I didn’t know what to expect at the first round of the Bemsee MRO Powerbikes on my Kawasaki ZX10-R, at Brand Hatch. I hadn’t had much track time on the bike. After the dreadful weather at Cartagena in Spain, I decided to take the bike to Brands Hatch for a track day at the end of February; in preparation for the first event of the season. Unfortunately, it was a waste of time; the track day was cancelled due to bad weather and the ZX10-R never turned a wheel.
So, that was it, next time out for me would be the Friday practice before the race weekend; on a bike that I hadn’t pushed to any kind of limit. Well, we were greeted by a lovely sunny morning for a change, although it was very cold and the track was wet after some heavy rain from the previous day.
Hello blue sky, where have you been?
First session was on wets, so I just took it nice and easy to get the feel of the bike and it did feel great to back on it again; despite the conditions. The circuit soon started to dry out, so in went the slicks for the rest of the day. Now I could really start to push it. Well, the gearing was well off for a start and once that was sorted, I noticed that the brakes were not really feeling right – they worked, but felt a bit ‘spongy’ and I was lacking the feel I usually get when compared to my old ZX7-R. Anyway, I persevered with it thinking that was just the way the bike was. I was also having trouble getting the bike to turn. It required a lot of physical effort to stop it running wide. I was getting knackered really quickly. I felt like I was doing all the work! Time to stop and think; I really had to work out how to get this bike to do the work for me. Maxton suggested more rebound damping on the front and that started to work, but it was still wanting to run wide the faster I was going.
With one session to go, I was fairly happy with the ZX10-R for now, so I took the old ZX7-R out. I decided to take it along to race in another class – Thunderbike Ultra – just to give it a run, as it had been stored in the garage all winter. It was a real bugger to start and we had a lot of helpers pushing us up and down pitlane. It eventually burbled into life and once it warmed up the old girl settled down and started to sound a bit more like its old self again.
Round Clearways again on the ZX7-R – pure joy…until it packed up!
I was amazed at how quickly I adjusted to it. I guess we’ve formed a bond over the years that I’ve been riding it – it felt smashing and I was soon doing the same times as I had been doing on the ZX10-R. That made me think how much I needed to be done to improve the new bike.
First thing I noticed was the brakes, so much better on my old bike and how much quicker it turned compared to my new one. Anyway, I only managed 3 laps and it packed up! I thought it was petrol at first, but Dad said he’d put plenty in. We found out that it was the battery in the end, which was only putting out 10 volts and not holding the charge. Luckily, we had a spare, so once we installed it, the bike started much easier and the tick over sounded much better. Well that was the ZX7R sorted so I turned my attention back to the ZX10R. I had to sharpen it up to compete with the Powerbikes.
Some work had to be done to get the beast to turn and stop…
Although the rebound damping helped, I decided to change the geometry of the bike, to make it behave. This meant pushing the forks through the top yolks, hopefully to make it less of a handful for me by taking the strain off my arms and my back. Problem was, I wouldn’t be able to test until qualifying the next day. By the time we’d finished messing about with the bike, putting the wheels back in after A&R Racing had changed the tyres for me, it was quite late, so Mum whacked some food in the microwave for a much-needed meal before we turned in for the night. Saturday was looking good, weather-wise, and both bikes were ready with nice warm slicks, fuelled up and ready to go.
A cold start to the day meant it was blankets and warmers as the temperature continued to drop.
First qualifier was for the ZX7-R in the Thunderbike Ultra Class and it went well. The bike was going great and I managed pole position. I found out later that because the Thunderbike Extreme were mixed in with us, they would be starting at the front of the grid and my class (Thunderbikes Ultra) right behind them. Later in the day – Race 2 – we would be in front. I couldn’t really understand that as the slower riders were all in front of us. Anyway, it meant that I would be starting on the front row, set further back for race 1!
Top slot for the ZX7-R again…
So now it was time for the big bikes. The effort spent working on the bike the night before was well worth it, as the ZX10-R started to handle much better in and out of the corners. After a long, 19 lap qualifying session, I finished up well in 5th position and on the second row. It was better than I’d expected and the bike was running nicely and I started to click with it.
Exceeding my expectations, I was on the second row to qualify with the big guns...
The first race was for the ZX7-R and I was really looking forward to it, but starting behind a full grid of bikes again was going to be difficult. When the lights went out I just drove the bike right up the outside. I was nearly on the grass at one point, but I held firm and passed loads of riders round the outside at Paddock Hill. I kept the momentum going and hit 4th by the end of lap one. It was hectic start, but it put me in a good position to challenge for the win, so I relaxed a bit and picked off the other three lads in front one at a time. By lap 5 out of 10, I was in front and although the lad behind me put up a fight to stick with me, I eventually pulled away and won the race by quite a few seconds.
Ready to go on the Kawasaki ZX10R…we hope to be yellow next time out.
The Powerbikes race was next and I was bit nervous to be honest. There were some good machines with good lads out there and once again I just didn’t know what would happen or where I would end up. Anyway, it worked out that my race was over within the first few yards. I got a good jump off the lights only to be shocked into rolling off as Peter Baker seemed to falter in front of me. Next thing I knew, there were bikes flying past me. I ended up being pushed back to about 17th or 18th by the time I dropped into Paddock Hill. It was a disappointing start for me and although I recovered to 14th spot in this premiere class, it meant that I would be on the 6th row in 16th position for Sunday’s first race. Damn!
Well, I had one more race to go on the ZX7-R to cheer me up, but it was red-flagged after 3 laps because of a nasty crash at Clearways. Race Direction then deemed it too dark and unsafe to continue and the race was postponed until the next day; Sunday morning.
Riding out of the sunset… a gloomy end to the day on Saturday after a red flag incident ended the racing schedule.
I was beginning to get the feel of the ZX10-R now, but it meant putting in some late-night work to improve things further. The brakes were really bothering me and I wasn’t happy with them at all. Compared to my ZX7-R they were lacking any feel and I had to pull the lever right in to get anything out of them. We couldn’t solve the problem by bleeding them, so I decided to swap the complete brake system from one bike to another. I also put a quick-action throttle on the bike too, with new cables.
Another late night, we were certainly putting in the hours and after tucking in to Mum’s famous pasta it was lights out. We actually had a bit of a lie-in as racing doesn’t start until 10 o’clock on a Sunday; we all needed it. In the morning I took the ZX10-R out for the Warm-up to check the brakes and the throttle; everything felt spot on.
In the first race on Sunday the conditions were still damp after overnight rain. Not being one to shy away from a damp track on slicks, I took the gamble on a patchy, slowly drying circuit. After the warm-up lap I knew I’d made the right choice. Problem was, I was stuck on the 6th row! Anyhow, I just set off with another good start and passed about 5 riders pussy-footing about at the top of Paddock Hill. After that I started picking off the others until I got to 4th position. The bike felt so much better, I could really start to push it and with new rubber on I was getting plenty of grip. The three lads at the front were well ahead by the time I’d settled in and there was no chance of me catching them; our lap times were pretty much the same. So, with a decent gap between me and the rider behind, I just managed my pace to bring the bike home. It was just what I needed and my confidence was boosted with the bike now turning – holding its line – as well as getting the feel back in the front end with brakes that were working properly.
I missed the next two Thunderbike Ultra races on the ZX7-R as it started raining again and they were a bit too close to the next MRO Powerbike races.
I was really pleased that my efforts in the first race of the day on the ZX10-R and it had pushed me up the grid to 4th spot on the second row, but it was the showers during the day that had another effect on the outcome of race 3. The track was similar to the morning’s race, so we kept the slicks on the bike. Then it started to rain about ten minutes before the start. We quickly changed to wets but then it stopped and started to dry again as I was rolling on to my grid position. There were a lot more riders thinking the same as me too…we should have stuck with the dry tyres. It was an exciting race though, and I enjoyed a real battle up at the sharp end for about half the race, but in the end, I had to settle for 6th place with the wet tyres wearing out. My lap times were quite good though when I looked at the sheet after the race and that was encouraging.
I’m not disappointed at all with my results on the ZX10-R; it was a great weekend all round and I have learned such a lot about the bike in such a short space of time, which is what I wanted to do. It was also good to finish the weekend with the last race of the day grabbing another victory on my old Kawasaki ZX7-R. It was a lot of fun as I had to start from the back of the grid because I hadn’t run in the earlier races that day! Anyway, I passed most of the riders on the first lap to hit 4th position by the second lap, then continued pass the other riders to take the flag by just over 9 seconds.
My old pal and racing competitor from the Gixer Cup, Clint Walker and his son, Keo, who rides a Kawasaki 300 Ninja in the Team Green Juniors.
Overall, even though it was a tricky weekend with the weather being very cold and changeable, it was nice to finish on a high. I made some new friends at Bemsee and met up with some guys who used to race with me in the Suzuki GSXR 600 Cup many years ago. Nicky Wilson, who is racing in my class here in the Powerbikes on a Suzuki GSXR 1000 and Clint Walker, who travelled all the way from Fyfe in Scotland. He turned up with his son Keo who is competing in the ACU Team Green Juniors. It’s incredible how time flies by, I remember Clint’s wife being pregnant with Keo at the time back in the day. It was also good to catch up with Aiden Patmore who stopped by for a chat; he’s taking a break this year, which is a shame. I enjoyed competing against him in the one-off race at the GP circuit last year.
All packed up ready to go home… It was job done for me and the bikes!
What’s next then? Well I’m not going to race at Silverstone, I hate the place and it’s too expensive, so I may well be up at Snetterton for round 4…finances and time permitting… fingers crossed.
Thanks to everyone for helping me: The ZX10-R includes - Maxton Engineering, Cradley Kawasaki, OPIE Oils, R&G Racing and TA-Creative.
The ZX7-R includes: all the above and Wiseco Piston Inc. USA, Kais, Carrillo and Nova Transmissions.