Not far to travel to our local track for the penultimate round of the season, already. Lee on a high after scoring podium finishes in all three races last time out at Oulton. Max just keen to have a second go on a superbike at the circuit just down the road from home. The resurfaced track produced some record times when the Bennetts British Superbike Championship was here for round three. We would have to see how it had bedded in over the summer. Evidence from the track walk on Thursday evening was that the sharp edges had polished off meaning tyre wear would be less of an issue. Even so, we still expected the harder compound SC0 Pirelli slick to be the race tyre.
Weather forecast was good for the time of the year, but for some reason, you never know at Donington.
Decent conditions for the two 40-minute sessions on Friday afternoon. No real surprise that running the SC0 Pirelli rear slicks on a cool track had both Max and Lee complaining about lack of edge grip and wheel spin. Max was trying a bit too hard in FP1, chasing a time doesn’t usual work, so he ended the run a frustrated P14, some 0.7 from Lee’s best lap time. Lee’s 1.29.3 was almost a second off Ryde’s best time and good enough for P10. Things picked up in FP2 with times generally a second a lap faster as the riders and teams got dialled into the conditions. Due to the issue with the track surface and conditions, both sides of our garage tried both rear slick compounds - SCX and SC0 – and confirmed that the SCO would be our race tyre. Lee P7 and only 0.4 slower than Ryde’s best. Max was more relaxed on the bike and slotted in behind Iddon, helping him to the P10 time, just a quarter of a second from Lee’s best. With both riders in the top 12, they’d go straight through to the final part of qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
The 20-minute Saturday morning free practice session is effectively a warm up as the times have no bearing on qualifying status. Lee P15, Max P11 comfortable at about a second off the ultimate pace.
So much for the weather forecast – big band of rain crossing the country to the north but threatening to edge down to the Midlands. Gloomy skies for Q1 as those not straight through to Q2 completed for the six places that join the other 12 in the final part of qualifying. Few spots of rain in the air but nothing to really affect things. Eight laps each saw Lee qualify in 10th position and Max P15, half a second slower than Lee who in turn was 0.9 off O’Halloran’s fastest ever BSB lap of Donington Park – 1.27.1.
All set on the grid for race one – the 12-lap sprint race. Then spots of rain intensified delaying the start. Frantic action on the grid to alter suspension settings and change tyres to suit a wet track, but it wasn’t properly wet. What to do? Race control allocated time for sighting laps – running through pitlane – so the riders could assess the conditions. Lee on full wets, Max on intermediate tyres. Max knew straight away that his tyres were not right for the conditions but he was directed through pitlane when he was trying to get to the grid where his crew was waiting with hot wet tyres on the grid trolly. He did get to the grid next time around and then extra time was authorised to allow final wheel and suspension changes to be made. With the track half-and-half some chose full wets, some Intermediates and some selected a mixture – wet front, intermediate rear. Fortunately, we made the right choice for Lee and Max – hard compound wets, but still with pretty much a dry setting in the suspension. The race had been reduced in distance to 10 laps which had helped make the decision to run a full wet tyre choice.
Anyone not on full wets suffered in the race. The championship leading Ducatis and pole-sitter O’Halloran dropped to the back of the field as their intermediate tyres had lost temperature on the sighting laps and during the time on the grid. Lee and Max are both good in wet conditions and as the rain strengthened, they made good progress. Lee made up seven places off the line and settled into a group of five riders battling for the lead and pulling well clear of the field. Max made up four places on the first lap and was soon involved in the second group of nine riders. Briefly as high as P9, Max lost a bit of pace as some of the others adapted to the conditions and he struggled a bit on his harder suspension setting. Finishing P13, Max only managed P16 in the final lap times which would put him deep on the grid for the first race on Sunday. Lee battled away but didn’t quite have the pace to compete for the podium positions. Sensibly settling for P5, three seconds behind Kennedy who had come all the way from P21 on the grid and Vickers who won comfortably from the front. Good news was Lee’s best lap placed him on the front row for race two.
Wet warm up on Sunday morning. Steady six laps for Lee and Max to check out conditions.
Dry by race time but again, spots of rain in the air. 20 laps ahead with everyone on dry settings and tyres – if the drizzle intensified the race would be stopped. Due to the conditions in race one the previous day, the grid was very mixed up. Bridewell P26 on the grid, dead last. Lee got away at the front but dropped back to P8 as the race developed, until the drama developed on lap 12. Max made good progress and was up to P12 and within sight of the leaders. Irwin had started P12 but led by the end of lap one. Even more impressive, Bridewell had overtaken the whole field to take the lead on lap nine. By now the drops of rain were getting heavier and the leaders started signalling in the hope that the race would be stopped when one or other of them was leading. Crossing the line first became even more critical than usual so the battle for the lead was intense, to say the least.
Then it all went wrong for Bridewell and Irwin. Ryde had passed the Ducatis as the leading group closed up as the conditions deteriorated. Bridewell went for a gap to repass Ryde into the Melbourne loop hairpin. The gap closed forcing Bridewell to lift up to miss hitting Ryde but Irwin was sweeping around on a wider line and Bridewell running on, the two collided. It really was in the heat of battle, but the fault lay with Bridewell who was penalised for causing the collision. See social media for the video and a wide range of reactions and opinions.
For us, the outcome was that Lee and Max were gifted two places. Lee found himself in P5 as things settle down again with Max not too far behind in P9. The rain really intensified on lap17 and from the lead, Ryde’s signals to stop the race were acknowledged by race control, bringing out the red flag. Result declared at the end of lap 16 with Lee and Max holding position. Lee less than two seconds behind winner Ryde and Max only eight seconds further back in another impressive rookie ride.
No difficult decisions going into race three as the heavens had opened and the track was running wet. Thank goodness for the new surface which was offering good grip in the wet. The general opinion on pitlane was the conditions were so bad that the race couldn’t have been started on the old surface.
Based on their race two lap times, Lee P7 on the grid with Max just behind, P10. Both went to the grid on the harder wet weather rear tyre. With the track so wet and conditions unlikely to improve, Lee opted for the softer tyre. Max was left on the harder option which turned out to be a mistake. The TV screen graphic said Haslam and Lee were also on the hard option – we knew Lee wasn’t and suspected Haslam had changed too, judging by his pace. Either way, we had to apologise to Max for sending him off on the wrong tyre. All he could do was try and stay upright, battling at the back of the field. P18 was not a reflection of his pace and skill riding in difficult conditions.
Lee had a difficult first few laps, dropping back to P11 as he was playing it cautious as the feedback from his bike was a bit uncertain. As the race went on, Lee’s confidence grew and he moved up to P9, closing on the group ahead. More drama as Haslam’s BMW engine let go on lap 16, forcing him to retire from P2 in a cloud of smoke. The following riders immediately raised their arms as oil and water on the exit of Coppice corner was a serious safety issue – red flag, race over. Due to Haslam’s retirement, Lee moved up to P8.
A dramatic weekend as the weather really shook things up. On top of that, the new points system keeps things much closer than in previous years. With 105 points on offer for three wins at the Brands Hatch finale, eight riders have a mathematic change of becoming champion. With Bridewell scoring only eight points and Irwin none, things have really closed up at the front. Had it not been for his retirement in race three, Haslam would be only 19 points behind the leaders. It is still looking like one of the Ducatis will win it but we won’t know until the final two races on Sunday afternoon at Brands Hatch.
Lee is still in the fight, P5 43.5 behind (it was 86.5 after Cadwell!) seven ahead of O’Halloran and only six behind Haslam after his no score in race three. Max now has a creditable 80 points in the main championship – P15. In his Rookie rankings he’s still P2, 23 behind Nesbitt.
Weather, points system, nerves – who knows what’s going to happen over the last three race at Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time.
Don’t miss it! Hope to see you there.
Regards. Nigel Team Principal.