Saturday, 25 July 2015

Calne Bikefest 2015; variety is the spice of life

Parking regulations once again pushed aside for the annual Calne Bikefest. I had to leave by 10:30 but already there were hundreds of bikes - and the sheer variety is striking. Everything from pre-war speedway bikes to the latest shop fresh common or garden, it's all here. Too many Harleys for my taste but at least they get ridden. The affection for Brit bikes is still touching, although the age of owners suggests this may pass in the next decade or so. What is nice to see is Marks and Spencer kitted middle aged couples wander though the bikes reminiscing about their youth, happy to mingle with ruffty tuffty bikers. The townsfolk genuinely welcome the bikers, and the bikers appreciate it. Live music adds to the atmosphere, and it would be churlish to bemoan the rather downmarket stalls and burgers vans, when there are some hidden gems.
The bigger purpose is to raise money for charity - a children's hospice (Julia's House), the Calne Youth Trust and, perhaps predictably, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance. At the end of 2014 the committee gave away £10,000, most of it raised by the happy campers who stay Friday and Saturday nights at your typical bikers' rally. The town gets extra business and  a higher profile thanks to what the organisers claim is Europe's biggest free bike meeting. Calne could do with it - although famous for being the home of JB Preistly when he discovered oxygen, its greatest employer was the Harris family. They invented the Wiltshire cure for ham, by soaking to meat in brine for under a week - far quicker and more reliable than the old air cured methods. However, like many others, the firm struggled through the 1970s and eventually closed in 1982 after 200 years of meat production, employing 1500 people in its heyday. Since then, despite huge efforts at regeneration, Calne has struggled to match the prosperity of many other Wiltshire towns. Something left field like a bikers' meet might well be part of the solution

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

God save the Queen - and the TT - from Nazi propaganda

I don’t know why Buck House is worried folk might thing the Queen’s a Nazi just because of some pics of her doing the salute as her kid. Does make me think Mrs Simpson did us a favour getting Edward to abdicate though, because he was a known sympathiser who didn’t want Churchill to become Prime Minster. How different history might have been. But what’s this got to do with motorbikes?

In the run up to 1939 TT, Isle of Man Weekly Times editor George Brown scribbled a piece – and ran it as the paper’s leader, no less – having a pop at  Hitler and British riders riding for German and Italian teams. Fair enough, given both countries were run by fascist regimes that were undertaking some pretty grim atrocities. The Nazi nastiness is well recorded, but Mussolini was just as bonkers – if he didn’t like you, or god forbid lived somewhere he wanted to occupy you were bundled into a transport aircraft and slung out at 5,000 feet.

Brown wrote: ‘Of course we don’t want German or Italian riders to win and still less do we desire a victory for a British rider using a German of Italian machine… There is more than a chance that the countries these famous British riders represent will be at war with Britain before the year is out.’ Brown was promptly kicked out of the BBC commentary team for sharing his thoughts with fellow Manxmen.

Aunty Beeb’s excuse was that  “it would be most inadvisable at the present time for us to be associated with an element of political controversy in what we feel should be regarded purely as a sporting event.” As spineless back then as they are now.

When BMW and Georg Meier won the Senior TT that year inevitably the crowd below the podium were treated to the Nazi salute. Some say that Meier’s team mate and second placed rider, Brit Jock West, joined in, although photos suggest he just looked awkward. This was the first time a TT had been won from outside Great Britain and gave Hitler yet another PR victory just a few months before Europe burned.

Fascinating – if grim – era and well documented in Roger Willis’ The Nazi TT

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Quid pro quo - John Hopkins shows the Panigale's potential

The grief I got for being critical of Jacob Smrz in the opening round of the 2015 BSB series - basically not being uncritically supportive (maybe fair enough, given I was a guest of Ducati Uk) -  seems vindicated given Hopper jumped on the Panigale and proved its worth. So here's Ducati UK's PR guff with which (this time) I agree with wholeheartedly. Hopper's brilliant and so is the Panigale. If the same was true of Smrz he'd still be in a world championship series

Heroic Hopkins scores best ever result on Ducati Panigale debut

  • Amazing performance by former BSB runner-up
  • Fastest ever lap set by a Panigale at Brands Hatch
  • James Egan gets his best finish in National Superstock 1000
John Hopkins secured the best ever result for a Ducati Panigale in the British Superbike Championship today (19 July) with a sensational sixth place in the opening encounter at Brands Hatch – two places higher than the Panigale has previously achieved in BSB.

 From the very beginning of the weekend Hopkins looked to be at home on the Italian superbike, and as the sessions progressed the Lloyds British Moto Rapido Ducati team has had to make only a handful of set-up changes to ensure the former MotoGP rider was comfortable and fast.

 Hopkins actually set his best time of the event in the second of the three part qualifying session on Saturday (18 July) – a lap of 1:25.881s was a full 0.623s faster than the previous best for the bike around the iconic Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Despite not being able to quite match his performance in the final Q3 shoot-out it was ninth on the grid for race one.

The incident-filled battle included two safety car periods, however Hopper maintained a level head and fought with the front pack right up to the chequered flag.

 With just a couple of laps to go Hopkins made his move on Michael Laverty in fifth into Graham Hill bend but missed a gear exiting onto the Cooper straight meaning that Laverty could re-pass. Although John couldn’t quite make another move stick, he eventually crossed the line just 0.084s behind in sixth to the delight of the Lloyds British-backed team.

Race two saw another very strong start for the 32-year-old, and in the early laps the #15 bike was running an impressive fifth. As the race progressed, however, Hopkins noticed an issue with the clutch that meant he began to lose positions, and ultimately on lap 14 had to retire the bike. While it was a slightly disappointing end, the weekend as a whole was a big boost for both rider and team.

John Hopkins said: “Today ended up a little bit bittersweet once again. Coming into the weekend my main goal even before getting on the bike was to get into the top 10 and I would have been ecstatic just to achieve that. But the way the weekend went my goals just got further and further up. In race one we were well within reach of those goals, and although I wanted a top five, I was still really happy with sixth. Unfortunately at the end of that race I was just held up by Laverty – I was struggling to get by him as he was quite late on the brakes also. I did make the pass but missed a gear, hit a false neutral and then on the last lap couldn’t get by him.

 “I had good start to the second race, I was feeling good and got into a nice rhythm on the first two or three laps. Unfortunately something happened to the clutch, so being out of the points I decided to bring the bike home rather than doing any damage to the bike. Overall I’m extremely happy and confidence-wise this has been amazing, this bike is 100 per cent capable of being on the podium and a little more time under my belt I am definitely the person that can put it there. I’m not properly bike-fit as I have not been racing for such a long time so I will be a bit sore at the end of the weekend. However I haven’t enjoyed myself on a motorcycle like this in a long, long time – so a happy rider is a fast rider!

Steve Moore said: “We have proven the bike, proven the team, proven the pace of the engine, proven that we have an amazing fan base and gained a top six finish. The target at the beginning of the year was top six finishes and to make the showdown, and first time out Hopper gets top six. A bit of a shame about the clutch, he uses the clutch where previous riders haven’t so it has showed up a weakness that we haven’t experienced before. Now we know that we can get it fixed and move on to Thruxton which is our home round and where the bike is really strong.”

Success wasn’t limited to the main British Superbike class this weekend, as James Egan and the MWR Motorsports Ducati team also enjoyed their best weekend the National Superstock 1000 series.

 Like Hopkins, Egan got faster and faster over the three days, securing ninth on the huge Superstock grid with his best ever lap of the Grand Prix track at Brands Hatch.

The South African racer moved up a couple of places and soon found himself embroiled in a titanic battle for fifth that ran right to end of the contest. With yellow flags at the final corner, James had to ease off despite being in a position to pass, drawing alongside the Kawasaki of Alex Olsen across the timing line to register just 0.022s behind in sixth. This mirror image of Hopkins’ results are a season’s best for both rider and team, making it a top weekend for the Ducati Panigale in both classes.

 James Egan said: “I’m really pleased with the result – we’ve really got to try and push for a top five now – it was so close and a real photo finish! It was a proper scrap from start to finish which is always so exciting. Our lap times weren’t quite as quick but that’s because we were swapping positions and banging fairings so much! In the closing laps it was like skating on ice – fortunately the tyre wear is pretty good on the Ducati, but of course all the top guys in this class have got their bikes dialled in and it’s never easy to pass. My bike has unique strength, we’ve got great punch off the turns and it’s now becoming more natural for me to use that punch to my advantage. I’m feeling at home, and it was good to have a proper scrap and have fun out there.

The paddock now packs up and heads to super-fast Thruxton in Hampshire on 31 July – 2 August. It was the scene of a superb pole position for the Moto Rapido Ducati squad in 2014, so the team leaves Brands Hatch in high spirits and full of confidence.