Au revoir….

The time has come to make this an official announcement: with much regret, I’ve decided to retire from racing. I’ve had a fantastic six years, achieved more than I ever thought possible, was lucky enough to work with some of the best drivers out there, and learned huge amounts.

My family needs me more now: they’ve sacrificed a lot over the last few years for my hobby, so it’s time for some compromise on my side. I won’t say “never” – I’ll keep my ACU licence current – but my shoulder injury is unlikely to let me get back out on circuit this year. I can’t even commit to the TT next year because it falls over GCSEs – and in 2016 I need to be a mum more than I want to be a racer.

Yes, I have unfinished business (who doesn’t?) – circuits I haven’t been to, circuits where I can do better, circuits which get under your skin and need an annual visit… but I’m going out on a high after a season which combined the close racing of the UK clubs, the high of the French championship, and the exhilaration and challenge of the TT.

Thank you to everyone who has made the journey possible: family, friends, supporters, DRIVERS!!!, fellow racers who gave so generously of their time and experience. From humble beginnings on a Mallory test day with Wayne ‘Bob’ Lockey, to the TT – what a ride – going to miss you all…

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French documentary about Estelle at the TT

We had a French journalist, Ibar, with us for 5 days at the TT. This is the documentary he produced for French channel M6. Scroll forwards to ‘Chapitre 5’ for the full coverage – very balanced and authentic, we think. (First broadcast 28th June)

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TT coverage in the Herts & Essex Observer

Thanks to Alistair Gold for this lovely  coverage in the Herts & Essex Observer.

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Keeping up with news during the TT

As I’ll have limited internet access to post on here during the TT, I’ll be doing most updates by text to the Inky Ann Racing Facebook page.

However, don’t despair if you don’t have Facebook: all the posts on there automatically copy to my Twitter feed.

Don’t have Twitter? Not a problem, that is replicated on this site here (tab: Twitter).

The French teams are en route today, and will arrive tomorrow morning. I should be in the paddock tomorrow evening – the TT starts here! #32

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Seasons costs to date: how is your sponsorship helping us?

With only a few weeks to go to the TT, it’s time for some accounting to you – our supporters and sponsors. Would you like to know how your donations are helping the two race seasons? I think it’s important to be transparent with you about where your money is going. Here’s a breakdown.

Now, these are only the costs which I have personally incurred or committed to already, and don’t include costs paid directly by Simon and Fanch on engine refreshes, new sprockets or bearings, suspension refreshes, frame straightening (!), and so on. These also don’t include costs which we’ll incur at the TT such as fuel and tyres.

TT – £2,771
Fuel & disposables – £217
UK short circuit entries & test days – £2,025
French racing costs – £343
Support costs & signage – £328

So, when we say to you THANK YOU for supporting us, we really mean it! Hopefully you can now see how much your donation is genuinely contributing towards our season’s costs. So far you wonderful people have given £1700 towards this – give yourselves a big pat on the back, you’re all superstars.

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11-12 April 2015: NG at Cadwell Park

It’s April in Lincolnshire, what is the weather going to throw at us? At Cadwell Park it’s impossible to tell with its own micro-climate! As it was, on Saturday our practice session was wet after cold, torrential rain to start the day. We were 3rd on the timing sheets, with the wet suspension set-up courtesy of Mark of Nitron, making a great difference. We were also joined all day by Mark of Mark Rose Accountancy, who came to scrutinise the Airfix Mark II fairing, after the disaster with the paint job which had been it completed then sripped back to primer again after Brands Hatch. However, the Met Office didn’t disappoint and after practice the weather then dried

(c) Sid Diggins, 12/04/15 Cadwell Park

(c) Sid Diggins, 12/04/15 Cadwell Park

so we changed to slick tyres and dry set-up.

We were gridded 3rd for qualifying, but despite the first half lap going well, there was a fuel leak, the bike felt down on power and the suspension felt too hard. I was sufficiently concerned about the fuel leak (in case it was going on the circuit) to tap – much to Simon’s dismay. He’s not used to that, and didn’t really believe I meant it… As soon as we came in I explained the problem and we swapped back to the wet suspension set up and nipped up the loose connector we thought was causing the fuel leak. If the fuel pressure was being affected that could cause the power, so we made no further changes at that stage.

As a result of coming in early and not finishing the qualifying race, for our main race we were at the back of the grid; back on the wet suspension set up however the bike felt far better. The fuel still wasn’t quite sorted, and the standard engine definitely felt down on power compared to the tuned one, but some audacious overtakes – and a new grass track line at the bottom of the Mountain – saw us cross the line 10th. For Simon’s first visit to Cadwell Park on an F2, a very creditable result.

To round the day out nicely, Caleb took a class win on his 125 – one very happy young man.

The weather was much better overnight, so we were all set up with dry tyres ready for the day. It was a busy start as Caleb’s Newcomers race was carried over from Saturday, a short gap, then his first race, one race gap, then us. We skipped practice as Simon was sorting out our sidecar and Caleb, and I was helping to find a passenger for Chris Wells as Jeff’s x-ray the previous evening had confirmed a broken scaphoid (Louth A&E: good place to sit with a Kindle on a Saturday evening). Chris and Jeff are Canadian competitors who will be taking part in the TT this year, so their bike was shipped over a few weeks ago to give them a chance to come and race here and get the set-up just right. Unfortunately Jeff was bitten by the Gooseneck on Saturday – classic Cadwell accident.

Unfortunately our qualifying race did not go well: our first half lap went well, but the engine didn’t feel like it was pulling properly. Our times did not improve and Simon was struggling to find the flow of the circuit.

(c) Sid Diggins, Cadwell Park 12/04/2015

(c) Sid Diggins, Cadwell Park 12/04/2015

Our main race of the day was very similar: dry conditions and mid-field following our earlier finish. We got into a great battle with Mark Saunders/Dave Dean and Brian Alflatt/Aaron Galligan, and brave late-braking undertake on Brian at the chicane got us past him, but David & Jayne Blackwood were nipping at our heels and it was only when the Quayes came past us (having recovered from a rare spin at the Hairpin early on in the race) that we were able to take advantage by popping past Mark and getting some clear air. Simon was able to relax and feel the circuit more, which showed in our lap times.

Although the engine still didn’t feel crisp, we managed a 10th place finish and Simon was 2secs / lap faster than his best time on Saturday.

The bike is now off to Mike Richards for a strip-down and a number of pieces of work ready for the TT. The fairing is going back for yet another attempt at the paint job – although the battleship grey is definitely growing on us! After a long discussion with Simon and with Dave Gristwood, his TT passenger, we have made the decision that Dave will passenger Simon at Oulton on 9th May. The two of them need some track time together before the TT, and Oulton provides the perfect venue with its long, sweeping straights.

Until the TT…

(c) Jeff Brown 11/04/2015, Cadwell Park

(c) Jeff Brown 11/04/2015, Cadwell Park

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Taxi rides in 2015

Advance warning for taxi rides: Auto66 are hoping to host taxi rides during the Sidecar Bonanza on 24th & 25th October 2015 at Cadwell Park. We’ll let you know as soon as we have any more news.

To the best of our knowledge there will be no sidecar festival at Mallory this year, unfortunately, but if we do hear of any other opportunities for taxi rides we’ll publicise them here and on our Race Dates page.

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Videos from 2015

This post will be updated as the year progresses, and as we see any new video coverage.

1. Le Mans – French Sidecar Championship, Race A (28th March 2015). Anne & Francois, number 108

 

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Videos from 2014

I use some of these clips in my sidecar talks – they were all shot in 2014:

1. Circuit d’Ales test session, Feb 2014 (Anne & Francois)

2. TT2014, Friday night practice start, filmed by Simon Smith

3. TT 2014 – Sidecar Race A: filmed by Gennady Pasenov – nice slo-mo of us at 1:23, and coming back down the return road at 1:56 (love the “It’s a lady!” you can hear in the background!)

4. Karl Bennett & Lee Cain, TT2014 forward-facing onboard camera

5. Karl Bennett & Lee Cain – TT2014 inboard-facing camera. This is a section approaching, and going through, Kirl Michael.

6. Mallory on the front-exit with Mike Bellaby in September 2014. Video shot by Daniel & Isabel Simonneaux.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYSo5PuYZYU

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27-29/03/2015: Le Mans – French Sidecar Championship, round 1

Friday 27th March at Le Mans: the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans a fabulous, flowing circuit – very heavy braking in a couple of places which can make moving hard, but relatively easy to learn. It’s akin to Donington and Oulton, with all the facilities you’d expect from a major race circuit which hosts the 24 hours, World Superbikes, MotoGP and so on. I was unprepared for the sound of the pit lane klaxon – so familiar from the TV – the Audi R8 safety and course cars, and the sheer acreage of gravel traps. I went through the process of registering for my Fédération Française de Motocyclisme licence, which wasn’t as tortuous as I’d expected – and made significantly easier by our French ‘fixer’, François Beauchamps.

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(c) Paul Willis

After a quick review of the circuit map, Fanch and I had a dry first untimed session. It started inauspiciously: the sidecar wouldn’t start and needed a bump start – leading to my poor husband face-planting the tarmac requiring 3 stitches to a very nasty gash in his top lip. We joined the circuit, and immediately pulled in when the engine died – it was the same choc-block connector which had plagued a night of qualifying at the TT. Repositioned, we had lost a couple of laps but quickly got out onto circuit so Fanch could show me the way round. He knows and loves the circuit. The 30-minute session was red flagged early due to a broken-down machine, but was useful as I discovered where I needed to work more.  We completed 7 or so laps and I was tired from over-working and holding on too tight, but the races on Saturday and Sunday were scheduled for 13 laps so I needed to get used to it.

Friday afternoon’s free practice was distinctly damp as the weather closed in, but we did the full 30 minutes (on slicks) and at one point were 6th fastest in the mixed F1/F2 field, finishing 8th in the end. I was starting to learn my way round, and the reduced speed in the damp helped me to find the right braking and moving points. It was surreal to be going round famous corners such as Dunlop, Chemin des Boeufs, Garage Vert and so on.

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(c) Jonathan Lagall

Having completed scrutineering of both sidecar and clothing – back protectors are obligatoire and they were examining helmet dates very carefully – we had stripped and cleaned the sidecar before being called to the Media office for the formal team photographs. Each racer (or in the case of sidecar, each pair) was photographed front-facing and smiling, then side on with arms crossed and looking moody. Given it was 7pm and we’d had to get back into cold wet leathers, and were covered in dirt and grease, I think I can safely say I wasn’t looking very glamorous.

Saturday 28th March: the morning had a relatively leisurely start: a briefing at 10am in Race Control. All in French but I followed all of it with the exception of some of the technicalities about the lights on the safety car following any incident. A couple of things which were different to the UK stood out for me: there are no stationary flags – a double waved yellow taking the place of a waved yellow. They have no last-lap flag, and they have changed their lights procedure so they now match the UK (i.e. race start when the lights go out).

(c) Jonathan Lagall

(c) Jonathan Lagall

We had a 30-minute timed qualifying in the early afternoon, then the first race at 5.45pm. The weather had not improved noticeably, a persistent drizzle which was enough to keep everything soaked. I used the opportunity to continue to learn the circuit and improve where Fanch needed me to change my style; there is something so inherently wrong about working the back of the bike on a left which takes some getting used to! I was also catching his braking foot with my left knee entering Raccordement, which I needed to rectify. We stayed on circuit for the full 30 minutes, and despite holding 6th overall in the mixed F1/F2 field, Estelle pipped us by 0.006secs in her penultimate lap so we ended up 8th overall and 5th F2.

During the afternoon the humidity dropped, the sun came out and the practice and races were declared dry. Being the first round of the championship, it’s not like a club race where you rock up to the collecting area a few minutes before the race – we had to be present and correct 20 minutes before our session. We’d done 12 laps in the damp with me having no real problems with arm pump or tiredness, but under race conditions and in the dry I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.

We were directed to our grid position in the collecting area, then onto the circuit for our out lap, a long wait on the flag for it to drop for the warm-up lap, then the waiting was over. Fanch had a good start although it was a little disheartening to have a number of F1s stream past us in the first lap, so I had no idea where we were in the field. We also had to avoid a somewhat mad F2 with young guns on board who grasstracked across our nose at Dunlop on that first lap: bumper cars was not what we needed! I concentrated on finding my moving markers for Dunlop and Le Musée: both involve moving left after heavy braking. I’d seen the fast F2 of Rémy Guignard & Fréderique Poux pull into the pit lane on the warm-up lap, but a few laps in they flew past us, and we settled down to a battle with the F2 of father & son team Olliger/Olliger, nipping at their heels in every corner.

(c) Agnes Lacaze

(c) Agnes Lacaze

No sign of Estelle behind or threatening to overtake us, which surprised me… On lap 5 the same mad black F2 who had grasstracked on lap 1 spun as they entered the start-finish straight, avoiding a head-on into the right-hand pit wall by sheer luck. I was counting down the laps in my head but got lost around 8, then on about lap 10 the leading F1 lapped us, although it was over another lap before the next one caught us.

Fanch crept up on the Olliger F2 and popped past under braking on the last lap (12), holding the line through all those famous corners I know from the MotoGP – Chemin des Boeufs, Garage Bleu and Raccordement. So, chequered flag taken (much to my delight) we were on the slow-down lap at the back of the circuit and Fanch started shouting “Trois, Trois!” at me – third! All the marshals came across the gravel traps to cheer and wave. with crowds waving and cheering at the fences and in the stands. We pulled into Parc Fermé… and we were 2nd! Rémy & Fred had lost a lap and we actually behind us. I was stunned by delighted – I knew Fanch had been on the podium there before, but this far exceeded my wildest dreams.

After kisses and hugs with our families, team-mates and competitors, it was up the stairs to race office. There we shook hands and kissed every member of race direction, were given towels and instructions on the order of ceremonies and where champagne could be sprayed, then out onto the podium. Just wow – a real, proper podium with a real crowd. Overwhelming but fantastic.

(c) Agnes Lacaze

(c) Agnes Lacaze

It was a late evening Saturday: Estelle’s engine had developed a problem so that had to be fixed before we sat down to eat. With the clocks changing forwards and with qualifying at 8.45am, I needed a good night’s sleep. There was a great deal of blustery rain overnight, with awnings attempting to take off. The early morning start was very wet and windy, but again Fanch and I did the full 30mins with me over-riding all my instincts and working the back of the bike on left handers. We qualified well as 4th F2 – I’d been keeping an eye on the illuminated digital leaderboard at the end of the start-finish straight, but only spotted the names from 11th to 18th, which wasn’t very useful.

As the morning progressed the drizzle stopped and the wind created a semi-dry line. The solos made heavy work of the patchy conditions, with very gallic excitement from the commentators of “Chute, chute!” every time another one fell off.  Just before mid-day we assembled again, but it was declared a wet race so reduced to 10 laps from 13 – this is common practice to ensure the day runs to time.

(c) Agnes Lacaze

(c) Agnes Lacaze

In a really amazing feat of over-enthusiasm, the young team from the previous day spun on the out lap… However, when the lights went out Fanch had a blistering start and we went from 7th on the grid to 4th into Dunlop, then settled down for an epic battle with Hélène and Didier Siro’s F2. I couldn’t tell where we were in the F2 order, assuming we were battling for 4th… But again no sign of Estelle. We kept Team Siro behind us until lap 6 when they popped through, with the Olliger F2 then pushing us hard. Fanch had to work hard to keep them in sight, while our wet rear tyre gradually lost all grip and traction. Not only that, but the quickshifter simply wouldn’t work for 4th gear – clunky every time and made for a bumpy ride in places. The track was horribly inconsistent too – dry as a bone in Garage Bleu but soaking at Chemin des Boeufs.

This time we weren’t lapped, and on lap 10 Fanch made an epic undertaking bid at the left-hand hairpin, forcing the Siros out wide and putting them between us and the Olligers’ bike. Across the line, we had a warm down lap with the marshals and crowd waving and cheering – Fanch grabbing my hand as I whooped for joy… and directed into 3rd in Parc Fermé! Estelle had driven round carefully – the engine working but a terrifying problem as the front tyre kept suddenly grabbing and pushing the bars left. She had her TT signature, but not with the results she’d hoped for as she opened her season.

(c) Paul Willis

(c) Paul Willis

For us: two TT signatures, two trophies, two podiums and we lead the French F2 championship 🙂 What a fabulous weekend.

I’d like to say a very heartfelt thank you to each and every person who made the whole weekend possible, especially Paul, Sylvie, Rapace, Sam, Francois Beauchamps, Mike Capon, our friends, families, team-mates and fellow competitors. Also wonderful to catch up with ex-British championship F2 racer Steve Hicks with his passenger Clothilde, and to Ron Hardy and Lancelot Unissart who were there as moral support. A bientôt…

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