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Chaz Checks In...Philip Island

Straight after the Malaysian GP it was a mad rush to get the bikes and all the other bits of equipment, the team bring, into the flight cases as we were flying that night at 7.00 pm to Brisbane. Once in Brisbane we were going to catch a connecting flight to Cairns and then drive to a place called Port Douglas to spend 2 days at the Great Barrier Reef. My team have done this journey for the past 3 years as it gives us a short chance to relax and have a bit of fun. It was also my team manager, Dieter Stapperts' birthday on the Monday.

The flight from Malaysia was about 7 hours & then the internal connection from Brisbane to Cairns was about 2hours. We then drove for 45 minutes to Port Douglas and arrived there at about 9 a.m. to some miserable wet weather & we all prayed that it would brighten up enough for us to go snorkelling at some point.

The rain didn't stop on Monday so we all went for a meal to celebrate Dieters birthday. Eurosports commentator Toby Moody joined us and we went to a restaurant in the middle of a rain forest which was really nice. After the meal everyone was pretty tired so we went back to the hotel to get some sleep. We all hoped that the weather the next day would brighten up.

The rain had stopped for us on Tuesday but the sky was still grey. Dieters good friend, a man called Gary Hunt had agreed to let us go out on his boat. Dieter hired a skipper to take us to some good snorkelling spots and a instructor was hired to show us how to snorkel & scuba dive. The boat we were on was quite big & our skipper took us to a decent snorkelling spot. The sky was a bit clearer now & we were briefed by the instructor on all the do's & don'ts. Unfortunately I couldn't scuba dive as I had an injury to one of my lungs when I was 7 years old & therefore it might be a bit risky with the pressure of scuba diving! I could have a go at snorkelling though so I jumped in and had a look around. There were loads of different species of fish and it was good because you could get so close to them. The coral was also very interesting and there were many different colours & shapes. We spent about one hour there & then decided to swim closer to a small island where the instructor had told us there was another good snorkelling spot which was quite shallow. The island was about a 10 minute swim from where we were and Klaus my telemetry man was going to go with me. As we got closer to the island the coral got shallower & it was really clear to see all the sea life. Me & Klaus did a lap swimming around the island & were about to swim back to the boat when I looked up & saw by far the biggest fish we had seen all day. It swam past us and was about 1.5 metres away. The fish looked about 2m long but not very wide. I excitedly prodded Klaus under the water & he looked up and his eyes just blew up in his snorkel mask! I saw that he looked a bit scared so I took a longer look at the fish and I realised why he looked so worried, it was a shark! It had all the right bits sticking out the water to make it look really dangerous. Klaus put his hand up to me as if to say "don't move a muscle". The shark went out of view so me & Klaus swam like hell back to the boat. The diving instructor later told us that the shark we saw was a 'reef shark' which looks scary enough but is only dangerous if provoked! She also told us that when she was snorkelling once, a 16-17ft hammer head shark came past her which was bigger than the boat we were on! no thanks! What I saw was scary enough. After our snorkelling adventure we all had a meal on board the boat & we headed back for Port Douglas. We were all really tired after our day at sea so we had an early night & also we were going to have to get up at 3.00 am to catch our onward flight to Melbourne and then a 2 hour car journey to Philip Island.

On Wednesday we had arrived in Philip Island & it was really nice weather for a change. We spent the day in the local town 'Cowes' just trying to keep our eyes open as we were all still really tired. On Thursday morning me, dad & my team mate Dirk went to the local wildlife park. Dirk had been there before & said it was really good. I saw for the first time some smaller version of kangaroos called wallaby's which were very tame and you could hand feed them. There were also emus, koalas, possums, Tasmanian devils & some snakes! In the afternoon we went to the circuit where I sorted out all my racing gear and did a lap of the track, running. The weather was still nice compared to last year even though the wind was very strong & fresh.

On Friday morning, as soon as I got out on track, it all came rushing back just how quick it was down the front straight & in & through the last corner. I spent the session 'running-in' & re-learning the circuit. I had a couple of problems with grip on the rear and chattering on the front but mostly I was trying to find the good lines for myself. About half way through the session the engine made a strange noise so I pulled the clutch in quickly. I was pretty certain the engine had seized which turned out to be correct. This was just the first session & I had already missed 25 minutes due to the seizure so not what I really wanted for the start of the weekend. My mechanics sorted out the engine for the afternoon's first qualifying & because of the lack of track time in the morning I spent a lot of the first qualifying session testing tyres. We tried the medium front tyre that I had used in Motegi but this didn't give me a very good feeling so I went back to the medium/soft tyre I had used in the morning and tried to set a decent qualifying time. I finished the session in 18th position still with chattering problems & not a great feeling with the front or rear. As I had lost quite a bit of time in the morning we were still searching for a good setting which I hoped, when we found it, the bike would not feel quite so nervous in the faster corners. At Philip Island especially, you really need a stable bike through the fast sections of the track to get a good feeling.

For Saturday morning we were going to try & lengthen the bike. This we hoped would make the bike more lazy and less nervous in the fast corners and I hoped help the chattering. The change did improve things a bit overall in the corners but the overall chattering was the same. I came in with about 20 minutes of the mornings free practice gone & my mechanics lowered the front of the bike with the theory that the chattering was because there wasn't enough weight on the front. I went back out & straightaway knew it felt much better. I was surprised as normally we can chase a setting around all weekend and still wont of found it by the race so we must of got lucky this time. I quite quickly & fairly easily equalled my qualifying time from Friday. I came in & my mechanics wanted me to try another tyre as they were worried that the one I preferred would not last the full race distance. They put in a medium rear tyre rather than the hard one & I did two laps but was getting big slides. I decided to keep going but on the 4th lap I came over the top of 'Luchi Heights' & down the hill into 'MG' corner & the rear stepped sideways. I thought I was going to save it but it gripped again and pitched me over the left hand side of the bike. The bike landed on top of me & I banged my elbow quite hard. As the bike had landed on me there was very little damage but that was the end of my session. I don't really know why I crashed but I think it must of been the rear tyre not giving me the grip I needed. So I had another session cut short & still not a brilliant feeling with the rear. For the final qualifying I kept the bike the same but put the harder rear tyre back in instead of the medium. In the early stages of the session I got a 'mega' tow of Sylvain Guintoli which put me up to 12th position & three-quarters of a second faster than I had done all weekend. I then decided to see what I could do on my own consistently.I managed to string together quite a few laps consistently 4-6 tenths within my fastest lap time which would stand me in good stead for the race. I went for another flyer in the last minutes of qualifying but could find no tow and therefore no slipstream which is so important at Philip island as it is very windy there and a slipstream can be worth up to three-quarters of a second per lap if you can find a good tow. I ended up 15th on the grid & quite confident for the race. I could do consistent laps and was fairly happy with my set-up. The only problem I could see was if it rained which many of the locals were saying it could do!

Sure enough when I woke Sunday morning it was properly wet. When I got to the circuit it was even wetter than at my hotel. The rain was pouring down & in places flooding the track. It looked like this was how it was going to be all day. I decided that it was a good chance for me to see what I could do on the 250cc Aprilia in the wet as the last time it had rained in Assen I had absolutely no confidence at all. I swore after that race I would never ride like that again & it looked like today was going to be the day when I pushed on in the wet & tried to get some confidence back. I also knew if we were going to have a wet race the two Spaniards, Olive & Faubel, were not good at all in wet conditions & if I could get going I could possibly rack up a load of points & put me back in the hunt to finish 12th in the championship which is what I aimed for at the start of this year. I was 9 points off Olive & 4 off Faubel as it stood before the race so I reckoned the wet could be an opportunity to close the gap. I really enjoyed warm up and did my fastest lap when the circuit was at it's wettest and slightly flooded on the inside of the corners. This gave me more confidence and for the first time I had had some 'aqua planing' when the rear wheel spins up in 5th gear. I had never experienced this on the 250cc before but had it plenty of times whilst karting so I wasn't too worried.

I told my dad & my team boss that I was going to go for it in the race & if I came off so be it. I know to be a Grand prix rider you have to be good in wet & dry conditions & it was important for me to see how fast I could go in the wet.

I was absolutely freezing on the grid before the race but as we started the warm up lap I forgot about being cold. My start was pretty good again but a spinning French rider stuffed me up a bit. For the first few laps I lost about 3 places to 18th position because I was just riding at the same pace as the group I was with. I decided to set my own pace & quickly passed the group. I then passed a few more riders including Toni Elias & by lap 16 I was catching 11th position by about half a second a lap. I could also see the group of four in front of that rider which were fighting for 6th to 10th position. I was on my quickest lap at that point in the race and was nearly on Johan Stigefelt in 11th position as I went into the second left corner & then the long left. Every lap I had kept a consistent throttle control in this part of the circuit to keep the weight off the front but this lap I went in slightly faster & went off the throttle a bit more than normal and down I went! I think that the front just loaded up a bit too much and it just folded. I was quickly on my feet but covered in mud. The bike had slid quite a way in the wet grass but I picked it up, pulled as much mud off it as I could and thumped the clutch lever to straighten it. I got the bike restarted and looked at my pit board as I crossed the line. I was back in 18th position again! I thought "you never know" so I kept going and as the rain had now stopped & the circuit was drying quite quickly in the wind I pushed really hard. I passed Faubel into 17th and then Gemmel & De Puniet both crashed in the closing stages so I finished in 15th position & gained a point. I had set my fastest lap on my last lap without too much effort and with a bent clutch and slightly bent left bar & this lap turned out to be the 10th fastest of the race.

Even though I crashed I was pretty happy with my result. I had done done what I had set out to do & it was a 100% improvement on my Assen race. When I reached my team after the race they all clapped me in. Dieter was really pleased because I never gave up & pushed all the way through the race. I did however probably scupper my chances for my 12th position ( & bonus off my helmet company) but that was the chance I took. For me I had gained a lot of confidence for the wet & this is very important to me for the future.

I am now looking forward to going home after a month away & then onto Valencia for the last race of the year. Valencia I know quite well & although it is quite a flat track which I am not so keen on I am really hoping for a good finish to end my first year on a 250cc.

Chaz #57

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