Words by Gerry Johnson.
As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” and that’s just what happened at the weekend, with son Richy hanging up his race leathers after 3 years of very successful and extremely enjoyable racing with myself in the RBRacing/Labman Motorcycle Race Team. Richard and Ally now have a 3 month old baby daughter Skye to look after, so his commitment to the best sport in the world has run its course (for now?).
Richy has been racing on and off since 2007 and is a bit of a “veteran” at the old knee down game, so it was no great surprised that this time had to come. His old Dad (me) has only had 3 years racing, despite having been around bikes all my life. It was Richard that persuaded me to join him in the team and Labman that made it all happen with enough financial support to make the dream come true.
Flat in 4th, “tap” the front brake hard. Throw it in at about 80mph
First corner. “Pates”
Myself, Richy and Jan arrived at East Fortune in pretty torrential rain on the Friday afternoon. We set about erecting the awning, emptying the van etc, before signing on. We managed to get the bikes through Technical Inspection just before they shut up shop for the night. This would save us time the following (race) day. I have to say at this point that the two bikes have never failed Technical Inspection in 3 years of racing, in many cases the Scrutineer’s have commented on how well the bikes are always presented (except possibly following crash repairs – where they have to be re-inspected before being allowed to carry on racing). This is testament to the preparation and attention to detail that the Team have adopted, in always being as professional as we can possibly be! The 3 of us settled down with a couple of beers and a barbecue before turning in for the night, Jan and I having the luxury of the back of the van with Richy tucked up in a two man tent. It was a restless night with the rain and squall persisting throughout, it didn’t bode well for racing the next day.
Richy “the Rash” – All over the fast boys at the sharp end again
The bike in front churns out 150BHP!
Gerry trying hard in the same corner
Next morning arrived soon enough, with a wet track to contend with. The sun was shining though and with the breeze to assist, maybe, just maybe, the track would be dry enough later in the morning for qualifying? We had to have a riders briefing followed by a “Novice” warm up and then warm up for us, so the track may be OK for dry tyres. With tyre warmers on, both bikes fuelled up, both riders fed and watered – we were ready to go! With the Melville Club we have a 10 minute warm up session before qualifying, which is a bonus as we had to bed new tyres and brake pads in. By the time our session came round the track was still damp but with a bit of care could handle dry tyres. Before we knew it we were both flat out down the back straight ready to remind ourselves of the sweeps and curves of this lovely circuit. Richy and I had been discussing, as always, how we (me really) could improve our lap times. In July Richy was lapping regularly in the 1.08’s but thought that the once only ever achieved magical lap time for a CB500, 1.07, was just out of reach. I achieved my target time in July of 1.12 secs but as ever wanted to improve into the 1.11’s. In helping me achieve this, Richy agreed to follow me for a few laps to see if he could help me improve, prior to qualifying later that morning. This he duly did then he passed me and I tried to hang on to him for a few laps. I was surprised that I did OK, the fresh tyres giving me lots of confidence on the damp track.
The debrief after the warm up was very helpful to yours truly. Richy noticed how I was rolling the throttle off a little early in the second part of the very fast “Esses” section. He encouraged me to keep it pinned as I changed direction and treat the second part of the section as much of a corner as the first part. I was using this section to slow in readiness for brakes hard on for the hairpin. He reckoned I would still have just enough time to get on the brakes if I kept my wits about me. The grip offered by the new tyres would also give me confidence he reckoned. I only had to copy what he does really, so it was a matter of having the b-lls to do it! Richy also ensured I was holding the bike flat in 5th, not top, on the back straight and the entrance to the “Esses.” Doing all this should improve my lap time he reckoned, if it didn’t, I wasn’t! (if you see what I mean)
Through the final left / right, onto the Start and Finish section.
Coffee, glucose drink, chocolate, then qualifying! 15 minutes of going as fast as you can, without racing, without getting baulked and without crashing! Some racers qualify well but race badly. Others qualify badly but race well. Richy always qualifies well and races just as well. I usually qualify slower than my race speeds so a poor time won’t be too disappointing. Richy qualified with a 1.08. Amazing! 5th on grid but still on the front row, alongside bikes with twice as much power. John Andrucci campaigns a 150 HP Suzuki, thats 3 times the power of our Pizza bikes! Just 2 places in front of Richy. However, I couldn’t believe my time. 1.11.4! This was over a second quicker than I could achieve at the July meeting and faster than the target time I had set myself for this whole weekend. This time put me into 12th on the grid, 3rd row. Not bad for a full grid of over 30 bikes.
All the qualifying done and dusted it was time for lunch. Facilities at East Fortune are second to none. Cafe open all day-queues right down the paddock at lunch time. Bar for the evening. Excellent toilet and shower facilities and silent generator hook ups for the whole paddock. Puts Donington Park to shame. All maintained by volunteers.
We were first up at just after 2 in the afternoon. Both of us were feeling confident, and the nerves that I usually have were not as bad as normal. Its good to be nervy but being too worried does affect performance so this race was to be looked forward to. Warm up lap done, sunny, warm, dry track. Lets have fun! Lights out, both of us managed good starts, with Richy up into second at the first corner and hanging on down the straight with those more powerful machines. He knew his racing was to be with Alan Brookbanks this weekend – a good rider on a fast 600cc Post Classic Honda with similar lap times to Richy.
“Hannahs.” Final corners of the lap
The pace was frantic and was one of those races where it gets quite strung out which means everyone can ride flat out without getting baulked in a fight with other riders. Richy managed to finish 7th struggling to keep in the bigger bikes slipstreams, with me bringing it home in a very creditable 10th! The conditions for the race were near perfect so there would be no excuses with lap times. Chasing the big bikes, Richy managed a 1.07.8 and I did a 1.10.4, both of us were going well on the little bikes. The commentator seemed to take a shine to our little bikes as well, but couldn’t decide if we were brothers (he obviously hadn’t seen us with our helmets off!). I have to say at this point that Richy’s lap time here needs to be recognised as one of the fastest ever around this track on a CB500. Ironically, the lap record holder, Andy Lawson, was tragically killed at the Ulster GP the previous week. Andy went on to become Thundersport 500 and Minitwin Champion with a bright future forecast for him in pure Road Racing. The entire entry of riders held a minute’s silence for Andy on Sunday in remembrance of a very talented rider.
I was obviously very chuffed with my lap time and position and had confidence in getting to grips with the circuit where you have to be so accurate with everything as the lap is so short. Feeling confident we went into the second race with the sun shining and the wind dropping to a slight breeze. Engines revving hard again as the lights went out and the grid thundering towards the first corner. In most instances, without knowing how, the field generally sorts itself out into some sort of order. Richy was closer to the top 5 in this race as the pace seemed that little bit slower, allowing him to make up time around the esses, grabbing places into the hairpin only to get re passed on the faster parts. I was also going along very nicely, sneaking into the top ten and trying to hang onto a very fast Yamaha TZ350 whilst getting a face full of sweet smelling two stroke fumes. I kept doing what I did in first race whilst trying not to get tired, hanging on to the end. When there are faster riders around you at the start of a race, you seem to get pulled along easier. Richy had a big moment coming out of the hairpin towards the end of the race, trying to get on the throttle too early causing the rear to step out, punting him out of the seat. He realised at this point he had to settle for 6th or risk hitting the tarmac! I also held on for 12th place.
Jan did well to get these…..Flat out in 5th gear, ready to hold our breath to tackle the “Esses”
A good days racing by all, with the little CB’s impressing, as the race fans seemed to be surprised by their turn of speed. We had a fair few people coming up to the garage to have a look at the bikes and a chat after the race. That’s what’s great about bike racing. We settled down and had another bbq (you have to make the most of the sun in Scotland) and a few well-earned beers in the bar with the other fellow racers.
Sunday morning was soon here and after a cold night we were glad to get up and into the garage to fettle the bikes, mainly to get warmed up in the sunshine. It was going to be a gloriously sunny Scottish day. There is no warm up practice on Sunday with this club so it meant having breakfast and some energy drink then climbing into our leathers for the first race. It’s always harder getting into your gear on a Sunday morning due to the aches (for me especially) from Saturday! The track and air was a bit warmer today so it would be interesting to see how that affected the pace.
The final bike here is a legendary Yamaha TZ350, “the” bike to have back in the two stroke era!
We took our places on the grid determined to get away well. Richy wanted to make the top 5 and I wanted to consolidate my top ten position. The lights went out and both Richy and I got a good start, making the most of our bikes’ nimbleness to make up ground. Richy got away well and was lying third going into the hairpin for the first time, with fewer of the bigger bikes passing him down the straight. I was also was getting my head down and trying to make a break from the bikes behind. On the second lap the red flags came out and the race stopped for an incident at “Railway” bend. We returned to the pits a little gutted as a couple of the bigger bikes had made bad starts, meaning we could have made a break for it. However it’s more important that the incident is dealt with properly. On the restart the race was reduced to 8 laps and we both had a strong showing, the race commentator again finding it very entertaining as we had shown some of the faster bikes the way. Richy ended up 6th and I was 9thth, my best finish at East Fortune! Our times very slightly slower than our best from yesterday with Richy in the 1.08.0’s and me in the 1.10.8’s. Still not bad!
Richy chasing his closest rival, Allan Brookbanks on his CBR600
After packing most things away the last race was unfortunately delayed by some incidents in other races. The final race is always a “bring it home safe affair” for me but Richy always tells me otherwise! We headed out in warm sunny conditions for the final race, and Richy’s last race for sometime (maybe ever!). The lights were out and the usual frantic blast to the first corner. This is the best part of the race as it’s really where you’re tested the most. Richy had managed to hang onto one of the bigger bikes and would enter a race long battle for 5,th whilst I was going very well and up to 8th. He finished in a fine 5th place after a hard race, and I hung onto 8th. Maybe a couple more races and I’d be up there with Richy? A brilliant finish to the weekend. Richy and I shook hands on the slowdown lap to acknowledge what a brilliant 3 years we have had racing together.
That was hard work! (for tired and miserable? old Dad!)
So what next for the team? I hope to continue to do some local races as I still want to keep going for a bit longer. The NEMCRC has it’s final meeting here in October and I hope to be there. Richy will no doubt support and help out wherever possible. It looks as though he is going to try his hand at a bit of off road enduro riding, as its less time committing, but still keeping his eye in with a bit of competition. Watch this space!
Thanks to all at Labman for making this race team happen over the last 3 years, it’s been memorable, successful and above all absolutely great fun!
Gerry, Richy, Jan, Ally and Skye. Sarah, Joe and Sienna.