Round Ten. Donington GP. Showdown Part Two.
Dusted down from a dramatic Oulton Park.
Fortunately, Rory’s ‘only’ injury was damage to his right hand after his rodeo ride astride the rear wheel of Iddon’s Suzuki. Rory would have to sit out the weekend’s racing as he awaited a final decision from the medics on whether he would need a simple operation to stabilise a broken bone in his right hand.
Lee was in a better place having returned from Oulton Park with a race win and a third-place podium under his belt. After a shaky start he’d had a strong weekend on his Cheshire Mouldings ZX-10RR Kawasaki which kept him well in contention for Showdown glory.
Friday’s two 40-minute sessions were badly affected by the weather. FP1 was brought forward in anticipation of heavy rain later. However, after overnight rain, the riders were greeted by mixed wet/dry track conditions and a cold surface. Most sat it out until towards the end. Lee came back in after an exploratory lap and finally went out with time to complete just 10 laps and didn’t push on for a time. Too much at stake. The rain arrived earlier than expected and the afternoon session was a complete washout.
Saturday morning’s 20-minute session was extended to half an hour to make up for lost time. However, patchy conditions again and only 12 laps run on slick tyres, picking through the damp patches. Pity as Lee’s approach is to build up speed over the weekend.
Lee’s steady Friday morning session yielded 15th fastest time, outside of the top 12, so he’d have to go in the first qualifying session. The top six go through to Q2. We were happy as the extra 12-minute run would set up Lee for a better grid position. In the event, P5, 0.2 off Sykes’ fastest time, was not quite what we’d expected but at least Lee was through. A small set up change was reversed and in Q2 Lee was able to knock off 0.25 from his best lap time which moved him up to P9 out of the 18 runners. Not ideal as starting from the first two rows was the plan, but at least he was close enough to be in the fight.
15 lap Sprint Race. Good start and made up three places on lap one. Sykes, in a late season return to form, was away at the front with Ray giving close chase. Meanwhile, Lee was hard at it in the following pack. Glenn Irwin came through and quickly passed Ryde and Bridewell but Lee got stuck for a few laps – eventually passing Bridewell on lap eight and Ryde on lap 11, but by then the gap had grow to 3.5 seconds. All Lee could do was bring it home a couple of seconds ahead of Ryde. His best lap was good enough to start race two from the front of the third row – P7.
The 10-minute warm up session on Sunday morning revealed a problem which could have spoiled the race. Lee only ran three laps before returning to the garage complaining of a vibration. Not ideal but better for it to happen in warm up than in the race. A quick review of the data identified the likely cause which was just a quickly remedied. After his out lap to the grid, Lee was able to confirm all was well.
The Sunday races are both full distance – 20 laps. The longer races often work to Lee’s advantage as he is renowned for good tyre management. The first grid was abandoned due to Nesbitt stalling, so the grid was reset after a second green flag lap. Race distance reduced by a lap. Lee made a safe start and picked up a place – not always the case into Donington’s notorious turn one, Redgate. He was immediately into another scrap in the chasing pack with Hickman and Bridewell, and later on Andrew Irwin falling back and O’Halloran closing in. Last lap. Still stuck behind and trying to get past Bridewell into the Melbourne Hairpin, O’Halloran managed to get alongside Lee for block pass. Then into the final corner, the downhill left hairpin at Goddards, O’Halloran had a go at Bridewell and both ran slightly wide. Lee could see it happening, turned his ZX-10RR as tight as he could and got on the power for the very short dash to the line. He passed them both! O’Halloran by 0.8 and Bridewell by 0.055! Nice work for P5 and fourth fastest lap for a second row start for the final race of the day.
Red Flag. Nasty incident exiting Goddards at the end of the first lap. Chrissy Rouse crashed and suffered a head injury. The medical staff were on the scene in moments and stabilised Chrissy for transfer to hospital. Our thoughts are with Chrissy, his family and friends. We are all hoping he makes a speedy recovery.
The restart over 18 laps didn’t go so well for Lee. As can happen, he got pushed offline by a hard pass, lost momentum and got shuffled back to P6. Regrouping, it got worse as Hickman got a false neutral gear going into the Melbourne loop and clattered into Lee, pushing him wide and bending a handlebar. Lee lost five places in the process and all links with the leaders. On another day Lee might have retired due to the risk of the bar breaking but he decided to push although the damage was an effective performance penalty. Then O’Halloran clashed with Sykes on lap eight taking them both out and requiring a short safety car period to clear the riders under controlled conditions.
Closing up the field for the restart helped Lee who jumped Ryde on the run down to Redgate and Kent later in the lap – P7 – and set off after Hickman. Lee was clearly struggling with the impact of the damage on how his bike steered as by lap 14 Ryde was back past, soon followed by Vickers. Some poetic justice at Goddards – last lap again – as Hickman and Vickers ran wide, gifting Lee two places. He crossed the line 0.4 behind Ryde. Very frustrated not to have been fighting with Bridewell again, three or four seconds up the road in P4. Could have been worse.
Over the three races, Lee fought hard for every point and kept alive his realistic chance of finishing runner up in the championship. Not bad going into the final round of the season. A real pity that Rory couldn’t be out there with him.
Despite Tom Sykes finding form and taking the big points in races one and two, Brad Ray had a good weekend and is now only nine points from claiming the championship. Some way back, the competition for the runner up spot is as close as ever – just 10 points covering three riders.
Ray 1171, Irwin 1105, Bridewell 1107, Lee 1095, O’Halloran 1077, Ryde 1051, Mackenzie 1031 and Rory 1017. With Rory, Mackenzie and now it seems O’Halloran out injured and Ray on the verge of sealing a resounding win, all eyes will be on the who can secure the runner up spot.
Lee and the team will bring our ‘A’ game in two weekends time. Our second visit to the spectacular Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.
We are hoping for some calm autumn weather and to see you there.
Regards, Nigel. Team Principal.