Lydden Hill scooter racing meeting. Heated events in Kent…
When Dean Orton suggested doing an article ‘embedded’ with the Casa Lambretta race team at a race meeting in the UK, I was initially apprehensive. After all, here is a team that is ploughing almost €100,000 into competing in the BSSO scooter race series this year up against teams who are working out of Transit vans and paying for parts out of their own pockets.
What swung it for me was Chalkie from Replay Racing’s assertion that he enjoyed the competition. For him it was “as close as we can come to racing against a factory team like Innocenti.”
As an added incentive Dean promised that this could be a ‘warts & all’ opportunity to report on everything the team did; good or bad. Finally he said Tracy & I could kip in the cab of their massive race transporter, allowing us to ride down to Kent without a tent. Twisted my arm…
The BSSO scooters have long raced with the classic machines of the BHR (British Historic Racing) and are now the most prolific competitors in the paddock. BHR treat the Kent meeting as their annual knees-up, with a free barbecue on Saturday night so it’s a great meeting to get along to as a spectator.
Lydden is probably the best track in Britain for spectating as you can see the whole circuit from most parts of the hillside.
For the Casa team it is an important meeting. They have two riders on Lambrettas fitted with Casa SS kits on the new CasaCase and one – Luca Zani – is leading the Group 6 (Specials class) championship.
We are actually away from the circuit for breakfast during the scooter practice session, so I miss all Hell breaking lose. Hell, and Luca Zani’s front wheel.
Through consistency Zani is leading the championship. On one corner, the front wheel twists out of the forks, firing him over the handlebars. He is immediately taken to the medical centre while his scooter gets taken straight to scrutineering for inspection. We arrive back to a sea of long faces on the Casa camp. Even Luca Fuschini’s SS225 is in bits after a piston seizure.
The crash turns out to be an assembly error. A new tyre was fitted to Zani’s scooter immediately prior to practice, but in his hurry mechanic Mickey didn’t sit the washers for the front wheel spindle securely in the recesses. Instead the nut was tightened with the washer at an angle. When the scooter hit a bump and the washer located into the recess, suddenly the plain nut was lose and the wheel was free to tilt.
The team mechanics are absolutely mortified at their error, even after Zani returns to the paddock with bruised ribs and abrasions but otherwise fit. On the bright side it means Mickey can no longer take the piss out of anyone else for odd assembly mistakes.
Errors happen to the best of us when we hurry. I’ve lost count of the amount of wheels I’ve seen fly off Formula 1 cars in the past. Shit happens but in racing shit happens faster.
While the scooter racers on the whole don’t take things too seriously, and are fond of a party, they take the same risks as any other motorsport. Most crashes – when wearing leathers – don’t hurt at all, but you can be unlucky.
Zani was lucky.
At the moment Mikey B from JB tuning wheeled his scooter out to join the grid, and I went to watch the first race, both of the Italian machines were still in pieces. Lorenzo and Mickey had replaced the broken headset but Zani’s machine was still being re-cabled.
Meanwhile, Vittorio and Barone had just finished a top-end rebuild on Fuschini’s Casa 225 and were assembling the last few parts. The team have been up-front in admitting that they aren’t currently running the forged pistons supplied with their SS225 kits because they are experimenting with different con-rod lengths. Instead they are using a piston from a rival kit until they have some new ones made. The only issue with these is that they have an odd skirt shape which tends to seize on the alloy barrel when it is thrashed from new.
The workaround solution they’ve established is for Fuschini to deliberately seize his scooter in practice and for the team then to strip the engine and file down all the high-spots and seize marks by hand. It’s a well-known process to deal with finicky 2-stroke engines that is even described in Dave Webster’s old Lambretta tuning manual. Normally, when the first scooter race is just before lunch, it’s not a problem to do a rebuild, but at Lydden it was No.2 on the programme.
‘They’ll never make it to the grid’, I concluded.
Amazingly, I was wrong. Fuschini’s Lambretta made it in time for the sighting lap and Zani joined the grid with cold tyres just before the start.
The race was spectacular, with first Mikey from JB tuning dropping below the 50-second lap mark, followed by Fuschini shaving off another chunk and going on to take victory in his first ever race around Lydden. Despite injury, Zani managed 6th place on a scooter that was still being re-scrutineered while the grid was forming. It was a fairy-tale for Casa but a nightmare for others. Daz Conneely of Replay’s streamlined Lammy – expected to be the biggest non-Casa rival – broke down.
In the second race of the day, Zani got almost back up to full speed, taking 2nd place ahead of JB Tuning’s Mikey Bonnet with Fuschini taking another win and another nibble at the lap record.
I can understand why there is discontent about the arrival of a big-budget team in the scooter racing paddock, but things have been heading that way for a few years even before Casa’s arrival. The DKS/Replay effort in particular brought team managers, mechanics and riders who race for free to the scooter scene. Nobody who pays their own entries, races and then has to maintain and repair their own scooter is going to feel comfortable facing such an effort, but at the moment this level of support is reserved only for top-level teams in Group 6 racing.
Further down the field the LCGB-supported Production Class has reinvented close, affordable scooter racing thanks to a tight set of rules. The front runners of Barrie Braithwaite (SLUK), Hammy (Darlo SC) and James Lancaster (Andy Francis Scooters) have now been joined by veteran Taffspeed rider Bob West who went on to take a victory in the second race. It couldn’t be closer in the front group, but there is also a second wave of novice Proddy Class runners who are having their own ding-dong battles.
Simultaneously, competitive scooter racing has never been cheaper or more expensive, depending on which class you chose.
Lydden is also special because the BSSO are allowed to run a non-championship Memorial Race for ‘Elbows’ Uffindel, Bogey and other recently departed scooter racers.
The Memorial race provides a rare opportunity for the automatic class – which has shrunk this year – to mix it with the geared riders. Some use it as an opportunity to try a different bike and with Zani still feeling fragile, the Casa Team offered Daz Connelly a chance to try his scooter. It’s great that UK scooter sport is still friendly enough that things like this can happen.
The Memorial race was not without controversy though. The grid was picked from a hat leaving ‘Mad Dog’ McKenzie near the front on his Group 6 PX with faster auto riders behind. There was a tangle on the line between him and Justin Price’s PSN-backed ‘Zipper’ that left McKenzie needing an ambulance. At the re-start Fuschini took the win, followed by Price. More interesting however, was the meeting between Mad Dog and Price in the evening amongst the barbecue debauchery.
No hard feelings, just a sore shoulder. That’s the way it should be…