Brands Hatch, UK – Race

Chris Northover, 04/08/06 – 06/08/06
European SuperStock 600 Championship
Round 6

Ah Brands! Time to get all nostalgic about last year when I started off on this European Superstock 600 malarkey! Two injuries, a lot of sleepless nights and the time of my life, but that’s another tale for another time, or something!

After pulling back such a good result at Brno after an appalling qualifying, I was determined to be on the pace from the word “go” at my home round. With the track only a 20 minute fast drive (or half an hour legally!!) from my parents house, you would expect me to know the track well. While this may be true of the short circuit, red tape and moaning people make chances to ride the full GP circuit few and far between. Luckily Matt and myself managed to get out on a track day a couple of weeks ago for some practice, which proved to be a shrewd move!!

After driving back from Hinckley where I work, in my brother’s car (long story – me and the internal combustion engine seem to be having some disagreements lately…), it was all hands on deck organizing tickets for friends and family for the weekend. Thursday shot past and before we could say “have you got any spare tickets?” it was Friday morning and time for free practice.

Friday – Free Practice

Out on track, it was great to get on a familiar circle of tarmac, especially one as enjoyable as Brands. Some, but not all, of the European tracks just feel so featureless compared with a good ol’ British race through the Kent countryside. After a few laps I was just getting in to it when I saw a pirates flag, but without the skull and cross-bones. Ah, that’ll be the black flag then…

It took a whole lap for me to figure out that a certain, timing-based pretty red box, otherwise known as a transponder, was sadly still in its own pretty box and not filling the gaping hole where it should have been on my bike. I didn’t swear. No really, I didn’t. I was too embarrassed!

Once this had been dealt with and The Boss had bailed Matt and myself out (yes, him too!!), it was straight back on track, to concentrate on the job in hand (and hide behind the black visor!). Now, the potential danger of being worked up over the transponder had passed, but there was another foe in wait for me… the brake gremlins of Teng Wheelire(!?). The pressures of determination led me to ignore the juddering and keep pushing my braking harder and harder. Unfortunately (there’s always an “unfortunately…” in these stories isn’t there!!) as I popped up to brake late for hawthorns (a 120+mph right hander out in the woods) I realised that perhaps I should have not tried quite so hard on this particular occasion…

As I always say, when things are going wrong; when you’ve combined very late braking with iffy brakes; when you’ve entered an already ridiculously fast corner too fast; mindless optimism will get you through. Or, at least, make you think you can get through! Despite my best efforts, the physics of the situation soon prevailed and Mr. Newton won this time. The bike cleared not only most of the gravel trap, but also the air fence, tyre wall and marshals’ road. It then decided it wanted a career change from lowly race bike, to lumberjack and aimed at an innocent tree. Tree 1 – GSXR600 – 0. That’ll be that job down the pan then!

After the session, I still managed to be 23rd fastest, which was fairly encouraging, especially considering that the lap I crashed on was looking to be my fastest lap at that point. I would also like to mention the fact that I was second fastest through the speed trap, although that may have something to do with the speed trap being just before hawthorns…

Friday – First Qualifying

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my team is the best team in the world! How they transformed a sorry looking pile of bits laying at the foot of a tree into a fully operational race bike again, not forgetting the unforgiving time scale, is awe-inspiring. Having done such a sterling job, it would have been rude not to repay them with a good performance in the afternoon. Well, that and the fact that Matt was in the top ten…

After coming in to iron out a few tree-derived problems early on in the session and to try and cure the vibration from the front wheel, I lapped with consistent improvements and ended the session 17th. Given the fact that I had, only a few hours ago, indulged in the sort of crashing activity that could have easily ended the weekend, perhaps the season, we were rather pleased with ourselves! Our confidence for the remainder of the weekend was further boosted when we discovered the front wheel being buckled was the cause of the mystery vibration I had been experiencing.

Saturday – Second Qualifying

Final qualifying and a final chance to improve my grid position further. After a steady start bedding in new brake pads, I pitted to allow them to cool off before returning onto the track. I took a while to get up to the pace I had been comfortably running at on Friday. Despite pushing hard I failed to improve my time and to make matters worse was relegated to 23rd on the grid as other riders went quicker.

After the Friday comeback, needless to say, this was a major disappointment. After many hours running through every detail of the session, both in my head and with Mike we finally got down to an explanation for the problems and, more importantly, a plan of action for Sunday. The reason for my lack of speed was simple; lack of focus! The solution was to work hard to ensure I was in the right mindset every time I get on a bike and be really, REALLY focused.

I returned with a vengeance Sunday morning, with one goal in mind: overtake whoever is in front of me and repeat ’till the chequered flag. I arrived at the track and decided the best plan would be to relax and clear my mind in the morning and disappear to get mentally prepared in the hour approaching the race. I spent a chilled morning at the edge of the circuit out in the woods with friends, playing guitar and watching the bikes – paradise!! I disappeared to a Quiet Place for the hour preceding the race to run through the first lap bend by bend, move by move. I had my plan decided for the first corner from so many races on Brands Indy Circuit.

Sunday – Race

The start line was, once again, the best feeling in the world, with no one cheering louder than dear ol’ Mumsy!! Gah! Not content with her mischief at Silverstone, Mother Dearest was doing her best to embarrass me and even the grid interviewer felt the need to pass comment! Parents eh? After the sighting lap we lined up for the sixth time this season for what was to be my best race yet. As soon as the red light disappeared, I was off the line in a shot and made for the outside of Paddock Hill Bend like a drunk to a kebab shop at kick out time. Nothing was going to stop me getting the lines I wanted this time!

After passing a handful of riders round Paddock, I managed to get a couple more round the outside at Druids and into Graham Hill Bend. I got settled straight into the race and started trying to pick off riders one by one. I got fellow Brit Barry Burrell fairly early on in the race and set off after my crazy Italian chum Daniel Beretta. Friends off the track, but there would be no love lost between us once the visors snapped down; after battling for some time, he made a break when I had a big slide exiting Sheene Curve and lost considerable time.

By the time I had recovered the time I had childishly lost, master Beretta had managed to pass a few more riders and the chase was on. I set about getting past the remaining riders that stood between me and that all important top ten finish. After a few good stabs at getting through I had another slide, only this one was slightly bigger than the biggest slide I’ve ever seen! Mind you, it did get shown on the big screens and I guess any coverage is good coverage!

I set off (again!) to make up the lost time. Although I caught back up again, setting a faster lap than three riders in front of me in the process, I was unable to make a pass stick in time. After just missing out on 12th place by a ridiculously small margin, a 13th place finish still felt really good.

There were the usual “what if’s” and “I should’ve just…” thoughts in my mind, places I could have made a firmer pass, qualifying sessions I could have actually used rather than just riding round in circles… but the bottom line is that I came 13th after starting 23rd. Having learned so much once again and hopefully started to better suss out the immense psychological side of racing, I can only wait for Assen and make sure I put everything into practice.

Thanks and Cuddly Toys to:

  • Steve and Sarah Jordan – Use of plush race vehicle and highside practice… And Steve’s superb bike set up advice
  • Mike Edwards – Winner: 100m sprint, pit lane olympics. Thanks for sorting out my head for the race!!
  • Uncles Clive and Richard – Superb mechanic service, bikes repaired while U wait!
  • Roger and Tony Z – Professional ribbing of CG for crashing, a great double act now showing in a truck cab near you! Top notch supporters and much more!
  • Neil Faulkner – Help with brakes and tickets!
  • Ros and Pete – Supporting me and photography of Dragon Steak!
  • Craig for the NHS Helpline story…
  • Beckie Dark – CG Racing, Newquay Division
  • The man on the motorhome area gate, for being such a cheery chap!
  • Supporters Bruv, Kirst, Gemgem, Smed, Double D, Nick, Loominator, Sammy, Bunny, Unc Sebastian and Auntie Gertie, Jonny B Goode, Sarah, Chris, and everyone else who was there to support us.
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