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Chaz Checks In... Le Mans

After the Spanish GP we had a late flight back home at 12.00 Monday night which was delayed a further 3 ½ hours. We didn't leave Malaga airport for going on 4.00am Tuesday morning which meant by the time we got home it was about 9.00am. It felt like I had jet-lag even though we'd only sat on a plane for 2 hours!

I spent Tuesday recovering and getting some insurance sorted for my car so I can chauffeur myself around and depend on myself a bit more now I can drive.

In early April I twisted my right knee riding my motocross bike and did some damage to the collateral ligament which meant that I haven't been able to run for the last month and a half so have resorted to riding my mountain bike in the hills. I quite enjoy to run as a way of training and lately since my knee has been feeling better I decided to get back on the treadmill which, I feel that when I do this most days a week, it keeps me feeling good and confident, but its good to mix all sorts of different training because different sports use different muscles and you get a good balance. I also did a session of endurance supermoto which I think is one of the best and hardest ways to train. I try to do consistent lap times for about 30 minutes (just over 40 laps). The front tyre that I'm using is an old soft 125 rear tyre that has done hundreds of laps and now has a huge lip on it like something you could jump a skateboard off! About 20 minutes into my session I lost the front and got stuck under the bike while my dad was just on his way back from the dentist. I struggled for a good few minutes to firstly wriggle myself out of such an awkward position, so much so that I couldn't even switch the bike off and secondly lift the bike off me which I tell you was not an easy task the way I was pinned to the floor! After a huge struggle and me well out of breath I got the bike up and the damage was minimal but I'll make sure I change that front tyre before I next go out!

We flew into Paris on Wednesday afternoon and hired a car for the 3 hour drive to the circuit and arriving in Le Mans early Wednesday afternoon. I went for a run around the circuit just before it started to get dark that night. The circuit had been re-surfaced and it looked like they had done a good job from what I could see on foot. Last year it was a bit lethal in the wet because the first half of the circuit was a new surface and gave pretty good grip but when you got to the second half of the circuit with the old surface it was like being at another track and much more slippery. So at least if any rain came we could be sure the grip would be consistent.

On Thursday morning we woke to completely blue French skies and a good temperature in the air. As usual, Thursday was pretty easy going spent just sorting out my riding gear and scanning over last years data to check gears in corners and thinking about lines so I'm not scratching my head when I get out on the bike. I did two more laps of the circuit this time on a scooter and then I felt ready for the weekend to start.

On Friday morning, again we couldn't complain about the weather which is normally quite rare for the French GP. Le Mans is not a particularly difficult circuit to learn and to remember for each time you go back there. There's quite a lot of hard braking involved into hairpins or double right hand corners, a little bit similar to Motegi. For the first session I normally get comfortable with the circuit and am never really concerned about positions as I know its early in the weekend and things can, and normally do, change quite quickly. I was 14th in the first session, 1 second faster than my best lap from last year already and I didn't seem to have many problems with the chassis.

For the first qualifying I had found a tyre for the rear that was working well and I seemed to be able to get plenty of laps from it at a good consistent grip level. The front was a little bit difficult as I had some small chattering problems in two corners and slight difficulty holding the line in other parts of the circuit but generally the bike didn't feel bad. I went ¾ of a second faster than I did in the morning on a 1.40.1 and finished the session in 13th. I was pretty happy with the bike even though the engine was not very strong because I was having some gear changing problems. I was happy but wasn't too sure what direction we needed to go to get a few more tenths off my time.

On Saturday morning the weather was again faultless, even better than what we had the previous days. For the morning we wanted to use a stiffer construction front tyre to give a bit more of a direct feeling in the corners and hopefully would help me hold the line better. The tyre didn't seem to improve the handling but as it was the morning the track temperature is usually around 15deg'c cooler than it would be in the afternoon and we knew this could alter things. We decided to go back to what we knew with the softer tyre as time is crucial in second qualifying and we knew this wasn't a big problem.

I finished the morning session a bit worried as we still were a bit lost with how to improve the chassis and again the engine was not as strong as it could have been. We didn't make any improvements so I wasn't able to go faster but were hoping we could find something for 2nd qualifying in the afternoon. When I first went out for the 2nd qualifying the engine felt better but the bike was again being difficult to change gear. After about 8 minutes I pulled in the pits and my engine man changed the carburetion settings which knocked power off but improved the gear situation slightly but it was still not right. This problem dogged us for most of the session and it was not perfect at the end of the session but better. I knew there was time to be gained from the engine but first we needed to find the problem we were having with the gear change as my engine man was setting the bike on the 'safe' side because of this problem. After the session my mechanics discovered that there was a intermittent problem with the quick shifter that only happened on odd laps. I had more or less managed to equal my first qualifying time but didn't improve on it, really because of the quick shifter and when you don't improve you go backwards so I was disappointed with 19th on the grid.

On Saturday night we had just finished eating at our hospitality at about 9.00pm. I went back to the motor home and my mum and dad went down to the team truck to sort out a few things in my kit bag in the back of my team truck. They came back to the motor home at about 9.30pm and then mums phone rang at about 9.45pm. I heard her say 'your joking' and then when she came off the phone she told me that it was Dieter on the phone and both sets of my leathers had been taken from the team truck. I jumped on the scooter and had a ride around just in case I caught sight of somebody but had no luck. At 10.30pm I went to my team mate Johan's motor home, told him the story and he offered for me to use a set of his leathers. So at about 11.00 p.m. I was trying on Johan's leathers just in case mine didn't show up and was quite surprised (& pleased) at how well they fitted. At about 11.15pm, one of mechanics, Buchaart found the older and much more damaged set of the two thrown in a shower block (luckily not wet). I was very relieved to have at least found one set of my leathers other wise it could have been a disaster. In the morning, Toby Moody arranged for us to take the leathers to the Alpinestars service truck to be repaired as they were from last year & had suffered many, many crashes so I used Johan's leathers for Warm Up. There is certain places of the year where you really have to be careful as people will climb over and sneak under fences and get into the paddock without a pass and then if they get the opportunity to take a souvenir home there don't hang about. I was a bit unlucky as there is normally somebody from our team working in the back of the truck and normally someone passing by. Even so it is really annoying that people will do this sort of thing and as I do not have a leather deal at the moment I am now in a position where I must find some urgently as I now have no decent leathers left.

As normal for morning Warm Up I ran in a fresh set of pistons for 5 laps & by the time I finish running-in there is only enough time to get about another 3 laps in. We also ran with a full tank of fuel to get a feel for how the bike will feel in the race as sometimes the extra load can cause problems and the bike needs to be stiffened up on the front slightly but the bike felt similar to qualifying.

I didn't really have any strategy worked out for the race because I was a bit unsure sure of how the bike was going to feel and how strong the engine would be. My mechanics asked me just before the race what sort of lap times I thought I could consistently run and I said hopefully high 1.40's around ½ to ¾ of a second slower than my qualifying lap. On the sighting lap I immediately noticed a difference in the engine. It seemed to have a bit more punch and underneath all the engine noise there was a aggressive noise that we'd been missing all weekend and the acceleration felt good. We had also decided to run with the harder front tyre as we didn't think the medium would last distance and this felt ok to.

My start was pretty good and I had made a few places by the second corner. Into the 3rd corner I left the door open a little too much and got bumped out by Vincent and two others followed him through. By the end of the first lap I thought Vincent was going to be hard to pass & break away from as he was stopping it in the corners and then when he opened it up, his bike would rocket away. For the first 7 laps I was fighting my way through riders who were holding me up and I could see the gap to the group in front was growing. I passed Smrz and put a small gap into him but then he just stuck on my tail as I towed us closer to Faubel in 12th and Olive in 11th who were about 5 seconds up the road. My bike was feeling good and my engine was now on a par to those around me. My lap times were consistently mid 1.40's and sometimes matching my qualifying lap.. I passed Faubel and got the gap to Olive down to about 1.5 seconds with about 7 laps to go. I could also see that I was closing in on the Debon, Battaini and Fonsi Nieto group but I knew with the amount of laps left in the race I wouldn't quite catch them. With about 6 laps to go Smrz stormed up the inside of me on a really tight line and hit me. My front went away and I thought I was caught on him and we were both down but was surprised to find myself still upright. This cost me about 1 second that lap and after racing with Smrz on occasions last year, I have realised that he can sometimes be a bit too desperate and in a rush to pass which has had him on the deck before because of this. After this, I had a few slides & "moments" playing catch up and then decided that seeing as I haven't finished a race so far this year, 4 points would better than 0 and even though there was a chance I could have re-passed Smrz and possibly Olive the team wouldn't have been happy if I had another DNF. So I settled for 12th and was happy with the way I rode in the race.

I'm looking forward to Mugello,especially now that I have my first points of the year under my belt I'm not going to be shy to risk putting it on the line a bit more if I'm involved in another fight. In the meantime I'll be at home, making sure I change my front supermoto tyre and getting ready for the next race & hopefully more points.

Chaz #57



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