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Yellow Brick Road

  Mountains to climb.....

After Donington we needed a rest, and we got one from racing because of a fairly wacky schedule of meetings. Six weekends off, but that would be followed by three meetings in the ensuing four weeks. Elliott needed time to sort out his arm, we needed to do some commercial jobs to pay some of the bills. Over the next weekends we rebuilt the top end of the Donington Race engine (again), a trip to the dyno was also planned which confirmed that the two motors were nearly identical in power output (see 748 tech). We were going to start the three meeting sequence with fresh engines, both in the spares box and in the bike.

On the commercial front the work included a couple of really interesting jobs, a Ducati Supermono, taking it out to 102mm bore (572cc) and fitting different cams and Eproms, and a 996SPS for use in the Production TT .

Mondello beckoned, this was a bit of a swiz for a British championship meeting being 30 miles south west of Dublin in the Irish Republic. I am sure there are many who could make a political point out of this but I am far too delicate and sensitive to point out that Irish are welcome to become a part of the United Kingdom again if they wish to; but holding British Championship races seems a funny way to start the process (Just joking chaps, honest..).

Mondello is the only 'proper race' circuit in Ireland, the rest of the racing is on closed road circuits or converted airfields. We were told of the major improvements in the circuit in the last few years and the assistance we would get for the ferry crossing. At the risk of sounding like I am whinging again it still cost a bloody fortune to get there, and when we did get there it was not very impressive. Still being rebuilt there were no garages, distinctly iffy facilities and a track surface (and layout) rather like a motocross circuit that had been just tarred over – note, not smoothed and tarred over…….. Against this I have to say that the people were superb, nothing was too much trouble, nothing an irreconcilable problem, just superb.

It was as bumpy as we feared, not the best situation for a Ducati, Elliott called in and we changed springs front and rear, softer both ends, we also pulled off compression damping, anything to make the bike react quicker to the bumps and stay stable. The game as ever is to get the wheels following the track surface as closely as possible while retaining rider confidence.

We were getting there, backing off settings as we softened the setup always looking for a little more suppleness. We tried a little more off the preload settings at the back, and then it happened; Elliott crested the rise at the end of the fastest straight and nailed the brakes; the bike was obviously running a little lower than it had in each of the previous sessions and something bottomed. This is not a leaned over bottomed, it is a straight line brakes on bottom, the bike simply swapped ends and Elliott and the bike went tumbling into the gravel.

Mondello had, as usual, a slightly different view on how things should be done, the gravel had obviously been a job lot from the local beach, no fine, sized, gentle Gravel for the Irish. Oh No, we put a bike into a bed of gravel lumps 50 mm (2inches to you imperial types) diameter, still going over 80 mph. This was not cool. It took four hours of hard work to put the thing back together, check the inlets, get the gravel out of the airbox, take the heads off (just to make sure….),new body panels, new footrests, seat the lot. The most amazing thing was that there was no apparent damage to the structure of the bike, dead straight, but the cosmetics looked like someone had hit it with a shotgun blast!

There were to be two scoring rounds at Mondello, the weather had become really changeable and it was obvious that we were going to have a far tougher problem than we had thought. Elliott had qualified in fourth place in our class; ninth when you took the unlimited bikes into account. In the first race the track was wet and Elliott clawed his way up to fourth from a fairly cautious start. In the second the track started dry and Elliott was really going for it up in third place when the heavens opened, after the clerk of the course waited for a couple of people to fall off the race was stopped and a restart called, in the pouring rain. In the midst of a titanic four bike squabble Elliott held his place and the team had its first podium finish; a third place.

The next weekend was the British Superbike meeting at Silverstone, our first in conjunction with the major British series, these race meetings were three day affairs and in conjunction with the Dublin trip we were very short of time ie arrive home Monday midnight and leave Thursday morning.

Rather than service the motor we decide it would share the load better if we swapped engines again, Friday morning at Silverstone was hard work. The circuit at Silverstone is not the famed Car F1 GP circuit but an abbreviated version using the start - finish area and weaving across the infield, with full car FI facilities the contrast with Mondello could not have been greater. One of the downsides to using what is primarily a car facility was the rumble strips on the outside of the corners, rubber mats were placed over these in an effort to make things safer but it was a glaring example of the differences in car and motorcycle circuit design.

SilverstoneElliot qualified well but had trouble improving on the times set in his first session and started the race off the fourth row, sixth 600 class bike. 'The mixed races are confusing, we signal on the basis of the 600 classification, so it is quite possible to go through a race being told you are fifth or sixth, and ten seconds behind your leading group and there is another bike just in front of you. It happened in the race, I overtook Simon 'Ronnie' Smith, (the Performance Bikes Test Rider) on his Yamaha R1 two laps from the end and it simply did not count.' said Elliot.

Elliott had a good race setting a personal best time of 1.30.769, half a second faster than his practice best. He finished sixth in class and fourteenth overall; his best time was equal to the twelfth place finisher in the National Supersport race, a class that allows considerably more modification to the machine. This moved us up to to sixth in the championship. Again we felt we were not getting the best opportunities because all the 600 class runners in front of us were also competing in the Supersport race, gaining valuable additional 'Rider time ontrack' as a result.

The next race in this intense little period was the support race for the British Motorcycle Grand prix. At first sight this is quite an honour, then you realise that in the UK the Grand Prix is really not that important, Superbikes rule in the UK.

Grand Prix ticketThe Dorna show takes up the whole paddock at Donington, mostly mobile hospitality (or hostility suites as the paddock wags put it) suites and a few teams out of the garages. We were put in an fenced off but very unsecure area outside the normal paddock, where they have the Sunday market actually. To add insult to injury we were then issued with tickets denying us access to the GP paddock, even for the purpose of getting to pit lane for race and practice!. This turned an easy walk into a complete farce, people having to either walk over a mile with spare wheels or balance on top of a retaining wall for 100 yards at the Redgate corner. I will not spend my money on another meeting that is run on this basis, it is an insult. (anybody thinking about supporting a GP meeting anywhere else in the world should keep this little twist in mind.

As a race meeting for us it was one to forget. Elliott had arm pump up problems again, the slow sections around the circuit making for real problems, Elliott lost three places in the last two laps; purely down to the arm. We got a tenth, a big bump down.

                                       Neil Spalding

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