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Isle of Man TT 2011

Thursday 9 June 2011 - Supersport TT Race 2 - Re Run

The weather on Thursday was much better. The sun was shining and the roads were dry. I was still nervous before the race, like I am every time I race the Isle of Man, but nowhere near as nervous as I was the day before. I was also a little sad. I was enjoying what I was doing, I was going faster than I had ever gone and this was going to be the last 4 laps I was ever going to ride around the TT course on closed roads. I made a promise to my wife and my mum that I would hang up my leathers having raced a TT. While waiting in Parc Ferme Chris Kinley from Radio TT came over for an Interview. We had a little chat about what my plan was for the race. The funny thing was when you are not use to that mic being put in your mouth I started to lean away from it. Chris kept moving it close to my mouth. Eventually I had leant back against the walk. I was going nowhere. Horrible, I’m sure I sounded like a biff too!

Deep down I did not want the TT to stop, or be my last time. I just love it too much. The excitement, the thrill, the risk taking is so intense there is nothing else on the planet that can equal it. I know there are people out there that don’t like risk and judge those of us that manage it and crack on. There is circuit racing and I do enjoy it, but it is not racing on public roads and it is definitely not the TT. I remember back to my first Manx Grand Prix. I recall riding over the mountain on the first evening of practice and I could not stop smiling under my helmet, I was thinking, you are doing this properly, how it is supposed to be done. I had put my name down in the history book as a TT Course Racer. Now I had put my name down as a TT Racer. I didn’t want this to end.

I continued to mentally prepare myself for the last race for me at this year’s TT and what should be forever. I was trying not to get too upset and nostalgic, I had to remember why we were here and that was to enjoy it. If a lap recorded was to come along with it, then that would be the icing on the cake, but that was never going to happen. I was having a real battle in my head, I couldn’t afford to let these feelings ruin my last race and come back having not enjoyed it.

As I drew closer to the start line, again behind Brandon, I focused on 2 things; push harder from the start, I wanted a 116 from a standing start and lap at 117mph. Brandon set off; I waited for the flag to drop for the final time. The flag dropped and I was off. Like all races before Brandon was quick to the 11th Milestone. I knew I was quicker after, so I got my head down and concentrated on putting together a good lap.

I caught Brandon at Ginger Hall and followed him through the motocross section too Ramsey. When we got to the real bumpy part I thought that Brandon was a little slow, I could not work out why, as I had followed him through here the day before in the rain and he was quicker. As it was so tight through here even at the speeds we were travelling at I decided to sit behind. The reality was he had no idea that I was there. I followed in his slip stream through Glen Tramman and onto Churchtown (where the kerb jumps out by the tree). I was close behind when all of a sudden Brandon had a real aggressive tank slapper. He instantly left a skid mark on the tarmac where his front wheel bounced from full left lock to full right lock. His feet even came of the pegs while he rolled the throttle while he fought the bike to gain control. I thought I was going to hit him I was that close. I rolled and watched as he drifted towards the wall on the right hand side. I kept thinking please don’t hit that wall, because I will have nowhere to go but into you. Luckily he gained control and got back on the gas albeit a little tentatively. I too got on the gas but as I had not lost as much momentum I got along side Brandon as we went towards Sky Hill. He was still completely unaware that I was even there, and to be fair he was still trying to gather his thoughts. He drifted back over the road away from the wall onto the piece of tarmac I was on. I panicked and put my foot down, like that was going to help at 120 plus. The things you do hey. Brandon saw me and let me pass. I got my head down and but what just happened behind me. Brandon was safe that was all that mattered. When he got to May Hill he decided enough was enough and retired from the race. He later discovered that he had snapped a bolt in the steering damper and therefore was losing control over the bumps. This was a wise decision.

The rest of the lap went well; unbeknown to me I had lapped at 116.312mph for lap one. How awesome is that, 116 from a standing start. Are you kidding me? For the second lap I tried to put together that perfect lap. Ok not John McGuiness perfect, but Bill Callister perfect. Things were going well until I reached Ramsey Hairpin.

As I left Parliament Square, I was feeling a little tired and was looking forward to the pit stop just for those 40 seconds of rest, maybe I pushed a little harder than I should of. However as I went round Stella Maris and off towards the hairpin the Red Flag was again out and waving in front of me. What again? I pulled in and parked the bike in front of the commentary box and I could hear the commentator was live on the radio. I thought this was strange because the boxes are live with the leaders not with us minions down the field. He said “There is a Red Flag situation at Ramsey Hairpin and Number 41 Bill Callister has stopped.” He then started to try and find out why the flag was out. No one knew why. Other riders pulled up; there were 6 of us in the end. In the mean time I had removed my helmet and gloves. Then Michael Dunlop came round and a marshal shout at the flag marshal put that flag away there is no red flag. What.......... Dunlop went by and off up the mountain and the riders stopped with me started to run back to their bikes, start them and carry on. I rushed back to my bike and put my helmet and gloves back on. Started the engine and got going. I was first to arrive and last to leave. I was mad. The bike felt very different to how she felt before I stopped. She was very light because I had hardly any fuel in her. I rode like a novice and nearly put myself in the hedge a few times in just a couple of miles on the road. I had a very loud word with myself and reminded myself that the time was lost and I was never going to make it back up. What was done was done. So ride sensible. I caught up to Dave Madsen Mygdal and David Hewson as we started to climb the mountain. I knew I was faster than them both but 3 a breast is not the key here. As we got onto the mountain mile the same old story, the R6 struggled and they pulled away from me. By the time we reached the grandstand I was back with them. I pulled into the pits. I took my helmet off and was fuming. Stevie gripped me and said, never mind that we will sort it when you finish. You did a 116 from a standing start. Happy with that! Of course I was.

I set of on lap 3. Dave MM overtook me down pit lane. Can you believe it; I didn’t have a speed limiter on the bike and was a little too cautious riding down pit lane. Oh well I’m faster than him it won’t be a problem. Really!

Straight away he was slower down Bray Hill, I rolled, and then I got along side before Alexander Drive. Again I rolled. In fact for the next half a lap I would overtake Dave on the bends and man corners and he would blast back past me on the straights. I was getting frustrated. He was holding me up. I’d get in front try and break him and he would just come back passed. I had another word with myself, “look you can’t shake him off. He is quicker than you down the straights and that is that. Plus you are probably giving him a tow round the bends”. Enjoy it; your last race is going to be a battle. It ended up being so much fun. I’d pass him, he’d pass me and then I’d pass him again. I knew every time I’d pass him he’d probably come back passed. Sure enough he would. I over took Dave on the last lap going up to Sarah’s Cottage after Glen Helen. I tore off towards Cronk Y Voddy; I was hoping that if I could just get to the end of this straight without you passing me I would have done it. But as I crested Lambfell I could hear that sound of him coming back pass me. I looked over to him. I hoped he would look back, but he didn’t, he just looked forward. I followed till we got to Ballaugh Bridge. I tried to pass him again at the bridge like the previous lap, he was quicker this time. So I tucked in behind him, I followed him to Ballacrie. He took a completely different line to me and ended up on the left hand side of the road, this gave me all the right hand side of the road that I was after. He also handed me the overtake by rolling the throttle at the jump. I pride myself on doing this flat. I sore passed him in the air, it was amazing. I was just hoping someone had caught it on camera. I carried on aware that I would only put a few yards on him. Then down Sulby Straight, back he came again. He still didn’t look.

Dave was leading down to the Creg Ny Baa on the last lap. I reverted back to circuit racing and thought, no matter where you brake matey, I am braking later. I passed him in front of the spectators but lost my momentum and drive and he was back passed him coming out. The fans would have liked it. I followed Dave in over the line. I had a blast. We stopped in Parc Ferme and I went over and shook his hand. He too had enjoyed it. We had a short circuit race on the roads. Awesome! The last 2 laps flew by. Jamie Whitham came over to me and said “What happened there with the Red Flag”. I explained it to him, it was nice that he recognised me and knew from the commentary and lap times that it was me that stopped. I thought I might make the TV because of what happened. Wrong, Guy Martin had also slowed due to the flag, but never stopped. But the story for the TV was him.

Those of us that stopped at the Hairpin went to the Race Office to find out what the hell was going on. Eventually we were awarded the same sector time from the previous lap. This meant you may have lost some time or you could have gained a little if you were actually slower the second lap. Either way it would not have been that far out, so I was happy with the result. That meant that I lapped at 116.187 for the second lap. I had done another lap of 116. Lap 3 was a 109.156 with the pit stop; remember the pit stop was longer this time because we had to put in more fuel. My final lap was slower because I was racing at 115.909. It was almost a 116. I finished in 25 place with a Race Average of 114.308 and another Bronze Replica.

My TT was over. The bike was loaded into the van for the last time. Ok we all went out and watched the Senior TT, which actually was a brilliant race to watch. It was nice to see a race rather than be in it. However the realisation that the TT was actually over hit me really hard. It was made worse when it seemed to take around 30 boats to get everyone over to the island to start with and by midday on the Saturday, it seemed everyone had left. The island became so quiet so soon. Plus my friends started to leave one by one and that happened very quickly too. I did manage to get Fodd and Tony Bakker out for a lap on the bike on Open Roads but with the mountain one way. They enjoyed that. Because it felt so slow to what I had been doing I thought they would have been bored. But they were well excited, which was nice. I stayed on the island for a week extra so my mum could spend some time with me and her grand kids without the complication of the racing. It was lovely, but I was so bored. Going back to work was hard too. It was like a slap in the face, get back to reality.

The TT had been everything I wanted it to be. It was made that bit more special by lapping as fast as I did. My goals had been met, the new approach had worked. The bike was a dream to ride. Jeff got her back in one piece too. Steve came over from Australia; I definitely did not expect that. Tony Bakker came from the states and made himself useful where he could and took all the pictures around the pits. John Lightbowne enjoyed his first TT and was made up he was in the pits. Stevie Christian was pleased to help out at the TT. Jeff despite watching the whole event through his hands with a green tinge enjoyed being there and part of it. He reminded me daily that it was practice. He did everything I asked of him and more.

I would like to thank the following, because without them and their efforts the TT would never have been.

  • Royal Navy and Royal Marines
  • Tim King and TK Com
  • Rick Holden and Island Physiotherapy
  • Terry Christian and Terry’s Taxi’s
  • Oxford Products
  • HJC Helmets
  • Mother Dear and PaPa G
  • Mum and Dad McArdle
  • John Lightbowne
  • Tony Bakker
  • Steven O’Connor
  • Stephen Christian
  • John Ridout
  • Simon Parsons

I want to thank my wife Alex and children. Thank you for being there and looking after the kids. It was important for me for you all to be there. I know it was hard.

Also to mum and dad McArdle for the Murdock sitting you do and support, it is always appreciated even if we do not say it all the time.

I also want to thank my Mum and Step Dad. Thank you for putting up with us all and for feeding Team KaKa. You are both one in a million. I must not forget to mention, thank you for giving Ali a rest and a chance to get out and watch the racing, by looking after the kids.

In fact thanks to everyone for helping with the kids.

Finally to Jeff Booth, without your generosity this could never have happened in the first place. I am forever in your debt. I only hope one day I could do something just as nice for you. I hope you did enjoy it as much I think and hope you did. Thank you Jeff. Now look after her for me, we grew very fond of each other over the fortnight.

Final, Final. I know I made a promise and promises should not be broken. I just want to clear this up once and for all. If a ride comes along and I don’t have to put my hand in my pocket (too far) then I will ride again. I just can’t give it up cold turkey. I know deep down my wife and mum would love me to quit, but they know it’s in my blood and it’s what makes me, me. I hope they understand. Bring on TT 2012! See you all there!

Autograph

Isle of Man TT 2011

Wednesday 8 June 2011 - Supersport TT Race 2


I woke up Wednesday morning to be met with dark clouds and water on the ground. This didn’t look like it was going to be a good for racing, more excellent weather for an exercise in survival. I love riding in the wet, however the Isle of Man is not the place to be playing around in the wet. It is a little too unforgiving. Because of the length of the circuit you cannot run wet race tyres either, so you have to trust that your dries can cope with the damp/wet conditions. As I looked around the Parc Ferme there were nervous faces all round. Were they really going to run it? I was even more quiet than normal as I tried to control the nerves. My wife Ali said I seemed nervous. She said “I’m not so why are you, man up”. I smiled and continued to contemplate what lay ahead.

We started and again I was tentative off the start to avoid burning the clutch out and too set the mood right in my head. Monday’s starts proved I didn’t lose too much by being cautious. What unfolded was a little frustrating. At all the big corners the “lack of adhesion” flags were being shown. Quarter Bridge, Bradden Bridge, Union Mills, Ballagarey and so on. So obviously I was expecting to see water on the road at them all. But there was none. As I continued the list of places showing the flag got longer, the less water I saw. I think most riders were beginning to ignore the flags.

I had caught Brandon again by Ginger Hall. He was obviously not happy with the conditions. I could not pass him and was right on his tail. We approached Glen Tramman together where we were met by a river running across the road. To say I was little surprised is an understatement. I suppose the flag was out, but I was ignoring them, was this my fault? I just kept saying “Hot tyres, Hot tyres, Hot tyres” trying to convince myself I would be alright. Brandon too looked a little shocked which I could tell by him immediately sitting up. I followed Brandon into Ramsey and over the mountain. I say followed, when I started to climb the mountain he started to pull away from me. Again the R6 seemed unable to pull the gearing up the mountain mile due to the wind.

I had Brandon in my sights coming down the mountain and had caught him along the start finish straight. I got to St Ninians and took it flat out despite the damp conditions and was surprised when Brandon rolled slightly. I got alongside him coming down Bray Hill, but not far enough ahead to show him I was there. I thought to myself that this is not the place to be playing and rolled myself and let him lead through to Ago’s Leap. Again I got alongside him before Alexander Drive, again I let he lead. I knew my speed was greater and I had plenty of places to take him safely. He out broke himself at Quarter Bridge and I thought ok I do it here then. However he got on the gas and cut my nose off. Ok it was looking like I was going to have to fight to pass him. Then Brandon pulled over and waved me through. I thought he had broken down. I later found out he was being very gracious and had sportingly let me pass as he felt he was holding me up. I got my head down and set on my way on the rest of lap two.

However things had changed considerably on the second lap. The flags were still out however this time the roads were wet. Like all the riders in the race we all thought the same. There is nothing there. I was lucky when I went through Union Mills, the road was wet and I did slide but not enough to come off. Unlike Keith Amor who’s scrape marks were clearly visible down to the post office. By the time I got to Ballagarey the Red flag was out and race stopped. Thank god for that. It was not a nice race to be in. The miscommunication with the flags only added to the confusion for the competitors. Was it dry? Was it wet? It was dry here last time, so ignore the flag this time. Ekkk, it’s wet this time! River! You get the picture. All home; safe and sound and another lap behind the marshal saw us once again able to thank the fans for coming out on this miserable day to support us. The race was postponed till Thursday and a complete re-run.

That evening was the awards night. So unfortunately for me, I could have no beer because tomorrow we were racing. We all had an incredible evening. This was made even more special when I was given my Bronze Rep by 5 times 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan. We stood on stage and he shook my hand, I asked him if he enjoyed his parade lap earlier that day. He said he did although I would have been going quicker than him. I said “I know”. Come on when else am I ever going to be faster than a world champion never mind a 5 times champion. Thanks Mick, it was a pleasure.

Autograph

Isle of Man TT 2011

Supersport TT Race 1 – Re Start


The race was given a new start time and declared a 3 lap race. I spoke to the pit crew about our game plan for the pit stop, 2 laps and in for fuel, splash and dash fingers crossed they had given me enough fuel to make the third lap round or 1 lap and in for fuel. I decided on the latter. I still went out with a full tank for the first lap. However all we had to do this pit stop was fill the bike to the brim and back out. Bike full we knew we could do 2 laps no problems. Plus we got a flying lap, something you would not get if you did the pit stop after one lap.

Again I set off after Brandon. Much the same happened. He was quick to the 11th Milestone. I started to reel him in after that. I was cautious for the 3 laps through Gorse Lea for obvious reasons. However the professional guys who were racing for wins didn’t quite look at it in the same way. Despite there being oil and cement on the road they were just as fast. They had utter faith in their bike and tyres as well as their own ability. They were a different league altogether. I was caught and passed by only two riders, Dan Hegarty and Dean Harrison. I believe Dan had changed something on his bike after our first race, probably gearing because it was very windy up the mountain. He didn’t seem to be near me on the first race before the red flag, but caught me on the re start. I had passed Brandon at some point during the race after we had gone back and forth a couple of times.

I was over the moon with my lap times. Lap one 115.825 from a standing start. Before riding at the TT I couldn’t go faster than 112.3, now I had just lapped at 115mph from a standing start. Lap two was 112.513 with the pit stop time added to that and my final lap was 116.820 my fastest time ever around the TT Course. I finished 29th with a Race Average of 115.023 which gave me a prestigious Bronze Replica. Before even getting to the TT I thought getting a rep. would be totally out of reach for me. I would probably get and be happy with receiving a “thanks for turning up medal”. So to be awarded a Bronze Rep. was fantastic. The pit stop was quicker than I was expecting as we only had to take on half the amount of fuel. My visor was clean so I didn’t even change my helmet. It was very slick. I was very proud of the boys.

Later that night, we were back at the ferry terminal picking up Steven O’Connor. This was a very special moment for John Lightbowne and I, as well as the team. Fodd as he is better known, while sat at home in Adelaide, Australia decided to come and see it live instead. He rang me Friday evening to say “I should come and see it really, so I’ll be there as soon as I can”. Next call I got was to say pick me up Monday evening and there we were. I had not seen Fodd since my honeymoon in Australia in 2006. John went a few months later. So this was really special and a testament to our friendship, that he was willing to travel around the world to support me. It was amazing to see him. The whole team was together, except my brother Tony who could not be there due to work. It was good that the guys could meet up for the first time. The one thing they all had in common was me, as it was me that put the team together. Fingers crossed we all got on. Which we did.

Autograph

Isle of Man TT 2011

Monday 6 June 2011 – Supersport TT Race 1


Monday was the first Supersport TT Race. My pit crew was John Lightbowne doing fuelling, Jeff was cleaning the screen, this seemed like a menial task for my mechanic, but there was method to my madness. While in the pits your bike is visually scrutineered, if a problem was found Jeff could stop cleaning and could sort the problem immediately, I would have to live with a dirty screen. Stevie would do the usual helmet change and water for me. I was warned by John Ridout my Scrutineer friend, to bring my vinyl cutter with me as I would probably be moved up a place or two, this was because of my performance during practice week. I was a lot faster than they had predicted. We arrived at the grandstand early, I ran off to see if I had been moved up and I had been, however a few more than a couple of places. I was moved up from #66 to #41. I ran back to the guys and the bike and immediately they were taking off the old numbers, while I was making the new ones. We finally got them all sorted and Jeff took the bike for scrutineering. I think because of this, the morning seemed rushed. It seemed one minute we had arrived the next minute we were out on Glencrutchery Road and about to head off on the first race. Team KaKa seemed very unorganised over the course of the morning. Everyone looked like they were running around not knowing where or what they should have been doing. If they had listened to Stevie more, then things could have been a little calmer for all involved. Remember he has helped at every Manx since 2005 and the years I have not been there, he has helped out Jules Croft and Ivan Lintin. Still, lessons to be learnt there for Wednesday. Tony Bakker also got his hands dirty and helped during the morning with topping up the fuel filler ready for the race.

The race started and I slowly made my way to the front, Brandon Cretu had also moved up to #40 so was now starting 10 seconds in front of me. Like most, if not all before him he started aggressively and tore away down Glencrutchery Road. Now I waited the 10 seconds. A lot went through my mind in that time. I reminded myself that no matter what, I was to enjoy it. I also constantly reminded myself that I was to treat it as just another practice. I knew from past experience that come race day I took off down to Bray Hill like my mad man by Quarter Bridge I was knackered, out of breath and all pumped up. I didn’t want this to happen again, so when the flag dropped I set off like every night of practice, like I was heading to the shops. Once I had the bike rolling, I then and only then got on the gas hard. I found this approach got my head in the right place. Not too fast too soon. Build your speed. I was also thinking is the suspension change going to work or am I going to have 4 horrible laps?

I was surprised when I reached Quarter Bridge a mile down the road, I didn’t see Brandon go round the corner. Now at the Manx you actually see the guy ahead go round. My first thought was I had gone a little too reserved off the start. Oh well if you have, you have I thought to myself. Don’t be worrying what he is doing, just go and do your own thing. I cracked on through Union Mills and as I started the climb up from the Garage I notice Brandon disappear out of site towards Ballagarey. Ok he has really got a move on I thought. The same as I got on Cronk Y Voddy straight he disappeared off it. I carried on with what I was doing. I was curious as to how he had suddenly found a lot more speed, throughout practice I had caught and passed him on a few occasions, however today that looked like that wasn’t going to be the case. That was until the run down the mountain. Although he was still ahead of me I was closing in. The 10 seconds gap was more like 3 or 4 seconds at this point. The suspension was near perfect. I was able to turn at higher speed with less effort and maintained stability which in stilled the confidence I needed to push. The gamble paid off.

I had caught up to Brandon on the run down to Ballacraine on the second lap. I was following close. I thought that he would probably equal my speed through the Glen Helen section or if he was slower it wouldn’t be that detrimental to stay behind him for the few miles and wait till we got to Cronk Y Voddy and beyond to pass. You never know he may have even given me a tow. I wanted to maintain some self discipline and not get too hot headed trying to pass him and end up slowing us both down. I knew I would pass him by Ramsey, or that was the plan.

We arrived at Gorse Lea and were met with 3 yellow flags, the third and last flag was being waved vigorously. We slowed as much as possible because this marshal was desperate for us to slow down and thank god we did. The sight around the final bend before Ballacraine was horrific. There was all sorts of debris across the road, the bike had broke up into 4 or 5 pieces all I could do was concentrate on not hitting any of it. A few miles down the road the race was red flagged and we were stopped at Glen Helen, along with a few other riders. Tragically Derek Brien was killed in the accident. My thoughts are with his family and friends and especially those who were up at the grandstand and had to pack up his things. Although I did not know him personally I felt I did as he had won the Junior Manx GP in 2007, the year both my brother and I had raced it.

We were escorted back by the travelling marshal. This was actually a nice thing to do as we got to wave to the spectators that were sat out on the hedges enjoying the racing and sun. We got back to the paddock refuelled, cleaned the visor and were out again. Thoughts of what happened to Derek were pushed well and truly out of my mind.

Autograph

Isle of Man TT 2011

Saturday 4 June 2011


Saturday was going to turn into a bit of a hectic day. There was going to be lots to do. I went to bed Friday night all giddy about my 116 lap. I laid in bed listening to the wife snore and kids rustle about in their beds and I was analysing the laps. Let’s not forget I also had 3 laps at 114, these were also the fastest I had ever gone until the last lap. Plus they were consistent. I was thinking how did I do it, what was different, how can I go faster. The wind dying off would help.

I’ve not mentioned this before, but the wind had been terrible all practice week. It hadn’t really affected things until you started to climb the mountain. I remember going into a few corners and really having to fight the wind to get the bike to turn. But everyone had the same problem. But now I had changed the gearing, the head on wind up the mountain mile was having a real affect on the bikes speed.

The main idea I came up with to increase my speed was to change the suspension. What I found with my increase in speed was a difficulty in getting the bike to change direction. Now I could have taken a link out of the chain to shorten the wheel base, but if I didn’t like the feel of that I couldn’t afford to buy a new chain for the bike to lengthen the wheel base again. So I thought how else can I achieve the same goal.

I decided to slip the forks through the yokes 3mm. I didn’t want to go over the top and make the bike unrideable, but I wanted to make a significant change that I would feel and notice when I was riding. I asked Jeff to do that, which he did reluctantly. At the time I didn’t think he understood why I wanted to do that. I did speak with Maxton Engineering to make sure I was heading in the right direction with my changes. If Richard from Maxton had said “NO don’t do that”, then I would have been worried, but he said “yeah give it a try.” So I was happy.

It turned out that because I had been scrapping the fairing at the bottom of Bray Hill. I say scrapping, does that truly describe what I was doing to Jeff’s fairing? No, grounding out his fairing and wearing a great big hole in it every time I went through Bray Hill, that’s better. Jeff was concerned that I was now going to be even closer to the floor. He was technically right. However I wanted to try it. Practice week is about trying things. If it doesn’t work, what have we lost? Nothing, apart from a fairing and probably a friendship! With the changes made and bike complete and ready for the final practice, we headed out to Gorse Lea to watch the first race of TT 2011 the Superbike TT.

While out watching the race Tony Bakker arrived all the way from the United States. Tired and a little annoyed as his luggage was lost. Still he was happy to be at his first TT. What a initiation seeing John McGuiness wheeling through the hedges and walls at a Hundred and Oh My God an Hour. The look on his face said it all. After the race we had to drop Jeff’s wife Karen and their kids Courtney and Lewis off at the boat. Jamie who had come with them was also saying goodbye to his first TT.

Once they had all departed we were up the grandstand again for my final practice. The suspension changes had definitely made a difference. The bike had become very lively when steering. It was still stable but was not as confident inspiring to ride. I could have got use to it, but tomorrow was race day, did I really want to risk it. I completed 2 solid laps at 115. Lapping the island at this speed was becoming easy now I could go this quickly. I had a chat with the boys about the bike and we decided to put the forks back through 1.5mm (In actual fact we had only changed the suspension 1.5mm from the settings we had run all practice week). Jeff looked a little puzzled, could 1.5mm really make a difference. Let’s hope so, I had no more practice to try it out in; we had to risk it in a race. The bike was finished off and ready for Mondays Supersport race.

That night because I had no riding on Sunday, I could let my hair down and have a few beers. We went to the Peveral (pub) in Peel to watch the ITV4 coverage of the Superbike Race. We made a pact that if I was in the coverage we would all cheer. We couldn’t believe it when within the first 5 minutes I was on the TV following Keith Amor into Sulby Bridge; they followed him round but then held the shot to watch me go through. Amazing and we all cheered. The group of guys sat next to us asked what we were cheering at; everyone said that’s him and pointed at me. These guys couldn’t believe it. They had come to watch the TT and here they were in a pub watching it with a TT Racer. Then that was superseded, with a high motion (ultra) slow mo of the same shot. Brilliant, did not expect that to happen.

Autograph

Isle of Man TT 2011

Friday 3 June 2011


Friday was a chilled day for the guys and me. I had another of my daily visits to Rick Holden form Island Physiotherapy to keep me mobile. I had never felt so good. I was mobile, I had no pain. It was lovely. The bike was already prepped from the previous night’s shenanigans; I still wanted to try the gearing. We rocked up at the grandstand for practice a little later than normal. This was a silly idea looking back as I felt rush getting ready to go out.

I completed 2 laps and came in for the fuel stop. I couldn’t make my mind up if the gearing was working or not. Around the bottom of the course it felt fast, very fast and it also felt stronger. Thinking back to the gearing we had on her before she was running out of legs. However when I started to climb the mountain the bike ran out of steam. I even had to change down to 5th up the mountain mile. This is not a good sign considering we are suppose to be flat in 6th all the way up there. But............ In reality were we loosing that much time if I was gaining it everywhere else? I pulled up in the pits and Jeff and Stevie set about fuelling her up, I got some fluid on board and changed my helmets, I spoke to Jeff and told him I wasn’t sure if it was working or not. He just turned to me and said “It’s working, we ain’t changing a thing”

I was ok well it don’t feel like its working but they must know something I don’t. So I cracked on again for another 2 laps. I pulled in at the end of the session to be met by Stevie who immediately took the bike and said “Three laps at 114 mph and 1 lap at.” And he spelled it out to me. “One, one..........Six point four”

Oh my God - 116.427mph are you kidding me. I am not sure if the readers that are reading this realise what I have just written here. I am on my mate’s bike, I’ve hardly ridden the thing, apart from a couple of meeting here and there, plus I have not ridden on the TT course for 2 years. Now Jeff’s bike is a standard R6, apart from essentially an exhaust and trick suspension and I have just lapped the Isle of Man at 116 mph. Get in!!!!

The thing is on that last lap, I slowed at Keppel Gate because of Ryan Farquhar’s crash. I figured that the lap was knackered after slowing to 30mph for a mile or so. But after the flags I continued to push because the sector times would show that that sector was slow. I still had the final sector to improve on. I wonder what lap time I would have got if I had not slowed down?

Later that night I went and picked up John Lightbowne from the boat. He had come to support me for the races. John was my fuel guy and was the mastermind for my mental approach to the TT. This was John’s first TT. It was good having him there as he is very good at listening to problems you may have with the bike. Plus he is a real good laugh.

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Isle of Man TT 2011

Thursday 2 June 2011


For the fourth night of practice we decided to change the gearing by dropping a tooth on the rear. The bike was feeling good, I just wanted to know if I could go quicker using it. You don’t know if you don’t try. The bike was prepped and taken to scrutineering by Jeff and Stevie; we parked up in parc ferme. I got my stretching done and the fluids onboard. The sidecars were out first tonight so they could have a crack without the low sun in the face. What actually happened turned out to be a shambles. A sidecar dropped too much oil out on track that could not be cleaned up quickly so the session was cancelled. Winner, no practice tonight then! The general feeling around the paddock was that the sidecars should never have gone out first, after all the Solos are the premier classes. This was actually stated by 4 times World Superbike Champion Carl Fogarty. Never mind there is always tomorrow. My arms could do with a rest anyway.

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Isle of Man TT 2011

Wednesday 1 June 2011


The third night of practice I consolidated further by going even faster. Sensory overload had all but disappeared by this stage. Now I was trying to perfect my riding by getting on the gas earlier and brakes even later. More importantly I knew where I wanted to be on the road but was missing apex’s and lines by inch’s, so I wanted to correct these little errors. I got two tows that night, one by Manxmen Connor Cummins into Gutheries Memorial. This was good for me watching him. Not only was he faster but he also lay to rest a myth. I have been told on many occasions that you can take Guthrie’s flat in 6th. Lies! Connor changed down one gear and accelerated all the way round. So I did. It felt amazing. The second tow came from Adrian Archibald. He over took me up at the 32nd Milestone. Again he was faster but he also took a slightly different line. This enabled him to go faster by carrying more speed. I tried it and after a couple of attempts this worked for me too.

I again went quicker, lapping at 113.508mph on lap 2. My plan of not knowing what speeds I was doing was working and it was working because I wasn’t putting myself under any pressure to go faster. After a team meeting we decided that after tonight we all needed to sit down and look at my lap times to see what was what and how my laps were going. Inside I wanted them to have the pleasure in telling me how things were going, weather it was in the right or wrong direction, but when I got back to Parc Ferme after practice I was collared by a friend from college Graham Taubman who congratulated me on lapping at 113. Bugger! Not knowing he had ruined the surprise he seemed impressed and so was I. More importantly, I had also achieved my second and secret goal. I had finally broken the 112 barrier. The monkey was off my back.

We sat down that night and looked at my lap and sector times. It made for some interesting reading. One thing I learnt, everyday is a school day when you are riding the Isle of Man, and I thought I had put in a real fast lap on lap 3. Everything about it seemed fast and effortless. This is usually the key to going fast, however when we looked at my lap speeds it was a slow lap. I was confused, why was it slower? Stevie thought that I was trying too hard and it wasn’t as fast as I thought it was. This confusion had tarnished the feeling of elation of breaking the 112 barrier that had plagued me for the last 3 years. However when we looked at the sector times, I had well and truly mess up the first sector. The rest of the lap I had gone the fastest I had ever gone in ALL sectors. But the first was a joke; this was even more annoying when I can’t even remember if something happened out on track to slow me down, like a yellow flag or the low sun in the evening sky. Nothing! But trying to look for the positives from this, the lap was a quick lap if we ignored the first sector. So my feelings were right. Also don’t just look at the end result; we need to look at the split times, because there may have been a reason for the slow lap. Finally this highlighted what I should have already known; you have to have consistent good sectors on every lap. By messing up in 1 sector can really damage your overall speed.

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Isle of Man TT 2011

Tuesday 31 May 2011


Tuesday night was the second practice and I wanted to consolidate on the first night. I needed to go faster but be safer and preferably have some non scary laps. The suspension changes worked. The bike stopped diving which enabled me to brake harder and therefore later. This was all good for improving my lap times. I lapped a fastest lap of 112.378mph; this was my fastest ever lap and I still didn’t know. On my second lap, John McGuiness and Keith Amor both were going round on their thousands caught me in the Glen Helen section. John went up the inside of me at Sarah’s Cottage and Keith a couple of bends later. These overtakes were both class acts. They neither hindered me nor them, just a simple slick overtake, in and gone. What I wasn’t prepared for was what happened a little further down the road. The three of us came onto Cronk Y Voddy straight and I expected them to accelerate away from me like I was stood still, but they never. Don’t get me wrong they did start to leave me but not as fast as I thought they would. We all negotiated the kink at the end of the straight. Then we came into the 11th Milestone, I could not believe how fast they went through it. I slowed to my usual pace and they were gone, I could just about see them going into Handley’s before they vanished. This was my first lesson from the professionals at just how fast you can go around this track. There is a clip on YouTube of the pair of them catching me at Gorse Lea before the Glen Helen Section. I’m the second bike through.

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Isle of Man TT 2011

Monday 30 May 2011


The Solos were out second on Monday night behind the sidecars. This was due to the guys flying back from Thruxton after racing in the British Superbikes all day. The session ended early having only completed 2 laps, because of hail stones up the mountain. Hail stones in June! Indeed! The session was interesting to say the least. I had 5 moments during those laps. The first and scariest was coming into Greeba Castle on the first lap. I knew where I needed to be on the road, the thing was I was approaching at over 150 MPH and when I went under the trees I got sensory overload because of the speed. Everything happened so fast I wasn’t quite where I should have been on the road. This meant I had to sit up to avoid hitting a hedge on my left which then sent me across the road towards a kerb on the right quicker than I could compute. This all happened so fast and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be. I rolled the throttle and broke and moved away from the kerb and thanked my lucky stars, because the next thing I would have touched would have been a wall.

I had another 2 incidents which were down to the front suspension being too soft. Twice under heavy braking the back of the bike lifted into the air, causing me to out brake myself. Again with nowhere to go but into something a lot harder than me I had to release the brakes and commit to the corner and hope I make it. Which I did, but believe me it made me very nervous doing it. I explained to Jeff what had happened and we stiffened the front of the bike up for the next practice. Unbeknown to me at this point I lapped at 109.544mph average speed despite the moments, very respectable as I was on my friends bike and hadn’t race the mountain course for a couple of years.

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Isle of Man TT 2011

Supersport TT #41


For the spectators on the Isle of Man and the millions watching around the world via the Internet the TT is a two week event. For those of us taking part, the build up started months before and the comedown lasted weeks after. Coming back to work was killer having just survived on adrenalin for two weeks. But here I am back in reality and here is my recap of my TT adventure.

I arrived on the island late Friday night with my wife Alex and 3 children Seth, Billy and Sophie and my mechanic Jeff Booth. This would be the first time racing on the island that I would have a mechanic. This was purely down to the fact that I was racing Jeff’s R6 and he didn’t want anyone else working on her. Despite being on the road for 2 days already at this point, the TT started proper for us on Saturday 27th May. Jeff and I got the bike out of the van and checked things over and I briefed Jeff on what he should be checking on a daily basis, because as I have found out in the past, the strangest things happen to bikes when racing on the TT course. My good friend John Ridout, one of the senior TT Scrutineer’s came to run his eye over the bike, so if we did have any issues we had a couple of days to put things right, rather than finding out on Monday night just an hour before we were due to go out. As it turned out, Jeff’s bike was immaculate and was a credit to him and his attention to detail, that was of course once we re-lock wired the bike as it looked like Johnny aged 5 had had a go.

Sunday was spent up at the grandstand signing on, having my riding gear checked and finally having my riders brief. Jeff snuck in with me as it was suppose to be riders only. We were two star struck kids, sat behind me was 15 times (now 17 times) TT winner John McGuiness and his team mate Keith Amor, Adrian Archibald was sat to my right. Connor Cummins and Bruce Anstey were sat in front of us. I know I was racing these guys but these are all the riders I’ve looked up to and wanted to be for years, now I sat in the same brief as them, mental! I finished the days visit to the grandstand saying hello to the girls in the race office, as I would be visiting them on more than one occasion throughout the event. They were very helpful indeed.

Monday morning and another brief up at the grandstand. This time it was a technical brief on prepping the bikes. Then we waited till 6pm for the roads close for the first night of practice, so in the afternoon I went off to see Rick Holden from Island Physiotherapy for the first of my daily treatments for the TT. Because I saw the TT as far more challenging physically than the Manx GP, purely down to the miles I would be covering, I thought it essential to maintain my flexibility during the event and Rick was going to help me achieve that. Stephen Christian was also now on board with us for the TT. Stevie has been at every road race I have entered, be it the Manx Grand Prix, the Southern 100 or the Ulster GP, we have been through thick and thin together racing, with highs and lows too. He knows how to keep me calm and how to fire me up and he knows what and when things need to be done. He is a vital member of the team.

The three of us sat down and talked about our game plan for practice week and the TT in general. One thing I made clear, I wanted everyone to have fun and enjoy it. I secretly had another goal for the TT but I kept this to myself.

I had a different game plan I wanted to try and the boys agreed to try it. My plan was to be a mushroom. I didn’t want to know how I was doing for the first 3 days. Reason: after putting in a fast first night of practice at my last 2 Manx GP’s, I straight away chased for a faster time. This always ended with me going no faster because I was trying too hard. So if I didn’t know how fast I was going I had nothing to chase. Therefore I could concentrate on re-learning the course and I would know inside if I was going quicker or not.

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Darleymoor

Darleymoor Road Race Club


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Brands Hatch

North Glocucester Road Race Club


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Mallory Park Saturday 12th March 2011

Thundersport GB


Obviously l was far more organised and knew where everything was and what to take but l still took too much though. John Lightbowne joined me this weekend on my adventures. John hasn’t been able to join me since 2007; the funny thing was the last meeting John went to was Mallory Park. Guess he kinda likes it.

We were both a little shocked on arrival at Mallory. Having been to many race meetings in the past l was shocked at how packed the paddock was and we struggled to slot ourselves in. However we did and we soon set upon and were in the bar for a pint.

The usual admin at the start of a race meeting done and dusted. The day looked like it was going to be an easy going day with only 2 sessions out on track. So John and l set to sorting the bike out so it was more comfortable for me to ride with the TT in mind. Whilst we made adjustments to the bike we were having the tyre spun on the rim to save a few quid after killing the tyre at Brands Hatch last week. The bike all sorted Jeff and Kaz arrived to support me for the day with a bag the size of a shopping trolley of junk food with a token effort of healthy food and tried to convince me it was a diet for champions. Completely suckered l set to eating all the chocolate l could.

The first session out on track was qualifying. This was a 20 minute session on yet another hard track. Hard because there is no time to rest whilst you are circulating. I went at a steady pace to start and get a feel for the changes that were made to the bike and see how this rear tyre was going to hold up. Things did not go too well. The new foot peg position was awesome and the bike now felt like mine (sorry Jeff but it does) which was a good thing however l thought the clutch was on its way out as only had an inch of movement but l cracked on anyway. The rear tyre was far too gone and l had no confidence on the last bend and had to wait until l was on the straight until l could get on the gas hard. I knew this was costing me time however on my return to the pits and l quick chat with Jeff about the clutch we found that the handle bar adjuster had come loose and wound itself in problem solved and the tyre obviously had to be changed but l had lapped at 59.19 seconds which was 0.8 of a second faster than l had ever gone on my own bike. Billy Boy was smiling.

Steve Ackah came over and introduced himself as we had qualified next to each other on the grid. Nice bloke until we got on track. We had an 18 lap race which is a long way around Mallory Park. The first 4 laps were quite frantic as Steve and l fought it out as to who was going to lead between us. Eventually l got the better of Steve and set about chasing after James Cowton. It took me the whole race to catch up but with only a few laps to go the leaders started to lap us. Boy they were quick. None the less James was still my target. If the quick boys hadn’t got in the way l may have taken him earlier. However on the last lap it was do or die into Edwina’s. I went up the inside of James and it worked. I held my position to the line and came in 17th with a quickest lap of 58.32 seconds. I couldn’t believe it when l got the results; l had gone a second and a half quicker on Jeff’s bike than on my own. Confidence is starting to grow. The rear tyre held up lovely and all the changes worked. Because of this Gerrards was one scary corner every time l entered it but that’s why we race. Two down two to go. Roll on next weekend, Brands Hatch on Saturday and where my short circuit racing comes full circle with a trip back to Darley Moor on Sunday.

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Brands Hatch Saturday 5th March 2011

BEMSEE


Well who would have thought it, one year of not competing and I’m reduced back to a rank amateur not knowing what l have to take, why and what l should take, admin all over the place, god these were the days KaKa Racing.

As you can see l struggled getting myself ready for my first event of 2011. Having just moved house didn’t help the situation. Anyway that’s enough of me being a biff. Finally packed and on the road l left Al with the mini KaKa’s for the weekend and headed to Brands Hatch. Upon arrival l moved down to the paddock and l was a little dismayed to find that there were very very few people there. The paddock seemed empty with everyone hogging the outside line with the electrical points, which left me with only one place to be, which was on my own in the middle. I hoped out of the van and proceeded to try and put up the awning all by myself. After 15 minutes of struggling and still no awning to be seen this old dear offered some help. After giving her some clear instructions about erecting a gazebo, the old girl in a broad cockney accent turned around and said ‘don’t worry about it love, I’ve put many a thing up in my day’. Obviously a seasoned pit crew. All set up and sorted the bike and decided to get myself a well earned early night. I got up at the normal time and headed over to scrutineering and was met with quite a surprise. 30 coppers inspecting all bikes for stolen parts. They have been threatening this for years so it was good to see that they were finally doing it. It was a little nerve racking when l tried to explain to the FEDS that l was riding Jeff’s bike and that it didn’t actually belong to me. The copper said that’s very generous of him. Shy like a little school boy l giggled and replied yes it is.

This was the first time that l was racing with MRO and l knew l was throwing myself in the deep end but what the heck, signatures were needed. I went out for my first practice and boy was it cold, even for this arctic warrior. Especially with vented gloves on. I wobbled my way around on Jeff’s bike easing myself into it. By the end of the session l had lapped just 2 seconds slower than my best time set on my own bike. Not bad considering l had been off the bike properly for a year. One thing that did stand out from the session was how hard Brands Hatch is hard to ride especially 15 laps back to back. I spoke to Jeff’s wife Karen after and she asked how the bike was. I replied l don’t really know it was that frantic out there l had no time to breath let alone see if the bike was right for me.

Had another 15 minute qualifying session, not much happened but l felt l had gone quicker however the lap times showed that l had not gone any quicker. I qualified 29th on the grid for the start of the race.

My one and only race was an 8 lap dash around Brands Indy. A little confused as to why we had 2 15 minute qualifying sessions for an 8 lap dash but thank god as Brands is a hard physical track to ride let alone race.

Before the start of the race l was speaking to a guy who qualified back of the grid, He said l was going to be his target for the race. But considering he was 2 rows behind me l thought yeh mate see you in the race. I was a little miffed when l peeled into Paddock Hill Bend to see him ahead of me. I followed him for 5 laps he was quick in places and l was quick in others but over the lap we were about even. Eventually on lap 5 l carried enough speed around Clearways and down the start straight to over take him around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend but the next couple of corners l knew l was quicker so l thought l would pull away however he had other ideas. He managed to get a tow off me for the next 3 laps, l could hear him all the way and on the final lap for some reason unbeknown to me l was over cautious going into Graham Hill Bend, far far too defensive and lost all the speed l was carrying. He nipped up the inside of me and from this part of the track was where he was strongest so the damage was done. I finished 30th with a fastest lap of 54.69 seconds still 2 seconds slower than my fastest ever, but achieved my aim which was to finish and get a signature for the TT. One down three to go. Roll on next week Mallory Park.

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