Cadwell may have been a curse, but Brands Hatch was almost hell…and it wasn’t just the heat.

Cadwell Park

My run of unlucky incidents just goes on and on. At Cadwell Park I just seemed to go backwards. It had been a whole year since I’ve been there and it’s a track you need to dial into. Practice day was wet and didn’t dry out ‘til over lunchtime when the sun came out. I put the slicks on and thought I might be able to get a move on in the afternoon. Then, just before the session it rained again. It could be said that it was the same for everyone, but if you’d been there on a dry track day earlier, closer to the weekend, then there was an advantage to be had because the forecast was dry for Saturday and Sunday.


Putting the slicks in and tyre warmers on is guaranteed to make it rain…

Having said that, I did manage to qualify 4th on the second row, which wasn’t too bad. That’s a good spot for row 2 at Cadwell – right next to the pit wall. If you can get away quick enough you can shoot past the guy on pole. Which is exactly what I did at the start of the race to go around the outside of Aiden Patmore to lead the charge into Charlies and on to the Park Straight.


A good spot if you can make a quick getaway from the second row…

I kept thinking that he was bound to come past me, but I led for 4 laps and my pace was good. A couple of tiny mistakes later and Aiden overtook me at the end of the straight, coming right alongside me at Park and he went through to take the lead. I was still close and stayed in contention, but Peter Baker was as determined as I was and started to close the gap until he swooped past me round Coppice almost running onto the grass. It messed up my rhythm a bit, but with Phil Baker now on my tail I hung on and started to close down on Peter again. I was starting to think about passing him when on the run from the chicane to the Mountain section I ran wide onto a really bumpy part of the track and lost the front. Down again, I was so angry with myself, all the years I’ve been going round that corner and to get it wrong at that moment was so annoying.


Just before the Mountain section…I didn’t know what was coming seconds later…

 Another DNF, but with a good lap time I was still on the second row for the start of Sunday’s races with the hope of another dry day.

I tried something different for the first race; a Dunlop slick tyre on the rear for grip, and the faithful Metzeler on the front for feel. On the warm-up lap I could feel the difference… the Dunlop rear has always been a slightly grippier tyre and worked well on my ZX7-R.
I got a good start again and was right up the front with Aiden Patmore only to be halted by a red flag. Just my luck again I thought. We were kept waiting for a while on the grid and we were all getting a bit concerned about tyres cooling, so the Marshalls gave us 2 warm-up laps.

My start wasn’t so good this time and I had to settle in at 7th position. It’s not easy to pass at Cadwell either, but I managed a 5th place in the end. I was surprised my lap times were slower than the day before, which had me scratching my head because I should’ve been going a lot quicker.

The last race, although I got a better start, was a similar affair. The bike just didn’t feel as light and as positive as the previous day. I could only put it down to the Dunlop rear tyre – as that was the only thing I had changed. I finished 5th again and I was disappointed with that. I should’ve done better.


Brands Hatch GP Circuit

This is probably the one I look forward to the most every year. Bemsee is the only club that runs the GP track. It’s got to be one of the best circuits in the country, everybody loves it, and the weather forecast was dry and sunny. Which was great, because the year before it rained constantly for 3 days!

Practice day on Friday is on the shorter Indy circuit and I wanted to try a few more things with suspension set up. The bike was running very well and since I put the new exhaust headers on, it certainly felt a lot livelier. It was encouraging to feel the difference. I achieved my personal best time too… going a lot quicker than I’ve ever done around the short circuit, a 48.2. I was happy with that and after a walk round the GP track in the evening before dinner I was feeling very confident about qualifying the next day.


With snug fitting Arrow headers to replace the worn-out old ones, the bike felt crisper…

We missed scrutineering on Friday evening by about 5 minutes, so I had to get up early to push the bike down to the bay at 7:30 Saturday morning. It was so warm even at that time of the day and it’s a long old push for me and Dad up the hill to the scrutineering bay from the garages and back, especially for me wrapped in leathers. We were so knackered, I thought I would start it and ride it back for the last uphill bit, but the starter motor just clicked and made a strange sound, one I’d never heard before.

Me and Dad just looked at each other, and with qualifying only an hour away we knew we were in trouble. Back in the garage, tyre warmers on, we went through everything, fuses, wires, relays and the new clock I had put on after the old one was damaged at Cadwell; you name it we checked it. Nothing.

Then as the qualifying was underway, I had the idea of starting it on the roller we use to start the ZX7-R and it worked at the last minute. I eagerly rode it up to the collecting area, but the bike was coughing and spluttering when it revved over 4K. The constant attempts to turn the jammed starter motor had damaged the battery. It was at 8 volts and did would not take any charge. I had to throw the towel in at that point.

Well, we had the ZX7-R in the back of the van so I immediately rolled it out, got it scrutineered and put the spare tyre warmers on just in case I couldn’t fix the ZX10-R. It would be a tough race on the old girl, but if I had no choice, I would have to ride it to hopefully get some points in the bag.


Ready to go, I had the ZX7-R prepared as back up…I’d done 1:33’s on it last year, but it would struggle against the Powerbikes…

Well, we did manage to get the 10-R running in the end with a new battery thanks to Rod Harwin, who had one ready to go. I also changed the regulator too, just in case.

Back on the roller again the bike would start and run, so at least I knew that I could get to the grid. It was all last minute though and I was dreading a red flag or a hold up because if I had to switch the bike off, I knew I couldn’t start it again. For some reason it would not bump start, it would only go on the roller!

Out on the grid I was so far back In P42, I could hardly see the lights and the only indication that we were about to start was when I heard everybody’s engines revving. Anyway, I just went for it and overtook a lot of riders on lap 1 to put me in 25th. From there I just had to watch out, with everyone taking different lines, and make sure I wasn’t taken out or, for that matter, take someone out myself.


Round the outside of a bunch of riders at Druids and up to 25th from 42nd!

It was a tough race, and I was exhausted at the end of the 8 laps. Still, I managed 17th place and a half-decent lap time to put me on P9 for the Sunday’s races.

Sunday, I took the ZX7-R out for the warm-up just in case I needed to use it. To be honest, with everything that was going on it felt good to be back on the Golden Era bike again. It turns so well! It was another hot sunny day and with a new tyre on the back of the ZX10-R I felt a bit better.


Warming up the ZX7-R just in case, it felt good…

Starting up the bike was still proving to be stressful though as it would just keep turning over, then with a loud backfire, would spurt into life. It was touch and go, but I made it just before they closed the gate.

I got away pretty well at the start with the front group; it was very close. Then Luke Dixon went down right in front of me at Sheene Curve and I had to run wide on to the grass to avoid him, rejoining the tarmac at Stirlings. Luckily, I stayed on without losing a position but the gap between the front runners was too much for me to recover. Later on, I did manage to overtake Peter Baker at Surtees on lap 9, finishing in 7th position after 10 laps.


Getting to grips in Race 2: The bike felt so much better with a new Metzeler rear...

The good thing is, I finished the race with my fastest ever lap of the GP circuit – 1:31.2 – which bumped me up to P7 for the final race of the day. I was beginning to feel a bit more positive after that, as long as I could get the bike started, I knew I would be OK.


The last race would still be a worry with no starter motor…

So, all down to the last race and a decent start put me in 7th place.

The bike was going well, and I soon settled into 6th place closing down Tom Norton and was ready to overtake him when the race was red flagged after 7 laps and I had to settle for 6th. I was glad the weekend was over, although out on the track it was enjoyable, the rest of it was just plain hard work.

Next one is Donington Park in September. I’ve decided not to set my sights on anything or expect too much from now on. I just want to get the best out the bike with the feeling that I’ve done as well as I can and that’ll do for me. In the meantime, it’s a weekend in the garage trying to pinpoint the starter problem. I’m hoping it’s just the motor.


Ritchie Thornton

Photos: JTW Photography



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