Paul van der Heiden- My feelings standing on the Manx Grand Prix podium with the Australian Nation Anthem playing just cannot be described. I am so proud of the support I got back home leading up to this year’s Newcomers Race on the Isle of Man. Our local South Australian motorcycling community really got behind me and this dream came true. It was a year in the making, including building a motorcycle just for this event as I was also competing in the SuperTwins race.
Adelaide motorcycle engineer Brian Rosser of BJR Products and I turned a $700 Ducati 659 Monster into a race-winner. His work on turning an air-cooled two-valve engine into one that can challenge the established UK SuperTwins with liquid-cooled, four-valve Kawasaki and Suzuki engines is nothing short of remarkable.
We had just a few months to do the final build and testing, mainly at Mac Park circuit and on the Competition Conversions dyno, while I was also busy in my day job as a mechanic for Moto Adelaide. We ended up with 86hp then packed up with the Rowe Racing team of father Les and rider Royce for the biggest challenge of my life.
My first lap on the Ducati around the famous TT course was a speed controlled lap. I met the lead rider Nick Jefferies, who has had more than 90 race starts there, in the form-up area about 15 minutes before we were on track. There were four wide-eyed riders in my group but the lap was relaxing. I felt the speed was similar to a Sunday ride to Amberlight Café in the Adelaide Hills.
The first Newcomers practice session after that was a different story. All the hard work building the bike, countless issues with insurance, licensing etc, had taken a bit of a personal toll. But it was all worth it. When I hit the bottom of Bray Hill at 220km/h I thought I was close to blacking out. There was no time to dwell on it though. I had to concentrate with houses, walls and spectators flashing past at warp speed but found I was able to focus on where I needed to be on track and what was coming up next. To begin with we only got one lap per session. When we joined our class groups we got two laps. I had a camera mounted on the fork top yoke. Each night after practice I would review my lap and make a plan for how I was going to improve next session.
After setting competitive practice times race day began how I expected. I passed Marc Ironside (Kawasaki) by Ballaugh Bridge and I never saw Jonathan Perry (Kawasaki, who was narrowly outside record pace on the first lap). What I didn’t expect was Marc had latched on to me and we had a ripper of a race. We were slip streaming each other down the straights, sometimes swapping places twice before Ballagarey, ending up next to each other holding out for who would give in before the corner. It was fantastic.
We were like this right up to the pit stop where my fuel cap lost me some time. No worries. I caught Marc up again and we continued to dice for the last two laps.
I hadn’t thought about what position I was in during the race, I was having too much fun. So when I was turned towards the winner’s box I was a bit unsure of what was happening. When I was steered to the number 1 position I thought there had to be a mistake, Jono was there but in the 3rd place box.
What had happened? He said a fuse had blown and the bike wouldn’t restart costing him time. I found out that I had set a new race record for the Newcomers B Race while Marc, who had finished 10 secs behind me on the clock, had set a new lap record of 111.101mph. My best lap was 111.039mph.
In Manx GP tradition I was carried on the Rowe Racing team’s shoulders into the awards presentation.
Later in the week I finished 11th in the SuperTwins race, two seconds ahead of Marc, while Royce finished 7th, two places ahead of Nick Jefferies.
I look forward to thanking all my supporters and sponsors back home. Special thanks to BJR Products, Rick O’Neil, Auldana Foundations, Aqua7bathrooms, Café Racer Club and Mac Park.