With endurance racing gaining popularity in the UK, we decided to head to Croft and get stuck in.
Dangerous Brod’s enticing words came over my telecommunications device: “Do you want to do the Croft endurance round?” The answer was a resounding YES! I just needed to find a diplomatic way to escape the household, and the clutches of my parents-in-law who were descending that weekend.
Thankfully, that didn’t take much doing, and before I knew it I was headed north with my younger, slightly balding and far more talented brother. It’d been eight years since I last visited the North Yorkshire circuit, which unceremoniously ended my pubescent aspirations to become a professional motorcycle racer when my Superstock Fireblade decided to sit on top of me on the run in to the first bend. It was a track I’d loved back then, prior to my hospital trip inducing accident, and the thought of returning and putting my gremlins to bed was an exciting one. More so because I’d be doing it in an endurance themed context. Endurance racing has always been a fun thing for me. Even when I was riding at BSB-level, I’d still get stuck in and do the odd endurance race because there was no better way to have a laugh and clock up valuable track time. And that was pretty much the intention from this onslaught; to enjoy it.
Getting to grips
Of course, any racer knows that true enjoyment only comes from winning races and that was why we were going there; to win, or at least have a good stab at it. The reality was that I felt rustier than an old iron nail that’d spent the past year at the bottom of a pond being wee’d on by fish.
And as for Brod, well, he’d never even seen the place before; we had our work cut out. No Limits Racing, the organisers of the 10-round championship that runs the length and breadth of the UK, typically host practice days ahead of the main event, which we’d wisely got ourselves booked on to. Armed with Kime Racing’s R6 and with Brod in tow on their trusty Daytona 675R, we made the most of that day’s test and rounded things off a tad wiser and more confident ahead of the onslaught that awaited. The track, for those that don’t know it, is relentlessly fast, rougher than a badger’s arsehole and blind in some places.
It’s one of the most terrifying and yet exhilarating circuits in the UK, which is heavily restricted for use thanks to some curtain twitching locals who all too often make complaints about noise and filthy men dressed in leather. But that’s another story. Brod had really found his feet with the place and that showed the next day as he went out on the damp track and clocked the fastest
outright time in qualifying, putting us ahead of the 30 rival teams we were sharing the race track with. A cock-up on my part meant that he pitted a bit early which cost us that advantage, but even as the remaining minutes ticked by and the track’s condition dried that bit more, we only slipped back to seventh overall, and third best of the 600 teams. It was nothing a decent start couldn’t remedy.
In case you’re not familiar with endurance racing, the starts are a lot different to the ones you’ll typically see. They’re called Le Mans starts, which meant I was one side of the track holding the bike when my brother kicked off proceedings by sprinting the width of the circuit to hop on his Triumph.
The bike was already in gear, the ignition already on, meaning all he had to do was hop on-board, whip the clutch in and hit the starter button, but that was clearly too difficult for the plum. As bikes powered their way past us to our left and right, Brod was having a second stab at the motor’s ignition, which eventually fired into life and roasted my chest as thousands of revs screamed their way excitedly out of the bike’s underseat exhaust. He was panicked, and as bikes narrowly avoid one another he joined the melee. I saw him do at least 17 hiccuping wheelies before he got to the first bend.
Still, he was on his way and went some way to rectifying his sins by completing that first circuit up in the top 10.
Owing to the physical nature of the track, which had given our anorexic forearms arm-pump in previous outings, the plan was to minimise fatigue by doing 45 minute stints apiece. That meant we’d each have to stop twice before reaching the chequered flag three hours in. Most people were set to do less than that, with our main nemesis and my good mate Gary Johnson set to do 40-minute handovers with his teammate on their Sorrymate.com bikes.
For all you budding endurance racers, a trick worth noting is to never let your rivals know your game plan. We knew what Gaz was up to, so he became a considered threat, opposed to an unpredictable one. Not that we needed to worry about him or his team at this point. His slower team mate was out first, and lapping around four seconds a lap slower than Brod, who’d managed to take the lead in the six hundred class pretty early on, and slotted in fifth overall on the live timing screens. He did us proud, right up until the point he came in for his first pitstop and sent me on my way.
The pitlane was limited to 30mph, and closely guarded by a speed gun operator who was watching to make sure I kept within the performance parameters of a mobility scooter. A lot of riders make the stupid mistake of going a smidgen too quick in their haste to reach the track, which costs them a ride through penalty. But, in the words of Tupac: ‘Mama didn’t raise no fool’. It was better to play it safe and ride slowly to the circuit’s edge, where I joined the flow of riders who were hurtling their way psychotically towards me down the start straight. As important as it is to remember that there’s no need for rash behaviour in endurance, it’s another thing to remind one’s self that this is no country stroll, and pace very much is the order of the day.
Go big or go home
I always give myself half a lap to get my head into things, meaning that by the time I was powering through the blisteringly fast left-right of Jim Clark Esses, I was in full on ‘I’m going to hunt you down’ mode.
The way in which you carve up traffic makes one hell of a difference to your overall lap times, but riding a 600cc against a field powered predominantly by litres bikes is as frustrating as spending an hour in a room with Jeremy Corbyn and not being able to punch him. Frustration rules supreme unless you use your noggin and pre-plan how and where you’re going to pass people long before you actually need to. I knew where I was quick around Croft, and where it was irrelevant what size bike you were on.
Barcroft is perhaps the fastest corner of the track, and the scariest of bends too. I knew that by building up my speed from the onset of the Jim Clarke Esses, I’d be able to out drive and manoeuvre anyone on any bike. I also knew that passing so fast on what’s arguably the sketchiest part of the track wasn’t without huge risk, and to win an endurance meant actually crossing the finish line at the end of the race.
Around 30 minutes into my stint, which was being counted up and shown to me on my pitboard, I saw a rider go down into the hairpin and look pretty hurt. Soon afterwards the marshals started waving a white flag with a red cross. They weren’t surrendering; they were signalling the safety car was being released. We had a big lead over our rivals by this point, but that vanished in an instant as the entire grid regrouped behind the car and slowed to a pace even Pretty Boy could manage. I was gutted, as it meant all our hard work had gone down the drain.
The plan was to pit shortly after the car went in, but following some weird hand gestures and sporadic word shouting each time I went past my pit crew, they got the gist that I was going to run the tank dry. This was a massive gamble. I hoped that the R6’s fuel gauge was connected and, more importantly worked, but it was a risk that needed taking.
Eventually the light lit up, prompting me to hang a leg down the pit straight and prompt my return to the pits that next lap. The plan had played out well. Not only were we in front of our 600cc rivals, I’d taken the outright lead by some margin.
Brod knew the importance of his closing stint. What he didn’t know was whether he had any chance of making it to the line on his bike’s 17-litre fuel tank. While he was out there setting a blistering and consistent pace, team owner Nigel and I were scratching our heads and trying to convince ourselves he’d be alright for the 71 minutes that remained.
The R6 is a much more frugal bike on fuel, but we knew that the Triumph was only ever good for 60 minutes. It meant a final stop was needed, and we were going to have to be slicker than a dolphin covered in WD-40 if we were to pull it off. Despite still having the outright lead, TT winner Johnson was catching Brod by a second a lap. This one was going to go down to the wire, or so we thought. As a bit of drizzle started to fall, Gaz backed off while Brod kept the throttle wide open. Our eight second lead got boosted up to 30 seconds, giving us real hope that we’d have time for the quickest of rider changes. Everyone was in place when Brod came tootling down pitlane, with the simple task being to relocate the transponder from his bike to mine. It was a seamless procedure that was made all the sweeter when I caught a glimpse of Gaz pitting for fuel. The advantage was ours for keeps.
With less than 10 minutes on the clock, I treated that final stint as a qualifying session and pushed my hardest all the way to the chequered. We won. And we didn’t just win our ACU National 600 class, but the whole event outright. For the first time ever since the series was launched some six years ago, we became the first 600cc team to beat the entire grid, which was an epic feeling. So good that we went on a six-hour bender out in Darlington to celebrate that night, but that’s a different story. For us and the entire Kime Racing team, who’d grafted their derrieres off all weekend, this tale ended as perfectly as it could have, up on the top step of the rostrum giving it the big’uns to a dismayed and tired looking Gary. But that’s what friends are for.
Someone’s dropped a fiver...
Bruce’s wheelies are getting bigger.
He’ll never get his knee down like that...
The Kime Racing team, posing with the first and second losers.
After a big night out and some shocking dad dancing, Brod went out and won again the following day.