I got to Oulton Park early evening on the Thursday, as I don't live too far from the track. When I arrived I thought I had turned up on the wrong day or the wrong event, the contrast between racing in the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom was clear, there are far more bike racers in the UK for sure, which is understandable when you compare the size of the two countries and the amount of tracks we have in the U.K.
If you've never been to a race meet in the U.K., then the only way I can describe it easily, is to say it's like a weekend music festival! When I turned up there were caravans and tents and mobile homes, barbeques and people running round setting up with a beer in hand.... awesome! Despite the carnival atmosphere, I opted to head back home Thursday night after I had unloaded all the racing gear and not sleep in the van, have a good nights sleep and rest well before practice and qualifying on Friday
I got back to Oulton Park very early on Friday morning to be greeted by even more people that had arrived overnight, which made parking the support van anywhere near the garage where my bike was nigh on impossible. Lesson learned there! Go to the track with the intention of remaining for the weekend, not a difficult choice to make when most of the tracks are a long way away. The remainder of the season has me at Brands Hatch, Cadwell Park and Snetterton.
Friday AM was taken up by sign on, scrutineering and practice sessions in the morning, followed by qualifying in the afternoon after lunch.
The initial practice session was delayed by my lack of spare wheels for race wets, as the track was soaked from overnight rain and sporadic showers, plus hampered by a larger oil spill from one of the other classes which pretty much cancelled the bulk of session one classes getting out on track, however, this proved to be a godsend for me as the track then dried out and allowed me to get out and do the remaining two sessions.
Session one was a good shake down of me and the bike, identfiying a few loose areas and get the tools out to maintain the bike. I wasn't feeling the love of the track in session one and struggled to get anywhere near the laptimes of the front riders, or anywhere near the laptimes from the track day I did back in July at Oulton Park, which left me feeling very annoyed with the lack of performance.
Session two was little better, to top it off I crashed at the end of the session when I was presented with a choice of hitting a marshal on the track or another competitor and his bike. To explain why this happened may prove to be insightful. Unlike the UAE series and track days, when your session ends, for some reason the Marshalls try to bring you straight back into the paddock, via a service road, right after turn one, which, if you've been on the track at Oulton Park, you'll know is a very short distance from the chequred flag. Anyway, I was hot on the heels of the rider in front of me, getting a tow and had carried too much speed into turn one, as if I would carry on for an in lap. I opted to go to the left of the marshall who was on the left hand edge of the track, onto the grass, where unfortunately the front wheel dropped out on me. leaving me sliding towards the marshall stopping a few feet infront of him. No harm done and not too much in the way of damage to me or the bike. I'm not convinced the method of getting people into the paddock at the end of each session is actually safe, or any quicker then running an in lap, but that's not me organising things.
Qualifying in the afternoon was much of the same, no crashing, but leaving me in 22nd place out of 33 entries. A huge disappointment, on reflection I think I had expected more from me after a pretty good season or two in Dubai, but there's a number of factors to this:
- Not raced since March in Dubai - That was also with a shoulder injury!
- Really competitive club and series - This series is a feeder to BSB typically
- Joining a race series at round 7 of 10 - Some of these guys had 24 other races completed this season alone!
- Unfamiliarity with the track and the competitors
Despite the disappointing qualifing, I enjoyed the remainder of Friday, a track walk, a few social gatherings and setting up for the following day
Saturday. I rose early and opted to change tyres on the bike, swapping from the Dunlops to Pirelli Corsa SC1, this proved to be good choice, but left me on the back foot as I had to scrub the tyres in on race one! In comparison to the Dunlops, which were the control tyre in the UAE series, the Pirelli are slightly different profile and bike turns a lot quicker.
Race One On the grid on row 8, 33 bikes on the entry list and I'm 22nd. Lights go off and my race start is terrible, I drop 4 or 5 places into turn one, where I am somewhat cautious not knowing other riders styles, down into Cascades and the pack is already spreading out in the run up to the Shell Oils hairpin, over the course of the race I manage to overtake a few riders to take back my lost positions at the start. There's a high rate of atrition and a number of riders have come off, bringing me to 18th position at the end of the race and in the points for my class.
Race Two Race position is determined by the fastest lap I posted from the previous race, that puts me in row 7 at a small advantage, however, as with Race One, I have a poor race start and lose a number of positions before turn one. I focus on the chap in front of me as a focal point for overtake, Olly is his name and we've been sharing a garage all weekend, however, I just can't catch him, I manage another few over takes over the course of the race but I finish the race in 19th, again, in the points for my class.
Summary: Good start to racing in the UK, not bad for my age I guess, but need to treat the rest of the season as you would a rookie season. There's more to do to the bike, after the race weekend I've identified some errors on the bike set up and I'll work on those to be more competitive at Brands Hatch over the August Bank Holiday.