That was ace. I knew it would be, from the moment I decided that my season shouldn't end with the National Champs and entered, just before Christmas. It had been every year previously that it's been held (some would say that it's shrinking to one small area has actually made it better...) and this time round was no different.
Salford CCs race at Buile Hill Park is so compact that, to keep the laps at a reasonable length, you're either in the middle of a long series of corners or eyeing up the next lot just ahead. Twisty isn't the word. The course route looks like the travels of a hyeractive house fly from above and several pre race 'sighting' laps barely helped me get it mapped in my head. They did, however, show me that I'd made the right choice swapping last week's mud (carrying?!) wheels for the 'fast conditions' ones, even if the average speed with all those turns wasn't really going to be aided by the aero deep section rims...
Now, I love me a nice 'power' course, where you can get on with slogging round - get the old diesel engine going, as it were - so this course should always be my nemesis. I suppose it is, not only is it an hour of going 'pop' out of each corner with repeated explosive power efforts but I also don't think there are any other courses where my comparitively long limbs feel quite so gangly and 'in the way' quite so often. A low centre of gravity and compact shape to flick around the sharp bends is the ideal build for Buile Hill. A daddy long legs in a skinsuit is not and, although I don't win the beanpole look-a-like competition in the league, I'm closer to the lanky end of the spectrum. So why do I look forward to it so much? Because I'm there to learn.
After the pre race 'where does the course go' laps I went and sat in the van and got immersed in catching up on the news via my phone. Very immersed, to the point where I looked up after about an hour and, to my horror, the windows were covered in rain. Unforecast rain. With 'not quite enough time to get back over to the course to swap the wheels over' left before I had to get warmed up I decided that today's learning experience would just be a bit more extreme...and probably a fair bit more sideways. Oh well. It'll still be fun.
From the off I was a bit too cautious and a bit too polite. Happy to watch everyone else's lines through the bends I don't really get stuck in to, well, racing, for a while. Maybe not ideal given that it WAS a race, but it does mean that I stay upright and riding sensibly through the bends is faster than crashing quickly... There seems to be about 3 short sections per lap where I can 'open the taps' so I use these to move up a few places each time, then get back to watching (and practicing) how everyone's handling the corners. It doesn't occur to me for a couple of laps that, although the course has cut up a little bit and is defninitely a bit slicker than it was before the drizzle, the dry weather tyres are actually doing brilliantly. Yes, they need a bit more 'body english' to keep them gripping, but they're just on the right side of 'exciting' every time I push them.
Grippier than expected and a whole lot of fun...
By lap 3 I realise I'm absolutely loving it, even if I am somewhere outside of the top ten and decide I should really push on a bit more and get working my way back up through the field.
I've no shortage of power availabe on those 3 sections where shifting up through the gears is possible, so swooping past people at those points is the plan, but I'm also cheered up by how willing my legs are to 'pop' out of the corners. I'm still not the smoothest through them (but I'm not too bad - and I'm fairly sure I've got one of the biggest grins in each one) but I can hold my own well enough to progress back up into the top ten and close gap after gap as the remaining laps count down.
By the '3 laps left' mark I've got as far as 4th and am managing to close up on Chris. For half a lap or so I'm mithering his rear wheel as we race round the course, during which time we make what has to be the second best overtake of the day, scything left and right, full pelt at the end of a fast, slight, downhill, between two of the senior racers while simultaneously skipping over one of the many 'it's an old golf course' grassy lumps that makes the tyres run light across the greasy ground just as we're playing the late braking lottery for the next sharp bend. Damn this race is fun. (The best overtake of the day, should you be interested, was made in the queue for the portaloo just before the race, with a textbook pass on Ray Pugh by myself, making full use of the 'oh no the whistle's just gone for me to line up' excuse. He's too sporting to fight for the line straight to the bogs and I get past quickly, with no need for pointy elbows or distractio techniques...)
By the final lap I've got past and, to my continued delight, remained upright. With no time left to see if I could close any more of the gap to second I cross the line 3rd and grinning.
Grins are definitely 'the thing to have' at the finish, even those lurching knackered across the line are beaming from ear to ear. It's quite obvious that everyone has had their fair share of those 'overtakes of the day' and I can't imagine anyone leaves withough having learned a few things in that extreme skills session of a race. I know I have :)
THANKYOU doesn't really cover it, for all the organisers of the Super Mario Cart Cross. Just before the race, Craig exclaimed "how do they even come up with this course each year?!" as we rode round the continual camber/off camber/up/down/left/right yet super flowing route and to be honest I've no idea, but it's brilliantly done - kudos to everyone involved!
SUPER THANKYOU to Lee, who has somehow (seriously, I don't know how!) got me to the point where I can still trouble the podium on courses that really shouldn't suit me and
MEGA THANK YOU to everyone in the pits and around the course who spent an hour essentially telling me off when I wasn't going super fast and cheered me on when I got on with it. It does make a difference and frankly it's just awesome, thanks!
One round left. Right under the flightpath of people coming home from their holidays to Manchester airport near Wilmslow. It was a great mix last year so I've high hopes for a great end of season thrash next weekend...then I can start planning next season!