Chris Northover, 26/05/06 – 28/05/06
European SuperStock 600 Championship
11:00 Thursday morning. After a smooth flight with only mild M1 induced turbulence we landed at Silverstone and headed straight to the amusingly named “Suzuki Village” (for “Suzuki People” perhaps?) in the paddock so I could get all excited about my name being up on the wildcard board above the marquee for the Suzuki GSX-R 750 European Cup (Bit of a mouthful that, from now on I’ll call it the Gixxer Cup!). This is all thanks to Kenny Pryde of Superbike Magazine and Steve Booth from Suzuki GB. In each country the Gixxer Cup visits there are 4 wildcard rides available. For one of these rides it was down to Kenny to choose a rider. Being the kind gent he is (and somewhat susceptible to a cup of tea or two!), he gave me the chance to gain some extra track time benefiting my 600 campaign and to experience racing a bigger bike on a completely level playing field.
Once we were all set up it was down to business with team manager, Mike Edwards, walking the track discussing best lines and sections where most time could be made or lost. Unfortunately on one such sighting lap I out braked myself (on a mountain bike) into Silverstone’s tight chicane and ran straight on through a chasm of mud and water (well okay, a puddle), much to the amusement of Mike and my team mate Matt Bond!
Friday – Free Practice
Conditions: Decidedly Spring – Wet with dry bits!
On track I concentrated on reference points for lines, rather than straight out lap times as I felt that gravel excursions this early on in the weekend were best avoided for the sanity of my team! A quick few words in pit lane mid session with Mike and in the last 5 minutes of the session and posted my fastest lap time at that point, marvellous!
In between sessions on the 600 we checked out our little spot within the Suzuki village. Impressive is not the word. It was like someone had just said “Here, have your own little bit of factory team garage, fill your boots.”! Unfortunately my Sidi’s aren’t big enough to fit a fully stocked tool chest, paddock stands, a compressor, pit board, tyre warmers and a super trick GSX-R 750 race bike! Damn my puny size 9’s!
Did I mention the bike was trick? With enough carbon fibre pornography to put it on the top shelf in One-Stop, it seemed a shame to use it in anger, not that that was going to stop me of course…
After trying in vain to find the Space Invaders setting on the trick lap timer (It seemed to have every other function!), my mechanic Clive and I set the suspension on the 750 to match the settings on my Superstock bike.
Friday – 1st Qualifying
Next, it was back out on my Superstock 600 for the first of the two qualifying sessions. In the afternoon, I had sat down and scrawled notes over a circuit map as an exercise to help identify my weak areas on the track that I would need to concentrate on in the afternoon. With this in mind, I headed out to put together some consistent laps. Lap times improved, although with the front end doing a very convincing pogo stick impression, I was only 29th fastest.
As soon as I came in I jumped off the 600 and straight onto the 750 cup bike for the first qualifying session on that, no rest for the wicked you know! The sudden transition was interesting to say the least, not only having to adapt to slightly different tyres, but also to the increase in power and a quick action throttle. Cue several over enthusiastic blips going down the box and the odd unintentional (honest!) power wheelie! After a few laps, I had got my brain programmed correctly and began to really enjoy the 750. Every lap I knocked off another second or so off my lap time and halfway through the session was 15th fastest. After a few hairy moments going into Bridge (a fast, downhill entry, right hander) on one wheel I pulled into pit lane for some words of wisdom from Mike â€œYodaâ€ Edwards. As I mentioned earlier, the Gixxer cup set up makes you feel like a pro, this extends to the pit lane too!
“Suspension problem sir? Simply click your heels 3 times and behold, thine problems are solved by the wizards of Andreani Group Suspension!”
Good enough for Chris Vermeulen last year, then they’re good enough for me!
With a couple of suspension tweaks to make the bike more stable on the brakes going into Bridge it was back out on track to test the changes and consolidate what I had learned in the first half of the session rather than to go balls out chasing a faster time. I ended the session 21st fastest, but my favourite bit was being 2nd fastest through the speed trap; it felt great to see my name at the top of the standings, for at least one bit!!
After my first session aboard the 750, my grin was wide enough to stretch my Shoei! I really enjoyed riding the 750 and began searching for a way to sneak it out in the stock 600 race!
Saturday – 2nd Qualifying
First on the cards Saturday morning, was a fork rebuild for my 600, this time to match the 750. A different oil height inside the forks of the 750 gave it a much more planted feel, crucial over Silverstone’s mid corner bumps. Forks back in and it was back out on circuit for the second qualifying session in conditions that made the cancelled Mondello Park round of BSB look like a light shower! Swapping my Shoei for a snorkel and my Sidi’s for flippers we headed out on track, it soon became clear that those riders with webbed feet would be at a distinct advantage. For all the joking about the weather, however, I really enjoyed riding the track in such challenging conditions and the wet practice was welcome. A mid session pit stop gave us the chance to take advantage of Steve Jordan the team Suspension Guru’s skills and it worked! He gave the forks a stern talking to (well, he backed off the compression and rebound damping slightly) to give me a bit more feel from the front tyre and my next few laps just got quicker and quicker.
After a debrief with Mike, I spent the afternoon drying off and scrawling more notes on my circuit map for reference if it rained on Sunday.
By late afternoon it had (finally) stopped raining, although at the start of the 750 cup session the track was still wet with a dry line in places. In this series, you get two front tyres and three rears for the weekend, so a bit of tyre juggling was required to avoid any problems should it rain on Sunday. Going out on wet tyres and wet settings, we gradually stiffened the bike up throughout the session as the track began to dry, whilst keeping an eye that we weren’t destroying my last wet front tyre! With some riders on wets and others on dry tyres, combined with the drying track, the standings were jumping about for the whole session, but I finished the session in 14th place. This was all academic however, as the overall qualifying times were taken from Friday’s session where it was dry and hence faster, shame! Now, I’m not usually a fashion victim, but due to my good set of leathers and gloves being soaked from the mornings 600 session, I had to ride in my fetching, 90’s, green and purple leathers, which were nicely set off by a bright orange pair of gloves, tasty! To add to the embarrassment, Kenny turned up to get some photos of me, in such fetching gear! Oh, the shame!
Saturday evening was hilarious. Having taken advantage of the free energy drinks being given out around the paddock, Mum was like a small child with an excess of E-numbers! As such, the paddock Olympics was born, with such classics as the sack race, three legged race and hide and seek! The sack race saw a sleeping bag destroyed and a sickening amount of cheating from the girls team, but if we thought the cheating in the sack race was bad, as Bachman Turner Overdrive said, â€œWe ain’t seen nah â€“ nah nuthin yet!â€ Firstly, Mum and Sally used a quick release knot in the three legged race, which was a plan Dick Dastardly himself would have shunned for being too dishonest, and then their actions when playing hide and seek were just unspeakable. Mum commandeered a group of innocent Brits camping nearby, hid among them and then when it was her turn to look, flagged down a car and got a lift around the paddock searching for me! Parents eh? You can’t take them anywhere!
Sunday – Race
Sunshine and consistent weather at last! The original timetable put my 750 Cup race first with an hour break before my Superstock 600 race, but the pile-up in the first Superbike race put an end to such luxury! Instead the 750 Race was moved to immediately after the Superstock 600 race! Good job I’d had my weetabix then.
European Superstock 600 Race
Lining up on the grid, all I needed was a good start, a good race and a strong finish to see me preferably in the points! Sounds so easy when it’s put like that! Determined to put the misdemeanours of the last two rounds behind me, I got a great start and headed for the outside at the first corner. The whole first lap was manic, with my team mate Matt just missing me at the exit to turn one. On the back straight, another rider who shall remain nameless (for now!) decided to throw a hissy fittm because I was overtaking him and try to push me onto the grass at about 120mph! This is the same rider who nearly put me in a wall at Monza, so in a calm and gentlemanly way I stuck my elbows out, leant back on him and waited till he braked!
“Always an amusing tactic that one” I said to myself, as I sailed past three more riders into the hairpin, still wondering if I was going to stop in time! I did make it and stayed ahead of all but one of the riders, Matt Bond. Glued to his back wheel like a guitar to the hands of Hendrix, I tried my hardest to stay with him. I made a few mistakes and had to catch back up each time, making things nice and hard for myself! We were slicing through other riders like they weren’t there, with both of us getting out of the seat moments almost every bend, but on lap 7 our charge was ended by a red flag due to oil at the hairpin.
Back to pit lane again! We took the opportunity to make a couple of suspension adjustments to make the front end more planted over the bumps and to sort the rear tyre’s habit of trying to overtake the front. After some deliberation, it was decided that the race would be run as two heats with the second leg being over 5 laps, starting from our finishing positions in the first heat. This meant Matt and I were starting 14th and 16th on the grid respectively. Another good start saw me back on the tail of Matt again chasing hard. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t manage to get past him (I’ll get you next time, Gadget!) but our hard charging had placed us 13th and 14th on the road, making me 15th overall on aggregate! I was also distinctly chuffed to get a quicker fastest lap than Matt which I may have mentioned to him, once or twice! Fifteenth place also gave me my first ever European Championship point, which has had some interesting side-effects, namely skipping about with glee, smiling so hard it hurts and occasionally just leaping up into the air shouting “One Point!!!”. The doctors have suggested some mild sedatives to aid the sanity of my family and friends! After some Last lap celebrations, it was back to concentrating on the racing as the 750 Cup was about to get under way.
GSX-R750 European Cu
Ahh, Italian organisation! After sprinting the length of the pit lane in full bike gear, I rode round to the grid to discover a lack of mechanics, paddock stands and, some may say most importantly, brolly girl!! In London nightclub stylee, the pit lane bouncers, sorry, marshals had randomly refused entry to my team, no doubt claiming a â€œNo Trainersâ€ policy or some such rule! Dragging my brain back off cloud nine, planet party, from race one I set my mind back into first corner mode. Having wheelied off the line to almost the first turn (750’s are FUN!) I carved my way through and set about getting into a rhythm. With a keen eye on my pit board each lap, the gap behind me began increasing until I was out on my own in 16th place, with a 2 second comfort zone behind me. Just past the midway mark of the race and the nice comfortable 2 second gap became 1 second and then 0 seconds. Darn and blast. I pushed really hard but just kept having huge slides and losing the front so much I wore through my knee sliders! With a few laps to go I was mugged coming into Priory by German, Janakova. I decided to follow her for the last few laps, conserve some energy and try for a move on the last lap. My chance came as on the last lap, she made a mistake and ran wide at the hairpin. Unfortunately, in my attempt to stick it up the inside, I ran just as wide meaning I had to be content with 17th place. After such a long race the chequered flag was a welcome sight, although I mysteriously found enough energy for celebratory wheelies!
It was a truly great feeling to see everyone in my team, who’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much looking so elated after the race. The “Thank you List ™” for this race is going to be huge, but still not as big as my grin right now!!! I can’t thank Kenny Pryde and Steve Booth enough for giving me this opportunity to double my track time over the weekend, I think it is clear from the results how much it has helped!
Misano is next. Mission: beat Matt and score some more points!!
And now, iiits:
The Thank you List ™
A massive thanks to :
- Steve Booth for the chance to ride the GSX-R750
- Kenny “Oreo Supplier” Pryde for gambling on a lunatic like me in the 750 Cup!
- Steve “Skyline Stupidity” Jordan
- Mark Bentley for some cracking photographs of the weekend despite the soggy camera!
- Mike Edwards as usual for his Oracle-like powers
- And everyone who came to see and help me at the weekend, superstars the lot of you!