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Castle Combe – I am not the King

Thanks to EDP Photo News for the pictures again! Great work! For more pics from all the weekends racing click here

Leading up to Castle Combe was a bit of a pain. I had to rebuild the bike after my crash at Cadwell Park which seemed to take a lot longer than I thought as I only got it finished and rebuilt at 6:30am before Brian was due to pick me up on Friday morning. I had decided to change to race shift to try and help me out on fast right handers. I struggle to get my foot under the gear so felt this would help. It would make quite an impact on my weekend.

The long journey down was fairly uneventful, but the paddock was chock-a-block but we managed to get in around the other DesmoDue guys and had some time to relax. We were out in practice session 2 but not racing till the second last race. I have never been to Castle Combe before but had done my prep watching YouTube clips but was struggling to visualise and memorise the circuit before riding it. I went out on the warm-up and struggling with a combination of changing gear and knowing where the circuit goes. I think I pulled a rolling stoppy going into the first chicane because I had no idea what I was doing. The race shift that I had set was now starting to cause issues. To go down I had to go up. Braking for corners was now a mental exercise to figure out what gear I should be in. And at the same time the gear pedal started moving further down. Clearly something was loose and was starting to unwind. So I came in after 3 laps to fix the issue. It was an easy fix but I still had no idea where I was going or how to change gear.

Race 1 – Qualifying race
I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the first race. Starting 5th on the grid I knew I was going to struggle a bit. I hoped to finish top 8 which would mean I would be on the second row for the championship race but my performance was not up to it. I had an ok start but was being too tentative and soft going into the first corner, losing a place to Dan James then Giles came past at the chicane. I did manage to take advantage of Duncan Baillie not being able to scrub his tyres in warm-ups. I started to find my rhythm and worked my way onto the back of Dan and passed on the brakes into the first chicane. Driving out of that corner I missed a gear and let Dan close up, then a brain fart on how to change down with the race shift at Old Paddock Bend let him slip past. I was able to get my way back in front going into Quarry. I managed to catch Jack Younge and show him a wheel but my mental capacity seemed to have been full up and a series of mistakes let Dan back past, then Duncan too. This dropped me back to 10th in Class with a fastest time of 1:26.295. Was a funny race. I just didn’t feel comfortable at all during it. Had too many things to think about with the change to race shift and having no clue about the circuit. Hopefully the next race things will slow down a bit.

Race 2 – Championship Race
I got the bike off the line well for a change. I just didn’t yet have the confidence on where I was going and where other people would be to start putting passes on people. The pace seemed to have got quicker too and I started going backwards. Phil Murden took me back, then Paul Payne. When Paul passed I thought I could go round the outside at Quarry but he wisely squeezed me to the edge of the track meaning I had to back out of it. Trying to take the place back I had a poor line through Quarry on the next lap and now Brian Alexander had passed me. This was turning bad. As Brian moved by Paul, Jack Younge took the both of us. That allowed me to sneak past Paul and I knew I could take Jack on the straight. We were queuing up behind Kenny Nehls. Unfortunately for Kenny, and Brian, Kenny went down at Quarry bend, with Brian with nowhere to go he hit and went over the top of Kenny with his bike landing on the grass. This left me with a bit of clear track ahead and I was able to get a better hang of the circuit. While I was disappointed with finishing 10th again I was happy with a 1:24.825. That was the 4th fastest time. Just needed to sort out my performance for the next day.

I went out for the Sunday morning practice. Worked on my lines, breaking points and most importantly what gear I should be in. The extra time really helped get more comfortable and making changing gear a second thought. I lapped at 1:26.889 which I felt was quite comfortable so was looking forward to the race.

Race 3 – Qualifying Race
Getting a fairly medium start I was sitting ok going into the first corner. Then Giles seemed to have some kind of issue. He pulled to the apex of the corner, almost stopped then pulled off line. This worked in my favour as it kept the people behind there so I was able to get into a rhythm quickly. Well that advantage worked till I braked too early for the next corner, Kev Ellis and Jack Younge were not going to pass up that opportunity. I was able to get a good run through the chicane to take Jack back. I was all over the back of Kev from then on all down the back straight and Quarry corner. Took the chicane well and was trying to go round the outside on the fast right of Old Tower Bend but my brain got the better of me and I backed out. Round Tower Corner I positioned myself to out brake him for the next chicane and was able to make the pass stick. Now I had Dan James, Phil Murden and Dave Young in a group ahead. I dived up the inside of Dan at Quarry, then could see Phil and Dave resuming their Cadwell Park battle. This seemed to trip up Dave a little and I was able to get the run on him and pass going into Tower Corner. Just Phil Murden to go for 5th position. I was able to get behind him but couldn’t for the life of me find a way past. Phil took a cheeky look behind on the last lap to see me staring back at him. The wily veteran then took up a defensive position that left me no opportunity to pass. I was happy with 6th place but knew I’m battling with Phil for 5th in the championship so needed to finish ahead in the next race after my poor results on Saturday. I didn’t improve my time from yesterday at 1:25.201.

Race 4 – Championship Race
Race 4! The big money race (no money at stake at all). Plan A – Beat Phil. Plan X – get away with Matt Lawson and try duke it out at the front. Got away well (for me) and had Phil in front and Matt in front of him. Its pretty clear to see why I struggle to get away with the quick guys and Matt doesn’t. He quickly moved past Dave Young and chased down Duncan Baillie where I was unable to find a quick way past Phil. He then moves past Dave and I can see him starting to pull away from us. After Phil passed Dave it took me a full lap to find my way past. Phil was now a good bit ahead. By now I was fully comfortable with the race shift and comfortable with the circuit. I was able to put together my best laps of the weekend and quickly chase him down. As I caught Phil I could see Duncan and Matt just ahead of him. I caught up through the Esses and quickly moved past Phil going into Bobbies. 3rd and 4th were now ahead and I could feel myself catching them slowly but as it was an 8 lap race I felt I could do it. The taste of a podium was intoxicating! Rounding the last corner I took a wider swoopier line thinking it would allow me to take it flat out in 3rd. I had a wee slide from the rear in race 3 trying to take it flat out but I thought my better line would make it work. It didn’t. The back came round and down I went. Sliding along on my arse thinking – you absolute tit! Race over. Crashed out in 5th which would have helped my championship. Aaaarrrrggggghhhhh. So annoyed with myself. I had a warning the previous race but my ambition was bigger than my talent. I did clock in a new PB of 1:23.152. I was buzzing about that! I think if I had got it across the line on the lap I crashed I would have a 1:22 but that means nothing.

The damage to the bike is fairly minimal which is good. However the damage to my leathers looks a bit fatal. I have three huge holes in the arse. I’m now unsure if I’ll make Anglesey. Too much money going out with the past two offs. I love Anglesey and thought I could put in a performance there. We shall see though. I’ve now dropped to 7th in the Championship too, 14 behind Phil Murden and 4 behind Giles Hepworth with Dan James just 1 point behind me.