Archive for August, 2010

BTCC Silverstone

August 22, 2010

Just a wee quick one.

I made a quick trip over to Silverstone for the Saturday of the race weekend. I couldn’t make race day and fancied a gander at Quali and the airshow that the circuit was laying on. I had a quick whistle stop tour of the Team Aon hospitality and pit garage then watched Qualifying from the Copse A & B grandstands.

Hello TC

The airshow was curtailed by the weather unfortunately. Both the Spitfire and the Vulcan had to cancel due to appalling fog in the south of the country, a real shame as I was very much looking forward to seeing the Vulcan (plane geek as well as car geek you see). The show was still good, the Yaks put on an interesting, display and the Extra 330 stunt plane was fantastic.

The Yak display team

An airborne handbrake turn.

For me the most evocative aircraft on display was the P51-D Mustang, probably the greatest single engined fighter of the second world war. The noise was wonderous, the P51 (D) used the same ‘Merlin’ engine as the Spitfire. It’s a 27L, supercharged V12 and it was spine tingling. The triumvirate of a deep, V12 roar coupled with the whine of a massive supercharger and the prop tips whistling as they went supersonic was breathtaking. I enjoyed that sentence.

I wish I could post the sound on here.

The Qualifying action was great, plenty of incident with the Fords looking imperious. So imperious in fact that due to being over 0.5s quicker than anyone else, TOCA once again reduced thier engine’s power output via a smaller air restrictor and lower turbo boost pressure.

James Nash slams on approaching Becketts.

I like qualifying days, I still maintain that they’re the best way to see F1 if you need to see it live. The atmosphere is relaxed and there’s simply more space to move about.

Matt Jackson

Full set of BTCC shots:

So yeah, a quick one like I said, next event will probably be Trax on 5th September. Hopefully see you then.


Some Road Racing at last!

August 16, 2010


Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have probably read about me going to Northern Ireland over the weekend to watch the Ulster Grand Prix. This is a huge deal for me, firstly because due to university or work commitments, I haven’t been able to get to the TT for years, and secondly because Irish Road Racing has to be seen to be believed. I went to the races with a mate, who’s family live in Tandragee, home to the renowned Tandragee 100 road race. They actually live on the same housing estate as TT legend Phillip McCallen, we drove past his house! It’s safe to say that the local community is totally integral to the running of the events, the local papers are full of info and the marshalls are locally sourced. It creates a wonderful atmosphere.

The TT and UGP are both essentially motorbikes tear arsing down closed, public roads. The distinction is that the TT is against the clock, whereas in the UGP (and other Irish road races) the riders are physically racing for position, oh and it’s mental. As at the TT, I’m always gobsmacked by the commitment on show. I think to myself, yes, they’re professional nutcases, but surely you can’t ride a 180bhp sportsbike at ten tenths down narrow B roads? But then they come screaming past, hard on the brakes, the rear wheel snaking around beneath the rider, barely kissing the tarmac, with the slipper clutch getting a battering as they stamp down the gears. Every lap is like this, even the privateers are awe inspiring in their bravery and skill.

A couple of 250s over Deer's Leap

We were stood no more than 10ft from the track at any time, getting so close is sure a rare event these days and it only adds to the thrill. We were in amongst groups of local lads (most of which were well in to their Buckfast or tins of lager by 10am) but everyone was very friendly and chatty. As you can expect, there was plenty of beautiful roadbikes lining the roads, parking where ever they could.

The lads next to us, see, Buckfast & Tinnies, good craic.

Photographic this event has a real challenge, panning needed to be incredibly quick and we were lucky with the weather being so bright so I could keep the shutter speed nice and quick. Initially, I was feeling quite cocky. On the Superstock sighting lap (race 1), I had my eye in by the time the last few bikes came though. I was feeling pretty confident as they really seemed ‘on it’ for a sighting lap. Then they came through on lap one at full tilt.

Oh. My. God.

What I thought was quick before was absolutely blown in to the weeds. The bikes were coming through so much faster, it was harder to comprehend. I had to quickly sort myself out and recalibrate, the races are only 7 laps at most, so I wouldn’t have that many opportunities to catch the top guys on camera. I’ve never panned so fast in my life, it was quite good exercise, but I probably looked a bit special while I was doing it.

My favourite rider, Guy Martin on a retro liveried Honda

Another feature that impresses about this type of racing is the variety of machines that the riders will compete on, in the same day. From 250s right up to the full fat Superbikes, some riders were very busy, but still quick in every class, incredible when the margins for error are so narrow, as you can see below, bales anyone?

Ian Hutchinson on an installation lap believe it or not!

With a sport this dangerous, there’s quite often serious accidents. This year a bike went off in the Superstock race and hit two spectators. The rider and one of the spectators are stable, with the other in a critical condition. I wish them all the best. Overall it was a brilliant event, the weather was nothing short of glorious, bar a short cloudy spell in the afternoon. The action was spectacular and cheap to watch. I got over there via BMI baby for £52 return so it can be a relatively cheap trip and I thoroughly recommend it. It will redefine what you think ‘fast’ is. Few more photos to finish? Why not, full set is here:

Eyes wide open!

Just stumbled across this from 2006:

Confessions of a negligent Motorcyclist

August 11, 2010

Forgive me Honda, for I have sinned.

There was a spate of ‘Automotive Confessions’ on Twitter yesterday. Most concerned people admitting to owning terrible cars or bikes, and indeed paying over the odds for said abominations. So this got me thinking, do I have any Automotive skeletons in my closet? Turns out I do, but not in terms of owning vehicles considered to be lacking in any kind of merit. My confession is one of the crippling and ultimately terminal  neglect of one of my vehicles. I’ve killed…

A little background. I passed my motorbike test in 2002 on my first bike, a Suzuki GS125 which I’d owned since I was 17. When doing your motorbike test (I think this is still the case) you can either do it on a 500cc ‘big bike’, or a 125cc. If you pass on a big bike you can then go out and buy any bike you like, without any restrictions. If you pass on a 125, like I did, you are restricted to a bike of 33bhp or less, for a period of two years. A lot of people buy a middle sized bike, like a Suzuki SV650 and fit a 33bhp restrictor, which you can then remove, once your probation is completed. I however was skint and couldn’t afford a ‘proper’ bike so I trawled the classifieds for a bike that had less than 33bhp as standard. This invariably meant, small and old if it was to be cheap. I struck gold, £290 got me a low mileage 1983 Honda CB250 RS. The RS bit sounded good so I went for it. This had 28bhp, good(ish) handling and, being a Honda single cylinder, was bulletproof. I fell in love with this bike, it felt so much faster than my 125, it would do an indicated 80 mph with one’s chin on the petrol tank. I went everywhere on it as it was my only form of transport, great times.

Exactly the same as my RS, only in much better nick

Fast forward to July 2005, I’m at the end of my 2nd year at university and I have landed a summer placement at the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) in Coventry. The MCIA is a  motorcycle industy body, involved in the promotion and safeguarding of motorcycling in the UK, great dissertation fodder. The MCIA had a pool of press bikes on hand, kindly provided by the likes of Triumph, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda. One of my roles was to pick up a brand new, all black R6 from Yamaha UK in Weybridge. So I pootled down all the way from Coventry to pick up this bike on my little Honda which, even on the motorway, performed admirably. University meant no money, so I couldn’t upgrade from my 250, even though my two years were up.

The R6 I picked up from Yamaha UK, incredible.

I hopped on the R6 and frankly, after an intimidating start, had some of the best fun of my life on that bike, it was mental. I don’t buy in to this ‘600s are for girls’ bollocks that is spouted by certain sportsbike riders, it was hilariously fast, but I digress. So, my time with the R6 came to an end, and I blasted back to Yamaha UK to drop it off and collect my RS. Compared to the R6, it felt like it was about to fall apart, even dangerous but eventually we got to know each other again. On the ride home however, it didn’t feel as powerful as I remembered. I put this down to having just gotten off a bike with roughly 90bhp more, so continued on my merry way. Just before I got on to the M25, I stopped, the bike just didn’t feel right, it was very sluggish to rev, ignoring any R6 comparisons. I unscewed the oil filler cap, which sat conviniently on the top of the crankcase. Upon doing this, little whisps of white smoke came floating out and I thought to myself, ‘ooh, that smells a bit hot’. Yes, I know, this should have rung alarm bells but as I’d never opened the filler cap on the bike when the engine was hot I didn’t see this as an issue *facepalm*

I pressed on.

Just as I passed Prodrive at Banbury on the M40, it happened. Revs dropped dramatically, BANG, then a chirp from the rear tyre as it locked, whip the clutch in and coast. It had seized. It then dawned on me, I had run the thing out of oil. I couldn’t remember the last time I had checked the oil, let alone topped it up, poor thing. I phoned a mate, who came with a van to pick me up. It was clearly destroyed, it would freewheel even when in gear, no compression owing to the massive hole that the valve punched through the top of the piston.

My dad is an automotive mechanical engineer, when I got home and told him what had happened I could tell he was ashamed. His eldest had royally knackered a bike through neglect and lazyness that would have lasted for years more. That said, let’s look at the positives, my little Honda did the thick end of 70 miles with no oil in it, now that’s build quality.

So there it is, my confession, but I’ve learnt from it. Let’s just say I’ve checked my oil levels very closely ever since.

A real MINI Adventure

August 2, 2010

Never one to be on time, here’s my take on MINI entering WRC.

Well it’s been such an open secret, for so long, it was hardly news was it? That said, how often do we hear manufacturers linked to motorsport series’ for it all to ultimately come to nothing? It’s very reassuring that pen has been put to paper and that Prodrive’s order books are filling up.

First and foremost, we have a new manufacturer in top level rallying, fantastic news. The IRC series has shown that the right regs and event format can attract new manufacturers to build works cars. Now that WRC has encouraged it’s first new entrant in years, I sincerely hope that others follow suit. We need some diversity, personally, I’m sad that WRC is purely Focus v C4 and PWRC is purely Impreza v Lancer, variety is the spice of life and all.

Hopefully, the S1.6 Turbo regs will encourage other manufacturers to come in. The 1.6 Turbo is particularly relevant to sport road models these days so why not prove it’s worth on the stages? Ford & Citroen have stood by the WRC for a long time, the marketing value clearly works for them, it could work for others too.

I’m totally in favour of the new 1600 turbo regs, from those who I’ve spoken to at Prodrive, the 1.6 unit will make the same peak power as the 2.0, it’ll just lack the torque. This means that the drivers will need to rev the nuts off then, revs = noise, so the fans will be happy, provided that these claims are accurate.

A new team means at least 2 more cars in the WRC, ignoring customer entries. The WRC badly needs more top level seats to improve the strength in depth of the field. There’s several crews in IRC and even National series’ who could hold their own at the top level, there just isn’t the seats to accommodate them. The driver question is a big one. MINI/Prodrive have said that they will only commit to certain rounds in 2011 with an eye on the full series in 2012. With this kind of plan, then need guys who cam develop a car. Drivers like Toni Gardemeister, PG Anderson, Marcus Gronholm or Markko Martin should be on their list. Once we get in to 2012, IRC chargers like Kris Meeke or Juho Hanninen could be a great prospect. I particularly rate Hanninen, he’s quick but also has a wonderful aggressive style that would thrill the fans.

While the MINI Countryman is a fairly reprehensible vehicle in terms of the original Mini’s vales, the WRC is a great way for them to market it so I wish them all the best. That said, you’ll still look a tit if you actually buy one with your own money : )

Finally, how good is to have Prodrive back? Yes, yes I know they never left thanks to Group N, but you know what I mean. It’s wonderful to have them return to the top flight.

Roll on 2011 I say.

Faster – DVD Review/Retrospective

August 1, 2010

I recently bought the MotoGP documentary ‘Faster’ from, for a fiver it would have been rude not to. I first saw this in University soon after it had been released (2004 ish). I remember being impressed but not bowled over. This feeling has changed in the intervening six years, considerably. This is a difficult film to look at objectively for me thanks to my love for the subject matter, and due to the fact that there aren’t many films like this, on this subject matter around. However I think it’s a great display of what MotoGP was and can be.

The DVD was filmed in 2001/2002, the two pivotal seasons in MotoGP of the last few decades;  the last hurrah and then death of the 500cc 2-stroke. The archive film included is particularly relevant to someone of my age (26). When I was very young I had posters on Kevin Schwantz on the bedroom wall, these then became Valentino Rossi as I grew in to me teens, this is ‘my era’.

The due to the timescale involved, this film focuses on Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi, frankly it had to. At the time these two were the top dogs in motorcycle racing. The clips of these two knocking lumps out of each other are simply thrilling, especially given the incredible tension between them both on and off track. Bar the Rossi/Biaggi battles, the other main interest is the Red Bull Yamaha with star riders Gary McCoy and John Hopkins, showing the pain and elation of going from being a top 500cc team in 2001 to merely giving the odd 990cc 4-stroke a bloody nose in 2002.

The film is augmented with several smaller sections. Lots of little asides like features on, Dr Costa – the genius who fixes up mangled riders, the 500cc bike – a simply evil machine with a wafer thin powerband and bad temper, Rossi’s celebrations – displaying the sharp wit of the man, even at a tender age, the animosity fuelled rivalries – Rainey vs Schwantz (early 1990s), Rossi vs Biaggi, as well as many more delightful clips. It’s a very easy film to watch, as it doesn’t get bogged down in the technicalities; you don’t need to be a bike nut to enjoy this.

The film is above all a celebration of the sport but is also unflinching in its portrayal of the damage the riders can do to themselves. While this might be sobering in isolation, it underlines the skills and risks involved in racing these machines.

Nostalgia is an odd thing, I blown away when it first came out, as I said earlier.  I put this down to those memories being too fresh in the memory, they lacked context. Seeing this footage, 8 or 9 years later and when put side by side with the current MotoGP format, makes me feel like the wide-eyed teenager again, sitting there in awe of what these guys got up to. Regardless of whether you’re a ‘bike person’ or not, I would implore you too seek out this DVD. Racing is racing and this displays that in its absolute purest form.