This will be a fairly long post. Sorry about that. I had planned on doing this as two separate posts but some setbacks meant my time ran out to get the bike ready so that was the priority.
My plan for last year was to spend as little on the bike as possible. To see if I enjoyed the racing? Was I any good at it? Did I want to keep doing it? The answer to the last question was a resounding yes so for this year I hatched my plan.
Plan A – Get the engine checked.
I wanted to get the engine looked at to make sure that everything was as it should be. I knew Andy Pike had built a lot of engines for the DesmoDue paddock so I thought I would contact him and he agreed to do the work. Now I just needed to take the engine out! This proved to be quite easy-ish although I made it look difficult. My initial plan was to put the foot pegs on axel stands and then lower the engine out using a jack. I was told that was a stupid idea. So next plan was to put the bike on the ground and then lift the frame up and off the engine. I needed to remove the swing arm and exhaust for that. Now I don’t have a lot of tools at the moment, I am just building up my collection. I didn’t have a chain breaker tool and my hacksaw didn’t seem to make a dent in the chain. So I had to take the swing arm off with chain attached. How I made this hard – I had to remove the rear brake, cunningly I thought why I don’t just take the foot peg off with all the rear brake attached. Genius idea! Or so I thought. I begin to slowly unscrew the foot peg; it was strange because as they loosened off the bolts became really quite stiff. Then the first bolt came out and I had half a bike falling on me! What a muppet! The most difficult part was trying to hold the bike up with one hand and screw the foot peg back in with the other. I should have moved the big tub of old oil and filter before I started this but I didn’t. So not only was I holding the bike up, I then had to fish around in the oil after I dropped the foot peg bolt. Magic fun! I did get it back together and after that removing the engine was fairly straight forward.
Sent the engine off to Andy who informed me it was actually in pretty good condition and all looked to be running well. Happy days!
I also wanted to get the suspension sorted. There was mixed opinions on if the suspension needs doing as some felt the old Ducati’s handle no matter what, others suggested nobody at the front (I’m not one of those people…yet) doesn’t have sorted suspension. Checking my finances this seemed to be a step too far for this year.
So the engine returned from Andy, now I needed to fit it myself. I thought it would be fairly straight forward since removing it was fairly straight forward. While it wasn’t difficult, it was definitely challenging. Holding a bike while trying to lower it onto an engine that seems to want to move, spin and fall over all the time was quite tricky! Eventually it all went back together.
Plan B – Fitting full fairings
The bike last year had a cut off 916 style front fairing, seat unit and a catch tray. I wanted to jazz that up a bit so the plan was to go full 916 style fairings. Ordered them, now I just needed to make them fit. I could not believe how long and painful this was! The top fairing went on ok. But the 600SS frame doesn’t really have anywhere to mount the 916 style fairings. The new 916 seat was not the same as my old seat. Fun times ahead. I tackled the seat first, making a frame out of steel for the seat to sit on was quite easy, but finding out exactly what angle and stuff I wanted it at was hard to do myself. Creating brackets from paper, then aluminium and steel seemed to work to get it where I wanted it. This year the seat is the right height, tilted forward better but also closer to the front of the bike. I fit in…just. It’s a snug fit.
The side fairings were a bit of a nightmare. I had to consult with Brian Alexander and we decided to take the bike over to Steve Mason’s workshop like garage where we would be able to spend some time sorted it out. The hardest part was getting the lower brackets shaped correctly with little space and a confusing number of bends and turns to get it to fit. This proved difficult and took up the majority of the day. Then Brian made some plastic fairing brackets that would attach onto the side fairing to give additional support. Hurrah! I had the whole thing the way I wanted it to look.
Plan C – Painting
So now I have everything as I wanted I could start painting. My colour scheme was to be gold and black. I was going to do a rattle can job on the bike and managed to find some gold paint.
Painting the tank
I wanted to strip it back to the bare metal before beginning painting. The problem I found was that the paint had a heavy dose of filler on the left side. My filler job was pretty poor and the whole thing looked exceedingly ropey. I decided to consult an expert and took the tank to a local painted to sort the filler.
Tank now sorted I could paint it gold. Gave it a couple of coats and left it to dry. I don’t have a good place to paint so was just doing it outside. So I was working on the bike in the garage as the paint dries. Good job I’m inside cause a heavy shower just came down! Ooops! I left the tank outside and now it’s all wet and covered in rain spots. Will need to flat it and apply another coat. Frustrating to say the least.
With all these coats of paint I have put on the tank I thought I best order some more gold for the rest of the fairings. Loaded up Amazon, 1 can remaining. So I put in an order for two and hoped they would arrive in time. I still had to paint the other panels. I had a few days to do this but the lovely Scottish weather didn’t want to accommodate me. Eventually I managed to get the bits that are going to be black painted in my collar. It probably cost me a couple of years off my life expectancy painting in such a confined space but needs must. After a week there was still no paint. So searched for the paint on eBay and found it from a German supplier. Ordered 4 cans. Expected delivery date Mon-Thur of the week I am due to race. Fingers crossed the paint arrives in time. It didn’t.
So there I am packed up with a bike a lovely colour of black and primer. I stayed in all day Thursday for the paint to arrive so don’t have any race numbers either. My stress levels are going through the roof at this stage but I managed to get a friend to knock me up some temporary numbers I can stick on.
Finally the bike is ready-ish.Brands Hatch
It was only Duncan Bailey and I who was going from out little van sharing posse and neither of us have a van. So off to enterprise to get a hire. Packed the bike up on Thursday and drove from Glasgow to Edinburgh to get Duncan. Trying to get the van into Duncan’s converted underground garage door was quite a challenge, unfortunately too challenging for me and I scraped the right hand panel of the van. Good thing I paid that excess reduction! Packed up all Duncan’s stuff and the van looked a little empty. I forgot the Gazebo. And my bed. And my sleeping bag. What a clown! I called in a big favour from one of my friends who were able to drive through late Thursday night. Ivor, what a saviour! Finally we are ready to go racing.
The plan was to get up early, about 630 to avoid the rush hour traffic in Edinburgh and London. I had a terrible night’s sleep, was up all night images of me losing control of the van on lift off over steer, flipping it, destroying the van and the two bikes. The week I had getting all this ready it wouldn’t have surprised me. To say I was a bit stressed out was a bit of an understatement.
Off we set and our plan had worked. We made it to Brands Hatch by 2:30pm. Plenty time to unload the van in daylight and both Duncan and I were able to get on track for the final track session. A gods send for me as I had brand new tyres. The Dunlop Alpha 13 is excellent tyres but when new they are lethal until scrubbed. I was happy to get this done on the Friday allowing me to focus on the racing on Saturday.
The bike all passed scruitineering I could finally relax. It was then I noticed how sore my shoulders and body felt. I realised I must have been tense the whole week stressing out about getting the bike ready in time for the race. Finally I could relax.
As this was the first race of the year on Saturday we had practice, qualifying, and then a championship race. The practice session was a little damp, we were first out and we hoped it would have dried up in time for us. It hadn’t. I pottered round gingerly trying not to bin it before I even started, unfortunately someone else did and dumped some oil on the circuit. Red flags were out and having completed 4 laps I felt I had done enough and would wait till qualifying. I set a blistering pace of 1:27.176. 2nd slowest of the session. I was happy enough with that though and with a dry track for qualifying I could push.
Qualifying was on second after the practice sessions. This was my first time at the track so I took a steady build up to my pace, focusing on being smooth and finding braking points and turn in points. I felt I had a nice braking point and turn in point to paddock hill bend, and had a good line and pace through clearways. Druids, Graham Hill and Surtees were proving to be much more challenging. I constantly frustrated myself round druids telling myself to take it faster then ending up toddling round time and time again. I knew I could go faster but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. Graham Hill I just had crash fear. I think the thought of the left side of my tyre being cold really got in my head and I didn’t trust the speed I could take that corner at. This would be a problem all weekend really. Surtees I just didn’t know it well enough to know I was doing it wrong. Even with all this I was able to put in a time of 1:01.738. Good enough for 11th on the grid of 14 A bikes. Jack Younge was quicker on his B bike but he would start behind me due to class.
A common theme of last year was my terrible starts and being terrified of the other bikes all around me. This year I seem to have got over that fear a little. I fired off the line, knowing that Paddock Hill is a 4th gear corner and I could probably take it flat out from the start line I knew I needed to keep the gas on. I did, found a nice inside line and made a good start round the first corner. This is where it started to go wrong. Braking too early for Druids let a couple of bikes past me, then down the hill to Graham Hill again on the brakes too early and saw myself dropping back. From my starting position of 11th I was now in 13th over the line. Andy Taylor passed me the next lap to push me down to 14th. I was now behind Tom Roberts. I felt I had better speed through Paddock Hill and round clearways but I was riding so badly when I made a pass I immediately balls’d up. Out braking myself going into Druids after a pass, clipping the inside of the rumbles at Graham Hill and forcing me to shut off the gas after another pass, are just a couple of examples. Finishing 13 out of 13 A bikes (14 on the road) was quite disappointing. More so because I felt I hadn’t done myself justice. I had a new fastest lap of 1:00.927 but that wasn’t much consolation. Time to unwind with a fruity cider and come back with a fresh attitude for the Sunday.
I managed to get on for the early practice session; I felt this would help me work on Druids and Graham Hill that was the plan. I managed to get Druids a bit better in the early warm up and was feeling my pace was good without having to push it too hard. I felt comfortable and riding well, hitting my braking points and being smooth. Graham Hill still thwarted me though, I still didn’t feel comfortable with the corner but I had round a good line through it, keeping tight to the corner so I could get on the power earlier. There was no improvement in my time as I wasn’t looking to put together a complete lap but at 1:01.577 I was happy.
Shortly after the practice it was a qualifying race. I was due to start 14th. Everything was going fine until the warm-up lap. The bike starts coughing and spluttering round and when I pull up to my grid spot it cuts out. I get it back running then look up to see the red light gone on. Panic! Lights go out, I gun it and the bike doesn’t. It splutters off the line and everyone comes past me. I get the bike round and into the pits and start the diagnostics. With the help of DesmoDue organiser Kev Ellis and Duncan we were able to work out it was a poor connection to the power commander. Problem solved!
Starting at the back of the grid due to not completing a lap in the qualifying race meant I had a lot of work to do to get a good result. Line up in 18th on the grid and I got off the line well, quickly passed all the Class B bikes (except Jack Younge who started 5th). I set about chasing down Lee Moxham, managed to get onto the back of him and with good drive out of Clearways I was able to slipstream him and pass going down the back straight into Paddock Hill. Up to 12th and set about catching Tom Roberts, my nemesis from race one, he was working his way through the traffic too and passed Andy Taylor. I managed to pass him on lap 6 to move up to 11th, then two laps later passed Rian Hamilton and moved up to 10th. Tom Roberts was a little up the road and despite putting in my three best laps of the weekend I wasn’t able to catch him. Andy Taylor did try to out brake me going into Paddock Hill but wasn’t able to make it stick. I finished the race 10th on the road but 9th in Class but Mark Hamilton was judged to have a jump start and received a ten second penalty so I finished 8th in Class. It was a great way to end the weekend, I felt like I was constantly behind chasing all weekend. That’s how the last race played out too, I was really happy with my riding, fastest lap of 59.450. I just wish that had been my qualifying race so I could have mixed it with the faster group that I want to be competing with. Overall though it was an excellent weekend, Brands Hatch is an awesome circuit but I have so much more I can learn and improve. Next up Oulton Park on the 8th of April. Let’s hope the paint finally arrives.