I had hoped to get out on the gixxer today but the forecasters have got it wrong again so I will write about biking instead. This time it’s about the old Grobnik GP Circuit in the foothills above Rijeka in Croatia.
My first visit to the circuit was in 2008 in a supporting role to Ian Simpson in the ICGP series of races for bikes as used in the grand prix glory days of the nineteen seventies.
Ian’s weapon of choice – this very smart TZ350 —
The long haul from Scotland down to the circuit wasn’t without incident and almost every part of the cooling system was replaced on that hard worked Sprinter on the journey. We arrived a day late and missed the first Free Practise session but no matter – Ian was soon on the pace in Practise proper and qualified on the front row of the grid first time at the circuit. All seemed promising for race day but with some ex-grand prix riders on quick bikes in the mix nothing was taken for granted.
Spot the hitch-hiker – a grasshopper on the wheel hub —
The winner’s laurel wreath with father & son team Bill & Ian drinking champagne shows the result of all that effort.
Practise hadn’t gone without incident as the old Grobnik circuit isn’t your modern billiard table smooth. The coarse aggregate used in it’s construction and the bumpy surface make for a rough ride.
The frame mounting for the steering damper on the little TZ tore completey out of it’s seating breaking the weld meaning a quick fix was needed. I toured the paddock with my best smile and eventually found the locals encamped down near the toilet and shower block.
After a question or two here and there in my pidgin Serbo-Croat bringing nothing but confused looks I was soon directed to Cobra pronounced Zobra (in Croat there is a small squiggle neneath the ‘C’ which softens it) who was resting between practise sessions in his converted Leyland ambulance motorhome.
The man with all the answers. Norton riding Zobra from Zagreb produced a strip of titanium plate from his ‘lucky’ box and I returned to the Simmo camp with my loot. Engineer father Bill didn’t take long to fashion a titanium strap to fit round the damaged frame rail and take a new bolt to anchor the steering damper. Over-engineered but strong! We had no more problems!
Zobra had spent time working in London so we had a language in common – his cockney to my scots! He was competing in a well supported classic series on his 750cc Norton and certainly knew his way round the Grobnik circuit.
He qualified on pole for his race and was a run-a-way winner on race day!
The pic shows him on the grid cooking gently in the hot sun despite the attention of his ever-present brolly dolly.
Another winning team at Grobnik – washed and ready for the prize-giving with a relaxed Bill still drinking champagne.
A nice thing to come from my meeting with Cobra is that I made a friend and we still keep in touch although we don’t see much of one another. Not surprising really given the distance but I’m sure that one of these days I will return to Croatia and look up old buddies.
It wasn’t all about motorbikes – we had art in the paddock too —
With racing and prize-giving over – a bunch of us headed back to the coast and a caravan site that one of our number knew of in Moscenicka Draga which was as beautiful as it sounded and we settled in there for a night. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the long haul home across Europe as passenger in the Sprinter towing a big three axle race trailer so waved everyone bye-bye next morning and booked into a hotel on the sea-front for a couple of nights.
I enjoyed walking – swimming and even did a bit of sight-seeing before packing my bag and catching a service bus up on the main road one morning and heading off for the islands.
I had heard so much about Croatia’s thousand islands and there was nothing else for it but to go see for myself.
The bus was absolutely full and as the last passenger I stood in the footwell next to the driver as we slowly made our way to the ferry to the island of Cres. The road was hung on a steep cliff face and care was needed with this full size 42 seat service bus loaded with at least sixty passengers!
We arrived at the ferry terminal without mishap and that’s where I got my next surprise! The bus drove straight on to the ferry complete with passengers and the reasonable fare I had paid on entry had included the ferry crossing and took me all the way across this big island to the actual town of Cres. That appealed to a tight Scotsman and I treated myself to a couple of nights in a comfortable guesthouse right on the seafront as a reward.
I didn’t do a lot except walk and chill out. When it dawned on me that I had left my towel and swimming trunks drying on my room balcony back at Mosenicka Draga the sense of good humour from my cheap transit sort of evaporated. But – it’s an ill wind as they say!
Off I went on a long walk across the town – past the harbour and round the headland. I was envious of everyone swimming and sunbathing and kicking myself for leaving my speedos behind when I began to notice a lot of people in the same predicament!
Well that’s what it looked like but I went back to check on the notice board I had passed just to confirm. Sure enough – there in Croat and German it announced I was entering the nudist area! Problem solved! I took the cheap option – stripped off my Tee and shorts and jumped into the sea naked alongside everyone else.
What a liberating feeling! Don’t know why I’d never tried it before – or since!
With my luck I should have gone into the casino – not just taken pics of the old-style Fiat 500 by the door.
On second thoughts perhaps I did well to play safe. Last time I had a run in with one of these little b*ggers was fifty years ago and on that occasion I came out of the melee with a broken neck! Best to quit while I’m ahead!
All too soon it was time to think about home. The main airport for Rijeka is on the off-shore island of Krk reached by a splendid new bridge from the mainland. From Cres it was a pleasant bus journey to the top of the island for another ferry crossing and a couple of days exploring before catching an Easyjet flight to Luton for all of fifty quid! I spent a night with my daughter just down the road in Costa del Hemel and next day a domestic flight for another fifty quid took me on to Prestwick where Ian picked me up.
With sunsets like this it makes me wonder why I don’t do these things more often – especially when the rain is bouncing off the patio as it is at the mo’. I’ve just got nine hundred and ninety eight islands off Croatia left to visit!