I awoke with the rising sun, slowly dawning. Dawning comprehension that my bladder was full. I peeked my head out of the tent slowly and quietly. We had slept in a hedge in a public park so i was careful not to raise attention. The bright blue tent didn’t help this, but we had covered it with Phil’s camouflage bivvy bag to hide it as best as possible. We were fairly well hidden and it was early enough people were not present to see us rise and shine.
With our bladders duly emptied and a Greggs breakfast warm in our bellys, we delivered Howards bacon bap to him in the Batcave. A friend of his had allowed him to sleep in the garage behind his house. Called the batcave, it was a homage to the Dark Knight. He is a bigger bike nut than Howard. A homemade bar, with stools around it and measures on the wall, was scattered with bike parts and Comic book figurines. The walls were roughly painted with a 90’s Batman computer game skyline and searchlight bat symbols. Shelves around the cave had lots of memorabilia all over them and brightly coloured posters clung to each wall. In the corner was a red and gold bike, partly built and themed like Iron Man. The headlight was his face with lights for eyes, it must have looked awesome coming down the street towards you. It was a teenagers dream garage, a pure indulgence of bikes and comics.
We caught the bus to Portstewart to find a good spot for the race. Howard was telling us about all the bikers we had met yesterday and who was likely to win. There had been some changes in teams. I’mm not sure who any of them are but it was intresting to hear about. Maybe some of the names sunk in and I’ll recognise them in future?
Talk of bikers, Carl Foggarty (one of the only race bikers i know about) was at a meet and greet event in the town centre. It was good to see him in the flesh and hear what he thought of the track and how it had developed over time. It used to be 200 miles all around north Ireland. Its slowly gotten smaller and smaller and the straights shorter and shorter as health and safety has stuck its oar in over the years. Probably not a bad thing as even with chicanes added to slow them down, limiters at 180 mph were still causing a problem. All the other bikers looked like nice chaps but i had no idea who they were. Interestingly enough there were two women competing, both on Kawasaki ER6 base bikes. I’m glad women are getting involved in such a male dominated sport, it would be great to see them on the podium in a mixed gender race. I disagree that sports should be gender segregated, surely its about whoever is best at the sport regardless of their gender?
We found a good spot on a grassy knoll next to a grandstand. The whole seafront here is a golf course. We were not as early as planned and the place was packed. Thousands of people traipsed across the neatly mowed grass in the wrong footwear and without wearing tweed – the bloody cheek of it! Some people were very well prepared with camping chairs and wind-breaks mercilessly hammered into the pristine turf. We were perfectly content with some sandwiches, beers and a patch of grass that gave a good view of the hairpin corner.
The bikes started racing. We couldn’t seem them yet, just hear them screaming along. The helicopter filming the event swooped overhead and then there they were. Flying down the road so fast it was hard to believe they were in control. They piled towards the corner, bunching up under braking. Each tried to leave it as late as possible to get the advantage and sneak round the other. A couple over shot the corner slightly and had to take a wider line, losing a few places in the process. It was spectacular watching them! I found myself tensed on the balls of my feet willing them all to win against each other but mostly stay rubber side down and not crash!
Once they had screamed past we watch the rest of the race unfold on the super screen parked in someones front garden. There was about an 8 second delay between the action in front of us and then seeing it on live TV. This may have been something to do with how quickly the broadcast equipment is, but i suspect its to prevent live coverage of a death. It is a very real possibility that this will happen if someone crashes at such high speed. Having only met them all yesterday (and Howard had made sure we met them all…) shaken their hands, and wished them good luck, it would be even more emotional if something unfortunate were to happen. But, by focusing on good things, sending out positive thoughts, i personally made sure no one crashed. My brain is just THAT powerful!
Each race was 7 laps and there were a number of different races that day. From highly customised 1000cc supersports to BSB race bikes to near stock sports bikes, there was a class for all racers. Personally i was delighted to see the twins 650’s race, as most of the bikes were using the same engine as my Versys. I had great fun talking with the bikers and mechanics in the pits about this, spotting the ER6 frame and engine but with the Versys swingarm. I knew it was lighter but apparently required some modification to the frame which some teams were not willing to do. The lady-racers were running these bikes but try as i might, i couldn’t spot them on track once everyone was going past in a blur with colour-full face lids.
For the last race we moved towards the grandstand next to the start finish straight. From here the bikes take off at full speed and absolutely scream past. We were right next to the fence, an arms length from the highest speed people on two wheels in Ireland, if not the world. It was incredibly loud and exhilarating. We moved here so that we could make a dash onto the grid and up close to the podium to see the awards of that race. Howard knew exactly where to stand and as soon as the safety car had passed, the gates opened and he sprinted off. Leaving me and Phil trailing in his wake, he moved fast for an OAP. Thanks to his insider knowledge, we stood right at the front and saw the ceremony up close. The favourite did win the race in the end, but no idea who it was.
I’m not a huge racing fan in terms of the racers. They are clearly very talented people who put on a great show but i don’t wish one to triumph over any other. If anything I’m just happy they make it back in one piece after a good race. Unsurprisingly its the engineering and skill required which excites me.
We walked around the paddock and congratulated a few of the riders and wished them well ffor their next races. This is used by a lot of the riders as a shakedown race to help set up the bikes for the Isle Of Man TT Road Race. There is nothing better than lap time to help set up a bike, but where else can you go 180mph on public roads without losing your license?
Back in Portstewart we got some food in us and set about finding a place to sleep again. There were a couple opportunities in abandoned houses and building sites. However it was a bit loud and rowdy here with the bikers celebrations going on. Both Phil and I had been up early and as much as we wanted to join them, we were absolutely knackered. In the end we headed back to Coltrane and found an old car showroom that was being torn down. Jumping the fence and sneaking in we found a nice big dry room away from prying eyes for the night. We had particularly wanted to find somewhere indoors tonight because rain was promised and duly arrived. The £10 Tesco tent would have tried its best but we would have been about as dry as an otters bathing costume by the morning. This was much better, even if we did fear the builders turning up early and starting to tear down the remaining structure before we escaped…