Being a Husband and Father, I now spend a fair amount of time watching rubbish TV shows, X-Factor being one of them. Now I really shouldn’t be allowed to sit in front of this stuff as it only winds me up and usually finishes with me shouting at the TV. I’m sure that they wouldn’t allow a machine gun nest controlled by my red button either. My biggest gripe is collapsing/crying; yes I understand that your dreams are shattered and your dog/cat/hamster always wanted to hear you sing on TV but please, please, please keep your dignity people, it is just a competition after all! What ever happened to the British stiff upper lip? Keep calm and carry on? Rant over.
The Anglesey Grand sits as one of the main races of the season for me having won the event in 2008, 2010 and 2011. I missed the 2009 Grand as I was having a rest in Bangor hospital, I also missed last year’s event as it clashed with the final round of the Thundersport GB Championship for which I had campaigned all of that season. This year was a bit different, I’d only raced in four short circuit meetings all season, plus the TT, so the Grand was firmly on my radar. Having won the event 3 times, no one has ever won it 4. (Hate to spoil it but they still haven’t!)
Preparation for the meeting was a little bit disjointed, I swapped around between 3 different bikes during fortnight running up the event. The Fireblade which I have ridded for Shaun Boyle/Barry Ikin was still waiting for the engine to come back from having the gearbox repaired. It looked like it might show up in time but then didn’t. A hasty plan had to be hatched. My old GSXR was sitting in the showroom of Infront Motorcycles, Chester (who handily, also employ me) ready for me to use as a one-to-one track instruction machine. James, one day said what I was already thinking: “Why don’t you just use your old bike?”. I had sold the bike two years ago, Adam Robinson rode it in Thundersport for a season and now James has bought it back.
I still had all my data sheets from the three seasons that I rode it for, it needed a good check through etc but essentially was ready to roll. The decision had been made then, two nights before the Grand, James took a race Fireblade in to sell and this was thrown into the mix. We both agreed that the GSXR was probably the best plan still as riding a Fireblade that I’d never sat on was probably going to make a harder job of things than riding the GSXR which, although I’d not sat on for two years, was more of a known entity. Thursday night before leaving on the Friday and I’m still at work at 10pm working on the bike. My text message to Jo saying “Got a few bits to sort on the bike so might be late” now seemed a bit of an understatement. New clutch, chain/sprockets, oil/filter, tyres, battery, settings put back to my last outing on the bike and we were ready to roll.
Turning up at the circuit late on Friday afternoon, I spotted some new flags up at the entrance to the circuit, to later be told that a picture of me was on one of them. How cool is that? I now appear to be nearly as famous as I think I am! We got everything set up, except for the awning. Page one of my Anglesey circuit guide includes “Don’t put up your awning until you really need it as it will probably get blown away/destroyed by the weather during the night!” Jack, one of my old work mates from Bill Smith’s, arrived to spanner for the weekend. He didn’t seem to find my good news/bad news gag overly funny – the good news being that my caravan has gas heating, the bad news that the back of my van (where he was sleeping) hasn’t and we had no electric hook up.
Mackers on a flag.
Saturday dawned dry but windy, the entry list had the best quality that I’ve ever seen at the Grand. Gavin Hunt, Jonny Blackshaw, Leon Jaecock, Jay Harris had all come across from the BSB Paddock to compete, this wasn’t going to be easy! I was grateful for the support but every time someone patted me on the back with a “Got my money on you Mackers” or “You’re gonna get the record Mackers!” I’m pretty sure a little bit of wee came out! I was pretty nervous about the job in hand to tell the truth. Preparation hadn’t been the best really had it?! I’ve probably done more miles on my pushbike than I have on the short circuit this season, and I was jumping on a bike that I’d not ridden since my son was in nappies!
Timed qualifying for the club races on Saturday settled me down a bit, riding the bike again was like coming home. It just did everything I wanted it to do, I’d spent 2012 wrestling with a ZX10 and this season riding pretty much anything that anyone would lend me, but the GSXR and I just made sense once again. I qualified on pole 1m 28.9s which was only 0.4s from my personal best, set at my last Grand in 2011, I was happy with this considering the windy conditions. The brakes were pretty poor and the pad behind my seat was on the spare fairing (at the unit in Chester) so my arms were wearing out a bit too quickly. James gave me a set of Bendix carbon pads to try (I promise I’ll pay him for them soon). Jo and Jack got to work creating a much neater seat back pad than I would’ve gone to the trouble to sort out!
Race One got underway; I got a great start, had a good race with Jonny Blackshaw and eventually took the win and improved my personal best time to 1m 28.3s. Jonny lapped faster than me, catching me up towards the end of the race. Gavin Hunt missed the start of the race so had to start from the back of the grid, so wasn’t really able to show what he was capable of. I reckoned I was going to have some trouble with this pair!
I’d noted that I was losing some time through the twisty, top section, of the circuit and wasn’t using as much travel in the front fork as I used to. I decided to check that the fork springs and oil level were ok in the forks between heats. Jack and I got the left leg apart and checked it through, all was good. On undoing the cap on the right leg the whole fork cartridge assembly came out in my hand. Basically the cartridge had come free from the lower stanchion, if the other side had done the same then the front wheel would’ve fallen out when it lifted off the road! Remember kids, always get your suspension serviced! A quick call to Richard from Maxton; he said to bring it over and he would meet me that evening and tighten the assembly back down if I needed him to. It was great that he would help me out to this degree, the only other option was to somehow tighten this ourselves. Special tools were required for the job as the castle shaped head of the cylinder was deep down inside the leg. With that Caskey, the circuit handyman, appeared to see how we were getting on and was immediately roped into operation ‘Make Something to Tighten That Up’. I eyed up the storm bars of my awning and after a quick recce we all reckoned that it’d do the job. We hammered a socket down the centre of the box section to splay it out enough to clear the damper rod then, with my trusty angle grinder and some squinting, I cut out four sections of the bar to make the rough shape of the top of the cartridge piece. We offered it up to the fork leg, it fitted first time with no mods, a stroke of genius or luck (you decide), mole grips were used to nip it up and we rebuilt both legs, pretty pleased with our ingenuity. That quick job had taken a bit longer than we had expected so the next race loomed.
Mackers’ special tool.
I got another good start but dropped to third in the early stages behind Gavin and Jonny. To be honest I was happy to follow them around. I wasn’t campaigning this championship and there was more to learn from staying put than diving through trying to win the race. We all set virtually identical times, but I had found my spot of the circuit. Quite ironically it started from the corner where I really badly injured myself four years ago; I could get great drive out of Church into the virtually flat-in-sixth right hander and this put me in a passing position on the brakes into Rocket. I didn’t have much else over these pesky kids so it was still going to be a close race on Sunday.
That evening Jack and I removed, and Jo flushed, the radiator as the bike had been running at 90 degrees on track all day, which given the conditions seemed a bit high. Jack refitted the rad, while I was chatting, a few checks and the bike was ready for Sunday.
Sunday was warmer and the wind calmer than the previous day. I pushed hard in qualifying, on yesterday’s tyres, setting another personal best which still only got me third on the grid. All four of us were within 0.4 of a second so there was no telling which way the first leg was going to go.
I fitted a new set of Dunlops for the race and got a good start behind Leon Jaecock from pole. He started to pull a gap in the early stages, Gavin Hunt and I started to battle on-track which gave him a bit more time. Just as I was beginning to panic that Leon was getting away, he lost the front into the left hander of the Corkscrew. I now sat in second place behind Gav and my plan modified; I reckoned sitting behind and holding pace for a few laps would do me better than trying to pass and make a break for it. I passed my pitboard with four laps to go and decided that the time was now, I got the good run out of Church to set up a pass into Rocket. Getting though I stuck my head down and got a small gap during the next 2 laps. I covered the line on the final lap which meant my final lap time wasn’t the best. This was probably a mistake as Gav had a really good lap and closed up the gap to see me win by just 0.2 of a second. The Grand is run over two legs with an aggregate result deciding the overall champion. I was going to have to win or be sniffing Gav’s aftershave over the line in the second leg to win this!
Jack fitted a new set of tyres for the second leg – tyre warmers, over socks and blankets from the caravan were used to heat them up as quickly as possible as there was only around an hour between the two races.
I got off the line ok in the second leg, Gav got a flier taking the lead and breaking away by about 2 seconds in the early stages. I dropped to fourth at the second turn on the first lap, and was starting to panic a bit seeing Gav pulling away. A couple of failed overtaking attempts later and I was screaming obscenities at the two in front of me. I began to make mistakes nearly losing the front a couple of times and running wide. I shouted at myself to calm down, got it back together, and passed Jonny into Rocket then Leon into the hairpin on the same lap. With 7 laps to go I was about 2.5 seconds down. I did everything I could but Gav was running a really good pace at the front. I made bits and pieces of time but ultimately the gap stayed reasonably static. I did manage to break Alistair Seeley’s outright lap record in my effort to catch back up though. Eventually I crossed the line 2 seconds down to take second in the race and the event.
In all honesty I am gutted not to have won the Grand but am happy with how I rode. If I was typing this now and saying that I’d not performed at my best then I’d have something to be annoyed about. I did all that I could and it really just came down to the circumstances of the race than anything else. Gavin Hunt rode a great race, with the pace he was running, by making the break at the start he had pretty much sealed the deal by lap three. I can take some consolation from the fact that I now hold the fastest ever two wheeled lap of the full Anglesey circuit. I also didn’t cry or collapse, shook the hand of the winner and accepted that I had been beaten on the day, an example to X-Factor contestants present and future?
The winter is upon us once more, I have a few trials planned as normal. I’m also hoping to organise a guided route youth trial at my local club’s event aside from the full adult trial. I’ve discussed this with the club and they seem keen on the idea so really it’s down to me to get it arranged. Oset are running a trial at Donington Hall on November 16th and have asked me to shadow the organiser so that I can get a feel of how the day should be run, to then put that into place locally.
Aside from this, I’m also provisionally planning a solo charity cycle ride/challenge for next year. This will all be in aid of a local friend of a friend cancer patient. Things are very much in the early stages of planning, ie. I’ve had an idea of what I’d like to do! My provisional thought is to attempt 6 laps of the TT course in a day. Please folks if anyone has any other ideas I’d be glad to hear them and I’ll give more information once I know what the plan is myself!