2011 Wonthaggi Human Powered Grand Prix, March 19th-20th. 24 Hours
Well my race really began last year, with at times imperceptible progress. Gradually though all the pieces fell into place or (somewhere close to it), with a few things not always advising that attention was required straight away.
Anyway, by Thursday night everything was as sorted as it could be, just leaving Friday morning for final packing while waiting for Sarge to arrive from Adelaide. After being given instructions on which train to board, I set out to meet him at the appointed station. While waiting I received a message.... "is Nar Nar Goon anywhere near Seaford?" Umm, no, it's not. Fortunately it's not so far out of the way to put us both in the sh!t, so I gave instructions to get off ASAP & backtrack as far as possible - if at all, being on a regional line by that stage.
I also had to pick up some last-minute supplies from a sponsor (Thanks to Mark at GU Sports Nutrition
), which would have been only a tiny detour from the direct route. So I swung out to there while Sarge managed to get himself back to Pakenham where we arranged to meet. And amazingly, everything fell into place so that he was only waiting about 10 minutes for me, although we were nearly an hour behind intended schedule. After a somewhat circuitous & scenic route the rest of the trip was uneventful, just punctuated by numerous patches of roadworks that hampered progress.
Our arrival was about as low-key as it could be with the fearsome Tru Blu trailer (on loan) hanging off the back of my car, and in short order we found some fellow Mongrels. Introductions were made, last minute form-signing was performed so I could meet with Officialdom & sort pits, camping etc. Amazingly, I had parked almost directly in front of our pit! Talent or what!
Gear - in particular the trike - was unloaded (not yet unleashed
) & final logos applied before the nerve-wracking trip to the Infamous Wonthaggi Scrutineers.
Well geez, I dunno what had happened, but that turned out to be one of the most stress-free scrut sessions in my six visits to this race. So much for their clampdown on light rules; they didn't even have the meter to measure them. On past occasions with Tru Blu they had knocked back our headlight, despite it being on their list of recommended units! The only other thing I was a bit concerned about was the turning circle test, but we got in by a comfy margin.
That done, camp was set up, track walked & talked through for the benefit of the newbies in the squad before the last real chillout with a team dinner at the pub.
And so we find ourselves on Saturday morning, with the last bit of pit setup before the practice session. Which AS USUAL was delayed by idiots leaving cars parked on the track
20 minutes after scheduled start time, we were finally allowed out. I did just a couple of laps to get a feel, then handed the session over to the "new kids". With the small (73T) chainring fitted back on, the trike was a heap livelier than the same shell in Tru Blu guise was in '09 when fitted with an 82T ring. It was even possible to use the bumps to powerslide & "slingshot" the trike out of the corners!
Sarge had ridden the track before, but being from Adelaide had never even seen the trike in the flesh, let alone ridden it, so he went out for a good feeler session & came back with a huge grin, much happier with this than with the steed we shared last year. Neither Gus! (whose nickname was later changed, as you will read in due course) nor Bug had ridden here before, so they got a few extra laps. Rhys & Moose got a short spin and then we ran out of time.
After the rider briefing it was time to check the grid order & make our way around. We were in 11th spot, in a field of about 90 - respectable. I wasn't too fussed with grid position, 'cos in these races it's not where you start that counts, it's where you finish that does, and a lot can happen in 24 hours. Out on the parade lap, I was a little bit peeved at the little prat in Zavanz
who rather aggressively broke formation, pushing other vehicles (including me) into the gutter in order to creep up the ranks.
Made it my goal to get the little rat back in the most dignified way possible by the end of the stint.
We hit the start line & got the flag to let us loose & I just played safe to stay out of the first-lap heroics usually put on display by most of the hot-head senior school kids, some of the younger ones & some of the Open riders who should know better. Not surprisingly, and also entirely within strategy I lost a few places in the first couple of laps, but soon began to peg them back as things settled down. The right front wheel was making a hell of a racket on every left corner, so I pitted about 30 minutes in (catching the crew by surprise) to check it out, just in case the axle bolt was loosening off. Turned out to be OK, but still none the wiser as to what the noise was. This was one of the re-engineering jobs I hadn't been able to test out at Casey. Later investigation showed that vanes cast into the shell of this particular model hub drag on the brake parts under side load, but are fine when going straight ahead. This is after I had respaced the bearings in order to even be able to use them.
Anyway, I persevered for another 25 minutes or so, until the quads just started to burn up the hill.
We settled quickly into rhythm & after I pitted Sarge, Doc (who we borrowed from the temporarily inactive Phantom), Biggun & Moose all had uneventful stints & we settled into a nice little tussle for 6th to 9th places. Gus! began his stint well enough, but after 30 minutes or so the trike was carried back to pit with a blown front right tyre. While we were doing that, we did a bit of a general once-over as well, as one of our dual horns wasn't working well. Biggun found a piece of leckie tape tangled in the derailleur as well, so that was removed (the tape, not the derailleur!), which extended the stop a bit. I think that upset his rhythm a bit. Two-wheeling a lot around the hairpin, he decided to try a slightly wider line in an effort to tame it. And hit the biggest damn bump in the whole corner which even at relatively low speed pitched him into the fence for our first ever race crash. He pitted soon after, having been on the track for some 50 minutes anyway, so wasn't that far off the plan.
Rhys & Bug both had good steady stints to complete the first rotation & bring us into the night session. And it was soon obvious that a little bit more work on headlight mounting & shielding needs to be done. Frontal visibility was good, unless the shroud behind the light beacme detached, but there was a fair bit of flare from the vent holes out onto the side windows, which made corner judgement just a little bit difficult. I stayed out for just over an hour, with everything going smoothly. Doc was sent out and I returned to camp for dinner. I returned briefly for a final progress check, to find rather loud protestations about visibility. I left the crew to it & retired to bed. I heard several crashes on the hairpin, each time thinking, "not us please". Fortunately it wasn't.
Sarge returned to camp after his stint, with the report of a slipped right brake cable, meaning that one was no longer operating. Beats having a jammed on brake though. Sarge and I had both ridden with virtually no brakes at all for most of last year's race, so having two out of three was still vastly better than half out of three. We also had some panels removed from the side windows to aid visibility. Later still, Moose came back & it was soon obvious that he had crashed around the footy ground. Which is a long sweeping curve & generally not the place you'd put it over. And he was sketchy about what had actually happened. The resulting damage was only cosmetic & the trike was otherwise still running strongly. A chat with a former team mate -who had seen what happened - later on indicated that Moose hadn't seen the tyre piles that line the right side of the track - which is pretty fair, as black tyres don't really stand out that well at night, and here also lies an ironic twist to the Wonthaggi Light Rules. While they demand an enormous light output, they also require the beam to be quite narrow & focused. And with the geometry of a trike that puts the light a long way forward of the front wheels, the nose does not actually point exactly where the vehicle is tracking. So the light beam appears to "bend" towards the outside of the curve. And when the tyre piles are on the inside of said curve, it's easy to understand why they were not picked up by even really good lights.
So anyway, JD said Moose played a kind of ping-pong between the tyre piles on his right & another trike on his left, bouncing off both several times before getting tail-tagged by the other trike which flicked him around & off into the gravel on the other side of the track. In the aftermath the officials decided that it might actually be a good idea to make the tyres visible & painted white marks on them. Better late than not at all.
With Gus! back in the trike, he settled into the epic stint that has now earned him a new name. One hour and forty-five minutes of beautifully consistent riding now has him known as Diesel, and in conjunction with Doc's longer run we were now nearly an hour ahead of rider schedule based on one hour stints each.
At the end of Diesel's stint we did our only rear tyre change of the race. Not bad given that the one we started on had been on since the middle of the Casey race! with fresh rubber Rhys was let loose back into the fray. Which in the overnight absence of the little kids was somewhat less of a fray. By now things were getting pretty settled in terms of running order. Aurora
, on the back of their win at Casey set about repeating the performance with a virtual flag-to-flag dominance. TriSled's Aquila
, Platt Racing's Silver Streak
& ExPats took the remainng slots in the top four, shuffling amongst themselves for many hours until ExPats suffered some steering damage that slowed their progress a little bit. The Tru Blu Crew in Slim Stainless's Jamaican Me Crazy
tried valiantly to put in a strong showing in an under-prepared trike but were hampered by inadequately engineered streering which suffered very poor wheel alignment. And ya don't go fast when the wheels are pointing sideways!
Bendigo Senior's Bitch Is Back (BIB)
& Concordia's COCA
from SA were our targets for most of the race as the three of us all had fairly close average lap times. At various times one of us would have a quick rider in & open out or claw back a gap, then the pit changes would juggle things around again & the favour would swing to another team.
Following Rhys's uneventful stint I had a look at the troubled right brake cable, hoping to get it back in operation. Such a small thing, the already short barrel adjuster, broken some time in the distant past had unscrewed itself from the stopper that sits in the fixed brake arm. It then slipped out of its notch, unhooked the eye mount from the active arm & dragged the now free end of the cable out of the wheel hole on the road. That thread wasn't going back together, so we remained down a brake. Bug's stint was again notable by its uneventfulness and not insubstantial duration.
And that concluded our second rotation, more than an hour ahead of the original plan. Instead of the planned 4:00am restart, I started my third attack on the track at 5:20. A few laps in I had to pit briefly for a new headlight battery, and again two laps later when the battery shook loose from its mount & threatened to fall out of the trike, a fate that had already befallen another of our batteries. The light had also been turned onto full power, which caused a lot of flare on the windscreen, so while the battery was resecured the light was also turned down a notch. Despite its two tumbles the trike was still running as strongly & true as ever, and I stayed out for just over an hour. Having read a note on the pit board some time before to check wheel alignment as a matter of routine, I commented that it was fine, it's still tracking like a train.
The kids also came back out during my final run, a sure sign that madness was returning as we entered the final quarter of the race.
Sarge struggled with a lack of fitness in his final stint, having been crook for some time hampering training, so Doc pulled another long stint to finish his time with us, making sure we had enough time in the bank in the event of the other guys running out of legs. His stint was also marked by a minor spill as he unsuccessfully attempted to avoid getting tangled up in someone else's crash. By now we were well ensconced in 7th place overall, and 6th in category as Bitch
gradually opened out on us. Eventually The SA visitors managed to cement their place in front of the Bendigo squad.
With our place very secure, Biggun, Moose, Diesel, Rhys & Bug were given the instruction to just cruise the final three & a bit hours they were left to share, and they did the job admirably.Aurora
took the flag, ahead of Aquila
. ExPats held fourth place comfortably despite their not quite perfect steering alignment.
This result is a pretty true indication of where we fit in the field. We might have finished a little bit closer to the others if things went totally smoothly but compared to Casey we had a much less mechanically-interrupted race, so our lack of horsepower is really all that held us back. We did the best we could, and that's all I can ask from all of the crew. We are quite rightly bloody stoked with that result.