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Yellow Brick Road

  1999 - The Racing Begins

We travel to Cadwell in mid March to start the season, initial testing has gone well, but we have not come up against any major competitors. The Paddock at Cadwell is a bit of a shock, I have effectively been away from UK racing for three years, I had kind of hoped that power and water would be available by now, no chance.  A little bit more black top in the paddock though so maybe I should be grateful for small mercies.

When we decided to race a 748 it was because it is very unusual in this country (we are 'it'). It is also because we knew we could make sensible, reliable power, and because it would be good fun to see what we could do with a five-year-old design and a fifteen-year-old motor against all the new Japanese 600's.  Given that we cannot fiddle with the motor, (well, we can do the squish and play with the re-programmable EPROM) we have just to make sure it is always as perfect as possible, this means we have developed a fairly punishing maintenance schedule.

The team's skills were always going to be in getting the best chassis set-up we can, within the Sport Production series' fairly generous rules on this, almost as free as World Supersport, we have quite a lot of room to manoeuvre. Most of the people on the team are from classes where there are no rules (Supermono and the Grand Prix) - the 748's multi adjustable suspension and chassis means we can genuinely do something to keep everyone interested, even in a proddie class.

The search for the correct chassis set-up has taken a while; there is no doubt that when it came to raceday at Cadwell we were behind our opposition, 3 seconds per lap, way too much. The fact that the race was run in horrible wet and windy conditions (if I may be so bold, pretty standard Lincolnshire weather in bloody March—Why are we running a first meeting there?), covered up our problems.  We had hopes of a top six finish, Elliott qualified seventh, but we knew it was not right yet.

We stood in the pouring rain down by the Cadwell start line (very possibly the most horrible place on earth) watching the bikes come by, Elliot got up to fourth then suffered a badly misting visor. Although he stayed out looking for points (he couldn't see anything else!) he finally missed an Apex and planted the bike into the dirt out at Park corner. Sopping wet, totally depressed and severely pissed off we all trudged back to the van.  On the way home the decision to make some radical changes to the suspension before the next round came fairly easily.

The two - week period between Cadwell and Mallory was hard work; we stripped and rebuilt the whole bike. A couple of inlet rockers had failed; the chrome had worn off. We think because of low oil temperatures (a lot of our practice had been in very low temperatures, i.e. zero or thereabouts) and while we taped up the water radiator we had not taped up the oil rad.  It does not take much to starve the top end of oil in a Ducati Quattrovalvole; the mono did something similar last year at Daytona.

In the week running up to Mallory there were several 1.00 am nights for three of us (if you also work for a living, the race preparation has to happen in the evenings).  We arrived at Mallory a little nervous with the changes we had made and worried that the prescribed single half hour of practice was unlikely to be very helpful. Indeed the input from Elliot was that the bike would not hold its line through Gerrards and was hopping and chattering. We decided to make a few more changes, acutely conscious that we would have only a sighting lap to try them out before the race.

This is the first time I have been to the Mallory 'Race of the Year' since Stevie Baker blitzed everyone over 20 years ago, it was singularly unimpressive.  It seemed half the production field entered the Race of the Year merely as additional practice, if I had realised how third rate the meeting was going to be before turning up I would have done so as well, we certainly could have done with the track time.

Elliot got an amazing fifth, should have been a fourth, but his forearm finished the race twice the size it had been before the day started and he lost out a place in the 'bus stop' chicane in the last lap.  The times were getting better, the last minute changes really worked.  He could hold a lot more speed in the latter half of Gerald's (a bumpy 190 degree, 200 yd radius, loop) by which time your typical suspension, even on a race bike, has packed down and is not providing the travel needed to ride the final bumps. Feeling more confident with the set up we decided to throw everything at getting ready for Donington.

                     Neil Spalding

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