Here are some photos from our first round at the 2023 NG Road Racing championships, taken by official photographer Colin Hill...
This visit to Castle Combe marked the start of our 2023 season with NG Road Racing, having missed their opening meeting at Brands Hatch due to a date clash with Darley Moor Round 1.
We arrived to the circuit around 8pm on the Thursday evening and setup in exactly the same spot as we did last year. For this meeting we also setup our first-ever set of awning lights - and they certainly did the job!
Friday Practice Day
We awoke on the test day, which was also Dave Snr's birthday, to a lovely dry paddock - but it didn't take long for that to change when the rain arrived and then settled in for the day. We were booked into Session 5 of the afternoon test session (due to restrictions at Castle Combe it means NG run half-day test days), but in the opening afternoon session a bike spilled oil around the entire circuit - which necessitated a lengthy clean-up. The end result was that we only took part in a single session and completed 4 flying laps on the wet track - so not much was learned there!
The massive amount of downtime did mean that we managed to speak to lots of people though, which made for a very sociable atmosphere. After the sign-on tasks for the weekend were completed, we enjoyed some dinner and cake, then headed to the bar - via the Connolly/Fitton/Rushton caravan.
Saturday Race Day
Onto race day and delightfully the ground was dry, but the lingering fog meant that there was a delay to the planned 8:40am start to track action. This delay was gratefully received, as it allowed the air temperature to rise from 3C to a massive 6C before we ventured out onto circuit.
The practice sessions allowed us to get up to speed, then we headed out into the Qualifying sessions - where we qualified 3rd in the Supertwins class and 4th in the Open 600 class.
Our first race was Supertwins Race 1. We got a bad start and were swallowed by the pack, but managed to regain most of the positions back on the opening lap. We then started to put in solid laps but just made too many small mistakes, like at 7:54 on the video below where a big handful of throttle on corner exit lifted the front wheel so much that we couldn't steer the bike - meaning we had to get off the gas to turn, which cost over half a second in lap time! A final big push on the last lap meant that we reduced the gap to 2nd-placed William Holland to just 0.2 of a second at the chequered flag. We finished in 3rd place, whilst the race was won (by a country mile) by Isle of Man TT racer Jamie Coward.
Our final race of the day was Open 600 Race 1. We had a decent start and retained our 4th position in the race, just behind Michael Rees, which we were happy with as our best-ever NG Open 600 finish has been 5th place (achieved twice in 2022).
After a few laps we felt comfortable and thought that we could push on a bit more, so managed to overtake Michael to move into 3rd position. We then pushed as hard as we could for the rest of the race, managing to work our way through the backmarkers cleanly too. After what seemed like one of the longest races of all time we crossed the line to take our first-ever NG Open 600 podium with a 3rd place finish!
We then got both bikes ready for Sunday, had a nice warm shower, headed to bar for some dinner and then got back to the caravan (just in time for the evening rainfall to get heavier) for an early night.
Sunday Race Day
With all of the overnight rain, the circuit was wet but was continually drying with the occasional bursts of sunshine and bikes on track. We decided to get a practice pass but in the end we didn't go out for a warm-up session due to the in-between conditions on track.
Darley Moor acrobat Daniel Nurrish turned up to spectate for the day as he was still unfit to ride (but is planning a racing return at NG Donington Park) and then it was time for the Sunday races to begin.
Our start of Supertwins Race 2 was truly awful! The initial launch was as poor as the first race, but a lack of aggression on the opening couple of laps made for a much more difficult recovery through the race. To compound our misery, we felt that the traction control was holding us back so attempted to reduce the setting. It was then that we noticed that an alarm had appeared on the dashboard - "Alarm ATC Disabled". We did what we could, made a few passes, but crossed the finishing line in 5th position. Not where we wanted to be but these things happen! A glimmer of hope what that we managed to set a new Personal Best lap time of 1:16.188 during the race.
After resetting the bike, the alarm disappeared and was never to be seen again during the meeting.
In Open 600 Race 2 we managed to get another good start and managed to stay in 3rd position. We were surprised to stay within touching distance of the leading pair for a few laps, before they began to disappear into the distance. Not knowing who was behind us, we kept our head down and went as fast as we could, setting a new Personal Best lap time of 1:14.262 along the way. We were on for an even quicker lap when the red flag was shown and the race was called - giving us another 3rd place finish!
Before Supertwins Race 3 we decided to make a number of changes to the Aprilia RS660:
This resulted in a much better start where we retained our 5th place starting position throughout the opening lap, before passing Dave Hewson and William Holland to move behind 2nd-placed Brody Crockford. We sat behind Brody for a few laps and were having a think about where to attempt a pass when the red flag was shown and the race was called - giving us another 3rd place finish. We later found out that the red flag was due to Darley-regular Andy Whale crashing on the final corner and sustaining a pelvis injury - fingers crossed that Andy makes a full recovery soon.
Our final race of the weekend was Open 600 Race 3, which was delayed slightly due to a light rain shower at the start of the previous race. By the start of our race the track was dry and we managed another decent start that saw us retain our 3rd place position through the opening lap. But by being too conservative we were passed on lap 2 and dropped back to 4th position, before the race was red flagged on lap 3 when BSB GP2 rider Jodie Fieldhouse fell (and sustained a knee injury) at The Esses.
We were held on the grid for 10-12 minutes and then given 2 warm-up laps followed by a 6-lap race. Just before the race start we glanced down at our dashboard and saw that the fuel warning light was flashing, so we were hoping that we would make the finish!
An even better start saw us secure 3rd position on the opening lap once again, but this time it became a 3-rider battle for 2nd place between (championship leader) Ricky Elder, ourselves and Sam Laidlow. The battle was broken up at the end of lap 5 when backmarkers came into play - but we finished in 3rd position to finish off a great weekend, with 5 podium finishes from 6 races!
Due to missing the opening round of the NG Road Racing championships we are understandably quite low in the championship standings - but don't think that the situation is too bad overall. We currently stand 5th in the Open 600 championship and 8th in the Supertwin championship (but only 32 points from the leader!).
Open 600 Championship Standings (Top 10)
Ricky Elder 126
George Edwards 116
Michael Rees 69
Jed Bird 62
David Carson 48
Tom Weeden 40
Sam Laidlow 37
Robert Cresswell 36
Paul Messenger 22
Justin Collins 20
Supertwins Championship Standings (Top 10)
Jamie Coward 75
Steve Moody 74
Brody Crockford 73
Jamie Ingham 63
William Holland 49
Tony Parker 46
Paul Williams 45
David Carson 43
Edward Giles 42
Shaun Wynne 41
There is a couple of weeks until our next race meeting, which will be at NG Road Racing's visit to Donington Park on Friday-Sunday 12th-14th May. The gap in proceedings should provide enough time for Dave Snr to clean up his jumper... ;-)
It has been almost a decade since we last visited a new circuit, so we were excited to see what Croft had to offer on our first-ever visit. Our attendance here means that our list of "never raced on" circuits in mainland UK is reduced to Oliver's Mount, East Fortune and Lydden Hill (as Bedford Autodrome and Goodwood don't host applicable races).
We had watched British Superbike (and more recently British Touring Car) races at Croft on the television but had never attended the circuit in person, so this was a truly new experience for us. Our intention for the weekend was just to ride the circuit we had seen so many times before. This weekend there was a Friday test day, followed by Saturday and Sunday race days. After careful consideration we decided to sign up for the Friday test day (to learn and ride the circuit) and the Saturday race day (to experience a race at the circuit).
On the Thursday morning our trusty yellow Vauxhall Vivaro returned from the mechanic and was loaded with just our Kawasaki ZX6R - leaving the van looking spookily spacious compared to usual!
On Thursday evening we started our journey to the circuit and after just three miles were at a standstill on the M6! But after 3 hours we arrived at the circuit and parked up in Paddock A.
Friday Practice Day
The weather for our two days at the track had been forecast to be dry but it didn't work out like that, with constant "wetness" in the air at all times and some very light showers thrown in for good measure.
When it was time for Test Session 1, the day was dry-ish but there was a bit of damp on the track, so we decided to keep dry tyres on - especially when the sun made a cheeky appearance shortly before our first session. We didn’t want to hang around, so waited until just before our session started to head to assembly area for noise-testing. There was no queue so we got swiftly through then went onto pit lane where the red flag was already being shown. Unfortunately, a rider had crashed out of the chicane on the sighting lap… So we went back to the paddock and popped the tyre warmers back on. The session restarted so we headed back out onto track, sprinkles of rain now falling on our visor, with new brake pads to bed in. We were very cautious on our out-lap but learned that the track was a lot tighter than expected and there was a lots of damp track at both Tower corner and at the Jim Clark esses. After we completed just a single flying lap the chequered flag was shown!
So that was a (very) brief introduction to the circuit, but we did learn some things. We switched to wet tyres as the rain sprinkles continued and we wanted some confidence/assurance in the tyres so that we could actually start to learn the track. We headed out into Test Session 2 and this time managed to get 4 laps in before a faller at the hairpin brought out the red flag. We waited for a while in pit lane before being let out again. A rider fell on the exit of the chicane on the out lap (but they kept the session going) and we managed to put in 1 flying lap before the chequered flag was show! Our best lap time was down to a 1:44.9.
With the weather improving and the track drying further, we swapped to a dry rear tyre. Then a rain shower landed, so we swapped back to wet tyres! In Test Session 3 we managed to complete another 5 laps in wet conditions - but our lap time of 1:56 was not worrying any lap records... :-)
Test Session 4 was our final session of the day. It was our first full session and we managed to complete 7 laps in the full wet conditions. In this session we were putting in consistent laps (around the 1:50s) and starting to focus more on gear selection, braking points and racing lines - which was encouraging. The rear wet tyre was now showing as very worn, so we were hoping that the Saturday race day would be dry - but overall were just happy that we were becoming comfortable with the circuit.
As is customary with a race meeting - we then performed the required sign-on, scrutineering and noise test tasks (along with a lot of back-and-forth to allow the use of our onboard camera), before prepping the bike for race day (including downloading Friday's videos and data & charging everything up) and then we watched Friday's MotoGP practice from Argentina.
Saturday Race Day
It was a relaxed start to the day as we weren't out on track for qualifying until noon-ish. The day was cold and the circuit was damp (but had little standing water), so we decided to run the wet tyres. After 7 laps we had put in a best lap time of 1:44.2 - our quickest lap yet, but only good enough for 19th in class.
We were out in the 7th race of the day - so took the opportunity to spectate to monitor the track conditions, as well as noting what tyres the faster riders were using. Race 4 was the 'Open' race and there was a mix of full-dry and full-wet setups within the Top 5 runners. Shortly after the race another rain shower arrived, further confusing the situation.
We made the decision to play safe and run wets, for the following reasons:
When we ventured to the assembly area for our race, there was an assorted mix of tyre choice - from full wets, to wet front with dry rear, to fully dry (which approx 50% of the field went with). On the sighting lap we could see that the entry to Tower corner and the Jim Clark esses had remaining damp spots, but the circuit was mainly dry. The race started and we got our head down, taking 8-seconds off our previous PB lap (down to the 1:36s) before the tyres began overheating and we dropped into the 1:37s and then 1:38s. After 8 laps we crossed the line in 21st position.
With the race (and our weekend) over, it has been difficult to reflect back on this experience - as although our only aim for the weekend was to ride a new circuit, stay safe and have fun (which we did) - the racer within us is a little disappointed to see our position on the leaderboard.
The positive is that by the end of the race we had knocked off a load of excess time and were starting to get quicker - and with the Sunday race day being dry we have no doubt that (using dry tyres!) we would have been able to knock another chunk off our lap times and become more competitive. Still, there's always next time... :-)
Our next race meeting will take us back to the NG Road Racing championship. We missed the opening round of the championship as it clashed with Darley Moor Round 1, but are looking forward to returning to Castle Combe on Friday-Sunday 21st-23rd April.
David Carson Jnr,