My plan going into 2017 was to get the engine rebuilt to make sure it was in tip top shape; make the bike look great; and compete in every round. My goal for the racing itself was to be the fastest of the rest. What I mean is that there are guys fighting for race wins, and I knew I couldn’t compete with them, but I wanted to be the next fastest. I also wanted to finish in the top 5 of the championship and achieve my first podium result of my racing career.
I had the engine re-built by Andy Pike. That was more challenging that I thought, as taking the engine out and putting it back in yourself is quite difficult. I had a few awesome moments of stupidity, like when I was taking the engine out, I had the bike sitting on axle stands on the footpegs. I removed the swingarm and had the genius idea of taking off the footpeg so that I could keep the rear brake all as one. I started undoing the bolts that hold it on, which were very stiff, and I couldn’t possibly imagine why, so I continued.
They are held on by two rather large bolts, and I managed to get one off, but when it came to the second, the bike fell on top of me. Luckily I was quick enough to catch it before it hit the ground, but the bolts fell into the oil drip tray I had put under the bike, so I had to fish the bolts out and screw the footpeg back on, all the while holding the bike up with one hand. And that was the easy part of taking the engine out!
Putting it back in was less dramatic but much more frustrating. I planned to have the engine on the floor and lower the frame onto it before bolting it in place. The problem was that the engine didn’t sit perfectly, and it was balanced on quite a small contact patch, so anytime I touched it, it would tilt over or spin round and move – basically it was just really, really awkward. After many frustrating hours I managed to wedge the engine in place and lower the frame around it and bolt it all up.
I felt super useless as a mechanic, but during the year Duncan had blown up his engine and had to do a removal in the paddock. With Duncan, Thomas and Dan all helping they made as much of a meal of the job as I did.
So with the engine back in it was time to jazz up the bike. I love the 916 look so I decided to get the fairings to match. After wrapping the old fairings in gold vinyl last year I thought I would keep with that theme and go for black and gold like the old Ducati 900SS of the past.
I decided to take the fuel tank back to bare metal before painting it. What a mistake! It took hours and hours, and covered me in a ton of paint as I sanded it off. Then I discovered there was loads of filler in the tank. I tried my best to fill in the tank and make it look good but by this stage I just wanted it done, so I took it to a local garage to fill, smooth and primer it for painting.
Now onto the painting. I don’t have a compressor so decided to use rattle cans. But gold effect rattle cans are not that common. I ordered a four-pack off eBay and waited. And waited. And waited some more. The first race was getting close and the paint hadn’t arrived. There was nothing else for it. Black and Primer Gray it was for the Brands Hatch round, with some shocking looking numbers taped on. Not the start I was looking for but the paint arrived just after Brands Hatch and it ended up looking great.
The gold paint is super soft though, any smudge and it takes off the reflection look, which Brian was more than happy to show everyone. By round two I was happy with the way the bike looked. I think that of all the bikes in the DesmoDue paddock, it is the one that gets the most people stopping to take pictures. Happy days!
Round 1 – Brands Hatch
This was my first time ever at Brands Hatch, and the drop down Paddock Hill is a bit daunting. Overall I was really happy with my riding. I was struggling a lot with two corners the whole weekend – Druids and Graham Hill. I also had a bike failure in the qualifying race on Sunday morning, meaning I had to start at the back of the grid for the championship race but finishing 13th, a DNF, and 8th for the three races made me happy. It’s a tricky circuit but I could feel my speed getting quicker over the weekend. Next up one of my favourite circuits – Oulton Park.
Round 2 – Oulton Park
I love Oulton Park, its like Cadwell Park but less scary. With the bike gleaming gold and black and this being the first circuit I have been to before I was really optimistic. Finishing the first race 6th and with faster lap times than the group ahead, I was starting to get the speed to where I needed to be. My race craft was to let me down though for the championship race.
I messed up the first corner causing me to drop back, then trying too hard to get back in the hunt, I out-braked myself and had to run through a chicane. I finished 10th, not where I wanted to be. I remember trying to chase down Dan James, Phil Murden and Brian Alexander, I could see Brian sitting up and turning around to make sure that he was keeping us just behind. If I had more laps I know I could have passed Dan and Phil, and would have liked to see if I could have pushed Brian. I did have the fastest lap time of the rest, so that was something.
Race 3 – Donington Park
Another first time circuit, but I was really confident about this one. I had watched lots of BSB racing and onboard footage and the circuit looked really fast. Like would we even need the brake?? My weak points are the slower corners so I thought I would have a chance here. My brother came to watch on the Sunday, so that gave me a bit of motivation too.
I balls’d up a gear change in the first race that cost me places then got outhustled by Phil Murden. He showed me how to race though, and I didn’t have the experience or guts to mix it back with him. Then I got mugged by Giles Hepworth going into the final chicane. I was raging after the race, I knew I was faster than him but just couldn’t make the pass stick. Finished 9th, but again faster than the guys in front of me. Need to get this racing sorted!
The shocking starts returned in this race, which really cost me badly. I did manage to salvage the race back to finish 9th, but had the 4th fastest lap. Mixed feelings – happy with my speed but annoyed with my performance.
The third was the best moment of my short racing life. I got the bike off the line well, avoided the first corner mess, and managed to put in some good early laps. I ended up in a ding-dong fight with Scott “Badger” Wilson and a guy on a mini-twin bike. I managed to come out on top of Scott but couldn’t offset the mini-twin’s greater power. Still it was a 4th place finish!
I just needed one more spot for my first podium! That wasn’t to be in the final race of the day. I balls’d up the first corner, which put me way down the field. I managed to claw my way back up to 5th, and posted my fastest time of the weekend. I loved Donington! I can’t wait to go back this year.
Round 4 – Cadwell Park
This was a revisit to my first ever race, and what a scary place Cadwell Park is. It’s so twisty and narrow it feels like if you get it wrong you’ll be on the grass crashing. My first race of the day was medium. I didn’t ride well or badly, but there was definitely room for improvement. I finished 8th but a bit off the pace.
I need to get more cut-throat in the early laps to make sure I’m as far forward as possible. I had opportunities to go for a gap but didn’t. The second of the two races was my better result, finishing 5th, but I was still off the pace by a couple of seconds. Normally it’s the other way about so it’s a bit of an anomaly.
The second day started out much better, finishing 4th and putting in much better lap times than previously. I was excited for the last race of the day, knowing if I could get away well, I would have a chance of a podium, and mixing it with race-winner types.
That dream ended pretty quickly. I got away well, losing out to Duncan and Phil Murden, but I was still in touch of the lead group. Getting Phil back on Park Straight, there was just a Formula 400 bike between me and Duncan. I know I’m quick through Chris Curve and down to the Gooseneck, so my plan was to build the speed, get a great run out of the Gooseneck and pass the Formula 400 down the hill going into Mansfield, then take Duncan and get on with the lead group.
What actually happened was that the Formula 400 guy seemed to brake in the middle of the Gooseneck. I had nowhere to go and slammed into the back of him. I went over the front of the bike and must have landed on my chest because it hurt like hell going home. I actually went to the hospital a few days later to check I didn’t have broken rib or something, but all was clear. I was absolutely gutted/raging/confused about the outcome. I know that generally hitting someone from behind is your fault, but why did he stop mid-corner? This was a guy who started 3rd on the grid, so should be 3rd fastest. It ruined my race, and my chance of a podium was gone. And now I had a bike to fix.
Round 5 – Castle Combe
I patched up myself and the bike, and it was another first circuit, Castle Combe. There was a huge bike festival there and Guy Martin was riding the Honda 6. Despite me tweeting him relentlessly throughout the day, he did not pop by to give me some tips.
I had decided to change to race shift, as it had caused me some issues in the past trying to get my big feet under the peddle to hook another gear when leaning over. This provided a bit of a learning curve, but as I had never been here before I thought I would take the hit now and then it would put me in a good place for Anglesey. I finished 10th in the first race.
It was a bit frustrating struggling to learn the circuit and missing gears left, right, and centre, but I wasn’t too far off the pace. The next race I had the same result, but put in a much quicker fastest lap. I made too many mistakes braking and changing gear, but I was starting to get the hang of race shift more now.
The next race saw me finish 6th. I battled with Phil Murden on the last lap, but his racecraft was superior to mine, and he was able to block me from making the pass. Still, I knew I had the speed to pass him, and I was battling him for 5th in the championship, so the next race was vital.
When it came to the championship race, and what would be my last race of the year, I got off the line well, but the superior racecraft of the likes of Phil and Matt Lawson saw me left behind a little. I was chasing down Phil and could see Matt and Duncan ahead of him. As I passed Phil I could see myself start to catch Matt and Duncan. That was 3rd and 4th ahead. If I pass them it’s my first podium!
So as I rounded the last corner, instead of taking it just off flat out, this time I pinned it. The back hit a slight bump at the apex of the corner, and lost grip, spilling me off and out of the race. What a stupid idiot I was. Worse still I had a warning on the Saturday race as I had felt a slight slide from the rear on that same corner. My greed was too much. I wanted that podium. The damage to my leathers was quite drastic, and I put a hole in my gloves too as I tried to slow myself as much as possible. At Castle Combe the barriers are close to the circuit, and I didn’t want to hit one of them at speed! The bike came off pretty undamaged as it just slid along on its side. The overall damage to myself, the bike and gloves put an end to my season.
After the crash I knew I would need to miss Anglesey. There was too much money going out as I needed new leathers, gloves (although Andy Taylor from RealRoads.co.uk offered to give me a replacement pair of gloves, thanks!), repairs to the bike and new tyres.
After missing that race the next two were Pembrey and Thruxton. I didn’t have the heart for either and it was now impossible to finish 5th in the championship, so I decided not to go and end my year.
So my goals at the start of the year were:-
Engine in tip top shape – Done
Bike looking great – Judge for yourself, I think so.
Compete in every round – Nope
Be the fastest of the rest – Yup
Finish in the top 5 of the championship – Nope
Achieve my first podium – Nope
So still lots to aim for this coming season. Also can you subscribe to the blog on the right and if you can like and share it on social media that would be magic. Thanks for reading and wish me luck for 2018!