RACING

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMANS – GO TO BRANDS HATCH!

NEIL, AKA WOFFY, AND HIS FAITHFUL MOTO GUZZI LE MANS, HEADED TO BRANDS HATCH IN SEPTEMBER FOR A TRACK DAY

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"The Bike Shed are doing another Track day at Brands, if there's enough interest" said my new biking buddy, Martin, over a cuppa at Epping Tea Hut, on a September Sunday morning, as the country moved into another semi lock-down. Some sporting events were still allowed, so there was a chance that it would actually happen. I mean, being on a race track on a motorbike is all about social distancing.
"Sign me up" was my instant reply.

Never Too Late
I will draw my state, or what used to be called, old age pension next April, I've never done a track day, apart from a lap round the Nuburgring on a Honda 250 G5 in 1974. On that occasion, I overshot a bend, despite the Honda's notoriously leisurely performance, but I was young and foolish then, now I'm just old and forgetful. My limited track experience is otherwise confined to a few Enduros in Cape Town, on a PE175 circa 1980 and more recently, a couple of UK Enduros with young 'uns from the Archway Youth Project. But now wild horses couldn't stop me going round Brands . My head said:
"Yes Neil you can be Roy Armstrong in the 1977 Avon Production series"
I was just so excited at the thought of Brands Hatch, where I had watched Sheene, Roberts, Mamola and even Graham Hill in an Embassy Ford F1. The iconic track is only a half hour ride from where I live in Peckham, I could ride to the track, how cool is that?

Why had I never done it before? I suppose nobody had suggested it, we have to thank The Bike Shed for organising these events.
"You will need full leathers, boots and a proper lid" said Martin. Minor details I could easily beg, borrow or steal. I had a  bike that was perfect for the task, bought a few years back from Ray Petty's Italian bike shop, it had stopped charging on the way home and then languished in a Deptford lock up until Moto Nero in Bristol sorted it properly during the first lockdown. We, my 1980 Guzzi 850 Le Mans and I, were itching to go and go round Brands.

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Never Too Old
Excitement was replaced by fear as I started talking about it to track day veterans, I didn't know that a Paddock Hill bend was blind and that you couldn't see the exit as you went in, which, although I didn't know what it meant in racing terms, sounded ominous. Another friend, Graham, told me to to relax and not overthink it all. He had done a bit of proper racing and sounded like he knew a bit. Graham would be my "mechanic" as you can take one other person along with you. My Guzzi rear tyre was getting on, so I invested in a brand new BT46 Battle axe on Bob from FWR's advice, Bob's another proper racer. I would run it in a on the way to the track.

Tuesday 23rd September was to be a  glorious hot and sunny day. It was however still pitch dark when I met Martin by what used to be Blackheath tea hut. Martin was on his 76 Norton 850 Commando, Martin is the main man at Losers M/C, a tea drinking club for old bikers based on the Old Kent Rd. His mechanic Dave arrived in a 59 Ford Consul.
We rode to the track and filled up, you an still get full fat 5star at the petrol station outside Brands, that may be worth another mile per hour, today was not going to be particularly kind on the environment but it was going to be fun. Graham met us at the gate, his tools comprising a foot pump and a pressure gauge. We bagged our very own pit it was all too much, Scalextric in real life! I took off my side panels for fear of them flying off and clumping someone, then double checked nut tightness anywhere obvious. Queuing for sound scrutiny I began to realise that this was actually going to happen, my Guzzi exhausts are standard and I knew I would pass the 110 dbl limit but revving to 3000 was guesswork as I don't have a rev counter on my lumbering V twin. Martin made a cuppa, Graham checked my tyre pressures and off we went to the start. Martin suggested that I follow him for the first couple of sessions. I had a pace man, brilliant!

I was expecting to be going round with other classics, but lined up with a total mixture of ancient and modern motorcycles. The light turned green and we were off and before very long at all up around and down Paddock Hill bend. Blind bend what are they on about? Graham was right just relax. It was fantastic even before the second bend. Someone had kindly placed a cone to aim at, at the apex of every bend, which together with following Martin, was a massive help. Graham Hill, Cooper Straight am I really here and doing this? Back down and along the start/finish straight flat out, past empty grandstands. Oh a red flag, that means race over for now. A young women had gone straight on at a Paddock and ended up in the kitty litter as us racers (for now, I am one!) affectionately call it. She was absolutely fine apart from a bruised ego. The thought of a low slide didn't bother me, having seen GP races getup walking almost as they come off, but I really didn't fancy a high side.

Martin is a sensible rider and having him there was key to safe fun until I got the hang of it. Graham checked and tweaked my tyre pressures after each session and we wound my old Marzocchi shocks up. I was shaving a few secs off my lap time each session.

This really was fun, the sessions lasted just about right, maybe five or six laps, I didn't count. Then a proper chequered flag, in for a cuppa, and out again before you know. I was getting to know, and love the circuit and found that I could cut down on gear changes and focus more on thrashing the Guzzi in third and fourth. Martin had suggested  I lead out now that I had a bit of confidence. I have no idea how fast I was going down the start/finish straight, as the speedo needle bounced all over from 120 to 160 kph when I had the courage to glance down. I was probably doing about 110 in real money. Before long it was the notorious Paddock Hill which I reckon I was getting the hang of.
"But don't get complacent" I heard a voice in my head. Yes, this frolic needed full on concentration. Passing something modern flat out on the long sweeper up to the back straight, was a thrill beyond description.

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And On To Glory...
Graham attended to my tyres and beefed up my rear shocks (stiff old period Marzocchis) and my times got marginally quicker as the day progressed. By the end of the day my then slowest lap beat my fastest in the morning, my new tyres had the sought after bubblegum appearance and yes, no chicken strips.

We rode off home around 5 pm, it had been one of the best motorcycling experiences that I have ever had. It cost £125 for the day  £100 for a tyre that still has plenty of life and some fuel and tea.

I had a bit of bother staying awake on the bike home such was my exhaustion. I am now planning 3 or 4 track days next year including a Classic one in Dijon, I've got the bug now, who would ever have thought that my state pension would be funding my track days!

Roll on next year!

Posted by Guest Post
for Wemoto News on 30 November 2020 in Racing

Edited By: Denisa Orbulescu

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