Unusually for this summer it was a warm evening. My car’s thermometer was still reading in the mid-twenties as I parked, and the wind was light; it looked like we were about to be treated to a fast race.
Word is starting to get around about these events, so it was a pity this was the last one. Around 60 riders, the highest turn out to date, lined up in the pit lanes ready to roll out. Both the 4th and 2nd cat groups ranks were significantly reinforced over the previous two weeks. There were a few missing faces though. Tim is nursing his broken clavicle while Justin and Ade, due to work commitments, opted to race the club TT.
I was told the evening’s circuit is the one used for the National Motorbike Championships. Either way, the oval was left out and we raced on a short, twisting 1.7 mile infield loop. No major bends to worry about apart from the final 90 degree right hander, 150m from the finish line. Positioning around that bend would be critical to a high placing across the finish line.
True to form the speed was high from the off. The usual riders came forward and took up the pace making. Others were content to be towed along. Although we rode at a hasty rate the influence of the larger 4th and 2nd cat group sizes soon began to tell. The 4ths remained tantalisingly out of reach. As I came to the front, for what would be my final time, shouts filtered forward from the rear of the peloton; the 2nds were making their catch. I kept a good tempo, keeping the bunch moving at around 45kph, but within thirty seconds half a dozen serious race faces powered easily to the front and my turn was done.
The next lap was ridden at a furious rate. We steadily gained ground against the 4ths, but the front suddenly eased up and the work stopped. An attack came off the front and the pace lifted again and incrementally we caught the 4ths.
The merging of two large groups of riders is a curiously osmotic process. The lead elements of our group sped along the outside of the 4th’s slower group and asserted their dominance. The rest of us tacked onto the back, waiting for an opportunity to filter forward. For a while the pace was steady and the 4ths near the front coasted easily in their wake.
Then the attacks started. The race shifted into a ferocious gear. The weaker 4ths started diffusing to the back. At every bend we slowed, dilating across the track, then flattening across the apex as we jostled for the race line. In those moments things got dicey. Then out of the turns and out of the saddle, the accelerations came ever harder as we speared across the tarmac to the next turn. The repetitious accelerations were having a centrifugal effect on the bunch; weaker riders were concentrating at the back while further forward there was constant battle for position. It was a sapping effort to stay in place.
The final bell came and with it the last stands of the attackers. Surprisingly we were still a large group. Riders had been shelled out, but not that many. As we raced into the final bend, I was squeezed onto the inside of the track. I had already seen a couple of riders forced to take a line across the grass so I eased up round the corner, but at the expense of my position. Then it was out of the saddle and a sprint to the line. I was too far down to stand a chance of winning, but a sprint is still a sprint. I crossed somewhere in the top 20, but at least I had completed the whole race, unlike the previous two weeks! It had been a fast one too; checking my computer afterwards we had averaged over 43kph.
Thursday was the last of Rockingham Wheelers’ circuit racing experiment at the Speedway. Overall I think the three weeks have been a success and the final race demonstrated there is the potential for it to become a popular fixture. Talking to some of the other riders afterwards, there is definitely an appetite for more and the rumour mill is already hard at work with talk of more to come…