[ Written for the NHCA Hill Climber magazine, as penance for causing the first red flag at Manor ]
I'm pretty green at this hill-climb lark, having been cajoled by Pete Fisher into a one-off ride at Hartland a couple of years ago. The ever-generous Simon Wilson was happy to lend me his 250 and 450 for a double entry. While that visit was nothing stellar, when I tried again the following April I managed to pick up a couple of championship points and, rather ungraciously, beat Simon on his own bike! If not for already spending too much time and money racing short circuits, I'd have been straight back for more. But the bug had bitten, and I knew I'd be on the hills again at some point.
|Ignoring the view at Hartland |
(Photo nicked from Facebook, so apologies to the unknown snapper)
I'd fancied a shot at Wiscombe since popping down to spectate a couple of years ago. With Manor Farm nearby, and both days bikes-only for double entries, I figured I'd make a weekend of it. Simon was kind enough to lend me his bikes again, having scampered off to other classes, so I booked a van and headed down to Charmouth.
My first job at Manor Farm on Saturday morning was to walk the hill. It never tells me much about what it'll be like to ride at speed, but it's always good to know where blind bits go in advance. Things have changed since the guide on the website was written - after the horrible off-camber first corner, the nice fast bit down to a bridge, and the short blast up the other side, instead of turning right through a hedge I found a wiggly footpath across a field to the finish line. It's like threading a needle on a bike, so I don't envy those daft enough to rag cars up it.
My first practice run wasn't exactly textbook. A hot head, cold tyres, and lack of recent practice meant I asked a bit too much of the rear with the bike still on its side, and it spat me off in the first corner. All happened rather quickly, but from the way the bike (and I) landed I'm guessing it was a highside, so that's now ticked off the bucket list. Once I'd got the bike back to the paddock, and let the adrenaline wear off, I could feel throbbing in my boot, so took it off to see what I'd done. And promptly put it back on again before anyone sensible saw what I'd just seen.
|Taken after the swelling had gone down a bit!|
Being one of the first up on the tiddler each time gave me a lovely view of other people being much better at threading that needle than I was. Almost everyone crossed the line on the black bit between the bales, which is quite important as it saves someone having to run over and break the beam for them. I was very ginger through the first corner after my earlier antics, losing a couple of seconds to the pole every time, but made it to the top seven times without falling off, which was nice. I even picked up a point on the 250, a mere six-and-a-bit seconds behind the whippet-like Glyn Poole at the top of the sheet. People with names like Tilley, Short, Hodges and Mills took the top spots, which I understand is quite normal at these events, and records fell in almost every class. Fastest of the day went to Tom Short with 27.03 seconds, half a second under the old record, which is frankly bonkers.
The fun part over, we loaded the van, refuelled at the excellent local chippy, and headed over the county line to Wiscombe.
Trundling down the hill to the paddock, I thought "this is more like it". One of my favourite circuits to race at is Thruxton, a Proper Circuit by any measure. Wiscombe is, I reckon, a Proper Hill. It's also long, and steep, which made the mandatory walk up Saturday evening a tad awkward after my off a few hours earlier. Even walking around the paddock had become a chore. Still, it had to be done - nobody likes a quitter - and once back at the van with a shandy in my hand I was looking forward to ragging the bikes up it in the morning.
My first couple of runs were cautious, all about learning the hill. Making sure it really did go straight on after the blind Bunny's Leap; learning how quickly the Gate corner comes up when you do keep it pinned over Bunny's; how many bends there are through the Esses (5? 10? 99?); and how late to haul it up before Martini - preferably late enough not to have to open the throttle again before grinding to a halt!
The perfect weather dispelled any fears about repeating the previous morning's trick through the first corner, and each run saw my times drop quickly down the lower fifties - the more seconds there are to lose, the easier they seem to be to find. The final runs saw me pick up another three points on the 250, still a country mile behind Glyn but ahead of plenty, and I dipped into the 49s on the 450, which everyone told me was quite respectable for a first visit. I'll take whatever praise I can get.
Records fell again in the 250, 750 and sidecar classes, with Tom Short taking FTD once more, a tenth-and-a-bit short of breaking the outright record. A special mention goes to (I think) Gareth Brown, for the spectacular crunchy noises everyone at the top heard him and his KTM make as they tumbled up to Martini at the end of the day.
And now for the epilogue. After dropping the bikes off at Simon's, sitting parked on the M4 for hours watching flashing blue lights, and eventually getting home about 2am, I took the van back Monday morning and went straight to the local hospital to get my by-then multi-coloured foot checked out. An X-ray showed why walking the hill at Wiscombe had been an ordeal, and I was given a funky boot to wear for a month or so. That meant I had to cancel my entry for NG at Oulton Park, and no sneaky trip to Hartland either. Funny how, when the visor goes down, all that matters is getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. Racers, eh? We shouldn't be let loose without adult supervision.
|You can't get these at Dolcis|
Huge thanks to all involved with organising, marshalling and riding at both events, especially Simon Wilson for lending me bikes, let alone not killing me for crashing them. Hope to see you all again some time. And thanks to the staff at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, who I hope I never need to see again, ever.