Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Discussions on your upcoming trackdays, discusions on WSB, MotoGP, BSB or even F1.
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

Horse wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 3:20 pm Excellent and entertaining read. I somehow get the feeling that things won't improve ...
Whatever you think is going to happen, it's worse...
Le_Fromage_Grande
Posts: 1305
Joined: Mon Mar 16, 2020 6:40 pm
Has thanked: 109 times
Been thanked: 490 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Le_Fromage_Grande »

weeksy wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 3:40 pm
Supermofo wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 3:38 pm
Horse wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 3:20 pm Excellent and entertaining read. I somehow get the feeling that things won't improve ...
I must admit I'd have been staying on the Ferry when it docked :lol:
We've all had trips like this... LOL.

Once upon a time a bloke on TRC crashed his 749 in France. He was looking for help to go and get it...

I took 3 days out to go to France, collect it and bring back.... i'm still waiting for him to put his hand in his pocked for food and beers. He was a little shy shall we say.
When my very high mileage, poorly maintained, rattly, £350, CB900F broke it's lower cam chain I left it in France and got a lift back, never heard of it again, at least it did it on the way back from the Bol'd'Or
User avatar
Rockburner
Posts: 558
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2020 11:06 am
Has thanked: 1305 times
Been thanked: 256 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Rockburner »

Excellent stuff, This will need to be collated into a single read at some point! :D :D

I can only imagine the carnage to come! :D
non quod, sed quomodo
User avatar
Skub
Posts: 1431
Joined: Mon Mar 16, 2020 5:32 pm
Location: Norn Iron
Has thanked: 1552 times
Been thanked: 1131 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Skub »

A brilliant read so far. :lol:
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

Monday morning dawns dull and overcast as we're woken by the rumble of trucks pulling out of the layby. Let's recap...

It's taken 2 ½ days to make the journey from Brands Hatch to Le Mans, a journey that would normally take 8 hours. All the way down “Mark”, who is a really genuinely nice guy, has been telling me tales of his derring do and racing expertise and, while he obviously knows his stuff, it's getting a bit “during the war...” so I'm looking forward to getting to the circuit and getting the lie of the land and meeting the team and putting my expenses claim in.

After a couple of slightly stale croissants, courtesy of yesterday's Carrefour visit, for breakfast we head off to the circuit. We're driving through the fields surrounding the circuit and everywhere you look there are massive, like 30 foot high, towering piles of wooden pallets surrounded by harris fencing. I ask “Mark” what they're for and he smiles and says “You'll see”.

We get to the paddock entrance and have to wait outside the gate for over an hour, watching a steady stream of every kind of vehicle from big name team artics to camper vans even scabbier than ours get in, as the team have not left the promised passes at gate. “Mark” makes many phone calls and eventually someone pedals down to the gate with some passes and we're in and get parked up in the nearly full paddock car park.

The “track day” is in full swing by the time we've got down the garage so introductions can wait, “Mark” and the the Italian crew chief gives us a quick tour of the bikes...

There's two GSXR1000R's, painted in very yellow with their red number boards, sitting on paddock stands.

Immediately noticeable are the huge, bulbous, tall fuel tanks. Endurance racing technical regulations allow the tank capacity to be increased to 24 litres and most Superstock teams do this by welding a box shaped extension to rear of the tank that sits under the rider and inside the subframe However these guys have effectively cut the standard tanks in half horizontally and then welded in a spacer and put the top half back on top to make the whole tank taller, a lot taller, in order to get the extra capacity.

I'm not sure why they've bucked the trend and done this, I suspect it has something to do with listening to “Mark” but it appears they are now regretting it.

Because all the extra fuel is higher up it is, unsurprisingly, causing them handling and set up issues as there's a very pronounced weight transfer under braking and acceleration, plus a reluctance to lean, when the tank is full.

If they dial that out when the tank is full the bike is nigh-on unrideable when the tank is less than half full.

The tanks have got double quick fillers, which are cheap ATL knock offs by the looks of things.

The obligatory gold Swedish shock absorbers sit in the back and up front they've got Andreanni fork cartridges, which are very trick. They make the fork legs longer and allow ride height to be adjusted without altering preload or moving fork legs in yokes.

The seat sub frames are heavily reinforced and seat unit has push contacts, like you'd find on the tailgate of a car, for the built in rear lights so there's no separate connectors to fiddle with if you need to remove the seat unit in a hurry.

At the front end the mudguards are rubber mounted so that the fork legs can be rotated to allow the wheel to be changed without removing the calipers and the front mudguard mounts are spaced further out to allow the front wheels to be changed without the brake discs snagging on the mudguard and slowing changes. I'm a bit surprised to see this as I was sure, having had a quick look before I set off, that the Superstock technical regulations stated that the front mudguard must be attached to the standard mountings and the inside width must be the same as the homologated road bike.

All the brake calipers are fitted with dry breaks, heavily chamfered brake pads to lead the disks in and magnets in the pistons to pull the pads back to the pistons; all to aid with rapid wheel or caliper changes.

There's a huge fluid reservoir for the front brake master cylinder, about double the normal size, to prevent the fluid from overheating and they've got aftermarket Brembo radial master cylinders fitted.

Each clip on has loads of switches fitted, they're using repurposed standard switch clusters, for main ignition on and off, start and kill, pit lane speed limiter and turning on and off the two separate lighting circuits. The separate lighting circuits are not, as I'd expected, front and rear but left and right; the idea being that a crash ripping off a clip on would lose half of the bike's front and rear lights, leaving it in a safe state to be limped back to the pits in the dark.

There are two HID lights, mounted one on top of each other, attached to the inside of the front fairing, behind the class identifying yellow lens cover. I'm told one's a flood and one's a spot, with the spot aimed lower than the flood. The idea being that the spot, with it's longer but tighter beam pattern illuminates the track further in front of the bike when accelerating and at high speed and the flood is when the bike is braking – so the front of the bike is nose down – and turning in or during the corner and the peripherals of the track are lit.

They're running Pirelli tyres, slicks not road tyres.

There's a noticeable lack of crash protection fitted, only the FIM mandated engine cover protectors from GB Racing. It's explained that you need to protect the frame and crank cases, as they're the only parts that can't be changed during a race, and that most crash bungs risk damaging these if they dig in. So the idea is that you want the bike to slide and shed energy by trashing the bars and pegs and fairings and the like and then get the bike back to the pits and replace these consumable parts.

Each bike's got a standalone AIM data logger fitted, but there's very few channels actually being logged. What they're logging is about what your average club racer would be looking at and nowhere near what I'd expect for a bike being raced in a world series. Already I'm wondering what value I'm going to be able to add here.

I'm told the team had a decent result earlier in the season, they'd podiumed at the 8hr race in Albacete, and as a result they'd attracted some attention and had been given some fancy new parts for Le Mans by Arrow; exhaust system and rearsets looking particularly sprauncy as they sit in their boxes waiting to be fitted.
Last edited by millemille on Tue Nov 03, 2020 8:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

The years have not been kind to my memory and I can't remember the rider's names. They were all identikit, journey men, European racers. In their twenties, taking a ride wherever they can, paying for the privilege in the hope a team can give them a decent bike that they can make their name and reputation on, battered leathers covered in personal sponsors labels from small European companies you'd never heard of.

The team manager is shaven headed, middle aged man by the name of Mareno. He arrives at Le Mans several days after the rest of the team and it is fair to say that his management style is, at best, erratic. He vacillates between obsessive micro management and complete indifference.

Image

This picture was taken on the Friday afternoon, after qualifying had finished. The riders haven't got any faster despite having had hours and hours of track time over the last week and there's only fifteen minutes of warm up track time left before the race itself. The pit lane is about to open so that tens of thousands of rabid endurance racing fans can come and meet their hero's.

The team are talking about changing spring rates; a sure sign of a team lacking in direction and clutching at straws, to be considering something so fundamentally different that should have been put to bed on the first day. “Suspensionsmith” is talking with the crew chief, trying to steer him away from this move.

And our glorious leader?

He's rocked up in his flip flops and white towelling dressing gown as he's heading off for a shower.

Must be an Italian thing....
User avatar
Yorick
Posts: 2147
Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2020 8:20 pm
Location: Paradise
Has thanked: 988 times
Been thanked: 985 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Yorick »

weeksy wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 3:40 pm
Supermofo wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 3:38 pm
Horse wrote: Mon Nov 02, 2020 3:20 pm Excellent and entertaining read. I somehow get the feeling that things won't improve ...
I must admit I'd have been staying on the Ferry when it docked :lol:
We've all had trips like this... LOL.

Once upon a time a bloke on TRC crashed his 749 in France. He was looking for help to go and get it...

I took 3 days out to go to France, collect it and bring back.... i'm still waiting for him to put his hand in his pocked for food and beers. He was a little shy shall we say.
Give us a clue ? :mrgreen:
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

“Inch” is the team's data guy and also, from what we're told, the team tactician who'll be calling the shots on pit stops from the pit wall. He's young, obviously bright, strikes me as being a professional engineer and a fairly recent graduate but he's not interested in me despite when I'm introduced “Mark” and the crew chief are at pains to explain what I used to do and what teams I've worked with. It's obvious there's no way he's going to let me near the data or have any input.

Our Crew Chief is in his early 30's and strikes me as a good solid and competent guy, exactly what you need in a crew chief. He's open and welcoming and appears glad we're there, although I get the feeling that there's a bit of needle between him and “Inch” and I can see him get visibly frustrated with “Mark” a few times when he launches into yet another “During the war...” story.

He looks like a stereotypical italian, dark and swarthy and needs to shave again before he's even finished shaving.

There's a couple of young Italian, identikit, mechanics; young, cocky, trendy specs, doesn't know anywhere near as much as they thinks they do.

We've got a Chef. A big young feller, permanently cheerful and a real trooper, banging out huge portions of good food for everyone.

“Bob” is the tyre man. The team will get through somewhere a lot, somewhere around fifty, tyres over the course of the week, and each wheel needs to be taken to the Pirelli compound in the paddock so they can fit the tyres and then bring them back to the garage, put the wheel in warmers and keep track of all the wheels and tyres for the crew chief.

Bob's Belgian and he rides around the paddock on a sit up and beg bicycle with a set of bars welded across the front and back of the frame on which he hangs wheels and tyres.

And he drives a huge old Mercedes van. The van is going to be leaving the circuit in a week's time, rammed to gunwales with used tyres that he's rescued from the bins behind each team's garage, and which form the basis of his track day tyre business back in Belgium.

He's a lovely bloke, slightly eccentric but charming and funny company in the evening around the dinner table.
User avatar
Claude
Posts: 224
Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2020 6:56 pm
Location: Prestbury
Has thanked: 461 times
Been thanked: 118 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Claude »

Fantastic read I love it.

Started re-reading stickysidedowns ‘We come in pieces’ Mongolian trip. Also epic!
Scotsrich
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:46 am
Has thanked: 9 times
Been thanked: 66 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Scotsrich »

This is brilliant.

A bit like ‘you know this is going to go badly but I can’t stop reading it’
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

I'm about 2/3rd's of the way of the way through writing it all up, I want to get it all done in one hit so I don't miss anything and it scans well....
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

There's some wobbly advertising boards on stands up in the garage, lining the walls and creating back wall, behind which all kinds of secret squirrel stuff can happen, and little cabin set up on the pit wall with a pit board, illuminated for night duties, that slides on runners out onto the track.

One noticeable absence is a lighting rig. Pretty much every other garage has some form of frame projecting out from their garage over the pit lane with halogen lights hanging off it to illuminate the pit stop area at night. We're told it's not needed as there's so much other light sources in the pit lane at night.

They've got a compound set up in the paddock, three Italian vans and the camper van parked in a square with a marquee set up in the middle. There's a couple of long tables and benches in the marquee along with Chef's oven, a big arse fridge and freezer.

Everyone sits down together every evening for Chef's dinner. Huge bowls of pasta, which the riders have plain with a touch of oil and cheese while the rest of us have it smothered in tomato sauce, some form of grilled meats and lots and lots of slalad. Proper Italian fare.

Rotgut vino or beers and the strongest coffee, the kind of stuff that strips chrome, to round it all off.

One thing I'm wondering, as everyone is sitting around the tables after dinner, is where's everyone else? We're short quite a few bodies, based on what I'd been led to expect was the minimum to carry out pitstops.

I speak a reasonable amount of normal conversation French, along with some technical Italian, and it's enough to be able to listen in to the Italians talking and I'm getting the strong impression that they think I'm to be the fueller.

Tuesday dawns overcast and stays that way all day.

The plan for the day is getting the bikes through scrutineering and plenty of relaxing, resting and sleeping. The old army ethos, Drink when you can, eat when you can, sleep when you can very much applies as we'll be on the go for more than 30 hours non-stop over the weekend.

“Suspensionsmith” and I go for wander up and down the pit lane an around the paddock for a look see as the Italians aren't proposing to do anything with the bikes until lunchtime.

It appears that garage allocation is decided using an algorithm that considers, firstly, how French you are and, secondly, how good at endurance racing you are. The more French and faster you are, the closer to the pit lane entrance you are.

There's a real contrast with the WSB paddock I'm more used to, while both are world championships and the top teams professionalism and set ups are the same once you've got a little way down the pit lane it's like club racing and the further you get down the pit lane the more amateur you get. There's garage's down the far end with bare walls, a couple of deck chairs and crate of beers to bribe anyone passing to help with a pitstop.

While I've never been in the WEC paddock before now there's still a few familiar faces, like Mark Hannah from BSB days (I knew him when he was at Crescent Suzuki and was Shakey Byrne's crew chief) in the Honda TT Legends Endurance team, being overseen by Endurance Racing legend Russell Benney, so I get a fair few chances over the course of the week to speak to guys in a proper endurance team and see the difference between the top of the WEC field and our lowly spot way back down the pit lane.

A lot of the Honda TT Legends crew were in the same, previously world championship winning, team as "Mark" and, slightly worryingly, every time “Mark” is mentioned there's much eye rolling and knowing glances exchanged between them,

Le Mans is one of the few rounds in the WEC where there's an Open class for heavily modified homologated machines or pure prototypes. The only obvious Open class machine is the Metisse, a GSXR1000R powered funny front end effort.

Image

Image

Bolliger Kawasaki are an interesting bunch. A Swiss privateer Kawasaki outfit who run in the top 10 normally, they have a liking for dungarees and luxuriant moustaches – even the women – and, in marked contrast to my team of voluble Italians, work in complete silence. They had a gearbox failure on their ZX10R early on in the race and they dropped the engine, split the crankcases, swapped the gearbox internals and put it all back together in about an hour without, from all accounts, a single word being exchanged between any of them.

Image

Monster Energy Yamaha, who are long term endurance racing front runners Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART) with a different sponsor, are practising their pit stops and it is an absolute joy to behold. I don't know why, they're not doing anything that other teams aren't but it just looks so smooth and controlled and tight.



There's a rumour that Guy Martin is here, racing under an alias, for a French Suzuki Superstock team. Given that he turned up at Le Mans officially for the same French Suzuki Superstock team a couple of years later it may have been true, who knows? Other than Guy, obvs. And the French team. And the organisers. But apart from them, who knows?

Suspensionsmith goes for a ride around the circuit on Bob's bike in the twilight on Tuesday and returns in the pitch dark blowing out of his arse, it's a long old circuit....
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

Late Tuesday morning the bikes are shown a bit of TLC, a polish with Mr. Sheen to get yesterday's dead flies and rubber detritus off, and then wheeled out of the garage and up the paddock to the scrutineering bay where we join the queue of the best part of a hundred bikes, all waiting the yay or nay from the officials.

In a completely unpredictable turn of events, no really, the scrutineers are less than happy with our front mudguard mounting. I say “less than happy”, they initially thought we were taking the piss out of them and got quite angry and then when they realised we weren't taking the piss out of them they started laughing, and called over every other official in the building to show them what we'd done, all of whom joined in the laughter before we were sent away with a flea in our ear.

The bikes were wheeled back down to the garage and the search for a non piss taking, but quick wheel change allowing, solution began.

The regulations state that the front mudguard internal width must be the same as that on the homologated model, but we don't know what that is. But do the scrutineers? We think not.

So we can make the width as wide as we can without it looking ridiculous, and the reality is that the scrutineers will be looking for it to be narrower than it was.

The 10mm rubber spacers that currently sit between the mudguard and fork legs are cut in half and we try a front wheel change. There's some alarming creaking noises from the fibreglass mudguard as the fork legs are rotated in and out to get the calipers clearing the rim and you have to be fairly forthright in dragging the front wheel out and jamming it back in as the disc bobbins just catch on the inside edge of the mudguard.

But it's doable. The mudguard still looks, to the experienced eye, to be wider than stock so, in an inspired moment of genius or madness – depending on how the scrutineers view it, a doubled over strip of speed tape, colour matching the mudguard, is stuck on the inside edge of each side of the mudguard to give the visual impression of it being narrower.

The bikes are pushed back up the hill to the scrutineers and, in calculated act of civil disobedience designed to put pressure on the scrutineers to get rid of us, we blatantly queue jump our way to the front, attracting a cacophony of shouts and booing from those patiently waiting in the queue, and with everyone “accidentally” milling around in front of the bikes in an unfortunate coincidence which regrettably restricted the scrutineers view of the bikes, we pass scrutineering.

Giggling like naughty schoolboys we leave before anyone wises up.

Wednesday and Thursday and shit's getting real with official practise.

It's the first time the pit lane has been fully staffed with all of the stewards, marshals, fire marshals, security guards, press as well as all of the team members and it's ridiculous just how busy it is, they can't seriously be expecting a bike race to run through this heaving scrum can they? The need for the 60kph speed limit starts to make sense..

I have a confession to make. My name is Mike and I am a pit lane speed limiter addict. It's been 9 years and 1 month since I last succumbed. I fucking love pit lane speed limiters, the noise, the lack of mechanical sympathy, the fact they make ant race meeting sound like a Star Wars pod race....

Each team has a pink naughty card that must be kept in the garage and be available for inspection by the officials at all times and it is on this that the officials record all transgressions from the myriad and many rules. Once you've achieved a certain number, and type, of transgression you face a penalty, up to and including disqualification.

Practise is under way and there's a bike out there that's getting louder and louder as it goes past the pits every lap. It's now obnoxiously, offensively loud and the pit wall is lined with bodies, all trying to see which clown team bike is making the racket.

Yes, it's us....

The bike comes in and it's obvious the exhaust is blowing. The 2nd bike is wheeled out and the riders head back out to try and break that one...

The exhaust is blowing under the sump so, donning heat proof gloves, the exhaust system is stripped down and the collector is on the bench for all to inspect.

They're running a new Arrow system, super light weight fabricated from incredibly thin wall Inconel, which although it looks like a 4 into 2 into 2 design is actually a pair of 2 into 1 into 1 systems side by side, with the two separate systems running side by side in the collector.

The collector is fabricated from folded sheet metal and looks in profile like a single round tube but is actually, in cross section, two capital “D” arranged back-to-back.

The bottom corner of one of the “D” sections has split along the whole length of the collector. It's easy to see why it's split, given the heating and cooling/expansion and contraction that goes on in an exhaust and the tight radius bend concentrating the stresses.

The 2nd bike has the same system fitted and the team don't have any spares.

While a blowing exhaust is no problem, noise wise, as there's no noise limit for the event it is a problem for engine reliability. An exhaust leak will cause the engine to run lean and lean running means hot exhaust valves and hot exhaust valves, in a 24hr race, means valve failure and catastrophic engine damage and retirement and unhappy Italians.

An hour so 's track time later and the 2nd bike starts getting louder, so the it's pulled in and the exhaust system is also stripped and it's doing exactly the same. This, obviously, is a problem...

What to do? It's game over for today and possibly game over for the whole event. Someone has the bright idea of taking a walk down the pit lane to the SERT garage and having a word with them. They're running the same model Suzuki, but aren't in the same class as us so we aren't direct competitors, and, more importantly, SERT is based a stone's throw from the circuit and they have all kinds of clever people and equipment there.

Amazingly, SERT agree to help and the failed collectors are taken back to SERT's workshop and overnight the cracks are welded up and also have a couple of straps welded around the outside to try and prevent excessive movement of the metal.

Thursday morning we fit one and keep one back as a spare. The repair worked and lasted for the remained of the whole event. Its almost as if the multiple world champions might know what they're doing.....
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

Moreno arrives mid Thursday morning and he introduces himself and confirms, based on nothing more than my size and apparent strength, that I'm going to be the fueller. When I ask about data analysis he just shakes his head, “no”.

You have to use the Ethanol laden ELF E10 race fuel supplied by the circuit for qualifying and racing, the stewards regularly take fuel samples from bikes to check what's in the tank and teams have, and still continue to be to this day, penalised or even disqualified if they find “Fuel irregularities”.

But for practise you can use whatever fuel you want. The Italians have brought several hundred litres of Shell's finest super unleaded with them from Italy for the track day and practise sessions.

They've also already got a hundred litres or so of the circuit's ELF race fuel in a drum. Teams pay for the circuit's fuel as it goes into the garage's header tank, not as it goes into the bike, so it looks like the Italians took all of the fuel left in the header tank at the end of last year's race which they'd had to pay for, and I suspect they may have liberated fuel from several other team's header tanks, and poured it into a big drum and they've brought it back with them.

The organisers will not be impressed if they find out.

Teams are supposed to only fuel their bikes out in the pit lane, but the Italians are removing the tank from the bike and taking it out the back of the garage, away from prying eyes, to fill it from their stash of fuel.

There's two elements to the fuelling systems on Endurance racing bikes, the filler caps....

Image

...and the nozzles

Image

The photo's show typical ATL components.

The filler caps on the bike's tank have sprung lids which are the centre sections of each cap assembly, moving up and down on sliders. Getting air out is as big an issue as getting fuel in, hence the two fillers; one for fuel in and one for air out.

Nozzles have a fixed metal centre section and sliding, sprung to the closed position, outer sections.

As the nozzles are pushed down into the tank the centre section pushes the cap down and is inserted into the tank and the red sprung outer section is pushed up, sliding up the centre section and exposing a series of holes in the centre section through which fuel flows down or air flows up.

As the nozzle are withdrawn the sprung outer section comes back down the centre section, covering the holes and stopping the fuel flowing, and the sprung caps spring shut, sealing the tank.

The same system is used at all tracks, but only at Le Mans are the nozzles connected to flexible hoses, on an mounting plate with handles something like the ones shown in the photo above, rather than on the bottom of a dump tin, and is referred to as “the rig”.

It takes about 6 seconds to get 20 litres of fuel into the tank.

The team's rig is dragged out of the back of one of the vans and presented to me...

Image
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

It's quite obvious the rig hasn't been touched since last year's race and is in a poor state of repair. It's using ATL knock off nozzles and they're pretty poor quality, the machines surfaces feel rough and when I push the sprung sections up they don't slide smoothly and don't spring back down.

The hoses look very short and they're held together with gaffa tape, always a good sign in a world championship...

It's an odd design, at odds with every other design I've seen as I've been nosing around the paddock. Everyone else's rig has the handles as low down as possible, smack bang on top of the bike's tank so that you can push them down, but the handles on this rig are way up in the air.

I get to work stripping down the fillers, trying to get to the bottom of why they are sticking, and it looks like poor surface finish of the machined parts combined with swollen o-rings is the culprit.

What I'm supposed to do about this I'm not sure.....

As it gets dark and the first night time practise session kicks off the speed difference between the top and bottom of the pit lane really becomes apparent. We're a few seconds off the front but there's teams who are nearly 30 seconds adrift and if you get a fast and slow bike coming out of the last corner together it's downright dangerous how quickly the fast bike overhauls the slow one, and the sometimes wild avoiding action the fast boys are having to take.

It's been my experience that in any team with two, seemingly identical, bikes the rider will prefer one over the other. There's never any discernible reason for why the preferred bike is better, and I've seen it drive crew chiefs to distraction, to the point where they try and hoodwink riders by disguising the bikes to get to the bottom of it, without success.

And it's the same here, one bike is getting far more track time than the other because all three riders prefer it.

But there's a problem, I know, who'd have thought? The preferred bike is weeping oil from the bottom of the crankcases. It looks like a bolt, or possibly the sump plug, was over-tightened by the Italians when they refreshed the engine after the last outing and it has cracked the cases.

The decision is made to carry on riding the preferred bike for qualifying, keeping a close eye on the oil, and a decision on which bike to race will be made on Friday.

It's getting towards the end of the day and two of the three riders are not getting any faster and the gap between them and the third rider is growing, he (Alessio Aldrovandi I think) is now around 2.5s per lap quicker.

As a team, our fastest lap is about two seconds off the fastest Superstock team's.

The doesn't appear to be a plan on how to bring all 3 riders up to roughly the same speed and how to get the whole lot of them faster. There's a definite lack of direction.
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

t's mid morning Thursday and one of the Honda TT Legends guys comes wandering in to our pit box. “Have you got a guy working here by the name of ******?”, and says “Suspensionsmith's” real name.

“Yes we do, why?”

“Because there's a huge kit bag just been delivered to our garage for him”

It never is! Yep, “Suspensmith's” missing luggage has only gone and bloody well turned up!

The courier that Air France had given the bag to had been to the circuit entrance, they'd sent him to race control, race control had looked at “Suspensionsmith's” name and decided it was English and then looked at the list of entrants and spotted the only British team – the Honda TT legends – and sent the courier down to their garage. The team in turn had remembered that there were a couple of British guys in the No Limits garage and had come and found us.

So “Suspensionsmith's” colonial optimism was well placed and my typical British cynicism was misplaced...

..and the gently pervasive, but rapidly worsening, smell from “Suspensionsmith's” five day old socks could be addressed.
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

I'm working in the garage with the crew chief on Thursday evening, doing a tightness and security check on the bike, and he's asked “Mark” to go off on what seems to be very much a “Bucket of steam” mission when he, unprompted, tells me that they though “Mark” would really be able to help them, having come from a championship winning team, but the reality has not met expectations and if it wasn't for the fact that “Mark” brought people with him to help the team at races he'd have been given the boot because he's all talk and when it comes down to it he can't hack it. That would explain the behaviour of his former colleagues now at Honda TT legends.

Qualifying Friday and we're over 3 seconds off the pace and there's still a big gap between riders and nothing changes throughout the day and night sessions. We end up down near halfway down the grid for tomorrow's start.

It seems we are pretty much top of the session length that anyone is running in the Superstock class, no one else is able to stay out as long as we are, so we will probably save two or even three pitstops over the competition during the 24hrs of the race.

It also seems that our creative interpretation of the technical regulations for the front mudguard is paying off as we can get the wheels changed a few seconds quicker than the other superstock teams.

There's been little or no visible data downloading and analysis, Mark was right in that respect.

Tyre wear looks good, but if I was being uncharitable I'd say that with the lap times we are doing I'd hope so.

The decision is made to race the bike without the oil leak, despite it being the less favoured bike the oil leak on the preferred bike is just too much of a gamble.

Tactics for the race are of the Fred Gassit school of racing, “Gas it, you wanker!”. There'll be a front tyre change every stop, better than safe than sorry, and we'll run 70 minutes for the fast rider and 60 minutes for the two slower riders, at least to start off with.
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

We have our first and only pit stop practise, there's not enough of us to carry out one role each, so there's lot's of doubling up of roles and shuffling around until it seems to go reasonably smoothly.

Suspension smith is front wheel “mechanician”.

I get one chance to practising dry fuelling, we've still got plenty in the fuel stash to use, so there's no fuel from the header tank flowing.

It doesn't go well. The top of tank too high, due to its sheer size and the bike being up on stands. I'm on tip toes and struggling and I'm not short.

The photo below shows the bike after the finish at Albacete and you can get an idea of the sheer size of the tank and how high the top is.

Image

The hoses are too short, they're not on the ground behind me when the rig is in position over bike, and we don't have enough people to hold the hoses up as other teams do. So I'm supporting the weight of the hoses, and when they're full of fuel it will be worse, and they're pulling the rig and the fillers towards the header tank.

The rig handles are in the wrong orientation and are too high up and I'm really, really struggling to align the nozzles accurately enough for them to engage with the cap and operate.

The nozzles are sticking, sometimes for a micro second, other times permanently when they are pulled out the tank

I strip them down again but I can't get anyone from the team to listen. “They worked fine last year..” is all they'll say to me. Which I later find out is a lie, they had the exact same problems last year
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

I corner Moreno and wave a handful of receipts at him and ask how he wants to pay my expenses. It's no language barrier that is causing his bafflement, he genuinely doesn't know what I'm talking about. “Mark” has lied by omission, not only am I not getting any expenses I'm also expected to contribute towards food. I have a frank discussion with Moreno and make it very clear that, given my previous experience and the manner in which I was asked to come, by someone who claims to be a senior member of his team, I won't be paying for anything. It his choice to not be using my ability and experience to his advantage but I'm no starry eyed fan boi, desperate to be here, and I'm quite happy to go home and leave them to it.

After daytime qualifying is over on Friday the pit lane is open for fans to meet the teams, tens of thousands of them descend on the garages. We put the bike with the oil leak in some snazzy friesian cow patterned tire warmers and stick out in front of the garage and set up a table and chairs for the riders to sit at and sign autographs.

Here's "Suspensionsmith", complete with his "Mechanician" arm band, apparently deep in thought (you can see fuel header tank on the wall)

Image

And here's the 3D Kawasaki team's brolly girl who "Suspensionsmith" is deep in thought about...

Image

Our crew chief is a hit with the ladies, lifting the velvet rope to invite pretty girls in...

Image


Pit walk over. After dinner and once night has well truly fallen on friday “Suspensionsmith” and I take the opportunity to go for a walk around one of the camp sites, with Mark Hannah and some others from the Honda TT Legends team.

It's an eye opening experience, a trip into a full on “Mad Max” post apocalyptic wasteland in the dark.

It's like a medieval army camp, there are fires and tents, of all sizes, scattered everywhere. There's all of the alcohol ever, in both quantity and kind, and everyone is in various stages of drunk, between gently amusing and wide eyed “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” drunk that our continental comrades do so well.

Everyone is very, very hospitable – particularly when they spot the guys from Honda TT Legends in their branded work wear – and we're offered everything from warm stubbies of cheap dubious French lager to swigs of home distilled spirits, or what could be avgas, from filthy plastic bottles that look like they previously held screenwash or anti freeze.

There's an immaculate ZX12R with a side car that looks for all the world like it came out of the Kawasaki factory, an old FJ1200 with a swingarm that ends in a different post code with a car tyre on the back and a nitrous bottle the size of an aqualung, a CX500 rat bike that looks like it's been set on fire then dropped in a lake and left for several years and then dragged out and set on fire again.

And there's all the latest race replica superbikes, tooling up and down the unpaved tracks, every now and again the rider giving it a handful of throttle and spewing a rooster tail of high velocity gravel over cheering, drunken fools, egging them on.

But what is incredible is the sheer number of bikes, sitting running on their side stands, being held on the rev limiter, repeatedly, for hours at a time. BWAAAAAAAHH, BABABABABABABA, BWAAAAAAAAHH, BABABABABABABABA. Over and over again. I've never seen a glowing exhaust outside of a dyno room before, but they're everywhere you look. And it's every different kind of bike you can imagine.

The old hands of Le Mans in the Honda team tell me this is nothing compared to previous years. This year is the first year there's been no engines on pallets with megaphone exhausts, everything with an engine has to be driven or ridden in to the campsite and the security guards were checking in the back of vans for those wanting to have too much fun.

There's so many bikes that are never, in a month of Sundays, going to be ridden home
millemille
Posts: 314
Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2020 11:40 am
Has thanked: 128 times
Been thanked: 449 times

Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

Race day dawns crystal clear, bright and sunny; icy cold at first but rapidly warming. I've not slept well, the responsibility for fuelling and the state of the rig playing on my mind,

I spend an hour alone in the garage, before anyone else is up and about, with my nemesis, the fuelling rig. No matter how many times I practise I cannot reliably get the nozzles in and out of the fillers and the nozzles are slow to close or sticking open as often as not. I've done everything I can to get them working and I'm hoping that when there's actual fuel flowing through it it lubricates the seals and make sit work properly, so it's in the laps of the gods now...

Warm up is completed with no incidents. Well, no incidents out on track, but the stewards finally spot the tank being filled out the back of the garage from the stash of old fuel. An almighty finger wagging session ensues and our naughty card gets marked, twice; once for the illicit fuel and once for not fuelling in pit lane.

The stands are starting to fill by late morning, hours before the start of the race, and the sun is blazing.

There's a loony froggy stunt rider, think it's Christian Pfieffer, doing wheelies and stoppies and the like up and down the starting grid for half an hour..

La Patrouille de France, their version of the Red Arrows, roar up the finish straight and flash over in line abreast formation at low level, trailing red, white and blue smoke which rolls over the circuit and takes several minutes to clear.

We fuel the bike with rig in anger for first time, I'm a little better at getting the nozzles in and engaged but they're slow closing, dropping a cupful of fuel before they shut. We incur another mark on our naughty card.

The bikes head out for their sighting lap and then form up on the side of the track for the traditional Le Mans running across the track start.

The French national anthem plays over the tannoy and the commentators are whipping the heaving masses into a frenzy. There's a wall of sound from the stand opposite the pits, louder than any Premiership match I've ever been to, and then there's sudden silence as the clock inexorably ticks towards the last few seconds remaining to three o'clock.

The klaxon sounds.

Silence for a moment longer and then a ragged cacophony of sixty or more motorbike engines bursting into life within seconds of each other and screaming off down the start straight to the first bend and a huge roar from the crowds of fans around the circuit that could be measured on the Richter scale.

We're away cleanly and so's the rest of the field.

Within five minutes there's the first big crash and I'm introduced to an endurance racing tradition.

Every rider that brings a crashed bike back to the pits is applauded by everyone in the pit lane as they pass – everyone stops work to get out on the pit lane and clap the rider - from the pit lane entrance to their garage.

Riders have to get the bike back from out on circuit to the pits by themselves but the moment they cross the pit lane entrance line the teams, armed with lifting beams and straps, take over and hustle the bikes up the pit lane like a team of Egyptian slaves.

It is amazing how some of the bikes were got back to the pits, smashed wheels, no bars, no fairings and worse. Let alone by riders who'd crashed and were showing signs of damage every bit as bad as their bike.

The applause, from hundreds of people, is well deserved.

The tension is building,

My palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's nearly vomit on my overalls already, Chef's spaghetti . I'm nervous, but trying on the surface to look calm and steady. Got the overalls, gloves, balaclava and goggles on. Nozzles in hand, hoses over my shoulder. Bouncing up and down on my toes and hyperventilating. If my pulse had a shift light it'd be flashing red.

The pit board goes out, “Inch” gives the crew the nod from the pit wall, it's on!

The bike comes down the pitlane on the limiter, swings in and comes to a hard stop, bang on the marks, engine turned off and the world goes into slow motion. It's up on the stands and the wheel changes are nearly done, every one working calmly and well, I take a deep breath and step forward and wait for my signal.

Here we go! I'm up on tip toes, struggling with the hoses. Shit! It takes me two tries to get the nozzles in and engaged. But the fuel's flowing. Thank fuck.

After what seems like an eternity, particularly when you're holding your breath, I see the excess fuel coming up the return hose and at the same time I hear the shout to lift off.

I yank the handles up and the nozzles lift out of the tank, but they don't close! There's a fire hose strength shower of fuel spraying all over the bike and me and the pit lane.

Bob's let go of the dead man's handle as soon as he's seen what happened, but there's still all the fuel in the big bore hose below the valve and there's nothing stopping it from pouring out.

I back pedal away from the bike, trying to get the streams of fuel away from the hot bits of the bike, and I fall over, getting tangled up in the hoses. I'm lying on the floor getting sprayed with the last of the fuel. There's got to be 20 litres or more of fuel over me and the pit lane and I'm soaked, it's through the overalls and my t-shirt and shreddies and socks are saturated in race fuel and it FUCKING BURNS!

I leap to my feet, throw the rig on the floor and get away from the bike, back into the garage as I'm ripping off the overalls and gloves. I'm running through the garage and paddock to the showerblock in my pants and dive in the first cubicle and turn the shower on full blast, it's freezing cold, to get the fuel off me.

Grabbing some some clean clothes from the camper van and heading back to the garage, the bike's out on track, there's frantic activity with bags of cat litter and blokes with brooms clearing up the spilled fuel, there's more fire marshals gathered round our garage than I knew were at the whole circuit and the stewards are making another mark on the naughty card.

The Italians are, to a man, blaming me for the fuck up. Telling me it's my fault, I didn't use the rig properly. I'm toe to toe with Moreno – who's been our fireman so far - telling him if that's the case he should fucking fuel it next time.

Fair play to him, he steps up and does. I take over with the fire extinguisher and we all – including our many new found fire marshal friends – wait with varying levels of dread for the next pit stop.

And Moreno floods the pit lane with fuel when, sur-fucking-prise, the nozzles stick open after he pulls them out of the fillers.

It amazes me that the riders, despite witnessing this utter fucking shambles, are happy to jump on the bike and go and rag the arse out of it.

Yet again frantic cat litter and broom work clears the spill up.

The stewards mark the naughty card again and tell Moreno he's got one more chance to successfully fuel the bike otherwise the team is disqualified

The Italians take over trying to make the fuel rig work while I glower at them from across the garage. There's been no apology from them.

The endurance racing journalist, the late Martin Gelder who was covering the race for his website race24.com and has sadly died since then, popped into the pits to have a word and see what was going on but did a swift about face as there was a palpable sense of tension and the garage was very much divided into an us and them, Italian and non Italian, camp.

I've had enough, and tell “Mark” I'm leaving. As far as I'm concerned he got me to come under false pretences, I'm not getting paid, I'm not even getting expenses and I'm working with a bunch of dangerous amateurs and it's no fun, at all.

I'm going to get my kit and walk to the train station and get a train home.

“Mark” shits himself, the colour drains from his face and he tells me “ You can't do that, I need your money for diesel to get home...”. Yep, you heard right. He's driven all the way to Le Mans without enough money in his pocket to get home and was relying on me being forced to give him the money if I want to get home.

“Suspensionsmith” talks me round, he reasonably points out that if I go the team won't have enough people to be able to carry out pit stops and they'll be disqualified and it's not their fault that Mark's led me up the garden path.

The Italians, meanwhile, reach the same conclusion I did, two days ago, that the rig is a piece of shit and Moreno has to dig, deep, into his wallet and buy a pair of genuine ATL nozzles from one of the other teams

I tell Mareno I'll stay to help but I'm not having anything more to do with the fuelling rig, even if they have replaced the nozzles, and he agrees, he and I will swap roles, so I'm now officially fireman and bike checker.

And self appointed fuel monitor, because what appears to have been overlooked by the team is that they've got no idea how much fuel is going into the tank, and hence how much was left in, at each pit stop. It would really be useful, I think, to know whether we are cutting it too fine or are being too cautious with session length and how much leeway we've got with the current 70 minute sessions because as far as I know no one, throughout the whole time we've been here, has ever checked how much fuel we're actually using.....

The fuel header tank has a plain, unmarked, sight glass inset in it, visible from the floor when standing inside the garage, which allows the fuel level in the tank to be observed. The header tank refilling is controlled by a valve on the garage wall, interlocked with the “dead man's” valve, you can't fill the header with the “dead man's” valve open. So after every pit stop you need to top the header tank up.

Right now, after the last pit stop it's about 1/3rd full, based on the level in the sight glass.

We know there's a meter on the garage wall that measures the fuel going into the header because a couple of officials came round to take the meter reading before they unlocked the fuel system, presumably the process will be repeated after the race and the numbers subtracted from each other to work out how many litres of fuel has been used in total and, hence, which of his children the team manager will have to sell into slavery to raise the funds to pay the fuel bill.

So I find a roll of yellow speed tape, wheel one of the tool cabinets round to the header tank, climb on top and stick a length of tape to the side of the tank, running up the side of the sight glass.

I have Bob very slowly open the refill valve and every time the meter clicks over another litre I use the obligatory sharpy marker to put a mark on the tape at the fuel level shown in the sight glass, until the header tank is full.

Hey presto, we can now work out how much fuel is going into the bike's tank every time we fill it. I purloin the white board and a dry wipe pen and for every fuel stop from now on I'll write how much fuel we put in and hold it up to show “Inch”, over on the pit wall, so that he can plan our tactics with a bit more data behind them.

The next few hours alternate between the boredom of staring at the timing screen, and trying to make sense of what we are seeing, and the terror of getting something wrong on the pit stop.