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Racing with the Mono

  Racer Road Part Five

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Roads around Europe

With Donington gone we had to decide on the rest of the year's plans. Brands Hatch SBK Supermono had to happen, it is our home track, Callum said he was up for it, the final round at Assen might also be a goer, but it was difficult to see where else because of my duties as Co-ordinator of the series.  As it happened we had a major shortfall in the number of entrants for the Supermono class in, of all places, Italy.  Monza was not well supported and Misano in late June was looking like a disaster.  I decided that I could add my bike to the entry list and perhaps put to bed a niggling little irritation from my own past.

Neil SpaldingIn 1994 Alan Cathcart ran a series of meetings for Supermono's at Superbike meetings, done the hard way with permission from Flammini but no organisational support. Alan arranged for six races at different Superbike meetings, the first was at Donington, where the time cutoff was not exercised and I managed to be allowed to start just over 12% behind pole, I learned more at that single meeting than in the previous two years,  the second was at Misano, I wanted to ride the place, that the only way I could do it was at a World Superbike meeting was neither here nor there as far as I was concerned.

Knowing that this would put me on my limit, my bike joined those of six  other Supermonisti on a truck heading south. We practised hard but nothing had prepared me for Misano's unfolding left handed / main straight sequence.   Four corners lead out onto the main straight, a very slow 90 degree turn, followed by a 70 degree out onto the straight (need to short shift as you go in and use the change in the circumference of the tyre to keep the revs up) then a faster 40 degree version and finally 100 foot before the final corner a full throttle shift to fifth followed by putting the bike onto ones left kneecap for the last 20 degree kink, AAAAArgh! And people do this flat out on Superbikes?

I did not qualify, missing the cut by 2%.  I was resigned to it, all I had wanted to do was ride the circuit, and learn some more but I would never forget the look of complete confusion on the face of the MCN reporter when he asked why I had not qualified. I told him ' because I did not ride fast enough', years of exposure to the super stars had obviously not trained him for such a response.

June 1999 arrived, I was sitting in the paddock at Misano and about to go out onto the track.  The officials, the press and trade support people I had got to know over the previous three years had shaken their heads with disbelief as I took the bike through technical inspection. Because this was Italy I had fitted the Termignoni, no way was I going to get chucked out here for having a too noisy Ducati!  It was two years since I had entered a SBK Supermono race and other than the laps at Daytona running in the bike in February, the first time I had ridden a race bike for the same period of time. I was pretty rusty. I was by myself on the mechanical front, not the best way to maintain a racer, but I did not mind, I was having fun. We had set the bike up with slightly stiffer fork springs than Callum, (but with the heaviest spring we owned on the back!) and gearing two teeth less than Alan Cathcart's recommendation on the back (no point in wearing out the engine!). The big news after first practice was I WAS'NT SLOWEST.

As the practice went on I got better and increasingly confident, the 'mono held lines I would have previously found impossible, the sequence out onto the main straight got easier and I got my knee on the ground, flat out in sixth through the last kink. We fitted even harder springs, that felt good, it was the bikes ability to let me feel confident that was allowing me to hold corner speed and maintain the pressure on the rear spring.  It was also a clear message that I was riding the thing properly, I qualified, within 9% of pole, given that pole was held by fast lady Katja Poensgen on the 90hp BMR Suzuki I was very happy!  Honour was re-established, the ghost was gone, even with a two year break this motorcycle was good enough to get a tubby 42 year old Banker within a 10% cut-off for a European championship race, not just a rocket but a good handling, stable and confidence instilling one at that. It is impossible to really summarize the advantage a racer gets from a bike that doesn't misbehave, yes racers want bikes that tip into corners quickly, but all the suspension effort is to get a bike that doesn't pitch forwards and backwards as you brake and accelerate and which provide balanced and accurate steering in fast corners. For the first time in my life I was riding something really, really good, as Cook Neilsen had once said, 'plucking the Stradivarius string'.

The race was over quite quickly, I botched the start and ended up behind the worst of all options, a bike quicker than me in a straight line, but slower on the corners, two years off the race tracks had not turned me into a hero.   Two laps into the race he went on the grass and kicked up a ton of gravel. I felt my bike hiccup, and continue, then at the second corner it died completely, race over. I did not mind, given the qualifying times, but it would have been nice………

The engine had eaten a stone, thrown up by my erstwhile competitor, a minor preparation oversight had left the HT lead slightly out, it is normal for the front tyre to hit a Supermono cylinder head, and fierce braking had allowed my own front tyre to cut the HT lead in half.  The piston and rod were replaced after this hiccup.  The barrell was replated (the piston had tilted when the engine swallowed a rock, and marked the bore), I am sure these parts were not badly damaged but there were further places yet for the Sigma Ducati to distinguish itself, I did not want to take any risks with those opportunities.

                                                                                 Neil Spalding

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