Done and dusted! I was delighted to be asked to race at Thruxton in the last North Glos meeting of the year with Andy King. I’ve wanted to work with Andy for a number of years but the stars have never aligned – until now.
I’ll admit up front I was very nervous – not about Andy, his riding or his sidecar – but about whether I could still do the job. Still, Andy wouldn’t have asked me if he didn’t think I couldn’t work with him. He has Canadian Jeff Gillard on the side for TT2017, so this was all about just running the bike to ensure any recent gremlins had been exterminated, and also clock up an extra signature.
We were extraordinarily lucky with the weather, having a fine, overcast day. It became chilly later on but the threatened rain didn’t come in other than a few minor spots and a short burst in one of the solo races.
It was my first time back on an Ireson since my first outings in 2009 with Bob at Mallory, then Thruxton. They’re famously stable in lefts, considered to be straight-forward to passenger as not very twitchy. My nerves weren’t helped by knowing Trevor Ireson himself would be there, but there was no option than to pull up my Big Girl Pants and get on with it! That chicane… that chicane… I am still (after years of racing) over-working parts of it.
We had an inauspicious start to practice when the bike died on us in lap 2 – a quick furtle under the seat unit revealed the fuel pump connector had come adrift. Easily rectified, but as we’d completed fewer than the mandatory 3 laps of practice I did check in with Race Control to make sure they were happy for us to join the back of the grid for the Qualifying race. The NG meeting clashed with meetings at Brands, Darley Moor and East Fortune so it was a small grid of 6: two F1s and four F2s. A shame for the spectators, but exciting as Rick Lawrence was also out of a 3-year retirement and back on the side with Roger Lovelock.
From the back of the grid Andy kept us out of trouble as two of the other F2s clashed briefly coming into the first corner, but then we quickly settled into 4th place, behind Rob Handcock / Ken Edwards on their F2 with the two F1s streaking into the distance. This was only a 5-lap race, enough for me to reassure myself about where the track was going, and re-discover arm pump. I was fighting the bike instead of working with it, and struggling to find the handholds intuitively. My head wouldn’t let me move confidently enough going into Church to get the forward handhold on the outside of the fairing, sacrificing grip. Andy likes to slide and spin the rear wheel so he was in control, but it left me frustrated at my inability.
A fastest lap of 1:33 was several seconds off Andy’s fastest lap, but he also felt the gearing wasn’t quite right. Kenny Williams was also in the camp with us, so I had a masterclass from him about ways to manage the sections where I was struggling. The general consensus seemed to be that I wasn’t completely incompetent (grin) but that I could make life easier for myself.
A visit from friends in the early afternoon was a welcome diversion, after which we changed the gearing for a livelier combination and prepared for race 2. This time we took our appointed grid slot of 4th, and in my head I was mentally prepared for the 7 laps ahead. Andy had a blinding start and we found ourselves leading the pack into the first few corners – elation! It didn’t take long for the F1s to come past, but gratifyingly w held off Rob and Ken’s bike for a couple of laps before they came past. As each lap unfolded I found the sequence of moves for the left-handers became easier, although I still wasn’t getting it right round Church, needing the fairing handhold to be a little further back (it’s cut for Paul Skinner, who has much longer arms than me).
As we approached the start-finish for the last lap I looked for the yellow and black flag… but there was none. Had I mis-counted? Maybe I’d got myself confused. Either way, I knew there was at least one more lap to go. Oddly though, the bike started slowing. Initially I wondered if Andy thought I had tapped and was backing off. Just 5%, just enough to save my arms, but I was worrying about whether the team behind us would catch up. Another lap and there was the last lap flag – but Andy was definitely significantly off the pace. Then the engine started mis-firing and sounded dreadful: I couldn’t see or smell any leaks, couldn’t see smoke or identify any easy fix. I spent that lat lap worrying in case we were caught from behind, but fortunately we limped round and took the chequered flag safely as 2nd F2 again.
Our lap times were a couple of seconds faster: still some pace to find, but a good day’s outing. Andy called me the next day to confirm the data was showing an issue which could be caused by the battery dying – a relatively easy fix and nothing catastrophic.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxed day’s racing, and I’m very pleased to be back in the saddle. I’ll be doing a couple of club rounds with Andy later in 2017, but the focus now is on getting him and Jeff safely to the TT.