Greg - 2008 NZRRC Rnds 4 & 5

No Hair Racing Report - from Greg (In Memory of Derek)

Castrol Superbike NZ Road Race Champs - North Island Rounds 4 & 5.

At the end of the South Island rounds I was sitting in 16th place with 11.5 points and was worried about maintaining fitness level as I finished up my old job (of almost 22 years) and started the new position.

The weeks before and after round 4 at Manfeild I had to be in Australia for work so I dropped the bike and trailer down at Palmerston North a couple of weekends before and flew in on the Friday night (thanks Tim & Joan for the hospitality!). I missed Friday's practice but I wasn't too worried as I've done a lot of laps around Manfeild over the years. My best lap time being 1 min 16.4. Saturday morning and Phil, Steve & I arrived early at the track to find that Derek wasn't there and the garage was locked. It took us awhile to find the key but the weather was looking good and by the time Derek arrived Mike had turned up as well. There were 5 of us in the garage, Derek, Phil & I on 600's with Steve and Mike entered in clubman's on their Honda RS-250's.

First practice and I was getting a bit worried as everything felt good on the track and on the bike but I ended up slower than both Derek & Phil on their '05 R6's while I was on the faster '06 model! Derek got into the 1:12's, Phil in the 1:16's and me 1:17's. Phil had picked up a lot of speed in the SI rounds hitting a new personal best (PB) well under his old time.

2nd practice was a lot slower for Derek with his best being only a 1:14.4 and he wasn't too happy when he got back in the pits. Jeremy was pit crewing for him and Derek soon had him hard at work looking at suspension settings etc. I had clicked back my fork rebound damping to help improve a bit of head shake on the back of the circuit and it seemed to work as I dropped below my personal best with a 1:16.1. Unfortunately Phil was not so lucky, his front wheel was hit by another rider and he went down heavily at the hairpin. He put a hole in his new leathers and ended up with his elbow in a sling...later on the hospital found it was fractured and part of his muscle had pulled away from the bone and so his 600 class championship ride was over for 2008.

In qualifying it was down to Derek & I to wave the flag for No Hair Racing. Derek managed 1:13.0 (17th) and me 1:16.4 (22nd out of 23).

Race 1 and we all lined up on the grid. I had thought I'd be "duking it out" with Phil but Aria was the next rider in front and Derek was on the row ahead. The lights went out and I had another great start passing Derek and a whole bunch of other riders and saw a gap on the inside of the 1st corner which filled up just as I got there. By the time I got to the hairpin Derek pushed past and it wasn't much later before Aria caught me on one of the corners. I managed to keep up with her for a short while but her corner entry speed was a lot better than mine. Derek finished in the points in 13th and a new PB for him of 1:11.8. I didn't make it anywhere near the points finishing 21st but I did do a whole bunch of 1:15's with a new PB of 1:14.9.

Race 2 wasn't quite as warm and sunny and the lap times were a bit slower. There was a red flag crash in lap 11 so we reformed and did another 10 laps to make up the full 20. In part one we were 14th & 21st then for part 2, 13th & 17th. More points for Derek and a better position for me due to rider attrition.

We packed up at the end of the day and I flew back to Auckland, had a few hours of sleep then back to the airport and across to Australia for my last week with Rohm and Haas. Pukekohe was 2 weeks away and I was looking forward to being back home and the chance to drop my PB at Pukekohe (which had been set 2 years earlier).

The week before Pukekohe I had started my new job with Connell Bros and Derek had been working hard with his carpet laying business. He couldn't get away from Upper Hutt until after work so all going well we were expecting to arrive in Te Kauwhata just before mid night. He'd never been to our place in the "whop whop's" and to his credit he only got lost twice, finally arriving about 1:30am.

Friday was unofficial practice and we got up just before 7am. I had a couple of bits of toast and Derek a smoke and a cup of strong black coffee (no sugar) which must have been his std breakfast 'cos it was the same on Saturday and Sunday too!

Derek's PB at Pukekohe was 1:04 and mine 1:05.1 from April 2006. We were only able to get in 3 practice sessions and both Derek & I matched our PB's in the first session. Derek hadn't ridden the '06 model before so I switched my gear lever over to standard shift pattern for him and within 5 laps he had dropped into the 1:03's even though the tyres had done both races at Manfeild and were worn out plus I weigh a lot less than Derek.

He came in saying "Sh*t, I could get into the 1:10's easily on that bike at Manfeild ...now you've made me pissed off with my old one!" I went back out in the 3rd session but couldn't improve my lap time all weekend much to my annoyance.

That afternoon Derek and I came up with the plan that he'd ride my bike over the winter series and I'd pitcrew for him at the MotoGP 600 support class at Phillip Island in October.

We headed home to dinner and an early night to catch up on sleep. Derek wasn't 100% happy with how his bike was running so we downloaded the fuel map for his bike from the Power Commander web site to install in the morning.

Saturday was another fine day and pleasantly cool in the morning. We were all set for practice after completing sign on and machine scrutineering and had loaded the new fuel map into Derek's bike. Again we had 2 practice sessions and then qualifying at the end of the day. The day was a bit disappointing as even though I put on new tyres and tried hard, I couldn't get below 1:05.3 all day finishing up in 23rd place out of 26.

Derek went out with the new fuel map in the first practice and did a 1:03.5 so was pretty happy when he came back in. He said the engine felt better but once I compared his old fuel map with the new map we found they were identical so it must have been due to the cooler track temperatures. Derek laughed saying he was glad he hadn't claimed it was a whole lot better! He qualified 22nd just in front of me.

We headed home again that night and talked about what we should/shouldn't be doing around the track. Derek was sure that he'd figured out a couple of places for improvement. Next morning he was very determined to improve on his qualifying position during the races that day.

Another dry day (3 days in a row, unheard of at Puke before!) and we both went out in the scrub session to warm up the new tyres and my old body. Derek's father Rhys arrived at the pits and he gave Derek a hand to get ready. Our race was second on the program after the F3 class, we headed down to the dummy grid for our gear check then out onto the track for our 2 warm up laps. I was on the last row of the grid so I stayed back a bit to not over heat the motor pulling up to find an empty space in the row in front.

Derek jumped into the empty spot but I wasn't too worried as I knew I'd catch him on the start and I didn't want to hold him up anyway. The start lights went out and as in every other race of the champs I passed all of the row in front and about half of the next row too. Turn 1 and 2 were a traffic jam and Derek darted past so I snuck in behind him knowing my extra speed would keep me behind him for a few laps (I hoped).

Checking his lap times after the race, he quickly got into the high 1:03's and low 1:04's and there was no way I could keep up. He gradually pulled away further and further each lap. I did lots of low 1:05's with the best being a 1:05.2 but couldn't make any headway against him. The top guys started lapping us at about lap 10 or 11 and on lap 13 (for us) the white flag came out. I put my head down to make sure no one (read Aria here) would pass me on the last lap. Down the back straight clicking 6th gear just before the "kink" I looked ahead for my braking point and saw destruction spread across the track from about 120m out and almost to the hairpin itself.

I had just enough time to get my bike speed down enough to find a clear track through the wreckage of 2 bikes. I was so focussed on finding a clear path that I didn't see who was down. I was the next rider on the scene (14secs behind) and the red flags hadn't come out yet so I knew I had to continue on to ensure I would finish the race. As soon as I crossed the line the red flags were out and we were on our slow down lap. By the time I got around again, the corner workers and ambulance guys were on the scene and we were flagged by on the right hand side of the track.

I could see it was bad but still couldn't make out who was involved. I went back to the pits and parked my bike. Derek wasn't there but I asked Rhys if he'd been seen and Rhys said yep, he'd seen Derek riding past on the track. I got out of my leathers and realised Derek still wasn't back so I jumped on Alex's push bike and rode to the fence then ran across to the hairpin. Jim T grabbed me before I got too close and we got a message back to the control tower to get Rhys across as soon as possible.

What more can I say? It's the first time I've lost anyone that close to me and it hurts a lot. At work and at home I can usually fix most things that are broken but there's no way to fix this.

The AMCC officials, paramedics & police were excellent but the rest of the day was a bit of a blur, we packed up my bike and Derek's gear and waited for the day to finish. Jane & Alex had been working in the control tower helping with timing so all 3 of us were very quiet that night.

The Nationals were over and I had finished in the top 20 and had decreased my lap times at 4 out of the 5 tracks of the series but it seemed a very meaningless success.

Derek's funeral was the following Friday in Upper Hutt so Jane and I flew down. The funeral procession started at Manfeild race track with a bunch of riders setting off for Derek & Tia's home 130km's away. Once at Tia's my brother Mark had arranged a police escourt so Jane and I jumped in with him and we were followed by Phil on his bike painted stickered, and numbered to look as close as possible to Derek's race bike. The hearse came next followed by around 60 bikes then an equal number of cars and police follow up.

The funeral was very well attended with a good number of racers, ex-racers, friends and relatives. Derek's personality and friendship had touched on many lives and he left behind a lot of fond memories of support and assistance he gave to others.

The funeral procession continued on to the cemetary and we sent him on his way with toy motorcycles rather than the usual rose petals or flowers.

Abraham Lincoln said "It's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years", Derek packed a lot into his 35 years and we're gonna miss him a lot.

Motorcycle racing is a dangerous sport but this was definitely an unlucky incident, should we stop racing in fear of the unknown? I know what Derek would have said..."harden up!"

See you all at the next meeting, cheers, Greg


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