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Chaz Checks In... Shanghai

We flew to China on Monday afternoon from Birmingham Airport. We had to stop over and change planes in Dubai which is where we met with the team who had come from Frankfurt. The first flight was about 7 hours and from Dubai to Shanghai was about 8 hours. We got into China on Tuesday, 11am local time. From there, there was a bus that took us to our hotel in the centre of Shanghai which took an hour.

In China people who are not "Chinese" are not allowed to drive so the team hired two minibus type things, 10 hours a day, from Wednesday to Sunday night. One for all the mechanics to go early in the morning and one for me, my dad, my team mate and his manager. On Tuesday the plan was to just try and stay awake for the day to get into the time zone. On Wednesday we went to the circuit in the afternoon. The journey from our hotel in the centre of Shanghai, to the track on the outskirts, took about an hour on average. On a good run 45mins but with traffic about 1 hour 25mins.

Everybody was impressed with the circuit facilities and the whole layout of the place. It was done properly. The ‘offices’ that the teams and riders use for getting changed in etc were very impressive. They were all set over water and the bathrooms in the buildings were like a 5* hotel! Me, my dad and my team mate, Martin, walked the circuit which looked good. The back straight was as everybody has described it, massive. The circuit looked good, and difficult. The first corner and the corner on to the back straight looked the most difficult with different possibilities with lines. Its difficult to memorise a circuit in just one lap so Martin and I rented a scooter for a couple of hours and we did about 8 laps which by the end we knew the circuit plenty well enough. That evening the team and my dad went out for a traditional Chinese meal in the centre of Shanghai. I am always game to try stuff but, as I had been crippled in Japan by food poisoning a couple of years ago, I had no motivation for experimenting so Martin and I stuck to the Italian restaurant in our hotel which was good.

On Thursday we went to the circuit at about 10am There was obviously not a lot of revising on the telemetry because it was a new circuit and we had no data. Aprilia gave us a gearbox set-up that they thought would be some where near so we don’t have to start from scratch. They get the information from Ferrari from the F1 when they were there last year and try and relate it as best they can to two wheels. In the afternoon Martin and I jogged the circuit which made us sweat a bit as it was 36°c! After sorting all my riding gear out we went back to the hotel for a chance to have a good look around the town. In the early evening we went to China town which is always good as there is one in Malaysia. Full of Chinese rip-offs and it was all good quality.

On Friday we left for the circuit at 8.30am so we could watch some of the 125’s and the MotoGP to get an idea of the track. After the 125 session had finished, one rider had quite a big crash and had to be airlifted to hospital. In this case the spare helicopter has to be used while the other is away but apparently the helicopter wouldn’t start. That’s what I heard anyway. So that meant that everything was delayed for 2 ½ hours.

After quite a long wait the MotoGP session had finished and it was our turn to suss out the new track. A small shower came at the start of our session which dampened the track but it soon dried. It didn’t take very long before I felt I knew the circuit. Like I predicted the first corner was extremely difficult to judge the right line and the corner on to the back straight was also difficult. The first session was a bit of trial and error. The circuit was quite different to anywhere that we’ve been before. Probably the most similar to Malaysia though. My gear box for the first session was a bit out and too long but I thought as I get to grips with the circuit it would probably get better. The faster you go the more the revs are up in the corners and the more the gearbox works if the ratios are too long. But if it is much too long you have to change the internal ratio’s which gets quite complicated because you have to calculate the gaps in between the gears so they are not too big and the bikes bog and struggle to pull the next gear. To get the perfect gear box is not an easy thing to do at a new circuit. I finished the first session in 15th which I was pretty happy with.

For the afternoon the weather was looking a bit dodgy. It was hot and very sticky weather but there were a lot of on and off rain showers. I decided if the weather was dry I wanted to keep the gear box to try it in 1 more session but our session was damp and we kept the same gearbox which I knew was going to be a disaster. The session started and the circuit was properly damp with a thin dry line. My gearbox was way off all session and its not something that can be changed very quickly. The whole engine has to be stripped. By the end of the session there was a good dry line. My chassis was feeling good but the gearbox was costing me 2-3 seconds. I was having to slip the clutch coming out of all the tight stuff which is far from ideal. After the session I found out that my team mate had changed his gearbox and he said it was much, much better. I finished the session in 21st and was praying that the following day would be dry or I would be properly stuffed.

For Saturday it looked a bit overcast when I looked out of the hotel in the morning. The rain held off in the morning although it did try a couple of times. We had a meeting after the session on Friday evening as to what to do with the gearbox. We decided to drop first gear quite a bit and just see how that worked. It couldn’t be any worse than the day before. The change helped a lot and now we were coming close to how the gearbox should be. About midway through the session I was doing a string of consistent laps, getting faster and faster each lap as I learnt something new and was trying different things on the circuit. For the first ½ session I was running in the top 12. With about 25 minutes to go I was getting more and more confidant with the track. I went into the first corner slightly faster than I had done in the previous laps and the front lost grip and slid away from me. I picked the bike straight back up and apart from a dirty bike and a bent right handle bar it was all ok. I cruised back to the box being a bit careful because the front brake lever was bent and if I turned too sharp it would touch the fairing and keep jabbing on! The mechanics fixed the bike up as quickly as possible and I got back out with about 10 minutes to go. Something didn’t feel quite right with the bike and I think the right bar was slightly bent in so it felt a bit weird. I did a time a few tenths off my fastest previous to when I crashed and ended up 19th. We had another chat after the session about the gear box and decided that I wanted to lower 1st gear again and we also dropped 2nd, 3rd and 4th slightly. I was pretty confident this would again be better.

I got going pretty quick in the afternoon and immediately felt the improvement of the different gearbox. On my 3rd lap I went faster than I had in the morning. I came in the box after 4 laps and my mechanic changed the carburetion on the bike as it wasn’t particularly quick. On my 7th lap I got behind Porto and got a good tow off the back off him. I caught him up as we entered the back straight and I got a good slip stream off him which is worth a lot on a huge straight like that. I passed him as we were coming on the brakes at the end of the straight. When I came across the line I went 9th with a 2.08.8. There was definitely room for improvement but I needed to find another slipstream which wasn’t going to be so easy. The engine felt quite ok and I wanted a bit more feeling to the front end, as it was vague. We made a slight change and it was better but for the final 10minutes I never found a good slipstream which made it hard to go faster. I came close but never improved on the lap I had behind Porto. Even so I was very happy with the end result as I was at the head of the kit bikes and had a few factory bikes within reach. Also the chassis and the tyres were working well. We were improving the gearbox every time I got on the bike and I still wanted to change 1st and 2nd gear very slightly which we would try in morning warm up.

On Saturday night Martin and I again evaded any traditional Chinese Restaurant outings and stuck to the Italian which you can’t go wrong with. After eating I went on the internet to check the weather for race day and it read ‘70% chance of rain’. Most people had said that it was going to be wet and it looked pretty likely.

On Sunday morning the first thing I did was look out the window. It looked grey but it wasn’t raining. I wasn’t really too bothered whether it be wet or dry, I was quite confident we could get a good result in either conditions. We left for the circuit at 7.30am which gave us an hour before warm up. About 5 minutes before our warm up started it started to spit with rain very slightly. Then 1 minute before the session started it was still spitting slightly but got no worse. 90% of the other riders had already left for the end of pit lane with full slicks on while we were still looking at the sky. My chassis mechanic said ‘No, we’ll change to wets’. Sure enough as my mechanics were changing the wheels, it really started to come down hard. We missed a couple of minutes at the start of the session but it was well worth the change because the track was now properly wet. I had to run in new pistons for 4 laps and most of the other riders were in the box getting there wheels swapped. I took it pretty steady because of the conditions but never had 1 moment at all which shows that the grip level is high. At the end of the session the circuit had standing water all over it and it was absolutely hammering it down with thunder as well. I finished warm up in 7th and had a very positive feeling in the conditions. We still didn’t have the wet weather rear shock inside which is a lot softer and helps with a bit more grip. With the amount of rain that followed after our warm up we were 100% confident it was going to be a wet race.

Before the race I was pretty well fired up. I was sure we could get a very good result, somewhere around a top 5/6. I watched the 125 race from in our office building and the grip level looked unbelievable. If hardly anybody crashes in those conditions then you know you can push harder than you probably think you can.

I was quite nervous before the race, usually the better I qualify the more nervous I am. My start was good. I gained a couple of places off the line and on the entry to the first corner. Everybody seemed to drift wide, scared of putting the bike well on its side and it was only me and Casey who stayed on the inside and gained places from it. At the first sector I was 9th and I was being held up by Locatelli and Porto. Porto was being quite tentative and wouldn’t pass Locatelli so I passed him after about ½ a lap. I went up the inside of him into the 6th corner, the left hairpin and went in a bit hot and almost passed/hit Locatelli at the same time! On the exit of the corner the engine misfired slightly and let Porto and Takahashi back past. I thought it was a bit strange but then it cleared out. At the end of the long back straight there was now a gap between me in 10th, Takahashi in 9th and Loca in 8th. Because of all the spray it was difficult to see the braking markers on the left of the track, I usually brake between the 250/300 yard marker but couldn’t really see them. I broke at what I thought was the 300 but realised it was the 200!! I went steaming into the hairpin with the back end well and truly skipping around and immediately bridged the gap to Takahashi. I found the pace was quite slow and was very eager to get passed whoever was in front. At the start of the 2nd lap I passed Takahashi and Locatelli in the first corner. They again both went wide and I did the same as the first lap and went up the inside of them. Locatelli cut me up and closed the door on me. I could still see that we were still well in touch with the lead group and I felt like I was being held up a lot. I wanted to get passed Locatelli and Porto a.s.a.p so I didn’t lose touch with the lead group. On the exit of the 2nd corner the engine again spluttered as it did on the first lap but this time it didn’t want to come good. The bike had stopped revving completely and I was going no where. I tried to clear out the bike but it wouldn’t go above 9000rpm whereas it would usually go to 14,000. So that was it, race over. I was obviously very annoyed and frustrated. I felt like I could have really done some damage in that race and nailed most of the factory bikes but that’s typically the way it goes! I crawled around the rest of the lap and then pulled in the box at the end of the lap. The team were obviously well disappointed and immediately started looking for answers as to what went wrong. After stripping the bike there appeared to be nothing wrong so we put it down to water in the electronics somewhere. Its was very unlucky and if I was struggling at the back end of the points then it wouldn’t have been so bad but I knew I was in for a top 5.……..or crash but at least I’d have been pushing. All in all it wasn’t a bad weekend with qualifying and its left me confidant for Le Mans. It’s a circuit where I seem to go well at so I hope it continues. Between now and then I will be back at home and I am going to buy a road bicycle hopefully and then maybe when I get a bit of time off, do some racing on that. It should be good fun. That’s all for now and I hope I have better things to report the next time I write!




© 2006

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