Finally, a dry weekend! The weather forecast changed its mind a few times during the week but in the end, we enjoyed some fine late summer sunshine. Why is a dry weekend so important? Besides being a nicer experience for spectators, it enables the teams to focus on outright performance without having to second guess around a major variable.
The Snetterton 300 layout is the longest track we race on at a shade under three miles. It has bit of everything. Best known for its two long, 180mph straights, there’s also a mix of high-speed corners and tight hairpins and chicanes. Finding chassis and engine set ups to give the best all-around performance is the key. The official three-day test session in early May had been a washout so everyone was starting from scratch. As the circuit is hard on tyres, the first thing to find out would be if the new for 2021 supersoft SCX rear tyre would hold up over race distance.
After a decent weekend at Cadwell Park, Lee was keen to score some big points to consolidate his position in one of the eight Showdown places. Our rookie Rory had yet to ride a high-speed lap of the circuit on a superbike. Over the years, the Kawasaki ZX-10RR has gone well at Snetterton so we were feeling confident but just a little concerned about the outright power and speed of our rivals in race conditions.
Well, the first thing we found out after the first runs was that we were struggling with ‘chatter’. It’s a juddering sensation through the front and sometimes even the rear tyre and the riders hate it. The rapid fluctuation in suspension movement can be caused by a particular bike set up issue or the nature of the track. As riders up and down the pitlane were complaining, it was down to the track surface. Tarmac worn smooth to become low grip over the years with bumps and ripples (cars!) unsettling the suspension. Grip, slide, grip, slide, grip, slide……
We used FP1 to bed in reconditioned front brake callipers and chains, and only used one set of tyres on each bike. Lee was only a second off the fastest time on a track with a lap record of 1.47.1, Rory a couple of tenths further back. Some changes to reduce the chatter and FP2 was highlighting the speeds on the SCX tyre – all the top runners were around or under lap record pace. Out on new tyres and then a second set in the final minutes, aiming for a good time with an eye on the Q1/Q2 cut off. Lee was only 0.2 off the lap record in P4 and Rory P7 0.5 off and faster than the pole position time set by Danny Buchan on our bike last year. Those times saw both the boys comfortably inside the top 12 and straight through to the second part of qualifying. Still not happy about the chatter but the soft rear tyre looking as though it would do the job.
The 20-minute FP3 session on Saturday morning is effectively a warm up for the lunchtime qualifying runs. Running ‘scrubbed’ tyres from the final runs in FP2 and with lap times not critical, it is an opportunity for a longer race pace run. Lee P12, Rory P14.
The 12 Q2 qualifiers were joined by the fastest six from Q1. 18 bikes on a three-mile track, but traffic can still be an issue as some riders are ‘on it’, some are either building up or winding down after a fast lap and some are just dawdling, looking for a tow, trying to follow a faster rider closely to help drag them along and improve their lap time.
Lee mastered the traffic for a 1.46.9 and P4 for the race one grid. Rory recorded an impressive 1.47.2 for P12 just behind Iddon’s Ducati, just 0.9 back of Glenn Irwin’s eye opening 1.46.3 – 0.8 under the lap record. Now the riders were really pushing on, up and down pitlane all the talk was about the level of suspension chatter and how it was making it difficult to hold an ideal line through the corners.
Despite the better than usual weather, there was a chilly wind blowing on Saturday afternoon as the grid formed up for race one. We knew the SCX rear tyre would be marginal but as this was the short race – 12 laps – we ran with what we knew. Two teams took the decision to run the slightly harder SC0.
Good start and first two corners from Lee, Andrew Irwin got past, but he settled in to P5. Things got a bit hairy on lap 5. Glenn Irwin crashed out of the lead and brother Andrew suffered an engine failure at the end of the flat-out Bentley straight and into the first part of the Esses. He raised his hand and tried to get out of the way, but Lee was right on top of him and as he instinctively swerved to avoid contact, Rea who was directly behind Lee ran in to the back of him. Rea’s front wheel went between the swinging arm and exhaust on Lee’s bike, taking out the rear wheel speed sensor and dislodging some seat unit fixings. Miraculously, Lee stayed on and didn’t feel much as the speed differential between him and Rea wouldn’t have been great. Rea wasn’t so lucky and had a big crash – rider okay.
Despite the lack of a rear wheel speed sensor sending signals to inform the engine braking settings, Lee got his head down in a battle with Brookes who was running the harder rear tyre. They closed on the leaders and at the line 0.8 covered Mackenzie, Bridewell, O’Halloran, Brookes and Jackson – so close. To O’Halloran’s embarrassment, on the run to the line with Bridewell dragging past him and Mackenzie defending the inside, he missed the flag. Up to turn one he thought he’d cleared them (he had, they were slowing and waving to the crowd) and he completed an extra lap at race speed and celebrated over the line. Only to look over his shoulder and see – no one. Oops! No harm done though.
While all that was going on, Rory ran a very strong race. Good start and manoeuvring through the tight turns of the first sector of the lap moved Rory up to P8. His race turned into a battle with Vickers, Hickman and a closing Ray. He crossed the line 0.9 behind Hickman who was just 0.3 behind Vickers in P6. Finishing less than eight seconds off the lead was an excellent result for Rory’s first superbike race at Snetterton.
Everyone was still concerned with suspension chatter – irrespective of make of machine, set up or riding style. Still, same for everyone, as we say.
After 12 laps in race one, the rear tyres looked marginal for Sunday’s 16 lap races. To be on the safe side, as we hadn’t used them so far, we ran the SC0 in the 10-minute warm up to collect some data and let Lee and Rory feel how the tyre performed. Using new tyres probably flattered us a bit but Rory was fastest and Lee was right there, P3, showed we’d have good speed if we opted for the harder rear. In the event, the weather really warmed up and sent the track temperature to over the magic 35 degrees mark above which we knew we’d be safe using the SCX.
Lap times from race one determined the race two grid. Lee would line up on the front row, P3, with Rory further back in P11 despite his best lap being only 0.4 slower than Lee’s and just 0.1 slower than race winner Mackenzie. Off the line, Lee dropped back three spots on lap one but fought back past Brookes and Rea to P4 by lap four. Here’s where the chatter really affects things as racing hard, Lee couldn’t hold a tight line in a couple of places and was running deep enabling Rea to get back past. After that the race got a bit scratchy. Despite Lee’s best efforts, Rea held him off – on his very fast Suzuki – as Brookes used his less worn harder tyre to get back ahead, leaving Lee P6 at the line – 0.054 or about a wheel – behind Rea.
Rory had a couple of adventures on lap one and came round in P14 – not ideal. As ever, head down, never give up. Passing Iddon, Hickman and Buchan isn’t easy pickings and by lap 10 he was up to P8, in with Vickers and Andrew Irwin. In the end, the last few laps were uneventful as Irwin moved away but Hickman was unable to match Rory’s pace and crossed the line almost two seconds back. Most impressive was that for most of the race Rory had set the fastest lap only to be pipped by 0.055, courtesy of Mackenzie as he fought for the lead.
Based on his 1.47.6 lap time, the grid for race three would see Rory in the middle of the front row, quite an achievement for first time at such a fast circuit. Fighting in a pack meant Lee’s best lap was 10th fastest, only 0.3 slower than Rory – but it’s that close.
Just when we thought things were looking up! All you’ll see is the result of a five-lap race – no Lee and Rory languishing towards the back. What’s that all about?
16 lap race start but Hickman’s BMW has stalled on the line. Start aborted and mechanics rush back with tyre warmers. Eventual restart – distance reduced to 15 laps. The delays had everyone worried about the engines overheating. Difficult first lap for both. Rory, determined to make up places, takes a bit too much kerb exiting the final chicane. He survives the mother of all near high side tank slappers – it really will go down as the save of the season. He gave his helmet a real clout on the tank and never really regained his composure.
Lee was making up ground too – just missing Rory’s flailing bike – and was in with Iddon, Andrew Irwin and Vickers – chasing the leading group who were a couple of seconds up the road. Halfway around lap nine all hell broke loose. End of the Bentley straight and another BMW had a technical issue. Buchan this time, running P4 and there’s a fine mist from his bike, A water hose clip has failed – maybe due to overheating on the grid – and he has a huge high side on the way into the corner. Thankfully Danny was okay. Rea managed to cut the corner on the grass. Andrew Irwin went down in a huge cloud of dust. Somehow Iddon and Vickers got through but, just our luck, Lee turned in and hit a patch of the spraying water and went down heavily – he was okay, but the bike wasn’t. The rest of the field got through safely as it had been hot water onto a hot track, so there wasn’t enough contamination to affect them. If it had been oil, most of the field would have gone down.
We tried to repair the bike in the delay but no chance, even though we had dispensation to use new tyres, if we started from the back, as both wheels were badly damaged. There was no hope of making proper repairs, so we ended up with Lee DNS for the five lap ‘race’. No points, but a pile of bits….
Rory was glad the race was stopped as he was feeling iffy after his huge moment. He took the restart but as he was feeling the worse for wear, he didn’t push and crossed the line P15, collecting the final point.
Just one more round – Silverstone next weekend – and three races for Lee to retain his place before the top eight places are confirmed as qualifying for the end of season Showdown. If race three had run its course we’d be feeling pretty confident, but with a no score and those around him scoring more points than expected in the five-lap dash, it’s tight. Lee is on 154 points, seven behind Glenn Irwin and 20 behind Danny – but Ray is only five behind Brookes, 13 behind and Vickers 18 behind so absolutely no margin for error. Fair play to Rory, he’s next along on 127, nine behind Vickers but 23 clear of Andrew Irwin.
Max and James Cook
James was on the big stage the weekend before Snetterton. British Talent Cup support races at the Silverstone MotoGP round. Little bikes ready to go on the iconic 3.6 miles grand prix circuit.
A little slip off in FP1 but top ten qualification was promising. Race one and into the Vale/Club chicane early in the race and there’s an over ambitious move in the pack. James had no chance as he was skittled by the crashing bike. Upset it had messed up his ‘Sunday best’ FS-3 leathers, but hopefully better luck next time. Sunday’s race in front of a huge crowd. James was right in with the leading group when it happened again. Into the fast right kink at Farm – just after the F1 grid – and the lad behind chances a hard inside pass. He just about makes it, but his bike isn’t fully in control and bobbles, catching James’s front wheel. James is flicked off – rider okay – but his bike rolls on and into an unprotected Armco barrier, wiping off the front of the bike – huge damage. We were able to help out but all credit goes to his team owner Gary Wilson who did a fantastic job tracking down parts and burning the midnight oil to ensure James was on the grid at Snetterton.
They made it and after a steady start and setting up the totally rebuilt bike, James was right there in his races. P6 in his first race a bit off the leaders backed up with a P5 in race two just 0.5 behind the winner! James is now P6 in the points standings despite coming away from Silverstone with nothing.
It would be fair to say that Max has been having a bit of a struggle making the transition from six years on Moto3 bikes – including in Red Bull Rookies and the Junior World Championship – to a much heavier and more powerful Junior Superstock bike. Some issues with the bike and then getting it set up properly have held him back, but Max is a talented rider and at Snetterton it all finally clicked. Getting closer to a competitive time in free practice but still back in the field, Max pulled it out in qualifying for P4 0.5 off pole but with the benefit of a tow, so maybe a bit out of position.
Come the race and Max was there. Good start and up to P2 on lap two and then into the lead on lap four which he held for a couple of laps. In a four-way battle Max finally finished third only half a second behind his friend and race winner Jack Nixon. Now he knows he can do it, we’re sure he’ll be right there for the remaining rounds. He’s now up to eighth in his championship and looking good to make further progress.
The short National circuit layout at Silverstone isn’t a favourite – just a 53 second lap. Three straights with four and a bit corners is rather bland and the two big righthand corners – Woodcote followed by Copse – generate high tyre temperatures and wear rates. For safety reasons, we can’t use the SCX so everyone will be on the more durable SCO Pirelli rear tyre.
Rory will be in the mix again and we’re focussed on Lee having a strong weekend to secure that Showdown place and, we hope, seeing him on the podium.
Game on. The weather forecast is good!
Hope to see you there.
Regards, Nigel. Team Principal.