The highly abrasive perimeter track of the old airfield poses a big challenge for the riders. The current lap record for the 2.35-mile circuit was set all the way back in 2016 with Shane Byrne lapping at 1m14.753s, 113. 46mph. As well as being the fastest circuit on the British Superbike Championship schedule, it is also the hardest on tyres. The speeds and track surface require the hardest compound rear Pirelli slick tyre to be used – less grip but avoiding the risk of excessive wear using the usual SCX super soft compound rubber.
Lee enjoys the challenge and has done well in the past. Max was just a little apprehensive about taming the 100 or so extra brake horsepower of his Cheshire Mouldings ZX-10RR Kawasaki, compared with the junior superstock bike he won on last year.
Bright and warm Friday afternoon. Quick installation lap to bed in a new chain and Max was quickly up to speed, lapping within a second of the fastest runners. 23 laps in the bag with a best of 1.17 and P10 on the timing screen. It seemed Max had really clicked with the circuit. Lee was quickly up to speed too, lapping 0.1 faster than Max for P9. The 40-minute FP2 session was an opportunity to push on as the track started to clean up and rubber in, lap times dropping by a second or more. We’re allowed to use three pairs of tyres during free practice. The usual plan is to run one pair in FP1 and then use two in FP2 with the third pair held back until the final few minutes to give the best conditions to secure the best lap time going into qualifying. The 12 fastest go straight through to Q2 with the rest competing for the final six Q2 places in the first qualifying session. Lee got a strong lap in with a few minutes to go – 1.15.7 for P4. Max didn’t fare so well – stuck in traffic he didn’t manage to improve on his earlier 1.16.2 lap and ended up a frustrated P16 – even so, he was still only 0.8 off the fastest time. At least he’d have the benefit of a Q1 run to give him momentum going into the final part of qualifying.
Before qualifying, on Saturday morning there’s a 20-minute FP3 session which is effectively a warm up run. The big issue was going to be the weather. The track had dried out after an earlier shower as the riders rolled down pitlane but with a few drops of rain in the air. Both Lee and Max put in fast laps second time round – P2 and P4 – and then the rain came down and effectively ended the session. Bit of a morale booster but no real opportunity to check any final changes in set up.
Q1. Max immediately knocked off 0.6 from his earlier best time to lead the session. Knowing the rear tyre was only good for three, maybe four fast laps, Max pulled in to wait. Vickers eventually beat his time by just 0.037 but P2 would do nicely. New set of tyres and straight out into Q2 for Max, this time joined by Lee. Just those two or three laps with maximum grip in the 12 minute session to set a time, before the tyre wear set in. Behind O’Halloran, who set dominant pole position time, the times were very close. Lee and Max recording 1.15.3 laps with Lee slightly the faster and securing P4 on the grid with Max on the other side of the second row, P6. Our ZX-10RRs were suiting the circuit and the conditions perfectly, both Lee and Max very happy with the set up of their bikes. All set for an interesting race!
Dry but windy. 16 lap sprint race so tyre wear wasn’t going to be as big a factor as it would be for Sunday’s 20 lappers. Two good starts and by the end of lap one Lee and Max were in a close battle with O’Halloran, Nesbitt and Vickers with others not so far behind. It turned into a typical Thruxton slip-streamer. Lee hit the front on lap five but O’Halloran had the pace under control and was soon back past and benefitted from the four way battle raged behind, allowing him to pull away. Lee made a move for P2 going into the chicane for the final time but didn’t quite pull it down to the apex allowing Vickers and Nesbitt to slip through and as he ran a bit wide. Max, close behind and watching the situation unfold, turned it tight and accelerated hard to pip Lee at the line and almost past Vickers – 0.036 ahead of Lee and just 0.013 behind Vickers, short of his first podium. Take a look at the photo-finish picture to see how close it was! A great race which everyone seemed to enjoy and confirmed, if there were any remaining doubts, our decision to put Max straight on to a superbike after his junior superstock heroics.
Grid positions determined by race one lap times, both on row three alongside O’Halloran – Max P8, Lee P9. Great starts again and the pace being set by the young guns – Max, Ryde, Vickers, Nesbit with Lee keeping a watching brief. Max was pulling some great moves into the chicane and was soon up to P2, making up six places, before taking the lead briefly on lap three! With the leaders losing a bit of time dicing, Kent arrived on the scene which – not his fault – spelt disaster for Max. Trying to hold his position, Nesbit ran wide at the chicane and came back right in front of Kent who had to swerve to miss him causing him to nudge Max and push him wide. Taking evasive action, Max had to go over the green painted ‘no-go’ area on the inside of the chicane – with two sausage kerbs to stop the cars cutting the corner. Max and the bike bounced in the air and Max was thrown over the top. He and the bike skittled across the track into the path of the chasing riders – particular thanks to Stacey who made an instant manoeuvre to avoid Max as he scrambled to the edge of the track. Thankfully, Max was uninjured, but was very disappointed that through no fault of his own his best race to date was brought to a premature end. The bike only suffered light damage. We’re sure the organisers will be looking into the design of the chicane run off area to avoid any repetitions of such a dangerous incident.
Meanwhile, Lee had made his way to the front and was clear of the group but with O’Halloran – who’d been patiently saving his tyre – closing in. With a lap to go O’Halloran was through and while Lee was able to stay close, P2 was his lot. First podium of the season, at last but worth the wait.
As some consolation for his race two crash, Max would be on the front row for the final 20-lap race. Lee P4, heading off row two. All set for another full-on race amongst the front runners.
Lining up alongside Haslam with Vickers on pole, Max did as you’d expect, nailed the start and got to the first turn with a clear lead – no jump starts! Lee made a sound start too and the pattern was set for another Thruxton classic. Max and Vickers pulled away for a few laps before settling into a tyre preservation race pace and the following group closed in. Vickers eventually passed Max at the chicane going on to lap seven – Max having led a superbike race from the start to one third distance on his first visit to Thruxton in the premier class. Impressive stuff. Behind, a close group of six riders jockeyed for position while being careful not to destroy their rear tyres. Vickers, with Max in close attendance, continued to lead until lap 17 when Lee, Nesbitt and O’Halloran arrived on the scene. Max got pushed out of the slipstream on the highspeed run to the chicane and dropped back to P5 which became P4 on the final lap as he repassed Vickers. Lee hit the front, having done his best to look after his tyres, but O’Halloran was closing in and got by on the run into Church corner on the penultimate lap.
The leaders crossed the line covered by less than one second, O’Halloran, Lee, Nesbitt and Max with Vickers a couple of tenths further back. Next up was Haslam a further two seconds behind leading in the second group. What a race by Max and Lee. In fact, what a weekend for the team – Lee back up to speed with two podium finishes and Max demonstrating his true potential now he’s fully comfortable on his Cheshire Mouldings Kawasaki ZX-10RR.
Lee has moved up past Brookes into P6 with 185.5 points and is closing in on Haslam. Max has edged up to P15, just behind Stacey. Due to his crash DNF, Nesbitt has got back ahead of Max in the Rookies standings. Nesbitt had a year on a big superstock bike last season and had a few rounds on a superbike too, all of which gave him the edge coming into this year. Now Max is fully up to speed, I’m sure they’ll be going toe to toe over the remaining four rounds.
Cadwell Park next. One of the most popular rounds with the fans. Lee is the local boy and a circuit expert and after a nasty crash going over The Mountain last year, he’ll be determined to prove a point. First time at Cadwell on a superbike will be a real eye opener for Max. He’s going to be riding his superstock practice bike there this week to start to get his head around the unique challenges. A good thing is that the superbikes have a private practice evening before the serious action starts. Let’s hope our momentum carries us forward to Cadwell Park successes.
Hope to see you at Cadwell Park.
Nigel, Team Principal.