There wasn’t a better ending I could think of for finishing an overseas holiday than having the opportunity to ride the beautifully prepared Horner brother Vincent Rapide, let alone winning this prestigious event.
My first impression of Goodwood was “fast”, even knowing we were going to be on a historic motor cycle. After walking the track Wednesday afternoon before the event, both myself and Craig McMartin (my team mate) realised we were going to be stretching the legs of the 1000cc v-twin. With very little track knowledge and myself being the only one with a little bike knowledge we were in discussions of what gearing to start with. It was left in my hands and we just happened to get it right.
Thursday, the track and the event itself was really starting to come alive. It’s something you have to see to believe. With other bikes and cars starting to arrive we got talking to some of the locals, many were already well aware of our motorbike. It seemed a lot of them knew more about the Vincent then I did. A lot of people were under the assumption our bike was going to be far quicker than our opposition. To the whole team it seemed like the pressure was on to be at the front. After looking at the other machinery and knowing the level of competition, I knew it would not be easy. The top Manx Norton’s were prepared beautifully, with superior brakes and a massive weight difference compared to the Vincent.
There were some serious Vincent enthusiasts, intrigued on what was inside the Horner brother’s machine and many questioned how it would handle the high speed circuit. It was a question none of us could accurately answer until Sunday night. Before the bike had left Oz we had only cut a few laps at a relatively short slow circuit compared to Goodwood. The handling department was left in the capable hands of Steve Mudford from race dynamics in Melbourne. Steve helped the Horner brothers re-engineer and re-think the way the original Vincent’s geometry worked.
That afternoon we were all invited up to Lord March’s cricket game which is held every year in front of his Goodwood manor. I’m told it’s the oldest cricket pitch in the world although I’m not sure how true that is. The cricket wasn’t really my thing, but we were blessed with an original Spitfire plane doing several low flying passes over the cricket pitch. It’s a sight that was mind blowing to see and hear an aircraft of that heritage flying so low to the ground.
The first session on Friday couldn’t have come soon enough for both Craig & myself. Craig had never ridden or even seen the freshly refurbished black Vincent. With no practice we were straight into qualifying. Small problems started to show their head very soon into the session, with Craig not even completing a full lap before a small split in the top of fuel tank caused him to pit. The team shoved some rags and tape onto the tank to get us back onto the track. It wasn’t perfect but I was able to complete 5 more laps to finish out the session. My final lap was quick enough for pole position, edging out former Moto GP star Jeremy McWilliams by 0.09 of a second.
Afterwards, there was bit of relief knowing that the bike could run at the front in a field of world class riders. The team stayed back at the track that day doing some overtime to repair the split fuel tank as well as a complete check of the bike. Other than the fuel problem, the power of the Vincent down the straights at Goodwood was fantastic. Taking us close to the 130mph mark where everyone else was yet to make to make it into the 120’s. The myths of ill handing at high speed were soon put to bed, and I think it took a few by surprise. However, slowing the big v-twin up for the corners was heavily relied on by the engine braking rather than the underpowered drum brakes.
The motorcycle races at Goodwood are a combined time of the 25 min race Saturday and 25min race Sunday. So planning our strategy was important to our race results. I started the race Saturday meaning I had to finish the race Sunday. I’d never done a Le Mans style start before, let alone in front of a crowd of 148,000 and a cast of motorsport royalty. I wasn’t the fastest off the line but second into the first corner was fine for me and by following Jeremy I was able to learn the track a bit better. It was my first time racing a bike without tyre warmers so I slowly worked my way up to know the Avon’s limits. It wasn’t long before we took the lead down the straight using the power of the Vincent to blast past Jeremy. It was nice to repay the favour, as it’s usually the other way around at the island classic when the Brits bring out the ultra fast XR69 replicas generally passing me down the straight.
We were making a great race of it maintaining a small margin over the Norton. Until I suddenly saw +8 seconds on my pit board. I hadn’t realised what had happened but Jeremy had a technical problem and crashed. I handed the bike over to Craig with a comfortable lead. He managed to extend our lead to take the chequered flag with a 17 second margin over Steve Platter and Glen English.
The team was ecstatic, and deservedly so. The effort gone in to the preparation by the team at KH equipment is beyond belief. But we were only half way there.
The stage was set for Sunday’s final race with myself & Craig having a comfortable lead after Saturday, we really didn’t have to win the race to win the weekend. Jeremy and Duncun were out of contention for the weekend’s final result, having a crashed motorbike that was unable to be repaired, but with approval from the officials they were able to bring out a much newer 62’ replica Manx Norton, to make the show go on.
Craig got off to a reasonably slow start having trouble getting a gear after the run across the start finish straight. We had moved up to forth by the first lap. Craig stayed in the mix swapping places with 2 Norton’s being ridden by Duncun Fitcher and Glen English. Craig handed the bike to myself on the 8th lap, in the lead, with the Norton’s directly behind. Jeremy and myself were at it from the moment we left the pits. It was a really fun race which I’m sure the crowd enjoyed (probably not as much as me). We led the last lap and I thought I may have just had him. The more modern brakes on the Norton came diving up the inside coming into the final chicane. It was a blessing for both of us in disguise. Accelerating out of the last corner and heading for the chequered flag the original HRD gearbox decided to give in and lock up. A quick grab of the clutch and we were lucky enough to coast to the line to take the overall win for the 2014 Barry Sheene Memorial race.
It was an eventful end to a successful weekend. To say I am honoured to be a part of what the Melbourne based engineering company, KH Equipment, has achieved would be an understatement. And I’d like thank everyone involved and everyone who was behind us over there.