We’re based in Coventry, so BSB rounds at Donington Park are ‘home’ events, meaning we’re able to entertain our local supporters and invite them in to see the team in action. It all adds to the atmosphere of the event.
This time we were racing on the ‘National’ circuit configuration which misses out the Melbourne Loop section and is just under two miles in length. It’s a short, one minute five second, lap with the very awkward Roberts chicane as the final corner – linking Starkey’s Straight with the Start/Finish straight. Very tight lap times and a very familiar circuit for the riders puts a premium on decisive overtaking moves.
Decent enough start to the weekend on Friday afternoon. Fine weather and Lee immediately on the pace finishing P3 after 20 laps running. Rory spent 24 laps familiarising himself with a superbike around Donington Park and clearly enjoying the rather intimidating drop through Craner Curves. Through the speed trap at almost 130 mph, only two others went faster!
Lee gave Rory a tow as they left pitlane together on new tyres to set their qualifying selection times at the end of FP2. Top 12 go straight through to Q2 without the need to run in Q1. The benefit of the tow got Rory up to P6 with Lee fractions slower in P10.
FP3 on Saturday morning is effectively a warm up session ahead of qualifying. It’s a chance to try any final race set up options and get dialled in for the lunch time qualifying runs. A small technical issue ended Rory’s session early but both he and Lee recorded encouraging race pace times.
The new format where those who don’t make the top 12 have to compete for the six places that go through to the second phase of qualifying can provide a distinct advantage for those who progress. Q1 effectively becomes a 12-minute warm up for them as they get new tyres and go straight out into Q2. In BSB, six riders are promoted to Q2 and those riders really do have an advantage through running twice, especially where times are split in hundredths rather than tenths.
We’ve benefitted with Rory coming through from Q1 in the past but this time it worked against our riders. Both found a chunk of time and would you believe recorded an identical lap time – to the thousandth of a second, 0.000 showing on the timing screen at 1:06.163. The Q1 riders with their track time advantage had 0.1 on Lee and Rory which made the difference between lining up on row two or being pushed back as we were to P12 and 13. The situation is compounded as the grid for the later races is based on race lap times and around this track is difficult get a good time in while battling out of position. Anyway, that’s racing.
The Saturday afternoon race is always a bit shorter than the main events on Sunday. 20 laps to run this time but there had been a heavy rain shower which turned the preceding stock 1000 race into a lottery. A quick word with race winner and fellow Kawasaki runner Luke Mossey confirmed our suspicion that the track was drying fast and slick tyres would be the way to go. Lots of last-minute action in the pit garages and on the grid to change from wet to dry settings.
Lee had an average start from P12 but regrouped and was coming through fast and was P8, 1.5 seconds behind Bridewell in P4 when he ran out of laps. There were a few borderline overtaking and track position moves, to say the least, and Rory was on the receiving end at turn one, Redgate, going on to lap two. He went in hot looking to make up places, Rea ran wide on to the exit kerb opening up the line for Rory, only to come back on to the track and clip Rory sending him on a trip through the huge gravel pit and all the way to the back of the field – P26. A safety car period on laps five and six brought him back into play but still low down the order and a bit short on pace after his excursion. No points for P17 but he did finish ahead of reigning champion Brookes.
Try again! 10-minute morning warm up with no dramas and ready for the first race of the day. 25 laps this time – which became 28 after three were added to compensate for a late safety car period.
Good conditions but far from ideal grid positions after race one – Lee P10 and Rory P15. Rory got a flyer and made up seven places on the first lap, unfortunately Lee found himself pushed to the outside and went the other way. Over the line for the first time – Rory P9, Lee P13 and losing another place in to Redgate. Around them all sorts was going on with desperate overtaking moves up and down the field. People getting pushed out at the chicane were being penalised two seconds (long lap equivalent) for going outside of track limits to avoid their aggressors and then Andrew Irwin collided with Iddon on the exit of Redgate sending Iddon into the gravel and earning his own two second penalty. And so it went on. Lee managed to stay out of trouble, but Rory landed a two second penalty for cutting the chicane when he has barged wide going in and lost two places going down to turn one as he lost drive. Hardly seemed fair as he’d been minding his own business.
Having been up with the leading group, after the chicane incident, Rory got shuffled all the way down to P14. He fought back to P11 and closed right up on Glenn Irwin who was dropping back. Rory knew he was faster at Mcleans, the uphill righthander, but when he did make his move, Irwin turned in leaving Rory nowhere to go. Unfortunately, Rory’s bike clipped the Honda and sent Glenn down. No hard feelings afterwards but his mistake so a three-place grid penalty came his way. Rory stayed on and lost a few places while getting back to the track. He recovered to finish the race P10.
Lee did his battling back thing and got on to the back of the leading group with the pace for P5 or better. Then a very unusual event occurred, something failed in the engine and Lee retired to the garage. It wasn’t a massive blow up and there was no smoke, but something broke. Unusual because this is our sixth season campaigning with Kawasaki ZX-10RRs and it was our first ever engine failure. Great record mechanically but still bad timing for Lee’s race. Anyway, quick engine change and ready for race three.
Race two really was very unusual too in that the usually high riding standard seemed to go out of the window. 12 non-finishers out of a field of 27. Not all down to ‘incidents’ and one involving our friend Danny Buchan who had a huge Craner Curves crash. No bones broken but concussed so ruled out for seven days meaning he’ll miss Cadwell Park this weekend, his favourite circuit. Tough one Danny.
What could possibly go wrong this time. Lots, actually!
Nice afternoon but the threatening clouds loomed over the race start. Lee got a good one and had passed O’Halloran going onto lap three when the few spots of rain became steady drizzle and the race was stopped for safety reasons. The drizzle passed but race control hung on waiting for some certainty on conditions. Just as a new ‘dry’ race was declared it rained properly for a few minutes. Dry race means it will be stopped if conditions deteriorate. Wet race means – you decide on tyres, we’re not stopping. Lowly grid slots again – Lee P10 and Rory P14.
So, what to do? A repeat of the Thruxton tyre choice dilemma, which we got a bit wrong! Pole sitter Hickman on full wets, Lee on full wets – harder compound rear. Rory intermediate rear and wet front as he’s not yet run an ‘inter’ front. Gamblers opted for full inters and even slick rears. Too late to change, it became clear the track was drying fast. Lee couldn’t make any use of his wets even on the first lap and steadily dropped back to the point where he and Hickman were lapped. One point scored and frustrated not to have rolled the dice. Rory gained seven places on the first lap and hung on tenaciously as the three leaders on the ‘right’ tyres disappeared into the distance and those behind on more aggressive tyre strategies came though. Mind, Iddon chose a rear slick and crashed out of the lead on lap eight. Rory finished P11, just ahead of championship leader O’Halloran who was running the same tyre choice, so positives to take from that.
Our second ‘what if’ weekend in a row. So frustrating that the team, Lee and Rory haven’t been able to demonstrate our true potential.
Championship. Rory P9 on 100 points – good going for a a rookie coming up to the mid-point of the season. Lee P10 on 97. Just outside the all-important top eight for now, but plenty more races to come.
Max and James Cook
Better weekend for the Cook boys. Max is starting to get to grips with his Kawasaki 636 junior superstock bike. Lots of help from K-Tech finding a setting which suits Max and the bike. In the top ten during free practice and qualified P9, his best of the season so far. Really strong race, benefitted from a couple of incidents but also pulled off some good clean overtakes. Running P3 in a tight battle with two laps to go, the podium just eluded Max as he lost out by 0.055 as he crossed the line P4.
James had three talent cup races – one extra to make up for a rain cancellation at Thruxton. He was the star of the show in the first two races. Hampered by a slight technical issue which slowed him on the straights, he pulled off any number of incredible out-braking moves, making up two or even three places at a time. He finished both races on the podium in third spot. His final race was harder going as he suffered with a slight speed deficit again and with a few laps to go his skills on the brakes caught up with him. Making up two places into Redgate he saved a huge bobble but had to run on into the gravel – he did his best to hang on but, in the end, the inevitable happened and the bike flopped on to its side. Still, he went down fighting.
Max is P11 in his class points table and closing on a number ahead of him. James is P4 on 108 points and aiming to get in to one of the top three places.
Cadwell Park. It’s a funny old place in an idyllic setting, but certainly not a place for the faint hearted. The fans love it!
The superbike lap record holder is one Lee Jackson. Hopefully this weekend will be an opportunity for Lee to shine and score some big points. It will be an experience for Rory getting up to speed but nothing much phases him. There’s some extra track time to help everyone get their heads around the track so we should be in a good place come qualifying.
Hope to see you there.
Regards, Nigel. Team Principal.