My first visit to Oulton Park
I had been looking forward to this one in great anticipation for a while. Oulton had always appealed to me as Cadwell Park is my favourite circuit and it is the fast parts of Cadwell I love most. That combined with the fact that 28 monkeys had decided to go as well, meant I was bound to be in for a cracking day.
I arrived at 7.15 to find all the garages occupied, but managed to squeeze in to the garage next to some friends I had raced with through the year and then within 10 minutes, we had stack full of bikes all squeezed in but it was great.
Although I had never been round Oulton before, I decided as soon as I arrived that I wasn’t going to do the first session as wets or road tyres would have been the ideal choice, but it was obvious it would soon dry. What was great about missing the first one though was being able to saunter around chatting, just in full chill mode looking forward to the riding later. It is the most relaxed start to a day I have ever had. The fog looked like it was lifting as we went in to the briefing, but when we came out it had got thicker! They delayed the start for around half an hour and then as the sun shone through it lifted and the fast group went out.
I think there was at least an off or two in every group first time out, so I was glad I stayed in. Time for the the second session and my first at having a look at the circuit. The track was very greasy across most of it, but there was a dry line round most of it, so it was OK for learning. I set my lap timer as I always like to see what improvement I can get from the day, but I spent so much concentration on looking at all the flowing lumps, bumps, massive cambers and blind crests that when I came off the track it said 15 minutes as I had completely forgotten to press it every time I crossed the line. Overall it had been very steady as planned, but I was quite concerned about the amount of brake lever travel I had. Braking has always been my strongest point, so having a lever that felt a lot weaker than normal and coming further back was not great. I knew I was ready for a fluid change and on top of that I had road pads not race pads in as that was all I could get before my last outing, so I thought I would get them out at lunch.
My second session was the last one before lunch. As I rode out, the track was dry and I grinned like a Cheshire cat Immediately I felt confident, and set about getting to grips with the track properly. As I was able to go a lot quicker than the first session, I was amazed to find how much bumpier the track seemed. They aren’t horrible little bumps like that make you feel like you have just ridden over a rubble yard, but more like, someone has hidden a load of fresh downey pillows below the tarmac. On acceleration away from half the corners the front just kept lifting towards the sky, at first it was a little alarming, but it soon became great fun. On the entry in to the same corners it was like you were playing a game. You knew where you could normally brake from going by distance and speed, but by adding a dozen pillows in to the braking zone, it became more like riding a bucking bronco on an lowish setting. I am used to letting my bike squirm its back end side to side under braking, but not up and down at the same time. It would have been even more fun, if I still wasn’t concerned about the amount of travel on the brake lever. I checked my lap times and my last three had gone 2m04, 2m02, 2m01s
With lunch upon us, I started to ask around to see if I could pay someone to change my brake fluid. Drew at Drews Tyres said he would do it for me, so feeling relieved, I took my brake fluid and race pads over to him. When I got there though he asked if I had been suffering with brake fade which I hadn’t. Then as he looked at the lever travel, he started to adjust the dial on the pazzo and a lightening bolt hit me. “What was that set at?” I asked. 3 he said. It was at that point that I felt like that fat orange bloke from the old Tango adverts was due to come and slap me around the head. Rather sheepishly, I said “FFS, I normally have it on 4” I must have caught it with my tie strap when loading it in the van, so put it on 4, pulled the lever and low and behold, it feels like new again. Muppet!
The announcer notified us that due to the earlier stoppage our 3 afternoon sessions would be 16 minutes long which was a little disappointing, but as I lined up for the first session after lunch, I wished I had a camera on. Right at the front were a bunch of my favourite people from the years race series; Griffo, followed by Mike196, Blu, Yoda, Bucko, Richie, TooTall then me. As we went out we had to do two warm up laps and then it was go! I flew It was great following Ryan as I knew I could trust his lines, but on the first time at Knickerbrook he got a little slide. The second time there he got a HUGE slide which chucked him out the seat but somehow he managed to land back on it and in true TooTall style, just nailed it again and I couldn’t pass! Lol. On the next lap on the run down to Hislops, he slightly ran too deep and I ducked inside, flicked the bird, laughed my tits off, and pinned it. Next up was Bucko and I outbraked him going in to Lodge. He then made a pass which was closer than any I have experienced all year racing! The power of his blade kicked in out of deers leap though and he passed me around 3” to my right, which was fine, but then cut straight in front of me with his rear tyre almost clipping my front, so I thought I’m not having this, cut back outside of him and stuffed it up the inside to go round Old Hall ahead of him I could see Mike and Griffo ahead and I caught them at the same going in to Hislops, only this time I massively outbraked myself so ended up taking the short cut by missing the chicane. Not quite a fair way to pass Griffo, but nevermind! Lol. Having checked my times at the end of the session, I had got my best down to a 1m57.4s lap.
For the next session, I went out and had no-one I knew to chase, but did have loads of empty track and it really felt like it was starting to link together now. I was loving every minute of it and feeling quicker by the lap. At the end of the session I was down to a 1m54.6s.
Ready for the last session, I desperately wanted to have a camera on but couldn’t get my one to work, so Bongo kindly leant me his camera phone and we started to strap it to the front of my bike. Richie saw this though and also kindly offered to lend me his bullet camera, so I used that instead. I wanted to have a good battle with Ryan on film as I knew we were so similar paced, but unfortunately he was out before I was ready. I waited a bit for him to come round and then thought sod it, go out, I rode about 90% pace for a couple of laps hoping he would catch me but he didn’t and then I rememebered we were on short sessions, so better get my arse in to gear if I wanted to beat my lap time. I went wound the throttle on and immediately felt on the pace again, but each lap threw up something to slow me down. As I was getting faster I went round Island in 5th not 4th, but then on flicking down 3 gears found neutral so ran very deep and slow in to Shell Oils. The next lap, I caught someone just before Hislops and they dawdled through there and Knickerbrook before I could pass. The next lap saw me catch the Griffo again coming in to Hislops, but as Griffo was outbraking someone going in, I thought I would just do them both, only my talent ran out again and for the second time that afternoon, I ended up passing Griffo by taking the shortcut. Hardly fair! Lol I started praying it wasn’t the last lap, but as I crossed the line the chequred flag was waved, so I just continued to pin it round, loving every second before coming in for the last time. I checked my times and disappointingly, I had done three laps in the 54s again, but the best was the same 1m54.6s I felt good enough for a 52, but I will have to wait until next time to see if I can manage it.
With the fast group going out first, our day was finished at 3.25pm, so it gave loads of time to have a lovely gas w ith everyone. With plenty of kind helpers, the van was loaded and I drove home. I reflected on the day and it suddenly dawned on me, quite how special this place is. Cadwell has always been my favourite track, it is local to me and is just amazing, but Oulton is like Cadwell without the annoying bits (crap chicane and the old hairpin), but loads of bonus bits like blind crests every 30 seconds, camber so steep it looks like a Velodrome and more undulations on the track than there is in an Olympic mogul event. I am in love. I have to go back. I can’t stand it. December 2nd is only £45! Anyone fancy joining me?