Oulton Park Race Report
William Swift #117 Thunderbike Extreme
The club is a little hamstrung at this venue as we're only allowed the Friday practice session and one day of racing on the Saturday. A local church spoiling all our fun on the Sunday. This meant that every moment on track was vital but sadly the weather didn't play ball. A mix of brief but heavy showers on the Friday as well as an oil slick from a fellow rider loosing us valuable time. My wet pace was very strong, having just come from a torrentially wet track day earlier in the week. My fingers were crossed that the poor weather would remain. In the few dry session we managed to squeeze in showed just how fantastic, technical and fast the track is. It instantly become a favourite.
Our qualifying session on the Friday afternoon in the dry was building well for me when, annoyingly, out of the blue l lost my radiator cap and most of the contents of the cooling system in a big puff of steam and spray. I had to pull in before my fastest lap and save the engine. I don't show my best pace which was galling. A big thanks to Jeremy Hill for his his track walk in the evening. I found it a massive help and managed to knock 3 seconds off my lap times by putting into practice a few of his red-hot tips. I was also a little frustrated that he told everyone else who attended the track walk the same tips which hardly seemed fair...
The Saturday started cloudy but the rain stayed away despite my various sacrifices and chanting (Goats, it turns out, aren't as cheap as you may think!). However, I felt confident going into race one and I got a belting start. I managed to avoid a first corner mid pack melee and scooped up a handful of places. But halfway into the first quick section I got a puff of water on my visor. Heart sinking I feared a repeat of the earlier issue, only to discover it was just spay from the overflow bottle and, thankfully, nothing more serious. I then set about the back markers who were, by this point, well out of sight. I wrung, what felt like, every last mph out of my Honda V-twin tying to get back on terms with the pack. With the track basically all to myself I put my head down and put in my quickest laps of the weekend. Annoyingly my times were good enough for a mid pack finish if I'd not had the problem at the start.
With everything checked and triple checked for race two I was chomping at the bit to make up for the first outings result when the poxy bike suddenly started running rough at tick-over when we started the warm up process. Absolutely dismayed and fearing a more serious problem I chose to opt out of the second race as the final call run out over the tannoy (admittedly highly unlikely but in the moment choosing discretion as the better part of valour). I couldn't afford to 'munch' an engine or risk a seizure in track for myself or my other competitors. So, the end result of the weekend was a feeling of frustration and disappointment having not shown my teams true potential. To come to such an amazing race venue an leave with only a handful of laps completed was a bitter pill.
On the plus side my broken hand from Brands was totally manageable and my wet pace continues to be strong. I hope this will serve me well going into the final few rounds. It's with great thanks to McMillan Williams and Helen Clifford for all their continued support. Without them we couldn't do what we 'try' to do. Also Derek Rogers, GetGeared Surrey, Loz Staples-Held, Motul, R&G, BDS Racing, Mike Burnside, Steve Jordan Motorcycles
Andy Houghton #333 Thunderbike Extreme
Of all the track we race at Oulton Park was the least familiar to me before this weekend. My only prior experience being a stormy Tuesday afternoon at the beginning of June this year where I attempted a track day in the worst riding conditions I have ever experienced.
Waking up ready for test day on the Friday and it was looking very grey overhead and, sure enough, the rain came in heavily in time for our first session on track. I used this first session to re-learn the track and work on my observation (this is a weak point of mine and a key area to improve on), looking for potential braking and turn-in markers that would be of use to me come qualifying later that day and the racing the following morning.
Rain threatened all day on test day but other than the initial morning wetting there was no more rain throughout the day. As the overall temperature was quite good this meant that the track was quickly dry and everybody was back onto dry tyres for the rest of the day. One thing that I learnt on the test day was how different a track Oulton Park is in the dry to the wet. In the wet a smooth flowing track, almost relaxing if you keep it precise becomes a very high speed interconnected piece of tarmac in the dry where mistakes, if made, are rarely small and if you do get away with them they will affect you many corners further in to the lap. I would say having now raced Oulton Park in the dry I would say that it is certainly the domain of the brave! Clay Hill is quite possible the most scary single point of any track I have been to, this uphill blind sweeping left-hander can be taken flat out, and although I knew this the communication didn't seem to be getting through to my right wrist a lot of the time and I found myself lifting off and loosing time!
Qualifying was at the end of the Friday test day and I went out and started steady. I was on track behind a group of riders who I felt I was faster than so, after a few confidence building laps, I decided to drop back to find some clear tarmac rather than fight my way through the other riders. This worked a treat as I managed to drop my lap time by about 3 seconds and finished qualifying in 15th place with a lap time of 1.57.8.
1st race and the track remained dry and with lots of grip! Starting from 27th (the back as I always must) I fought my way through to 14th in the first half of the race putting in some great overtaking, some of which I was very proud of. The second half of the race I found myself with some clear track and a goal to catch the next racer up the road. I rode as fast as I could and tried to overcome my mental issues of Clay Hill, each lap during this stint was faster than the last, even with the rear tyre starting to wear my fastest lap was the very last lap of the race where I clocked a 1.54.1 even though I ran the wrong gear out of corner three corners from the end of the lap. this was probably the most frustrating point in the weekend as I felt I had more speed in me and the bike but due to a mechanical issue I didn't manage to get out in race 2 to see if I had any more to give.
Talan Skeels-Piggins #83 Thunderbike Sport
Although I have been racing for six seasons, this was my first visit to Oulton Park. I had been put off from the trip in the past for a couple of reasons - when chatting to experienced racers they said the undulations of the circuit would make it very difficult to handle the motorcycle, the circuit is 4-5hours drive and it is only ever a single day of racing!
As the first test session on Friday got underway I understood what the racers had meant about the circuit being hard work. The rolling mature of the track meant the front wheel would lift under power or the back wheel would bounce under heavy braking. I was being thrown about the bike, and when you don’t have core stability (stomach muscles) it becomes difficult and sometimes dangerous to try to ride fast. I was having to sacrifice speed for safety so that I could remain sat in one place on the bike. I became concerned that the pace of the race would leave me behind.
After qualifying my concerns were eased as it appeared others were also struggling with the circuit. Managing to put myself in 28th position from the grid of 42 I felt a lot happier. Our first race was dry but with spots of rain falling on the visor. I knew this to be ‘head rain’ and so tried to push it from my mind and use it to my advantage as other racers might think it would be damp. I was right, and after just two laps I had managed to work my way from 42nd (last) to 23rd, and I was rapidly catching the next group in front. Unfortunately a rider took a tumble and the red flag came out. We restarted the race, but instead of 8 laps we had a 4 lap sprint. Knowing racers have issues with a second start I was cautious. Although my pace was good, the limited laps meant I was only able to get to 26th place for the back of the grid. Still, a very enjoyable race and more laps meant I was beginning to find my way around the circuit and limit the issues posed by the crests and dips.
However, in one respect I was lucky that the restarted race was only 4 laps. As I pulled up to the garage at the end of the race, the bike felt sluggish. The brakes had been rubbing, causing the oil to overheat and locked the brakes on as I came to a stop. We got a brake expert to come and look at the issue, his advice was to pull from the next race as it was too dangerous to run with them. So my racing at Oulton Park was over after the one race of two halves. It was still a fun race and I managed to drop from 2’05” lap to a 1’58” lap, so improvements all the time.
The brakes have been sent off to be refurbished so that we can race safely. Next meeting is Brands Hatch Indy and I’ll be back in with the MRO600 class as there is no Thunderbike Sport class at the meeting. Continued thanks to all the sponsors who make it possible for myself and the team to compete and battle alongside everyone else.