Racing news

READY, SET, GO GET WET!

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The forecast was for a very wet and windy weekend, and for once – unfortunately – the weather forecast got it right. Having had so much wet practice in Cartagena earlier in the year and at Donington Park last month on the ZX10-R, I thought I’d be pretty much set up to take the fight on for the second spot at the Brands Hatch GP Circuit in the last round of Bemsee’s Reactive Parts MRO Powerbikes Championship.


Well, I had all day on Friday to practice in the wet on the short Indy track so I wasn’t too bothered. It didn’t stop all day, and at times it was like riding through a ford, especially at the bottom of Paddock Hill, and at Graham Hill Bend the water was running down the approach to it like a river.

 

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Taking no chances, I decided to run with the old fairing over the wet weekend…


Anyway, to start with we had a few problems with tyres. I had a couple of good Dunlop rears from the old ZX7-R left over from last year, so I decided to swap one of them after the first session for the very worn Pirelli that was already on the bike. We had to run through the pouring rain with the rear wheels to the paddock for A&R to change the tyre, which they did really quickly. When I went out in the second session the bike didn’t feel right. It was shaking from side to side when I put the power on. The handlebars were shaking wildly the faster I went; the bike was unrideable, so I came in after only one lap. Scratching our heads, we decided that it must be the tyre… as that was the only thing we had changed.

 

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The ZX10-R was a right handful shaking its head from side to side…it was saying. “NO!”


Me and Dad discussed what we should do and decided that the Dunlop rear might not be compatible with the Pirelli front. Anyway, with valuable track time running out I decided on splashing out on a new Pirelli. It was a bit sickening having to pay £200 for a tyre when I had good Dunlops in the back of the van! With the tyre changed the bike felt better, no shaking. I changed a few things to get the best I could out of it without sliding off, but I was still struggling with grip in the corners and not going as quick as some of the other lads. Anyway, I felt pretty good about Saturday’s qualifying on the longer GP circuit which, according to the weather forecast, was going to be just as wet and after a night of constant rain drumming on the roof of the caravan, it was!

 

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Saturday was no different, but it did start to dry out a bit for our race…

 

Saturday, I woke up to just light rain, so at least the track was just wet and wasn’t the running river like the day before. After a few laps to familiarise myself with the longer track I decided to push on, but I was getting stuck in a bit of traffic and as my pit board was giving grid positions back on the 4th row, I thought, “I can’t have this,” so I dropped back to give myself a good run on the final lap and shot up to P4 with a 1:48.3 lap. Glenn Walsh was on pole, and on form, with a 1:45… he was clearly confident on a wet track and would want some beating with a time like that.

 

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A late push in qualifying bumped me up to the second row…


A little later, I was surprised to see the rain easing off and it eventually stopped about mid-morning. Our race was number 4 on the list and after so many crashes and stoppages to delay us the track was beginning to dry out. I said to Dad that it was time to get the warmers on the slicks to be ready, just in case. Well, I left it as late as I could and when I saw Clearways drying out I made my choice. I don’t think me and Dad have ever changed the wheels so quickly, even though Dad forgot to put the spacer in the rear wheel we still managed it ¬– with Mum getting stuck in as well – in about 5 minutes. When I got out on the start line there was only one other rider on slicks, everyone else was looking at me like I was insane! After the warm up lap, I felt like I might’ve got it wrong, it wasn’t as dry as I thought it would be having listened to the riders who had been out in the race before. Anyway, I’d made my choice – there was no going back. Inters would’ve been perfect and a few of the other lads had gone for that option. The rest were on wets or a combination of both.
I got off to a fairly decent start, with Mark Bridger, but when I got to Graham Hill Bend – not an easy corner at the best of times – I had to really go easy and it was there I lost time and the riders on wets and inters came past me. I could recover everywhere else and get them back throughout the rest of the lap, then I’d be passed again slowing up for Graham Hill. After a few laps the tyre started to get nice and warm and towards the end of the race I was going just as fast as the lads in front. On the last lap I was catching them, if only I had another couple of laps to go I would have caught them up. It was a gamble that only paid off at the end, but it was good fun and I finished in 6th place, which put me on P3 for Sunday’s races.


On Sunday morning it had started raining again and it was heavy. Just to make things more awkward, the warm-up session was cancelled due to the amount of time lost on Saturday with all the accidents and very long delays. So, the later races from Saturday were pushed over to Sunday morning instead. It was bit annoying because I wanted to try out a different suspension setting for the wet track. Anyway, I decided not to change anything for the first race of the day. The problem I was having with the Pirellis was the fact that they didn’t really warm up until about halfway through the race, and with only 10 laps you lose so much time waiting for them to heat up. I usually put the warmers on Pirellis for about 15 minutes before I go out, but by the time we got started on the warm up lap they were cold again. In fact, I went completely sideways and nearly ended up in the gravel at Paddock on the warm-up lap! Not good for confidence. With the rain still coming down I got away fairly well and stuck it out for the first few laps with the bike moving around quite a lot to begin with, but once again I was much faster toward the end, setting a good time to put me P4 for the last race of the day, which was another gamble.

I had a rethink about the tyres and decided to put on the Dunlop tyres that I had in the van; both front and rear for the last race. The reason was that when one of the guys at A&R, who was changing the rear tyre earlier, had noticed some friction marks on the rear brake disc, like it had been grabbing on and off. Dad told me that he’d had trouble with the rear brake putting in the wheel so we convinced ourselves that this may well have caused the bike to shake its head in Saturday’s practice. In a way this kind of made sense, because mixing and matching tyres shouldn’t really cause a bike to shake like it did. As it was only the cost of a tyre change I had nothing to lose, so I went for it.


Back on the start line for the last race of the day I was keen to see how the Dunlop tyres were going to behave on a very wet track on my ZX10-R. Dunlop wets on the ZX7-R have always been good and it was something I was actually looking forward to even the though the weather was dreadful and my leathers were soaked right through. The warm up lap confirmed that it may well have been the brake pads that caused the shaking as the bike felt planted, straight and true.


When the lights went out, I got away well again and was hanging on to the leaders. The bike cornered well with plenty of grip, and I thought this is better, until I put the power down and the rear wheel just started spinning and the traction control kept cutting in. The bike was stuttering and slipping on the run out of Surtees on to the long straight, it just would not grip and I was passed by quite a lot of riders. God, I felt like coming in as I was literally going backwards. By the end the first lap I was about 10th! Not one for quitting, I tried to ride around the problem by being a little easier on the throttle on the exit. I was still losing time though, but I could make it up on the brakes and with my faster corner speed. I was knee right down everywhere with plenty of side grip and that’s where the Dunlop tyres were really good. I just couldn’t understand why they would not grip on the fattest part of the tyre when it was upright. Still I managed to have a good scrap with my old mate Chaz Beale who I’d not seen for a few years. We used to compete against each other in the GSXR 600 Trophy Series years ago.

 

If you want to see the race click here:

https://youtu.be/gzhw95LupKs

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At the flag it was disappointing to finish in 7th place as it wasn’t good enough for me to hold on to second place in the championship and to be fair to Glenn Walsh, he was unstoppable in the wet and he nicked second spot by just 4 points. The irony is, he was the one who knocked my brake lever off at Cadwell Park forcing me to retire, if only… Ahh well, that’s racing – always throwing curve balls.

 

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I was quite happy with 3rd spot in a very competitive and powerful class.


Still, I’ve got to be happy with a 3rd place. At the beginning of the year I was thinking top ten would be an achievement in this class. Although it’s been a short season it’s been a good one for me learning more about racing a powerful 1000cc machine. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and most of the time it’s been good fun. Even when I’ve not done so well, I’ve learned something new. I’ve met some of my old pals and made some new friends along the way and next year I will be racing it again that’s for sure. Not sure where yet, but I’ll start by refreshing the motor in the ZX10-R and getting it ready for 2021. Hope to see you all next year, wherever I decide to race.


Ritchie 71

 

Racing news

OFF THE LEASH AT CADWELL

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At last lockdown was over, but I can’t completely escape being restrained and thwarted one way or another. I seem to have curve balls thrown at me all the time in my attempts to get some time on the bike. Anyway, I decided to get the ZX10-R looked at by MSS Kawasaki in Colchester, so I called them up and spoke to them about getting the gearbox shimmed and the engine remapped with some time on the Dyno. The bike wouldn’t go in to 4th, 5th or 6th gear at times. It was a nightmare, and I was losing time when I last raced at Brands Hatch. So, I booked it in and me and Dad took it up to them, dropped it off, briefed them on what I wanted and waited for the call. When it came I was shocked; the only gear that was any good was the first, the rest were all worn… no wonder it wouldn’t change smoothly. Faced with a larger bill than I estimated, I said go ahead and do it – thinking how lucky I had been that the gearbox hadn’t gone bust already. That would have been a big check to write out! I’d booked a track day at Cadwell Park the following week on the Wednesday, so the plan was to pick up the bike on the way up to Cadwell on Tuesday. Well, that was the plan. I was told the gears hadn’t turned up on time, so that meant they couldn’t reassemble the gearbox for the guy to remap the engine. Sheeesh… it was all going wrong. I didn’t want to miss the track day so I told MSS to just do the gearbox and we’d work out how we’d do the remapping later.


With the caravan hooked up we set off for Colchester to pick up the bike, but we didn’t get any further than one junction on the motorway. The van was really struggling to run and showed warnings about the injectors and the emissions. It wouldn’t pull up hills and we had no alternative but to call out the RAC. Three hours later the RAC mechanic had to escort us home slowly, it sounded like the turbo was at fault. I had to accept the fact that the No Limits track day was over. There was no time to arrange alternative transport, so me and Dad spent the next day under the van stripping it down to get at the turbo unit. Filthy job, but we managed it. To cut a long story short – it turned out to be the EGR cooler valve, it had broken off and lodged itself in the turbo unit. After another day under the van and with the new part fitted we were ready. One good thing was that the bike had now been remapped and was ready to be picked up from MSS Performance. All that behind us now, I just couldn’t wait to get up to a race track – frustration was running high.


We arrived at Cadwell Park for Friday practice to find out we had no Metzeler tyres! A&R had been let down by their supplier - another curve-ball to deal with. We had front tyres, but I had to buy the only rear available from somewhere else…and it was 2 years old.


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Our faithful fan, provided extra cooling for the radiator during Friday’s practice.

Out on the circuit it was so hot the bike was boiling up during the ride through the paddock and we had to use a fan to cool the bike down after every session – 34 degrees with a track temp of over 50 degrees someone said. Phew! It was more like Jerez that Cadwell!


Lap times were down and some riders were actually going slower in the afternoon than the morning. With my tyres going off my best time was around the 1:34 mark…not where I wanted to be, but with other riders struggling to get near that too, I knew it wasn’t just me. With scrutineering out of the way and some confusion over my number, I was glad to get out of my leathers and into the shower as soon as practice was over. After that we changed the tyres for qualifying and chilled out for the rest of the evening with a couple of cold beers and a bowl of Mum’s Pasta. A nice end to a difficult day, although it was good to back on the bike again, which was massively better now that gears – thanks to MSS – were changing properly. It felt like a different bike!


I was really hoping to run with my Team 71 bright yellow fairing, but we are still having difficulty getting the belly panel to fit properly; it’s too close to the front wheel, so we had to run in blue again to be safe. We should be OK for the next round though.


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Rolling out for qualifying, it was set to be another sweltering day…

Saturday morning was still warm, but as the MRO Powerbikes’ group was qualifying early at 9:15 the air temp was at its coolest for the day. The bike felt so much better with new rubber and was responding very well. Suspension was working, the bike was turning well and I started to settle in. As soon as I got a few clear laps I just went for it. My pit board was showing me a decent time of 1:33 and P2…. I thought to myself, “That’ll do”. Front row in this group was very encouraging and I was genuinely surprised to be lining up alongside Mark Bridger who was on pole. I actually said to Mum and Dad, “I feel like I shouldn’t be there.” Still, I’d earned it and was looking forward to the race.


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Front row was not what I expected…


Race 1:
When the lights went out I was off the line well and chasing Mark Bridger who got away really well too, we were neck and neck up to Coppice, but he just had the edge and slotted his bike just in front of me. The race was on, so I tucked in behind him for lap one and was a bit too keen and made few mistakes that allowed him to pull a couple of bike lengths away from me. But I began to reel him in through the Gooseneck and when he ran wide at Mansfield I was right back on his tail again. Down the straight and on to lap 2, my pit board told me I was +0, so I knew someone was breathing down my neck. I left it really late up through Coppice and my entry into Charlies was faster than I’ve ever done it. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice Walsh coming up on the inside and we collided with each other. I was almost off the bike, but managed to hold on to it and muscle myself back on to the seat and resume the chase. Then I noticed my front brake lever sticking up in the air. When I tried to bend it back down, it snapped off. With Park Corner approaching fast, I just stamped on the back brake, quickly changed down through the gears and managed to slowly ride it back to the paddock. I was gutted, having made such a good start.


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The brake guard had been pushed up and the lever broke off, a quick fix with the spare was all I had to do.

MRO Powerbikes only have one long race on the first day, so racing was finished for me. With the brake lever repaired and a new rear tyre – this time a Pirelli as there were no Metzelers anywhere – I was all set to make a fresh start on Sunday. I spent the rest of the day catching up with some old mates from Thundersport’s Golden Era Superbikes, Andy Challis and Andy Meachin, who’d turned up to have a go in the Ultra Bike Extreme Class. It was good to see them again.


At the end of the day I went to check my grid position for Race 2 and was horrified to see I was P34 right at the back of the grid! When I asked them in the office they said it was because I hadn’t completed a race lap so my time from the standing start put me on the back row. Another Cadwell curve ball to deal with. As it happened, it was to be an exciting race for me in the end.


Saturday evening the weather began to change dramatically. One minute we were all wearing T-shirts and the next we were looking for fleeces and coats. Dad had to huddle around the BBQ to stay warm. Things didn’t change in the morning either. Cold and damp with misty, fine rain blowing across the circuit, it looked very sketchy indeed.


I had a wobble round on slicks in the warm up session to check out the circuit and it was very wet in places – at the Hairpin and Barn mainly, with a stream of water running across the track on the entry into Coppice. I kept an eye on the conditions up until about 20 minutes before our race and things really hadn’t improved much at all, but I had nothing to lose starting at the back, so I thought I’d give it a go on slicks.

Race2:
When I rolled out on to the track, through Hall Bends, the Hairpin and Barn, I noticed a dry line forming. I was laughing my head off at that point because I knew I had a good chance of pulling something out of my situation.


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Threading my way through at the start of an exciting 9 lap race…

I got a good start – considering the number of riders in front of me – and I set about picking my way through the field. It was all a bit hectic at first with the lads all jockeying for position to make their own passes, but when things settled down after a few laps I could start making a few moves. My pit board was giving me my position and the number was gradually coming down. My times were fast too, the bike was handling really well, the tyres were gripping nicely and I became more and more confident as the race went on. The 9-lap race felt really quick and I was surprised to see the last lap flag come out. I crossed the line in 6th place and set the fastest lap which put me on pole for the last race.


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I was so far back at P34 I could only just see the lights…

From the back to the front in just over 15 minutes, I was so pleased to have turned things back in my favour for the last race of the weekend.
Click here If you want to see the race:
https://youtu.be/g7LiZC4F7Bc


Race 3:
Well, it’s a lot different on the front row! A clear view of the track instead of looking at a lot of backsides and I got a blinding start, shooting straight into the lead. Once again, I was a bit too keen to get away and made few tiny mistakes, which meant Brendan Mallinder was soon putting me under a bit of pressure. Going into Barn I was too fast and I ran wide on the exit and Brendan was right alongside me down the straight. His Dad told me earlier that his bike is over 200 bhp (mine was measured at 182 bhp at MSS) and I could see it as he pulled away to chop me off, taking the lead up into Coppice. Soon after, I could sense Mark Bridger on his Yamaha R1 behind me on the next lap and he made his move up the inside at Charlies – the same spot I collided with Walsh on Saturday. This time, although we touched, I knew he was there and I was ready for it. He apologised to me after though, it was a bit risky, but fair I guess. After that it was just the three of us setting the pace up front and I was pleased to stick with them. My pit board told me I was a good 3 seconds ahead of the rider behind, so I decided to just get my lines right, keep it smooth and concentrate on hitting every apex and settle for third place – picking up my first trophy and podium in MRO Powerbikes.


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First trophy for me and the ZX10-R in MRO Powerbikes…

So, all-in-all a bit of a mixed weekend, but having been almost knocked of my ZX10-R in Race one, then achieving pole position for Race 3, picking up a spot £25 voucher prize from the sponsor, Reactive Parts, for my efforts (which I’ve already spent on a new brake lever) and my first trophy in this competitive class…I can’t complain. Not a bad weekend at all really.

Donington next, see you there.

Ritchie 71

Racing news

POSITIVE PROGRESS

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Ritchie 71

Racing news

GOING WELL AT CADWELL

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Compared to the dreadful downpour throughout the whole weekend at Donington Park, the weather forecast for this meeting looked pretty good…well it did for Friday and Saturday, but Sunday was looking a bit iffy. Still, you got to take the weather as it comes at Cadwell Park, so Friday was all about setting up the bike with the new throttle position sensor which I’d fitted earlier. I have to say the difference was really noticeable. The bike just felt so much more responsive and stronger in the mid-range and even at top end; it just wanted to keep on going. I was really pleased with it. After we’d sorted the gearing out the bike felt spot on and I was achieving some good lap times – in the low 1:35s. I knew that with some new tyres on for qualifying, I should hit the 1:34’s.

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Things were warming up nicely and looking good in the sun on Friday… just before the crash.

Unfortunately, in the last session I crashed out while taking avoiding action trying to miss a slower rider at the Gooseneck. He was riding a modern 1000c superbike and I didn’t anticipate him slowing up on the exit. He was right on the racing line – why he didn’t get going on the exit I have no idea. I couldn’t sit the bike up as I was right in the middle of changing direction; I had to brake or I would’ve hit him. Squeezing the brake when you’re turning is never good and that was the end of it…I was off. After a trip back in the recovery van with Greg Lewis, who also crashed there earlier, I took stock of the situation back in the paddock. There didn’t seem to be too much damage, although it seemed to take forever to fix the bike. The seat unit must’ve taken most of the impact; it was shattered and looked ready to fall to pieces.

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Not much luck crashing at the Gooseneck… now the seat unit looks ready for the bin.

Anyway, I wasn’t hurt and not too shaken, so me and Dad set about getting the new tyres fitted with the guys at Holbeach. We changed the oil and repaired the bike ready for Saturday morning. It took us longer than we thought, and with the days getting darker, sooner, it was around 8 or 9 by the time we’d finished. Then it was time to chill out in the caravan with a bowl of Mum’s pasta and finally get a decent night’s sleep.

After scrutineering the bike in the morning, I was looking forward to taking the bike out again. It was a lovely sunny morning and it promised to be dry and warm all day – and that’s just what I wanted as I was after the lap record set by Chris Martin quite a few years ago, also on a Kawasaki.

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Qualifying was a bit slow to start, then I got cracking on the final lap to nick pole position.

During qualifying – looking at my pit board – I was actually going slower than Friday’s practice. I was getting annoyed with myself and thought I’d better pull my finger out, that’s if I was going to stay on the front row. When I saw the 2-minute board I said to myself, “Right this is it…now or never.” I got my head down, pushed the bike hard and put in a good fast lap to nick pole position from Craig Neve. I was really chuffed with that, but I didn’t know until I got back the paddock when I saw Mum and Dad smiling and waving a big number 1 around on my pit board!

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I’ve always managed to qualify well at Cadwell Park; it was nice to be back there setting the pace again.

So, it was all to do in the race. Craig’s a good rider and it was great to see him back after recovering from his injuries at the North West. He has a smashing bike too, a trick looking Kawasaki ZXR750, and it wasn’t going to be easy; but easy is not what I came here for. I wanted the challenge and for someone to race against. Both he and Kieran Smith were on form and I was really looking forward to racing against them.


In Race 1 I didn’t get away as quick as I normally would, the bike started to wheelie and I had to shut off momentarily. That let Craig through and into the lead. He gradually pulled away and left me and Kieran Smith to slug it out for second place. Towards the end of the race I managed to pull a gap on Kieran and maintained a decent distance form Craig – he was always within sight and that was encouraging so I was looking forward to race 2 in the afternoon.

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A much better start in Race 2 had me leading up to about halfway through the race.

This race was a much closer contest between the three of us and I got away from the lights really well, taking the lead after a storming start. The pace was so fast. This was going to be a lot of fun as the bike was going great – with storming performance everywhere! 

Craig didn’t pass me until about half way through the race, but this time I managed to stick closer to him, even though he put in a blistering lap when he passed me. On lap 5 I put in my fastest lap ever around Cadwell Park – 1:33.540 breaking the long-standing Golden Era Superbike lap record set by Chris Martin of 1:33.572. I was just 1.8 seconds behind Craig over the stripe even though I made some silly mistakes on the last lap and took second overall and the class win.


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Another class win put me on the top step, but it was the lap record that really made me happy.

It was a good day and after I’d had a chat with all my old pals about the day’s racing we slipped off into Louth to find a pub, have a drink and get something to eat.

Sunday morning dawned without the rain that had been forecast. Things were looking good and after the warm-up all seemed fine. Bike felt good, no problems at all. However, when I was called for Race 1 just before lunch I turned on the fuel to go out and suddenly there was a strong smell of petrol. We could see it, pouring out of a split fuel line and filling up the belly pan. It could’ve been a real disaster if it had happened on the circuit because it was very close to the exhaust. I was lucky spotting it when I did – but it meant missing the race. Damn!

With the weather just about holding off I was just clock watching and at the same time watching the sky hoping it would stay fine. There were a few spots of rain in the air so we dragged the spare bike out of the van and had it scrutineered just in case it was needed.


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I was starting from P3 on the grid after Mega Lap calculations, but it didn’t hold me back.

Luckily the rain held off and it was dry and warm for my final race of the weekend. I was determined to make up for the lost time missing the earlier race. I shot into the lead and held off challenges from Kieran and Craig until about lap 4 when Craig made his move up the inside at the end of the Park Straight. I’ll never give up a fight, even if I have half a chance and I managed to close the gap towards the end of the race hitting the 1:33’s again. As we went into Hall Bends on the very last lap there was a back-marker just in front of us and it was really close. Craig and I were neck-and-neck and I had to back off because the other guy was in the way. It was a bit risky to try to make a pass, so we both had to follow him through to the hairpin where we both went underneath him. I chased Craig through Barn and on to the finish line, but he got slightly better drive and just nicked it in the end. It was a smashing race and I really enjoyed it.

So, that’s it for me this year and that will be my last outing on the ZX7-R for a while. I’ll be busy now making plans for 2020 – which could possibly involve another bike. I’ve always wanted to ride a modern 1000cc bike and I’m looking for a decent machine to move up to – that’s if I can afford it; fingers crossed. Anyway, I’ve not completely finished with my ZX7-R just yet and plan to do maybe two or three special classic events next year.

I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, all the very best of luck to my mates at ThundersportGB in the final round at Oulton Park. I hope you all have a great weekend.

 

Ritchie 71

Racing news

THE DELUGE AT DONINGTON

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Taking the plunge down Craner Curves, the wet bike was great to ride in these conditions.

 

We arrived at Donington Thursday night and were greeted by my old mates Martin Stanier, Ash and Drew Plasskit. It was great to see them again after such a long time. It was not so good to be kept awake most of the night by the aircraft landing and taking off at East Midlands Airport. We had all forgotten how bad it was. Still, it didn’t bother me too much – I was dead tired, but it kept Mum and Dad awake nearly all night. I can never understand why the circuit puts a low decibel limit on the bikes for practice with those monsters flying no more than a hundred meters overhead; it was a living nightmare all weekend. Well, Friday was nice and dry, quite warm with track temperature at times around the 40-degree mark. 

 

 

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Breakfast with my old pals again, Mum’s bacon butties are just the job after practice.

 

I was using up some old slicks for practice and the bike was running really well. It was great to be back at Donington, especially the National Circuit; it’s so much better to ride than the long GP track. The bike was performing well – no issues at all – I got my lap times down to 1:13.00 just before lunch. My intention this weekend was to try and break the lap record set by Chris Martin, on a Mistral Kawasaki a few years back, with a 1:11.7 lap. I’d hit the 1:12’s previously here, so I knew I could get close now with the bike running on song. With new rubber on for Saturday… I was all set. The bike felt strong.

 

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It was so warm on Friday, I had to dry my leathers off from the inside.

 

I heard a saying once that ‘Man makes plans, but God laughs’…how true that is, as the next two days of endless rain soon put an end to my plans of breaking any records!

Friday morning was mixed conditions after some overnight rain and it was a bit damp and patchy in places. It was similar conditions to when I won the Championship back in 2017, so I opted for slicks instead of wets; I don’t have intermediates so the choice was one or the other. I knew after a few laps that I’d made the right choice and once I got warmed up, I pushed the bike to take pole position with a lap of 1:14. Over a second faster than anyone else. I was really happy with that. Kieran Smith came up to me afterwards and asked me if I was on drugs! Dad said,” No, just slicks.” We all laughed.

 

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Gambling on slicks had me going quicker than expected, putting me on pole position.

 

Soon after qualifying, the heavens opened and it didn’t stop for the rest of the weekend. So, riding the spare bike especially built for racing in the wet, it was time for it to step up again. I didn’t have a clue about a wet set up, but then again, maybe I wasn’t on my own either. I’d never been round Donington on the bike before. So, I decided to use the first race as a practice session. I knew that Greg Lewis and Andy Denyer are very good riders in the wet and I didn’t know what to expect at all. It was raining pretty hard and I didn’t get a particularly good start either. I could hardly see a thing going down Craner Curves; just a blurry, red mist from the rain lights in front of me. Anyway, towards the end of the 10-lap race, I felt more grip than I expected. Mind you, there were a few times I thought I was going to be off. On one particular moment I had to stick out my leg like in motocross when coming out of Coppice just to get the ZX7-R upright again, pretty scary! Anyway, I managed to save it and then started to overtake quite a few riders, mainly on the brakes. The bike felt so solid on the front. The problem for me was putting the power down on the rear that was slowing me up. It just wanted to go sideways all the time and wouldn’t drive out of the corner. Still, it was a learning process and I set fastest lap to take an encouraging 3rd place in the SBK class and 5th overall.

 

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Going for it as the flood gates were open at Coppice.

 

I made a few small adjustments to the suspension afterwards in the hope that I could get the rear to hook up better. I noticed that my rear tyre was looking a bit tired and past its best, but it was too late to change for the second race. However, we decided to put a new one on for Sunday. My tactics for this next race would be different; get away at the front to maintain a strong pace for others to catch. I got away well but slipped back a bit and then recovered to engage in a good battle with Andy Denyer and Lee Terry. It was a great race, even though the conditions were atrocious.

 

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It was OK going into the corners but coming out, the ZX7-R was a right handful.

 

We were all swapping places all the time, particularly on the last lap. Down the start-finish straight it was me, Andy and Lee all together. I went in front of Andy on the brakes and then Andy let his brake off and went around the outside of me at Redgate. I thought to myself, “You’re going too fast mate”, and sure enough he high-sided right in front of me! It was a nasty moment, I thought I was going to hit him. He was Ok though, thankfully unhurt, but his bike needed some attention afterwards. After that, it was down to me and Lee to duke it out for second overall as Kieran had gone off into the distance on his GP1 Suzuki. We were neck and neck all the way to the flag, it was a close one and I really enjoyed it, taking the class win and 3rd overall.

 

I was glad the day was over – the risk of crashing is high when it’s like this – it’s physically and mentally draining. Time to get out of the wet leathers and retire to the caravan, dry off and drive to the nearest pub for food and a decent pint! It was good to get away from the circuit for an hour or so and take stock of what we needed to do for Sunday.

 

First thing I needed to do was get hold of new rear wet tyre. Holbeach had sold out – not surprised, but Alan at A&R had one for me and changed it first thing in the morning. Thank goodness. Now I felt a bit more confident about the rest of the day and having changed the ride height of the rear shock and softened it off a little bit more, I was keen to try it out. The bike felt much better out on the circuit during warm-up and I was looking forward to the race, but the rain was getting heavier and heavier.

 

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Pit lane or swimming pool? It was hard to call it either way!

 

Race Direction had to delay racing after the warm up sessions. There was so much spray it was deemed too dangerous. We all had to wait for about half an hour for it to ease off. When it finally did, the racing resumed, but when our race was called – Race 2– it got heavier again. We were all very close together going into Redgate after the start and the track was like a river. Going down Craner Curves was like running the rapids, but with my new rear tyre everything felt surprisingly good. Greg Lewis got in front of me and started to pull away. Then he started to come back towards me again. (He told me afterwards that his bike started running on 3 cylinders.) I got my head down and chased him, passing him on the brakes at the final chicane, after that I just ploughed on. Dad was telling me with signs on the pit wall that I had lots of time. I took a quick glance behind and couldn’t see anyone, so I took it a bit easier on the last lap. It was great to take the overall win.

 

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All smiles with Greg Lewis and Donald Thomas and happy to be back on the top step again.

 

Before the last race of the day the rain began easing off; although the track was still very wet there wasn’t as much standing water like before. I think we all wanted this one out of the way. I’d never known 4 wet races in a row before – and it was Race 13!! I got away well off the line, but I think I may have misread the grip levels as Greg Lewis just took off and I never saw him again until we were in Parc Ferme! He was flying. I had another exciting duel with Lee Terry again as we scrapped for 2nd and 3rd place. I could out-brake him and pass him into the corners, but I just didn’t have the power to maintain my lead over him on the straights. It was good fun though and we were close again at the end and shaking hands after; I think he enjoyed it too.

 

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The wet bike was faultless, picking up more trophies for the collection.

 

It was great to back at Thundersport riding my ZX7-R after such a long time. Not only to be at Donington Park, a circuit I’ve really grown to like, but to see all my old friends and race against them again. Having said that, it was great to see all the Marshalls again too; they did a great job. It’s equally as hard for them – if not worse – when conditions are like this. That’s it for now though, we’ve all got holidays coming up. I might be back for another Thundersport round at Cadwell Park in September.

We’ll see how it goes.

Ritchie 71

 

Racing news

THE RETURN OF THE YELLOW NINJA

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Now I know how Chris Walker got his nickname ‘The Stalker’ riding his Green Ninja back in the day.

All loaded up, with our nice new van, we set off for Brands Hatch not really knowing what to expect at the GP circuit over the weekend. I’d given the bike a good run out earlier on a track day there, but as we all know, racing is another thing altogether. Practice was on the short Indy Circuit on Friday and I thought I wasn’t going to get out at all at first. The fuel pump gave up the ghost as I went to start it for noise testing. This bike loves to throw a challenge at us now and again. So, me and Dad robbed the fuel pump off the spare bike to replace the now deceased one on the main bike. Well, we missed the first session, but with the bike safely through noise testing and running sweet I was ready to go. I kept my suspension and gearing set up for the GP circuit, which amazingly didn’t feel too bad for the Indy and I soon got into the swing of things. By mid-afternoon I’d done enough and it was pointless going out for the last session; it was a very busy afternoon out there on the track. So, we took the bikes down to be scrutineered and get the tyres changed. The main bike was fine but the spare bike had loose headrace bearings. I was so shocked because I must’ve ridden it like that in the final round of the Golden Era Superbikes at Snetterton last year!! Anyway, we tightened everything up, scrutineered it again and with everything done, I was ready for a walk around the GP section in the evening to refresh my memory before going out to qualify on Saturday morning.

It was a nice sunny morning for qualifying and the conditions were perfect and as we were all queuing up to go out, Aiden noticed me right next to him. We shook hands and wished each other good luck – I felt like I was welcome and in good company here. Everyone seemed very friendly and wanted to talk about the bike.

Qualifying was hard, I couldn’t get a clear lap and only managed a frustrating and disappointing 1:36.0 lap. Still, it put me on the front row and I knew I could do better. And I did, because I’d entered the Powerbikes too. This race was oversubscribed and as I was the first reserve, I had to qualify in case a place was available. These guys are so quick, and I managed a 1:34.6 – such strong competition – which put me on P15. I was pretty chuffed with that and I had a feeling that just maybe, with that sort of pace, I could run at the sharp end with the likes of Aiden Patmore and Steve Palmer in the Thunderbike Ultra class.


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Front row was not so bad considering it was so crowded on the circuit in qualifying.

When it came to race 1, I didn’t make the best of starts. The lights seemed to hold us forever and the bike wanted to wheelie out of the dip from P3. Still, I managed to slot myself back in line going down Paddock Hill and settled in behind Aiden on his R1. Then on lap 2, Steve Palmer came flying passed me on his R1. I still managed to stay in touch throughout the race though, just losing the tow at the end. I was pleased with 3rd – especially against these lads.
After the race we were selected in Parc Ferme and asked to take the bike to have it weighed and put on the Dyno. Both figures surprised us… it weighed in at 175 Kilos. At Snetterton the other bike was 174 Kilos, with a starter motor! The Dyno reading was a bit lower than we thought it would be, but we were told that the Bemsee Dyno is set low; seems odd and we’re not sure why. Anyway, I knew I was down on power compared the rest of the field, and I thought that if I could just stay in touch I’d be able to do better next time out.

In Saturday’s second race, which was probably the best race of the weekend for me. I was determined to stick on Aiden’s tail and I was all over the back of him right from the start. Then, out the blue, the race had to be red-flagged after 2 laps. After the restart, I was a bit quicker off the line and took the lead early on, only to be passed once again by the sheer power of Aiden’s Yamaha R1 on the straight. I tucked in right behind him, using the slip stream to stay in touch, right to the last lap when I was close enough to make a move. My bike felt really strong and the pace was very fast, I could see right down his exhaust at times. We were neck-and-neck at Sterling’s on the last lap and I thought to myself, ‘I can do this!’. It was a bit too close though and I thought better of it. In the end, I wasn’t there for points, but Aiden was and he has a championship to fight for and I didn’t want to pull any dangerous moves. Having said that, I was so close to him through Clearways – my ZX7-R seemed to hook up and get better drive – I thought I might’ve just got him across the stripe. It was very close; a smashing race!


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Rain threatened on Sunday. The spare bike waits ready, with a new fuel pump, in pitlane.

I was really enjoying my return to racing and my young brother, Chris, turned up to cheer me on throughout the day…and bring a spare fuel pump for the spare bike; you see, you can always rely on family, can’t you? In the evening we picked up some nice trophies and prizes in the bar, then it was BBQ time… and time for a few more beers after good day’s competition. I was looking forward to another good scrap with Aiden in Sunday’s races. My strategy would not change; just tag on, don’t let him go and wait to pounce if the time was right.

The first Thunderbike Ultra race of the day was unfortunately marred by another incident as, once again, me and Aiden took off on our own to battle it out up front. I got away well again, this time from P2 on the grid after Saturdays times. It was very close, just like Saturday’s race, but I saw puffs of smoke from Aiden’s bike on the overrun on the first lap. Then suddenly at Paddock Hill, on the start of lap 2, I noticed what seemed like spots of rain on my visor. Next lap round, his engine was still smoking and I realised it could be oil. As I went into Druids, I almost lost the front and I knew for sure then then that it was definitely oil spraying out of Aiden’s bike! I pulled back and signaled to the Marshalls that something was wrong. Unfortunately, on the next lap Aiden went down in front of me just before Graham Hill bend. I think his engine must’ve blown and locked up. His bike cartwheeled everywhere and tore itself apart. The race was red-flagged and I was awarded first place. First on the sheet maybe, but it’s not like a win if you don’t cross the line first is it? It was a bad crash and I was pleased – well, we were all pleased – to hear that he hadn’t broken any bones; however, he was badly bruised. If you’re reading this; get well soon.


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Covered in oil, Mum was on it straight away with the Marigolds and the cleaning fluid.

The last race of the day passed without incident and produced another good contest, this time with Steve Palmer – also on a Yamaha R1. Another good start had me up front again and I held on to the lead for 3 of the 5-laps, until he passed me at Sterling’s. I kept on at him though, and nearly got him back as we hurtled into Paddock Hill on the last lap. Steve really pulled the pin on that lap and I ran wide at Surtees trying to stay with him – at that point there were a few bike lengths between us and I struggled with a back marker at the wrong time too, so I knew then it was all over and I was happy to settle for another 2nd place finish.



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4 trophies out of 4 races for the ZX7-R. It’s more than I expected over the weekend.

To sum it all up I did exactly what I wanted to do; come and test the bike against some good opposition at my home circuit; exceeding my expectations with some good results. The bike was strong, never missed a beat, and I produced my personal best time at the long GP circuit: 1:33.5 seconds after being away from it for almost 8 years. It was great to be back, also good to know the work we’ve done on the ZX7-R has been well, worth it.

See you all at Donington Park for ThundersportGB’s event on 27th – 28th July. Looking forward to racing there again and seeing all my old chums too.

Ritchie 71

Racing news

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

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That’s how it felt as we set off on Thursday afternoon for the final round of the Golden Era Superbike championship at Snetterton. I was 61 points behind Championship leader, Jordan Watling and even though it was a double-points round I just didn’t expect to retain my 2017 title.

We’re a superstitious bunch though; it was Round 8, we were in garage number 8 and there were 8 races between races 1 and 2 on both days. Well, the number 8 is supposed to be lucky in China and Japan, and we do have a Japanese bike with quite few parts from China on it! You have to believe in something, when you’ve had such bad luck all year and you’re so far behind? We took the ‘8’ ball from Dad’s pool table with us too, you might well laugh, but who knows? Mum had it in her pocket all weekend.

 

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The numbers game, garage 8 and round 8. Was this to be a lucky combination at last?

 

Anyway, we started practice on Friday and it was a bit sketchy first thing until the fog cleared. After that the weather was fantastic; dry and warm, perfect really. Then I noticed a super-quick Kawasaki ZX7 that had been prepared with proper Race-Kit parts to race at the Isle of Man Classic TT with Craig Neve on top of it. Bloody hell, I thought, I’m going to have to go some here to win this weekend. Having said that, my bike was running really well and before lunch I was hitting the low 1:15’s. I would be happy with a low 1:14 by the end of the day and it seemed possible the way things were going. Then it all started to go wrong, again. At the end of the session my bike snapped a conrod down the back straight and smoke was billowing all around me.

 

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Marshall point number 13 where the main engine went bang! The unlucky number for me, particularly at this circuit.

 

I was in total despair. When the Marshalls picked me up I felt sick, they were trying to cheer me up, bless ‘em, but I just couldn’t think of anything worse than what had just happened. This was a real setback. We didn’t hang about though, me and Dad whipped the wheels off it and quickly put them on to the spare bike so I could get out and see how I could salvage something from the weekend. It was so slow compared to the other bike, power-wise, so I had to do a lot of work on the suspension to get it to stop and turn. By the end of the day it wasn’t perfect but there wasn’t much else I could do. It was all down to qualifying to see where I’d be in relation to all the other lads.

 

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Happy to be on the second row even though I was on the slower bike of the two ZX7-Rs.

 

Saturday morning was absolutely perfect, the sun was out, the track was warmish and the air was cool. The bike was running faultlessly, but not fast enough to get me on the front row for the races. Still, considering what had happened, I was happy to qualify 4th, with a 1:16.1 lap, which was a long way off the 1:14 lap I was hoping for with my other bike. Series leader, Jordan was alongside me on the second row with Andy Denyer, who as it turned out, was going to a be a threat to me all weekend.

There was no way any of us was going to beat Craig Neve, even the GP1 Classics couldn’t catch him, but we’d worked out that if I finished at least in third place in one race, and finished second in three – that’s if Jordan finished 5th – then I could win the championship; a tall order. But I knew what I had to do, and that was beat Andy Denyer and if the on-form Luke McCrae beat Jordan Watling behind me, then I’d just about nick it. That was it, dead simple, but in reality? Well, anything could happen, and in our first race it did. I was off to a decent start, not one of my best, but I was holding a good lead over Andy Denyer on his Yamaha R7 which was blindingly fast on the straight. I was struggling to stay in front and had to make up my time on braking later than I normally would and carrying a lot of corner speed. I had some big moments and slides, but with nothing to lose I pushed on. Then on the 4th lap Sam Cox crashed badly and was hurt. It was red-flagged immediately. I felt for him being a double-points round, his chances of winning his championship had diminished significantly.

 

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Waiting to restart after the red flag. I had to do it all again, not good for the nervous system.

 

We were held up for a restart quite a while and when we were told by the Start Marshall that we had two warm-up laps and a 5-lap dash, I knew I had to get a better start to get in front of Andy otherwise I would have no chance of coming second place.

When the red light went out it was a total disaster, Ryan and Craig didn’t get away quick at all and I nearly ran into the back of them as they closed up the gap in front of me. I had to shut off and Andy shot past me. Damn! Well I got my head down and chased him. At one point I thought I might be in a position to overtake him, then Ryan Strafford came past me and parked himself between me and Andy. I thought, “Go on then Ryan, overtake Andy and let me have a go at him”, but he just stayed there. I overtook Ryan so I could get a sniff of Andy again, but he did the same again on the straight towards the end of the race. There was nothing I could do, other than making dangerous lunges, so I thought better of it and finished 3rd. Luke came across the line in 4th and Jordan 5th. That meant I still had an outside chance of winning the championship; that’s if I finished second place in all the remaining races with Jordan finishing 5th. Well, you’ve got to have hope, haven’t you?

 

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My spare ZX7-R never missed a beat all weekend, it just lacked the legs on the long straights.

 

The last race on Saturday I felt gutted for Sam Cox – bravely returning and clearly in pain – as he wasn’t on the grid after the warm-up lap. I found out later that it was his bike that had a problem; such a shame. Anyway, I had a job to do and the race went to plan. I got a great start and was in the lead, I didn’t even brake for the for Riches corner, I just threw the bike in and hoped for the best. I was in front on the back straight, but the faster bikes shot past me – very frustrating. It was a real battle with Andy and we were both enjoying the duel. I eventually pulled a 2-second gap on him which was good enough for me to hold on to the flag. It was great to come second on bike number two; I felt like I’d won!! I was having to re-adjust my riding style again, back to the days when I was running the standard engine. Basically, leave it late, chuck it in and hope for the best. I used to crash a lot in those days too, but when you’re low on power at Snetterton and in a final, when it really matters, you’ve got nothing to lose.

 

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All quiet at Snetterton and time to plan for Sunday.

 

So, Saturday night, we went to the pub for a nice meal. We talked a lot about what could happen. By the time we got back to the circuit, I had a bit more than just hope, I had an inkling that I could actually pull it off. We worked on the bike, taking the suspension off my main ZX7-R that has stiffer springs and putting them on to the spare. It was a bit of a gamble because I only had the warm-up session to test it. My gut-feeling was that it was the right thing to do. In the end I was glad we did. The bike felt faster after the warm-up, but my times were slower – I was worried. Then my friends Drew and Stephanie turned up to support me, it was so good to see them again and we talked a lot about the racing, what had happened and what we were doing. He’s always encouraging me, “You’ll go faster in the race mate”, he said. He was right too.

 

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Corner speed was crucial, I had to keep the momentum going to stay with Andy Denyer.

 

I rode the bike as fast as I possibly could from a grid position that didn’t really favour me for getting away. I was right behind Sam Cox, who had returned for Sunday’s races, and right next to the pit wall. Sam is a good starter though, and I was hoping he was fit and hungry enough to get off the line sharpish. Well it turned out fine and I was away with the front runners again. It could’ve got very messy though as me, Sam, Ryan and Craig all went for the same line at Montreal. It was close with a few of us nearly touching, but I wasn’t in the mood for backing off anywhere. If I was going to win the championship, I had to take risks to maintain a good lead over the faster Yamaha R7 of Andy Denyer. After a right ding-dong with each other throughout the race, I managed to stay ahead of him and stretch out 3 second lead towards the end, just enough, and I had a clear view ahead of me for the last lap until I took the flag, third overall and second in class. Once again Luke got the better of Jordan, which now had me trailing by only 15 points. It was getting very tense.

 

So, this was it, down the wire as they say. Jordan came up to me just before we went out and we wished each other well, “Whatever happens, it’s been awesome”, he said. We patted each other the back and went to the line. 

The final race of the day was to be a real nail-biter for me, it must’ve been worse for Mum and Dad watching me battle it out with Andy Denyer. He was going really well… and had been all weekend. I knew he was a real threat in this last race and when he got in front of me, with just 4 laps to go, I just willed myself on.

 

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Good close racing at last with Andy on his super-quick Yamaha R7.

 

Sam Cox was between us at one point, and once I managed to pass him, I could see Andy about a second or so in front. I left everything as late as I could to reel him in, almost crashing a couple of times, but I managed to pass him at the Bomb Hole and thankfully pulled a bit of a lead. I was really pleased to see the last lap flag I can tell you, although I have to say it was great fun having a battle with Andy Denyer. We shook hands after and had a laugh about it all in Parc Ferme.

 

On the warm-down lap Luke came alongside me, smiling. He was trying to tell me that I’d won the championship, but I could quite make out if he was asking me if I’d won the race or not. I was a bit confused and I didn’t really know whether I was the champion again until I pulled into Parc Ferme when my Mum and Dad told me I’d done it. After such a hard and difficult season; we all felt the emotion all at once. I collapsed on the tank, there were tears from Mum and Dad. It was a great moment. We were all exhausted – totally drained – and it took a while for me to actually believe that I’d won the championship again.

 

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I finally managed get in front of Andy with a best 1:14.5 lap-time, to take the ZX7-R home in the last race.

 

Commiserations to Jordan and Will, they must feel terrible after leading most of the year. I’m pleased that we remain good friends. It was a strange feeling when it was all over, in a way it was odd that it wasn’t down to me and Jordan beating each other, it was down to me beating Andy and Jordan beating Luke. Fate, having been against me all year, was with me this time, thank goodness – it left it a bit late though!

 

People ask me what I’m doing next year and the answer is; I don’t really know. I might do a few rounds on the ZX7-R, once it’s repaired. The fact is, I just can’t afford the time or the money to do another championship next year. It’s taken us 3 years to get here and I think that’s enough for the time being.

 

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Three-year’s worth of silverware for me and the ZX7-R, thanks to everyone who supported me.

 

To round up I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported me, all my friends and family, particularly Mum and Dad who have stuck with me and believed in me all season. My sponsors: Big thanks to the Wiseco Piston Inc, they have been amazing. Cradley Kawasaki, R&G Racing, Holbeach Tyres, Nova Racing Transmissions, Kais Suspension, Carrillo and Colin Port for some great pictures.

I hope to be back on track soon.

Ritchie 71

 

Racing news

WINNING BUT NOT LEADING

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After Anglesey, I thought that Cadwell Park, one of my favourite circuits, would be the round for me to reduce the points gap, which is stretching now at the end of the season. Not finishing races over the season has been costly. I never really recovered after losing 50 points in the double points round at Oulton. The past two rounds have been disastrous, because I’ve only managed to cross the line 4 out of 8 times; two of them were technical DNFs. I accept the crashes as part of the sport, but when the bike fails after we put so much time and effort into it, well, they’re hard to take.

 

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I never know what’s around the corner these days, a DNF or a class win?

 

I’ve won all races I've finished apart from two and if you take out the technical failures I would be leading the championship. If you take out just one, the DNF at Oulton for example, then I would still be in with a chance.

So, what happened at Cadwell?

It started the weekend before – we had to strip the bike’s engine down because when the clutch broke up at Anglesey, it caused a big end seizure. Me and Dad worked hard all weekend and put in two late nights to get the bike ready. It was touch and go, at one point I thought we weren’t going to make it.

 

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A big-end failure had me and Dad working overtime to have the bike ready for Cadwell.

 

We didn’t start the bike until Wednesday night so I needed time to run it in – nice and easy – during Fridays practice. We arrived at the circuit around midnight on Thursday and it was blowing a right old hurricane. We didn’t get much sleep with the heavy rain and the wind blowing and rocking the caravan. In the morning everywhere was wet so I took the wet bike out for run. It felt good, it’s nice and easy to ride in the wet; I was pleased with it. Second session the track dried out and it was time to run the main bike and test the engine. I was being easy and smooth with it, taking it gently through the revs and not going to the max. It sounded nice, no nasty noises, and pulled quite well and I was looking forward to letting it off the leash towards the end of the next session. Unfortunately, that session was cut short after about 4 laps as the battery drained to the point where it couldn’t supply power to the ignition. (The bike runs total loss to save weight.). Thinking back, it was a sign of things to come. The charging was a real problem because our charger doesn’t work with our generator. Luckily for us, Ash Thompson’s ‘Genny’ was able to charge them up and later Drew turned up with his, which did the trick charging up the lithium batteries properly. We did notice that one of them was taking longer to charge, I never thought anything of it at the time. 

 

 

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The bike was handling well, but I didn’t have much time to run it at race pace.

 

So, after lunch I took the bike out again and the session was cut short – I think because it started to rain. After that it was back out with the wet bike again for the rest of the day. It was a bit upsetting, because I hadn’t really had the time to run at a strong race pace on my main bike… and the next time out would be qualifying in the morning. I had a decent night’s sleep after eating Mum’s special pasta!

On Saturday the track was a bit wet and by the time our class went out it was still a bit damp in places. Some were going out on wet tyres, but I opted for slicks; it looked too dry for wets to me. It proved to be the right choice and – ¬in the end – I stuck my Kawasaki on pole for Races 1 and 2.

 

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On pole position again, I was all set for a good weekend.

 

In race 1, I didn’t complete a lap. I got away well, but my front forks bottomed out as I hit the bump at the Gooseneck. It’s my favourite corner and it took me by surprise. It was the first time I’d gone around it in anger due to the lack of practice time at full pace. Down I went while leading the race, I couldn’t believe my luck; fortunately, the bike and I didn’t tumble too far, and the damage was mainly fairing and left handlebar. With the suspension adjusted on the front, it was a quick fix to get me scrutineered and back out for race 2. 

 

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Another DNF (Damned Not to Finish) Martin Stanier thinks I must’ve upset a Gypsy Woman!

 

I was off the line sharpish again, but I made a bit of a mistake coming onto the back straight. I knew Sam was on my tail and would pass me on the straight and sure enough there he was, so I latched on to him and stuck with him for the rest of the race. I enjoyed it, being close was good fun. I didn’t want to make a move on him because he’s not in my class, but I was ready for him to make a mistake, but then again, Sam rarely does and I was happy with the class win and second overall.

 

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Good fun, a good pace and some close encounters throughout race 2 with Sam Cox.

 

Putting the crash aside, it was encouraging that the bike was running well after we’d had the engine apart and I nabbed fastest lap in my class while running a good pace with Sam. I was enjoying the racing at Cadwell, although from a Championship point of view things were getting worse…the gap was getting bigger, again! Sunday morning warm-up I tried a few different lines here and there and the bike felt good, no problems for the moment at least.

 

When race 3 started I was running with the GP1 Classics up front again and on the first lap around I saw on my bit board that Jordan (the championship leader) was out of the race. Unfortunately for him, he crashed out on the warm-up lap. Well at least he was OK; I saw him at the Gooseneck walking about and thought that my luck was about to change. It was an opportunity to claw 25 points back and narrow the gap.

 

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Just ahead of me was Sam Cox and another disappointing DNF.

 

What happened next still hurts me to this day; the battery ran out of charge halfway through the last lap and the engine stopped running. My pit board told me I was 40 seconds ahead of the second-place rider in my class. I thought the race was in the bag, and then the bike started to conk out. At first, I thought it was petrol, but it turned out that my battery had lost its charge much quicker than usual. I was absolutely devastated.

Back to square one.

 

My second DNF of the weekend left me feeling absolutely drained, and I had to really pull myself together to compete in the final race of the day. Once again it was Sam and I who shot to the front, but my old mate Richard Blunt and a very determined Ryan Strafford, came past me after a couple of laps on their GP1 Classic bikes. To be honest my heart wasn’t in it – I lost my rhythm, I was all over the place and I let them go ahead to fight it out between themselves. My pit board told me I was almost 34 seconds ahead of Jordan so I just kept the bike going at a good pace and brought it safely home for another class win.

 

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A nice trophy for a win, but I’m not so sure about how many more I’m going to pick up.

 

I knew that going into the this round the outcome would be crucial – I wasn’t wrong. It’s a harder challenge for me now in the double-points final round at Snetterton in October. Even if I win every race, it’s still not enough if Jordan finishes in second place. It’s out of my hands now – trailing by 61 points – but anything can happen in this game … as I’ve found out to my cost over the weekend.

 

All that aside, people who know me know that I’ll never give up and with little to do from now until then, apart from repairing the fairing on the bike, we should be ready to put on a good show for the final round.


See you there.

 

Picture: Colin Port Images

 

Racing news

BLUE MONDAY

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Anglesey, Trac Mon. A circuit that has never been kind to me. It’s a lovely track, but I’ve never left the place happy. In the GSXR 600 Trophy Series I was taken out at Rocket, which ruined my chance of the Championship. In my first year in Golden Era Superbikes I crashed out at the banked hairpin, effectively ending my chance of a second spot and last year I didn’t even get through the first session of practice – the Kawasaki had a big end failure. I was hoping that this time, at least, I would have some better luck, because I needed to win all 4 races to stay in touch with Jordan.

Anyway, it was all a bit last minute at home before we left on Friday and we had to finish off preparing the bikes at the circuit. We arrived in good time in the afternoon and managed to grab a spot near the garage. As soon as the track-day was over we moved straight in and got cracking finishing off the bikes.

 

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Good to see my old pal Martin Stanier again now he’s on the mend after breaking his collar bone – twice! He was helping his son Zac with his CB500.

Practice day was warm and mild with a light breeze – perfect for riding the bike. I struggled with the gearing though; I couldn’t seem to find a happy balance for the long, fast corner at the back of the circuit – when you are flat-out right to the top of the hill – with the other tight twisty bits.


Still the bike was running great and it felt good with the new wheels and it was pulling like mad with a new Barnett performance clutch which I’d just fitted. In the first session, it wanted to pull wheelies everywhere and I had to change the gearing to calm it down a bit… it was pretty exciting though! It was a good day, but the weather forecast for the next day looked grim and sounded atrocious.


Sure enough it was, and in difficult, wet and very windy conditions during Sunday’s qualifying session, I managed put my ZX7-R on the third row for races 1 and 2. Although the weather was crap, it was good to be on my second bike for the first time since a practice crash damaged it badly in the previous round at Brands Hatch. I had to treat this qualifying session as a bit of a practice to begin with; I didn’t want to go balls-out on a bike I hadn’t ridden in the wet before. It has a completely different suspension set up – more like a road bike – than the other ZX7-R, but I soon got to grips with it. It felt really good and I was more than happy with a 3rd row position considering the GP1 Freshman riders dominated with their traction control.


In the first race, I didn’t start so well and found it hard to push to catch Jordan early on. Once I got into the swing of it, I found the handling of the bike suited braking later rather than drive, so I rode to its strengths and almost caught Jordan on the last lap. I was surprised at how quickly I reeled him in at the end. Luke McCrae won it with Andy Denyer 2nd, Jordan 3rd and me just behind in 4th spot. I was happy to finish and I was looking forward to the next race now that I was a little more used to the conditions and the bike. In race 2, I got a much better start and pulled away ahead of Jordan. Then he caught me up and we swapped places a few times. It was good enjoyable racing. At last I managed to pull away from him and next on my list was Andy Denyer. I caught him by surprise at the Corkscrew – passing round the outside on the very last lap. It was a great win, and just what I needed.

At the end of the day I’d narrowed the championship points gap down to a difference of only 14.


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A proud moment for bike number 2 – it wins its first race in Golden Era Superbikes.



Monday dawned with the promise of better weather conditions and with the difficult and treacherous weather conditions behind me, I was looking forward to taking the other bike out on a dry track. 



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Monday looked a bit more promising as the sun started to shine through.



After setting fastest lap times in my class from the previous day, I was up to the second row for races 3 and 4. I was on the outside too, which is a good spot for the first corner if you can get away sharpish. After the warm up I tried out a practice start with the new clutch and it was awful. It gripped and slipped a few times; I didn’t think anything of it as this kind of thing has happened before with a new clutch. I just had to change my getaway style a bit for the start of the race.

When the lights went out I was away and off the line a lot better than I thought and shot straight to the front. It started spitting with rain again, so I thought I’d just keep the pace going to keep the tyres hot. It worked too, because by lap 4 my pit board said I was about 4 seconds ahead of Sam Cox on his GP1 Classic, GSXR 750. Unfortunately, I had to slow up a few times when I hit back-markers and he gained on me, passing me around lap 6. I stuck with him for a while but he can ride that bike really well now he’s more used to it. He seems to get quicker at every meeting. Anyway, early on I had a moment at the bottom of the Corkscrew with a two-wheel slide, just about managing to bring it back, but on lap 8 it went again on the front tyre. It was so sudden and I couldn’t do anything about it and down I went. ‘Damn’, I thought, ‘not again!’.

I couldn’t believe my luck, or lack of it. I thought I had the race in the bag as I was well ahead of Jordan by about 14 seconds. The bike had a few scuffs, nothing major and we soon had it sorted for race 4, the last of the day.


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A bad result in the final race, but it was good to see my Aunt Marilyn, Cousin Jane, her husband Russell and their two lovely girls, India Rose and Seren who came along to support me.



When I set off on the warm-up lap I knew there was something wrong as the clutch started to judder and slip. ‘Oh well’, I thought, ‘it’s only got 12 laps to do, I’m sure I can get through it’. I’d done it before with a slipping clutch. After the start, it became worse and I lost ground to the front runners, Ryan, Sam and George Pycroft, who all cleared off leaving me struggling with the bike; it was a lonely ride.

I was till leading my class though and had a good lead of 10 seconds over Luke McCrae. On lap 10, it was hardly driving at all and I was willing it home, but just before the last lap flag came out, the clutch gave up entirely. It made a clattering noise and I had no alternative but to turn it off and pull in.

I couldn’t understand it, because I’d put these special performance clutch plates in to the bike to stop this sort of thing happening. It was a complete disaster, but I’d still managed the fastest lap for my class with 1:10.9 seconds.


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Pushing the bike into Parc Ferme wasn’t really the way I wanted to arrive after race 4.


The bike was going so well in practice on Saturday, and in the race before I crashed out, it showed no signs of anything untoward, it’s so frustrating! 

Once we pushed the bike into the garage, Dad quickly set about draining the oil, you could smell that burnt odour you get when a clutch has been cooked. He then took off the engine cover to reveal the plates had worn on the engine braking side and had broken three prongs off the clutch basket. What a mess, I was glad I’d switched it off when I did; it could have caused severe damage if I hadn’t.



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Basket case. This what dropped out of the engine cover when we took it off.



So, the Anglesey curse had struck again leaving me 59 points behind Jordan. Not the best weekend for me, but it was nice to be recognised by Rideworx with ‘Rider of the Meeting’ for my performance at Brands Hatch. Even so, we all felt a bit flat driving home, trying to get my head round what happened and what to do next. I have to finish first place in every race now to win the Championship. Looking at the possibilities, if I can beat Jordan in all of the remaining races by finishing first – assuming Jordan finishes in second place – then I’ll win the championship by a single point. It’s a tall order, but we’ll have to see what happens after the next round at Cadwell Park, it will be a crucial decider I think.

 

Image: Colin Port

Racing news

COMING HOME

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I always look forward to Brands Hatch as it’s my home circuit. I’ve raced there many times so I always feel that I can do well when I go to this historic track. We all set off with high hopes on Thursday evening and when we arrived; we soon had the bike off the van and set up for the weekend. We were without our usual garage buddy Martin Stanier, and his team, as he was still repairing his bike and recovering from his nasty crash at Mallory; but we still had Ashley Thompson who is going well in the Golden Era Supersport Championship this year. We also had John Ingram – The Ram – sharing garage space with us and it was good to have a chat with him about the GP1 Championship, Dunlop tyres and just about anything to do with racing. In fact, I had entered the GP1 races that weekend to see how my ZX7-R would hold up against the modern 1000’s.

 

We woke up on Friday to a very warm Brands Hatch that looked more like ‘Brown Thatch’.
The recent scorching weather has transformed the usually lush green surroundings into what looked like a roadway through a hay field.
Practice started really well, although the bike’s temperature was running too hot to ride at times, I managed to get 3 decent sessions in with some encouraging lap times that had me around the lap record times set by Richard blunt on his ZXR750 a few years ago.

 

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Getting down to business. I had a good morning on Friday, even though the air temperature was 34 degrees.

 

After lunch, it all went a bit wrong. We thought it a good idea to take the ‘wet bike’ out on the circuit, mainly because it hadn’t been run for about 4 months, just to make sure everything was OK. So, we swapped the Dymag wheels over from the main bike that had the slicks on and off I went. Unfortunately, with the air temperature in the bright sunshine being over 34 degrees, it was making it difficult for most bikes to stay cool. Still, the bike felt good, but the engine temperature was rising quickly, so I eased off. Then the radiator just overflowed into the belly pan and onto my back wheel on the exit from Graham Hill bend; the bike just went sideways. It was so violent that I couldn’t hold on to it. I went down hard, injuring my ankle and badly damaging the spare machine. In fact, it was so badly damaged we had to side-line it for the rest of the weekend. The worse thing was both new Dymag wheels had been bent out of shape. I had no option but to put the heavier standard Kawasaki wheels back on. I felt like I was going backwards again.

 

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Busted – not much left of Kwacka number 2 after literally taking it for a spin!

 

I decided to give the next session a miss because my ankle and foot started to swell up. I put some ice and cold water on it for a while, which seemed to help. After I’d rested it and squeezed my foot back in my boot I was ready to go again. But there were more problems, as the main bike wouldn’t run properly. It sounded like it was running on three cylinders – just flat – and my fuel meter told me it was running very lean. I decided to leave it for the rest of the day and Dad and me started taking it to pieces to try and find out what the fault was. It was past midnight when we found it; it was the ignition unit. Taking the ignition unit from the spare bike solved the problem. Well, at least I had one bike running properly now, but with the heavier wheels on it, I wasn’t too sure how it was going to handle in qualifying on Saturday.

 

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Getting the ZX7-R to turn was a bit more physical than usual without the Dymag wheels.

 

Anyway, the bike did feel very different and it took me a while to get going, it wouldn’t turn as tightly as before and ran wide at Clearways. It wasn’t so bad in the end though, as I qualified fist in my class and third overall, putting me on the front row again. Then I went straight out with the GP1’s to qualify for a grid position and managed 17th out of 31 riders with a 49.7 lap which put me on row 6.

 

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Running with a faster pack, I never got the chance to race with the GP1’s though, and I wasn’t prepared to chance my luck in the wet again on Sunday!

 

It was a good experience and nice to get some sort of benchmark for the ZX7-R against these super-fast modern GP1 superbikes. However, it would be impossible for me to race with them later that day, as their 20-lap race was immediately after ours.

 

Race 1 was a good contest with Sam Cox – GP1 Classics – and I was pushing hard for the outright win. Sam seemed a lot quicker out of Clearways and held a much tighter line, whereas my heavier Kawasaki wanted to drift out wide.

 

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Chasing Sam Cox on his GP1 Classic GSXR 750 – I just couldn’t match his pace out of Clearways.

 

When he overtook me, I could reel him in through sector 1, but he just opened up the gap again out of Clearways. It was hard for me stay with him at that point, but I was happy to finish a close second after all that had happened – and grab the SBK win with fastest overall lap and a new lap record of 49.264 seconds. Things were beginning to look up at last and we had some visitors there to support us from the agency where Dad works. They came along to watch with my wife Mandy and her daughter Caitlyn – it was great to put on a good show for them.

 

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Up on the top step again with a class win, Saturday was a good day for me.

 

In Race 2, I made a good start but when you’re in trap 3 there’s a bit of a hill to climb before you get to Paddock Hill. The bike wants to wheelie and although I got to the top before Sam, he had the line and a smoother run around the outside of me. On the first lap, it was clear that it was going to be a scrap between me, Sam and my old adversary Ryan Strafford - on his R1 GP1 Classic machine. We swapped places in an exciting duel for about 3 laps but my Kawasaki was suffering with clutch-slip and I slid back to third, leaving an exciting duel just ahead of me between Sam and Ryan, with Sam taking the flag yet again.


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We were all smiles after winning and breaking the lap record.

 

It was a good race – very close – and I knew I was safe for the class win, so I was quite happy to stay where I was and watch them battle it out. I was even happier to learn that I’d broken my own lap record again with a 49.125 second lap. I was also pleased to be collecting points to close the gap on Jordan Watling in the championship too. We’d had a good day as a team and we all tucked into a barbecue and chilled out for the rest of the evening, but that was all about to change on Sunday.

 

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This was the lap record I wanted the most… at my home circuit.

 

From the very moment we got up, it rained, and it didn’t stop until we left the track in the evening. It was ironic that the one day I needed my wet bike the most, it was sitting on a couple of stands, with no wheels on it, looking very sorry for itself.  So, we changed all the settings on the main bike and put the Dunlop wets on ready for the warm up. The bike surprised me as to how good it felt, it was gripping nicely and felt very even and steady. I thought to myself, ‘Well if I can ride round at that pace I should be fine’. I didn’t know how I’d finish and wasn’t bothered to be honest, because I knew that Jordan was always good in the wet and I just wanted to get the job done and over with. You can’t really enjoy a race when the weather’s like that. Anyway, I did surprise myself after a good start from grid position 2, which is much better than position 3. After the first lap I was well in front and the bike felt solid. When my pit board told me that I was 9 seconds ahead, I thought, ‘I’ll ease off a bit now’. The next lap I was off at Clearways! I was told later that there were 42 crashes in the same spot over the weekend; it was very tricky. My garage pals, Ashley Thompson and John Ingram, had gone down at the same corner earlier, what were the chances of that – three riders in the same garage? You wouldn’t have put money on it!

 

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Shit happens, and when it does you’ve got to clean it off and get moving again. We all got stuck in to get the bike ready for Race 2.

 

Anyway, we had to work fast to clean it and repair the damage, I was desperate to get out again to prove to myself that I could go well and win in the wet. When we checked the bike over it turned out that a fuel line, that fed the carbs, had popped a seal in the carburettors and petrol had started to pump out and run on to my back tyre – not too good for traction in the wet –causing me to crash.
We only just managed to get it scrutineered and refuelled, with seconds to spare, as we were called to collection area.

I said to Dad, that I didn’t care if I crashed again, I just had to get out there and try, and I was determined to win. My bike had felt good before the fuel issue had caused me to fall earlier, so I knew that I had the pace to stay ahead. I got a great start again and lead from lights-to-flag by just over 5 seconds in front of Craig Jeff on his GP1 Classic Yamaha. The bike felt great all the way through the 10-lap race - I just took it a bit easier round Clearways! It was good to finish with a win. Dad stood up on the pit wall and punched the air as I passed him and I patted the bike on the tank as it crossed the line; I’d done it!

When I got to Parc-Ferme Dad picked me up and bounced me up and down like a winning Speedway rider. It was a great result for Mum too who worked hard with us to get the bike ready – she almost burst into tears.


Well, it was a hard home coming for sure and I’m a bit sore and battered, but at least I’ve got something out of a tough and difficult weekend – with two crashed bikes, it was an expensive one too.

 

If I’m going to win this Championship again then winning races is not enough, I’ve got to make sure I finish them too.
Let’s see what happens at Anglesey.
I’ll see you there.

Action pictures: Thanks to Colin Port.

Ritchie 71

Racing news

FATE AND A LONG WEEKEND

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At first I didn’t think I’d get time off work to be at Mallory Park for Thursday practice, but luckily I managed to squeeze enough into the three days at work to get to the circuit. It meant working nights on the bike too. While I’d been away on holiday, my Dad had prepared a cylinder head that I’d bought recently from a friend in Germany – he has quite a few factory parts. It’s an original Eckl head from a factory ZX7-RR back in the late nineties. It was all ready to go, with the valves lapped in, when I returned, but we had less than a week to put the engine together. It was bit tight to say to say the least.

 

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Last minute again, this is where we were on Tuesday night!

 

We managed it, but it was hard going; all day Saturday and Sunday and then ‘til 2 and 2.30 in the morning on Monday and Tuesday. The valve timing was a nightmare. For some reason, we couldn’t get the cams timed right on the cam chain, I guess we were just tired. Anyway, once it was sorted we soon had the engine installed, but we didn’t start it until we were about to leave on Wednesday night. With fingers crossed I hit the start button and apart from a small water drop on a hose, it was all fine. It sounded great, so we loaded it into the van and set off.

 

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The bike was a dream to ride – apart from a bit of an oil leak, it was faultless.

 

We woke up to a fine day on Thursday and I set about putting the bike through its paces. After the first two sessions, we noticed a bit of an oil leak, which seemed to be coming from the cam cover. When I took the air-box off there was loads of oil underneath. We always try to be sparing with the silicon sealant so we can remove it easily, but the actual rubber gasket has been used so many times now I think it was past its usefulness. We used some special Loctite sealant from Ash Thompson; it did the job, but unfortunately, now we can’t get the cover off!!

 

The day went well, the bike felt really good and I was managing low 54’s and then I hit the 53’s by the end of the day. I knew that could be a race-winning pace and I was looking forward to qualifying on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well for my friend Drew Plaskitt who brought the Suzuki SRAD out for a play. It was the bike that he’d let me ride as a spare bike last year. It snapped a valve in the second session making a real mess of the cylinder head which he had just spent time and money on. Cruel fate turned even crueller for him on Saturday. After driving all the way back to Louth to pick up Vince Carlton’s Suzuki GSXR 1000 to use for the rest of meeting, someone in qualifying knocked him off at Gerrard’s destroying the bike completely. Thankfully, Drew was OK, but understandably, he and Vince were very upset at what had happened.

 

After practicing on Thursday there was a problem for me too. When I looked at the front Dymag wheel I noticed that the rim had a slight dent in it, I couldn’t figure out how it had happened. The paint hadn’t been chipped and I thought that maybe it was a defect that I hadn’t noticed from new. They’d only done one meeting so I was a bit fed up. I took it to Holbeach Tyres who examined it and sure enough it was bent. Mark and the lads were great though, they told me that there was a small repair shop called STS motorcycles that was about an hour’s drive away so I contacted this guy called Steve and he said he could fix it if I brought it to him first thing.

Me and Dad were up with the sparrows on the Friday and set off, arriving just before 8.30. Steve asked us if we’d had breakfast and sent us off to Chris Walkers Kawasaki, which was about 10 minutes away. He said they had a great Café. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had breakfast outside and we noticed the ‘Stalker’ coming in for his morning coffee.

 

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A BSB breakfast was just the job, a great place to stop if you have an early morning ride out.



We started chatting to the Race Café Manageress who told us that she’d known Chris since he was 13 years old! She was a loyal life-long friend who took on the job when he opened the dealership. The breakfast was great, just what we needed. After, we took a look inside and noticed Chris’ ZX7-RR Superbike, looking fantastic in green with that big number 9 on it. We started up a conversation with Chris about our bike and he immediately recognised the ZX10R parts – wheels and swingarm – on my bike from a picture we showed him. Next thing, he’s got his own bike off the stand and asking me to sit on it to feel how light it was. It was an honour to be near it, let alone be sitting on it! He is such a great bloke I really enjoyed talking to him.

 

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The man and bike I used to watch when I was a kid, it was great to meet ‘The Stalker’



Soon after I got a call from Steve to say that the Dymag had been repaired and was ready – Chris knew him too and always sends wheels there if he has a problem. We said our goodbyes to Chris Walker and headed off to pick up the wheel. He’d done a great job; you had to look really close to see anything at all. Back at Mallory Park we cleaned up the bike and tried to relax for the rest of the day and lit the barbecue for an evening meal.

 

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Blue skies all weekend at Mallory Park

 

Saturday morning the weather was great again, perfect conditions for racing and although I felt a bit tired, I soon woke myself up by qualifying with an official lap-record-breaking time of 53.8. When I saw my pit board I knew I'd done enough and brought the bike in early. In hindsight – and for what was about happen before race 1 – I was glad I did.

 

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I was pleased to break the lap record and stick the ZX7-R on pole again.

 

When we were asked to go to the assembly area I started the bike and it sounded absolutely dreadful – the cam chain tensioner had given up the ghost. There was no way I could ride it. If it had gone earlier in qualifying or out on the circuit, I would have wrecked the rebuilt engine. Not making it to the start line was a disaster, but the thought of what could have happened if the cam chain had skipped a tooth or two doesn’t bear thinking about. This time, fate saved me from a massive and very expensive engine failure.

 

I thought about jumping on the spare bike, but with the wet tyres on it and starting at the back of the grid, or from pit-lane, it didn’t seem worth it. I just had to sit it out, which was very frustrating after all the work we’d done. I replaced the tensioner with a spare, which was a relatively easy swap and I soon had the bike ready to go for the second race. I was so fired up after my earlier disappointment, I thought that nothing short of an outright win would settle me down. I was off the line sharpish and got my head down right away. It was down to me and Sam Cox to fight it out up front early on and I knew he was there; looking at my pit-board he was only a second behind. Eventually I started to steadily pull away from him to cross the line a good 4.8 seconds ahead, breaking my own lap record once again with a 53.660 second lap.

 

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In the first race, I managed to pull away from Sam and take the outright win.

 

Jordan Watling didn’t finish, he had cam chain tensioner problems too. It was a weekend of coincidences for sure. I was so chuffed to be an outright winner again because one of Dad’s workmates and his Dad had come a long way to watch. The bike was flying. When the day was over I decided to take out the replacement auto-type tensioner and put in the manual one in to be safe. The only reason it wasn’t in the engine to start with was because we couldn’t find it at home in the garage – we only found it when Dad was loading up the van. Fate again, if you believe all that stuff.

Sunday was to be another scorching hot day. It was cooler early on and after the warm-up session my head was in race mode once again with another good time.

 

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On pole position again on Sunday, and ready for the off.

 

The Mega laps still had me on pole position, but when we set off a new rider in GP1 Classics, George Pyecroft on a Gixer 1000 was so fast off the line no one could catch him before the first corner. I managed to reel him in before Edwina’s and then it was down to me and Sam Cox again to slug it out up front.

 

I took the lead early on, but I missed a gear coming out of the Devil’s Elbow on about lap 3 and I knew Sam would pass me soon down the straight – sure enough he did. He rode well after that, very defensive at times – he knew I was there – and I couldn’t really see a way past him. Anyway, I didn’t want to do anything silly as it was very close racing. On the last lap, there wasn’t much between us on the dash to the line. Another 10 yards or so and I might have got him! It was a great race though, I really enjoyed it and was more than happy to take the class win.

 

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Back on the top step after a missing the first race.


It was bad news for my pal Martin Stanier though, after a GP1 novice and Ryan Strafford had a coming together going into Gerrard’s he couldn’t avoid the sliding bikes and collided with one of them, head on, sending him flying. He broke his collarbone again after breaking it at Cadwell 4 weeks earlier, his bike was very badly damaged too, he went home early and we all felt gutted for him. I hope he gets well soon and can repair his bike. I don’t think we’ll see him at Brands.

 

Well, after all that I was now 3 points ahead of Jordan and looking forward to extending my lead further in the final race of the day, but fate had other ideas. The temperature was so high, the heat at that time of the day felt more like Mallorca than Mallory – track temperatures must’ve been sky-high.

 

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The only place to be on Sunday, out of the sun and away from the pesky flies.

 

I kept checking tyre pressures, which seemed to be creeping up with the tyre warmers on in the awning. Dad adjusted them before the race and whether we were doing the right thing or not was soon to be revealed. George Pyecroft once again made a ballistic start and I caught him up about half way round Gerrard’s. I was out in front again and thought I’d go a bit easier into Edwina’s chicane, mainly because I’d had a moment there in the first race. As I tipped in to the apex the bike lost grip on the front and down I went. I couldn’t believe it! There was mayhem going on behind me as riders tried to avoid me and the bike. Unfortunately, Sam Cox and Ryan Strafford made contact and sent Ryan off on to the grass too.

 

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Disbelief as the Marshalls quickly clear up after my tumble.

 

Still, no one was hurt, but I was puzzled as to why I’d lost grip on the front tyre, maybe it was the track temperature, I don’t know. Anyway, having started with high hopes I was brought back down to earth with right old bump.

 

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Looking a bit tired, but we’ll soon have the Wasp ready for buzzing around Brands Hatch.

 

The bike was bashed up a bit. The worse damage was to the swingarm, which has a nasty dent in it – probably bent – my foot-peg was completely torn off and the clutch lever snapped. The rest was protected by the R&G Racing crash protectors, so I just need to do a bit of touching up on the fairing.

 

Looking back, I’ve won a lot of races – 10 out of 14 – but am now 17 points behind first place in the championship. I seem to be going backwards. It feels strange, anyway, let’s hope fate has a better weekend in store for me at Brands Hatch, it’s my home circuit and I know it well. I’ve just got to keep on winning – it’s a simple as that.

 

See you all soon.

Ritchie 71

Racing news

PICKING UP THE PACE

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When we left home for Cadwell Park on Friday, there was only one thing on my mind: Win all four races to make up for the points lost when I had to pull out of the last race with an oil leak at Oulton in the previous round, I was determined to win.

 

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At last, we had two bikes running properly and ready to go in the van on Friday.



Cadwell is circuit I really like and we’d prepared the bike and tuned it with flat-side carburettors for this meeting. We also had some smashing looking new Dymag wheels to put on too.

When we arrived late at night, we were greeted by Vince Carlton who’d saved us a spot so we could be together with the usual crew: Ash Thompson, Martin and Zack Stanier – now riding in the CB500’s – and also Drew, who always turns up to support everyone one of us. We’ve got quite a friendly team together now and it all seems to work very well, we all support and help each other out.

Practice day is always a busy one, we had to swap the wheels and discs for the new Dymags and sort out what tyres were going on what wheels. I was going to try Dunlop tyres at this meeting for a change. Mark at Holbeach has always told me that they would be a good choice for me and the ZX7-R. But to start with, I stuck a couple of old Metzelers on the Dymags to get a feel for them. What difference they made! I didn’t have to work so hard to muscle it through the tight sections like the chicane. In fact, it was so different I almost lost control of the bike at one point. I didn’t expect it to turn and flick right, then left so sharply – it felt so much lighter than before. I had to adjust my style a bit next time round!

 

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The bike’s handling was much improved with the new Dymag wheels.

 

My bike was running the best it’s ever done and it felt really good. I managed a good lap time of 1:35.2 in the morning session – that was my benchmark for the Dunlop tyres I was going to try later. The first time out on Dunlops in the afternoon, I had to adjust quite a few things – and my riding style a bit – to get the bike set up right. But after a few sessions and some good advice from Clint, the Dunlop technician (AKA Dirty Harry for some reason :-)) and Mark and Matt at Holbeach – it all started to come together.

There was however, a rather unfortunate incident for my pal Martin Stanier who crashed at Hall Bends, breaking his collar bone. Such a shame, as he was doing well in the championship. He had to spend a couple of hours in Louth A&E – not good. He seemed Ok the next day though, although a little sore, and not surprisingly – a bit pissed off!

Anyway, I was reasonably happy with everything by the end of the day, and although I didn’t go quite as fast as I did in the morning session, I was confident that I could set a good lap time in qualifying, even though my gearing wasn’t quite right. My sprockets didn’t fit the Dymag wheel so I had to make do with the one rear sprocket that came with it; a big mistake not checking!

 

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Mum was standing by ready to make the bacon sarnies after qualifying.

 

It was warm and the sun was out for the qualifier, and I just went for it. Jordan was out first and when I passed him and saw my pit board with a big number 1 on it, I knew then I must be good enough for the front row. In the end I was first in my class, in second spot, just behind Sam Cox riding his GSXR 750 GP1 Classic machine.

In race 1, the conditions were perfect with a dry track, but it was really hot in the sun. When the lights went out I got to the first bend in second place behind Sam Cox, but soon took the lead at the Gooseneck, pulling away to take the flag as outright winner by just over 9 seconds ahead of Sam Cox. It was so hot out there, I was beginning to feel really dehydrated half way through the race; I was very happy to see the last lap flag come out to finish the race and get some fluids into my system. It was great to take the first win though.

 

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I managed to maintain a hot pace on a hot day from lights to flag; I felt exhausted!

 

I was ready for another good run in race 2, but rain suddenly appeared out of nowhere as soon as we assembled on the grid – and we were all on slicks! It was a freak isolated shower, that seemed to be falling out of clear blue skies. After the warm-up lap me, Ryan, Sam and Jordan all pointed out to the start Marshall that it was too dangerous at the back of the circuit where track conditions were much worse. After delaying the start, the course car was deployed and we were sent out for another warm-up lap. The Marshall said that we should let him know after we’d been round again what the situation was like from our point of view. I was really worried about the tyres cooling down. We all told the Marshall back on the start line that conditions were still too dangerous, but the next thing I knew the red lights were on for the race to go. I was really shocked, and so were the other lads, I wasn’t even on my grid position! I have no idea how we all stayed on. The bike was sliding all over the place, no grip whatsoever. A lot of riders decided to pull out of the race.

 

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No grip at all equals no fun at all, not the best formula for a successful race.

 

I was just happy to bring it home in second place just 3.9 seconds behind Jordan. Fair play to him, he rode his Kawasaki well. He started off better than me and was well ahead early on. I found a bit more grip the through the Woodland section and was much quicker there and made up some time, but it wasn’t enough in the end to catch him. The race was declared a result early after only 4 laps – it felt like 10! Everyone did well not to fall off, it was horrible and I was glad when it was over.

Soon after the sun came out again – wouldn’t you believe it – and it was a nice evening, so me, Mum and Dad took off to Louth in search of food and a drink.

 

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Two wasps in the awning, but they were no trouble this weekend.

 

On Monday, I tried a few different settings in the warm up session, but it was a bit slippery early on and I really didn’t learn much, so I came in after a couple of laps. I was happy with the bike from Race 1 the previous day, so I decided to stick with what I knew was working.
In the first race, I came out fighting again and took the lead straight away, with Sam Cox following closely. I managed to steadily pull away and with one eye on my pit board I could see I was stretching out a bit of a lead and crossed the line by 6.4 seconds over the pursuing Ryan Strafford who passed Sam towards the end of the race. I was so pleased to have achieved the fastest lap too, and when you add my sectors together to see what my perfect lap would’ve been, it was faster than Chris Martin’s record set at 1:33.572 on the Mistral Kawasaki ZX7-R some years ago. If I’d strung it altogether my time would have been a new record of 1:33.553.

 

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What I thought would be an impossible target for me suddenly becomes a possibility. Next time maybe…when I get my gearing right!

 

The last race of the weekend was much the same, the bike sounded and felt great. I managed a good start again and took off early to take the lead and I was never challenged. I won by over 17 seconds ahead of Ryan Strafford and took the fastest lap of the whole weekend with a 1:34.043.

 

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Up and over the Mountain, the bike was spot on all weekend.

 

Looking back, it was one of the best race weekends I’ve ever had, everything seemed to come together. Me and the bike just clicked – apart from the wet race on slicks ¬– everything about the Kawasaki felt really good.

Now we’ve got the bike running on top form, I’m looking forward to Mallory Park where I need to do exactly the same as I’ve done this weekend to get back on top of the leader board.

I’ll see you all there.

Ritchie 71

 

Racing news

A WOEFUL WEEKEND AT OULTON

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Oulton Park always has something in store for me. Looking back though, I can’t really say that luck – or the great racing spirit in the sky – was against just me this time. There were others that suffered misfortunes over two very hectic days.

Earlier in the week me and Dad struggled to get everything finished in time to travel up the long road north. We didn’t have a bike until Tuesday night; I wasn’t able to run it to test it until then. We were both very busy due to work commitments. Dad had to take the Thursday off work to finish preparing the bikes because we wanted to take two with us this time; it was just as well we did.

 

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Two bikes almost ready before we loaded up on Thursday evening.

 

We set off on Thursday night at around 8 o’clock in the evening and arrived at the circuit at 1.30 in the morning. Quite possibly the worst journey with motorway closures, road works and detours we’ve ever had, and – believe it or not – a house fire near Telford shut the main road. With the Police and Fire Brigade attending, we had to turn around and drive back to the motorway and start again. By the time we got to sleep at the circuit it was about 2.30 in the morning. We had to be up at 6 to start work on the main bike, which still wasn’t track-ready.

Friday practice was hard work. We were all exhausted before we even picked up a spanner.
Still, me and Dad rolled our sleeves up and with Mum sorting out the drinks – plenty of tea for Dad – the toast and bacon sandwiches for breakfast, we got stuck in. In the first session, the flat-side carbs were over-fueling; petrol was blowing out of the air-box on the overrun and going everywhere. With time short between sessions I just took the carburettors off the other bike and swapped them over. 

 

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Practice was on and off all day with red flags and me in and out of the garage.

 

The second session was OK, but a red flag cut it short. The third session, just before lunch, we noticed that the cam cover seal had started to leak oil, so we took everything off, cleaned it and resealed it. Then the clutch started slipping so I changed the clutch plates and, while everything was out with the oil drained, I changed the oil pump. (I was still feeling nervous about the oil pressure running on the low-side) With such a lot to do, I had to miss a session and it was only at the end – the last session of the day – that I was able to concentrate properly on riding the circuit.

 

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Two lovely days to practice and race, even Jordan Watling’s bike next door, was basking in the sun.

 

We were sharing a garage with our closest rival Jordan Watling and his team, they were having problems, too. Like us, they didn’t really get much practice time through one thing or another. We were making jokes about the Kawasaki’s competing for attention. We’re never short on laughs with Jordan’s family and his mechanic Will.

It was an even worse day for Andy Meachin. He crashed badly and was rushed to hospital where he had to have scans on his spine. I heard that he’d actually fractured his vertebrae and needed surgery. If you’re reading this pal – get well soon. I was glad when the day was over and we were all able to get some sleep at last. I needed to be on form for qualifying.

The qualifying session on Saturday morning was good. The weather was perfect, the sun was out again and it was nice and warm for a change. I put my ZX7-R on the front row with a good, solid 1:45 time and first position for my class.

Unfortunately for Jordan, he crashed at Lodge corner and had a lot of work to do to prepare his bike for Race 1. Then I saw Sam Cox, who rides in the GP1 Classics on his Suzuki GSXR750, he said that his gearbox had broken! What is it about Oulton? Quite a few of us seemed to be having more than our fair share of unlucky moments. Luke MacRae had his 600 Golden Era Superport spare bike at the circuit and allowed Sam to ride it for points. Being a double-pointer everything counts. However, in the race poor Sam had a DNF and scored nothing.

In Race 1 our warm-up lap was red flagged. My pal, Mark Biswell, had uncharacteristically lost control of his Triumph at Shell Oil’s hairpin, knocking himself out! More bad luck being dished out. He’d only just returned with his rebuilt engine too, we all felt very sorry for him. Then Greg Lewis had to be pushed off the circuit because his Yamaha wouldn’t fire up after the long wait to restart. It was endless, double points rounds are a nightmare really! Why we can’t have the normal points scoring per race and have less of a total at the end of the season escapes me. I wonder how many other riders feel the same?

 

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After a good start, I took an early lead in Race 1.

 

Anyway, when we eventually got under way, I got off to a great start and went into the lead straight away. There was only Ryan on my tail on his GP1 Classic R1. He flew past me on the straight about half way through. I was able to stick with him though, maintaining good corner speed and braking a bit later than him. I even had a few chances to pass on the brakes, but I didn’t want to do anything silly. Double points for the class win were more important than an outright win. I crossed the line just behind Ryan, but more importantly over 9 seconds ahead of Jordan in the Golden Era SBK class. It felt good to win again, I felt exhausted, worn out, and was pleased it was shortened to 7 laps. I think the lack of sleep and the heat were beginning to take it out of all of us.

 

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Happy for the time being, our ZX7-R catches a few rays, after winning Race 1, waiting for Race 2 as the sun streams into garage number 10.

 

Ryan told me in Parc Ferme that he could see a bit of smoke coming from around the exhaust so me and Dad thoroughly checked it over after the race and discovered that it was a tiny oil leak dripping on to the exhaust. It was coming from the oil pressure sensor I had fitted. We tightened it up and lock wired it, but it was a time bomb really; it was going to let me down on lap one of Race 2.

When I set off I thought to myself, ‘Right I’m going for the lap record here’. The conditions were perfect, I had clear track in front of me and the bike was going really well after we’d rebuilt the motor.

I took the early advantage, right from the start, and was well ahead when disaster struck. I could see all the Marshalls waving at me to move over, I thought there was something on the track at first, but when I looked behind me I knew exactly why. Smoke was coming out of the back of it like a jet’s vapour trail! I left the track immediately, but I felt sick; losing 50 points in one go is hard to take. When you think, I’ve won 5 out of 6 races and I’m second in the championship. Doesn’t seem right somehow.

 

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Charging ahead, I was all set for a double victory, when a leak from an oil pressure sensor literally stopped me in my tracks.

All I could do was watch the remainder of the race, while standing with the Marshalls, and it was good to see my garage pal Martin Stanier having a ding-dong with Ryan Strafford up front. He was in the lead on the penultimate lap and I thought he was going to win, but had to accept a very close second place in the end.

Jordan and his team took the SBK win and the points, which has now left me 16 points adrift in the championship with a lot of work to do to catch up.

I left Oulton with mixed feelings, sure I was disappointed, but my Dad was pleased that the Marshalls were able to stop me in time before the oil leak spread to my rear tyre. He said it was awful to see me going like a bat of hell not knowing what was going on behind me. A crash, in some places, at a track like Oulton doesn’t bare thinking about.

I’ll be looking forward to Cadwell Park now to try and make up lost ground. It’s a circuit I like and one that Jordan knows well too, so it should be a good battle. I hope all the other guys can sort out their problems too, it would be nice for us all to have a relatively trouble-free meeting for a change – we’ll see.

Ritchie 71

 

Racing news

DONINGTON REVISITED

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The closed season went in the blink of an eye. Suddenly we were here again at Donington Park for the start of another season on my Kawasaki ZX7-R.

We were hoping to have two bikes with us but unfortunately, we’re still having oil pressure problems with the main engine. It’s taking me time to put my finger on what the cause is and it’s not worth chancing all the hours and money that’s gone into that motor on a hope that it’s going to be OK. So, we took our other motor out of bike number two, and dropped it into chassis of bike number one.

 

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Wet or dry? The weather kept us guessing throughout Saturday morning.

 

It’s still a strong motor, but hasn’t really got that extra ‘Ooomph’ the main engine has. Anyway, when we arrived at Donington there was a lot of riders who hadn’t quite finished fettling their machines or hadn’t had time to practice because of the bad weather. Mark Biswell told us that he had to cancel two track days because of the snow! We were sharing a garage with Luke MacRae, who should have been on his Suzuki SRAD to compete. He told us that it wasn’t running and he had to ride his 600 supersport bike from last year.

In the first practice session on the Friday, the bike wouldn’t rev higher than 8,000, It sounded dreadful. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. We spent a lot of time taking stuff on and off the bike – checking everything– and it still wouldn’t run properly.
I came in after only two laps in the second session and me and Dad decided to quickly change the Ignition unit for a standard one we had as a spare. Soon as I went out I knew that was problem solved – it ran a treat, a different bike! Now I could concentrate on getting a good setup for Saturday.

 

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Job done – with the engine sorted I was ready to rock and roll.

 

I was having to get used to the different character of this engine as opposed to the other main one I ran here in the final last year. You need to keep this one revving – like a two-stroke – it doesn’t have the torque the other motor has. It also has the standard gearbox in as well, which had me changing the gearing a little later on. Still, I had a good bike to run with no issues now and I was all set for qualifying on Saturday morning.

After heavy rain on Friday night, Saturday’s qualifying was a tricky affair in the wet. I looked at my pit board and could see my lap times had me 4th overall. What I thought was a good time, wasn’t good enough to beat Jordan Watling, who was lapping a good 2 seconds quicker than me. When I saw him pull in at the end, I thought, “Right, now I’ve got to go for it”.

 

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The flying lap that put me on pole

 

It was the very last lap and it was a real flyer, I couldn’t believe how good the bike felt. I took a few risks, and there we’re a few brown-trouser moments on the wet track, but it was enough pace to knock Jordan of the top spot and snatch overall pole position for the first race of the year to defend my title.

Race 1 had us all guessing again with the weather. The track was drying slowly and there were light spots of rain hanging in the air. I looked at the track and thought that the conditions were very similar to my last race there when I won the championship, so I went for slicks again.

It was a good choice if you could stay on the dry parts of the track, but if you strayed off it the bike would just move around on its own! Not good when you have to negotiate back-markers who obviously want to stick on the dry part. Anyway, I pulled a good lead over the 10 laps and finished in front of my mate Martin Stanier on his R1. Good to see him pick up a win in GP1 Classics first time out, I remember last year at Donington he spent most of his time putting the thing back together again after a crash almost snapped his frame in half.

 

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My ol’ chum Martin Stanier chased me all the way to the flag, I was so busy celebrating on the last lap he nearly caught me as we crossed the line!!

 

Happy with my solid win in the first race, I was all set for race 2. The track was dry for this one, but it had turned very cold. Even on the warm up lap the surface felt a bit slippery. I got off to good start though, and was in front all the way, from lights to flag, finishing about 4 and half seconds in front of my old adversary Ryan Strafford on his new GP1 Classic R1. It was a great feeling to win the first two outright.

 

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Me and my ZX7-R were two-times-outright winners on Saturday.

 

My ZX7-R never missed a beat all day – but I needed to change gearing to keep it lit and I thought I’d try a different compound tyre for Sunday. Sunday morning arrived with the sound airplanes landing and taking off at East Midlands airport and clear blue skies – what difference the sun makes. The track was still very cold for warm up though, so I took things a bit easy. The gearing was working better and I was ready to go for race 3.

 

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Plenty of sunshine kept our spirits up on Sunday. On with the dark visor for the first time this year.

 

The grid positions were different from the previous two races due to the Mega Laps calculation and I was at a slight disadvantage – sharing the front row – in 3rd spot with two GP1 Classic bikes just to the left of me.

I got away a bit slower than usual because the bike stuck in a neutral between 1st and 2nd – it just held me back a bit, but I still got to Redgate alongside Sam and Ryan. It was a good race and I was leading for the first couple of laps and really enjoyed being in close contention with the likes of Sam Cox and Ryan Strafford. My pace was good and the different compound rear tyre was working really well and I managed a personal best of 1:12.9 seconds, only to be pipped by Sam, for the fastest lap, by his 1:12.7

 

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Me and Jordan were going faster than last year, I had to, or he would’ve been on the top step.

 

In the final race of the day the red flags came out before the first lap had finished and we had sit and wait for what seemed like an age on the grid until the rider could be moved from the circuit. The tyres were getting cooler and cooler, but you can’t moan when someone is hurt. The Race Director gave us two warm-up laps and reduced the race to 8 laps instead of 10 – fair enough.

Once again, my engine found neutral when trying to get into second gear – bloody gearbox – and I had to tuck in behind Sam Cox down Craner. In fact, I stuck with him all the way through the race watching him and Ryan fight it out just in front of me. There were moments when I thought I could overtake him but, as my Dad often says, discretion is the better part of valour at times. I let him and Ryan get on with their own race. In fact, on the last lap Sam overtook Ryan at the Old Hairpin and took the lead; I was like a mobile spectator. It was fun to watch, but not much fun for Sam at the final corner as Ryan left it really late and pushed passed him to take the overall win. I was happy to be out of the way of it, taking the Golden Era Superbike win for 4 victories and a bit more silverware to take home.

 

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The ZX7-R’s tail was up this weekend, but we’ll have to see how things pan out over the season.

 

It was a great weekend, however, there is more work for me to do because I’m sure once Mark Biswell fixes his engine – his Triumph’s big end went in race 2, we know how he feels – he’ll be one to deal with I’m sure. Then there’s Luke McCrae who’ll be looking to do well when his Suzuki SRAD is up and running and also Greg Lewis who is just returning after injury; not forgetting my old mate Jordan Watling who is going much faster this year – also on a very nice-looking Kawasaki. I’m looking forward to the next round now, which is a double pointer, at Oulton Park. No pressure then…. see you all soon.

 

Ritchie 71

Racing news

DOWN TO THE WIRE

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This was it then, after leading the Championship all year it was all down to final round at Donington.

It was hard to believe I was here at the beginning of the year for testing in February and now I was here again for the final – and it was just as cold and damp.

The bike was all set and my knee was beginning to feel much better after my crash at Oulton Park. Practice started on Friday morning on a wet and windy circuit. Any other place the wet doesn’t normally bother me, but this place is a slippery one; you can be feeling good one minute and the next you can be sliding along the tarmac on your backside.

So, the first session was just about getting a feel for the new Dunlop wets I bought from Mark at Holbeach tyres. The second and third time out in the morning it was still wet so I pushed a bit more and managed to get a good feeling from the bike and tyres. I was happy with this set-up, because rain was forecast at some point over the weekend, but I was desperate for some dry time. After lunch, the track was dry and I was eager to get out on slicks, so off I went. ‘Let’s start getting to grips with this place now’ I thought, but by the time me and the other riders got to the Old Hairpin it was spitting with rain. All we could do was come in, grip was non-existent. Those who had spare bikes with Inters or Wets standing at the ready were able to continue. I had to sit it out. It made us think though, because the Suzuki SRAD was sitting there with nothing to do. I decided we should start thinking of it as a second machine instead of just a back-up. With the weather conditions constantly changing it might get me out of jail if I need a bike in a hurry in damp or mixed conditions. I had some fairly good, scrubbed in, Pirelli wets that are good for drying tracks that are a bit sketchy – maybe not quite as good as Dunlop’s in the very wet, but they’ll last better when it’s not.

Well, I got the Kawasaki out at last for a good run in the next session, but the track was very cold and I couldn’t really get going. I was coming in and out of the pit-lane making suspension changes on the go, not ideal, but I was running out of time.
Anyway, for the last session I decided to put the flat-slide carbs on to see if they make difference on the straights. Wow! don’t they just; but the twist-grip wasn’t working properly and my modification for a quick-twist throttle had broken and that was the end of that.
So, I ended up putting the standard carbs back on again. It was right old day, on with this, off with that, oil changes, wheel changes, seat and tank on and off more times than I can remember. We were exhausted and it was all down Mum’s pasta and a good night’s kip to revive us. I was so knackered I slept through the low flying airplanes, landing and taking off, at East Midlands Airport, unfortunately Mum and Dad did not!!

Saturday, qualifying and race day. I can’t deny it, I was nervous. It had been raining all night, the circuit was wet and we were out just before 10 o’clock. No rain was forecast but the track wasn’t drying quickly enough for dry tyres; not wet enough for wets either – I turned my attention to the Suzuki SRAD and told Dad to warm her up.

 

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Two bikes helps to win a championship and Drew’s Suzuki SRAD proved to be very competitive when called upon.

 

It stuck me on the front row here before so why not now I thought. It did it again this time round too, and I qualified P2 with the returning Richard Steadman on P1 for SBK. Ryan was on row 4. If ever there was an opportunity for me to break away this was it.

I’d been having trouble with my quick-shifter on the last practice session the day before and I found out in the scrutineering bay that the clamp bolt was lose on the operating arm. I assumed that was the trouble, so I just tightened it up and thought nothing more of it. I was wrong.

I didn’t get a particularly good start, but Ryan must have got a blinder, because he was right next to me at Redgate. We all lined up nicely through Craner Curves with Steadman close by and a new comer – and unknown to me – Darren North on a nice looking Suzuki. We charged towards the Old Hairpin and the quick-shifter started cutting in when it shouldn’t – changing gear was almost impossible. I went backwards and then the quick shifter snapped leaving me without a gear lever and stuck in 5th. The lads in front cleared off and I thought I was going get blitzed from behind. Funny enough though, being unable to change gear was better than it cutting in and out all the time and I managed to keep Jordan Watling off my back until he got cramp and had to ease off. I rode it to 4th place keeping my times on a par with the front runners by using every bit of the tarmac – even the ripple strips at times. It was bitter blow and I lost 7 points in one hit. The difference now was down to 11. Not what I wanted at all.

 

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Off with the broken quick-shifter rod and back to the old ways of gear changing again.

 

Race 2 was shit or bust really. It was still dry thankfully and I just had to go for it; if I was to go down, then I’d go down trying. This was no place for playing it safe anymore. When the lights went out I got a better start and shot straight to the front on the first lap and steadily pulled a lead over Richard Steadman on a smashing looking Yamaha FZR 750. At the flag, he was just behind me with Ryan on his SP2 finishing third, about 3 seconds adrift. It was a race I had to win and it put me 20 points ahead going into Sunday’s races. The bike was losing power towards the end though, backfiring on the overrun; it’s never done that before and it sounded as noisy as hell when I came in. Camchain tensioner alert! With Dad helping, I took it out and checked it was moving freely and put it all back. I started the engine and not a murmur. Job done, time for dinner.

I was much happier going out for a meal that night, and my appetite was beginning to return, not just for food, but the Championship as a whole. I felt that the next race was crucial. It was the weather once again that had me waiting to the last minute to make a decision.

We’d had rain again in the night so the warm up was wet. I had to go out and check the bike was running OK, but it wouldn’t warm up. It was so cold, I had to pull in and put Gaffa Tape over the radiator. It worked a treat and the bike felt good.

 

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Winding on the power. A lot better when you can shift up and down.

 

The first race was another important one, because I knew if I could win, I would be 25 points in the clear and my hands would be closer to the trophy.

The weather was changing all the time, it was windy all morning and before our race it kept spitting on-and-off with rain. It was definitely not wet enough for wets and even too dry to take the Suzuki with the Pirellis. Last minute, I decided to go with slicks hoping it wouldn’t rain again. It was to be the right choice.

 

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Dad can’t resist getting out the marker pens when I cross the line.

 

I don’t know why, but my instincts told me to run slicks – a bit risky at Donington – when everyone else was considering inters or wets. I just thought the track was too dry for that. It was gamble that paid off, although the first few laps were a bit dodgy – Richard Steadman nearly went down in front of me at the Old Hairpin with a massive slide – so I settled in behind the front runners for a lap or two. I could see the bikes in front coming towards me and I soon caught Ryan about half way through the race. I could see he was having trouble with his tyres and when he ran wide at Starkeys I overtook him on the fast left-hander – I don’t think he expected it. I knew at that moment that if the rain didn’t return the race was mine for the taking. At the flag, I won by over 16 seconds. It was a massive win for me and the ZX-7R and I knew at that point, even if I didn’t finish the last race, with a 25 point lead I would still win the title on achieving more race wins than Ryan and the SP2.

 

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Standing by, on the start line for the last race of the year.

 

It was good feeling to go out in the last race, my Dad’s last words before I went out were, “Just stay out of trouble”. He didn’t have to tell me really, all I had to do was finish and it would be all over. As we were all queuing up to go out, Ryan tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Let’s just go out and have a good race eh?” It was good to hear.

The last race of the season started well, I tucked in behind Ryan, Steadman and North. I was happy just to sit there because there was a lot shenanigans going on between Steadman and North. It was very close at times. I thought to myself, “It’s a good job Ryan can’t see what’s going on behind him”. Anyway, towards the end Darren North made an error and I was able slip through safely to take third place and another podium to finish my season.

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A yellow T-shirt came out of the blue.

 

I was really chuffed in Parc Ferme as my Mum produced a special Championship T-Shirt that I didn’t expect. Ryan was really sporting and gracious at the end. It must have been gut-wrenching – I know it would have been for me – for him after quite a tense weekend, but he came over and congratulated all of us, shaking hands and chatting about the race.

 

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Me and Ryan after the final race. He must’ve been disappointed, he rode well all weekend.


Winning a Championship is never easy, it wouldn’t feel like a big achievement if it was. We all feel like we’ve been through the mill though. I’ve had mechanical failures, injuries, and crashes, late nights in the garage (more times than I can remember), but our small team always says, “Never give up”. When there’s a strong will to win, there’ll always be a way.

The support from all the scrutineers and riders in the paddock has been much appreciated at times and I’d like to thank them all. I feel I’ve made some good friends in Thundersport, not just in my class, but in others too.

 

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Our small team, champions at last.

 

Big thanks to my Dad and my Mum for being at every round and to Drew Plaskitt who has supported me from day one with his Suzuki SRAD as a second bike. Also, to all my sponsors, Kais Suspension, R&G Racing, OPIE Oils, CP Carrillo, TA-Creative, Nova Racing Transmissions and Mark at Holbeach Tyres, who’ve all had faith in me. Having said all that, special mentions have to go to the Wiseco Piston Inc in the US; their European distributors, Race Winning Brands and Cradley Kawasaki, because without them we couldn’t have built a race-winning and Championship winning engine.

 

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That empty feeling when the season is over. We’ll be back in here February 2018.

 

Hope to see you all again next year.

Ritchie 71