Thursday, 25 April 2013

Muted Thunder






It's a bold gamble moving a well established motorcycle event to a new venue. But that's exactly what Frank Melling and the team that organise the Thundersprint have done.







Motorcycles - Go West!



For ten years their unique free for spectators festival has made a 'home' in the town centre of Northwich in Cheshire, where it attracted tens of thousands, a healthy international entry, track stars and champions from the past and present, a host of trade stands, fun fair and in the last couple of years a static motorcycle show.



Noisy, furious and exciting


The sprint itself was a relatively straightforward affair. A four hundred metre course was laid out in a town centre car park, and riders in the different classes completed timed runs to determine the fastest around the straw bales. It was noisy, furious, exciting, and spectators stood three or four deep behind wire mesh fences, very close to the sight and sound of every manner of motorcycle that a rider had decided to enter with. From invited racers aboard multi thousand pound superbikes and semi works machines, through to classic racers and well preserved veterans...bikes and riders.



For 2013 the organisers transferred the whole affair across the Menai Straight to the race track on the island of Anglesey in North Wales.



In an interview with one of the event sponsors, Hampson Hughes solicitors, Frank Melling said that the reason they made the move was that it needed

 'refreshing and re-inventing so that it was different from all previous Thundersprints'.




Snowdonia as a backdrop...

 

Locating to a race circuit clinging to the coast, facing Caernavon Bay and with the brooding Cambrian Mountains and Snowdonia as a backdrop could not be more different than their previous home. The 2.1 mile circuit is either unknown or unfamiliar to many race fans, as was the case with me. But a pleasurable surprise was in store: this has to be the UK equivalent of Australia's Philip Island circuit, and you don't need a ferry to get there.



The circuit surface looks great to ride, the viewing banking – no grandstands – means it's possible to see large sections of the course, a bit like the Indy track at Brands Hatch. 

 

 

Up close and personal


The organising philosophy of the Thundersprint is to have the paddock area open with trade and club stands placed there in order for spectators and enthusiasts to get 'up close and personal' with the bikes and riders, including the 'stars'. Which this year was yet another return stint for Jim Redman and Sammy Miller plus current BSB runner James Ellison, who has also competed in Moto GP and World Superbike.



The fact that there were just three familiar past and present racing names at the event provides one clue as to how difficult it will be to establish the Thundersprint in a new home, and one that is not as accessible as a town centre within easy riding or driving distance of the motorway and Merseyside or Manchester conurbations. On the BBC Wales website Frank Melling put the figure of 25,000 as their attendance target. Maybe not in the first year, but If there were as many as 5,000 at this first event I would be very surprised.



No help from the weather


Not much assistance from the weather either. On Saturday when people were arriving to set up camp, stands, and getting themselves established in the paddock and acquainted with the track layout it was bright and sunny, but a strong breeze zipped across the waves keeping the temperature the wrong side of tee shirt wearing. Then the evening BBC national weather predicted correctly a cold wet front would travel from north to south, and this no doubt deterred those who didn't want to travel and receive a soaking; as I did on the forty minute ride from my accommodation to the track.



A tenner is a good price for entry to any major sporting event, but previously this was a freebie, and this would have added to any reluctance people may have felt about turning up in this first year.

Everyone's a winner



The Thundersprint winner is the fastest around the course. That's not important to a lot of the riders who take part, but once the timed laps were under way, the commentator attempted to whip up a minor frenzy of excitement that just wasn't there. Bikes and riders are separated into classes; Master Class, Power Bikes, Golden Age, Classic 350/250 etc, etc. They are then started at intervals and circulate singly around the 2.1 miles.



There is the interest of a myriad of machinery and sounds, but this is a race track and spectators are divorced from the Tarmac by the run off areas and banked viewing. So what you are seeing throughout practice and the timed runs are bikes circulating, with the occasional catch up and careful overtake. Interesting it is, exciting it is not. The difference between this and the previous 400 metre dash, one bike after another in quick succession, with close up crowds, may not be the 'refresh and re-invent' that does it.



You can have my last Rolo

Feeling a bit sheepish


Much was made on the Thundersprint website and in the programme of the non motorcycle attractions of 'Rolo, the world's most intelligent sheep.' If you haven't ever met a sheep with a brain which would qualify her for University Challenge, make sure you go across for a chat with Rolo' – apposite as Bangor University were appearing on the human programme the following night (they lost).



I hope the publicity was written with irony rather than hype, as the 'show' was a sad testimony to the human relationship with animals. A desultory farmer towing the said Rolo on a lead through a series of simple jumps and attempts to round up three ducks (failed). While a tethered collie strained at stake for his/her go at the ducks. Not good folks.



 

Anglesey is a treat of a circuit

 

I hope these words don't convey too much negativity. Apart from the weather, and the sun did come out in the afternoon so that we could dry our helmets and gloves, people did appear to be enjoying what motorcyclists enjoy. Being with other riders, wandering, chatting, looking at rare and interesting machinery, and consuming the sort of fare that would lever up the obesity index no problem.



Motorcycling needs events like the Thundersprint. I would go again as the organisers are sure to improve the programme. Anglesey is a treat of a circuit, and when Sammy Miller was being interviewed he echoed my thoughts exactly...why don't they organise a round of the British Superbikes here?



John Newman

for Wemoto News



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