The race is long
Endurance races are a different animal; possibly the cruellest of any sport except playing tennis with kittens. Just when you think you’ve got it sorted, everything can unravel.
Unlike short circuit racing where raw speed, money and balls win, endurance is more of a thinking man’s sport. Strategy wins; not simply riding the fastest scooter as fast as possible from flag to flag.
Here, the tortoise can beat the hare. Fuel economy, rideability and reliability are more important than outright power. Standard Vespa PX200s have won endurance races in the past. To finish first, first you must finish…
New to the UK
Endurance scooter racing is a massive sport now on the continent, almost to the point that short circuit racing has died off in places like France, Spain and Austria.
Veteran racer Keith Terry – formerly the ‘Ke’ of Kegra Racing in Southend – almost singlehandedly decided to organise this first UK endurance scooter race under the banner of a new organisation: the British Scooter Endurance Club. This would operate under the Teeside Kart circuit’s own insurance and without the need of a race licence (road licences were acceptable).
The chief advantage of this decision is that it has the opportunity to offer value for money in terms of track time that no organisation operating under the yoke of ACU rules and insurance will be able to match. Entry for a team, including an extra 1.5 hours practice, was only £250. For an extra £40 teams could also have a two-hour practice on Saturday evening – that’s 9.5 hours of track time in total. Compared to short circuit racing entry fees and the absolute ball-breaking aggro of getting an ACU race licence, that’s a bargain.
In the spirit of encouraging new (or old) riders to scooter sport, Keith dreamt up three classes:
Race: pretty much any geared traditional scooter but only air-cooled engines. Current racers had to ride in this one.
Road: a roadworthy machine with any level tuning (air-cooled), no rider to have held a race licence in the last 10 years.
Club: Scooter as above, but designed to get scooter clubs to participate.
Given that my Quattrini M1L-R powered SS90 – former magazine project bike ‘Underdog’ – is road legal and none of our team have raced for a decade or more, we entered the Road Class.
Rider #1 – myself (Sticky), former co-owner of SLUK and author of a couple of scooter books
Rider #2 – Shaun Hodgkin, Casa SST owner and occasional-rally correspondent/SLUK ambassador
Rider #3 – Sam Round; son of Sticky, owner of SuperLui and 18-year old newcomer to geared scooter riding
Rider #4 – Ian ‘Iggy’ Grainger; SLUK boss and ten-thumbed enemy of threads and fuel conservationist
Timekeeper & pit board guardian – Linsey Fraser
The old Vespa SS90 seemed to run fine at Wacky Races in Birmingham three months ago – once we’d sussed that the power-jet screw knob had unwound itself and was pouring in a ratio of fuel on full throttle that the sparks simply couldn’t ignite. So, not much to do then, just a once-over of the chassis and a nose inside the motor for problems and a reducing the tooth count of the DRT interchangeable primary drive cog to lower the gearing. On the first pass it seemed only like the bronze bush inside the primary drive was worn, which meant a full engine strip so I didn’t bother ordering any parts before the Isle of Wight.
Then on the Tuesday before the race we discovered a crack the size of the Grand Canyon in the engine casing. Oh bollocks.
The power of social media
I’m not a fan of social media, but Facebook comes in very handy when you put out a cry for help. We needed another set of engine casings immediately. Within half an hour of the shout-out Wayne Hayes from Hinckley had sorted us with a spare set of PK50 casings. What other scene exists where people can help you with the part you need so quickly?
Egig also posted that in his opinion the crack in the casing was a result of stresses introduced as part of the welding process to enlarge the transfer openings in the casings. He reckons you can match casings to a Quattrini barrel without the need for any welding, so that’s just what we did.
The next problem was that our long-stroke enlarged-web Mazzuchelli/LTH crank wouldn’t fit in the casings so that needed machining out. With most of the local engineers (we are lucky to still have such a beast in the Midlands) on holiday, I was lucky to track down Paul who managed to mill the flywheel side casing for me at short notice.
On Friday the engine was back together and fired-up for a quick spin around the block before bed.
A quick dyno test on Saturday morning revealed that 2hp had gone missing since the engine’s last dyno. I only figured out why that was once we got home after the race.
Anyway, we still had a 20hp engine in a fine handling scooter that weighs the same as a bag of cheesy Quavers. With only a 30mm carb and a supremely driveable Ludwig and Scherer ‘Franz’ exhaust it’s a long way from the most powerful of Quattrini M1L-R engines around, but it is very easy to ride. You don’t want a tiring and uncomfortable scooter if you have to race it for 6 hours or more.
All we had to do now was grab the new Dunlop TT-93 race tyres from Iggy’s house on the way to the meeting and fit them before practice.
At 11 am on Sunday morning Keith drops the Union Flag and 30 riders from the UK, Ireland and France rush across the track to scooters held running for them by team-mates. The heavy downpour that terminated qualifying was just easing but the track was still sodden in places. Every scooter was starting on dry tyres in the expectation that the shower would soon blow over.
Sticky’s first session
“This track is slippery as fook when it’s wet” was the last thing Scotty from Team DSC said to me before I entered the circuit. I resolved to stay out of bother for a few laps at a slow pace just to find my feet. It was a wise tactic.
Typically, there were those so giddy with excitement that they thought they could win the race by being fast on the first lap. Two went down on the first corner, then another couple on the next, and some more on the third. Someone used another rider as a take-off ramp; which is never nice to watch. Return to Go – do not collect £200.
Va va vroom
A French girl riding a PX came past me but I resisted the urge to reassert my wounded masculinity until my tyres were warm and the tarmac a little drier. By lap #2 we were in our worst position of 15th so then began the task of speeding up and chipping away at the times without putting too much stress on my body or the Vespa.
By lap #16 the tide was reversed and we were up to 8th for a long while until strategy came in to play. Underdog carries not only a standard tank under the seat but also another 5-litres in the tank between your legs.
Event rules dictated that you had to change riders at least every 65 minutes so we aimed for stopping every hour to refuel so we could minimise stoppages. Other teams with faster scooters, worse fuel economy and smaller tanks couldn’t manage the same distance, or they encountered problems. By the time I passed the scooter over to Shaun we’d risen to 2nd place overall having led for eight laps.
Missiles and mules
The scooters we competed against were very varied in preparation. Fastest of all was a Quattrini M200 SS90 from team Meru/Chiselspeed (#29 above left) piloted to a 1:09 second lap of the track. That’s an average speed of 55mph on a track with a couple of first gear corners!
When you compare this to some other novice teams (with an average age of 60-something years old) whose absolute best lap was 18 seconds a lap slower, you know that the range of abilities on track was massive, but I never saw any problems resulting from this. Under pain of black-flagging and hefty lap penalties for dangerous riding most of the faster riders behaved sensibly when lapping slower riders. Endurance racing removes the absolute urgency to ‘win’ every corner of every lap.
Also flying was another smallframe (PK) from Dave Bristow’s Hornet Racing team (#6 above right and in the onboard video). It was blisteringly fast but also thirsty and with too small a fuel tank for long stints.
Club Class was closely fought, almost entirely by race novices. Doncaster’s Rossendale Valley SC Vespa taking on Glevum Stax’s PX and Lambrettas from Tuatha De Danann (Ireland), DC10s Sert, Spire Tarmac Terriers and Kent’s IDK racing. At some stage most club machines went tarmac surfing with IDK using up Northern England’s entire supply of Lambretta brake and clutch levers.
In at the deep end is one way to learn.
Photos: Linsey, Sticky, Iggy, Col and Mike Palmer
Video: Hornet Racing
Part two coming up tomorrow
This article is too long and convoluted to publish in one episode so we’re going to leave it here for now. You can read the rest tomorrow morning where we’ll also have a load more photographs and more video action.
For now though we’ll leave you with a gallery from photographer Mike Palmer. If you want to see more of his images visit his Facebook page here. The proceeds from any photo sales go to a charity.
Gallery by Mike Palmer
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