Not quite the end to the season I was hoping for. After a luckless year things took a turn for the worse at Cadwell Park during Friday’s practice. A mechanical failure in the gearbox ended my hopes of a third and possibly – although it would’ve been a tall order – a second place in the Golden Era Superbikes Championship.
A cold and wet start on Friday, but soon things started to warm up.
The first morning session was wet so I just went out, nice and smooth to get the track into my head again. It was a good long session and quickly got the feel of the circuit again even in the wet – it felt good.
In the second session it was only just beginning to dry with quite a lot of wet areas off the line so I had to really concentrate with slicks on, placing the bike within the drying line. It was good practice at being precise though, and I soon found my rhythm.
The third session, just before lunch, was much better. The track was starting to dry out although still wet in some areas. I was able to push the bike into the mid 1.39’s, not a fast time by any means, but wasn’t too bad on a knackered slick from the previous round on a track that was not completely dry.
As the track dried out, Cadwell began to feel like its old self again.
After lunch I had new rubber on the ZX7R with my old favourite: the Metzeler Racetec. I couldn’t wait to get cracking. The bike was going faster than the previous meeting there. It felt so much quicker with different gearing and I managed to stay with the more powerful bikes on the straights, which really surprised me! Everything felt perfect and I really got into the flow once I got few clear laps under my belt. I went 2 seconds quicker even though it was still wet through the Gooseneck and going into the bottom of the Mountain – 1.37.6 best time. I knew I had a lot more in me, and the bike too. I was looking forward to the next session.
I made a couple of adjustments to rear suspension and was out again on track. This is when it all went wrong. After about 2-laps, coming through the Gooseneck and into Mansfield, there was a terrible, loud noise accompanied by a deep shudder coming from the engine. A noise when you instinctively know that nothing good could possibly come from it. My heart sank as smoke started to rise from below.
I could see that there was oil in the belly panel when I pulled in just before the Mountain where my Dad met me – looking very worried. We pushed the bike back to the paddock and started the investigation. It was definitely gearbox, but the oil in the belly panel alarmed us both.
Taking out the clutch revealed a broken tensioner, but the real problem was further inside.
Anyway, we took out the clutch, with a bit of help from Andy Chalice’s buzz gun, to find a broken drive chain tensioner. Once we took the sump off we found the debris in the bottom: three gear teeth, bits of metal and the rest of the tensioner. It was all over. Without a spare engine we were left with no alternative but to pack up and return home.
Losing three teeth from the gearbox meant a premature end to my season.
Richard Blunt kindly offered me his bike when I told him what had happened, but I just couldn’t bring myself to accept. It didn’t feel right him handing me 3rd place in the championship without a fight. After all, he was the one challenging me for it. It was a nice gesture though. I was glad to see him win all 4 races later.
Looking back I’ve really enjoyed my return to racing this year. I’ve had a trophy from every meeting, apart from this one and Oulton Park and I can honestly say that at the beginning of the year I didn’t even think I would be anywhere near the front runners at the end of the season with the bike I had.
Well it’s all over until Brands Hatch again next year and we have much work to do on the new engines and the bike. All the parts – thanks to Wiseco and Carrillo – are with us now; we just need the cranks and re-bored cylinder blocks back and in a couple of weeks we can get started again for next year. It can’t come quick enough. I’ve got my sights set on top spot next year… a bit more luck would go amiss though!
Thanks to my sponsors: Kais Suspension, R&G Racing, Cradley Kawasaki, Holbeach Tyres, TA Creative, Opie Oils and Bike Torque Racing. For next year I would like to thank Wiseco and Carrillo in the USA for joining in with us and all for their help and advice so far.