Our first time out racing on three wheels was certainly eventful. This project originated when Paul Matthews, the Angry Ranga Racing Team Manager, approached me at the beginning of the year to see if I’d like to try my hand in the drivers’ seat of a sidecar. Only problem was, his injuries still needed time to heal; so my big friendly giant, Nick Gardner, put his hand up to swing/passenger. Both Matthews, and the builder of the one-off outfit we’d be racing, Rick Hanger (Rick Hanger Racing) had their doubts about his ability to fold himself into the tiny space available on this particular chair. It’s truly a one-of-one machine, the only short wheel-base, F1 (Kwaka 04’ ZX10 motor) modern outfit. So Nick impressed everyone at our first tuning weekend in June, squeezing into the roughly 2 foot-squared chair space and muscling his ballast to keep us going in the right direction with impressive momentum.
On race day, a light drizzle fell early, rendering the track very bloody slippery. This did not help our cause, as the short wheel-base can offer improved agility around tight corners, but does make it even more twitchy than the longer compatriots. I’ve used the term before, it’s like riding a bull, strapped to a rocket, and this qualifying session really felt that way! We qualified in third, which was the number of modern outfits racing this meet…
Luck went our way when the Marshall brothers stalled from pole position due to clutch issues. Next we were able to take Cushy and Jarred, going the outside line through turn one. A couple of laps later they were stuck in the gravel coming down the top of the hill, a faulty battery ending that race for them. So it was just the Marshall brothers to worry about, and eventually their experience caught up to us as they very noisily glided past up the back straight, taking the victory by a matter of seconds.
Nick was also, competing in both the P6 250, and P6 500 classes on his FZR 250 solo. Unfortunately these races fell before and after the sidecar event, requiring him to do a boot swap twice for his back-to-back-to-back! This played a big factor in what happened in race two, when we got a great start from our second place (progressive grids) and led the race for two solid out laps. Coming in hot at turn 2 on the 3rd lap, the rear started spinning up, quickly shooting past the point of being save-able. We shot off in the direction of the tyre wall, managing at the last moment to avoid collision, with literally a metre to spare. This was sufficient for Nick to call his retirement, so he can focus fully on his two-wheeled passion. It demonstrates how vital the role of the passenger is in controlling the stability and traction on the outfit, and just how physically demanding that task is.
Thankfully, a Mr Steve McQueen, stepped in and swung for the final race of the day. He’s an experienced swinger from speedway, and even he was giving me the signal to just wind it back a touch after a few laps in. These machines have immense forces, pulling on muscles that can’t easily be trained. When you get it right it feels amazing, the closeness to the ground, and the noise of the engine that you’re hugging reverberates through your whole body. It’s arguably the craziest team sport in the world, and both roles are playing a vital piece.