A lot has happened since we packed up after the 2021 BSB finale at Brands Hatch, back in October.
The first job was to recover from the Covid affected programme which compressed 11 rounds in to 19 weekends and put a real strain on team staff and logistics. The weather didn’t help either as we used more wet weather and intermediate conditions tyres than in the previous five seasons put together. At least the 2022 schedule is back to normal with the events more spread out over the summer. As for the weather, who knows, we can only hope.
The winter superbike testing ban has now become standard practice. It runs from New Year’s Day until just before the first official test in March. It’s a throwback to the Covid restrictions, the impact of Brexit travel issues and general budget considerations. No trips down to Spain for pre-season superbike testing meant nearly five months in the workshop, which you’d think would leave plenty of time to get everything done, but it never does.
The priority is always undertaking a thorough stocktaking exercise and drawing up a development plan so parts can be ordered and made in good time. Our Kawasaki ZX-10RR is well proven but there’s always something more to find in the search for maximum performance. Six new engines arrived before Christmas in good time to start an engine tuning and cooling project. We then spent most of the time chasing up parts. Getting supplies in from abroad is now an additional challenge as it means getting through all the additional Brexit related administration and taking a hit on shipping and import duty costs.
A big plus for us is continuity on the personnel front. Lee Jackson is with us for a fifth season and Rory Skinner is back after his rookie year with the team. Our crew chiefs, Matt Llewellyn and Ian Prestwood, continue to develop the bikes and generally organise things with our suppliers – many of whom support us with parts and providing specialist services. See the sponsor board at the end of the blog – we couldn’t do it without them.
By early March we were able to complete the engine programme on the dyno, carefully running in using ‘heavy’ Fuchs Silkolene oil, and developing ignition and fuel maps to get the best out of the new specification. Things were looking encouraging, but there’s no substitute for track time to discover if it has all worked.
Lee and Rory were busy too as they had enrolled on to the Loughborough University athlete fitness programme. Lots of physical tests, training and nutrition regimes to follow and plenty of data to record progress – it’s all a bit like working on the bikes! They both said they could feel the benefits.
We were all ready to get going.
The BSB official test programme kicked off with three days at Snetterton at the end of March. Memories of last year when we sat in the garage for three days, wet and cold. Not this time as we were rewarded with beautiful Spring weather and quality track time to get the riders up to speed and checkout all the developments to the engines and chassis. Just as well as the next test day at Donington was blighted by snow and two days at Silverstone took place in a gale.
Still, we finally made it to round one in pretty good order and quietly confident that we’d made a step up with the bikes and that the riders were fit and ready to go.
Darren and I weren’t sure where all the time had gone over the winter……
Probably our least favourite circuit of the year. Silverstone may have better garage facilities than most, but the track layout is odd as it’s made up of a triangle chopped off the Grand Prix layout. Wide, flat and with two tyre destroying corners – Woodcote and Copse – it suits some bikes more than others and usually throws up some unexpected results. It’s hard work for the riders – a 53 second lap means the main races take place over 30 laps – and it’s very hard to pass. Grid position and a good start are critical for a decent race.
The two 40-minute free practice sessions on Friday afternoon passed off without any dramas. We’d got the bikes set up at the test and there were no decisions on which of the two rear tyre compounds to use. The strain on the Pirelli tyres in the big corners means that only the more durable SC0 tyre can be used. The issue at Silverstone is that the softer SCX rear – softer again for 2022 – could start to break up, meaning Pirelli and the organisers are not prepared to take the associated safety risk.
The times in free practice determine how qualifying works. The 12 fastest riders go straight through to Q2. The rest of the field goes into Q1, competing for the remaining six places in Q2. At the end of FP2, Lee P3 and Rory P6 would go straight to Q2 on Saturday lunchtime.
As it was the first time we’d run in good weather on the relatively new track surface, times were well inside the lap record.
The 20-minute FP3 session on Saturday morning is effectively a warm up for qualifying. Lee and Rory went out on ‘scrubbed’ tyres, already used at the end of FP2. By the end of the session both had done a full race distance of 30 laps to get a feel for end of race grip levels. Some others used a new tyre, so times and positions weren’t representative.
Qualifying is always a bit of a scrabble. Only 12 minutes on track with one set of tyres. Plus, the six riders through from Q1 have a big advantage as they’ve already had a run on new tyres and are dialled in. Rory got a decent lap in early on setting seventh fastest time, 0.3 off the best. Lee had come in for a quick set up change and got caught out. On what would have been his best lap, the red flag came out as the engine on Buchan’s BMW was smoking meaning the track had to be checked for oil. The session restarted with two minutes on the clock, just time for an out lap and one flying lap. No one manged to improve so it would be Glenn Irwin on pole and Rory P7 and Lee P10 – not quite what we’d hoped for. There’d be work to do in the races.
Perfect conditions for the Saturday afternoon’s race which is always slightly shorter, 75% of full distance translating to 24 laps. Rory got a dream start and came out of turn one, Copse, P4 having made up three places. Lee wasn’t so lucky and got stuck on the outside through Copse and up to Maggots, losing four places in the process – P13 behind former world champion Sykes on the PBM Ducati. He got to work immediately and by lap 10 was back up to his starting position, P10, but 2 seconds behind his old teammate, Buchan. Six laps later, Lee was with Danny but unable to find a way past – until the final corner when he got a perfect exit from Brooklands and dragged past Danny to the line for P9.
At the front, impressively Rory held his P4 throughout the race. Irwin got away from pole for a flag-to-flag victory while the two OMG Yamaha riders, Ray and Ryde, fought over P2 with Ryde coming out on top. Rory crossed the line two seconds back and 1.5 ahead of O’Halloran. A great result for Rory and the team and with Lee finishing strongly, we were quietly confident of more to come.
10 minutes warm up on Sunday morning which we run end-to-end on new tyres. Rory four hundredths of a second off O’Halloran’s time and Lee P8, 0.2 further back. Promising.
Full race distance this time, 30 laps. Grid positions for the race are based on lap times from race one. Rory on the front row, P3, and Lee just behind in the middle of row two, P5. Proof of their strong race pace and well set to get away in the leading group. Rory got away well, holding his position behind the OMG Yamahas with Glenn Irwin just behind. Lee lost a couple of places on lap one but was in the fight with the leading group. Lap four and big high side crash for Sykes brought out the safety car for two laps. At the restart, Andrew Irwin made a demon move to jump his brother and Rory. Lee, in P7, was tucked up behind O’Halloran who was a bit slower at the restart.
Rory and Glenn were soon back past Andrew, running around a second behind the Yamahas but slowly closing in. Just after half distance, Glenn managed to pass Rory for the final podium place, the four of them now covered by one second and two clear of O’Halloran. All the while Lee had been fighting through and on lap 24 passed O’Halloran for P4, but by now three seconds behind the leaders, so his focus was on bringing it home.
Drama at the front. Three laps before Lee’s move on O’Halloran, Ray with a half second gap over Irwin pushed too hard into Brooklands and lost the front, crashing out of the lead and into the gravel. Rory was back to P3 with a comfortable lead over Lee and the chasing pack. It was tense on the pit wall as the laps ticked off, but here was Rory crossing the line less than a second behind the winner and securing a podium place - P3! Lee backing up perfectly came through safely a few seconds later – P4. Double wow!
Great to see an FS-3 Racing Kawasaki ZX-10RR rider on the podium. All that hard work over the winter well and truly rewarded😊.
After cooling off, a few tweaks to the bikes and that’s it. Based on lap times, Rory would start from the front row again but Lee slipped back to P8 as he didn’t manage to get a clear lap when the tyres were fresh.
Rory got away well again and when Ryde had a ‘bobble’ exiting turn one, he turned tight and got past him and Irwin. P1! Rory led for the first three laps and spent the rest of the race in an almighty scrap for position. Lee lost a place to the fast-starting Iddon who he got stuck behind for a few laps. Lee joined the leading group of eight riders at half distance but this time behind Tommy Bridewell’s fast Ducati. In the closing laps, Tommy fell back a couple of seconds meaning Lee lost touch with the top six, crossing the line almost alongside the Ducati for P8.
At the front, Glenn Irwin pulled away to win his third race in some comfort. His brother and Buchan were having good races and had made their way to the front, passing Rory and O’Halloran in the process, but behind Ray and his Yamaha which were keeping Glenn honest. The four had a nerve-wracking battle in the closing stages which ended when Danny ran wide at Luffield. Rory took advantage and crossed the line six hundredths behind Andrew Irwin, for another P4 finish.
What a way to complete round one of the championship. Congratulations to Glenn on his three wins. We happily take Rory’s third place in the standings on 42 points and Lee a bit further back in seventh place on 28 points. 70 points for the team in total. We were happy with that as it really does make all the hard work feel worthwhile.
We’ve got a quick turnaround as there’s a test day at Oulton Park this Thursday. One of Lee’s favourite tracks but a challenging layout with all the elevation changes, blind crests and chicanes. It will help Rory having had a year’s experience there on a superbike. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we are looking forward to it.
Round Two takes place at Oulton over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend; Saturday 30th April and 1st and 2nd of May. Hope to see you there.
Finally, please take a look at our sponsor panel below – top kit and services so remember to check them out.
Regards, Nigel. Team Principal.