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Not just winners are grinners- A first timer in the YAMAHA R3 CUP | GASSIT GARAGE

“You’re a brave man.”

Those few words from a fellow journalist confirmed I was doing the right thing, despite mountains of self doubt. The comment wasn’t made to suggest I was courageous for riding a motorcycle in the R3 Cup around race circuit at high speed, but as a sign of bewilderment that as the editor of Australia’s oldest and most respected motorcycle magazine I was prepared to expose myself to scrutiny, and possible (probable) ridicule, by competing in my first ever race meeting at a national event – the ASBK series.

One of the most common reasons people don’t have a crack at racing seems to be the fear of being a beginner. I wanted to show that it’s great fun to do something for the very first time and I was happy to do it in the public eye to prove the point.

When details of the Yamaha-backed YZF-R3 Cup were first announced I was impressed at how easy Yamaha made it for newbies to become involved. In addition to a bike and race kit, your $7900 investment also gets you a season of ongoing support from Darren Sciberras and John Redding from R3 Cup/Race Centre Support who help with the hard work and hard to understand stuff a newbie might find intimidating.

After watching from the sidelines at Round 1 at Wakefield, I decided to take the plunge for Round 2 and it immediately became a race against the clock to be ready. After burning the midnight oil for a week Ralph Leavsey-Moase delivered the almost finished bike to the track the night before my debut at Sydney Motorsport Park. The first time I laid eyes on my new bike was just prior to the Saturday morning warm-up session, the same time I met the R3 Cup/Race Centre Support team who were feverishly fussing over it to ensure it was ready to race. This was not an editor’s perk of the job, but one of the many services provided by the team to ensure all R3 Cup competitors are ready to race. If you simply want to arrive and compete, and you don’t have a support crew of friends with race knowledge and a tool kit, you can hire a mechanic for the day or by the hour. That’s what I did and it was money well spent. The door of the R3 Support truck is always open to all competitors, and it’s clear these guys are in it for the satisfaction of getting kids onto bikes and out on the track – even old kids like me.

By the time I returned from signing on, my awesome mechanic Phil McCourt had wheeled my bike through scrutineering, fixed up my race numbers, organised a front stand and sorted a set of tyre warmers – all very factory rider-like.

With my eyes the size of dinner plates I sat on my racebike waiting for pitlane to open for my first laps as a racer. Phil removed the tyre warmers, lowered the bike off its stands, patted me on the back and I was away. Fifteen minutes later I was back, totally shagged from seven laps and with a head full of questions. Was I slow? Slower than the other competitors? Hell yes! Quicker than those not having a go? Also yes.

Despite my feedback to the team sounding something along the lines of “I have no idea how to give you feedback,” Darren and Phil persisted, and it turned out I was able to provide important information on how the bike was behaving. With limited time available, the guys expertly translated my feeble feedback into useable information. Running wide on corner exit and bouncy at the rear was somehow translated into more front preload required. Phil whipped the fork legs out of the bike and delivered them to another beaut bloke, George Allerton at Glenn Allerton Suspension Developments. After a few questions about what I was trying to achieve, George had my fork legs in bits and back together in a jiffy. As Phil continued to beaver away on my bike, checking tyre pressures and double-checking the tightness of nuts and bolts, Darren and I sat down and had a chat about the two corners that were doing my head in – the double-apex turn two and the run into-and-through the turn nine hairpin. Thanks to his ability to explain things in a simple to understand manner (not his drawing skills), I realised I was viewing the corners in totally the wrong way, something I would never have worked out by myself. Breaking the corners down into sections made a world of difference, and by the time I rolled back into my pit after qualifying I had slashed six seconds off my best lap time.

Having someone looking after the bike also meant that by the time my first ever race came around I felt strangely calm. The only concern I had was how I would find my grid spot – thankfully they were well marked, mine by a large number 12.

When the lights went out and during the crazy scramble into the first corner unfolded was the only time I saw the leaders, but it was an amazing feeling to be in the mix, jockeying for position. The rest of the race was a blur, with my only recollection being just how physically demanding it is for an unfit old bloke.

The rest of the weekend followed a similar, enjoyable pattern with the only difference being an increase in the level of fun I had each time I went out.

In the final race I managed to jump a few rider and beat them onto turn two using my Sciberras double-apex tactics. I kept a couple behind me for as long as I could, but not long enough. I may not have finished anywhere near the podium, but I did achieve my goal of not being lapped and posting a sub two-minute lap, so I left feeling like a winner.

Before the next round I will be spending more time with Darren and the R3 Cup/Race Centre Support team learning a little more race craft and studying the art of setting up my bike.

If you are tempted to enter the R3 Cup series it’s not too late – there’s plenty of time before the next round at Queensland Raceway on 5-7 June. The R3 is also eligible for the Over 300cc production class where it’s the bike to beat, so there’s an opportunity for double track time if you are fit enough.

Like all good racers I need to make sure I thank my sponsors. A big thank you to Yamaha Australia for providing the bike, and Link International for fixing me up with a set of awesome Pirelli Supercorsa tyres. Also, a huge thanks to the team from R3 Cup/Race Centre Support, Darren Sciberras, Mal Metcher, Phil McCourt, Anthony Carr and Anshumali Sharma. See you guys at the next round.

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