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The proper silver trophy has to be returned at the end of the year, the other one is for the cabinet.
Back to reality, and plenty of work to be done on the bikes. As at the end of March, the Daytona is hopefully ready, the Cub is nearly there although the tacho resolutely refuses to work, and there is even progress with the Morini, which may be available for the second half of the season. Jenny's Honda ride is on hold as the bike is still out of action due to its owner being likewise. She has, however, been lent a Cub, which she took to Mallory Park for a practice day in March. I played my part in the proceedings by turning up with a replacement for a part that had vibrated off; Jenny then completed another 9 laps before coming in with much oil in evidence on the back of the bike, which turned out to be a split oil tank. As of now (end of March), her Cub is in Nottingham for repairs, and the fuel tank for mine is 80 miles away being modified to meet new breather regulations. Two weeks to go before the first race – I am sure it will all be fine, what can possibly go wrong?
Not a good day for Cubs
The good news is that the Daytona largely behaved itself – a dragging clutch in the first race led to my front row grid position going to waste as I couldn't get it into gear and started last instead, but it led to an interesting dice with one of the two Laverdas in the 500 class once I had caught up. The BEARS entries were somewhat depleted by the CRMC having a meeting on the same weekend – many, like me, race in both clubs, and many competitors from down south chose to go to their South Wales race. A surprise entry was top man Gary Thwaites on his very rapid 750 Norton, and I was chuffed to find that I was only slightly slower than him on the long, fast Gerard's Bend. Overall I was only two seconds off the pace for keeping up with most of the bigger bikes, whereas last year I was a further two or three seconds behind. The bike and I seem to be back to where we were 6 years ago, when things were going pretty well.
All the style is being displayed on the Laverda, but the Triumph was passing on the outside.
The bad news is that the Cub that Jenny is riding dropped a valve in practice and utterly destroyed its piston. It over-revved when she missed a gear – at worst, this normally results in a slightly bent valve, which can be swiftly replaced. It is hard to explain the level of carnage that occurred. Fortunately the bike's owner has plenty of spares and time so this one is Somebody Else's Problem.
A very sorry piston
Not a pretty sight
My Cub, sporting its nice new tank badges,
The new tank decals
waited until the first lap of the first race before holing its piston, eventually diagnosed as simply having raised the compression too high for normal pump fuel – and Avgas, while allowable for racing, is much harder to get hold of these days. I took the bike home on Saturday evening and fitted a new piston and a plate to reduce the compression somewhat; on the warm-up lap for its first Sunday race it sounded and felt wrong, this turned out to be the head gasket blowing due to a head nut coming loose. This, in turn, was due to the studs they go onto being shorter on the engine I am using than on last year's (now back on the road Cub that it had been borrowed from) – longer studs will be sourced at the Classic bike Show next weekend!
Another broken piston
So, leading the 500 BEARS championship so far, but the next round clashes with the Beer & Pretzels Games Weekend, so I can't go, and also with another CRMC meeting, so my main competitor could cruise home to four wins if there is a serious lack of entries. And whether I can attend the rest of this season's BHR meetings remains to be seen – but that trophy is very shiny...
Having left Mallory with a broken Tiger Cub, Thunderfest was an ideal opportunity to try out the repairs. It is not a race as such, but a regularity trial – after a practice session, there is a 10 lap opportunity to find out how fast you can go, allowing for traffic, as there is quite a range of speeds involved.
The start of the first session.
Many participants do not hold current racing licences, so may be taking it relatively easy, although there is a minimum speed requirement. The average and fastest lap times are then given out and each rider sets a target speed to try to match, the closest to that speed in the final 25 minute session being the winner. As the event is held at Darley Moor there is the added complication that it may well be raining some of the time.
Smiles are the most important part of Thunderfest
As it turned out, the rain died out during the morning as predicted by the Met. Office, and the Cub behaved itself, getting ahead of half the field but not quite able to catch a gaggle of much larger bikes. Lap times were pretty consistent, so I could be quite confident of matching the average quite closely. However, an urge set in to see how fast I could go on the Daytona, which I had brought along in case the Cub played up, and I had permission to change bikes already agreed. So out I went on the bigger bike – from 9th on the grid I got away third, moving up to second on the first bend and into first place before the end of the lap. Riders were not necessarily going flat out, but I knew that there were some fast riders at the back of the grid, on fast bikes, who would expect to come past me before long. In the event, it was about 15 minutes before two of them blasted past – a 1300cc 6 cylinder Kawasaki, and Frank Melling's very exotic 6 speed Manx Norton.
Note the lack of ground clearance on the 6 cylinder Kawasaki, I was impressed by Dave's ability to wrestle the beast so successfully.
A 500 Suzuki caught up on the straight, but I enjoy braking very late at the next bend and we duelled to the end of the session to the evident delight of some of the spectators; I held my third place.
Fending off Ian's Suzuki.
Of course I was way off the target time set on the Cub so had no chance of getting one of the shiny trophies, but I had a thoroughly good time. With both bikes in one piece and substantially oil-tight to boot, I can now relax a bit before the next race I can attend, in early July.
The two winners one for the fast category, the other for the slower bikes. Dave Perry on the 1300 Kawasaki was not only fastest overall, but also within 0.51 mile and hour off his chosen target speed. Ian Munroe on the Mash 400 was only 0.06 mile an hour away from perfection. This was thought to be the only sporting achievement by a Mash, a Chinese built commuter bike.
The position at the end; the score board has temporarily lost places 4-8 to make room for the next positions.
Here we are, back at Cadwell again, just a week after the Morini Riders Club track day. That event had seen the tentative return of the infamous Morini 500cc racer, with the bottom end of the engine rebuilt, new valve guides, and electrics borrowed from Sally's road Morini. The Cub had failed the noise test before springing an unexpected oil leak, so is now fitted with a baffle in the exhaust; the Daytona seemed fine if somewhat down on max. revs so is ready to try to take the lead back in the BEARS championship.
Those MZ are surprisingly fast – although they don't look flash, they accelerated faster than the Japanese 250 two-strokes back in the day. In a change from last year, the 500 BEARS class now includes the 250's, so beating Charlie and his dad on their MZ's is not just a matter of pride.
In the second 500 race the situation was the same; I checked the timing to find it was significantly out, so there was hope for a better lap time on Sunday. The Cub, meanwhile, was struggling for speed, but found a Bantam to play with so fun was had.
The Morini was taken out for Sunday morning practice, it felt pretty good but after a while seemed to be suffering from fuel starvation. There was a reasonable amount in the tank, so this was looking like another problem to be solved. And was that a slight knock I could feel through the seat, or just paranoia?
In the first race on Sunday the revised timing on the Daytona proved its worth with two seconds off the lap time, not too far off my best, so I was well clear of the 250/500 opposition but couldn't quite catch the 750/1000 tail-enders ahead. The Cub found a 250 Ducati to play with, he built up quite a lead on the straight so it took several corners before I got past – at which point there was a nasty rattle and I pulled the clutch in sharpish.
This proved to be another piston failure, it just came apart for no readily apparent reason, and having separated itself from the conrod, that went its own way to take a chunk out of the barrel. Ah well, I have been running in a new piston in another barrel on the road Cub...
The Daytona was all ready for its last race, so I went to watch the sidecars, which are always entertaining. Looking through the programme, I spotted my name – I had entered the Old Duffers' (over 50) race and had then forgotten all about it. I wonder if that happens a lot in the races for those of advancing years, or is it just me? A quick dash back had me ready in time, and in finally getting the better of a Suzuki GSX400 I took another second off my lap time, now only a second off my best. Could I go just a bit quicker in the final race?
The first lap went well, then suddenly it was cough, splutter and pop. This turned out to be a wire coming adrift, I had checked the connections but this one was hidden inside some extra insulation which had made it seem secure. So instead of having four class wins out of four, it was three wins and a non-finish; Dave is therefore still ahead in the championship but Ollie is catching him fast so they will both move ahead of me soon as I can't do the next two BHR meetings. That's the way it goes.
There was one encouraging development near the end of the day; draining fuel out of the Morini to top up the Daytona for the unexpected extra race, I realised that the taps are different on that tank, and I had them set to normal instead of reserve. So it probably was just fuel starvation after all – we will find out at the CRMC Donington meeting in August.
And so to Donington, scene of so many disasters over the years. Things started well, with scrutineering and signing on sorted out on Thursday afternoon, ready for practice and one race for each bike the next day. Friday dawned clear and dry, which was unfortunate as I am better in the wet and practice times were to determine grid positions for the entire weekend.
On Friday night the Cub engine was rebuilt using a slightly suspect spare piston and barrel; it held together for the two races on Saturday, and while not being fast enough to keep up with the other 200cc four strokes, it found some obscure 250 Simpsons to play with, plus a 188cc Aermacchi.
With events running late, the second Saturday 500 race was switched to Sunday morning, and in the dry conditions I didn't do so well, but was still gradually improving. In the last race I was finally starting to get my head down but a slight carburetion problem was getting worse and three bikes I had been dicing with got by when the engine stuttered badly mid-corner. Rats! Still, my best lap time was another two seconds faster and 19th place from starting 28th was not too bad. The Morini now needs its tappets resetting and a general tightening down – fingers crossed that it will behave at Cadwell in September. And just maybe I can get the Cub properly back on its wheels too...
The Morini sorry saga continued when I checked the engine after the last race – the ominous thump had returned accompanied by bits of metal in the oil. The Morini Riders Club experts had a prod and poke, the main bearing seems OK this time but were those bits of metal a (new) big-end shell on the way out? The wise move was to strip it all down once again, but I really wanted to try it at Cadwell in anger, so I pulled off the heads and barrels to find no obvious play in the big-ends; with luck it would at least last a while before anything really disastrous happened.
The suspect Cub piston had given up in the last race at Donington, so yet another new piston went in accompanied by a different set of flywheels as I had discovered that the conrod was slightly bent, which won't have been helping. Jenny's Cub had been thoroughly rebuilt so hopes were high that we would finally have the long-awaited showdown between the Cubs.
Practice was used to run the new piston in, but where was Jenny? Her bike had cut out at the end of the straight, she had put her left hand up to indicate a problem, and at that point the bike seized and threw her off at about 80 mph. She was feeling somewhat battered and the bike looked decidedly secondhand, so that was that for yet another weekend. And in the first race my Cub seized again...
Jenny's mentor Lewis had turned up with a couple of drilled bolts that I needed to ensure that the Morini passed scrutineering, and was also equipped with a spare piston which was the right size for my Cub, fortuitously. The barrel cleaned up OK so in the new piston went – not in time for the second Saturday race, but the bike was ready for Sunday. The piston gave a lower compression but was genuine Triumph, as opposed to the others I had been using which, while having the right name stamped on them were increasingly suspected of being made in Taiwan – there had been rumours.
Meanwhile, the Daytona was out for two BEARS races, just Dave's Laverda and the two Mzs to beat for the class win but I got ahead of three of the 750/1000 bikes too. Charlie's MZ was perilously close so in the second race – on Sunday morning as things were running behind schedule - I pulled my finger out and got the time down to 2 minutes 2 seconds, which is just as well as a 500 Rotax had joined in and was not far behind in second place.
The Cub then survived its next race - hurrah! Not really quick enough but ahead of a couple of the Bantams and a 250 Royal Enfield.
The time had come to try the Morini out, and in its first race it got round in 2m 1.45s despite me still getting used to it. Having entered the Old Duffers' race I took the Daytona out again as the final Cub race was due to follow immediately and I was still not sure how long the Morini would last.
In the event it was the Cub that had to be rescued, it ran out of sparks as it crossed the finishing line, I should have changed to the spare battery...
By the time of the last BEARS race it was touch and go whether we would meet the deadline for the meeting finishing, and darkness threatened. We got there, but few riders had stayed for it – just a handful of bikes, all from the 750/1000 classes and all good riders. The Morini was able to stay with three of them, I outbraked a 1000 BMW at the end of Park Straight but he firmly shut the door on the bend, I later made a pig's ear of the hairpin (confused by the extra gears, by way of lame excuse), and in chasing the pack back down achieved a lap time of 1m 59.04. Below 2 minutes at last, after decades of trying. Celebration time!
Tail well up after Cadwell, I was looking forward to Brands, which is more to do with handling than power so the Cub is in with a chance. There were half a dozen riders in the 200 four-stroke class, and I was second fastest in practice. Sunday's race was the Classic Race of the Year, with a real podium, so I was looking forward to a repeat of 2010's satisfaction of having a trophy handed over by a Honda rider as the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Racing Club are the event sponsors. In the first race on Saturday I started right at the back and finished third – so far, so promising.
As this determined my grid position for the remaining two races I would be starting from a better position and a couple of second places looked very likely, barring disaster - which came in race 3 when there were three more fallers, one of whom hurt herself very badly and by the time the air ambulance had arrived it was too late so police and coroners took over and that was it for the day. She was a good rider and very well liked, falling off at a popular spot for that and desperately unlucky not to have just got up and walked away.
After a minute's silence on Sunday morning we got back to the racing, all the second Saturday races were abandoned but there was still the rest of the first round to finish off. Out on the Morini for the first time at Brands I got round at a similar pace to five years ago on the Daytona; starting from the back again it was a bit scary avoiding running into a couple of the slower riders ahead but again, the lap times meant that I would be staring ahead of them in the remaining race.
A decent start would put me among some fairly quick bikes and I was hopeful of improving my times by a couple of seconds. With 12 750s and 19 in my 500 class there would still be plenty of bikes ahead of me.
That left the two classics race of the year events to go with a likely 2nd place in the 200cc class, albeit behind most of the 250s - this is the event where they have a real podium and the sponsoring Japanese Vintage club have to hand over a trophy to the only British bike in the class - it happened back in 2010 so I was looking forward to a repeat of that. An old school friend had come down to watch the two main races too. We watched the main event of the day, the Classic King of Brands race with exotic ex-Grand Prix bikes and the top riders, there was one more race (with the ambulance out again and another restart), then it was time to go out on the Cub.
After half a lap yet more people fell off so there was a delay, then more delay, then it transpired that both doctors were staying with the riders in their respective ambulances, leaving none left at the circuit. It was getting too late for them to get back in time, so that was that, insufficient medical staff for racing to continue. A big disappointment, but at least I am alive and unbroken, as, indeed, are the bikes, though of course there is plenty of fettling to do over the winter. It was truly bizarre that so many people were getting hurt for no readily apparent reason, roll on next year and let's hope that it gets off to a good start for everyone.
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