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Chaz Checks In... Estoril

After the Czech Grand Prix we flew home on the Monday afternoon and it was late Monday night by the time we got back home to the England/Wales border. That's my only complaint about where I live as the closest airport is a minimum of 2 and 1/2 hours away which is quite a drag and can be even more especially when we fly from somewhere like Stansted which is at least a 3 and1/2 hour drive.

During the break I had been invited by Manchester United to watch Man U. v Everton, which was the first 'proper' football match I have ever been to. I drove up to Old Trafford on Bank Holiday Monday with a friend ready for kick off at 12.00. The atmosphere was fantastic and I got to walk on to the Old Trafford pitch at half-time and present a "cash-dash" prize in front of 67,000 fans. The game ended in a 0-0 draw and I was a little bit disappointed not to see a goal from United but I really enjoyed the match and I would definitely like to go and see another game sometime.

When I got back home that evening I got a phone call from John Hopkins saying that he was on his was to my house to come and ride some supermoto on my parents kart circuit. We organised it in Czecho that he would borrow a trailer from his team manager then get his supermoto bike from his mechanics house in Portsmouth and drive to our house and get in a full days riding on the Tuesday. John had never done supermoto before but within a few laps he looked like he was getting the knack of it pretty quick. For supermoto if you don't have a slipper clutch which me or John don't have, the only way, to back the bikes in smoothly, is to feather the clutch on the way into the corner which frees up the engine and allows you to back the bike in, in a controlled way. Half the reason it didn't take John too long to get the knack of it is because he uses this technique on his Suzuki MotoGP bike so it's a second nature thing for him to do and also for most riders from a supercross/motocross background they are usually pretty handy at supermoto. After about 6 laps I looked down the track to see John digging himself out from underneath his bike, at first I thought for sure there was going to be an injury before the end of the day and then I thought by the end of the day there would be no tarmac left from where the foot pegs drag along and gash the circuit. But, as it turned out his bike was leaking oil and threw oil all over the rear tyre so it wasn't his fault. As the day went on John got faster and I went faster than I ever have. I did a 41.9 and John did a 42.8 which is good going for his first day of supermoto. My best time before the day was a 42.2 and just before my last laps I told myself I was either going to crash or get in the 41 second bracket. On my first attempt, sure enough, I crashed. There was no bike damage or no body damage so I got on and had another go, finally getting into the 41's. It was a good day and John did just over 70 laps by the end of the day and has left his bike at our house for when he comes back after Japan!

John left on Tuesday night and on Wednesday afternoon we loaded the car up and drove to Gatwick to fly to Portugal. In Portugal we were staying in a hotel and by the time we got there it was late in the evening. On Thursday I did my usual routines and did a few laps of the track on the team scooter and generally just got prepared for Friday.

On Friday morning I got used to the tightness of the Estoril circuit for the first few laps. Its difficult after coming from a circuit so wide as Brno which is one of the widest on the calendar and then to a circuit as skinny as Estoril which has the slowest average lap speed on the calendar. Normally on the first day people are running off the circuit all over the place as they re-adjust to the tightness. Hopkins reckoned that he always runs off at some point in the weekend and coming to our kart track helped him with that because he didn't run off once! The session was going really well for me and we made a few slight changes and everything was going in the right direction for the first half of the free practice. With about 15 minutes of the session remaining I went up to 6th with a 1.43.9 which is 0.8 faster than I've ever been around that circuit before but I still felt I wasn't getting the final corner as good as I wanted to. It's a very difficult corner because it goes on and on and it's hard to see where the corner opens up, no matter how many laps you do. I found myself a marker of where to get on the gas which was in-between a telegraph pole and the first of a row of big trees. This corner is also probably the most important on the track because a lot of time can be gained or lost there so it's important to get it right. I was going for another good lap and also trying to perfect the last corner when on the exit I got on the kerb which at first was ok and then I must have hit a damp patch from the previous nights rain and it threw me off. I got pitched off the side of the bike but the bike still stayed upright and my legs were still half way around the tank. I hit the ground and rolled for what seemed like miles. I thought I was starting to stop and then it felt like I started to roll faster and then I came into contact with the barrier and a few rolls later I came to a halt. I don't know why I was surprised at how far I travelled, as people do tend to get quite far if they hit the ground at 120mph, which was what was showing on my telemetry after the crash! At first I was fairly sure I had broken some fingers. For some reason, whenever I crash I have the most painful burning feeling in my hands from when I slap them on the ground and I don't care about how much the rest of my body hurts, the pain from my hands over power everything else by far. They loaded me up in the ambulance and took me to the medical centre where the medics assessed all the damage. Generally I was pretty bruised all over, my hands were black and blue and on my left hand the tips of my fingers were all black and also under the nails was black but luckily there were no broken bones. The worst of the damage was just below my elbow on my lower left arm. I think my left arm was the first thing to hit the deck and from the force of hitting the ground at 120mph the leathers around my arm were quickly wrenched back which caused a burn and also gashed my arm in two places which were then stitched up.

The bike wasn't so badly damaged, just a lot of small things broken off. At first I felt a bit sick and wasn't up to going back out for the session in the afternoon but after I got fixed up in the medical centre and had some food and water I got a bit more energy back and decided to go out in the afternoon. Plus there was some doubt over the forecast for the following day and although I was quite sure race control would let me start off the back of the grid in the race if the rain came the following day and I hadn't qualified, but the problem with this is that you are behind a whole heap of riders who are not so fast and can hold you up big time!

Getting the leathers on for the afternoon was a bit painful pulling them over the stitches and also where the ends of my fingers had swollen up was a bit difficult to get into the gloves. For the session two painkillers seemed to do the trick to take the pain away and I made sure to get through the session with no dramas. I did a 1.44.1 without pushing too hard and finished in 19th which didn't worry me too much as I didn't push to my maximum but at least I had qualified in a half decent position.

On Friday evening my little finger, middle finger and thumb had swollen up where the blood had gone to the end and they had become really pressurised. I went to the Clinica Mobile to see what could be done to release the pressure because it was really throbbing. The doctors got a sharp needle like tool and went through each nail three times and into the skin underneath and I have to admit, it was a bit painful to say the least!

For Saturday the rain came overnight and I woke up in the morning feeling a bit beaten up and aching all over. The 2nd free practice session in the morning was wet for the first 45 minutes and then for the final 15 minutes a dry line came. When it was wet I was getting more and more comfortable every lap but was struggling for rear end grip because the engine was very strong and I think too strong for the conditions. After the session when I got the time sheets, in the speed trap, my bike was 2nd fastest which is not normal. My bike always seems to be high in the speed traps in the wet conditions which makes it hard to ride because the power is very snappy. I talked with my engine mechanic and we think that the other teams make their bikes a little bit softer for the wet conditions which makes them easier to ride and helps with grip on the rear end. I finished the session in 16th.

For the final qualifying in the afternoon I had two more pain killers and didn't feel too bad. As the session went on we made a few changes to the bike to try and improve the set-up which was getting slightly better. I finished the session in 13th overall which put me 16th on the grid for the race and I was one of few people to improve over the day before but still didn't feel entirely happy as I knew if I was fully fit I could have made at least the third row of the grid.

On race day my body was feeling like it did the day before, a bit weak and tired. In morning warm up we tried a slightly different chassis setting to try and compensate for the full tank of fuel. The bike was feeling OK but not perfect which was pretty much how I felt and I knew it was going to be a hard day.

At the start of the race I released the clutch and found myself being passed by a lot of other riders so I let it out a little bit more and it bogged down so I went even further back and wasn't far from dead last. This year I have only been able to get average starts but never a good start. The way my clutch is set-up seems to be very temperamental so for the next race we will be working on the clutch in the practice sessions.

Within the first 3 corners I had managed to pass 5 people and got up to 19th. The first 8 laps were OK and I worked my way up to 15th after just passing a group of 5 riders. I pushed hard to get away from the group behind and get on terms with the two riders who were pulling away in-front of me. But it wasn't happening. It all started to seem like really hard work and I couldn't make the break from the 4 riders behind. A few laps later I got passed by two riders in the group and was involved in a scrap for the very back end of the points which is normally not where I should be racing. In the final few laps I tried to stay on terms with the riders around me but had nothing left to come back with and I finished up very disappointed in 16th. It was not a good weekend all in all. I put the bad race down to not realising how much the crash took out of me. At the end of the race I felt a bit energy-less, and drained. Normally I would have been able to pull away from the riders around me and start hunting down the next group but after my 'get-off' I think my concentration level was just not as it should have been.

In-between now and Japan I hope my arm will heal with no complications and then I can get to Japan fully fit. I had a pretty successful weekend there last year and I don't see why we can't do the same this year.




© 2006

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