Chicken din­ner!

With en­durance rac­ing gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in the UK, we de­cided to head to Croft and get stuck in.

Fast Bikes - - WELCOME -

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.

Kick­ing off

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 Sor­ry­ 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.

End game

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.

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