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Shane - Superlite (#43)

NZSBK Round 3 @ Taupo

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In December I was going to do the Suzuki Series round at Hampton Downs then decide if I wanted to go on and have a stab at the NZSBK round in Taupo this year but, unfortunately, I got bowled by a nasty chest infection followed closely by weeks of neck pain so bad I blacked out at work. So my plan through to the end of March had been ruined but I decided I might as well have a go at the NZSBK round anyway.

At the AMCC round 4 meeting at Hampton Downs I'd run out of preload adjustment at the front and everything needed a general refresh anyway so I drove the bike down to New Plymouth and spent the day at Kiwi Suspension Solutions with Robert and Denis. They changed the fork springs and revalved them, stripped and rebuilt the rear with a couple of changes all aimed at covering me for the next few seconds a lap improvement.

At the AMCC round 5 the bike was significantly better but, because of the better control over the hydraulics the revalving had given, the estimated increase in spring rate meant they were now too heavy so the bike sat up at the front, didn't turn well and didn't turn on the brakes at all. For Taupo turning on the brakes is hugely important as there's 5 corners where you need to be able to do it otherwise you're going slowly.

Friday morning was horrible. I woke up in the middle of the night freaking out as I'd just clicked to the fact that there was a cut-off for qualifying. I ran the numbers in my head and even using relatively slow lap times I should make it with a few seconds to spare. That didn't help at all as I knew the fast guys do close to the same times no matter what the conditions (within reason) whereas the rest of us don't have the perfect suspension setup, tyre pressures for the full spread of temperatures, only have a single set of tyres to use for the entire weekend etc so conditions affect those of us further down the field far more than the fast guys. I went into full freak-out mode when the qualifying cut-off for MotoGP popped into my head (107%) and I started running the numbers using that one instead and my current PB wouldn't cut it at all. This sort of craziness filled my head for what seemed like hours, but I have no idea how long it actually went on for, so when my wife's alarm went off I was wide awake and fully wired.

After dropping her off at work I went to load up and had another panic attack when it became obvious I wasn't going to be able to get the car in to load up as the place where my bike lives is currently a building site. After freaking out for a bit I managed to walk the trailer out, then the bike, grabbed the chippie's wheel barrow for a bit and wheeled that out, full of stuff, a couple of times and eventually got things loaded up and ready to leave.

The plan was to head down to Taupo, get there around lunch time, get set up in the shed I was sharing with Nicki Smith, Jason Nairn and Dean Bentley, then get Robert Taylor to do the spring swap. Hopefully I'd be able to get out after that and do a few laps to see how it is but, unfortunately, it was only Robert at the track, Denis wisely opting to have a life instead. So, swapping the spring didn't happen until everything was all but finished for the day so my first ever session at an NZSBK meeting would be on suspension with some unknown characteristics.

Seeing as I wasn't going to be able to get any laps in I walked around being sociable. I shouldn't have been surprised but I still was at how many people I knew around the pits and had a great time catching up and chatting. If anything, just seeing so many faces I recognise was worth it.

Once I was signed in and the bike was scrutineered we got it set up for the next day and bailed to find some dinner. The choices were either dodgy Chinese or greasy KFC, with KFC winning out.

Motels always put a really thin, lightweight blanket or duvet on their beds and the dodgy old Camellia Court isn't any different so I grabbed an extra blanket and threw that on as it was going to be damn cold during the night, even for Taupo.

I crashed out quite early and ended up waking up at 4:15am, once again stressing out about the meeting but not as bad as the previous night; so I ended up reading a fair bit before climbing out of bed and heading for the track. As with the last couple of race days I'm totally over having McDonalds for breakfast so we stopped at a rather good bakery around the corner from the motel where I got a Chicken, Avocado and Mayo sandwich and a Bacon and Egg pie. The pie went straight down the front of my jacket cos there was a cold wind blowing and we headed for the track. When we got there I was really pleased to see the coffee guy was already brewing hot ones so I grabbed a Caramel Latte (I like hot, sweet, coffee-flavoured milk!!) and finished off my breakfast.

Skunk must've been lacking caffeine or something as he called for Riders Briefing to be in the freezing cold pit lane. I made sure I could hear clearly and paid close attention to the briefing as I was aware it'd be a bit different from the usual briefings at club days. Of particular note was the start sequence for the flags and lights. Because the first NZSBK meeting brought up all of the lights at once, instead of them lighting one at a time as usual, they were doing the same at each meeting to ensure continuity throughout the series. This was fine for those who had done the previous rounds but for me it was going to be different as Taupo was my only round. However, it seemed others weren't quite understanding the difference as people were asking what would happen if the lights failed during the starting sequence, e.g. if only some of them were lit up.

First session for Superlite is a practice, thankfully, as I have no idea if the change to the forks will work.

I let almost everyone go when they release us for practice and the bike feels a lot like a chopper; arse down and front raked out. However, as I work my way around the track that feeling fades as the tyres start to come up to temperature. Gradually I get faster and faster but the practice session is only 10 minutes so I only get 4 clear laps before the flag comes out.

A slow session but it's definitely feeling much better than it was. The steering is still heavy but I can now steer on the brakes and it's feeling good even though I wasn't up to a decent pace at all.

It's a long wait until Qualifying as there's 7 other classes, with the Superbikes and SuperSports having longer sessions than the other classes. This is a problem as the longer we're sitting around the more nervous I get. I know I'm well hydrated as I'm constantly heading to the loo but I keep drinking water to make sure; however, going to the loo a lot isn't helping my nerves and by the time I get on the bike my bladder feels like I need to make just one last trip. Unfortunately, it's far too late for that.

Heading out I'm well aware that usually there's a cut off of 115% but right there and then I can't for the life of me remember if that rule is in place for this meeting or not. There isn't a Clubmans class for those that don't make the cut off. So I decide that it must be in place and use it as motivation.

The bike still feels like a chopper but, as before, that feeling disappears after a couple of corners and I try to settle into a quickish pace. Picking up the pace, things don't feel quite right and I'm having a hard time of it. I'm busy trying to ride the bike as I always have done but it's just not responding as it should and I'm all over the place, missing apexes and generally having a hard time doing anything right. When I get back to the pits I'm annoyed and demoralised, and I'm told it was terrible to watch. I was actually getting worse throughout the session instead of better, as usually happens.

Looking at my times for Qualifying I'm not surprised that they're horrible but I'm glad to see I'm not last. I was, however, just over 3 seconds inside the 115% mark but I still qualified so that was one goal achieved for the weekend. I would've been really pissed off if I hadn't made the cut.

More sitting around waiting meant we got to watch the SuperSport and Superbike races and what great races they were!! Toby Summers pirated the SuperSport race in the last laps by going around the outside of John Ross at the A1GP corner. A ballsy move cos that's fast, slightly off camber and bumpy. In the Superbike race Nick Cole didn't get to the start grid in time and the race started while he was rolling up to the back of the grid. Of course he got a rolling start and managed to make up quite a few places before turn 1, more around the outside of turn 2 and was looking to take more places around the outside of turn 5 but he crashed. It ended up with Sloan Frost and Scott Moir riding away from the rest, with Scotty pushing Sloan hard but having to settle for second in the end.

For the first race the sun had been out for a while so I decided we'd up the tyre pressures a little to cope with the extra heat, the front getting 1lb and the rear getting 3lbs.

From the pits they let the 125GPs go first and held us for a short while before releasing us as well so that by the time I got around to the start grid the 125s were heading around turn 1. I remembered the start sequence was different but it was still a bit of a surprise when all of the lights came on at once. I hurriedly brought the revs up and started feeling for the edge of the clutch slipping. The lights didn't stay up for long but I was onto it and got a good launch, easily leaving Nigel Lennox on the line and passing Richard Markham-Barrett on the next row. However, Nigel has a good deal more horsepower and Richard is on a bored out NSR so they both came powering past me just before turn 1 as I knew they would.

Into turn 1 and the front end has absolutely no grip. It's feeling like a chopper with a 20 year old tyre and won't get around the corner at any decent speed. It's the same through the entire infield and I rapidly lose touch with the pack. On the second lap Richard Eltherington gets past me for a short while until I go around the outside of him at turn 8. By now the front is starting to get a bit of heat into it but it's still not up to temperature.

Lap 3 the front tyre still isn't quite hot enough but I'm pushing it hard, getting into the A1GP corner and giving it a big handful, but the rear is stickier than the front so it pushes wide, all the way out to the ripple strip and onto the grass. I sit up, take all weight off the bars and relax my arms as the bike tries to tie itself in knots over the bumps and holes in the grass. I was in 4th gear with the throttle pinned so I'm not going slowly. After a couple of major tank slappers I've bled off enough speed to point it back at the track and I have a look to see where Richard is. He appears to be having difficulty seeing through the huge dust cloud I've kicked up and I get back on the track in front of him. Going gently through turn 11, I'm sure the tyres will clean up down the straight but I take it easy through turns 12-14 anyway as I'm not fighting for places or points; I make sure things are ok.

Once I'm sure the tyres are clean I get it together and start pushing for some decent lap times, getting quicker and quicker, until my last couple of laps are 1.3 seconds faster than my qualifying time. I've lost valuable laps having to sort out suspension and even though I'm faster than my qualifying I'm still not down to my PB at Taupo, which was done chasing someone quicker rather than alone in this race.

Once I've sat down and chilled out a bit I wander off to find Robert Taylor and talk to him about how the bike's handling. We both agree that the options are to either remove some preload or lift the forks. I'm inclined towards removing some preload as that's an easy 1 minute job whereas lifting the forks through the triple clamps is a lot more involved, both to do it and to reverse or alter it again. Robert says to go too far and take out 4 turns, that way I can confirm that it's too far and can choose something in between. In the end I take 3.5 turns of preload out and head off to find some dinner.

I spend the evening blobbing out and end up reading for a while as I didn't want to go to bed too early otherwise I'd be awake at 1:00am. Crashing out just after 10:00pm I wake up at some stage feeling like I just had the best sleep ever and thinking it must be about 6:00am or so. Looking at my phone I find out it's only 1:15am. Unbelievable! So I read a little then try to get back to sleep and succeed in getting getting at least another couple of hours at some point.

Setting my alarm was a waste of time as I'm wide awake watching the time tick over until it goes off.

The previous day's breakfast was pretty good so we stop at the bakery again and get a Ham and Egg sandwich and Bacon and Egg pie while contemplating how well Pig and Chicken go together in the mornings. Again, the pie goes straight down the front of my jacket just cos it's so lovely and warm and it's great to see the Coffee guy is there when we arrive again.

At Riders Briefing, this time Skunk has sensibly moved it behind the pit sheds so we're sheltered. There's been a change to the start procedure. Now, when Dale clears the track the red flag will come out, it'll hold, be withdrawn, then the lights will come up, wait and go out. The change is so that the riders get some warning that the lights are about to come on and they should get sorted fast.

I wander off and find Robert Taylor again and we decide that I should use 1/4 turn less compression damping to match the lower preload, so I head back and sort that out.

Out in the Scrub session things immediately feel much better, with pretty much instant grip at the front so I up the pace and get exactly the behaviour I was expecting; grip straight away but as I speed up it's too soft. The front is feeling mushy and soft as it's now over damped for the springs. At the end of the Scrub session I add 1.5 turns of preload back in.

Sitting on the dummy grid for race 2 and they let the 125s go ahead of us again. But this time they hold us for a much longer time before releasing us. By the time I get through the final chicane the 125s have cleared turn 1. I get into my grid position and wait for the lights.

By the time the lights go out the 125s have cleared turn 5 so have almost half a lap head start on us.

The start is identical to the day before; I pass Nigel Lennox and Richard Markham-Barrett off the line only to have them catch me just before turn 1. I almost jump off the side of the bike as Nigel's triple back fires extremely loudly when he backs off and brakes. This time Richard doesn't get it as easy as he did the previous race but hangs on around the outside so he has the inside line at turn 2. The front still doesn't have as much grip but it's significantly better and I don't lose anywhere near as much ground as I did the previous race.

This time I've got a target - I'm after Grant Simons. For the first few laps he's pulling a few hundreds on me but I start to find out just how good the front end is now as using one finger trail braking into turn 7 it holds an extremely tight line. By lap 3 I've pushed my braking marker on the main straight back to after the 100m marker, riding the brakes all the way through the left and trailing them into the right, finding lots of speed that I can carry through the last left out onto the start/finish straight. Now I'm really starting to work hard to pull Grant back but I'm finding that I'm losing speed into turn 1. On the CBR I've never done turn 1 to my satisfaction and, unfortunately, every lap in this race is just as bad. Every time I'm on the brakes I get off the side of the bike preparing to turn it in, but getting off the side causes the bike to tighten its line until I'm in too early and have to scrub off more speed than I want.

Turn 1 is important because if you lose speed there you don't make it back up until after turn 5, so the gains I'm making elsewhere I'm losing at turn 1.

Onto the start finish straight and the white flag comes out. I'm sure it's a lap early so there must be a 125 catching me. Sure enough, into turn 4 Troy Guenther ducks under me and then out of turn 5 James Jarman powers up the inside.

I'm still chasing hard after Grant as Troy passes him, closely followed by James. Out onto the main straight for the last time and Grant takes a quick look behind him to see if there's anymore 125s. He takes a second brief look, closely followed by a third, very long look as he realises I'm charging after him.

Into turn 12 and I make up almost 80m through the 3 turns exiting just off Grant's back wheel. He's got a very tweaked ER650 so the best I can do is follow him across the line punching the air in disappointment and swearing a lot. On the cool down lap Grant looks like he's about to collapse from the effort but I'm wanting more.

As it turns out this was the end of the day because Alex MacDonald's and Tim Shephard's outfit threw a conrod causing a fire. After the restart (without Alex and Tim) there's a whole lot of oil on the track that wasn't dropped by them but has mysteriously appeared. The marshalls get busy cleaning it up but as I watch they seem to be spreading cement dust in more and more places. Eventually a van load of riders goes out and they have a look at the track. Once they get back in a riders meeting is called at which Nick Cole explains the situation.

At this stage Skunk does the right thing and declares the race meeting over, which is a good thing as I was winding up to argue against continuing based on: what Nick had told us; the fact that none of the group of riders that looked at the track will say yes it's safe, and also the number of different places I had seen marshalls working on the track.

I'm glad Skunk called it quits for the day as I was fully prepared to walk out if the meeting continued. I really didn't want my first NZSBK meeting to also be the first one I walk out of.

So it was an unexpectedly early day for everyone and all I heard was lots of moaning about the sidecars. I do feel a bit sorry for the sidecar crews as there's been a lot of hard work put in to clean things up over the last few years but, unfortunately, these things still keep happening. This is the second meeting this year where a sidecar has halted a meeting I'm racing in.

Once we're all packed and ready there's still a few Bourbons left in the cooler so I grab them and wander off to see which officials I can find. Hels, Monique/Dale, Clive and Skunk all get a thanks and a cold Bourbon before I hit the road.

So that was my first ever NZSBK meeting. I wasn't at all surprised at how fast it was on the track and when I was looking through the entry list for Superlite it was depressingly obvious that I was under powered compared to everyone else. What did surprise me was how much waiting around there was. All of the waiting just meant I got really bloody nervous, something I dealt with on Sunday by getting out of my leathers and relaxing in the stands while watching some racing. I knew fitness wasn't going to be a problem as I'm mentally stubborn and push myself through any pain, so I was wanting a lot more than 8 lap races, especially as I was starting to make good progress in the second race. I'd lowered my PB, but nowhere near as much as I was aiming to. I know I could've knocked another 1.5 seconds off. I'd accomplished the goal of not finishing last and not getting lapped (I'm not counting the two 125s that passed me because they had about a 40 second head start). I finally had a reason to try to go fast instead of getting out there and having fun.

All in all it was a great experience and I learnt a hell of a lot. I'm looking forward to doing it again next year and I'd highly recommend it to anyone racing at club level.

Thanks to
  • Cherie for helping out in the pits
  • Skunk, Clive, Leigh, Hels, Monique, Dale and all of the other volunteers, the VMCC, marshalls and ambulance crew that made for such a good weekend
  • Nicki and Frenchy, Deano and Nikki, Jason and Shayna for the cool shed
  • Robert and Dennis at KSS for the suspension work
  • Craig @ Grey Street Motors
  • Stefan @ DL Consulting
  • Tony, Diane, Boaz and Eve for looking after my bike


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