Words By Gerry Johnson.
All the waiting over winter is now over and a fresh season of bike racing awaits!
The team have decided to curtail racing commitment in 2015 to just running with the North East Motorcycle Racing Club (NEMCRC) and the Melville Club of Scotland. This will make the season less frantic. With a baby soon to be here for Richy and wife Ally, seems a sensible thing to do.
Local circuit Croft with the NEMCRC was our first outing at the end of March, with full grids and traditionally poor weather to contend with! We had entered the “Pre Injection 600” class which has a CB500 class within it. This means racing against older 600’s (still very fast) and other older “Superbikes”. Although only half a dozen or so CB’s were entered, they were all top class racers, all gunning to beat Richy, who was so dominant at this event last season.
Team RBRacing/Labman rolled up fairly late Friday afternoon (considering we are only half an hour from the Circuit). Upon arrival, we began awning erection and “camp” organising. Unfortunately we just missed Technical Inspection which would now have to be done very early Saturday morning. The weather was not good (as is tradition), with a strong wind blowing persistent showers across the circuit. After the hatches were duly battened down, Richy and I retired to the local pub for a pint and some food.
Here we go again!
Early Saturday saw us at Technical Inspection and signing on. Weather was not good, but the rain was stopping and the track drying. As is with Richy, he had decided to enter not only the CB500 class, but the Stock/Supertwins class as well. These are twins like the CB, but bigger and much more powerful engines than the old CB! Previous entrants by other CB’s in this class usually meant them running at the back-but as we will see, this is not Richy’s way! This meant eight! yes eight races for Richy over the weekend. His reasoning for this was to give him more track time as the baby arrival may curtail his racing this season. Logical? I call it MAD!
With a damp track, rain stopped and a drying wind across the circuit, I opted for dry tyres for Qualifying and Richy went with full wets. All was well as we waited for our session. With 20 minutes to go what happens? – of course it started raining heavily! Frantic changing of tyres on my bike saw both bikes just making the Qualifying session, both with the right tyres for the conditions (makes a change). It was lashing down through Qualifying, with deep puddles at the apex of most corners! These needed to be avoided at all costs as it would mean instant aquaplaning whilst banked over – not good!
Surprisingly, the wets felt very good and we both kept a good pace with no major issues. It was the first time on wets for myself, and I’ve got to admit, I enjoyed it! This was reflected in our times compared to the much more powerful 600’s we were up against. Richy qualified as fastest CB500 on the 3rd row, (9th on grid) with myself just one row behind! (15th on grid). With 31 bikes on the grid and 8 rows of bikes, that was excellent, especially for myself – first timer in the wet!
Unfortunately, after Qualifying, the wind strengthened, leaving our super-duper heavy duty awning twisted and jammed up against the van. Eventually we managed to pull it down, box it up and prepare ourselves for the first race!
It was good to see family, friends and Labman colleagues coming along to support us. A very full caravan with Jan and Ally making lots of tea (and dishing out the odd beers). Richy and I tried to spend time with everyone, but it is difficult sometimes as we prepare for racing. Apologies for not giving everyone our full attention but we do try to be polite if we have to rush away!
Richy in the thick of it with the Supertwins
It soon came round to our first race and (you guessed it!) was one of those wet or dry tyre situations. A wrong choice here would be very costly not only from a safety point of view but also to the wallet!! We made the decision to go out on wets and were relieved to find that everyone else had done the same, although the track was drying quickly. As we lined up on the grid, all the CB’s were together on the 3rd and 4th rows. This meant that the start was going to be frantic as the more powerful bikes further down the grid would come past us going into the first corner. Richy knew that if he could get a few bigger bikes between him and the other CB’s he could do well and I would use my old head to pick the right lines in these tricky conditions. On the drag to the first corner we were engulfed by 600’s. With some late braking and different racing lines Richy settled into the first lap at the front of the class and I was pushing hard to mix it with the podium positions. The track was drying very quickly especially around the back of the course through the Esses. The wet tyres were starting to overheat giving the sensation of riding on jelly, whilst still offering reasonable grip. I had an early dice with the other CB riders, especially given this was my first outing since the big accident last year. As the race went on Richy was still pushing hard not knowing who was behind but the rear tyre, on the old CB, was shredding badly. After an “out the seat moment” at Sunny”In,” Richy had a long look behind and with no imminent danger brought the old CB home for Labman’s first win of the season!! I managed in tricky conditions to hang onto the other CB riders, settling for a solid 5th place.
Gerry through “The Complex” chased by a gaggle of 600’s!
By the time the stocktwins came round, the track was almost completely dry, so a new set of dry rubber went onto Richy’s bike. Richy knew if he could get into the sub 1.40’s (something he’d never done) he could have a dice with the main pack of the stocktwins. The lights went out and Richy determined to make a good start, took 3rd place (against the stocktwins) into the first corner, to try and make a break. Down the back straight for the first time, Richy was tucked in but got swallowed up by 2 more powerful stocktwins. The battle for third continued much of the race, with Richy catching and sometimes passing the stocktwins in the twisty bits, only to be overtaken again down the straight. This meant really fun racing!! In the end, although on the back wheel of 3rd and 4th place riders on the last lap, he had to settle for a hard fought 5th place. His pace put him in the 1.40’s but he knew he could get a bit more out the little CB especially if the wind dropped.
The second and final CB race of Saturday came round with conditions improving all the time. I also now had new fresh rubber on as the club decided to run two warm up laps. This helped me bed the tyres in. Everyone in this race was up for it as the track was dry, making everyone more determined. I got a fast start and on the charge to the first corner, was close to Richy who had a bit of a wheelie start therefore losing him time. Although, (sorry to say, and not making excuses) I was feeling under the weather, I got my head down and was soon lapping at a good pace and found a rhythm after having a battle with the other CB’s. Richy, after his bad start, put in some determined laps to provide a good lead over the chasing pack and again decided to mix it with the more powerful 600’s. Both bikes were performing well, it was obvious that the maintenance over winter had paid off. Richy came home for his second win to make it two out of two. Once again I ended coming home in 5,th now lapping in the 1.46’s (2 seconds a lap quicker than last year, so can’t grumble!)
“Get yer finger out Dad – I’m not hanging around waiting for you!”
Conditions were getting better all the time as the sun started to poke through late in the day and the wind dropped considerably. Richy was therefore determined to go for it and post a fast time in the Stocktwins. On starting the number 56 bike, there was a horrible crunching sound coming from the alternator side of the engine. This then stopped and the bike seemed to be running fine, so we made the decision to do the race knowing something wasn’t right. Richy put this out of his mind as he lined up on the grid. Getting away well, he was able to hang onto to the second and third place rider in the stocktwins class. The reduction in wind was significant especially around the flat out 6th gear Jim Clark Esses and Barcroft which is probably one of the quickest corners anywhere in the UK. This meant Richy could get tucked in and carry his speed out of the wind. He had a fantastic race-long battle for second place, only to miss out by less than two seconds. In a race where the little CB is well down on power compared to the other bikes, Richy finally finished in a comfortable 3rd place, getting into the 1.39’s in the process.
Although a very successful first day, the team (especially me) could not settle knowing the imminent problem with the 56 machine. We whipped off the engine cover to find that the flywheel bolts had loosened and sheared off, damaging the alternator in the process. After a quick trip home (good job we were only at Croft), we picked up the spare flywheel and alternator with a plan to fit it Sunday morning as the programme wasn’t scheduled to start until 12pm. It was 10pm by the time Richy and myself had sunk a couple of beers and cooked a curry….busy day!
After another stormy and rainy night, we rose early to repair the number 56 machine, whilst everyone else seemed to be asleep. With the spare flywheel and alternator fitted, oil topped up and engine ran, to check everything was ok, the team were ready for the days action to unfold. Richy had to purchase another wet rear tyre though, after it was shredded on Saturday.
“Come on you old git!” (the bike, not the rider)
With no practice on Sunday, the Team were soon up and straight out for the first CB race. We were presented with yet another wet or dry situation!!! We went for dry tyres as there was only a couple of damp patches. Everyone else was also on dries, but when lining up on the grid some of the riders complained that the track was a bit wet and wanted to put wet tyres on. Richy and I didn’t agree with this but had to return to the pits with the race postponed until the sidecars had completed their race. The weather didn’t get worse, so the team decided to stick with dry tyres. In the assembly area there was a mixture of dry and wet tyres on bikes but we knew we had made the right decision especially after the warm up lap. Lining up on the grid I knew I had a chance of getting into the top three as the other CB riders had either put full wets on or a mixture of both. Both riders got away well and started to look towards avoiding the damp patches and overtaking bikes struggling on overheating wets.I had an excellent race long battle for 3rd place, eventually making a final move to consolidate 3rd going into the hairpin (the dampest part of the track!!) on the penultimate lap. Richy also took victory by the biggest margin of the weekend. So a repeat of last year with both Labman riders in the trophy positions and with plenty of mentions on the commentary of the blue machines!
When the going gets tough………..
“Out the way – I’m coming through!”
Unknowing to Richy, the organisers had rearranged the schedule so he was straight back out for the next race for the stocktwins (thanks to his wife Ally for waving him straight through and not to go back to the “garage”). He was unsure if he had enough fuel but luckily the race duration was cut from 8 to 5 laps so he stood a chance of making it. Richy was now getting into his groove and set his best lap of the weekend 1.38 and taking another third place in the stocktwins in the process!! After checking his fuel on return, the bike was clearly running nearly empty which obviously helped lap times!!!
Both riders were feeling the pace, I was feeling distinctly unwell and poor Richy was preparing for the two final races after completing in 6 already. The final CB race came and went in flash. Richy securing his fourth win of the weekend, making it 4 out of 4. I came home with a good 4th place.
Smile please! – Oh, you are!
The final stocktwins race came around late afternoon and Richy went out aiming for second place. He eventually missed out again by a couple of seconds. He knew he didn’t want to try and push the little CB any harder and risk an off, especially as the next meeting was just two weeks away.
On packing up, the team reflected on a successful, fun, eventful and probably busiest weekend ever! We hope for better weather at the next round (although it is in Scotland!) This time, the Team will only be competing in the one class as well!
Thanks to all those who came from Labman, without their support this would not be possible. Thanks to all family and friends for coming and braving the elements!
Gerry (#55), Richy (#56), Jan and Ally.