Ex Classic Speed 2014

 

In August 2014 3 riders from the RAF Classic Motorcycle Racing Team took a break from their campaign in the CRMC Championships to compete in the Belgium Classic TT at Gedinne.

The riders consisted of Sqn Ldr Symon Woodward (Yamaha 400), Sgt Andy Green and Cpl “Barney” Bartlett (both Yamaha 250) and were supported by Flt Lt Pete Smith (sleep depriver), Sgt Tom Flynn and SAC(T) Gav Heggs. On the Thursday the bikes, equipment and personnel were collected from various parts of the country, packed into a minibus and large box trailer and headed south to the Harwich ferry terminal. After arriving in Holland Friday morning the team drove down to Gedinne, arriving mid-afternoon. Due to heavy rain most of the paddock had one way access (i.e. you would not get the van back out again), but after a thorough recce and precision driving a suitable area was secured and camp was quickly struck, complete with new RAF Motor Sports Association large Gazebo. After a swift once-over of the bikes, they were taken down to the race office for arrival documentation and scrutineering.

Beforehand the Team had been advised that meetings held on the Continent ran at a slightly different pace than the compressed, optimised meetings experienced at UK racing circuits. The joy of seeing a relatively short scrutineering queue was soon soured at the realisation that it was not moving. After waiting an hour, a very pleasant and calm Scrutineer came to look over the bikes, managing to check all 3 bikes without ever using both hands as one was constantly wielding a cigarette or beverage. A similar time was spent waiting for approval from the Eligibility Officer, who would look over the machines to ensure that they complied with the regulations. However the regulations had been changed without our knowledge, so our bikes had to race with the numbers crossed out and start at the back of the grid irrespective of where we qualified.

After all of the formalities were finished the Team decided to take the minibus for a drive around the circuit to familiarise themselves. The circuit is a 3½ mile circuit riding around the picturesque roads outside Gedinne town. The track is basically a large triangle almost constantly changing in gradient and altitude. Fence posts, signposts and the more terrifying walls were covered with a wall of straw bales (because they are really soft at 100mph!) Our first impression of the track was that it was fast and flowing but with three slow, tight corners. It had great scenery (although the riders did not want to join it), and ever so slightly scary. Watching the first practice sessions on Saturday morning did nothing to alleviate these initial thoughts, especially when a sidecar outfit was seen disappearing out of view as it failed to judge a corner correctly. Luckily the speed of the outfit meant that it managed to leap the ditch at the side of the road and clear a  dry stone wall, landing in the field with rider and passenger able to walk away.

Whilst driving around the circuit Friday evening it was noted that as the road entered a built up area there was a speed radar on the entrance to the village, encouraging you to slow down by displaying your speed. This was an opportunity which could not be missed; the challenge of who could register the highest speed during a race was set. Unfortunately a winner couldn’t be confirmed as by the time the sign had displayed the speed the rider was long gone.

On the Saturday morning the weather was unsettled with dark clouds remaining throughout the day, although it only seemed to rain for the 250 race where Green and Bartlett had a very wet practice and race. Green qualified 8th and Bartlett 12th, but they still had to start at the back of the grid (as Woodward did for his races) which was reduced in laps owing to delays and stoppages throughout the day mainly due to the weather. Green finished the first race in a highly credible 8th (but 5th fastest), 4 places in front of Bartlett. Both riders had done well for their first race on this unforgiving track, but Saturday night “bragging rights” went to Green. Bartlett began plotting his revenge for the next day, buoyed at the sight of Green having to strip his bike again on the Saturday evening to repair a mechanical failure he experienced at the end of his last lap on practice.

Woodward in the 500 race had more luck with the weather having a damp practice Saturday morning but dry track for the rest of the weekend. After qualifying 12th he finished the first race in 10th, an impressive result considering the ‘A list’ of exotic machines in the race, rounding off an excellent days racing. Before the Team could celebrate with the compulsory race weekend diet of cider and Burgers, a quick ride into Gedinne was needed for fuel and supplies. During this trip the opportunity was taken to drive around the circuit again, but this time it did not seem so intimidating. It was agreed by all that riding the circuit was far less intimidating than spectating.

Sunday’s weather was mainly dry throughout, with lap times getting quicker as riders became more familiar with the circuit. In their respective classes Woodward qualified 9th, Green 10th and Bartlett 15th. In the first 2 laps of Woodward’s race he had worked his way from 27th on the grid to 8th and had gained 2 more positions on the 3rd lap before the race was stopped due to a racing incident. Bartlett finished 14th in the 250 race with Green failing to finish (his Saturday night temporary repair finally gave out during the race at the end of the first lap). Not only did Bartlett better Green in the final outing of the weekend he also set the fastest lap out of the two 250 riders. Return journey “bragging rights” had been claimed by Bartlett, and he was heard saying to Green “You are only as good as your last race!” throughout the journey back through Belgium and Holland.

As the team set off back to the Ferry port there was an air of satisfaction, excitement and relief that the weekend had gone so well. Little did the Team know that their most testing period was yet to be experienced, which started as soon as Pete Smith volunteered to drive a leg of the return journey. A 15-seater minibus towing a large 5m box trailer combines to make a long vehicle, but nobody was prepared for the various driving experiences Pete would put the passengers through. A highlight was his 93-point turn in a Dutch residential street. Despite this everybody returned to the UK safely and we are already making plans to enter at least one European road race in 2015. ‘Pit crew Tom’ is already building a bike for next year and Pete Smith a Sidecar outfit – I just hope he does not need to ever turn it around!

 

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