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Racing with the Mono

  Racer Road Part Three

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I flew in to Florida (never been there before) on a Monday evening, straight into a whole bunch of Tornado's. It sounded just like someone parked thirty steam railway trains in the Motel Car park through the night, the next morning found a bunch of destroyed trailer parks and 14 people dead, it rather put everything in perspective.

The bike arrived at Daytona on the Tuesday and I had my first encounter with the Daytona Speedway stalag culture and the 'Heyous' (the Daytona Speedway Security 'police' seemed to be staffed by mostly nice, but  intrusive and seemingly quite simple, ex New York Cops, known to all as the 'Hey you's'). The bike could be delivered but I could not work on it till the next day, no-one was allowed in. I couldn't see any reason for this, the facility was almost empty, but they were not going to change their minds, I had never known anything like it. They also told me that I would have to be off the premises every night one hour after the final track session ended. Over the next 10 days I found there did not need to be a reason, just the simple exercise of power, because they could. Being a visitor, and intending to stay for a couple of weeks, I did not start the sort of war that would have been second nature had someone done something similar to me in Europe.

The next day, starting when a large column of cars was escorted onto the premises at 7.00 am.  I was there and, instead of practising, I finally opened the crate and spent the day building up my precious toy.  Club officials and bystanders were very helpful and very keen for me to enjoy myself, I got out for the last session of the day and nearly died of shock as I exited the infield and headed out on to the banking for the first time. Nothing in motorcycling can prepare you for your first couple of laps of a super speedway, I wobbled round on the apron, looking up at the banking and marvelling at people charging round flat out. Five laps in I got the courage to go up, it would be ten laps before I moved more than 5 foot up the slope. By the end of the next day I was getting the hang of things, but I will never get used to going flat out, parallel with the ground, looking up to see where I am going, its not natural!

The bike was very small, I had not ridden on a serious racetrack for over a year and I had never ridden on anything as competent as the Ducati. It stopped and turned like nothing I had ever ridden before, although I had heard it on the dyno nothing prepared me for the harsh howl the bike emitted driving off corners. Much, much more aggressive than the symphony you get from a V twin. It should be compulsory for every Ducati twin owner to hear Bordi's greatest creation, the Doppia Bielletta Supermono on a racetrack; seriously addictive.

Thursday I fitted the Anti hop clutch I had bought with me, a sponsorship package from the bikes original owner. The idea is to allow the clutch to lift, and disengage, when the rear wheel wants to turn faster than the engine in a closed throttle situation. The 'mono has a 5mm shorter main shaft than the Corsa's the clutch was designed for and we had machined down a few pieces so we could get the piece on. We didn't get it quite right and the clutch centre and the hub rubbed once the engine was hot, finding metal filings on my boot I soon took the clutch back off and reverted to standard.

On Race day it rained, the track seemed pretty slick to me, especially coming off the slow corners and the chicane onto the banking and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. The bike was at Daytona to win the AHRMA Supermono race with Cornwell on board, taking unnecessary risks did not seem very wise to me. Jeff Nash, a New Zealander living in Texas, (!) was US Supermono champion and went out to try his luck, he nearly destroyed his bike in a tumble exiting the chicane.

Having been warned about the excesses of AHRMA scrutineering, Sunday was spent checking the bike over and drilling it with more holes than a piece of gruyere. AHRMA and CCS do not seem to get on and to allow as much of the first AHRMA day as possible for practice, scrutineering (Tech Inspection) takes place several miles down the road on the Sunday. It is not as if there was not room for both organisations to share the paddock on the Sunday, but it all seemed in keeping with the official side of US racing that I was learning to know and love…. Without a van, operating 3000miles from home, having compulsory tech inspection three miles from the circuit garage all seemed a bit petty. Cornwells friends, who had driven down from Canada with his bikes, helped out with a trailer and a calming influence, very much needed when I was told to safety wire the watCorndog winnerer fittings as well. Unthinking, dogmatic, officialdom definitely brings out the worst in me.

Monday dawned bright and busy, John had flown in from an Ohlins streetbike testing Spain the previous night, he walked into the garage that morning with two of the most battered sets of leathers I have ever seen. We quickly discovered we were entered in the wrong class, F3 supermono, this was changed but we got a new race number ,39, and would have to start from the back of the grid, this latter piece of information did not particularly enthuse me. This was also John's first sight of the bike and, after adjusting the controls to his preference he was off round the track. I knew the Marchesini was en route but there was no sight of it yet, the 5.25 rim was on instead.

With John's higher corner speeds there was an understeer so the rear ride height went up, and kept going up. The seat and footrest combination was too close, I had ridden round the problem but if you want to go fast you need a motorcycle that is tailored to your every need, a thick seat pad was stuck on top of the standard one. Do not ask how rare a standard Ducati Supermono seat pad is, it makes hens teeth look common!, the gearing was dropped one tooth to allow the bike a better drive off the International Horseshoe. It was a tall little Supermono that went to the line on Tuesday.

I should have guessed I suppose that my little fantasy of winning at Daytona first time out would not be unopposed, especially in the AHRMA race, MuZ had sold one of their fast Renn-Skorpions to the previous years champion. Ex Suzuka podium man Calvin Rayborn III was riding the bike ridden to victory by Michael Barnes and many times New Zealand F3 champion Rodney O'Conner was there with his dad, New Zealand Ducati Importer Don. I looked at everyone's bikes and was confident that we had made enough little changes to give us a slight edge, a little more grunt off the corners; a better suspension set up; the only question now was whether John had done enough miles on the bike to feel comfortable pushing it to the limit.

We sent the bike out for the race, I was smiling outside, but a very large cold hand was inside my chest grabbing my guts, this was to be my first race as an entrant. John lined up on the back row of the grid (no timed qualifying here). The flag dropped and I discovered Cornwell was a particularly good starter, he passed half the grid in the 200-yd. drag up to turn 1.

The first lap was terrifying, the leaders came past and Jon was up to 4th, ahead of him O'Connor and Rayborn were trading paint, at one point Rayborn cut in front of O'Connor so close that Rodney later swore that their tyres touched. Cornwell then got past O'Connor (who was riding brilliantly despite his only having seen the track for the first time on the previous day…) and engaged Rayborn in a duel.

Despite nearly being nearly spat out of the saddle exiting the infield on the sixth lap, he found the better line round the banking (you follow the smallest radius you can on the banked portion of the track, but only after you have got the best possible drive out of the slow corner, be it infield or chicane exit). and put in a couple of quick laps to pull away to a brilliant victory.  Jon won by nearly three seconds from Rayborn and O'Conner, after nearly twenty years it was his first Daytona win. His fastest lap was a mid 2.02.5 (bear in mind that the AMA Pro Thunder race on the Sunday was won with 2.02 second laps).

Corndog winnerAs he handed the bike back, and as I struggled to keep my head on with the size of my grin, John told me that the 'grips are getting kinda large' we had vibration, bad vibration, through the handle bars.  We celebrated the win on Tuesday evening. Wednesday brought confusion, I had seen the main aim of the trip attained, and now we had a problem. The vibration was the motor, I did not have the level of spares available that I felt would allow a strip down and rebuild, I took off the head and barrel, nothing was obvious, then we dismantled the sides, again nothing obvious. I reluctantly decided that, with the main aim of the trip achieved, we would park the bike. The wheel finally arrived from Italy that night.

Two days later, while standing by the hot pit, in what I regard as the best compliment I have ever received in racing, the Buell race co-ordinator (who had not realised we had withdrawn) asked what lap times my 'Mono was getting in the Pro-Thunder practice. We were considered a threat!

                                                                               Neil Spalding

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