Zolder NBC – Part 3 – the race to the line

Getting off the bike after my hour was up released the biggest swell of emotions from me. I had to grab a dark quiet place to myself and get a grip. Turns out that I’d missed racing a motorbike a lot more than I had expected to, and when my stint was done the way I felt made that pretty clear. Note to self; never, ever think you can give up this sport again for such a long time without paying for it in surpressed emotional trauma!

The last session of our 3 hour stint saw Neevesy take control of the FZR and settle in to what turned out to be a stunning last hour’s progress up the field.

I handed over with us in 6th place, which from the 40 plus starters was already a decent result. Endurance racing asks a lot of bikes and tyres as well as riders, so when the last hour begins it is rarely going to unfold without some drama involving any, or all of them!

Neevesy’s progression forwards was now rapid. As my head settled back into real-life I noticed most teams weren’t able to run the same pace in the last hour as they had the previous 2.

With 2 to 3 rider teams you’re always going to get a potential imbalance in the relative pace –  as a 2 rider team sends out the first rider again, he’s already dialled in and knows what to expect. But the 3 rider teams, well, this is their last guys first look at the the race from the viewpoint of the cockpit; naturally they’ll take time to settle in. This can cost seconds, maybe even minutes and in Endurance racing lost time = lost places. Most teams will also choose to run their riders in order of pace, fastest first, slowest last, so the results after 2 hours were potentially misleading given the last guy had the potential to throw accrued lead down the drain!

Weirdly for such a high-octane visual spectacle of a sport, the business end of the race is best done standing at a timing screen; if you’re any good at mental arithmetic that is! Calculating the time it’ll take to catch the guys in front, by looking at the relative laptimes, starts to build a picture of how the race will unfold.

It’s nail-biting watching the leads come down on the monitor, rather coldly it’s even better when you see a bike limping into the pits making an unscheduled stop and check their number to find they’re in front of you in the race! For us though, we just kept rolling, and so it was that Neevesy metronomically just banged in lap after lap after lap that was faster than anyone on track, the very leading team aside. With 12 minutes to go, we were 3rd, on the podium!

The race for 2nd never looked on until that last 10 minutes when for whatever reason their pace dropped and ours didn’t – we took 2nd with a few laps left. Frankly, unbelievable!

I knew the tyres must have gone right away at this point, as they were already rolling a little when I handed over so it was surprising to see Neevesy’s last lap of the race prove to be the fastest by a fairly large margin! (turns out he was racing with someone who was a lap or more down but thought it was for position so pulled the pin and went for it!)

With 2nd secured on track I joined Paul and Keith on pitwall to watch him bring it home – there was nothing on the timing monitor that interested me now, we couldn’t catch first place and I didn’t expect anyone to pull up their skirts and run as fast as us from behind. Tension and excitement held us firmly in their grip. The clock ticked beyond the race finish time, the leaders came by and took the chequered flag, then it was our turn – we’d done it! 2nd place!

The burnout Neevesy celebrated with in the pits as we huddled around him was appreciated by everybody but Jos, the guy who’d built the bike who waved his hands in distress at the lack of mechanical sympathy for his baby! We smiled and laughed and debriefed feverishly our way through the next hour, collected our trophies, turned down the free beer that the NBC lay on after the race (yes really) and then turned our thoughts to riding home. Who booked the channel tunnel for the same night as the race?! Damn – we simply had to go, we were already going to miss the train!

300 miles of motorway across 3 countries, some of it soaking wet, now lay between me and my bed.  Every single mile of it was done with a happy heart and a big smile. If Carlsberg made comebacks….!!!

Thanks to MCN for the invite, Paul Baker of PJB for being a rock on the pitfall, Keith Flint for making sure we drove ourselves towards pit-stop perfection and the No-Budget Cup for providing the most relaxed yet enjoyable racing I have ever done. If you’re thinking of going to Europe to do one of these, stop thinking, buy a bike, get a mate, work the rest out later and go do it! it rocks!