Oulton Park – Wirral 100 – 26/04/2014

Simon and I chose to race at Oulton with Wirral 100 instead of Snetterton with Bemsee this weekend as we’re hoping to do as many Wirral meetings as possible, plus Oulton is a fantastic circuit where it’s hard to get enough track time.

Friday night’s weather was not auspicious, but Simon and Andy Martin spent the evening bleeding the whole brake system through to try to fix the issue we’d had at Darley. We knew our track time on Saturday would be limited since the British F2s, F350s and Post Classics were sharing a grid with us, so as Simon’s last visit had been 8 years ago on a solo we had some fast learning to do!

Out on inters for our first session, which was originally billed as timed qualifying but was amended to untimed practice with the British F2 outfits on track with us, Simon tiptoed his way round relearning the circuit. We could afford to be gentle as our grid position (14th) had been pre-set before we even reached the circuit. No hard braking or accelerating, but the bike felt like it was going well.

Our sponsor Andrew Shurmer arrived with the sunshine late morning, as we were switching to slick tyres ready for our first race. Gridding up was somewhat chaotic as the marshals told us – as we left the collecting area – that no grid markings had been painted for the sidecars! However, after some juggling around, we were all off as the lights went out. Simon rode brilliantly well: it was obvious he’d started to learn the circuit and was chasing other outfits hard. We overtook a few, diced with some, Simon revelling in outbraking them into the chicanes. All was going well until lap 4, when the familiar ‘bucking bronco’ action took over from the rear wheel at Druids Corner. Simon limped us across the line to see the ‘last lap’ flag, but as we went round Old Hall the whole front was locking solid so we retired to the side of the circuit. We’d achieved a fastest lap of 2:08.930 on lap 4 – demonstrating that we were improving lap on lap before it all went wrong.

Hugely frustrating: the front brakes had bound on again and it was 5 minutes before they’d cooled enough for us to be able to return to the pits. While the ever-patient Roisin made endless tea, coffee and lunch for all, Andy and Simon stripped the whole braking system down again. Three very minor issues were found, each or none of which might have been the underlying cause, so the bike was re-dressed and polished ready for our final race.

The spitting rain started just before we went to the collecting area on our slick tyres, and by the time we’d assembled it was raining hard. The organisers had decided to postpone the solo race and send the sidecars out, giving the solos a chance to change their tyres, but after a discussion they agreed that maybe sidecars should be allowed to change tyres too! We rushed back to the paddock, switched to wets, returned to the collecting area…. and along with 3 other teams, missed the warm-up lap. We joined the back of the grid when they returned and spun the cold rear tyre hard off the line when the lights went out.

Simon chased through the pack, his first time racing on full wet tyres. As soon as they built up some heat he found grip and we picked off other teams one by one. Of course, it was all going far too well and the front brakes binding affected us from about lap 2 onwards. Simon pushed as hard as he could without any brakes, but on the final corner we slipped back a place as the slower post-classic outfit of Gallagher/Rooney came back past. We crossed the line 7th overall, 5th F2, not displeased with our racing but at our wits end to know what was happening with the brakes.

For me, that was my last short-circuit meeting before the TT. It has been noticeable how Simon has become more and more comfortable on the bike as each meeting as progressed, so I’m confident that as soon as this brake gremlin is identified and exorcised, we’ll really start pushing on. Simon has one race while I’m away: Mallory Park (EMRA) with SlowPhil (Phil Jones) in the hot seat. I’m hoping they can use it as a test day to make sure that the suggested brake fixes have worked their magic.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us so far this season: without all of you (especially the unsung heroes like Roisin, Caleb and Paul) we couldn’t race. There is still time to get your name on the fairing for the TT, as well as have it on our short-circuit fairing for the rest of the season. Visit the TT2014 page.

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