Magny Cours, France
June 2002

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© 2002 Open Road Rider:   Article / Photographs: Robert Freestone


It is Saturday, June 1st and as I awaken to the sound of rain on glass I anticipate a wet ride ahead. Yes, it's D-Day, our local bike club's annual re-enactment of the D-Day landings whereby we sail across the water under cover of darkness, cunningly disguised as "heavy beer drinkers" to the shores of northern France with the mission of 'wreaking havoc' and seeking out 'targets of opportunity' equipped solely with motorcycles with which to banish the enemy.

As the day passes the weather starts to look better, so, to prepare for the tea time off, I polish up "Mr Trumpy" to a high shine and triple check everything is spot on as I would need best performance and reliability in the field of battle to come. By 4.00pm it's getting warm and the sun is drying things out nicely. I polish the bike a bit more with less than two hours to go, then get the leathers on and start locking up the house ready for four days away. Rucksack, money, tickets, passport, final pre flight check and as I thumb the starter, Mr Trumpy comes to life with an encouraging eagerness. All set and it's down the drive and away ! I always look forward to these trips for many months prior and I visualize the moment of setting off on a like trip so many times that I like to really savor the first moment of such an event. This memory keeps me going till the next time.

We are meeting at Mike's place at 6.00pm as five of us will ride down to Portsmouth together through the early evening to catch the 10.00pm boat to Le Havre. The author on Daytona 955i 2002 spec, Tony (the Minger) on Gixxer 1000 - this year with full Yoshimura and race chip punting the best part of 150 brake at the back wheel. Mike on Aprilia Falco 1000 with race chip, raised rear end etc etc. Also, two new guys this year, Phil (the Reverend) joins us on his RSVR Aprilia with every accessory imaginable including his new 112db race pipes that were incredibly loud, and lastly Hugh on a VTR Firestorm 1000, allegedly with no accessories whatsoever ! It occurs to me that the bike market is changing with three of the five bikes being of European manufacture and two Japs.

Luck was with us as we blasted down to the port in warm evening sunshine for the 90 mile trip. On arrival at the loading area was the usual queue of 100 bikes or more. We met up with a couple of old friends, 'Ratman' and 'Road Warrior' are two loonies with highly tuned R1's with whom we have enjoyed some 'lairy' rides in the past. Once on the boat we all pile into the cubicle they laughingly refer to as a "cabin" to get changed and thus into the bar for beer and briefing from the tour organizers.

British bikers invading France are usually made very welcome

After a fairly poor night's sleep we rise at 6.30am local time for large amounts of coffee ready for disembarking at 7.00am. As usual, there was excessive revving up rolling off the jetty. Phil was 30 bikes ahead of me but I could hear his pipes playing the RSV tango over all the others. Too loud even for me I reckon but who cares - we're on holiday. We split into 3 groups of 30 bikes for the ride down to our destination's main target, the F1 racetrack at Magny Cours near Nevers in south central France. As we set off, the sun is shining on the Normandy countryside with the delightful fresh air waking everybody up.

The pace is pretty sensible at first as we clear the coast. A few miles of motorway and we're dropping down onto the fantastic twisty roads that can have only been designed for motorcycling as they are nearly all perfect for it. Good surface, no draincovers . Services are laid under the side of the road so no road works are ever needed. Long sweepers that are so smoooooth and go on for ages in one direction then the next. This is surely heaven ! The ride starts to pick up the pace as we blast into Virmoutiers where we are scheduled to stop for coffee, croissants and jam etc. It's nice to eat differently whilst abroad but I could have done with a full fry up. Then again, best not, I thought, as a full tummy makes one sleepy and not best suited to the blatting to come.

Leaving the picturesque cobbled square, the ride immediately picks up the pace as the tires get really warm and sticky in the 26C (77F) temperatures. The red mist comes up and its time to blow off the competition as best as we can. Tony performs huge wheelies everywhere, routinely lifting the Gixxer's front wheel at 100 mph plus for another half mile '3rd gear max power full height minger' as is his wont. Stopping for lunch on the banks of the Loire at Blois we are treated to constant scantily clad rollerblading totty passing by. But enough of fleshy distractions and shortly it's back for another 180 miles of blasting across the green plains and through cool forests as we carve down the road to Vierzon. Here we use a short motorway section which I have ridden before. The Daytona is noticeably easier than my TLS Suzuki was. A big bump whilst cranked over was pretty exciting on the old girl but Mr. Trumpy demolishes the 130 mph sweepers with aplomb and a reassuring sense of stability, bumps or not. It's very difficult to get this bike out of shape whatever you do with it.

We all get to the hotel and apparently only one guy binned it on a bend by overcooking it. He survived with only a couple of bruises and some duct tape on the fairing. After a good night's kip at a very nice hotel in idyllic surroundings we set off for the 10 mile trip to the circuit in cavalcade. I still got 150mph plus several times as all the roads are of such good quality.

DAY 2   Top

Approaching the circuit at Magny Cours is a pretty daunting experience. The pit building is 6 storeys high and the whole place is massive. After a pre-track briefing we all go out, about 30 at a time, for a sighting lap which they insist you do. There is full medical cover and light gantries placed all round the track. It's up to 30 meters wide in places and all up to F1 spec. I have now found my 'favorite corner of all time'. This is Estoril, a long long long right hand sweeper that goes on for ages cranked right over the whole way. It then fires you out on to a huge straight with a kink where you really get the bike rolling before a massive bout of braking for the sharp hairpin at the end. The back is lifting as the wonderful fade free brakes haul up the mph as I pass the 100 meters marker, off the brake and throw it down hard with counter steering to get in quick and fire it out the other side. The bike wheelies off a small crest every lap here and caution is required to get it under control for a downhill chicane then another straight. Magny Cours is the best track I have ridden - bar none. Not a single imperfection in the surface, huge grip and acres of reassuring kitty litter in case it all goes pear shaped. I found that the Daytona had no problem with Fireblades and R1's and seemed to get an edge on them by getting the power on earlier due to the 'softer' throttle response the Trumpet provides.

Rob Freestone sets up the Daytona for a slingshot at Magny Cours...
... while Mike Corke puts the Falco through its paces

The R1 is a couple of bhp up on Mr Trumpy but requires a deft hand on the edge as they can get a bit 'slappy' on the exits under power. Trumpy felt totally composed at all times and must be the safest track bike out there. It seems so unflustered.

Magny Cours at Nevers in France. The infamous Estoril corner is at the top
Mike Corke's tire is righteously shredded

Tony, as usual, overtook everyone (including some accomplished club racers), and following a well known bike journalist wheelieing along the pit straight, pulls a much better vertical minger for the whole pit straight. Phil, Mike and Hugh all had a thoroughly enjoyable time and were already talking about booking up for another trip soon. That's a lucky thing really as 7 blokes were off during the day with just one collar bone fracture. I think sometimes it's easy to get carried away and guys were pushing it beyond their ability. At the end of the day we returned to the hotel for din dins and a video of the day's events amongst much banter, tall stories and a few beers as well for good measure.

DAY 3   Top

On the last day I returned to Le Havre in a group of four. We took the motorway a fair distance as we had to book onto the ferry for 2.00pm. This part of the ride usually involves the "how fast will my bike go?" test. After leaving a petrol station about 30 seconds behind the others, I had to ride flat out for 7 miles to catch them. The motorway was empty, as only French ones are, and I was 160 plus for several minutes. I managed to get an indicated 172mph from Mr Trumpy and found it still really stable. The adrenaline level was off the clock for the whole ride and we covered the 300 miles in 3 hours 20 minutes including a short stop for fuel and munchies. On arrival at the port to catch the 5 hour return crossing, I was really tired but yet again I had had the ride of my life and I was most impressed that a British Triumph could do all that was asked of it without complaint and with Honda-like reliability. I can now state categorically that, after 30 years in the wilderness, Triumph manufacture world class motorcycles as good as any other stuff on the market and superior in many ways such as the 200 mile tank range. I'm made up with it.

On disembarking at Portsmouth, it was of course raining so it was a damp ride home, but I'd ridden my nuts off for four days and didn't really care about the rain. In any case, we were all soon at the Red Lion for a final Guinness before going home to the family. So ended the 2002 D-Day celebrations. Already there is talk of a ride to the Catalunya track in Spain. That's 1700 miles each way with two days on the track and one rest day for swimming and relaxing, or even a ride up into the mountains. Whatever, I'm counting the days to the next one.

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© 2002 Open Road Rider:   Article / Photographs: Robert Freestone