The bike rolled out of the van resplendent in
naked carbon fire bodywork. Without waiting for ceremonies we pulled at the connections; lovely bits abounded, wonderful 'over the butterfly' injectors with massive 54mm throttle bodies;
uncovered belt drives, and as icing on the cake, an anti-hop clutch.
We had done a good job in the last two years, Daytona and Donington on the Supermono. The
proddie 748 in 1999 (with no mechanical DNF's). We learned a lot, specifically about how very minor changes in engine and chassis set up could make a major difference to the way the bike
works, on road or on track. Our reward was to be one of three teams allowed to run the new Ducati 748RS00 in the British Supersport championship.
Next we needed a rider, we wanted someone who had the potential to win races, but we were
(are) broke. Acknowledged race winners in British Supersport command salaries of between £20,000 and £60,000; our entire race budget was going to be less than £25,000, so we
needed a rider that needed us as much as we needed him. Enter Paul Jones; one of motorcycling's mercurial genius', with a developing reputation as a crasher (but only in
the right places, Grand Prix and things like that).
Paul has had a stellar career, when I went to the first round of the British
championship at Brands Hatch two years ago to seal the deal for Callum Ramsay to ride our Supermono at the British Superbike round Callum scored a great second place in the 250 race. That race
was won by an unknown 17 year old on a top flight Aprilia 250, the lap record set then still stands as this is written, two years on that youngster was to be our rider. Two years of being misunderstood
had left Paul with a battered body but with terrific self-belief and ability. Two years on 250's had given him a
reputation for crashing, but also for incredible speed on 'the right day'. We still needed a budget, but Paul has some supporters who wanted to see him move into the bigger bikes. A
budget for the first four rounds was calculated, we were on our way.
First things first the engines had to be prepped, (we had bought a second engine to allow us to
service one engine midweek while allowing a fresh one for raceday) we also had to fit the 'new' inlet cams that came with each engine. The plan was to maintain our 200 mile servicing
of cylinder heads and to spread the mileage. The new cams were Ducatis answer to the 300mile engine life the works teams had experienced during testing (inlet valves were
dropping into the motor with boring regularity). I do not know where the cams came from but they seem similar to the 431's we used in the mono, and they were rusty out of the packet;
something obviously hadn't gone to plan. These cams have 4 degrees less duration, this meant the year 2000 748 was going to start the year with one hand tied behind its back.
A new Eprom came a few weeks later and a promise of further ones as the works test team
got used to the new engine. Porting was checked and rough edges smoothed, the whole engine was blueprinted and where allowed by Supersport regulations, things were SuPerTeched, this is a process that removes the rough surface from finished metal parts, giving a better surface for oil to protect and soaking up less horsepower into the bargain.
Although some parts had been clearly just thrown together (we got a fax advising us to check all the oil ways in the crankshaft were present not long after we finished the first engine, I
mean, you do rather expect things like that to be, well, just there don't you?). We ran the engine in on the dyno, two hours of stupifying boredom, and set off to give Paul his baptism of
four stroke fire.
Three test days followed, two at Donington and one at a wet and blustery Brands Hatch. Paul
took to the bike like the proverbial duck to water, no complaints about weight, we moved the bike around for Paul, not telling him what we were doing but getting his descriptions of the way
the changes felt, developing a dictionary of terms if you like. It all started going quite well, Jamie Morley, one of the stars of the previous years Sport Production series, turned up at the
second Donington riding the previous years Supersport championship winning bike, Paul matched him on most of the circuit and caught up with him through the 'Old hairpin to Macleans section'.
We trundled off to a preseason meeting at Mallory to put the bike through its paces in a few small
races. A full days practice with only a couple of Superbike teams in attendance. Paul started well, circulating with the Sanyo Honda's of Chris Vermuelen and Glenn Richards and Castrol Hondas new
signing, ex GP regular Kirk McCarthy. Towards the end of the day the handling just kept getting worse, there were no obvious reason but Paul was complaining of an increasingly violent tank
slapper coming out of the surface depressions that characterise Mallory Parks two 'straights'. Paul ended up going round only 2 seconds a lap slower than the
Honda works teams with only 16psi in the rear tyre, a pinhole in the rubber meant that the tyre had been imperceptibly going down all afternoon. A new tyre and a careful reset of the
suspension got the bike going well.
We used the meeting to try out our 'new for 2000' sequence of changing the engine after
practice and before raceday, the initial stab was just over two hours. From that attempt though there were a number of changes made to wiring and fuel line routings. We needed to
be quicker to make sure we could change an engine after our second visit to the park ferme at a British Championship meeting and the usual noise curfew at six in the evening. You need to
know the engine will run before you knock off for the evening, there is no time to fix it the next morning if you get it wrong.
The race meeting went well enough, Paul circulating in the top six. When Paul had room he
really flew but in accordance with our plan did not put himself deliberately in any situations where he could get knocked off. Nevertheless one of his contemporaries, who had already
spent a year on four strokes in the Supersport class couldn't handle the sight of Paul disappearing ahead of him and tried to outbrake not only Paul but the guy behind as well at the
notoriously difficult dead stop Mallory Hairpin. All three went down, christening Paul's leathers and our new bike as well. Bike and rider were out again later in the day to ensure all was well
before the trip to Brands for the first championship meeting the next weekend. We were all feeling quite bullish, it was to be an error.