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Chaz Checks In... Valencia
After coming home from all the fly away races I had a week at home before we were to fly out to the last race of the year in Valencia. After coming from places with such good weather such as Qatar, Malaysia and Australia it was totally depressing sat inside the house watching it rain for 5 days straight! From the moment we got home on Tuesday afternoon until the following Sunday the rain didn't stop. Over the weekend before the Valencian GP we had the final round of the British Minimoto Championship (MMRA) at our go kart circuit. The weather was pretty miserable for them until Sunday where it was half wet, half dry. On Sunday I went to watch the Weston Beach Race for the first time. I didn't really know what to expect, having never been before, but it was really good. This year they had a strong line up of top Motocross riders like Travis Pastrana, Stefan Everts, Jamie Dobb and Kenny Bartram so that was all the more reason to go and watch to see how quick these people are in the sand. I'd seen Everts and Dobb ride before but I really wanted to see Pastrana because he's pretty damn good, but I was gutted, because very early on the first lap another rider crashed in front of him coming off a jump so he had to slow up and then somebody from behind jumped onto his wrist and broke it. And also Dobb broke his shoulder quite early on so that was two of the top runners out. Everts made it look very easy. He was very smooth and you could see he was always making sure to pick the right line so he didn't get stuck in any of the ruts.
We flew from Gatwick airport on Wednesday afternoon straight into Valencia which was quite handy because sometimes we have to fly to Barcelona and than drive down from there to the circuit. For the weekend we rented a house about 20km from the circuit as renting a motor home was very difficult. On Thursday we went to the circuit to get everything prepared and have a look over data from myself last year and Jeremy (McWilliams) 3 years ago. Later that afternoon BMW held a car testing session where riders and team bosses could test any car in the BMW range for what was supposed to be one lap around the circuit which was quite funny. I got there a bit late but as I turned up Shakey and Jeremy were just taking out the BMW 645's. All the way around the lap you could hear screeching from the tyres and then they went flat out past everybody on the start/finish straight for another lap, and then another! Because I got there a bit late I only got to test the new 1 series 2 litre diesel which was good. It was pretty quick and I gave it a bit of a hammering with my Dad as co-driver! The car I normally drive at home is tiptronic so it's been quite a long time since I've used a clutch in a car. On the way down into the last corner I went straight from 5th gear down to 2nd, locked the rear wheels and backed it in! My Dad reckons that's the first time he's seen a diesel rev to 20,000rpm!
On Friday morning it was very cold but at least it was dry. Normally the grip at Valencia is consistent no matter what time of year you go there but the grip level was very low because of the temperature. I've done plenty of laps around Valencia in the past, as it's a main test track, so it didn't take long to get back into the flow of the circuit. All the way through the session I had quite severe chattering through the first corner which is very fast and scary even without the bike chattering its brains out. Whatever adjustments we made didn't seem to make much odds to the chassis but there was not enough time in the session to make a big change to the bike so it had to wait until the afternoon. My fastest lap was a 1.39.4 which put me 16th.
For the afternoon session the changes that had been made since the morning had made the bike only very slightly better. I was in and out of the pits quite a lot because we needed to sort the chassis out to go fast and I didn't see any point in riding around feeling not very happy with the set-up. I'd rather come in and out of the pits until we find a good set-up because I knew that a good feeling wasn't so far away and once I get the good feeling then I will really push the bike and I would rather crash feeling that I've crashed from pushing hard rather than crashed from a bad chassis set-up. We never really made much improvement to the bike from the morning session so only went 2 tenths faster and was again 16th.
For Saturday my chassis mechanic had a brainstorm overnight and had some ideas for what we could do for Saturday morning. Within two laps I could feel an improvement. The chattering had not completely gone but was much better and now I was comfortable that we had a good set-up I could push 100% and feel like I'm not on the edge. At the end of the session I did a 1.38.4 without feeling completely on the limit and finished up in 11th.
For final qualifying we decided to go a bit further with the changes on the chassis. Again there was a slight improvement. Also during the session I had to try a harder front tyre because if the temperature got a lot warmer for Sunday (which was forecast) I would need to know that I had a tyre that would last the race and not bring any extra problems. The harder tyre brought a bit more chattering with it, but felt OK, and I knew that I would be alright to use if the temperature went up much for the race. Within 5 laps I had done a 1.38.8. About halfway through the session I did a 1.38.2 which put me up to 12th. For the last 10 minutes I had a new rear tyre for the final burst. On my first lap I did a 1.37.9, then on my second lap through the first sector I had a red 'pole position' helmet which meant that I was underneath the fastest time (Pedrosa) by what was about 0.02 hundredths of a second through the first check point and then blue 'personal best' helmets through the final 3 sectors and I did a 1.37.4 which was enough for 8th. The next lap I did a 137.5, then a 1.37.9, 1.38.0 and then on my last lap a 1.37.8. When I started my last lap I still had P8 on my pit-board and was praying that I could hang on to the second row but in the last 20 seconds Matsudo and Poggiali both piped me by less than half a tenth so I got bumped back to 10th which equalled my best qualifying. I was very happy though, because I did that string of consistent laps at the end, which nobody else around me had managed to do. For example Matsudo did lots of 1.40's and 1.41's at the start of the session. Then did 1 lap in the 1.39's and then pulled in the pits. Then did 1 lap in the high 1.38's and more 1.40's. And finally in the last lap did one 1.37.4! How he can do this amazes me and my team. At the speed that people go in grand prix's it is hard to make up 2 tenths and I can't imagine how much different everything had to be for him in this lap like braking markers etc. Very strange!
Sunday morning warm up was trouble free. The full tank of fuel didn't alter the bike too much just a bit more pushing on the front when hard on the brakes. I ran with an old rear tyre and did a 1.38.8 which was 8th in the session and left me feeling quite confident for the race.
My start was terrible. Initially I got away very well and saw the bike in front of me coming closer which is always good. As I was feeding out the clutch I was giving it more gas and I think I might had given it a bit too much throttle and choked it. All of a sudden bikes started flying past me and I got romped on the run down towards the first corner. I got boxed in a bit on the first lap because I was in amongst a few nutters which is always so much harder than getting away in the top 12. At the end of lap 1 I crossed the line in 19th. On the 2nd lap I passed 4 people and got up to 15th. On lap 3 13th and on lap 4 I almost got collected by Poggiali's bike. He high-sided not to far in front of me and his bike was sliding across the track towards the racing line making the gap to get past it smaller and smaller as it got closer to the edge of the circuit. I hesitated for a split second whether to go for the big gap off-line or stay on line and go for the ever decreasing gap. I went for the gap which was getting smaller and smaller and I reckon it was no wider than a metre when I got through! In the next few laps I was making my way through the field past Matsudo, then Olive and then Faubel was about 2 seconds ahead with Rolfo, Debon and Nieto quite far ahead of him. I passed Faubel on lap 9 and then it took another 5 laps to catch and pass Rolfo on the factory Honda. I expected Rolfo to just sit on the back of me but after a few laps I was reading my pit-board and the gap started going up quite nicely. Nieto and his works Aprilia were next in line but when I passed Rolfo, the gap to Nieto was the best part of 4 seconds so I thought there was no way I'd catch him. At first the gap between us was getting smaller but only by a couple of tenths a lap. I pushed hard because I thought there was a slim chance of catching him and then he really started to get big in my vision. With 4 laps to go I passed him into the 2nd corner and pushed hard to get a gap so he had no chance to come back past on the straight. In two laps I had 0.7 over him and all of a sudden Battaini started coming bigger who was about another 4 seconds ahead but I knew with the amount of laps left, the chances of catching him were extremely slim but I did manage to get the gap down to 2.5 by the time the chequered flag was out. So the final position was 6th equalling my best result two weeks ago in Australia. I was very happy with the race and so were the team. If it hadn't have been for a terrible start I'm sure I could have been racing with Battaini and maybe De Puniet who finished 7 seconds ahead of me, as for the last half of the race I was doing faster lap times than both of them.
About an hour after the 250cc race was over, a journalist came up to me and said 'Well Done, 5th place!'. I corrected him and said 6th but not so far away from 5th and he told me that Aoyama's bike had been found to be slightly underweight, so he had been disqualified and I had been bumped up a place to 5th! So everybody in the team was even happier. I don't think being half a kilo underweight would make Aoyama's bike much faster but I'll take it anyway!"
This year, I have really enjoyed riding for the Aprilia Germany Team. Dieter Stappert runs a really good privateer team on very little budget and my mechanics Marco (Chief) and 'Hardy', chassis man Stefan Kurfiss, engine man Stefan Kirsch and data loggers Klaus and Dave have all worked really hard for me. We have had our share of problems during the year but all teams have this and all the 'Team' have worked together to get the best out of what we have got. Finishing 13th in the World Championship out of 32 regular riders and becoming the highest point scoring 'standard kit' rider shows just what a good job the team have done and I thank them all for this. I would also like to thank everyone who has supported me this year, Dorna, KF Club, Scalextric, Dunlop, Nolan, Teknic, Sidi, Everyone @ Crash Net, Elite Cymru, Contact Innovation, Michele @ Chaz Davies Racing, Sports Council for Wales, all the "Supporters Club" members, friends and family, and last but not least Toby and Jules for their brilliant commentary and keeping me in the public eye. (Sorry to anyone I have forgotten).
For next year, things are still quite up in the air for me. Its looking likely that I will be in 250 GP's again but the team is still yet to be decided and also what level of bike we are unsure about. All the factory seats seem to be filled unfortunately but we are pushing really hard for something better. i.e. A Westy/Battaini type bike, which has that little bit more grunt when you need it. I know on something like this I can top 10 it on a regular basis and on a really good day I could fight for top five.
This winter I don't have a great deal planned. I'm going to try and get to a few concerts and maybe go skiing with some friends, as I have never done this before and I will just generally try and keep myself entertained! It hasn't been too bad a year, a bit up and down at times but at least I've had a good end to the season which is the most important thing and its good to go into next year feeling confident.
Have a good Christmas and see you next year,
© chazdaviesracing.com 2006