The iconic Mountain section really attracts the crowds who must wonder if the riders are ‘wired right’ as they launch their 220bhp superbikes into the air over the crest before landing, safely we hope, and disappearing at high speed into the woods at Hall Bends. Lee is a circuit specialist and local hero, so all eyes would be on him.
Rory was back from another Moto2 grand prix wildcard ride with the American Racing Team. Red Bull Ring in Austria this time. The state-of-the-art facilities there are in stark contrast to the row of tents that form the pit garages in the centre of the track, down in the valley at Cadwell Park. Half of the superbike class pit at the top of the hill as there’s not enough room for everyone at the bottom!
Adding to the general pressure of a race weekend, both Lee and Rory had the extra demand of closing in on qualification for the end of season championship ‘Showdown’. We knew it would be a tough weekend but with every chance of bagging some strong results after a couple of rounds at circuits which did not really favour the characteristics of our Cheshire Mouldings ZX-10RR Kawasakis.
The lure of the Mountain also attracted some guests, curious to find out what it was all about. World Superbike Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu and his Yamaha teammate Andrea Locatelli seemed to enjoy putting on a show for the big crowd!
Something a bit different at this round is that we start with a three-hour test on the evening before the normal weekend programme. The idea being that the circuit is fully set up with all the safety fencing and medical facilities in place as there are a number of points around the narrow circuit where there are blind corners and limited run off.
We used the evening as an opportunity for Lee to try a new component and a couple of chassis settings with the aim of getting some data to use at a later date. For Rory, the evening runs were a perfect opportunity to get back into superbike mode and build up a bit more circuit knowledge as this was only his second visit to Cadwell Park on a superbike.
As we were racing over a Bank Holiday weekend, free practice kicked off on Saturday afternoon. Lee’s bike was back on its ‘normal’ settings and he was immediately fast. Rory was soon on the pace as he steadily reduced his lap times. The combined times from FP1 and 2 are used to establish the the 12 riders who are seeded into the final stage of qualifying. Lee P4 and Rory P5 were comfortably through.
Sunday morning included two short free practice periods with the second effectively a warmup for qualifying. Having built up their speed all weekend, both Lee and Rory recorded times in the 1.25 bracket in the critical run up to qualifying and were P1 and P2 on the timing screen and looking strong for what was to come.
Due to the nature of the paddock set up, it had been decided to adopt the Superpole qualifying format. The riders go out one by one for a single flying lap to set a time. No traffic in the way but all eyes on each runner to increase the pressure another notch. The 12 fastest from free practice would be joined by the three fastest runners from a conventional 15-minute Q1 session.
15 individual runs to entertain the huge crowd with the slower times going first, Rory would go 11th and Lee immediately after, 12th - with just three more runners after that. Tension building. We were nervous on the pit wall so I can only imagine how the riders were feeling. By the time it got to Rory’s turn, Hickman and Sykes were fastest having both benefitted from coming through from Q1. Rory was on full attack and set the fastest time, Lee, hard on his heels was just 0.019 slower, P2. Rory and Lee both in the 1.25.7 bracket a full 0.6 inside the lap record. Buchan didn’t manage to better them, nor would Bridewell, fastest man in free practice. That just left Brad Ray. Out of sector two at the bottom of the mountain he was 0.25 slower on the split time, we thought we had it. But no – Ray made up an incredible 0.5 in the short woodland sector to pip our times by 0.25. Top drama but all safe and we’d line up both Cheshire Mouldings FS-3 Kawasakis on the front row for race one later in the afternoon.
Rory nailed his start and went into Coppice alongside Ray, slotting in behind him on Park Straight. Lap two and Rory pulled off an audacious move, turning underneath Ray on the long righthanded Chris Curve and finishing a pass into the Gooseneck. A very unusual and impressive move at this level. While all that was going on, Lee wasn’t quite as sharp off the line and fell back to P5, behind Buchan and Sykes. However, Buchan was a bit over enthusiastic and clipped Sykes going into the Hairpin - a last lap move on lap one - which had both of them riding across the grass and letting Lee straight through into P3. A gap to Rory and Ray had opened so Lee put in a big effort to get back with them. Unfortunately, it went wrong next time around when Lee landed his Mountain jump slightly out of line and crashed out. His bike span off the grass on to the track. With the pack still bunched up it was a frightening situation – although most of the riders avoided Lee’s bike, a collision in the melee pushed an unsighted Dan Jones into the path of Lee’s stricken bike which he hit with full force. Thankfully, Dan was out of hospital the following morning with only a broken collarbone to report. Lee was unscathed.
Something wasn’t meant to be as you’d bet the farm on Lee clearing the Mountain cleanly. Lee was unhurt but his bike was a mess, hit amidships at 80 mph wasn’t going to polish out. And of course, Lee was out of the race. After a delay of an hour to clean up the crash scene, a new race one was declared with the original grid positions – minus the crash victims.
The first race ‘Sprint’ is always a bit shorter than the main races and this time it was reduced to 12 laps to make up some time in the schedule. Rory made another good start, but Ray put the hammer down to keep him at bay. Rory stuck with Ray and had O’Halloran and then Buchan hard on his heels. Ray managed the gap at just under a second all the way to flag, Rory crossed the line 0.7 behind with Buchan a further 0.5 back. Excellent result for Rory on his second superbike outing at Cadwell and big points towards his Showdown qualification. Our old friend Danny Buchan benefitted from Lee causing the earlier race stoppage as he was P16 after his collision with Sykes.
Great race by Rory and such a pity Lee crashed out of such a strong position. The real issue – once we knew Dan was mostly okay – was the state of Lee’s bike which was almost broken in half by the impact from Dan’s bike. There was no repair to be done so the crew set about building a completely new bike from the spares we carry in the truck. With the logistics issue of the truck being so far from the garage it was much more of a job than usual. Five hours later – just after 10pm – the bike was complete with the engine running. Another hour in the morning and the completed machine was signed off by the scrutineers, ready for warm up. All credit to Dan and Tris in particular, but as always, everyone mucked in.
The 15-minute warm up on Monday morning would give Lee the opportunity to check out the new bike and dial himself in after the crash. And then it rained! Lee did at least get in a couple of laps to confirm his Kawasaki was working properly. However, with a completely new bike – plus changing track conditions because of the rain – there was always a chance that the set up might not be quite perfect. Rory just came in after his first lap rather than risk sliding off.
Lee’s bad luck continued. As he hadn’t taken the restarted race one and set a lap time, the rules dictated that he would have to start from the back of the grid. P27 and we know how difficult it is to pass, plus he would need to try and set a decent lap time in traffic to get a better grid slot for the final race.
At least the main races were over 18 laps so Lee would have a bit more time to work his way through. As it was, Lee made up 13 places and recorded ninth fastest time – a couple of points and a row three grid position was as good as it got for him. Good effort but a bike set up to run at lap record pace never works as well when it’s in a pack with riders running two seconds a lap slower.
Rory lined up for race two in the middle of row two – P5. Everyone around him had a similar lap time so we knew it would be tight, and so it was. Rory muscled his way past Bridewell and Ray to complete lap one in P3. By lap 15 Buchan and Ray had cleared off at the front with Bridewell dropping back in the final podium position. Three seconds later the five-man dog-fight – Rory, Haslam, Andrew Irwin, Hickman and O’Halloran – came through, constantly looking to make moves and generally getting in each other’s way. The fun ended when Brookes – another Mountain expert – crashed there in the same way as Lee had the previous day. Red flag but no injuries or bad damage this time. The extra warning flag positions which had been added as a result of Lee’s incident had helped to alert the following riders.
Buchan got the win and Rory ended up P5 a split second behind Haslam after a race long battle.
Again, tight lap times in race two with Rory sixth fastest meaning he would be starting from the inside of row two with Lee right behind him in P9. Inside slots at Cadwell are not ideal as the outside line in to turn one is much faster. Both made good starts, but Rory got pinched on the inside, losing a few places. Lee came around the outside to be ahead but as we got to the pit wall the grid marshall said Lee was being checked for a jump start. Seemed Lee had really upset the racing Gods as, sure enough, the grid CCTV showed Lee had moved before the lights went out. Anxious to make up for lost time? The penalty was 10 seconds added to his race time. This meant he could carry on and join in with a repeat of the race two dog-fight. Although Lee crossed the line P8, the added time dropped him to P12.
Rory had another race long scrap with Haslam and the usual suspects and was pipped for P4 by less than 0.2 by the hugely more experienced rider. Another P5 finish was still a good effort. Buchan, Ray and Bridewell had cleared off again, with Danny taking another win. His good luck resulting from Lee’s bad luck were a perfect example of how fickle superbike racing can be…..
Rory’s weekend yielded 42 points putting him up in to third place ahead of Lee but more importantly securing his Showdown place ahead of the final qualifying round next time out at Snetterton. Lee’s crazy weekend left him with just six points but still in P4 overall and 11 ahead of Glenn Irwin and 61 ahead of Buchan who is the first rider not in a top eight Showdown position. If Lee is at least 50 points clear of Buchan (who scored 66 points to jump into Showdown contention) after race one at Snetterton then his Showdown place is confirmed.
At the top, Ray is now leading O’Halloran by 13 points – over 100 points ahead of Rory and the rest.
The high speed, open layout of the Snetterton 300 circuit is in complete contrast to Cadwell Park. However, the good news is that we went well there in pre-season testing and our 2022 spec ZX-10RR engines are not lacking in the speed department. With Rory confirmed and Lee on the cusp of Showdown qualification, we are hoping for a less stressful weekend. Who knows! Hope you can come along to find out what happens.
Regards, Nigel Team Principal.
PS. We haven’t mentioned our supported rider Max Cook for a while. After another dominant weekend at Cadwell Park, Max is now 43 points clear at the top of the Junior Superstock championship standings. Five wins, two runner-up spots, taken out of the lead once (and a silly crash!). Keep it going Max!