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LE MINZ Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

Le Minz Scooter Kids

I don’t know where to start when telling this story: scooters cartwheeling into the fence at 3am; the worst start in history; trying to sleep as the loudest scooters in the world battle it out metres from your camp; the gaffer-taped messes being coaxed to the end; the thrill of trying to pass a faster scooter on corner speed alone; sharing the track with riders such as Bayliss, Crump, McCoy and Stauffer; the sleep-deprived mistakes. It goes on and on. 

The drama was heightened in 2012 with some high-profile entrants, not to mention more entrants – the list had soared from 15 scoots in 2011 to 25. More riders on track meant more drama than ever, and not a lap went past without something happening. The InsureMyRide Le Minz 24 Hour Scooterthon presented by TGB Scooters is a real spectacle!

I was drafted into the InsureMyRide Team 2, along with InsureMyRide’s Sheena Watkins, her partner, and Ficeda’s Dave Maddock, and Aussie Superbike racer/team owner Ben Henry. We had many other teams to contend with, including IMR Team 1 (Glenn and Greg Scott and IMR’s Luke Smith), Team Jackpot (Troy Bayliss, Jason Crump and Mark “Brownie” Brown), The Scooter Shop’s pair of hot-to-trot teams, and many others.

We were self-assured, though; I’ve done enough endurance stuff to know you can’t win it in the first hour, but you certainly can lose it, and just finishing means you are in with a chance. Not actually making the start wasn’t part of the plan, mind you, but the short practice session proved our second-hand scooter had developed a nasty rattle, leaving us to watch on as everyone else started. Not exactly a perfect beginning. 

Thanks to the guys at Shark leathers, though, we soon had a washer where it was meant to be and our great hope, Ben Henry, fired out into the fray. And what a fray it was. The crowd was a non-stop chorus of ooohs and ahhhs as rider after rider ploughed their scoot into the bitumen, gravel, barriers and grass around the short track at the Gold Coast’s Parklands venue. It was a low-speed, rolling bar fight, sounding like a swarm of bees attacking a bear.

All the pre-race advice handed out by seasoned event runners Mark Petersen and Kev Williams seemed ignored as riders outrode their mounts left, right and centre. I’ve never seen so many crashes at a race meeting, and this was just the first hour! And it wasn’t just the no-name riders – the high-profile guys were having trouble taking the little 50s seriously, and were throwing them around like pushbikes, but discovering they can also bite.

Aussie Superbike front-runner Dan Stauffer crashed four times as he carried out duties for Team Racesafe, and “all of them hurt,” he said afterwards. I arrived just after one such crash to see him walking the 10 metres back to where he and the scooter parted company, carrying the gloves which had been ripped off his hands, and with a mild limp. They may only be 50cc, but these little things can smack hard. 

Well, most could. It turned out our scoot – quickly nicknamed The Turtle – was either the slowest scooter there, or the second slowest. We were lucky to get 51km/h out of it down the two straights, as opposed to the 60km/h-plus most of our competitors were doing, some at 70! This little fact wore pretty thin, pretty quick. 

After seven hours, we realised despite being told by the scoot’s mechanic to run pre-mix, the scoot had oil injection still hooked up! The 20:1 fuel/oil mix (40:1 is better) may have explained the lack of power. We changed plugs and added fresh fuel, but it never came good. 

My first lap at all on The Turtle was in a race situation, taking the third stint after Dave and Ben had done a good job of ticking over the laps despite the lack of top, bottom and midrange power, and I soon discovered frustration of the highest order. The track had some tight, technical sections in it and getting through them well and recording any sort of laptime meant corner speed and lots of it – at least it handled well. Problem was, you were always coming across scooters with more top end and no corner speed, meaning once behind them, you were doing their laptimes, and the only way past was to pull a desperate – on the grass, up the inside, around the outside, block pass, etc. Riding like that for 24 hours makes for a lot of desperates! IMR Team 2 would like to apologise now for anyone on the receiving end of that. It also meant we held up faster scooters, but we needed to be quick through the technical bits and block to keep it up. 

You always knew when Bayliss was passing, too, as he’d run you onto the grass, or pat your back on his way past, or even grab your pillion handles and drag his way past. Funny stuff. 

As the riders got to know each other, rivalries developed, and the crash tally piled higher and higher. As I finally tried to grab some sleep in my swag at 1am, I drifted off to the periodic sound of a scooter pitching into the bitumen, helped by the generous smattering of gravel which was hard to see at night. 

As hard as the first 12 hours were, the second were always going to be the hardest. And how! 

Team Jackpot’s bike was a smouldering mess by 4am, but somehow still going thanks to some inspired spanner work, and the event favourites were now languishing well behind Team Scooter Shop 2, who were fast, uberorganised and reliable. Then it all went wrong for IMR Team 1. 

Greg Scott crashed on the darkest corner of the track at around 4.15 am, popping his shoulder immediately. Racesafe was there in seconds, and he soon had the green whistle (a painkiller device) in his mouth, and his brother by his side. 

With team rider Luke Smith injured with a bung knee, and Glenn accompanying Greg to hospital, Ben Henry volunteered himself onto their bike while Dave, Sheena and I continued on The Turtle. After nearly an hour and a half, I replaced him and was glad I did – 60km/h had never felt so fast, and while it didn’t handle as well and I was only around 1.5-2 seconds faster a lap, the race speed was heaps better, as a pass made in a corner would actually stick – on The Turtle, a pass was often followed by the shameful sight of the scooter you just duffed up gliding back past in slow motion. 

I was in heaven, enjoying myself again, so put in 90 minutes, revelling in passing scooters that had previously held me up for laps. 

I was still getting smashed by the fast teams, though, and I knew by now that all we needed to do was get both bikes finished for some sort of victory. Happy with that, I pulled into the pits as the sun broke through the dawn clouds to be told by Dave that Luke was too knocked up to continue and Glenn was still at the hospital, so they were retiring. Ben and I had ridden for nothing. But it was worth it just to pass some people without having to stuff it up their inside at any opportunity. 

We weren’t the only teams having trouble. Only 21 or so scoots were left circulating as the burning Gold Coast sun made its presence really felt around 10am. Team Jackpot had lost Crumpy to a broken hand, most scooters had battle scars of some description and people were getting tired and a bit road-ragey. The heat was oppressive, the circuit feeling tighter all the time and it was easier to make a mistake. 

 

The funny thing was time flew when on the scoot. The track was fun but needed total concentration, except on the straight. That said, you spent the straight working out a way around the scoot in front and when you got past, there was another to pass. And there was always someone behind you trying to do likewise. 

I hadn’t raced anything for years, so my racecraft was a bit lacking and I was too slow to react to gaps presenting themselves. I didn’t want to upset anyone too much, so wasted some time being polite. I also bashed into the odd scoot when I got a passing manoeuvre wrong or just plain had enough, but most people took it in good humour. At least I didn’t knock anyone off, though a few did. I did eventually knock myself off at walking pace, a passing manoeuvre gone wrong, but it was more funny than painful.

The IMR team had arranged some Mydrade hydration drink and it worked a treat in the stinking heat, so I was feeling pretty good right until the end. I am writing this the next day, though, and not feeling too good now…

With three hours to go, Team Jackpot was out after the poor scoot cried enough. “I was riding along thinking, ‘Someone’s having a barbeque,’ then looked down and realised the scooter was smouldering pretty badly. It was stuffed,” explained Brownie. He promptly crossed out the 24-hour sign on his helmet (a helmet painter by trade, he had painted up a special one for the 24-hour) and written 21 in thick black texta.

Scooter Shop 2 was still out front by miles and stayed there to the end. They were the class team of the event and deserved the win. As excited as they were, we were mainly relieved to finish. Sheena had basically been lifted from the bike after doing the second-from-last stint – I saw all this from my seat in the cold-water spa at the time – and it was left to Ben to finish. He spent the last hour in a wicked battle with one of the Loose Kid Industries team riders, running up and occasionally passing in the corners, then doing it all again at the end of each straight.

We debated burning The Turtle at the end but despite all the frustration, it had got us to the end without a spanner being used (except to change the sparkplug), used bugger all fuel and it handled really well. So we left it. Besides that, the brakes were still brand new as we were full throttle all lap, save for two corners.

If you’re wondering why anyone would race a scooter, I’ll tell you. Because everyone is there to have fun on two wheels very cheaply, because it’s not for taking too seriously, and because a 24-hour anything is a challenge. Bayliss said, “I can’t understand how those blokes race a 24-hour on a Superbike. This was bloody hard; I can’t imagine it with heaps of power and at 280km/h. I have a new respect for the World Endurance boys. And no, I don’t want to do one!”

Would I do it again? Bloody oath. In fact I have to do it again, with a 60km/h scooter next time (definitely not The Turtle), and I reckon it would be even more fun. For now, though, I don’t ever want to see or hear another scooter again. 

Story – Sam Maclachlan, Australia Motorcycle News

Photography – Mark Petersen, Hop Photography and SM

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