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Ducati Racing Story
(Story as featured in Ducati Owners Club magazine DESMO issue 153)
FIVE - SEVEN RACING
The whole affair started when I went along with one friend Steve, to watch another friend race at Cadwell Park in Sept '95. Graham was racing a 750 Kawasaki in the MCN Superbike series out of the back of a van. Steve owned a car repair business and spoke to Graham at the end of the day about helping by painting the Kawasaki up for him. Over the next two months this gradually escalated to acquiring the two ex-Devimead Ducatis, including the bike that Steve Hislop had won the '95 championship on. So began Five-Seven Racing. Steve's surname was Heinz you see. So began also the 2 busiest years of my life.
Two reasons for buying the Ducatis come to mind. The first was Steve saying, "Well, if we're going to go race motorbikes, we might as well have some that sound proper". Jokingly said for sure, but one of the greatest pleasures, and something, which could raise your low spirits, was the sound of the bikes as you warmed them up. The second reason was that we at least would be starting out with a developed package. Before the Ducatis turned up we were going get a couple of new ZX7RR Kawasaki's and prepare them ourselves. I remember going to a pre-season warm-up/press day about 2 weeks before the start of the '96 season. The official Kawasaki UK team didn't even have their bikes complete, so we would have been miles behind.
Anyway, back to the Dukes. We were completely in awe of the things as we wheeled them into the workshop. I had spent the last 20 years of my life messing with motorbikes, but these things were special. A week later they were both in bits. A few weeks later than that, the Five-Seven Racing Ducatis emerged from the workshops.
So the big moment had arrived. Time to start one of our very own race Ducatis. Now, we had a fairly large car park with a nice slope. Steve and I pushed and pushed and pushed. And checked things and pushed and pushed. Nothing. So we phoned Graham, who is considerably fitter than us. We all pushed, and pushed, then pop, then heavenly music. As I said before raised spirits. The bikes weren't good starters throughout the first season, always needing at least 2 pushers and a good 10 yards shove. At the end of the season we acquired some kit for working on the fuel injection system. This told us that some of the engine sensors (e.g. coolant temp) were duff. Once replaced, starting was a one man/2 yard event.
There was also the time we left bits of rag in the bellmouths as well, but we won't mention such a lack of professionalism as that. For the second season I built a scooter engine powered starter. Now we didn't even have to go out in the rain.
Steve solved the problem of where we were to kip/eat etc. by turning up with 28 feet of Hymer motorhome. So with the trailer hitched onto the Hymer we set off towards our first race meeting, Donington in April '96. The first night we were in the garage alongside the Moto Cinelli team. They seemed fully prepared, we felt like complete novices. Whilst it was quiet we went and had a quick look at their bikes. I noticed that they had fitted the engine sprocket the wrong way around on one of the bikes, the chain alignment was miles out. I mentioned this to one of the Cinelli mechanics the next morning who basically just looked at me as if I was something he had just wiped of his shoe! Later that morning Chris Walker was out on one of the bikes when the chain snapped.
As practice and qualifying progressed that weekend we became increasingly worried, well Graham did, that the brake pads we had looked like they were only going to last ¾ race distance. We were using the Alcon calipers that came with the bikes and they had a unique pad shape. Just before the race morning warm up session a chap came into the pits and introduced himself, "Roger Collett, Alcon Components, nice to meet you". Nice timing Roger, pad life?? He replied "You want some of these Dunlopads" as he took some out of his pocket. They would have lasted the whole season I think, problem solved. Graham got a fifth and a seventh, we went home happy and far more confident then when we had arrived. The next couple of meetings were fairly uneventful, reasonable finishes and a couple of breakdowns.
Then came the World Superbikes round at Donington. Up to then Graham hadn't crashed. A small lowside at Melbourne in the first practice was followed by a huge crash at Coppice in qualifying. The engine, frame and forks survived. Most everything else was wrecked. We still entered on the spare bike, a DNF in the first race when the rear axle sheared and 18th in the second. The BSB season continued and things gradually went downhill as Graham began to crash more regularly as the pace rose. This culminated in a very very miserable Cadwell Park meeting. It rained heavily and continually. We had fuel system problems. The bikes didn't run correctly all through practice and qualifying. Then Graham crashed at the end of the start straight on the first race warm up lap. The throttle had stuck!
Following this Graham decided it wasn't a good idea to continue with the Ducatis. Andy Ward had started the season under the Five -Seven banner racing his own 888 Corse. He accepted a ride on the 916's and we had a good meeting at Mallory. Then came the Jewel of our racing career, the penultimate '96 meeting at Brands. It was wet and Andy was renown as a good wet weather rider. During the first race he waltzed around the championship leading Boost Yamahas of Mackenzie and Whitham to finish fifth, fantastic. In the second race he rode around the Boost bikes again, (I have this on video, good old BBC) and got upto fourth with a couple of laps to go. Mike Rutter was in front of Andy and I can remember selfishly willing the McCulloch Ducati to breakdown. It did, (sorry Mr Rutter) a stone washed on to the track by the heavy rain jumped into one of the cambelts and it snapped. We were third going into the last lap. I closed my eyes for the minute or so it took but could hear the Duke coming down the finish straight to finish third, our first and only BSB podium finish. It was like we had finally made it.
Reflecting on the first season, we hadn't done too badly. We entered every meeting of the BSB season and WSB twice. The reliability of our bikes was on par with the other Ducatis and we'd had a result. Furthermore we'd had an enjoyable but exhausting experience.
Preparations for the '97 season got underway almost straightaway. Dean Ashton joined the team and we set about overhauling and modifying the bikes. Better sponsorship deals dictated the need for some kind of hospitality set up too. This required more transport etc etc.
During the '96 season our engines had been overhauled by Ducati Technical Services. For '97 I agreed to give it a go to try and reduce the running costs. Jeff Green of Moto Cinelli ran me through the basics. The only tricky bit is the shimming, the rest of the motor is pretty straightforward. To be honest the shimming is a doddle too when the heads are off the motor. Shimming an early 851 with the motor in the frame is tricky.
Generally one motor per rider was used each meeting. Fitted fresh for the race then used for the next meeting's practice/qualifying. After use each motor would have the valves checked, re-lapped and re- shimmed. A close eye was kept on the mileage of each motor to ensure recommended piston, cam belt etc life wasn't exceeded. One highly memorable warning about this came when Ashton was riding at Snetterton with one of his own motors fitted. Dean didn't have such accurate records of usage and we can only assume the pistons in that motor were past their 500-mile sell-by date. As he accelerated hard up the start straight the motor let go as he was just about to change up, 11,000 rpm or so. The bike freewheeled into the pits and he jumped onto the spare bike. The belly pan was virtually full of fluids, hence having done its job. As the fluids were poured into the waste oil tank there was the odd plop! Once the fluids had drained away there were four mangled valve heads sat amongst the lumps of mashed alloy on the strainer. With what was left of the motor out of the bike you could look down the horizontal cylinder inlet port and see the floor! Only the gearbox, clutch, vertical head and alternator were salvageable.
You know it was a bad one when these come out of the oil catch tank!!
The meetings came and went fairly uneventfully until the split with Dean. As is typical with the racing world the press reported all sorts of bollocks about the split, but the real reason was the fact that we basically didn't like how each other did things. Dave Jefferies joined us at Knockhill making us a two rider again for the last 3 rounds. The only change we had to do to the bike was to remove the seat sponge so that he'd fit on it. The meetings became more relaxed as the season end drew nearer. An unexpected bonus was Dave winning the Gold Cup at Scarborough for us.
Loading up after the final round was a mixture of sadness and relief. I think we all knew that realistically we wouldn't be there the following year. Sadness then at the thought of not being part of the show again and not seeing all the people we had met. Relief though at getting a bit of life back. A third year would have meant much greater involvement in order to improve from where we were.
In reflection we entered a series that drew us in very deeply, requiring a lot of commitment due to the money involved. It has given me memories I will never forget, and introduced me to Ducati's, for that alone I will be eternally happy.
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