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Pre-Banana Banana Aprilia 250RS

Pictured is the very day that I decided to try my hand at racing.
It was on a track day in 1995 ,organised by the U.K. Aprilia importers, and was on the full Donington Park circuit, in Leicestershire, that is used for both the British bike G.P. and also World Superbikes.
I managed to lap within a minute of the lap record!
O.K., pretty crap I know, but after having done loads of track days at Brands Hatch and Lydden, in Kent, I thought I'd got as far as I needed to go at riding race tracks on a road bike.
I had the urge to go racing for real!
One of the main differences I discovered between track days and actual racing, when I first started in 1996, was how knackering and aggressive real racing is.
At track days you actually have a lot more track time. On a good day, if not too many people crash, that can be 50-60 laps.
The start of a session is relatively mild (accept for headbangers). Usually, you filter out onto the circuit behind each other, take a couple of laps to warm the tyres up, pick up speed, and circulate at a speed that feels fast, but comfortable. You do put in a couple of hairy laps (or corners) every now and then, but when you scare yourself , you can back off a bit, have a look behind and pick up speed again if you want. If you,or someone else, is unfortunate/stupid/unskilled enough to bin it, the session is immediately stopped and all riders return to the pits.
There is always someone who is faster than you because, either their bike is bigger and faster, they know the track better or they're just plain barking.
You do more laps than at a race meeting but, because the pace is generally slower, unless you are seriously unfit, you only feel slightly knackered at the end of the day.
When racing,on the other hand, at club level anyway, you only get 3 frantic laps practice, with all classes of bikes involved ,then spend what seems like hours chewing your fingers (or repairing your bike if you crashed!) waiting for your race to be called. Then with heart in mouth, you are summoned to a collecting area, where you either nervously shout small talk with a fellow competitor above the bellowing of 30 racing bikes being warmed up,or scowl menacingly at anyone who glances at you, to psyche them out.
Then, after what seems like another eternity, you're allowed out onto the circuit in a seething,thrashing mob,to do a warm up lap,which sometimes feels like a race in itself. Then you ease up to the start line in your allocated slot.
When I say "allocated slot", I really mean your grid row. You have to find your own position on your particular row. Many times I've arrived at the grid and taken a position,say right on left hand side,only to have another rider arrive a few seconds later and take position even further to the left i.e. on the grass ,virtually!
(Having said that,from mid-season in 2001,Bemsee have introduced a staggered grid format the race program,a rider is allocated a riding "slot".Which means you have a particular grid position to start from,eliminating everyone trying to position themselves where they want,on their particular row.Your results in your first race dictate where you will start in your second.
And ,from the start of the 2002 season,practice will be split into the various racing classes,and will be timed, to ascertain your starting position.
So if you race an MZ,you won't have to endure an R1 overtaking you at warp speed,during practice!You will be out with your kith and kin.
But the start of your race will still,probably, be as follows!)
You're sitting on your revving,snorting race bike, eyes flicking from rev counter, temperature guage to back wheel, wondering if you ,or your mechanic ( if you're rich enough) tightened the wheel spindle,waiting for the start line marshalls to remove themselves from the track.
With heart pounding,and incredibly dry mouth, you see the start line flag marshall point to the lights. The engine noise raises another notch as 30 lunatics all gun their engines to near maximum revs and after what seems like yet another eternity, the lights flash green and,with your heart feeling like its going to fling itself clean out of your chest, you surge forward in a screaming,seething,thrashing mayhem of bikes,elbows,knees and blue smoke.
To anyone who hasn't raced, its very difficult to describe the sheer terror and unimaginable adrenalin rush you get as you hurtle, along with 30 other maniacs, all aiming for that one spot you need to reach at the first corner to get on the racing line.As you plunge into the first corner you have to hope that your tyres are warm enough to see you round it!
Many a race has ended for someone who was too hot into the first corner on cold tyres! I can testify to that!
The very first start you do as a racer is probably one of the scariest things you can do in your life.
You do get slightly used to the complete transformation from ordinary time to race time after you v'e done a few races, but the sheer violence of it all can still take your breath away.Everything seems to happen at breakneck speed, and for the inexperienced its a real baptism of fire.
Top racers have an ability to slow all the madness down within their heads and be able to focus on the job in hand in a very calculated way.
If you do manage to get through the first couple of corners unscathed, a sort of rhthym takes over as you speed round the track. But unlike track days, the race pace is unrelenting.
One fluffed gear change and half a dozen riders swoop past you.The braking and cornering forces are staggering and bear no comparison to normal road riding. Racing within inches of another rider at 100 m.p.h. is mind blowing.
The complete physical and mental exertion to maintain a bike at racing speeds is incredible.
Early on in my racing career, after about 5 laps of a race,I would be begging the finish line marshall to put out the chequered flag. And when the race was finally over,I would return to the paddock a shaking, sweating, gibbering wreck!
You do become racing fit after a while, but it really is important to do some training,especially stamina training,to allow you to not get tired in a race.
When you r'e physically tired ,you very quickly get mentally tired, and invariably lose concentration, which can lead you into all sorts of mistakes.
The top G.P. and Superbike racers have got to be some of the fittest sports people on the planet.
After racing on a warm summers day for 10 laps ,at Brands Hatch, I can only marvel at the fitness level of guys and girls ,who can do two,25 lap races at somewhere like Malaysia.
Anyway, here endeth the first impressions of a wannabe geriatic world champ.
Oh, and yeah ,I binned me bike at the last corner, on the last session of the track day, just like a real racer does....not!
Still, it came in handy to experience the highs and lows that all club racers go through at some point in their careers!
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