The Birth of an Endurance Racing Team: BJ Racing Equipped with DENALI Electronics
Posted on October 12 2021
By: Jim Blackburn
In late 2020, a very good friend of mine, Ben “P”, and I decided to go racing. We had briefly discussed building a bike to race in the Freetech Streetstock Endurance Championship, however it never went much further. Ben and I had raced pitbike supermoto in the British Championship for quite a few years but both stopped around 2016. We had been riding road bikes together ever since. Freetech announced their inaugural 24-hour race happening at the end of the 2020 season. When I received the news, I was immediately on the phone to Ben. The challenge of a 24-hour race is something I have always wanted to take on, and the perfect opportunity had arrived.
We did our research and picked up a little Aprilia RS4 125 road bike to modify for endurance racing. Now as many of you know, Aprilia's are not particularly well known for their reliability. Instead of choosing a trusty Honda or Suzuki that the majority of the field were running, we opted to be different. This had some big drawbacks during the build. With very little in the way of “race parts” to fit we had to make a lot of our own components. We had set a budget, and padded it a little to be safe, but upon stripping down the written-off road bike we soon realized almost everything would need attention or replacement. Heading towards the end of the build stage this left us at almost double the budget. The bike underwent some weight loss (with more still to do), it had rear sets and a quick shifter fitted, clip-on bars, radial front master cylinder, exhaust system, fiberglass fairings and custom quick-action throttle.
Then came the issue of lighting, a mandatory rear rain light is required at all rounds, and with a 12hr and 24hr race powerful front lights would be necessary. Whilst on our search for something small, lightweight and reliable we came across DENALI Electronics. The DENALI DM LED Light Kit was just what we were looking for in a pair of front lights and the DENALI B6 Brake Light Visibility Pod was spot-on for use as a rain light.
At this point we only had two riders, and we ideally needed one or two more. I enlisted the help of a good old racing buddy Ben “J”, how's that to confuse things! I had raced against him for many years in the pit-bikes and he also had experience racing 450 supermoto in the British championship. Ben was a fast, safe and reliable rider to add to the team.
Four Hours of Whilton Mill
The 4hrs of Whilton Mill kart track race, on a short circuit, was at the start of April. The weather was freezing, as we stood on the start line it was zero degrees Celsius. Due to the ongoing pandemic and no overnight stays allowed, qualifying was cancelled and grid positions drawn from a hat. We got 34th on the grid. Ben “P” was off to a great start, making his way up to 14th when someone crashed in front of him, taking him down too.
We lost an hour in the pits trying to figure out why the bike wouldn’t start. A faulty electrical connector was the culprit. All three riders put in some consistent lap times after the bike was fixed and we bought her home in 38th place. Not the result we were looking for, but looking at our lap times we soon realized we had the potential to run inside the top 10 if we could string a full race together without any issues.
Four Hours of Teesside
Next up was The 4hrs of Teesside kart track, another short circuit, but this one being around twice the length of Whilton Mill. We headed to Teesside with the same three-rider line up, but the bike had undergone some major changes after round 1. Some components on the bike were changed/upgraded and we now had full race fairings. The bike looked stunning! With some of the pandemic restrictions lifted, we were able to stay overnight. This meant we were able to get in practice and super pole qualifying. Practice day was in glorious sunshine and the bike and riders were really finding their feet at the circuit laying down some fast lap times. Superpole in the afternoon was near perfect conditions. With myself posting the quickest lap of all three riders it made sense for me to take on the super pole lap. For those who are unfamiliar with the superpole qualifying set up, each team gets 1 hot lap to post their qualifying time. I went safe so as not to crash and secure ourselves a decent grid position, we would start the 4-hour race from 10th position. Race day came and the weather changed drastically, it was a monsoon.
We've all ridden in rain, but this was something else. Initially I made a good start working my way up to 4th place. The red flag then came out for a bike that was on fire. On the restart I managed to make my way into 2nd place before the first rider change. Over the next couple of rider changes we made some mistakes, communication was extremely difficult in the poor conditions with visibility being so bad. On my next stint I crashed while pushing on in ever worsening conditions, this lost us 20 minutes in the pits making repairs, which dropped us outside the top 30. All three riders put in some great stints to bring her home in 18th place, a big improvement on round 1 and a big learning curve too.
24 Hours of Teesside
We found ourselves, at only our third event on the bike, heading into the “big one”: the 24-hour race. This is what all the time, money and preparation has been for; taking part in and hopefully completing the 24-hour race. We headed into this event confident in the bike, and the rider's ability, but unsure on whether the little 125cc engine could endure such a long period of racing. This would be the inaugural 24-hour race, the first 24hr motorcycle race in the UK and we as a team were so excited to be a part of this. This race required 4-6 riders, so with the same current 3 riders, Ben “P”, Ben “J” and myself we added again, an old racing friend Liam to the team. Liam has lots of riding experience including pitbike supermoto at the British level as well as recent motocross experience. Not only was an additional rider needed, but a full team of helpers for the event. Up to now, myself and both Bens had been at the race meetings ourselves, dealing with the maintenance/repairs, time keeping, rider changes and refueling. However, the 24 hour event required a bigger input of help to allow the riders to rest as much as possible. We were really fortunate, and grateful, that a great bunch of people gave up 3 days to come help us (not to mention the lack of sleep!).
For Friday practice we had planned to do minimal laps to save the engine, the main goal being getting our new rider Liam up to speed and to learn the circuit. The weather was beautiful, sun shining and just over 20 degrees Celsius, perfect riding weather. We ended up doing more laps than we wanted as we found the gearing we used last time out was not appropriate for this race. Also, for the 24-hour race it was mandatory to run an exhaust baffle to reduce noise. This caused a significant decrease in our bikes performance on the straightaways, which we had to counter with gearing changes.
Saturday morning practice was dry but with black clouds heading in. Superpole qualifying followed and on the one lap chance I managed to qualify us in 9th out of 65 bikes, setting the quickest lap we have done on the bike around Teesside to date. With a mere 15 minutes left until we were due to be on the grid, the rain came, so we opted for a change to wet weather tires, as did most of the grid.
My initial jump off the line was much better than the last race, but the first half of the lap was hectic with a fair bit of contact and very little room. I found myself in 5th place! But I annoyingly dropped the bike on one of the hairpins, a small “nothing” of a crash which relegated me to 45th position. This was the time not to panic; we still had 23:59.00 left to go. I spent the next half hour working my way back up to 14th. The other three riders all put in a great set of stints to pull us back up to 9th at around the 3hr mark.
Unfortunately luck wasn’t on our side and on the last lap of my second stint I crashed on oil from someone else’s bike. We lost 15 minutes in the pits repairing the bike and this dropped us down to the mid pack in 33rd. Again, all three other riders put in some great stints and along with a well-timed tire change to slicks we were working our way back inside the top 20.
Now they say bad things happen in threes (well they do here in the UK). You guessed it, my 3rd stint ended in another crash. This time coming towards the end of my half hour stint the chain snapped under acceleration and managed to lock the rear wheel sending me into a highside. With the rear wheel locked and no way to untangle the chain on the track, I had to wait for recovery to get us back to the pits. Once back, the team all got involved in fixing the bike. 45 minutes later we were back out and in 39th position.
The night came in and the DENALI lights got their first use in the dark. They were amazing! Other than another couple of tire changes back to wets at around 1am, and then back to slicks again at around 4am, we had a trouble free run through the night and into the morning. This trouble free run continued until the end of the race, and with all 4 riders putting in some great lap times, even coming up to the 24 hour mark running on empty, we managed to fight our way back up to finish 21st in class and 24th overall.
Our goal was to finish, and finish we did. The race certainly came with some dramas but the bike didn’t miss a beat. The DENALI lights had a huge test too, due to the rain, and then the dark, the lights were on for almost the entire 24 hours and never let us down. The R&G rain gear kept us all dry when needed, which is a huge bonus in such a long race. The R&G crash protection saved us damage that could have caused the end of our race if it wasn’t fitted. We learned as riders, and as a team. A 24hr race is a seriously demanding event, but the reward when you finish is totally worth it. We hope to return at next year's 24 hour race with our sights set on a higher position. Our focus now is on the next round of the championship as we cross the border to Scotland and head to The Knockhill 6hr, our first “long circuit” of the season.
Jim is an aircraft maintenance engineer from the UK who has a passion for all things motorcycle and racing related. He’s always looking for the next bike adventure and enjoys building and maintaining his own machines. As well as racing, he’s a keen road rider who enjoys trips away on his MT10.