Charlie Oakman rents a TZR250 2MA and races!
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.
MAIN SHOT: look at our ‘Fast Berk’ go! Classy style, Charlie!
RIGHT: An excited Charlie and his pit crew.
Fear concentrates the mind wonderfully.
ABOVE: Yours for £500 a meeting.
BELOW: It’s all action!
ABOVE: Chuckie needs to get under the bubble...
BELOW: Racing: it’s emotional, but good fun!
TOP LEFT: Race done, tinnies open!