Char­lie Oak­man rents a TZR250 2MA and races!

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS -

Reg­u­lar read­ers of CMM will al­ready know me. I’m Char­lie Oak­man, other­wise known as the Fast Berk cur­rently in the process of build­ing a 1988 TZR250 2MA. My aim is to en­ter it into a round of the Yamaha Past Masters (YPM) rac­ing se­ries, part of the Bri­tish Mo­tor­cy­cle Rac­ing Club Cham­pi­onship (known to all as ‘Bem­see’). Un­be­known to me at the time of plan­ning I could have got on the grid and bro­ken my rac­ing duck di­rectly by hir­ing the YPM club bike, af­fec­tion­ately named the ‘Renta-racer’ so I fig­ured I would give it a go! When I say it’s a club bike it’s ex­actly that, be­ing run, main­tained and funded by mem­bers and rac­ers within the YPM se­ries. It is now in its fourth year, of­fer­ing ACU li­cence hold­ers the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in a full race week­end without the out­lay of a bike, fuel, tyres, race en­try fees or even crash dam­age. The club bike is there to give you the op­por­tu­nity to taste the YPM pad­dock for your­self be­fore a full com­mit­ment to rac­ing, but be warned: it is ad­dic­tive as at least 25% of cur­rent reg­u­lar rac­ers have come in via rac­ing the bright yel­low #100 bike! My rac­ing week­end started as soon as I ar­rived at Don­ing­ton on the Fri­day af­ter­noon be­fore Satur­day and Sun­day’s rac­ing. Noise re­stric­tions mean that this par­tic­u­lar round is run over two days but cir­cuits the se­ries vis­its in­clud­ing Brands Hatch, Snet­ter­ton, Cad­well, Sil­ver­stone and Oul­ton Park can run over a third day, in­clud­ing prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing on the Fri­day with four races over the week­end. As it was at Don­ing­ton I would have a prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing on Satur­day morn­ing, race in the af­ter­noon and two races on the Sun­day. Don­ing­ton’s pad­dock was fill­ing rapidly while I hunted out my hosts for the week­end. Many of the Bem­see rac­ers had made the most of a Thurs­day track-day to ex­tend the race week­end be­yond the two days. I was greeted by Len Whalin and Gary But­ton as they fet­tled with my ride for the week­end.

Both are ex-rac­ers who de­vote their time to the se­ries, mak­ing sure that not only the ‘Renta-rid­ers’ are guided through their in­tro­duc­tion to TZR rac­ing, but as I was to dis­cover they also busy them­selves help­ing every­body in the se­ries. Gary’s wife Denise is now rid­ing his old race bike in the cham­pi­onship so he de­votes time to span­ner­ing for her but finds plenty of time to offer help, guid­ance and ad­vice to others in­clud­ing new­bies like my­self. In turn Len is the soft spo­ken guv’nor of the pad­dock. He has a wealth of two-stroke knowl­edge learnt af­ter years in the busi­ness which in­cluded time with ‘Dozy’ Balling­ton a wizard span­ner of the class that helped his brother (a cer­tain Kork Balling­ton) win four world ti­tles. Len had scru­ti­neered the bike al­ready and sent me across with hel­met, gloves, leathers, boots and dog-tags to get my sticker and this process com­pleted. On my re­turn he sat me on the bike, checked the set-up and we waited for the pit garages to open. When they did I got my first ever ride on not only a TZR250, but on any two-stroke racer. And although I only touched sec­ond gear as I tra­versed the pad­dock my en­thu­si­asm for what was to come was peak­ing! Home for the week­end was pit garage 29, shared with a fur­ther seven TZRS. The club bike (my bike) was now up on pad­dock stands with the warm­ers in place ready for the early morn­ing switch on to be ready for free prac­tice due to start at 9:55am. All that was then left for me to do was to get to know my fel­low rac­ers – and what a bril­liant bunch they are! Amid the prep­ping, clean­ing and fet­tling were fond greet­ings and what ap­peared to be an ea­ger­ness to make sure I was as com­fort­able as I could be. An ob­ser­va­tion I made im­me­di­ately was how much they all helped each other out, Len pointed out that at no time over the course of the week­end would you hear a tan­noy an­nounce­ment for parts for a TZR. They all know each other and are a tight but open group who love rac­ing, the more on the grid the merrier the event, thus no­body need­ing help goes want­ing. As evening fell I dis­ap­peared to my ho­tel, most of the YPM regulars have car­a­vans or beds in the back of Tran­sits. I wel­comed what was a fit­ful night full of ex­cite­ment, ap­pre­hen­sion and worry. Though mostly the for­mer! The fol­low­ing morn­ing I walked into garage 29 to find the #100 bike adorned with my name on the screen; I be­came rather over-ex­cited by this and maybe a lit­tle deliri­ous. This was po­ten­tially be­cause it’s a real nice touch, but more-so that this com­bined with my list­ing in the Bem­see pro­gramme as a racer meant this just got real, very real in­deed. By 9.50am I was geared up, Len had kicked and warmed-up the bike, the tyre warm­ers were off and I headed to the bot­tom of the Mel­bourne Loop. A quick noise test and I was away up to join the

na­tional cir­cuit rid­ing a TZR for the first time ever, and my God – how much fun is this bike? I knew it was go­ing to take some get­ting used to, drop be­low 8000 revs and you are out of the power and I would hate to count the num­ber of cor­ners I chugged out of in the wrong gear. But get it right and this 25-year-old chain-driven smoker can cane it round cor­ners quicker than a modern day sports tackle. In the higher revs they are prop­erly rapid, and it’s so light and to­tally flick­able! On my re­turn Len grabbed the bike, Gary handed me a bot­tle of water and I was ush­ered to a seat. It was like I was a full-fac­tory racer! Be­ing race day this free prac­tice was timed. Out of the 48 bikes that went out, which in­cluded the 250MZS, I was 37th in to­tal, 6th placed YPM rookie with an av­er­age speed of 72mph. My best lap-time was a 1:38.665 which was a line in the sand for me. I knew I could go faster and qual­i­fy­ing a cou­ple of hours later proved this as I upped my av­er­age speed to 75mph and took four sec­onds off, qual­i­fy­ing 29th on a grid of 33. With so much new to me I was not too dis­ap­pointed by this. Af­ter all, it’s a rel­a­tively new track; a very new bike to me and ac­tu­ally start­ing closer to the back gave me the space to over­come my next chal­lenge and what was to be­come my neme­sis: a pukka race start. It was not long be­fore we were lin­ing up on the grid for the first time, I can’t put into words the range of height­ened emo­tions I was feel­ing. We grouped first of all at the bot­tom of the Mel­bourne loop in grid for­ma­tion so you could see roughly who was in front and behind. Turn­ing to my right #86 Lu­cia Richard­son gave me a good luck smile and

of­fered a fist pump, and we were away up the loop to line up on the grid. We were then away for the warm-up lap and I was so ex­cited I missed a golden op­por­tu­nity for a proper prac­tice of a race start as the sweet roar of 32 two-strokes from yes­ter­year roared away. I caught up, gave my­self a talk­ing too and within 1.9 miles was back on the grid wait­ing for the red lights to go out. Then they did… I got off the line so slowly it was as if ev­ery­one else had done a jump start, but I was where I was and just dug in to do as well as I could. I was de­ter­mined to fin­ish and to not fin­ish last. I was back in con­tention by Redgate and jostling with #90 for the rest of the lap. I fi­nally got past and started to gain on my span­ner man Gary’s wife Denise who I could see was not too far away. My tar­get ac­quired I dug in, feel­ing like I was mak­ing re­ally good progress when five laps in the red flags came out, my fist pump­ing friend had lost the front at the Esses and the race was stopped and called as a re­sult. It was a shame that I didn’t take the che­quered flag first time out, but given the cir­cum­stance and know­ing ev­ery­one was okay meant it didn’t matter. I had fin­ished my first race, taken an­other sec­ond off of my lap-time, held 27th af­ter a poxy start and was buzzing like never be­fore. I got in, cracked a beer, smiled inanely and my fel­low YPM rac­ers ap­plauded me as if I had won! The pre­sen­ta­tion at the end of the day for race one is where I learnt that even though I was on the rental bike I was still in the run­ning for a rookie tro­phy. I had been 5th rookie in my first race, so to­mor­row not only was I chas­ing lap times I was chas­ing a pot. The pres­sure added slightly as the last per­son to ride the rental bike had got a third so it was all to play for. I was de­ter­mined to go home with that shiny plas­tic cup. The rac­ing the fol­low­ing day car­ried ev­ery bit the same ex­cite­ment as my first out­ing but with two very dif­fer­ent out­comes. A 4th placed rookie in the morn­ing con­tin­ued my pro­gres­sion and with a fastest lap of 1:29s I took a mas­sive boost of con­fi­dence in wip­ing a whop­ping nine sec­onds off of my lap time in 24 hours. The fi­nal race that fol­lowed was not as suc­cess­ful, some over-ex­u­ber­ance around Mcleans left me in the dust, stalled and wildly try­ing to un­hook the kick-start to try and catch the dis­ap­pear­ing pack. They had gone and I had the de­ci­sion to go straight back to the pits as a DNF, or keep go­ing and end up last. I went for the lat­ter. I was well and truly lapped at the end, the front run­ners thun­der­ing through which gave me the op­por­tu­nity to view the close rac­ing at the sharp-end first-hand. The truth is though, no matter what abil­ity you are there is a race for you, it’s a re­ally open spread of abil­ity within the YPM set-up. The club bike is also much more com­pet­i­tive than I made it look, given a lit­tle more track knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence I would have been more com­pet­i­tive. Get­ting off of the club bike for the last time af­ter race three was gen­uinely emo­tional. The past days rated as one of the great­est ex­pe­ri­ences I have ever had and I would urge you to give it a go. It’s a great race se­ries, a great bike and even bet­ter peo­ple. It’s in­jected the im­petu­ous to get my project bike fin­ished and race again this sea­son, maybe even take it a stage fur­ther and race a whole sea­son next year. I found my­self three days later still hold­ing on to the rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence by leav­ing my dog tags on. Sad that may seem, but this was an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence: real rac­ing with real rac­ers but on a re­al­is­ti­cally af­ford­able bud­get.

Fear con­cen­trates the mind won­der­fully.

ABOVE: Yours for £500 a meet­ing.

BE­LOW: It’s all ac­tion!

MAIN SHOT: look at our ‘Fast Berk’ go! Classy style, Char­lie!

RIGHT: An ex­cited Char­lie and his pit crew.


ABOVE: Chuckie needs to get un­der the bub­ble...

BE­LOW: Rac­ing: it’s emo­tional, but good fun!

TOP LEFT: Race done, tin­nies open!

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