After setting a new lap record and standing on the podium at the inaugural Isle of Man Classic TT, I was looking forward to another fix of ‘old bike’ racing at this year’s Goodwood Revival.
Between the Classic and Goodwood my fiancée, Kaz, and I had a couple of weeks to fill in so we visited friends in Switzerland. My good mate, Horst Saiger, races in World Endurance for Kawasaki and was also the top newcomer at this year’s Isle of Man TT.
Horst and his wife visited Australia for Christmas last year so now it was our turn to stay with them.
They live on the doorstep of the mountains so it was magic to wake up to views of the Swiss Alps each day. Horst had just received a new ZX-10R to prepare for this year’s Macau GP so, while he was at work, I helped him ‘run in’ the new engine around the local mountain roads. I thought as they were putting us up it was the least I could do!
Only a kilometre from our base was a forest park with a running trail including exercise points along the way – an outdoor gym of sorts. As Horst was training for the upcoming Le Mans 24-Hour, we would complete a couple of laps of this each evening. Then, between the park and the short trip home, there was a tavern on the hillside serving some very tasty local beers. Our regular routine became an hour of exercise followed by a post-training pint and then home to light the barbecue. It was a brilliant two weeks at the tail end of Europe’s summer and good company with a fellow racer who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Soon enough we were back to England and heading south for my last UK race this season.
I’ve been fortunate enough to race at Goodwood the past couple of years and I relish the experience as it’s like stepping back in time.
Held on the historic Goodwood circuit, the Revival is a festival for race cars from the 1950s and ’60s and everything around the racing is in period theme.
Not only do driver and crew dress up to suit their machines but spectators are also encouraged to join in by wearing attire to suit the ‘golden years’. The event has now grown to the point where it’s sold out months in advance and literally every person walking through the gate is in period dress.
Most of the on-track action is car racing but there is one motorcycle class that’s hotly contested and made up of 30 teams of two riders (invitation only). A single machine is shared for each team, necessitating a pit stop to change riders during each of the two races.
The year model of bikes alternates each year from pre-1954 to pre-1964 and 2013 was open to the later-model machines.
I was again riding for Fred Walmsley, the British tuning guru, on a 1962 G50 Matchless but, unlike the super-trick version I raced at the Isle of Man, this was a much more standard model to suit the required rules.
My co-rider for the event was Glen English who is a classic racing specialist with countless wins to his name on British singles. Our team and bike looked set to give us a solid chance at taking home the Barry Sheene Memorial trophy.
Two years ago I had raced the same bike here with Glen and we had won race one and had one hand on the trophy when the bike broke down in race two.
This time around we took to the track to qualify and I was happy to park the bike after setting the fastest time with around five minutes remaining of the session. A couple of other teams just nudged us off the top spot to give us third on the grid for the Le Mans-style start.
Come Saturday’s Race One, I was to start and ride the first leg before swapping the controls with Glen mid-race. When the flag dropped, I sprinted to the G50 and leapt aboard but I couldn’t get the bike into gear! It can be tricky to engage gear while stationary with the ‘older’-style Matchless gearbox if the engine isn’t low in its revs.
I couldn’t hear my engine with 30 other classic bikes surrounding us and it took me valuable seconds to realise the problem. Letting the engine slow I finally found first and away I went, dead last!
With a head full of frustration, I set off to work my way through the traffic trying to close the gap to the leaders.
On handing the bike to Glen we were up to fourth place and a podium position was looking promising. Unfortunately, a few laps later, Glen fired the G50 up the road as he exited the chicane onto the front straight. I was standing on the pit wall and watched the whole crash unfold. Glen was quickly on his feet so it could’ve been worse but the bike was damaged.
The boys did their best to rebuild the Matchless on Saturday night and we took to the grid on Sunday for Race Two, minus the fairing and looking worse for wear.
Race Two and the Le Mans start duties are reversed so it was Glen’s turn to sprint to the bike but, with a bruised and swollen ankle, he was in no state to run. Due to this I was allowed to complete the run to the bike where Glen would be onboard ready to start. I was still metres from reaching Glen when he dropped the clutch and took off to give us an early lead in the race! Unfortunately the bike wasn’t its former self after the previous day’s prang and, by the time he came into pit, we’d slipped to seventh.
I jumped on to bring the bike home and managed to make up a couple of places before I got tangled in a battle to the line with none other than Wayne Gardner. Wayne makes the trip to Goodwood each year and remains as competitive as ever. He was so competitive in the final few laps that each time I was ahead of him he couldn’t see the yellow flags being waved.
Due to a crash there was a section of track with marshals on the track edge and, as riders we were lapping slowed, I would also slow as the rules state no passing under yellow flags. Wayne would carve through the traffic and I would have to catch him again once clear of that section. As we exited the final chicane I positioned myself on his back tyre to draft him across the line. We had finished fifth and beat Wayne by half a wheel. All good fun on old bikes!
So it’s another year at Goodwood where we failed to finish both races. I’ll just have to return next year and try again…