Pau Arnos 6/7/8 August – Part 1
The twelve days since Haute Saintonge was barely sufficient time to recover and not enough time for a new speed sensor to be delivered before leaving for Pau. The only choice was to fit the speed sensor from the spare engine. Matt had printed out a test procedure for it which we would run through on the Friday test day. I also gave Trudie a thorough T-cutting as she’s starting to look decidedly used. She came up a treat.
Confidence was high in Team Cigma Racing. We felt Rik would be running with the front guys, hopeful of a first WERC podium as he wouldn’t have to learn the circuit. We had our, now customary, PCR tests early Thursday morning, went shopping, loaded up and we’re on the road by midday, with 404kms ahead of us. The results should ping in just before arrival at the circuit.
The weather was perfect for travelling and the Truck was flying along, forcing me to throttle back on many occasions to keep her at a steady 95kph, think she wanted to get there. It was a trouble-free journey until we came to exit the Autoroute some 15kms from the circuit when two things happened. All the PCR test results pinged in within a minute of each other and in the excited melee, we missed the exit forcing the Sat Nav to reroute. From experience, driving The Truck, this is never a good outcome and today was no different.
We went about another 15kms out of our way and came off at the next exit, being directed through small villages, with weight limits. Luckily we just squeezed through and no Gendarmes were around. It wasn’t fun and worse was in store when we had to go cross country on tiny roads up and down steep inclines with really tight hairpin bends. Very challenging to say the least. There were times I had to find 1st gear just to get up the hills, going down was just as sketchy, the poor clutch and brakes.
After an extremely long half-hour, we made it. With Truck and driver just about in one piece and much relieved to stop at the circuit gate, manned by two security guards who were somewhat surprised by our appearance from the direction we came. One was very chatty. He’d seen the writing on the truck and wasted no time in recalling his Isle of Man adventures back in 1986. He eventually checked our PCR results and directed us to the top paddock, to set up. It was a beautiful evening. Sadly it didn’t last as Friday morning dawned very wet indeed.
The forecast was for it to clear up around midday, about the time of our first session. Trudie was ready on dry tyres, as per forecast, which looked the correct choice as the track was drying nicely until 10 minutes before the off when the heavens opened again. We were ready for a last-minute change, but not ready for what was about to happen.
We’ve fallen into a routine whereby Matt is the front wheel guru whilst I do the rear changes. I was just tightening up the rear axle when there was an almighty crack from the front of the bike with Matt tightening the front axle. This didn’t sound promising and wasn’t. Thread failure on the left fork leg. Turns out, unbeknown to us, the thread in the fork leg, that accepts the wheel spindle, had failed before and been helicoiled. It had waited till now to completely fail again. I’ve said right from when I first removed the front wheel that the whole thing was not a good design.
We needed to find a solution in three hours and we were now ‘chasing the day’ as it were. Potentially this could end the weekend before a wheel had been turned. Matt tried the spindle to see if there was enough strength in the thread to pull the left fork leg into the wheel spacers, there was fortunately but not enough to tighten it anywhere near sufficiently. We decided the fork pinch bolts, on the right fork leg, would hold that side, we just needed a solution to secure the left leg. Just when you think it’s going to be a good weekend, this happens totally out of the blue.
We came up with a cunning plan. As luck would have it the spindle is hollow enabling, in theory, to run a tap thread into the spindle to accept a bolt to hold the left fork in position. I found a suitable bolt to match the 12mm tap we had then Rik set about drilling out the centre of the spindle from 10mm to 11mm so a thread could be tapped. In the meantime, I went in search of someone who could take us to the local motorbike shop, after lunch, just in case our little fix proved impossible with the tools we had. All the guys who race with WERC are great and there was no shortage of offers. Lunch first though as absolutely nothing stops a French Lunch.
Now, this spindle is pretty tough, to say the least. Rik was making progress, slow, but progress all the same, which was encouraging. Matt took over the drilling, Rik had a break and I made tea, always good in a crisis. I also found a couple of washers, these were needed for the flush fit of the new makeshift spindle bolt, which started life as a sump plug by the looks of it. One of these washers also required drilling out to the correct diameter, I had to wait my turn with the drill. Rik and Matt took it in turns finally drilling out the end of the spindle allowing just enough to start the tapping of the thread. This was the hard part. I set to work on the washer, the easy part by comparison. Again, slowly but surely and with great difficulty the spindle was taking the thread.
This process took about an hour but was well worth the effort. At the time no one thought about putting it back into position in the forks and holding it that way, would’ve made life a little easier for sure. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.???? Caught up in the moment I suppose. Time for a trial run, it all fitted perfectly, happy days.
We were due on track in 30 mins, a slight drizzle was falling so we went for the wets as proper rain looked imminent. The spindle was tightened as much as we dared, which held everything inline and true, then torqued the punch bolts and decided on 30nm for the new spindle bolt. Rik was more than satisfied with the safety of it all and changed into his leathers.
Just as he left the awning for the session, the weather did a U-turn. The clouds parted, the sun came out and the temperature rose quite dramatically. By the time Rik was on track, it was already too dry for the wets. He did four laps, not wanting to wreck the tyres, and Trudie was still spluttering, as she was at Haute Saintonge. We assumed with a longer session she would clear as before.
Back at the ranch, we again went through all the connections, cleaned the fuel filter, ran a diagnostic and found absolutely nothing amiss. So very perplexing to say the least. Thankfully the final session was dry and the whole 20 minutes was completed with Rik lapping consistently on the pace he was back in March, last time at Pau. Trudie was still not quite right, spluttering the whole session. Not quite a misfire, something breaking down under load out on track. She revs fine in the paddock. I had a suspicion it may be temperature, which is why she clears after a few laps, but it wasn’t that. For that session, I had warmed her up until the fan cut in. We’d have another think later, first though, was scrutineering and after a good clean and cool down she was ready.
All of Rik’s race gear needs checking, as well, and there’s a fair bit of that these days so we all carried a little while Rik pushed Trudie down for inspection. No problems thankfully. On the way back we stopped off at LF Moto, who is race support for the weekend, just to see if he had any ideas. He suggested doing a full reset, something none of us had heard of, let alone thought of. This entailed leaving Trudie on idle for 15 minutes, letting her cool down for 10 then repeating the process twice more. We just had enough time before the 8pm race engine curfew at the circuit.
Halfway through the second phase, Security happened to be passing, quite by chance, telling us “non” and we must kill the engine. He insisted the curfew was 6pm and not 8pm as the paddock sign indicates. Sarah, with her fluent French, pointed out what the sign reads but he refused to back down. So rather than upsetting the officials, again, we complied and apologised. He rushed away to another competitor who was also breaking his rules to, more than likely, have the same conversation. We had time to try again in the morning.
I fired up the barbie to cook dinner, Matt had yet another inspection of Trudie’s connections, Sarah and Rik went off for a wander around the paddock.