Maryborough, RACV Energy Breakthrough, 2009
The ExPats team was out in force over the wild, wet and windy weekend that was EBT09 in Maryborough. Kyle & MattL were riding with the Padua Open Team, whilst MattE, Clancy & Jeremy were riding in the Highview Class-C team. Most of the rest of the team were in the pits for either or both these schools during the race, with Jordy helping his old school Bendigo Catholic College. Bendigo Catholic College had also received a helping hand with the building of their Open Team canopy done in a weekend where the riders were shown the how & why about building with Kevlar, Carbon and vacuum bagging layups, which was preceded the prerequisite safety talk which got the kids more focused on the tasks at hand and realising this wasn't a place to be mucking around.
The changed regulations for composites/roll bars this year presented a number of challenges, not the least of which was the struggle to get past the futility of dealing with an organisation, in the RACV, that says they have the riders' safety at heart, yet don't fully grasp the forces and effects at play in an HPV crash. How many of their rule makers have ever ridden & crashed a HPV trike at high speed? They seem to think the only way to provide safety is with a rigid cage with something equivalent to mild steel or chromoly all whilst ignoring that, anecdotally at least, most of the injuries requiring medical attention seem to come from these open frame, rigid metal roll cage vehicles they deem "safer" than the composite vehicles we prefer to race.
This year they took the step of bringing in a composites "expert," now whilst I don't particularly like the word expert (=a drip under pressure) Phil, let's leave that aside for the time being and concentrate on what they said they were trying to achieve...
My "beef," if you will, with the scrutineering process at EB this was that we had Ernest Litera & an associate had come up to our place in Castlemaine a couple of months before the Pre-Scrut day to talk about what they were looking for and, I thought anyway, to provide them some insight into what we've found actually works in a race bred solution. They inspected one of our old race fairings that had done a few races, and had just come out of a hectic Round 2 at Adelaide. This fairing had seen a few high speed, high impact crashes this year and whilst showing the signs of the wear & tear on the outside was still basically sound & safe. Ernest seemed willing to listen to explanations about the how's & why's we did things this way, and asked for some increased rollbar reinforcements around the mounting plates, and side intrusion bars to match the thickness of the main rollbars plus beefed up shoulder protection - which actually pissed me off a bit when you consider that these "supposedly safe" open framed vehicles don't need to meet that same criteria. Anyways, they left and I thought we had a reasonable understanding of what they wanted this year, regardless of how I felt about adding all this extra weight to achieve very little, as far as I could tell, in useful occupant safety.
Come the pre-scrutineering day, we took down the fairing we'd built for Crusoe College in Bendigo, along with some others built prior to this which we knew would need mods to meet their new regs. The only thing that could be picked out on the new fairing was some cracked gel coat, and whilst Phil wanted to rave on about it, as he couldn't find anything else to fault, I remained singularly unimpressed by his lack of understanding of HPV crash/impact loads & resistance, had we brought down raw kevlar like BendigoSE they couldn't have even picked on that. All the fairings made after that day were of the same, if not stronger, construction.
He certainly seemed to know his composite materials, although I noticed tsco more than once fighting the urge to give him a bit of a lecture as Phil was going over the old Phantom Banana Boat, he didn't seem to fully grasp what happened when an HPV crashed and therefore where the reinforcing needed to be and how that impact load could, and should in my opinion, be spread over a larger area rather than just carried by a singular rollbar construction. Long story short, we left with 3 ticks for front & rear rollbars and side intrusion bars, and a note to repair the gel coat.
Now come scrutineering day and things start to come a little "undone..."
Onyx was the first vehicle to go through, and Daryl & Azza headed off with the junior team to scrutineering whilst work continued on finishing the preparation for Evie. A little while later Daryl came back to the scout hall where we were camped for the weekend to say they (the scrutineers) were picking the shit out of the fairing and he didn't know if they were going to let it through. I arrived to find J.D. with another RACV chap trying to find things wrong with the fairing, this had obviously been going for quite some time by now. Only after I arrived did he stop hassling and worrying the team about whether they'd pass and let it through. It was pointed out that this fairing had already had all 3 boxes ticked for rollbars etc. Thus making a complete mockery of the concept of the pre-scrutineering day if they were determined to find something else to pick on at this late stage. J.D. was intent on trying to "break" a rollbar, from what I'd been told in the way he was trying to test it - not that he would have. In the end he came up with what he thinks is a wonderful idea for next year - an upright strut from the main boom, between the legs, back up to the front rollbar. And... as he was able to flex the side intrusion bar a little, it obviously isn't strong enough either - he wanted it totally immoveable like the main rollbars - totally ignoring the concept of dispersing the impact load through our (patent pending) side impact zone. Hell, what would we know, we've only done ~25 races in the last 4 years with multiple vehicles at several of these races and have continually made changes & improvements to the way we see crash impacts affecting the vehicle with a view to making them as safe and strong as possible, but only where it is actually needed. J.D. has done how many races? Tested how many different designs? Post race reviewed how many vehicles? Yup, he coordinates 1 race per year, and does none of the other things mentioned - WTF would he know!? Ok, Ok, I know I'm getting a little worked up here, and direction most of my anger at one person which isn't really fair, but if they are really concerned about safety, stop letting kids ride in exposed top vehicles! I saw one poor kid skin their hand when their "safe" vehicle flipped and they instinctively put their hand out - on the road - their knee rollbar didn't stop their legs from making contact with the road once they'd stopped either. Wish I'd carried my camera around with me at all times when you see something like that - purely for documentational purposes I mean.
Our side intrusion area is designed to flex a little to absorb and help disperse the impact force over a wider area rather than 1 single rigid point/line. Our real world experience shows this works, yet the RACV, in their infinite wisdom, who have hosted 19 events in 19 years, and who haven't done any real world testing, that I know of, know better.
When asked what had to be done to improve the scrutineering score (he told me that he'd coordinated with the 3 others doing that section that no one got more than a 3.5 rating out of 5 on the day) was given some vaguish generalisations about wow'ing him - the couple of points he identified didn't add up to almost 50% of the max from what I could understand. Surely each vehicle should turn up to scrutineering with the maximum points available and lose a set number points for each thing not up to scratch? Some teams getting a score of -5, as was reported to me, just sounds ludicrous - when was the last time you got a negative score on a test at school?
Am I being unreasonable to ask to be able to build a vehicle that meets the regulations of this growing sport and be able to turn up at any event in the country, and soon overseas too, and know that my team will be allowed to race? I don't want to have to over-engineer it just for one race organisation's myopic and misinformed POV.
Here's the test I'd like to try. I'll sit sidewise in one of our vehicles, and J.D., or another RACV person with ruling sway, can get in one of the chromoly "approved" ones and take a run-up and slam into me as hard as he likes, then we'll repeat with roles reversed and see who is in the safer vehicle, and see which crash dummy comes out of it best - a real world side intrusion test, if you will.
Don't get me wrong, I seriously do appreciate the amount of time & effort that the organisers put in to keep this event running, without their efforts we obviously wouldn't have it. However, they need to realise that as a sport HPV racing is growing, it's getting faster, vehicle development is moving ahead and they're current approach means they are creating a situation in which they are our of sync with the rest of the HPV world - only Maroondah blindly follow their lead now. They need to appreciate that they don't own the sport, and nor do they dictate beyond their own insular little world the rules that govern the sport. They need to realise that for the greater good of the sport that they need to work in with the other events & organisations (beyond Victoria's borders) so that we can work towards a common set of rules & safety guidelines. As it stands now, a vehicle that complies at all other races may not get a start at EB (or Maroondah, but who really cares about that as it was pointed out to me that one of our older vehicles went through the RACV scrutineering process at Maroondah this year with but a cursory glance from Agro!). We had to add a lot of weight to the vehicles this year (more mass = more damage when we hit someone/something else too) and it hasn't, IMHO, improved rider safety in any realistic way. They didn't invent the concept of HPV racing, and they're certainly not fostering it's future with their current approach to composites. This is what I'm "upset" about! I don't profess to have all the answers, nor to know everything I need to know about composites, but I'm learning more and more all the time. All I want is for our unique sport to keep growing, keep spreading around the country and overseas and hopefully one day see it reach a mass audience and acceptance along with "normal" cycling. It can't do that when one event organisation body (or persons) want to restrict it's growth with their "flat earth" approach to safety.
I know some people are ready to give EB a miss in the future as soon as a Victorian leg of the AIPP HPV Super Series is finally organised which is a sad reflection of how HPV community looks at the current state of things with regards to the EB!
Yes, I understand that EB is about the kids learning and doing as much as possible themselves, but what are we teaching them when the ruling powers that be keep trying to tell us that mild steel & chromoly are the only things that can truly be trusted for safety. Heaven forbid the F1 teams should learn of this!
Anyhoo... Where was I? Oh yes, the race scrutineering process. A little later on...
I was back at scrutineering with Crusoe College's The Hornet the fairing we'd built for the pre-scrut day and whilst waiting for the man of the moment, J.D., to come look over this one was surprised to see the scrutineer come back from talking to the head honcho only to wave us through without checking a single damn thing! Now how flaming rediculous is that, but who am I to argue with such fine judgement.
When I next returned with Evie J.D. was again on the job and asked "is this the damaged one?" If by damaged he meant the one with the cracked gel coat, then no, that was the one he'd waved through previously without a single check. Now that seemed to anger him slightly, and he once again set about trying to find fault with the fairing. Again he pointed out the side intrusion zone flexing a tad and it only now occurs to me that another good way of demonstrating how this works would be go up to his big Toyota 4 wheel drive and hit the front door panel really hard with a hammer - it will flex, it will dent, it isn't rigid. Now do the same to our side panel and you'll see that it employs a similar concept of absorbing and dispersing the impact only without the damage to outer shell of the car, or the rider inside it.
I do appreciate that part of the reasoning behind their approach to composites is due to the fact that they have no background or real understanding in the materials themselves coming from RACV mechanical backgrounds. As Ernest explained to me when he came up to Castlemaine they are more concerned about teams that turn up with a vehicle using composites for the first time and who don't have the background, either theoretical or practical, to know what works and what doesn't. Looking at Kingswood College's EVO8 vehicle I guess he had a point in some ways - whilst they still had the traditional internal metal roll cage, they'd wrapped that in a single layer of carbon fibre - a known reciepe for disaster. Enough has been written by us and BYR over the last 2 years to know that that just won't work. Carbon is great at providing strength, when built up properly, but as a fairing material it can't compete with Kevlar which doesn't shatter on impact like the thin carbon layer does, and did several times for the Kingswood team. I'm sure they'll be back next year with some Kevlar in the body.
Eventually, we were all cleared to race and with much anticipation Kyle fronted the grid for Padua in Savaloy Jenkins, and MattyE was right behind him in Evie. As the RACV recovery ute sped away from the front of the grid after the warm up lap all looked to be pretty much following their starting positions, until... About 1 minute 40 seconds later Nige blurted out over the PA that there'd been a break away trike at the front of the pack. Standing down on the first corner I just assumed Kyle had decided to have a real on the first lap and most surprised to see Matty coming flying around in front of everyone in Evie, obviously a little burst of adrenaline had got him pumped up and charging away in front
He managed to hold that position for a couple of laps until Kyle and soon after Russell Nankervis in Furious George went past him. Still it was a good solid first stint and had the team away to a good start. Just as big a surprise was that Kyle was struggling to find pace. yes, he'd been ill again - seriously - as the projectile vomit all over the back door, and entry area of my house one night earlier in the week could testify! You see, Kyle and Porpy had arrived in Castlemaine a week before the race to help finish their trike, only problem was they brought this horrible illness with them that had them continually vomiting for the 1st 3 days - and had the rest of us trying to stay as far away from them as possible! Whilst it didn't stop him from posting that 1:39 lap in practice on Friday night, I'd though maybe it was slowing him down now.
Porpy was in next for Padua, and Clancy for Highview, meanwhile young Ned Volk was showing that his recent training record form (he broke Kel's 2007 most laps in a single session at training record - 70 laps in 2 hours 45 mins in a frame) was being carried over into the race as he was comfortably sitting in 4th place overall for a B2 entry.
Sometime a little while down the track as the Padua riders were still struggling for speed a wheel alignment check was done where the front wheels were found to 40mm out of whack - no wonder it was difficult to push! Seems that the person (who shall remain nameless, as long as they move back to our pits from TruBlu's for the rest for this year) had done an alignment that morning, but had forgotten to actually tighten the locking nuts up afterwards. By now though Furious George had started to clear out in front as everyone else played catch up.
With the lap running sheets missing, the rest of the rider order & performances for the race are a little fuzzy, the basic flow things was something along the lines of this though... When the track was dry'ish Furious George would hold it's lead, or pull away a little depending on which riders were out at any one stage. When it rained though Savaloy Jenkins would be pulling back upto 20+ seconds a lap. At one point they pulled back ~8 laps in a very short period of time and had the leaders in their sights again. Common sense ruled and a Ned Kelly was cut in the front of Furious George to give the riders a better view and that helped them recude the time they lost when it was raining hard - the cheese grater screens, vents and a bit better track knowledge for our riders meant they still made up some ground though. Then it would dry out a little and they'd pull away again. Rinse and repeat.
The other note of interest, even if only to this writer , was the debut of Year 7 girl Mari Chaffey-Jones (Ty & Kel's little sister) who in training had been riding the record setting Delila from 2007 (also featured in wining as Gordon in 2008, and again at Casey in 2009, and will be fronting up again for the Highview all girls team at Wonthaggi in 2010) around the Maryborugh track in times around the 1:54-1:55 time frame. For a girl to be consistently breaking the magical 2 minute barrier, and one in year 7 at that, was quite amazing to watch. Come the race, the much heavier trike & wet weather didn't really play to her strengths, but I'm sure she'll be back with a vengance in 2010.
Speaking of Delilia as well as it's 3 race wins, it had been a training work horse for the last two years as well suffering many crashes, smashes and hard riding and yet it's still going as fast as ever and is still safe for the riders. Funny how that also now wouldn't meet the RACV new composites regs... Not!
When the event was finally called off, in that heavy downpour, Padua were again reclaiming large chunks of time from the leaders, and had the race continued, and assuming the rain did as well, which it didn't, it could have been an interesting finish.
With the race ending the way it did, and despite the success of our Highview teams, both of which won their categories with Onyx winning by 32 laps, Evie winning by an astonishing 91 laps, everyone was left feeling a little flat and not having the opportunity to get up in front of all your fellow competitors at the end of the race kind of left everyone wondering where to from here?
The answer was provided early the next week when Terry Payne from Highview organised a mock race finish with the MEC girls team down at the track under the finishing bridge. A couple of riders were sent out in the race trikes and the crowd at the finish line went mad!
So, it all kind of worked out in the end, both trikes, whilst water logged and much heavier than they needed to be finished the race with a few crashes and scrapes to their names, but coudl have both been put straight back on the track for another race the next day if needed - a testament to the inherent strength of the kevlar fairings.