Australian International Pedal Prix Super Series, Round 3. 24 Hours, Sturt Reserve, Murray Bridge S.A. Saturday & Sunday September 17th-18th 2011.
The race for the AIPP 24-hour began a long way before hitting the track. The decision had been made earlier in the year to leave most of the battlescars unpatched for the Adelaide races, figuring that more wounds would be acquired in the rough & tumble on the short Victoria Park circuit, but some cosmetic work and other touches to optimise the setup for night racing would be undertaken before The Big One for the year. However, works needed to be done somewhat sporadically so as not to interfere with training sessions. One of the main things that desperately needed attention was the windows - having been in place since late last year when the trike first hit the track, the wet race & training sessions at Casey earlier in the year, with all the grit flying around had really taken their toll and visibility, especially late in the day was verging on non-existant.
Murray Bridge, and especially the race track around Sturt Reserve, right on the bank of the river is prone to getting quite cold at night in September, and with hot sweaty riders inside the vehicle makes a perfect breeding ground for Fog Monsters. The idea of double-glazed window panels had been tried with some success before, but I decided to extend the idea to a full front windscreen, as well as forward sections of the side windows. Not wanting to scratch them, I left this task until the last few days, so we would hit the track with them untested. A late hiccup occurred when the signwriter was unable to open the graphic files he'd previously used to do the logos, and would be unable to reproduce them. Very fortunately, one of my later recruits had access to a sticker machine at school in Bendigo, and made up some logos to apply on Friday afternoon.
Finally, everything was packed & ready, and I hit the road on Thursday afternoon, breaking the trip at a friend's place in Nhill for the night. An uneventful trip had me arriving at the track & dropping the trailer at our allotted pit spot late on Friday morning. With scrutineering at 2:00, we had a few hours to apply the stickers & give the front windscreen another puff of gas juat to make sure it was done properly. About the only thing left to rattle the nerves was the still somewhat fluid rider lineup. At various stages over the preceding weeks I had supplemented the core group with some extras, apparently settling on a team of nine (we're allowed up to 10.) Sadly, about a week out, Bug gave the unfortunate news that he;d be unable to ride due to illness. However I received a call from another guy at a loose end wanting a ride, so I said he'd be in. Except then I heard (apparently third hand news) that he'd then accepted a ride in another team. Oddly, that team knew nothing about this.
In the end I don't think Dean even made it across. Finally, during the Friday morning, I sent a message to Chundagutz, who we had on loan from ExPats 'cos they'd withdrawn from racing (lack of funds allegedly) to see if he was around. I got a reply that he was still in Bendigo & might not even make it! Turned out he didn't, and so we had a final lineup of seven riders. With Sarge only just coming back from a lengthy illness & a little unsure of his fitness, this was shaping up to be a demanding race physically.
We sailed through scrutineering with no troubles at all, and so the pressure was off for a little while. This presented the opportunity to walk the new guys around the track, check out the newly surfaced back straight and catch up with friends from other teams. And of course, finish setting up camp so we'd have somewhere to sleep for the weekend.
Finally at 5:00, we lined up at the start of the back straight for a small ceremony with local VIPs to officially open the new bit, before being Unleashed
to open the qualifying session. I took our first few laps, just to get a feel for the trike on the track & pass on handy tips to the new boys who were here for the first time. Making the most of the two-hour session, the boys put in some good laps, and we finished up with the ninth fastest time. But due to the Top 15 shootout arrangement, featuring the fastest three from each of the four categories, plus the fastest all-girls team from each of the three school-age categories, we wound up in 20th on the grid. Still quite respectable, given there were 200 vehicles behind us.....
Saturday dawned warm & windy, and we started the day finalising pit setup & watching the Shootout action. Local favourites BlueShift (who with an influx of borrowed Tru Blu & Expats riders were being referred to as ExTruBluShift
) claimed pole position with a 2:18 lap. Joining them on the four-wide front row were Team Phantom's Re-Newbi-ed
, TriSled's Aquila
and the kids from Bendigo Senior SC in Just Razzing
, continuing their fine form from earlier in the year. By 11:00 when we began to grid up, it was already becoming quite warm (I think it peaked around 30* during the early afternoon) and very windy, so I stayed out of the vehicle as long as possible, only getting in about 15 minutes before start time. Once in, I could finally zone out of the off-track stress & begin to focus on the race, primarily staying out of the inevitable first lap heroics. Once locked in, we weren't far from action. The warmup lap was painfully slow, but once back around to the main straight the course car pulled clear & we could begin to wind up & cross the startline at full pace. Just Razzing
took a draft off the course car (despite all the front row riders being told to hang back & allow it to get clear so it could pull off trhe track safely) & jumped to an early break, with TruBluShift
, Phantom, TriSled & Aurora
, keen to follow up on their dominant win in the Victorian series in hot pursuit.
I lost out a few spots, as expected in the first few laps as other riders sprinted off for a bit of glory, before burning out in the heat & slipping back. Over the next 40 or so minutes, I clawed back some of the ground as everyone settled down. It was hot going, peaking at about 42* inside the trike according to Pink's Garmin, so I decided on a short stint in order to preserve myself for the later stints. The new back straight surface certainly made a big difference in that it opened up a much better range of lines, where previously there was only one, very narrow good line. This didn't actually have much effect on the outright lap times, but it made consistently fast times easier to achieve and also tended to improve vehicle reliability. Except for BlueShift
, who again were having troubles with their forward fairing mounts (these ultimately cut their race short last year). Some extended pit stops had the mounts braced, and they were back up & running at a good pace, settled in fourth place.
About two hours into the race, after we'd gone through a few riders without incident, the red flags were brought out. Fearing that a major crash had occurred, everyone was keen to find out what the problem was. It turned out that the crash happened to the timing system. In the windy conditions, a powerful gust had blown some of the "lego block" barriers around, which damaged the primary timing loop. As soon as it was found that laps were not being recorded, the red flags were brought out & everyone stopped where they were while the timing was fixed. A secondary loop was in place and had still been recording, so all data was able to be cross-tracked & corrected once the primary system was back in action. The pause was only for about 15 minutes, and soon enough it was back into action. During the break, Blighty & I had set off in opposite directions around the track to find where Moose had been stopped, just to make sure he wasn't cooking under the full lid. During my wander I stopped by BlueShift
, and one of their riders was checking live results... We had suddenly recorded a 10 minute lap, so I hightailed it back to pit to find out the story. It turned out we had our own timing glitch, in that the transponder had fallen off. Fortunately it was recovered & reattached. Two of our crew set off towards the timing tent to find out why we weren't being recorded, and on the way ran into one of the officials who was on his way to see us. Once the situation was clarified, we got the times averaged out so we did get the missing laps back and everything was hunky dory again.
For a while.
After about four hours of racing, Webb pitted & commented that something in the left steering assembly had broken. As a starting point we simply took the now detached pushrod out to assess it, and sent Gus! out with one-hand steering, which while tricky to get used to is quite liveable after a little while. In the meantime, we deduced that the tube that forms the mount for the handlebar onto its chassis boss had broken around where the pushrod lever was welded on. Chuck went on a bit of a mission to see if anyone could fix it, now that there is no longer a TAFE-SA welding tent on site. Having found a possible solution, he returned to pit & at the next stop we simply disconnected the rear brake cable & the horn wires & removed the whole handlebar so we could take it over to get repaired. Unfortunately, now they could see the full situation, the guys at Norwood-Morialta were not able to do the task. Our next visit was to the Murrayville Community College pit, where our chassis builder John Taylor was assisting. Assessing how his work had failed, he was already forming ways to make stronger levers. He suggested paying a visit to the Murray Bridge High School team, hoping they'd know some local contacts who would be able to do some welding at 5:00 on a Saturday afternoon. Very fortunately, they had some crew back at school doing some repairs on their own equipment, and arranged for John, Chuck & Sarge (who had his car outside the park) to go up there & use their tech facilities to do the repair work. Big thanks to those guys for their assistance.
However while all this was going on, Pink had our first crash of the race. Not sure if it was just 'cos of the tricky steering, a bit of excessive ambition or assisted by another vehicle, but whatever the case it wasn't too serious & he was up & running again with only a few seconds lost.
In short order, the guys were back with a better-than-new handlebar, so at the next pitstop we put it all back together. All bar the horn, which needed a bit more work because its wires got a little bit fried during the surgery. We saved that for the next stop, but had to do a bit of improv work to rig a new switch, 'cos the old one was firmly stuck in the bar-end, with the connections inaccessible. We'd also done a bit of rider order shuffling due to my attention being a little bit focussed elsewhere.
Compared to some races I've been involved in, we were still running pretty smoothly, and the absent handlebar hadn't slowed us at all.
As night fell, we were getting into the moment of truth regarding both Fog Monster activity and headlight leakage onto the insides of the windows, which hampers visibility. And it was pretty good on both counts. Not surprisingly, the single-layer sections of the side windows fogged heavily, but they're in easy wiping reach for the rider so not really a problem. The double panels at the front end of the sides collected a little bit of fog between the two layers, indicating that they were not properly gassed, but fortunately the fog patches were in areas off the critical sight-lines. But the best bit was that the full double-glazed front windscreen stayed perfectly clear all night.
A small amount of light leakage came through the vent holes (the headlight is also ducted to funnel incoming air, which it warms slightly, onto the inner face of the screen) but again it was in areas not too critical for sightlines and not overpowering.
During the night our other handlebar broke, in identical fashion to the first. Pure & simple it was under-engineering that had fatigued over the course of a pretty intense year. However, due to the fact that it occurred around 1:00am, so repair options were somewhat more limited than before, and that bar carried our gear shifter & primary brake lever, we decided to leave it & just go one-hand steering for the rest of the race. Which again didn't affect performance at all.
At least we were still running though. Which is more than can be said for ExTruBluShift
. Two huge crashes had ended their race prematurely, for the second year running. The first occurred near the end of the main straight. Moving at close to 60km/h, the traffic ahead parted to reveal a rolled trike right in the vehicle's path. With nowhere to go, the rider ploughed headlong into the underside of the stricken vehicle. The force of the impact pushed the entire fairing back on the chassis, and also broke the rider's ankle. The vehicle was returned to pit & had the body realigned somewhat and returned to the track, still running quite fast. The next crash, about an hour later was truly monumental. Exiting the chicane that precedes the main straight, their rider was tailing Phantom when they came upon a slower car. Phantom chose to make a pass on the inside (left), while BlueShift
opted for the right. Perhaps startled by the left pass, "Piggy-In-The-Middle" veered right, straight into the path of BlueShift
. After bouncing off the side of the slower car, the vehicle hit the ramped kerb at the edge of the track & launched, striking the cyclone wire temporary fence some 5 feet above the ground. After the initial impact, the car spun 180*, still in full flight along the fence. The forward rollbar snagged a fencepost and tore away, leaving the rider's knee exposed to take the next impact, fracturing his kneecap, only then crashing back to earth, a crumpled mess of chromoly, carbon fibre & kevlar. Witnesses describe it as the most horrific crash they've seen in HPV racing, and it's a credit to the BlueShift crew that the vehicle took the energy as it did and the resulting injury was relatively minor.
Still at the pointy end, Phantom were at the head of a ripper three-way battle with Aurora
. Bendigo Senior's Just Razzing
had suffered chassis troubles, which cost them some 3 hours of lost track time while they rebuilt the trike's front crossmember. Despite this lost time, they still managed to claw back to second in their category - a real display of just how superior they were over the rest of the senior secondary teams! Platt Racing's new Silver Streak
, a revolutionary front-drive 3-wheel-steer vehicle proved a bit of a handful to some of the guys early on, with some spectacular incidents leading to the name "Splatt Racing" being heard along the pit lanes, but after a while they got a grip on it & settled into a fast & consistent pace.
We'd settled into the one-hand-steering groove pretty well, and aside from a few gutter crunches from other vehicles, and a couple of kids wiping themselves out on our front end, we were doing a good job of staying out of trouble. Gradually daylight crept over the track and the end was in sight. During the morning I had a visit from Dean from BlueShift. Apparently somebody from another high-profile team was spreading allegations that other teams, including us were stacking their lineups with BlueShift riders following their withdrawal. Given the situation they experienced back in Round One, anybody would be out of their tree to add riders from other teams during a race, so attempting to have teams disqualified by spreading such rumours is quite frankly bloody poor form. We didn't receive any visits from officials regarding this, but I know Platt did. However, during other running around (for coffee, actually), I did get accosted by the race chairman, and advised that we'd be required at the presentations post-race. More on that later....
As the morning progressed and the race drew to a close, we were battling for a Top 10 finish. With about an hour to go, we had a crash caused by the self-professed best cornering trike failing to take a corner.
The jolt caused the chain to jam in the rear derailleur, pushing the lower jockey wheel half off its pressed-in bearing. The resulting chain drag made tough going, and we had a couple of lengthy pit stops as we tried to regain some function in the derailleur. It still shifted fine, but there was so much drag & chain suck that the chain would pile up on the floor of the trike, then get yanked through the derailleur quite roughly when it reached peak tension above the jam. These stops dropped us to 13th place. Somewhere during all this, I must have bumped a button on my watch & turned it back another 30 minutes, so I thought we had more race time left than there was. Having got the derailleur reasonably sorted, I did a stint, pitting at what I thought was 45 minutes to go & handed over to Pink (his surname is Floyd, so what else could his nickname be?
) to bring it home. Only then did I realise my error, so he had a 15 minute sprint to finish off. And just to prove that despite the niggles the trike was still strong, he set our fastest lap of the race.
At the front end, Phantom's "boring and predictable" (to quote from their report from last year) strategy paid off, and they were rewarded with a very well-deserved win, along with a new race distance record; 497 laps/1068.55km, an impressive 22 laps/ 47.3km better than the old mark set in 2008 by Tru Blu. Aurora held out for second place, only a lap behind, with TriSled's Aquila
a further six laps back in third. A big gap separated them from Ballistic's El Cid
, Concordia's COCA RAcing
and Platt's Silver Streak
rounding out the Top Six.
At the presentations, as alluded to earlier, Dirty Mongrel Racing was awarded the Tim Bellotti Memorial Award, for best capturing the spirit of hard but fair racing. Given our name, it's amusing that we got it for not being dirty mongrels.
Clearly it's a team award, so I really do have to thank Gus!, Moose, Sarge, Webb, Blighty & Pink for being a really great bunch to have on board.