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Chaz Checks In... Valencia

After the Turkish GP it was nice to come home since I'd been away for just about 7 weeks. The only thing that I wasn't enjoying too much was the weather! It pretty much rained everyday I was home until I had to leave for Valencia. Another thing was that it was getting dark much earlier than when I left for the fly away races. I went out cycling one early evening (admittedly quite late) and I'd only been riding for 20minutes and I was having to squint my way through the darkness! But that aside home is home and it was good to see friends and family and ride my minibikes etc again!

We left for Valencia on Wednesday before the GP and arrived in the early evening. We went straight to our rented villa that we stayed at last year which was about 20 minutes away from the circuit near the town of Bunol where they have the huge annual tomato fight (which is something I've been wanting to do for the last few years and will definitely do it one day).

On Thursday we went to the circuit in the afternoon. I looked over the data from last year and from testing this year which were both very successful outings and the bike setup that we were going to start the weekend with was exactly the same we had used in the test in February. On Thursday afternoon there was a BMW test where all the riders and the team personnel are free to try any car in the BMW range apart from the 'M' series car. They had the 'M6' there which obviously everybody wanted a go in but instead you had to sit in with either the MotoGP safety car driver or a lady who has the fastest female time around the Nurburgring. JT, my best mate from home came with me and we both got in for a ride with the safety car driver. The car was fast! Easily the fastest car I've ever been in. It was hard to sit there and be driven around though. I'd have much rather been taking it for a thrash myself, but then again, that would have been lethal! I didn't think much to the safety car driver, I thought he could have gone a bit quicker, pushed the boundaries a bit! Me and JT then got in the 130i 1 Series which really ripped for a little car. Having grown up on a go-kart circuit for the last 15 years I like to think I've got a bit of an idea when It comes to 4 wheels but we did have a couple of close ones! On the first lap I went in a bit hot at the end of the back straight and it was seriously under steering and going wide the on the entry. I had to really play with the steering wheel to try and find some grip but came out of it ok! After that little scare I stepped back from that line about 10%! On the second lap some of the Honda mechanics had run off at the second corner and buried themselves in the gravel and the BMW people understandably didn't look best pleased about it so I cruised around the rest of the lap. I reckon I definitely had the measure of the safety car driver so I was happy about that!

On Friday morning it was blue skies right from when I woke up and looked like it was going to be a real nice day as it had been the day before. The first session in the morning wasn't really as I expected it to be. In testing earlier this year I was doing fast times and feeling nothing back from the bike but it was doing exactly what I wanted it to do and it showed in the lap times. Right from the word go on \Friday morning I had a harsh feeling and I was having to force the bike more than normal to try and turn it, a feeling that I didn't get at all in testing. We made a few small changes but there was no real improvement. At the very end of the session we started to make a bit of headway and found a direction that seemed to slightly better so we knew what to work toward for first qualifying In the afternoon. I did a 1.39.4 and finished the session in 18th.

In the afternoon we lowered the front of the bike slightly to try and help the turning of the bike. I did 5 laps and it felt not too bad, better than in the morning but still no where near the feeling I had in testing. At the start of my 6th lap I went into the second corner, the tight 1st gear hairpin and instead of coming down right through the gearbox to 1st it hit a false neutral between first and second and I coasted into the corner and went wide because of it. I thought it could have been me but then halfway through the lap the same thing happened and I was pretty sure something was broken in the gearbox. I stopped in the box and told my chief engine mechanic, Stefan, that something was broken and he said it could be a problem with the clutch. I said I wasn't too sure about that, it felt more like a gearbox problem. He adjusted the clutch but It made no difference. I did 1 lap just to try it but came straight back in. I thought that would definitely be the end of my session with about 23minutes to go but my two mechanics Marco and Burkhard had the bike in bits very quickly, got the gearbox out, replaced what they found was a broken 1st gear and then got it back together with about 3 minutes on the clock. I had time for an out lap and one fast lap and that was it. I put together a reasonable lap, the engine felt good and the chassis felt so so. I did a 1.38.4 which was 18th position. I wasn't too sure about the chassis, it felt ok but I needed a lot more If I wanted to qualify any good the day after. I decided that I wanted to leave the chassis as it was for the following morning and then give it a proper test as 1 lap wasn't enough.

On Saturday morning in free practice we never managed to improve the chassis at all. I struggled to hold the line on the way in and out of the corner. On the entry the bike just wanted to scrub wide and not really dig in and turn and on the exit when I touched the gas I would just go wide. It was far from perfect. I could do an ok lap time but to get anymore from it was impossible. Also the engine wasn't as good as it was the day before. I did a 1.38.3 and was 16th.

For final qualifying we made more changes and got no real difference with the feeling of the bike. I am usually quite sensitive to changes on a bike and can feel small alterations and then go back to the mechanic and say if the change is for the better or for the worse but this weekend it just felt numb. Nothing we changed made any difference. At the end of the session I just said go back to more or less what we had the day before in first qualifying and a new rear tyre and I'll see what happens. I wasn't very happy with the engine again either. It had no acceleration, riders can tell when the engine is on song not just from feeling but also from where they change gear, if the red gear shift light comes early on the exit of a corner then you can tell the engine the going pretty good. In first qualifying I was really happy with the engine, the limited laps that I did due to the gearbox problem it felt really good but it felt nothing like that in second qualifying. I did a lap pushing at 100% and a 1.37.6 was the end result and 20th on the grid. Far from good and I knew that Sunday was going to be a hard race.

Sunday morning was just as bright as the other 2 days. In morning warm-up I ran in new pistons and as normal ran with a full tank of fuel. The full tank made the chassis worse than what it was, it was pushing on into the corner entry because of the extra weight. Usually for a race we need between 21 and 25 litres in the tank to complete the race depending on the circuit so it's easy to understand how it can upset the bike. 20 odd litres is a lot of weight, where as in qualifying we run with about 5-8 litres. When I stopped in the pit box for the engine mechanic to check all was ok my chassis mechanic added a turn of preload which stiffens up the front and normally helps with a full tank. It helped it slightly but still the general bike feeling was not good and I was just going to have to live with it for the race.

My start was initially ok, I got away well and then got a bit of a rough graunch feeling and bogged slightly but even so it wasn't so bad. Within a few laps I knew that I couldn't run the pace of the others around me. I was fighting the bike to get it to turn on the entry and the on the gas on the exit but it wasn't making any difference. I started to lose touch with the group in front which was a group around 11th place and I was in 15th. My team mate passed me which showed me the difference in a bike that was handling and one that wasn't. It didn't take him long before he had a gap on me and he also had more grunt than me. My engine was like it was the whole day on Saturday, pretty gutless. So that was it, I just rode around in the last half of the race, there was no way I could fight for anything better than the position that I was in. I was seriously gutted. It's strange because it's such a contrast to the race last year and the test there this year which went like a dream.

So that was it for 2005, a bad way to end the season but I've got to have a rest now and get prepared for next year whatever it may be. At the moment there's quite a bit of talk in 250's and I have a few different options but unfortunately it all depends on money. We will continue to talk to teams about next year and keep you posted when something comes around hopefully sooner rather than later.

Have a good winter.


p.s. Thank you to everyone who rang in for the Valencia competition that we set up. It was very well received and it all helps so thanks again and congratulations to the eventual winner Phil Ford and his friend Paul Sevouir.




© 2006

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