French adventure for Stornoway racer John Neil

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Stornoway speedster John Neil Mitchell was back in France for the infamously gruelling beach endurance race Le-touquet as the veteran raced proved he has still got plenty miles on the clock and gas in his tank yet.

Travelling to France with his old race bike, one he acknowledges was probably the oldest on the start lines, Mitchell was in confident mood having spent some months, as always, painstakingly rebuilding and replacing parts of his race quad.

This time around Mitchell started in the third row meaning he avoided a lot of the frenetic traffic jams for this further back the field although he was inevitably caught up and missed several minutes.

“The bike went well off the start,” recalled Mitchell, “It was holding its own against the newer machinery. I pitted on the hour after four laps and I was up to 42nd and with a quick check over all it needed was fuel and fresh goggles for me.

“I settled into a rhythm, having a good battle with Oli Sansom at one point , then pitted after the next four laps hoping for a quick top up of fuel, fresh goggles and a couple of energy gels but I had noticed the bike wasn’t as sharp as it was before when trying to keep the front end up as the track got rougher.

“A quick squeeze of the radiator hose revealed it was low on water and when we topped it up, it came straight out of the water pump seal warning pipe so game over. The engine was cooked and the front right head stud was slack next to the exhaust port.”

He continued: “A quick strip down revealed the water pump seal was knackered and the cylinder head was cracked round that stud. Causing the head gasket to let go which then caused more damage to the head mating surface at the water jacket nearest the exhaust port.

“I had a head gasket failure at the last race I did at Dunbar and after stripping it I couldn’t see anything that could have caused it as the head and barrel were flat, so i put it down to and non-genuine gasket, after working out the compression ratio to make sure it wasn’t too high for some reason.

“Turned out it was standard 11.4:1 so that ruled that out. The head had been welded before I got it second hand so I’m now wondering if it had started to crack again round that stud and I couldn’t see it as that is roughly where the gasket failed. So it’s looking like the waterpump seal failed, causing the overheating and damage.”

Having replaced the shaft, bearing and seals last time he rode Le-Touqet John Neil had little concerns over any water pump issues this time around as they are usually good for a number of years.

“We sorted so many other problems in the few months in the run up to the event too,” he said.

“Like tracing a broken wire in the loom, having to change the oil tank which decided to split, axle bearings with a steel spacer made for between them and making new steel inserts for the engine casings at swing arm pivot.”

He added: “Now the chassis seems sorted and I just to make the engine last a beach race . I do have a low hour ‘09 carb yzf mx bike sitting there mind you .

“Overall I am chuffed with how it performed really and I felt good riding so my winter base training is doing the trick l guess.”