Wonthaggi 24-Hour HPV Grand Prix, March 20th-21st, 2010
82 vehicles took to the track for the 13th running of this event. However the team I had been intending to ride with, and which was going to be entered as Black Dog Racing, was not one of them. We had been placed on the waiting list, and were still there last week when we really needed to know if we were going to be in or not. In the end the guy whose team it was had already double booked the weekend, so with no guarantee of racing, he pulled the entry. Fortunately it still left enough time for those others of us who were committed to racing to sort out other arrangements. I wound up as the local ring-in with my South Aussie mates at SlipStream Racing, filled out by a couple of riders from Team Bluebird. Naturally, a few Black Dog stickers were applied to the trike as part of the contract for me riding with them.
Our trike suffered something of an identity crisis; officially entered as "Zepher" (yes I know it's spelt incorrectly, but it's not my trike, & Geoff says he doesn't care, so it stays wrong), the name applied to the trike started out as "Freddie Got Fast". But read on & you'll see that it didn't stay that way.
The practice session on Saturday morning did not inspire any confidence in the performance of the vehicle. It seemed to go alright for a couple of laps, then just get really hard to get anywhere. Some thoughts centred around poor airflow through the fairing, as some riders commented that it seemed to stall after a couple of laps, catching in the tail section & not venting properly. We qualified 19th. So in the break between practice & race start, some venturi ducts were fabricated for the side vents, and a couple of vents cut in the tail. Turned out that airflow was the least of our worries.
Josh took the opening stint, setting a time of 2min 24 on the first lap; a time that would remain our best for quite some hours. Still a long way behind the new lap record of 1:51.9 set by Ballarat Community Racing's "Bluey", an old BYR vehicle powered by most of the horsepower from my former team-mates from Tru Blu. Those guys hadn't entered for a number of reasons, largely because the Wonthaggi rulemakers claim the fairing used by them is "unsafe" 'cos the main rollbar separates when the lid is opened, and that the lid "could" open in the event of a crash. A claim that we have proven on numerous (too many!) occasions
to be patently untrue. But they can't be swayed. Yet. And the other reason for a Tru Blu absence is the lack of a race-ready vehicle. But I ramble....
While "Bluey", Team Phantom's (FKA Deakin Uni Student Association) "Cool NaNas", ExPats' "Cumbak" & TriSled, among others bolted off into the distance, we, well.... didn't. Josh's stint was OK, but from that reasonable opening lap, the pace dropped off a lot more than it should. Things were not much better when I got in for the second stint. The first thing I noticed was that the steering lacked precision. Badly. Directional stability was something we could only dream about. The beast felt like it was steering all three wheels independently. Hardly an inspiring start to a 24-hour event, I was reminded for the second time in six months why I do not like going into a race with no prior test run in a vehicle. I have to say I was quite forthright in stating my opinion of the vehicle when I finished that stint. It was about here that we checked the front wheel alignment for the first of many times. Alignment? Well there wasn't any. And it turns out that the trike had suffered the same problem at Murray Bridge last year. The kingpins were flexing under steering loads, sending the wheels splaying out. No wonder we had no speed, we were pushing the bloody things sideways! At this point in time Phil was getting ready to get the hell out & jump on a plane back to Adelaide without having done a race stint. As it happened, he'd missed the bus back to Melbourne by then, so was stuck for a while at least. James & Tony took the next couple of stints, still arguing with the trike, and it was during one of the lengthy stops to reset the wheels that some of us decided to edit the trike's name. "Freddie Got Fast" was anything but fast, so we took the "s" out & moved the "t" over to close the gap. And so it was now "Freddie Got Fat".
In the meantime, Geoff, Josh & Luke were over at the St Maggie's pit borrowing their welding gear & fabricating some new kingpins while we rapidly wore through our eight riders' first rotation. After two hours, we had been through five riders, and by this time the trike was off the track having major surgery done to the front end. The new kingpins were installed, sans backing plates/shoe assemblies for the front hub brakes. The pushrods & tie-rod needed to be shortened as well to fit the new struts. We spent an hour in the pits and dropped to 80th. WooHoo, we cracked the bottom 3! Pretty awesome for three hours of race time.
Surgery completed, Luke took the helm and was immediately impressed. We seemed to have a somewhat pleasantly behaved trike, although the very loose right steering handle & complete absence of front brakes reminded us that we still really had a sick beast. If you needed to pull an emergency stop, a two-hand grip on the lever for the pathetic side-pull rear caliper brake might slow you down in a couple of corners' time. Fun.
Yet somehow we managed to survive & even perform quite respectably, gradually clawing our way back up the field & cracking the top 50 when I retired to bed around 8:30, a little over 1/3 distance. Even Phil seemed to be enjoying himself to an extent. The primary school kids got pulled off the track at 10pm, which allowed us to creep further up the order, finally settling into the mid-20's, where we stayed for the remainder of the race.
The night stints were um.... interesting
to say the least. The headlight, while plenty bright enough was somewhat insecure in its mount. First it rotated to the right; really useful on a left-hand circuit. Later on after being "braced" it tilted very downward, so although it threw a beautifully bright spot on the road it was aimed below the line of sight from the lower edge of the widscreen, so we were riding totally blind, not that it made any difference on the top corner - a tricky double-apex left-hander that climbs the preceding straight & first apex before cresting & dropping away on the second apex. Even with properly aimed lights this corner is unsighted. The SA boys who hadn't been over before (Phil, James, Tony & Daniel) were rather put off by it, but the rest of us who'd put in more than a few laps over the past few years knew what to expect.
It was during the graveyard shift that James dropped the chain through the hairpin, jammed the rear derailleur & somehow had enough speed to roll twice. The recovery ute carried him back to the pits where everything was set "right" & he was sent back out, but soon after one of the ball joints on the left steering pushrod broke, so we were down to one-handed steering. With the already dodgy handle.
Trying to fit a replacement ball joint saw that get broken in the process, so we were stuck with the one-hand steering.
And so began my fourth stint. Still largely blind, with one pathetic brake & now really dicky steering, things were a lot less than ideal. But amazingly, it gets worse. The floor panel was dragging terribly, at least giving some braking assistance when we needed it, but unfortunately we couldn't release that particular brake. The wheel cutouts were shovelling gravel into the trike, more annoyingly directly into the seat as efficiently as a front-end loader, and the seat base itself, made from really rigid <1mm aluminium sheet was sagging & tilting, trying desperately to tip its unfortunate passenger out. Daylight finally began to show, & soon after I pitted, having managed a 50-minute stint, which even in a good trike is quite reasonable. However in a rare display of frustration, I punched the canopy open & threw my drink bottle out as I exited the trike. You really do appreciate a good vehicle when you're not riding one.
By this stage we were beginning to wonder if we'd even make it to the finish, with riders burning out, the trike falling to bits & just being a right pain in the bum. With over four hours to go, both Phil & Josh declared their race to be done, Geoff was crashed out somewhere, while Luke, Tony & Daniel were almost done. So that really just left James & I. And I felt that I only had one stint left in me. We fumbled our way around, with James thumping out an impressive hour-plus stint in an absolute cow of a trike to get us to the 75-minute-to-go mark. I followed with the plan to see how far I could get, even take it through to the flag if I could. So I went out, and it promptly started raining. Again, past experience helped in knowing my way around the track so I could ride it virtually blind again, but by this stage the steering was truly awful and I used the "lego block" barriers to complete my cornering arc on more than one occasion. After a massive 15 minutes I'd had enough, my niggly right knee was just starting to announce its displeasure, so I pitted. Only to be told to get the hell out there again, we're going for the finish. As I was pushed out of the pit box, a huge slab of bodywork came loose & dragged on the ground. I knew right then that I was starting my last lap. I battled around, hugely unhappy with the state of affairs. The guys weren't surprised to see me back in, and ducked for cover ready for another flying drink bottle.
James somehow found the legs to back up with another decent stint, handing over to Geoff for the final half hour or thereabouts. We gave up watching the timing charts hours before, but we seemed to be pretty stable in 25th overall; I suppose it's a decent enough result given that we were 3rd last early on.
So that's our "race"; what about the rest I hear you ask. Well "Bluey" held an early lead for the first few hours, with Phantom & ExPats in very hot pursuit, TriSled & "Timo" from Bendigo South East secondary College leading the schoolkids & keeping the open guys honest. Gradually "Bluey" began to have some troubles, running as a single speed for 16 hors having destroyed a X9 shifter. Braking power similar to "Freddie" didn't do them any favours either and eventually Phantom took the lead. After some shuffling, they gradually opened a tidy margin & held on for a well-deserved victory. ExPats performed in an all too familiar manner, running strongly until the Gremlins began to bite during the night. When asked about said Gremlins, Tim replied, "these aren't Gremlins, they're bloody great ogres!" I guess a broken chassis could be considered more than a mere Gremlin. In the end, I think they still managed to hold 4th or 5th, behind TriSled in 3rd & tussling with "Timo". Platt Racing's "Silver Streak" rounded out the Top 6.
And there you have it. Pics will follow shortly, along with the ones from Casey that I still owe you.