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
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.
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