There seems to be an epidemic sweeping the race paddock this year. Not content with watching from the sidelines middle-aged men in their droves are raiding neglected corners of workshops, calling in favours and doing everything they can to get out on track. Here’s another one of the new breed of high-viz wearing novice racers…
My interest in scooters started back in about 1980 whilst still at school. I wasn’t one of the lights and mirrors brigade. I was more interested in making things go faster. So night-time reading was books by Dave Webster and Norrie Kerr, trying to understand how these engines worked and how to improve them (cheaply).
I bought an Li 150 Series 2 that had no front mudguard or horncasting, so had to be replaced with Series 3 items due to S2 parts being rarer than hen’s teeth! This was fitted with a re-bored barrel to 175cc, a skimmed head, 30mm Mikuni and an OTT Fresco; it went very well back then.
So to 2015 and my interest in racing. Well I’ve built several Lambrettas over the last few years and I had a few bits knocking about. When I read on the BSSO forum about a proposed new class to entice new racers into a level playing field I took stock of what I had and what I would need.
I had almost all the metal work needed to build a semi-rolling chassis, including front disc brake (just needed a refurb to the caliper and master cylinder). I owned a set of one-piece leathers, boots, gloves and two helmets, so only needed to build an engine. However I owned a low mileage Imola fitted with a RB 20 crank, AF road clutch and lightweight flywheel. So the idea seemed even more feasible and plans to procure the missing parts was put in place once the regulations had been sanctioned by the BSSO.
Once the regulations were confirmed it was time to start the build process, oh and get a track licence. The track licence-training day was completed at Brands Hatch with No Limits Track Days; this was quite daunting as I was the only lunatic on a scooter amongst 25 sports bikes. The theory training and test was the easy part, next it was out on track (a very wet and windy track at that). After the initial round of Mickey-taking for being on a scooter it was time for my first five laps of Brands, this was quite uneventful apart from locking both wheels up coming down from Druids Hill bend trying to slow down for the next left hander and then wheel spinning as I fed the power in, certainly keeps you alert! First session done, phew.
My second set of five laps again passed far too quickly, and I had a bit more confidence in both mine and the scooter’s ability in the wet, and we were back in the pits. This is when it all went sour. Whilst waiting to go and conduct the practice starts, the instructor for my group informed me that he couldn’t sign me off, as he couldn’t see that I used my front brake enough. Back was ok but not front. Annoyed and frustrated don’t really explain my feelings at that time.
Practice start time, these follow the complete process you see on TV for MotoGP etc. The first ones are completed in small groups (3 rows at a time), then you all ride around and form up for the mass start. As the slowest thing on the grid I was last, however once the lights went out I took off and passed four sports bikes before we got to the line. Oh and by this time the pit wall was full of bike riders watching this idiot on a scooter racing round.
After speaking with the instructors and booking for Donington Park I was still baffled as to why he deemed I wasn’t braking enough. On the drive home it dawned on me that my scooter is fitted with anti-dive and he was looking for the front to dip when braking. So with this information to hand at Donington I explained and demonstrated to my new instructor that the front of my scooter won’t dip. He followed me round and was more than happy to sign me off. I had to again suffer the piss-taking for riding a scooter, but the riders were still there filming me riding round with all the sports bikes!
So the scooter was built, entries sent in and I was waiting for Mallory Park. This would be my first ever race and, apart from my licence training, also my first proper time on a race track. I had been to Mallory for the practice day but without my scooter, as it wasn’t quite ready and I didn’t want to chance cutting corners.
I waited for the start of the practice session, to say I was nervous was an understatement. I pulled onto the track and the next thing I knew all the other scooters had gone! So I rode round on my own learning the track and basically running my engine in (it had about a mile of use prior to this). Practice over and I wait nervously for my first race, I checked the plug and downsized the main jet after advice from Andy Francis.
My first race went by in a blur; I started last on the grid and finished last. I was overtaken/undertaken by the front runners around the end of the 3rd lap so only recorded five of the six laps they completed. But what a buzz, I really enjoyed it and looked forward to the next one later that afternoon.
Race two and it was damp, not wet enough for wet tyres and not dry enough for dry. So it was wet tyres to be safe and another learning experience, new tyres on wet surface at speed! Once again I started and finished last but again enjoyed the experience.
After some more advice and tips from Ian Cunningham about how to ride and, after watching some of the bikes, it was time for food and a beer or two!
Sunday morning and it was a lovely sunny day, not too warm in the wind but it was dry. So time to put into practice what I had learnt on Saturday and use the advice I had received.
Race one and I was last on the grid again and next to Danny Lodder who is also a novice, although in a different class (Vespa), he was my target for the day and if possible the other Vespa next along the grid.
I got a dodgy start and had to play catch up going into the first bend, which I managed and then all race long Danny and I swapped places. I out-braked myself going into Edwina’s chicane and had to take the escape road and re-join behind him. I got back past him on the front straight and managed to keep there and finished second from last. Improvement!
Race two and the idea this time was to get a better start and try and get in front of both Vespas this time round. Great start and passed them both going into the first corner with the aim of staying there. I was getting faster each time out and I’m pleased to say I finished third from last as I never saw the two Vespas all race, apart from the first lap going into the hairpin where I saw Danny out the corner of my eye.
One very happy and knackered rider, looking forward to Darley Moor later this month (East Fortune is just too far for me to travel). This is something I wish I had been able to do years ago but I’m glad I’ve started.