I’ve done a lot of trackdays over the years, many of which have been multiple day events. Lessons learnt along the way have built an experience base which hopefully allows me to eliminate as many variables as possible which could impact on my enjoyment. Planning begins the moment the dates are booked; the bike is prepared, lists of tools and parts checked and packed, car and trailer prepped before the off, then usually it’s drive to the track, ride around, hopefully improve laptimes, and go home a happy bunny. I say usually, as clearly you can’t plan for the impact that bad weather can have, but our trip to Catalunya this year was to show that no amount of planning can help you when the cards are stacked against you. This story is littered with little things that built into bigger things, which ultimately had outcomes that hadn’t been foreseen, but who could have known that the first of these, the political situation in Catalania, would impact us when we’d booked all that time ago?
19 months had elapsed since I’d last ventured out on track, and as it happened it had been Catalunya then too. As I mentioned in a previous post, the world is a volatile place at the momenthad , and Spain had become a new focus just before we headed down there, due to the Catalans deciding that now would be a good time to seek independence by firstly voting; illegally according to the Spanish government, who had clamped down on the polling stations during which violence ensued, and then turning to strike action. The byproduct of all of this was that the Circuit of Catalunya decided to join that strike action and close the gates of the circuit on the day we were supposed to arrive. We were advised of this fact on the evening before we were setting off, so quickly had to amend travel plans and resign ourselves to setting up in the paddock in the early hours of the morning the following day, since the gates would now not be open for access until midnight. An inconvenience yes, and one which would mean less hours sleep and some hassle setting up in the dark, but as the paddock is lit it wasn’t an unsurmountable problem, we can deal with it. A lot more hassle for the organisers though, who would now be under time pressure to ensure the event ran to schedule.
Following my extensive list of things to do, I’d changed the oil in the R1 and checked off my list of things to pack and take, which then only left checking of car and trailer tyre pressures and lights, after which everything could be loaded into the car. The tyres turned out to be underinflated, but since I’d not used the trailer for 19 months that was to be expected, and they were soon blown up to recommended levels. I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t reverse my bike trailer for love nor money, but as we live in the middle of nowhere on a very lightly trafficked road, I decided to try and improve my reversing skills in advance of our departure. I had multiple attempts to reverse out of the drive, looking to face the direction I wanted to leave in, but never got it quite right, and the exercise ended badly when unbeknownst to me, the jockey wheel dropped in its support bracket, dragged on the ground, and bent the support. Not the end of the world, but it meant I’d need to schedule a stop off at Norauto (French equivalent of Halfords) in Perigueux to buy a new support bracket en route.
The final trailer check revolves around the lights. Trailer lighting is notoriously problematic, although mine hasn’t been an issue, or hadn’t been, in the past tense. Today when I hooked the trailer up to the car the right hand indicator wasn’t working. A Philips head screwdriver quickly removes the three small screws holding the lens, but no amount of jiggling the bulb around can persuade it to illuminate. Changing the bulb doesn’t sort it either, so it’s time to check the wiring in the plug. I undo the screws, take it apart and tighten everything inside, but none of the wiring looked to be loose. Plugging it back in reveals the same problem, so the next option is to try using a different adapter. This time the left hand indicator doesn’t work, the problem has switched sides! I took the plug apart again, double checking everything and tried again, but it was only when I pushed the plug more firmly into the adapter that everything worked, so clearly the fit of the plug into the adapter isn’t tight enough. Time for a bodge and yet another use for the ubiquitous duct tape, and voila we have the full set of lights. Final job, reattach the lens with the three small screws, remember that part, it’s important!
The morning of departure and we awoke to this autumnal view.
It’s rained overnight, it’s damp and misty, and I’m a bit worried about loading the bike onto the trailer, as I’ve got to wheel it across wet grass and up a ramp onto the now wet trailer base, and everyone knows that slicks and water don’t make good companions. It’s as if the gods conspire to make it rain every time I need to load the bike onto the trailer before an event, and today is no exception as it’s raining yet again. Worried about wheelspin, I decided that pushing it rather than using the engine would be safer, and it was. The bike was loaded safely and without incident, but it was a bit galling to find that if I’d waited half an hour the rain would have stopped!
Ready for the off
Because we wouldn’t be allowed into the circuit until midnight there was no point leaving as early as we had originally planned, so we delayed our departure by an hour and a half, and left just as the clock turned 11.00. Heading cross country for Perigueux, I was dismayed to see a dashboard warning light showing a trailer light out. What? Not after having spent so long fixing it yesterday! Sometimes we get a false warning though, so I stopped to check, and was shocked to find that the right hand lens cover was missing altogether, what the hell! With light drizzle starting and worried about driving for a day without lights and bulbs getting drenched and electrics shorting, there was little option other than to retrace our steps in the hope of finding it. I’d almost given up until we had got back to within 250m of home, when suddenly there it was. The offending lens cover was lying in the middle of the road, luckily in one piece with the 3 screws (remember them?) still in situ. Thanking my lucky stars that we live on such a sparsely populated road, I grabbed it, parked up back at home, dashed back into the house for a screwdriver to reattach it, and quickly put it back in place.
By now 40 minutes had elapsed and we were behind schedule, although I’d allowed plenty of time for toilet and food stops en route so wasn’t too concerned, but less than 2kms later another dashboard light flashed up, this time showing a dipped headlight out. Pulling over to check I found it was ok, so we carried on wondering what would happen next? We had a rapid stop off at Norauto for a jockey wheel support bracket before continuing on to the motorway where we made good progress, enjoying the views and the picturesque buildings of La Circ de Popie and Cahors as we headed south.
The early morning damp weather was soon just a memory, and improved the further south we got, with temperatures around 24C just north of Toulouse, splendid! After three hours driving we took a food and comfort break for half an hour. Before leaving I sent a message to Mark, who was driving down from Geneva with David in convoy, telling him we were now around 1 ¾ hours from our 17.30 meeting point and would be there on time. I got a message back saying they were on schedule too, but to listen to channel 107.7 for traffic news as it looked as if we might have problems in Spain, and need to find a non-motorway route down to the circuit in Montmelo.
The countryside as we descended south is beautiful, made even more so as the trees are starting to take on their Autumnal red hue, and beyond Carcassone the scenery takes on a more Spanish flavour. We left the A61 at Narbonne and joined the A9 which Mark and David are on. At 15.07 I got a message saying that they’re early and at the services waiting for me, but there wasn’t even time for Sue to send a reply, as less than two minutes later we rolled into the car park to join them. Amazing that after us travelling for 6 hours, taking a break, and driving 500kms from a different part of the country, we had arrived within such a short time as them. Last year when Mark and I had met at the same spot, the gap had been 7 minutes, and I’d been the first to arrive, so we’re getting pretty good at timings!
10-4 we got us a convoy!
After saying our hellos the subject quickly changed to the potential motorway disruption ahead. It seems as though part of the A9 we need to travel on may be closed. David checked a map, and then showed us his proposed alternative route to avoid any motorway problems. We agreed to get off the A9 at Perpignan and head cross country towards Andorra, then drop south via Ripoll. Incredibly his GPS says this will take us 5 ½ hours, which is shocking, given that if we were able to go direct to the circuit via the motorway it’s less than an hour and a half! With seemingly little option, we set off on the revised route which turns out to vary massively from the one I’d input into my GPS using the avoid motorways option, but he’s leading so nothing to do other than follow.
Once we’d negotiated our way out and round Perpignan, we headed West on the N116. We were making good progress on some decent roads when after about 3/4 hour I saw Marks hand appear out of his window holding his phone. Realising he’d been trying to call us or send a message, I got Sue to check the phone, and saw that he was down to 10 litres of petrol and needed to stop at the next petrol station. We found one on top of a hill on a twisty road with a pizza sign, so wondered if we could eat there too, but it was a machine dispensing them so we quickly discounted that idea. Also we were still in France, and with only 95 not 98Ron fuel being available, and it being cheaper in Spain, Mark decided on just a splash and dash fill to give him enough to get us to the border. I think it was here that David realised he’d left his jerry cans at home, along with the tyre warmers, doh! We decided to stop somewhere en route in Spain to eat as we’d got plenty of time in hand before we could get into the circuit.
The roads became ever more challenging, windy, and climbed around the hills as we headed towards Andorra. Following Mark ,Sue remarked how we were both taking the same lines and driving as if we were using race lines, as opposed to David whom she noted was driving “normally”. Two minutes after that statement, he changed to our mode of attacking bends, and our trio of cars and trailers scythed through the countryside into the oncoming dusk. Eventually we arrived at Bourg Madame, crossed over the border into Spain, and stopped to fuel at the first Repsol garage we found. David took the opportunity to buy a 20 litre petrol container and fill it, whilst Mark and I also filled our cans and cars. With some nibbles purchased from the garage shop we set off towards Puigcerda on roads I know well from having ridden down in the area many times. I mentioned to Sue that I thought there was a tunnel ahead where we would have to pay, and sure enough we arrived at Tunnel de Cadi ,where we had to stump up €11.64 to pass through. I noted that the price without a trailer would have been €9.38, and resolved to look up how much we’d paid last time we’d ridden through, as I’m sure the price goes up quite a lot each time!
David wasn’t to know it, but immediately after we had passed through the tunnel there had been a services where we could perhaps have got food, although with the strike it was quite possible it wouldn’t have been open. Pretty soon after he turned off towards Baga, which confused me as it looked to be going in the wrong direction, but as we headed down into the town centre it was obvious he was looking for a restaurant. We felt an enormous jolt going over an overly large speed hump and assumed the rear of the trailer must have bounced off it, but Mark had managed to break his trailer plug going over it and would need to get a new one. David pulled up to the kerb outside a hotel/restaurant facing uphill, and went inside to check if it was open. Mark and I waited, with me being reluctant to park anywhere I’d have to reverse unless absolutely necessary. He came back out a couple of minutes later saying it was shut due to the strike and they were only serving friends or guests, so we switched to plan B. There was a hotel garden outside, so we dug out our nibbles, sat on their picnic benches and ate and drank there under the street lights. Not sure the hotel owners would have approved, but since they wouldn’t serve us it was the least they could do to allow us to eat in their grounds!
Sue, me and David
When we’d finished, I patted myself on the back for having been smart by parking facing downhill in the direction we were going to be leaving in, but David showed us how it’s done by easily reversing back down the slight incline using the trailer feature and camera technology in his car. Setting off again the GPS was now showing an arrival time at the circuit of around 22.45, meaning we’d only have to wait for around an hour before we could get in and pitch up our marquees in the paddock. The final section to the circuit seemed to take forever, the arrival time constantly changing by a few minutes, but eventually we arrived at the main gates at around 22.47. There were already lots of vehicles parked there waiting, so after a quick consultation we turned back down the periphery road to a mini roundabout, and came back up towards the main gates again, pulling over into a layby perfectly sized for three cars and trailers, where we stopped and chatted for the next hour before heading up to the entrance a couple of minutes before the midnight opening of the gates. Everyone entered in an orderly queue, and we headed across the paddock to set up the marquees in roughly the same spot they’d been 19 months ago. Setting up took around an hour and eventually we were able to get into our sleeping bags and the tent at 01.38, although sleep was disturbed as others set up around us and used electric scooters to whizz back and forwards to the toilet block. In the end I managed only around 4 hours sleep, as at 05.38 the next morning I was awake and up making a cup of tea.
Davids Triumph 675
We weren’t to know it, but from now on in there would be a succession of “issues” for all of us. Mine starting when trying to put the bike on the rear paddock stand. In the semi gloom of early morning, I managed not to locate one of the paddock stand supports correctly on the left hand bobbin and the inevitable happened, the bike toppled over onto its side. Luckily Mark was on hand to help me get it back upright and there was no damage, or none that I could see, but hardly the best start to the day!
R1 on stands properly this time!
Next came registration and check in which went smoothly. David had originally booked himself into one of the pit garages at €25 a day, not realising that both Mark and I had marquees, so I suggested he share mine and see whether he could get back his €75, after all you don’t ask you don’t get! His luck was in today though as he was refunded without question, although the money passed straight back to the organiser as he needed to buy new tyre warmers to replace the ones he’d left at home. Not cheap at €310, but at least they were good quality. With the bikes stickered up with our allocated race numbers, we attended the safety briefing before an hour and a half wait until our first session at 10.00.
Marks BMW S1000RR
We’d enrolled in the debutant group, but had high expectations of moving up when the groups are sorted by lap times during the midday break, but my day was going to continue badly, when leaving the pit lane the motor was misfiring badly. The bike stuttered round the first half of the circuit with me cursing the pogoing machine before it miraculously cleared itself. Like every first session, and especially after such a long time off the bike, everything seemed out of sorts. The laptimer showed a 2.26 time, which was pretty poor considering I’d done 2.14 in the past, but it was only the first session.
Mark looking concentrated
Returning to the paddock and looking for the source of the misfire my first thoughts turned to the quick shifter. Looking under the fairing showed that a piece of heat resistant material, with what looked like an aluminium backing, had dropped perilously close to the coils, so I removed the fairing, cut away the offending piece and hoped all would be good for the next session. I also asked Mark for some Loctite intending to use it on one of the fairing bolts, but he took it back before I’d used it and guess what, the bolt fell out during the next session.
First of many fettling sessions, David on left me on right
In the second session Mark and I both put our cameras on the bikes, me leading filming Mark behind and Mark filming me ahead. The session was pretty good with my time dropping to 2.16, which was within 2 seconds of my best, whilst David was on 2.14 and Mark 2.12 . The new Power Evo slicks were fantastic with real drive everywhere, but again a gremlin was in the works, as coming onto the main straight and accelerating hard in third the revs suddenly went from around 11,000 to the red line and hit the limiter without warning. I’d not accelerated that hard and the ensuing headshake was a bit alarming, as was the concern that banging off rev limiters doesn’t usually do much for the life expectancy of valves or the engine. The seat started to get warm underneath me, and just to worry me further, I started to experience uneven braking at the ends of the high speed straights, which was a bit disconcerting! Returning to the pits it was time for more checks. The rearsets had started to do their usual trick of disassembling themselves, so I tightened everything there and could see the improvement in the gear shift action. Next the calipers were removed and the pads checked for wear, but nothing seemed untoward. Finally, a quick check of the chain showed it was a touch loose, even though I had spent an age setting the tension before we came, so that was adjusted too. What next?
Me following Mark with huge difference in lean angle and line
Last session of the morning, and whilst David and Mark continued to have fun and continue improving their lap times, I was still suffering from being unable to bank on consistent braking, which meant I wasn’t hitting braking markers, leading to missed turn ins and run-ons, and anyone following must have been wondering how anyone could ride so badly! The only upside was that adjusting the chain tension seemed to be allowing me to hold a better line, which meant I was fine in the bends and awful at the end of the straights.
Back in the paddock it turned out that it wasn’t just me who was having issues,. After putting his bike on the stands, David discovered he was missing his top yoke bolt! How the hell that managed to come undone and fall off without him noticing was a mystery, and left him wandering round the paddock at lunch time looking to see if someone had a spare. Amazingly he got lucky and managed to trade one for a couple of beers.
A check of the groups after the morning sessions revealed that whilst David and Mark had been fast enough to get bumped up a group, I’d not made the cut, which wasn’t really surprising given the problems I was having. Struggling to try and figure out what was happening various theories were expounded. Slipping clutch? Faulty quickshifter? An electrical short somewhere? None of which were going to be easy to trace or fix. We even tried spraying the Exup valve cables to see if that might have an effect but things weren’t looking good.
So with a morning that had started with the bike falling off the stand, David and I both having parts fall off our bikes, and mine suffering from inconsistent braking and an intermittent electrical fault, we were certainly having our fair share of issues, which frustratingly were to continue on into the afternoon sessions. David came back in with his side stand hanging limply from the frame. It seemed the spring tensioner holding it up had worked loose and become another piece of track debris. He’d been incredibly lucky though, imagine what would have happened had the stand dropped mid left hand bend, he’d have been off. A sobering thought! Having escaped most of the day without issue, finally Mark succumbed to the Catalunya curse too. Coming in after the mid afternoon session he told us that his riding was finished as third gear had apparently gone walkies. A rumbling sound and the need to change gear immediately to bypass the recaltricant third meant his time was effectively over.
With time to spare, he turned his attention to my bike, rode it round the paddock and braked hard looking to see if he could replicate my braking issues. It was clear just watching, that the brakes were biting hard, but seemingly pulling the bike up unevenly. The prognosis, loose headstock bearings. With no tool to fix it and with braking that was getting ever more scary, it seemed I’d be finishing early too. When the final session of the day threw back the misfiring and over revving again, I decided that rather than wait to be thrown off I’d take heed of the warnings it had been giving me all day and pack too, leaving David as the last man standing.
Mark had a valiant last attempt to keep riding by looking to see if the organiser, First on Track, had any of their bikes available to rent, but as they had come to Catalunya straight from Portimao their bikes were still in transit, so it really was the end of the road for him and he’d pack up and go back home the following day.
In the evening we reverted to our usual shared food and drink in the marquees, although to be fair as we’d forgotten to bring the box of wine and had eaten the nibbles planned for tonight on the way down yesterday, we had to rely on the others for nourishment, thanks all.
Thursday dawned and I’m up and about before 06.00 again. Later on Mark and I took a walk across to the pitlane where he took some photos. It seemed he hadn’t heard the loud music emanating from the tent across from us the previous night at around midnight, seems using earplugs helps! There had been three songs played really loudly and it was almost as if we were at a night club, but then it had stopped, thank goodness!
Paddock pictures courtesy of our own team photographer- Mark.
Although I’d decided I wasn’t going to ride, I thought I’d go out in the first session, in case by some minor miracle the fairies had come along and repaired the bike, but they hadn’t. What’s more, I couldn’t start it! The clocks illuminated and the hands swept the dial in their usual start up mode, but nothing from the engine. Time was advancing rapidly towards the start of the session so I rushed to disassemble the fairings, yet again, and found the culprit, a connector block I know doesn’t join particularly well, as I’ve had to tape it together before. I duct taped it again but in multiple directions this time and wondered whether that had been the cause of the electrical issues, but quickly discounted the idea, as it wouldn’t be possible for a block connector that has to be taped to separate then rejoin. At least the bike now started, and with minutes to spare I went out to do the first session, although I don’t know why I bothered, as it was immediately apparent the misfire was back and this time it didn’t clear. I pogoed round the track and came straight back in, not even completing one lap, parked the bike, and called time on the whole sorry event. The bike had truly blotted it’s copybook and now I’d completely lost interest.
With time to kill I decided to mount the jockey wheel support on the trailer, but somehow one of the nuts managed to cross thread itself, wonder how it did that? I had to enlist Marks help to try and get it off, and in the end the bolt snapped rather than undo. Geez, is nothing ever going to work properly? Using the original nylock bolts I eventually re-attached the jockey wheel so at least now I could wheel the trailer round again.
Mark and Sev had pretty much finished packing so decided to go and watch David from the grandstand, and set off there with Sue, whilst David and I were talking to a British guy called Arthur who had stopped by our marquee having heard us speaking in English. We had an interesting chat. It turned out he was here with two bikes, an Aprilia RSV4 and a Blade SP, lucky bugger. He also told me he was 72, so there’s hope for me yet at my relatively young 59 years of age! In the end David left us chatting and went out on his next session, leaving me to guard the cars and stuff.
Looking back across to the main straight
In case you’re wondering why the hell David is on the wrong side of the track on the main straight, it was just for this picture
With the morning sessions complete, I spotted that the portacabin which housed the paddock shop was open. I’d been after a Catalunya circuit cap to add to my collection since our initial visit in 2014, but hadn’t been able to buy one on site and refused to pay €15 for postage. With the shop now being open, I was able to go and bought my cap, and Mark and David also splashed some cash on souvenirs there. Afterwards we all sat down and had a bite to eat before Mark and Sev left around 13.30, and sent us a message at 22.15 telling us they were home safely.
In the afternoon I offered David the use of my GoPro, and for the first session in the afternoon I decided to go and watch him from the grandstand and took these pictures.
Looking back into the paddock and Sue alone in the marquee bottom left
Some main straight pics
He seemed to be riding well and improving laptimes bit by bit. He took me by surprise though after the second session, when he freewheeled silently past us and stopped to reveal his leathers covered in graveI dust, and his bike gravel rashed on the left hand side. ExpIaining how it had happened he was concerned about the well-being of my GoPro, but it had been on the opposite side that he’d fallen off on and was ok. I know when I had my off I appreciated the help the others gave me, so set about helping check and cleaning his helmet, leathers and the bike. Damage seemed to be limited to a cracked fairing and an easily adjusted clutch lever position. David meanwhile started dismantling the fairing to remove the multitude of surprisingly large pieces of gravel that had been trapped inside.
Annoyed with himself about his crash, which in hindsight he realised he could have avoided, he went back out in the final session and finished the day safely.
I sought out Arthur to see if he could direct us to a restaurant for that evening, as we wanted to try some tapas. He wasn’t sure if they served it, but suggested a place called Vienna which was really close by.
Arthur and his RSV4 and Fireblade SP
We got to talking about Spanish tracks and tyres, and he gave me some information he’d had from the Michelin technician in the First on Track box. Worried about a very clear wear line on the right hand side of my tyre I went to the box and talked with the technician, who told me that despite their website showing 2.3 and 1.6 as recommended pressures, my wear would indicate the rear was running too soft so suggested I switch to 2.5 and 1.7. Good to know for next time.
That evening we set off around 19.00 to find the Vienna restaurant, which was as Arthur had said, really close by, but it seemed like a very upmarket Subway so we decided to hunt around. David input restaurants into the search function of his GPS which led us to several close by, but all seemed to be within the surrounds of a huge industrial estate and not what we were looking for. Eventually we got lucky, and in Plaza Gran in Montmelo found a popular restaurant serving tapas where we enjoyed tasting 5 different dishes.
Sue and I had planned to leave that morning after Davids first session, and I’d been awake at 05.30 and already started to pack. He asked whether we’d consider staying on until after his second session at 11.00, and then having a bite to eat together, which would hopefully allow us to get away by midday and home hopefully before dark that evening. With two sessions to improve, he came in after the first one saying he thought he’d done a 2.09, and a 2.07 in the second, which he had done, and here’s the proof. See line two group C.
By the time we’d packed the final few things after eating, and David had returned his transponder, the time had dragged out to 13.40 . With David saying he’d be staying on a little longer to shower and check out his photos, we said our goodbyes. It was obvious he’d had a great time despite his small off, hence the Triumph (sic) in the heading of this post.
You’d think all my ills would have been exhausted on track, but it seemed we couldn’t even leave the paddock without even more! We have a dual cigarette lighter socket which decided to break, leaving us with a GPS which would only run for around 4 hours of the 7 we had to drive home. Fishing around in the socket base we found a few pieces had broken off inside, and after removing them decided that perhaps they had shorted the fuse, as the cigarette lighter itself didn’t work now, so stopping half an hour later I swapped fuses, and lo and behold, the GPS sprang back to life and we’d be able to find our way back home. Was that the end of it? Don’t be daft!
As we drove back I was getting frustrated with watching the cover on the marquee flapping in the wind, so as it wasn’t wet decided to stop near Carcassone and take it off, which meant reattaching the tie downs. A couple of hours later when we stopped for a comfort break, I found the tent had started to slip sideways off the edge of the trailer, lucky we’d stopped!.
Our final problem came when the GPS arbitrarily decided to take us off the motorway at Junction 50 not 55, leading us into the nearest town and wanting to take us home cross country instead of the more direct motorway route. Overriding the planned route, we got back on the motorway and eventually back on the route I wanted to be on, and arrived back home at around 21.10 to find a message from David, saying he’d already been back 20 minutes, despite setting off after us and having 100kms further to drive!
SO, how on earth do you summarise an event like this? On the positive side, when the bike was running the tyres gave massive confidence and feedback, leagues ahead of the Pirellis I’ve used for years. The weather had been good, David Mark and Sev had been good company, and Sue as ever, my support blanket when I got peed off, and I suppose the bike is still in one piece and I didn’t crash. Negatives are, it had been a very expensive trip to ride ony 185kms, and the sting in the tail is I’ve no idea what caused the problems or what they will cost to fix, and before I do anything else with it, I need to send the Renthal clip-ons back to them as they’re the subject of a recall.
Mark has a very good idea of the cost of his gearbox problem, it’s circa €2k, so that’s a big hit to take on a bike he’s only ridden in 10 sessions, but regardless he enjoyed riding with us and being on track again.
David improved session by session, and his 2.07 is a very respectable time for a small bike round a track like Catalunya. His small off didn’t seem to have dented his enthusiasm too much, and of the three of us it was only his British Triumph left running. Who’d have thought a Brit bike would best a German or Japanese one?
The future? Aragon is always on our agenda, just need to make sure we don’t leave it too late to book next time.