the end of the session I had to 'tap out' and get him to pull in early. I was so out of breath and physically drained that I knew I was in danger of falling off. I got off and could hardly stand up which seemed to amuse the Sloanes. I vowed there and then to start getting fitter.

     Back at the car I got talking to the guy parked up next to us. He had a classic side car with a Honda 750 SOHC engine. These things are a different kettle of fish entirely. Whereas the F2's and F1's have a platform at the back and the passenger leans out on the left behind the sidecar wheel , these have a long narrow platform. The passenger leans out on the right the same as the modern machines but on the left the passenger must move forwards to lean out ahead of the side car wheel. A modern passenger will often have a knee slider attached to the leathers at his left bum cheek as that is what is likely to scrape the ground on left handers. A classic passenger will have a slider attached to the left shoulder. I was asking him about this and telling him that I had come down looking to get a ride on an F2. He told me that the guy with him was trying out for him but didn't like it so he was still looking for a passenger. He suggested I come to Brands Hatch at the end of March and be his passenger. I couldn't do that as it clashed with Allie's first race at Snetterton. I checked out the BMCRC and CRMC race meeting dates and that was the only one that clashed.

     His name was Tony Sawyer and I had his phone number so I gave him a ring and said I would be available for all the other meetings. The next one being at Darley Moor in Derbyshire. Tony only lived about 30 miles from me so I arranged to meet him at his and travel up with him. So far I hadn't so much as turned a wheel on  one of these machines and now I was going to go and race on one. My first experience of it would be the qualifying session. I took two helmets, two sets of leathers and two pairs of boots. The space on the platform is very restricted and the amount of movement required is quite large so I needed to be able to manoeuvre around quickly. I spent as much time in the paddock learning where the handholds were and how to move about on it. Allie and Tricia were with me giving advice. Then it was time to go out. I was all over the place!

     Try as I might I couldn't figure out how to get in front of the sidecar wheel and back in so I ended up leaning over the top of the wheel in order to try to get at least some weight over there. Under braking there was nothing to really brace against so getting back to the rear to get over the right is hard too. Luckily Tony is a big fella and so the weight issue was not so bad on the predominant right handers. We got through it ok though and came back in. I was obviously a complete novice at this and over the next hour or so a number of people came up to give me advice having seen me scrambling about at random on the platform. 

     I practiced and practiced the moves I had been shown in the paddock and felt I had it sorted out. Of course I didn't have my leathers on and was wearing trainers. There was no G forces throwing me around. I did change helmets and leathers though before our first race. The helmet I had on was my old road helmet and I found that it was too low over my eyes to be able to see easily from the angles I was at. The leathers were my new ones but they had hard bits at the knees and elbows. Whilst they are great on the road they were so bulky at the knees that in the restricted space I had I found myself jammed in place. Also the seam at the knee was causing me a lot of pain whilst knelt on the platform. My other leather were an older style and less bulky, my new helmet is a lighter and the opening is higher up on my forehead. I felt happier with this set up.

     They called us to the holding area for our first race. I jumped on and sat trying to look casual as we made out way through the paddock to the holding area. As we assembled there waiting for the previous race to finish and the track to be declared clear I felt my stomach tighten. I felt nauseous and wondered whether I was going to have to get my helmet off and run to the fence and throw up. I had the overwhelming urge to grab Tony and tell him I had made a huge mistake. I was panting and hyperventilating and had to really concentrate to get my breathing under control. Eventually we were cleared to go out for the sighting lap. That was better, I tried to practice the moves I had been doing in the paddock. I was further forward but still not able to get out the front properly. My timing was better but not right. We came round and entered the pit lane to form up on the grid. Watch the man with the red flag. It came up, then down and I switched my gaze to the man across the other side of the track with a Union Flag. All around me engines are revving, passengers are leaning over the back wheels. Drivers are intent on the starter. I am watching him too but wondering if someone will run into the back of us, I have my leg out to give us a push. Down goes the flag, I push but Tony has fluffed the start and the engine bogs down for a fraction of a second. I pull my leg in and he pulls in the clutch gives it a handful of throttle and we scream off the line catching other machines up as we head into the chicane. OK, shoulder left, shoulder right and tuck down. So far so good. We head down to the first right hander. Allie says wait until the braking is over before moving. I wait until it subsides a bit and start to try to get over the back wheel and only succeed in burying my head into Tony's side. This is far more aggressive than even the qualifying was. Tony has his race face on I guess. We are round the first right hander and accelerating down the straight. OK this one has more of a right-left and I need to get some weight out to the left. We hit it way faster than I think we should but I time it right and get over top of the wheel  and we are through without tipping over. A short acceleration and we are at the only real left hander on the circuit. I fight my way forward but cannot get to the front loop to get out in the way I practiced but the inner front loop that I have had hold of is ok and I pull myself forward and out as much as I can. We are through! Short straight to the hairpin, I need to get back and over the wheel now! Fuck it! We are braking I bury my head in Tony's side again we skitter round the hairpin and I crouch down thinking this is the back straight. It all goes a little squirrely because there is a slight left. Damn it! I forgot that. OK head down and hang on this is a long straight before the right hander for the start of the next lap. I feel the forward push as we start to brake and brace my left arm. As I feel that ease slightly I pull myself back and over the wheel. We've done our first racing lap! As I settle in to this I am acutely aware that my boots are stopping me moving about properly. I struggle to get from the back of the platform to the front. My timing is sometimes good sometimes bad but we get through it and then the race is over. We come back into the paddock and our friends are all stood waiting. I feel like I did a crap job but I also feel elated. That was my first ever race. I take my helmet off and Tony is stood there with a huge grin on his face. I grin at him and offer my hand and get a bear hug instead. I can't stop talking. I'm still trying to jabber away as I take huge gulps of water. 

    Once I calm down I get to analysing what I did wrong and where and how to change what I am doing. First thing is switch boots. The others are more supple and less bulky around the toes. The second race of the day is held over until the morning due to delays in other races. On Sunday morning we head off to the holding area once again. This time I don't feel quite so sick but I still want to tell Tony I made a mistake. Then we are out. This time I can move better, I have found out that I need to be  further forward on the platform and not hanging my toes over the back. This makes everything much easier and I get most of the changes done at the right time. For a lot of the corners I find that moving while on the straight and getting over the wheel is much better than waiting until after braking. We are having problems with the gearbox however and it keeps jumping out of gear. A couple of laps in and we hit a right hander and the outfit starts to slide. Tony backs off the throttle and it corrects. The next corner is the same and I find I quite like that. Two more laps sliding around the corners and the race is red flagged. Someone has blown up and dropped oil all round the circuit. That is why we are sliding around so much. In our third race I stand in the holding area and I am more concerned that it is chilly and I feel cold than about wanting to run away. Come on! Let's get on with it it is bloody freezing stood here! Then we go out for the sighting lap and line up. We get a good start and I am feeling much more confident. The boots allow me to move better. The left hander comes up and I find that the inner front loop isn't good enough any more so I lean further and grab the front outer loop and get much further out. Almost in front of the wheel this time. I think I am getting the hang of things and starting to enjoy it. Two laps down and we head up the straight through the wiggles into the right hander and accelerate down the top straight towards the other wiggles. Right, left forward to the loop and get out for the left hander. Now back and over the right. It is coming together. Down and slightly left then tuck right down for the long back straight. I am crouched face to the platform, the front sprocket right by my ear below Tony's leg. I hear him gas it and change gear and feel the pull trying to force me back. Then there is a bang and clattering sound and we slew off to the left and come to a halt. I get my hand in the air and check behind. We try to push the outfit to the side to get it off the track but it won't move. The wheel is locked up. We grab the back end and lift and shove it to the side. A marshal comes running over and asks if we can get it right off the track. He gives us a hand and we get it onto the lane that becomes the pit lane. That is us done. The gearbox has blown up. It is such a disappointment, things were really starting to come together. Now we have to wait a month until Anglesey for our next race.

     Tony has a new engine in bits and over the following week I go over and help him build it. It has a close ratio gear box and lots of nice goodies in it and promises to be a really good engine. 

    Two weeks after that race meeting Allie has her second meeting at Pembrey in South Wales. She also has bought a camper van. After her first race meeting at Snetterton in March where we spent an extremely cold and snowy weekend in a transit van on an air bed it is the lap of luxury. She tells me there is a rider in the F1 class looking for a passenger for the Friday practice session. I text him to see if he still needs someone. He phones back and we are on for the practice. I am going out on an F1! I check out who he is and find that he is one of the really fast riders in the class and I feel a bit intimidated. When we meet up at Pembrey he is a really nice guy and it is obvious he is willing to take it easy as I am a total novice.  He suggests that I just sit in the middle if I don't feel I can move about. We head out on our first session entering the track just before the end of the big sweeping left hander. I position myself behind the sidecar wheel and mentally run through how to change and where the handholds are. He gently accelerates out of it and onto the straight. I have been told that I should just stay over the back wheel and only come in to go out for the left hander by other passengers. So as we hit the dead spot out of the left I climb over the back and stay there. Right, right and onto the back straight. Bloody hell this thing accelerates! Down the straight and round the slight right at Woodlands towards the Honda Curve. I can see that James is checking to see how I am positioned. We go round Honda Curve on the start/finish straight and accelerate. This is fast, then I grunt as he hits the brakes for the hairpin. OK round the hairpin, move my right hand up to the upper hand hold ready for the next right. Round that and drop down to my knees and across to the left. Brace my right foot against the back inner corner of the platform and get my bum out. We sail round the left handers, the first time I have got out on a modern outfit. I like that. OK wait to feel the dead spot and move. Over the back wheel and reach down for the lower hand hold. Round the Esses and into the Brooklands Hairpin and then . . . .tuck in and grit my teeth as we accelerate down the straight round Woodlands and down to the Honda Curve.

    The night before Allie and her team mates walked the circuit with me and Kev pointed out a bump just after the Honda Curve. It was difficult to see, just the slightest dip then some discoloured tarmac with gouges in it. You have to look from a low angle to see it it is that slight. Now however I am looking forwards and I can see that discolouration ahead right in our line. Wallop! It knocks the breath out of me and dislodges my footing. I fight to regain my footing whilst we accelerate again. We are getting faster with each lap then the session is over. James seems quite pleased with me as we talk through it. In the second session he has obviously decided I am OK and we hit the circuit much faster this time. The acceleration is harsher, the braking heavier. At the hairpin the back wheel is sliding, at the left handers I feel the sidecar wheel glancing over the top of the castellated concrete on the inner apex at the edge of the track and move slightly in and the wheel comes up a little. I lean out again before the final part of the turn to get the wheel down again. Dead spot and over to the right. The laps get faster still. I am getting tired quickly now and I miss the dead spot out of the left handers. Only just and I manage to struggle over the back wheel in time. I can feel my breathing is heavy. My arms are pumped. I have pain in the base of my left thumb where the bodywork turns down by the left hand handhold. We come out of Honda Curve and over that bump again. There is a massive jolt of pain in my thumb. As we brake into the hairpin I feel like I am going to be thrown over James' head with the G force. I know I cannot do this safely for much longer. I contemplate tapping him, but when? I shall have to plan that in advance. We continue round at an excruciating pace until we get to the straight before Woodlands. I do tap him then, but very lightly. I kind of know that he hasn't felt it. I am trying to kid myself that it will be OK and grit my teeth for the final few laps. Two laps later we pull in. I show him my hand and tell him I can't go out again as it is too painful. He seems happy with what we have done though. Later I told him I am around at most of the BMCRC meetings as Allie is doing side cars too so if he needs me I should be available. He seems pleased by this. That is my time on the circuit done for the weekend, now it is time to revert to being support to Allie. I am pleased, bruised but very pleased. I have got an extra fix between my races.