They say that fortune favours the brave…
Round 1 of the 2014 BRA championship had been a bittersweet affair, I walked away with the round win in Commuterlite’s AM but had a very damaged and broken bike. In addition to this I also damaged my helmet when I used it to slow myself down. I was recommended to see the team down at Bikebiz Granville who fitted my out with and OGK Kuboto FF5v helmet. I was looking at this through the recommendation of other racers in the paddock who were using this brand. I had never heard of the OGK/Kuboto, but reviewing it on-line the feedback read very positive and it was Japanese made to boot! The helmet itself is very comfortable to wear, is quite a snug fit but without feeling like your suffocating. One of the most amazing things about the helmet is the peripheral vision. It was not until I was on the track that I realised just how much extra field of view you get from it, not only does it feel like you have eyes in the side of your head but there is more sight area at the top of the helmet too. This makes finding the apex and exit much easier. It also makes the start easier too as you can get a good clear view of the lights with out need to tilt your head up. One of the most interesting things I found with this helmet is the noise. There is very little road noise at all but I can hear the revs of my bike much better then before. It did take some getting used to as the engine tone sounded different compared to my last helmet.
Heading into qualifying I felt a mix of nerves from the previous race but somewhat excited and optimistic to be on a track that I had spent the most amount of my time on. I had trained hard leading up to this and had made some minor modifications to the bike.
The sun had just started to peak with its warmth and it promised to be a good day. We headed out onto the track and the just took it easy for the first lap or so, checking out the track to see if there were any issues. During the rebuild of the bike from the previous round I had made some small adjustments and changes. I found it really took the first 2 laps to get comfortable and find a body position that seemed to work.
I was impressed at how comfortable the bike actually felt and as odd as it may sound the track did not seem quite as “small” in some sections as I remembered. However I was now stuck in some traffic and being a track with limited overtaking points found it difficult to get by and didn’t particularly want to put a “race move” on. I backed off and focused on getting my body position better around the bike. I had enough distance now to put a in good flying lap for what turned out to be the final lap of the qualifying session.
I returned to the pits actually quite sore in the knees. This is one track I find that I move around the bike quite a lot on. The only real opportunity to take a rest is down the back straight and it’s really not that long. I put the bike back in the pits to find the toe part of the gear shifter had slowly worked its way out. Dejavu from the last time I installed rear sets! As per everything else, some loctite seemed to fix that problem. The qualifying results turned out to be quite positive. I had clocked a 1:18.6310 on my final lap which gave me P5 on the grid, a second row start. This was also the fastest AM grade time by 0.5 putting me on the pole for the class. Whilst I had not cracked my own PB for this track, I assumed as the day went on, the track heated up and I got more confident with the bike that this would time change.
The time did not change; actually everybody’s lap times went backwards as the rain came hammering in. It seemed to come out of nowhere and the biggest bucketing happened just as the pit-lane “2 minute” board came out. I gingerly went around the out lap and gridded up into P5. As the lights went out the front 4 made a mad dash for turn 1. I tried to slot in behind them to keep out of trouble. The lead group headed into turn 1 with #171 Arthur Cook in the lead, with his left leg out dirt track style! I remained in 5 spot behind #16 Robert Young as we made our way over the back and through the hairpin. We came out of the bowl and onto the back straight only to be greeted by Ron Pulido #136 going through the grass on the right hand side! How he kept it upright is unknown to me. He was able to rejoin the race just behind and passed myself and #16 on lap 2. I was also able to get past #16 this lap. By this stage my helmet had started to fog quite badly. Once a moment became available I opened up the visor slightly and it cleared instantly. The bike struggled for rear end grip continually through the race, especially at turn opposite the pits leading to the start line (5) where the sheeting of water was right across the apex. #888 Jack Robinson showed me his wheel through turn 1, I elected to yield this spot as the weather was getting worse and my race was not with Jack. This move however cost me the class lead as #20 managed to get through with him. Coming up through the back of the straight where Ron had gone cross country earlier I too lost grip and the bike went very wide coming very very close to the grass. The weather did not abate and I don’t think I have ever wanted to last lap board so much! I nursed it back through the final laps just trying to keep it in a line that had the most grip.
I was not looking forward to race 2, but the weather had started to dry somewhat and whilst the track was still wet it was not bucketing down. I was now starting 6th on the grid, 2nd in the class. The out lap provided the opportunity to see that the back half of the track had actually dried out somewhat and looked good. As we rolled up to the start the rain and wind came blazing in, heaver then before.
My competitors had a blinding start and I was back to 9th by turn 1. I was able to hold my own till the back straight but the grip was poor and the bike was proving difficult to ride. # pushed past me and had caught up to # Rez by the end of the back straight where Rez turned the corner and low-sided hard. His bike pushed up against #81 Robert Tisdell who was lucky to keep it upright. Rez rolled/slid/rolled again down the bitumen as I just back right off, not wanting to repeat his misfortune. Coming out wide for turn 5 I struggled again with grip. The rest of the field were very quick to catch me and I yielded the spots. At this point the race was not enjoyable and after last round I wanted to take my bike home in one piece. Coming through the hairpin on lap 4 I was overtaken by the final competitor and was in last place. By this point the weather had got much worse, my confidence in the bike and grip was incredibly low. I think the others in the pack were keen to get some points as they were pushing harder than race 1.
The one thing that I will put down to a positive experience here is my Kuboto FF5v. Once I opened the venting system the visor did not fog again. I was actually quite amazed at how well the system worked. I have never had a helmet that was quite as comfortable, had great noise quality and vented so well. As mentioned before the noise was great, the fit was perfect!
Conclusion: I do not like racing in the rain! I’m sure given more experience and practice it would be ok, but having a bike step out under throttle racing is something I have only had minimal experience with. I have a new found expect for flat trackers and speed way riders. I was lucky enough to take out 3rd overall for the class during the day, but a big congrats to #25 Michael Lemon and #13 Andrew Martin for taking out 1st and 2nd in what was a very tough race. Fortune does favour the brave. Congrats also to Cookie, Ron and Nic for the Pro class 123.
Big thank you to all the flaggies, marshal and retrieval teams who were stuck out in the rain all day. In additional to all the photographers who went out with all their gear in the rain to get some fantastic images. Hoping for a much less damp day for round 3 at the end of May.