It was a simple enough plan: Show up at the now local Nova Scotia Shubenacadie track, ride around at a leisurely pace for two races, score second place (x 2) and collect some easy points for the Team CMG CBR250 media challenge series.
At least I think that is what I told my wife.
Still, the opportunity to stand in for Costa — who has won all four of the previous rounds but was attending a motorcycle launch for this particular weekend — was too good to refuse. And besides, with only one other journalist planning to attend this round I would be guaranteed second, as long as I didn’t come a cropper.
However, there was another element in this sorry equation – only 10 days earlier I’d been lying unconscious in an operating theatre having the meniscus from my left knee removed.
The surgeon gave me a look of utter contempt when I told him I’d be racing motorcycles in less than two weeks, despite my graphically emphasizing the quotation marks around the word racing.
By the time the Thursday of the race weekend came around I was still walking with a pronounced limp and unable to bend my knee for long without some serious discomfort. Although I’d missed Thursday practice I wanted to see if I could get a lap or two in to get a feel for the track – one I had not had the opportunity to ride before.
The opportunity came via Colin Fraser, who took Assistant Editor Zac and myself in an aging Toyota for a thorough “see that dark smudge, turn in there and pin it for the next three-and-a-half corners” tour of the track. The car bucked about from one bump to the next, rolling around what must be one of the narrowest tracks in Canada.
Just ride it slowly ‘Arris and get the second place points.
However, I quickly realized that there was one very important factor in my favour; the track ran clockwise, which meant that most of the corners were right-handers so my gimpy left knee would see minimal use.
Just as I was about to depart for the sanctuary of the B&B my competition arrived in the form of EatSleepRIDE’s Alex Crookes and the much easier on the eye, Marina. Despite having originated from Manchester in the UK, Alex seemed to be quite civilized with an almost upright posture, (giving a respectable distance between ground and knuckles) and a basic, but proficient, command of the English language.
To his advantage he had also ridden in the last four rounds of the CBR250R series and seemingly had fully functional body parts. However, I had the benefit of more track experience (including a couple of track schools) and I came from Harrogate, not Manchester. We were both in our forties and fledgling fat bastards, so this could potentially work out to be an even contest.
This was getting interesting.
FRIDAY – PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Today’s schedule included two 20-minute practice sessions, which would enable me to either conquer my fear or be consumed by it.
Within a lap of the first session I realized that it would be the former. The little CBR just shot over any bumps and railed around corners so sublimely that for a moment I actually thought that I knew what I was doing.
In fact, I started to quite enjoy it and the more I got to know the little Shubie track the more I appreciated its nuances.
Turn One requires some nerve to hit at high speed as it just drops off out of sight down a hill to the right. This is followed by a nasty 180-degree left-hander that requires full knee out to get around with any kind of speed – something that wasn’t on the cards with my de-meniscused left limb.
Soon after that comes the decreasing-radius Turn Four, which requires some nerves to come into at speed – it’s perfectly fine if you get the line that clips the apex but a shreddies load of leakage if you mess it up, complimented by a rather rough and bumpy patch just off the line.
After that it’s full throttle as you meander up the back straight in full tuck (well as full as a six-foot-four giant can tuck in on a CBR250R). The full throttle bit is vital towards the slight corners at the end as it’s uphill, and any let off extracts a high price in speed.
Then it’s into Turn Nine, AKA the Carousel, which is a lovely, wide 180 (and to the right too) only requiring that the rider drop it down a couple of gears before swinging it in so that you can power out close to that vital 8,000 rpm mark.
Just before the home straight it’s a little right then a left (complicated by being rather bumpy) before a full tuck down the home straight to the cheering … well, semi-interested crowd.
In the end I managed a 1:31.751 best lap time, a mere 8.884 seconds behind the very talented Ms Stacey Nesbitt, but more importantly, over a second and half up on Alex. By the end of the afternoon’s practice I’d shaved off another half second but somewhat worryingly; Alex was finding his mojo and slashed his best time to within a second of my own.
If this trend kept going, Crookes would be about on par with me by race day. By now, any prior plans and statements of taking it slowly had been completely forgotten (sorry luv, I may have fibbed just a bit about my weekend plans).
SATURDAY – QUALIFYING AND RACE 1 (of 2)
Today was the actual qualifying – which not only decides where on the grid you will start the race (based on your fastest lap), but also awards up to four points for fastest qualifier.
When entering the track I found myself right behind the rather large looking Crookes and it dawned on me that if I couldn’t get past the Mancunian monkey he would likely set a faster lap by default.
Riding 250s on a racetrack is a little like riding 50s on the road – you’re flat out most of the time. This makes passing rather interesting as you have to either draft on a straight and nip by once you have enough momentum, or aggressively out brake into a corner and then take the line, stuffing the other person in the process.
I tried the former for three laps, either losing my momentum by almost rear ending him in a corner or not quite being able to pull past after the draft. No, this pass would require the good old out-brake-and-stuff routine.
That came courtesy of Turn Four, which requires you to go wide to set up the perfect line. However, if you go tight and brake late the other rider cannot help but fail to see you pass, but then you have to brake really hard and get the line all wrong in the process. It worked and I exited the corner free of Alex’s stifling arse.
Head down now ‘Arris and crank it up so that you don’t get passed and get a good lap time in to boot.
Several laps later I pulled off and hoped that Alex hadn’t rediscovered his mojo.
It turns out I did good, putting a whole second between us and thereby stopping the rot. Now I not only had the better starting spot but the mental edge too. CMG might just pull this off.
The actual race brought in a new variable – starting lights. Thankfully Colin Fraser gave us a quick reminder of how they worked – drop into gear on the second red, raise the revs to 8,000 rpm and giv’er when the last red goes out.
Just before that last red I saw Alex lurch forward and then stop to save being penalized five seconds for a false start. It was disaster for him and I took full advantage with a perfect start and drop into Turn One.
Ha, I could taste victory before I’d even hit Turn Two and went into full-race mode to get a good distance between us. Exiting T2 — thanks to its tight 180 degrees and slow exit — is a perfect spot to glance across and gauge how far ahead you are, and the gap was … good!
But then something didn’t go to plan. By lap two my glance across showed a little less gap. By lap three even less again and on lap four I almost missed seeing him at all as he was already entering the turn. Bugger, I think Crookes is going faster than me, and I was already tapped out.
In lap five I saw what I feared; a glance across and I saw no one.
He must be on my tail.
But then I looked behind and he wasn’t there. Odd. It was only when I got around again that I saw his bike in the weeds on the outside of T2 and Alex tweeting away merrily on the bank. He’d crashed!
He’d crashed …
I was momentarily jubilant but then realized that the race was effectively done. Part of me had been looking forward to a good duel. Of course I wanted the win, but in a way the duel was just as important and with Alex out and the kids in the real race way gone by now I lost my raison d’être and began to slow down.
It was on the front straight that I saw Colin Fraser hanging over the pit wall doing frantic hand twisting motions. He was either calling me a wanker or telling me to giv’er.
Then coming around T2 I saw two guys jumping up and down, waving their hands and hooting. They’d popped by the Honda tent earlier on to say hi and declare their undying love for CMG (well, that’s I how heard it), but it seemed that the gods were telling me to take it up a notch and not be lapped.
Alas the lapping was inevitable, albeit on the last lap. I was a bit surprised to see the front wheel of Tomas Casas edging in on the inside just as I was about to swoop into the apex at T4. Like a train, Ryan Roche followed, but I was committed to the apex and then I saw Stacey Nesbitt trying to squeeze by.
I hit the brake and so did she and we both stood up. She was by in a second and galloping off to catch the other two while I contemplated having being one of those backmarkers that fecks up the race for the leaders. Oh dear.
The chequered flag couldn’t have come soon enough and I waved my fists in the air looking to the crowds like the happiest guy who’d ever gotten lapped and lost a race, even though I’d won my class of two!
It turns out that Stacy made a spectacular pass in Turn Nine to get into second, only to lose the victory at the line by literally a nanosecond – something that would have been very different had she not been held up by some aging fat bastard.
At the podium they put me up with the three real racers to diminish the embarrassment of being the only guy up there, where I apologised to Stacey for getting in her way and then informed Tomas that he duly owed me $10 for getting him the win.
By the time I’d eventually popped my cork, I was alone (sadly not uncommon for me) but life was not just good, it was bloody brilliant – even if I hadn’t actually achieved anything much out of the ordinary.
I even had my two loyal CMG fans come over and join the celebrations which was the icing on my triple-layered, chocolate-swirled, single malt scotch-soaked cake. I wish I could remember their names but thanks guys for adding to the moment!
That night I slept the sleep of the champions.
SUNDAY – CROOKES IS COOKED?
It seemed that the spunk of the Mancunian was noticeably diminished after Saturday’s crash. But I wasn’t happy. Yesterday’s lap times showed that he was less than half a second behind my best and that was after only four laps. If he’d had made that pass, he likely would have won, but now any hopes of a good old duel were looking bleak.
Despite my best insults and jibes, Alex took a leisurely practice session coming in almost four seconds behind my best. To add insult to injury for the poor lad, on the grid of the race they had a last-minute rider entry (a local, Leah McInnes) and so moved me up a row ahead of Alex, meaning that he didn’t even have the opportunity of a good start.
With Alex knobbled my goal now was to not get lapped and I quickly settled into a good pace. I’d almost forgotten about Leah until she shot by me, but instead of the usual disappearing off in the distance, she just sat there a few tantalizing feet ahead.
And keep up I did. So much so that I even tried a pass a couple of times, only to have the door shut and the resultant braking put me back a few more precious feet. Alas, it dawned on me that the only reason I was keeping up was because this was the first time for her on the CBR250R and sure enough her lap times got progressively better while mine remained static.
But the effect was to pull the best out of me and as I hit the final lap I not only realized that I was well safe from being lapped, but Tomas Casas had low-sided in T2. Now in the big picture I would be at least third from last, and media champion – for this weekend at least.
It was also good to actually have someone in my class to share the podium with, and despite being even slower than he was in practice, Alex seemed genuinely happy with a finish and some all important points – being the only journo so far to compete in every round.
We popped corks, sprayed each other down (in a manly way of course) and retired back to the Honda tent.
Sometimes this journo gig really pays out big and a sunny weekend at Shubie was about as big as it gets for this creaky hack. As Colin pointed out, the moto-racing history only highlights the winners, not the fact that they were the only two in the class. Not many people can say they won two rounds of a national racing series.
A huge thank you to Alex and his lovely wife Marina for being such good company, good sports and good competition, and to Honda Canada for coming up with such a fun series and letting old hacks have a go. And to the two CMG fans who made me feel important for a day (please identify yourselves).
Also to the team at CSBK who put on a very professional event, especially Colin Fraser who took the time to coach me on the track and encouraged me to keep giving it when I was about to sit back and relax.
Oh and to my better half for not judging when her partner ‘obbles off to race, even if he did promise to take it slowly. And Cate and Chloe for believing that daddy is a famous racer. Suckers.
I was hoping that the couple of wins at Shubie would push Team CMG into overall winners, but with four rounds still to go (Double Headers at Mont Tremblant and Mosport) there’s still 216 points up for grabs, with Team CMG currently at 323 and Second place EatSleepRIDE at 168 (see unofficial points table below) it looks like all may be decided at Tremblant.
Oh and I saw a press relase recently from Inside Motorcycles that was claiming Costa Mouzouris as their rider. A clever trick to try and slide into the lead, but to put this nicely; sod off and find your own rider!
Next update from Costa on the Mont Tremblant round – stay tuned!
|1||7||Costa Mouzouris – CMG||215||0||0||3||3||52||52||52||52||4||4||52||52||52||52||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|2||3||Alex Crookes – ESL||168||47||47||0||0||29||29||32||32||1||1||32||32||29||29||3||3||DNF||0||42||42|
|3||4||Rob Harris – CMG||108||107||102||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||4||4||52||52||52||52|
|4||2||Pascal Bastien- M123||87||128||21||x||x||x||x||x||x||3||3||42||42||42||42||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|5||2||Neil Graham – CC||81||134||6||2||2||37||37||42||42||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|6||6||Jean-Pascal Schroeder – MP||76||139||5||x||x||x||x||x||x||2||2||37||37||37||37||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|7||11||Derreck Roemer – CC||70||145||6||1||1||32||32||37||37||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|8||4||Didier Constant – MP||56||159||14||x||x||x||x||x||x||0||0||29||29||27||27||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|9||6||David Booth -NP||46||169||10||4||4||42||42||DNF||0||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|10||11||Eric Moffette – ?||32||183||14||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||DNF||0||32||32||x||x||x||x||x||x|
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