With a new rider and a mixture of old and new machinery, we set off for our main event of the year, the Isle of Man TT. The team's new rider is South African Allann-Jon Venter, a former BSB front runner and genuine top bloke. We had met him last year when he rode for our paddock neighbours Team DP coldplating so when the event organisers said he was looking for a ride, a deal was done. This would mean we had to source a bike for the superbike races: this proved more difficult than we thought as bikes with a proven pedigree don't often come up for sale and a new build is out of our budget. Fortunately, we were offered and subsequently bought Dan Cooper’s 2013 Honda CBR1000RR, a proven package that had already lapped the TT Course at over 124mph.
So Wurz and the boys from X-Bikes Racing set about the bike preparation. To get a race bike around a normal circuit of say 2-3 miles is tough enough but to build a bike to take on the 37.73 mile TT circuit takes time and certain attention to detail most don't understand. Let me try to explain; at the TT the bikes go from the start line straight down Bray Hill, so that's from a standing start to as fast as it will go (150mph+) followed by heavy breaking into Quarterbridge, so in the space of 2 miles the bikes has been through severe extremes, so the bikes have to be right from the minute you open the throttle; there is absolutely no room for error. Furthermore, if the bike fails and the rider is stuck out on circuit he will miss vital practice time. Over the winter they are stripped and everything is checked, some parts are sent away for stress testing, any worn parts are replaced, the engines and suspension units are totally rebuilt. They look almost brand new by the time they are finished (how a race bike should) This process takes time about 5 months of evening work to do all 3 bikes, is it worth it........?
The logistics of getting everything to the IOM itself is no easy feat, not helped by the fact that the team are spread all around the country. We need to get all the personnel, race truck, bikes, awnings, vans and all our gear across. So although the first of us arrived on the Tuesday before practice week to start the set up, the whole team and trucks weren't together until the following Saturday, which is the first day of practice. So once the Topgun village is complete we can get on with the job in hand, racing!
For the rider the preparation also starts early, they need to try to learn as much of the track as possible before they start. This is usually done in the form of watching on board laps. AJ was no exception, his preparartion consisted of a minimum of three on board laps a day for the past five months, not to mention an extreme training regime that started at 0430 with a daily run, followed by 2 hrs of MMA training on an evening, culminating with a session in the gym. Dedication for sure! (I'm tired just writing that)
Ok, enough build up let's go racing. The TT starts with a week of practice, which takes place during the evening between 6-8pm (as the roads needs to be closed and theses times cause less inconvenience to the islanders), followed by a week of racing run during the day. Most of the island is on holiday for this week, in fact Senior race day is a Bank Holiday in the Isle of Man.
Saturday afternoon arrives and it's time to take the bike through scrutineering ready for first practice, just as the sun disappears and the rain comes down. This brings about a message from the clerk of the course to say practice is cancelled. After all the work and time, the build up, the nerves, you can feel the paddock sigh. It may only be two nights until our next practice on Monday but now that seems like a lifetime away. Oh well, at least we now have time to do a bit of socialising.
Monday night comes and the paddock has come alive in a way you have to be there to understand. The bikes all set off and then the first bike comes flat out past the pits, the ground vibrates, the air oscillates and a small shiver shoots down your spine, TT 2014 is underway!!
With three bikes to qualify for the six races the Topgun camp is flat out. The bikes are stripped, checked and adjusted as required after every session. Part of having a new rider is adapting the bikes to his particular riding style. This took a few nights but we got there and even though we lost a few nights’ practice due to the weather and other incidents beyond our control, AJ was happy. The new Fireblade did prove to be a stubborn beast to start with, with stability problems at various parts of the Course, but after a few suspension and geometry adjustments it started to behave; by the end of the process she still wasn't perfect but we were out of time. AJ instantly liked the CBR600 and the Supertwin, declaring them almost toy like compared to the big thou!
After Friday evening’s practice the Team set about preparing the Fireblade for Saturdays Superbike race. Wurz then popped the question "Who's doing the wheel change?" The Superbike and Senior race are run over 6 laps (226 miles), and a rear tyre will only last a maximum of 4, so the plan was to change it on the second stop. The swinging arm has been modified to assist in this but still requires a steady hand and it has to be done in less than 45 secs (the time it takes to fuel the tank). So the rattle gun was charged and the team started to practice, this drew quite the crowd. It turned out to be a close call between Roley and Wurz, but as Roley is an expert fuel man Wurz got the job.
Superbike race day and we are all confused by the sight of a giant yellow ball in the sky, welcome back sun we have missed you. On race day the bikes have to go through scrutineering by 9am then sit in Parc Ferme until race start. 45 mins before the start the teams are allowed into Parc Ferme and also pit lane to fill the fuel hoppers and set up the pits. 15mins before the start the bikes are moved up onto the road, our last chance to brim the tank, check all the switches are in the correct mode and admire the monster energy promotion girls (tough job this).
AJ dons his helmet and takes the bike, he pushes the bike past a barrage of photographers to the start line, 10 seconds to go, visor down, 1st gear, a tap on the shoulder and he drops the clutch and launches the Fireblade off the line, in some style may I add. Then as the last bike leaves there is a short lull as the grid is cleared in preparation for the front runners coming through. AJ comes through 19mins 15 secs later (117.5mph average) again an improvement over practice. He looked smooth and the bike looked great (but then we are slightly biased). Lap two and it's his first pit stop; as he enters lane he hits the 60kmh pit limiter and is waved in. First of all it’s fuel cap off, fuel in, visor change, clean screen, give him a drink and on this occasion adjust the steering damper. Then it’s fuel cap on and away he goes, 45secs later, which is pretty respectable. Out on track AJ’s times are constantly improving and are creeping ever closer to the magical 120mph mark. End of lap 4 and it’s pit stop time again, same format as the last one with the addition of a rear wheel change. Again all goes well and he is soon heading along pit lane and out racing again. Two laps later he crosses the line in a total race time of 1h 57mins with a race average speed of 115.4 mph finishing in 48th place, job done.
No rest for the team though as the bike needs putting into Superstock spec, this involves removing the quick release swinging arm and brakes, and replacing them with stock items.
Monday comes and first race is Supersport 1. There has been a good bit of healthy banter about speeds on this bike as it's the same one Wurz rode last year, and as yet AJ hasn't gone as fast on it; we know it's only a matter of time though. But today wasn't to be the day, AJ rode another faultless race finishing in a time of 1hr 20 min with a average speed of 113 mph.
The Superstock race was delayed until Tuesday due to the weather, but it was clear AJ liked racing on Tuesdays as he instantly put in a quicker lap, In fact each lap again he got faster and finished in a time of 1hr 17min 44secs with a average speed of 116.5mph, that's a race average higher than his best lap last year! This won him his very first TT replica.
Next up is Supersport 2, and guess who woke up fast today? Yep no messing he goes out first lap and beats Wurz's best; we manage to tell Roley in the pits so he could let him know. I swear you could see the smile through his helmet, anyway he went on and improved his lap time again, 116.7mph on a 600cc bike! Replica number two, thank you.
Friday and it's the lightweight race first, and then followed by the Senior in the afternoon. The lightweight class (so called because they are about the heaviest bikes out there) is still in its teething stages of the TT and as such can often provide some different results. AJ had only done two laps on the bike in practice but you could tell he was looking forward to racing the what is effectively a machine designed to commute on and nip to the shops and back! We opted for a first lap pit stop as it's only a three lap race so giving him a flying last lap. The pit stop was so fast as only 8ltrs of fuel was required, he was gone in a flash. He was obviously getting used to the little twin as he stated moving up the leader board and even made it into the top 20 finishing a fantastic 19th, which means yet another replica.
So on to the final event of the 2014 TT, the Senior. Six laps of the toughest but best circuit in the world and that's us done. AJ opted to run treaded tyres as he liked the feel of the bike better, this still meant a wheel change on the 2nd pit stop. Again AJ was improving - his first lap was 119mph so would the 120 happen?? Lap two was 119.4mph, closer still. Lap 3 included the pit stop so bit slower but lap 4 was 119.92mph, how close? The 2nd pit stop and wheel change went well, 42seconds (4 seconds faster than a certain factory Honda team). So lap 6 the last lap of 2014 could he get his goal?? Unfortunately, no he got held up and waved yellow flags had slowed him, still 119.87mph in traffic! AJ came into Parc Ferme buzzing and rightly so, but the first thing he did was point at his elbow, his leathers were marked, turned out he had been doing a Marquez round the Cregg-ny-Baa corner, scraping his elbow!!!
Some finish to a fantastic fortnight, six race starts, six finishes answers the question is all the machine preparation worth it. But without doubt the star of the show was our new rider, every session he went out in he went faster, his technical feedback was so detailed it made the team’s life so much easier. Indeed, his focus on the job in hand was almost scary. The excellent results, machine reliability, Team performance and not to mention the banter between us all made this a year to remember. I'm sure in years to come AJ Venter will be counting down the seconds to a 130 mph lap, will it be with us.........I sure hope so.
We would just like to say a massive thanks to everyone that made this possible.