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Yellow Brick Road

  Donington & The Big Time

We had discussed the possibility of a spare engine to make sure we could get through the year just in case we had a big problem, especially when we had two meetings in quick succession. The belated , and highly contentious, announcement of an endurance race for the class at Donington to replace the 12 lap round we were originally going to have on the World Superbike raceday crystallised the need for the extra motor.  The subsequent change of plans, just three weeks before the meeting, by the organisers reducing the 'Endurance race' to two 20 lapper's did not really change the requirement. We had promised all those that supported us that we would run in the Superbike meeting, so we were going to.

This meant that we would be asking the engine to do three half hour practices, a warm up and a 15 lap race in the World Superbike meeting and then two half hour practices, closely followed by two 20 lap races for the British Championship on the Monday. This would be around 400 miles absolutely flat out; a lot of track time, but it would allow us to concentrate on the chassis. We just had to keep the bike in one piece. If nothing else Elliott would know his way round Donington by the end of the meeting…

We decided that there were two places on Donington's GP circuit where we would lose out because of lack of power, up the hill to Macleans from the Old Hairpin and out on to the straight from Coppice. Both require large handfuls of throttle while the bike is completely on its side, the chassis position that interested us most was therefore the full throttle, leaned over one.

We spent two weekends prepping the no2 engine, a lot of work and a big investment, but worthwhile and a valuable resource for the rest of the year. The engine was put in to the chassis the week before, (you can change engines in three hours in a road Ducati if you have three people and a few beers around the place) and run in on the dyno on the Saturday. The rest of the running in was done after another pre-dawn trip to Donington, this time to one of Roger Burnetts KRC trackdays.

I have to say that if track days had been around when I started racing I would probably never have progressed, all I have ever really wanted is somewhere to ride fast, safely. Burnett's event was notable for the common sense organisation and care taken with first time riders (and no I did not get a discount for saying something nice…). By the end of the day Elliot was going very well, easily the fastest bike out there, and had improved on the Mallory suspension and chassis settings. We got home at 10.00pm after calling in at QB Carbon for some more bodywork.

The SBK bit of the weekend was an extension of the test day really; this was the inaugural European SuperStock race, open to Production bikes of all sizes and run at all of World Superbikes European dates.

It was really nice to be back in a well ordered, properly supported, paddock.  We did three half hour practice sessions, added to the practice day, that made the engine due for its first major seeing to, the logic was to use the SBK race as a bed in for the very concentrated British championship races on the Monday. Elliot did the Saturday 'first thing in the morning' practice and, after a good 'ole British fry up we pulled the bike apart for a very major service.  Suspension, brakes, valve seats, valve clearances, belt tensions, the lot. We would not have time to change the engine during the next day so the strip down and preparation was very reminiscent of the Saturday before the Daytona 200, and for the same reason. We needed all the power we could get and it had to be reliable.

We run the airfilters, we have to, but the inlet valve seats still look like they have done 5,00 miles every time we look at them, they do this every time. The schedule is therefore a complete top end strip, valve seat lap and clearance check every three hours of running, we are hoping not to have to strip the bottom end until 1000 miles, say 12 hours. The bike was getting better, we had got some good lines on the fast bits, we were amongst the fastest up the hill to Macleans, where we had achieved a good balance of power and chassis set up, but needed a lot of work in the slower bits.

Elliot dropped 5 seconds off his lap times during the whole weekend and in the course of the Superbike event clocked a best of 1- 43.7 per lap, Elliot finished in thirteenth position, fourth 600 class bike.  His arm ballooned again, he went off the pace as it got bigger and he lost the feel in his hands. We had a problem, one I had definitely not anticipated.  Elliott was bundled off to Dr Costas Clinica Mobile for an extended massage session as we tried to think of ways of making things easier for him, how could we improve the way we were set up?

The Monday of the weekend included the British Sport Production ACU Star Endurance Cup, two 20 lap races of Donington, practice went well, as did a new strict regime of massage and warm up on Elliot's arm, changes to the handlebar and brakes.  Costa's doctors had told Elliot he had Carpal Tunnel syndrome and he would need an operation, now we need some decent surgeons as well.  I am not comfortable with asking people to have an operation, so it is up to Elliot to get second opinions and decide what to do. In the mean time changes to the fit of his leathers and body armour (it is amazing what a traffic cone will do when correctly applied!), and a big ice pack , in a regular hour on, hour off system, were helping. Practice saw Elliott improving on his previous days race time and further, now very small changes, to the chassis.

Race one resulted in a storming fifth place after a last lap tussle with Jamie Morley and a fastest lap of 1-43.01. Our power was cut off in the paddock (if you want frustration I recommend you try to run a race team from a truck in the middle of a paddock being stripped of everything the day after the big race!) and we did not notice till it was too late to pre warm the tyres. Elliot had it a bit hairy for the first lap. He got stuck behind a few slower guys for a while, but once past all he could do was chase Morley; the leaders had got too far away. To put this in perspective, Morley, on a very fast GSX-R600, had won the first two rounds of the British championship.  Best of all Elliot's arm was still working and had not at all swollen. We were given the honour of being dyno tested by the tech inspection team after the race; the rev limiter was very definitely present!

A ninety minute turn around saw the brakes bled, calipers cleaned out, tyres changed, oil level checked and Troy Corser's paddock party gate crashed in the search for power for the tyre warmers. Thanks Troy!

The second race however was different, warmed up tyres, and warmers back on for the grid, gave more confidence.   Elliot got going with the lead group and diced with new Castrol Honda signing James Ellison and eventual fastest lap man Gus Scott before settling for a well raced sixth place and a personal best of 1- 42.01 for a lap, a full 5 second improvement on the weekend. Elliot was really grinning 'I really tried off the line and did not get stuck this time, I think quite a few people were surprised to see us up there, the tyre went off after about fifteen laps, I just couldn't make a final push in the last few laps'. Elliot's arm was till Ok, the bikes tyres looked superb, the brakes still worked and the engine still made good power. It was time for home, we were all very tired.

What we achieved over the Donington weekend was being what looked like the fastest motorcycle in our class up the hill and a competitive one out onto the straight, we also had steady handling down Craner Curves, the fastest left /right flick in racing. The rider is using the full width of the track, drifting sideways, while using as much throttle as possible, pretty much flat out. We have concentrated on giving the rider the best bike we can, it is up to him to use it well. There is very little difference between what we are doing and what the works Superbike team does, they merely have more money, more adjustments and more time, we are up against the latest the Japanese 600's and we are staring to make some headway.  We are in a bit of a sweet spot at the moment, and I am sure we will do something that destroys the balance soon! Roll on Mondello Park….

                                                                       Neil Spalding

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