Imola, Italy – Race

Chris Northover, 29/09/06 – 30/09/06
European SuperStock 600 Championship
Round 9

IIIIIIIMOLA!!! (as they say in Italy!)

With a spangly new leathers and shiny gloves, Imola started a lot better kit-wise than Germany had. A walk of the track Thursday night soon bought the memories of last year flooding back as we bounced across the deteriorating track surface on scooters. Honestly, this track has more overbanding than every road in England put together! Not that the hideous surface seems to have a massive impact on grip, besides they need to spend money on the facilities before they call the roadworks in!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some nancy wuss who wont use a public loo just ‘cos it smells, but the toilets and showers here make my student dig from last year look like hygiene central! Everyone leaves the Imola toilets with the same violated look of fear that says “Never again, what have I just caught?!”. The showers require a sense of humour too, the drain system is the floor followed by the door, so to combat getting washed away some kind soul has decided to supply breeze blocks in each cubicle to balance on as you’re chilled to the bone by special super-chilled water, possibly imported straight from the arctic ocean.

Enough, whinging, there was a job to be done, a track to be learnt, a bike to be thrashed and an adrenaline gland to be drained (and, it would turn out, a local pub to be drained after the race!!!).

Friday – Free Practice

The first session Friday morning gave me a chance to get the hang of the new chicane and re-learn the track. Putting the lines we discussed Thursday night into practice, I was forced to pull in after a few laps with a loose handlebar, but soon got back out and began to put together some consistent laps. I was really struggling to get the bike out of the slower corners which was messing the lap times up a bit, but by the end of the session I had a good bundle of things to aim at around the track.

Foolishly, I didn’t account for the pit wall being on the opposite side of the track to where it was in Germany, so my lap-timer was about as much use as a handbrake on a canoe. Mind you, Matt had the same problem, so I wasn’t the only numpty! When I got back into the paddock, the bike did its best impression of a kettle, although no tea was present, due to the heat (which somehow managed to avoid heating the water up in the showers…).

After a slap up pasta lunch (we were in Italy after all!) we watered the bike, gave it a thorough check over and with a subtle tweak of the suspension it was ready for the afternoons session.

Friday – First Qualifying

First qualifying was tough and I was really struggling to get out of the chicanes and tighter corners well, which was costing my lap times dearly. I was unable to get any good tows, so just knuckled down and went for it.

Friday night I commandeered the Superstock 1000’s hero Brendan Roberts to do a lap of the circuit with Matt and myself for some tips and to compare lines. This proved to be a great exercise and it was very comforting to find out that our lines were all pretty good. The area that I needed to concentrate on was actually hitting the lines; I knew where I was supposed to be and just needed to make sure I was there every lap, especially when cranking it up a bit for faster laps.

Saturday – Second Qualifying

With an armoury of advice from Mr Roberts, I was raring to go Saturday morning and managed to get straight out on a tow with Daniel Sutter, a regular points scorer, and the lap times began to drop. Despite him firing a stone at me (ahh the Imola track surface strikes!) which left a tasty dent in my thumb nail, I managed to stick with him for half the session. As the session drew to an end I found myself without a tow, so took the opportunity to consistently string good laps together without someone to chase. Satisfied with the session, I nearly ate my time sheets when I found out I was 30th on the grid, AGAIN!! But, on a positive note, at least it makes it easy for Rich and Kirsty to find me on the grid.

After a quick munch and giving the bike a lick of special go-faster polish, it was time to ride round in circles for 50km or so and see who I could get past.

Saturday – Race

Lining up on the grid, yes in “my usual position” as Richard finds it funny to point out, I felt really bad for Daniel Sutter who had qualified just ahead of me. From an earlier crash he was carrying a melon shaped ankle and was having to rush round just before the race changing a front wheel on the grid!

Using a top secret improvement to my starting technique, I got an even better start than usual. Perhaps a little too good it would seem, as whilst flying down the outside of the grid I nearly collected a marshal who was too busy cuddling his fire extinguisher to notice the blue Gixxer, front wheel skimming the tarmac aiming straight through him! Sorry Mate-o!

Once the marshal had been avoided I got on with the task of picking my way through the bikes. Before I knew it, I was right on the back of a pack of bikes which included a certain Mr Bond, who was (probably) sporting a large target on his leathers. Charging hard at the back wheel of Matt, I was cut short by a bike short cutting the chicane, albeit on its side and minus piloto. I said something to myself at this point, and although I wish not to disclose the exact words, I can reveal that it rhymed with clucking bell…

Using The Force I managed to avoid the bike, only to be greeted with an oily, cementy mess which then tried to re-unite me with space. The good ol’ luck virus kicked in and I managed to wrestle myself back on the bike and carry on. Despite being some way from the pack I had been chasing, at least I wasn’t having some personal time with Mr Crash Barrier.

There’s a hideously overused saying, which adapts nicely to what happened a couple of laps later, and it goes something like this:

  • (Chris) “Close calls are like buses.”
  • (A.non) “Really?”
  • (Chris) “Yes. You are standing by the road, minding you own business when two come along in close succession and both try and run you into the tarmac.”
  • (A.non) “Oh how frightfully cliched of you, do try to be more original Christopher.”
  • (Chris) “T..Terribly sorry Charles.”

Yup. Not once, but twice someone felt the need to fire their bike at me, delightful!

The second time, I was busy dueling with number 55 and it all came down to a last corner banzai manoeuvre, just up my street then! As I lined him up into the final chicane, another bike decided to lay down for a rest in front of me, unfortunately not the chap I was battling either! For a split second, I considered going all arcade game and nailing it across the grass to avoid the bike and beat the enemy to the line, but in hindsight I’m glad I behaved. I didn’t fancy being taken into the FG Sport office and having to explain to teacher why I cheated!

Despite losing a position on the line, I was stoked to have finished after everything that had been thrown at me! 22nd, place after all that didn’t feel too bad!

Congratulations to Matt on another good finish. Boo to Matt because I got robbed of the chance to have a pop at him again!! Well done to Mads Odin Hodt for scoring his first points and managing to inhibit a member of the British Pirelli crew with silly amounts of alcohol in the bar Saturday night. Also, in the aforementioned bar, I discovered that the worst part of Stuntman Tequila is not deliberately squirting lemon in your eye, but snorting salt, although the lemon eye does leave a gruesome red streak the next day, oops!

Massive thanks to:

  • Nanny and Gramps again, who looked after us so well
  • Roger and Tony Z for driving the van down
  • Rick for coming as a guest and working really hard all weekend, including some unexpected tasks which I’ll brush over for now…
  • Kirsty for looking after me!
  • Mark and Coop for suitable winding up after qualifying 30th

See y’all at Magny Cours!

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