Looking much better after Oulton

After a string of bad luck at previous tracks and going to a circuit I’d never been to before - on a bike that had to be mostly rebuilt after being badly damaged at Oulton - I really didn’t know what to expect from this meeting at Rockingham Speedway at all. Little did I know; it was to be the best weekend I’ve had since Brands Hatch.

We put the finishing touches to the bike late – again – on Thursday night and set off. We were immediately held up on an M25 that was closed for repairs. At the time we thought, was this going to be the start of another-one-of-those-weekends?

However, once we arrived, the daylight of Friday morning revealed a super impressive circuit with massive grandstands that resembled a football stadium. It had a very grand feel to it and when the sun finally came out it reminded us of Daytona Speedway in America… the banks are not as steep but it had all the hallmarks of a circuit that could make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end – I found out later that certain parts of it did.

Friday practice started well, although there was the threat of rain early on that had us gazing to the heavens with looks of despair again. This time, thankfully, it turned out to be fine, dry day with lots of track time for me to get used to the circuit. Unlike most other UK tracks, which are predominantly right-handers, this track is nearly all left-handers – and it’s fast! It works every bit of the bike and your body, it’s very demanding and I was completely worn out by the end of the day. Still, I got somewhere near a set-up for qualifying and felt happy with the way things were going. My Dad and I saw a pub on the way into circuit called – appropriately enough – the ‘Chequered Flag’. So, after a hard day’s work and a walk round the circuit, we thought it would be an excellent idea to chill out there for a few hours with a meal and a shandy - or two.

Saturday was to be another fine, warm day, but some heavy overnight rain had left a few damp patches on the circuit. This unsettled my rhythm a bit and I was really surprised to see that I’d qualified on the front row in 2nd position.

Some good company over the weekend

John and his Dad were sharing our garage too. We invited him to squeeze in with us because he could only find space to park up on the grass – not a nice place to be if it rained. We were in good company, because John and his Dad are really easy going and we had a great weekend swapping stories in between races – especially listening to his Dad’s, who still races now, even though he’s retired.

Lining up with John and Martin on the front row

Race one soon came along; we were first up. It felt like a big event with the high stadium to the right of us. Anyway, all that was out of my mind when the red light went out. I’m normally off the blocks fast but Martin Stanier and John were a bit sharper this time. (I’d just installed new clutch plates and hadn’t quite got the measure of them). No excuses though – the three of us wriggled through the slightest of gaps at the end of the straight and by the time we all reached the second sharp left corner –coming off the banking – I was within striking distance. I out-braked and overtook Martin; I thought I might’ve had John there too, but he managed to regain the lead once more. It was no surprise that John started to pull away again on his Yamaha; although not by much it has to be said. I managed to stay half a second ahead of Martin for the whole race and just a few behind John, just by concentrating on not making mistakes. I brought the ZX7R home in second – it felt great to be on the podium again and started to fill me with a bit more confidence.

Race two was pretty much a copy of the first but I was able to challenge John more in this race and I showed him the wheel quite a few times throughout the 8-laps. I was leaving my braking so late; I even scared myself at times. Toward the end I was closing the gap by just relaxing more – not fighting the track so much and concentrating on getting my lines right – it worked, and I was just over half a second behind at the finish line. Even John’s Dad said after that another lap I might’ve won it.

The end of a great day at Rockingham, time for the pub

It was an encouraging end to a great day’s racing for me and my time sheets showed me fastest through sector one, third fastest through sector two and second fastest in sector three.

Not bad sector times for an old standard 750 Kwacka

After Sunday’s warm up I was ready to get on with racing and I didn’t have long to wait – we were first up again with a changed grid, based on the previous day’s times. It was still John on pole, but I was bumped back to third by Ryan Strafford who was looking strong with some good times from Saturday, “I’ve got my hands full”, I thought.

When the lights went out Ryan just took off, he out paced the pair of us to the first corner. The second corner was always my strong point and I went for the late braking manoeuvre again overtaking John Dietermann, later on in the first lap I overtook Ryan Stafford at the hairpin to take the lead. Positions were swapped through the race and when Martin Stanier got in amongst us it was even more fun. It will be a cracking race to watch on the TV, it was very close. I really enjoyed it even though I finished 4th behind Martin and John with Ryan taking the number one-spot for his first time this season.

Getting ready for a scrap, me Ryan and John just before the start on Sunday

I spent the rest of my time before the last race just analysing where I was getting things a bit wrong and pictured the race in my head. Once I’d worked it all out I felt confident about the last race and was looking forward to putting my plans into action, and it worked - well it did up to a point. From the start it was Ryan off the line again with that torquey SP2 of his, but once John got past to the lead he just pulled away and left it up to me and Ryan to fight it out for second place. It was a great scrap and we were so close at times we could’ve shook hands. We saved that for later though because it was a race where one minute it was me in second place and then it was him. Martin Stanier said to me after that he was just waiting for us to make a mistake and let him through. It was so tight we were handlebar to handlebar before the final chicane that led on to the straight. Unfortunately, Ryan had the line going in and there was nothing I could do… I just didn’t have the power to get there before him.
Nevertheless, it was a great race and I snapped up another podium finish and a TV interview too!


The ZX7R with its tail up after a great performance

After all the hard work getting the bike ready and the disappointments that have gone on before I felt we deserved this one and I was pleased to finish well for a change. The only thing I’ve got to do now is change the oil for the next meeting at Anglesey – at that’s one very welcome change I can tell you.

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