Most people’s favourite circuit, riders and spectators alike. The garage crews aren’t so keen as the noise of the bikes passing at 160mph echoes into the garage in the amphitheatre feel of the home straight! Two and a half miles of fast corners and undulations and with sharp dips and blind crests through the woodland section make Brands Hatch a real challenge. Always generates very close racing too.
Lee goes well at Brands so he was hoping to nail some strong results now that we’ve mastered the new chassis set up with him. Max is the junior superstock lap record holder so we were hoping he would quickly get to grips with the lap on his Cheshire Mouldings ZX-10RR Kawasaki.
Ideal conditions on Friday afternoon for the two 40-minute practice sessions. After reversing a set up change that worked at Snetterton but not at Brands, Lee was straight on the pace, P7 and just 0.3 off Brookes’ fastest. Max spent 21 laps building up his speed and getting used to the fact that ‘the bike wants to wheelie everywhere!’ including the downhill crest into Pilgrim’s Drop. He was 1.5 seconds off which was only good enough for P19 as the times were so tight.
After some fine tuning up and down the pitlane, times improved in FP2. Using two sets of tyres during the session, Lee took almost a second off his fastest lap time from FP1, still 0.3 off the fastest but P6 this time. Max went 1.2 faster as he worked on the areas where he was losing time – out of Surtees into the woodland section and finishing the lap over high-speed ripples at Clearways. Only 1.1 off the best time and still down in P18. Max uses a hand lever for the rear brake but asked for the dual foot and hand brake lever set up so he could apply more braking force to help control wheelies and scrub off speed into lefthand corners. Lee actually boiled the fluid in his rear brake hydraulics. We get through a lot of rear brake pads.
Overcast Saturday morning with eyes on the weather apps. Looked like we might have dry qualifying but a wet race at the end of the day. Shorter 20-minute practice session but still on new tyres. Time for 10 laps or so to get back up to speed and check out overnight changes. Max improved again with a lap in 1.26 dead and P15. Lee recorded a 1.25.6 for another strong top-ten showing.
Fastest 12 in free practice go straight into Superpole to be joined by the three fastest from the rest of the field in the 12-minute Q1 session. Lee was through but could Max get into the 1.25s to snatch one of the three ‘best of the rest’ places? But first, 10 minutes of free practice for everyone as a warm up turn out to be just two laps for Lee and Max as drops of rain started to fall at the back of the circuit.
The initial rain shower passed allowing the Q1 session to get underway. Max was immediately flying and on his third tour recorded a 1.25.6. Easily his fastest lap of the weekend so far and only 0.8 off the current superbike lap record. He was shaded by 0.064 by Nesbitt but went through to Superpole as P2. Then the rain arrived and would be set in for the rest of the day. The one-by-one Superpole qualifying was replaced by a conventional Q2 session to ensure the same conditions for all 15 runners. After a short delay allowed the track to get fully wet and make suspension changes to soften off the bikes for better ‘feel’, the 12- minute session got underway.
Based on previous experience, we made an error in tyre selection on Lee’s bike and went with the hard option rear wet which unfortunately offered less grip. Max used the softer option and they both ended up with similar times, four seconds off the pace in P13 and P14. Disappointing after such strong dry running. Both would have full wet set ups and soft tyres for the race. They are usually good in the wet so we could only hope they would be able to make up places from the off. They would also need to set competitive lap times to secure decent grid positions for Sunday’s full distance races.
Very wet. 12 laps was going to seem like a long way. Max held his P14 grid position off the line behind Nesbitt and Ryde. Lee wasn’t so fortunate and came round P17 at the end of the first lap in a ball of spray with work to do. Lee made progress and slotted in behind Max who was looking for a way past Ryde, which he did on lap four, P13. As the race developed Max closed on the group of five riders ahead of him, passing Nesbitt and Brookes, P11, and right on the back of Irwin, Hickman and Stacey as he went on to lap eight. It seemed Max would soon be through to P8 when the red flag came out. Haslam’s BMW dropping oil. Conditions and the late hour meant the race could not be restarted and as less than two thirds distance had been covered, half points were awarded. Initially Haslam appeared in the results until a steward’s review established that he’d been shown the black/orange dot flag (technical issue with machine, leave circuit safely as soon as possible) and he was excluded from the results, promoting Max to P10. Frustrated he’d lost the opportunity to finish further up, but still his first top ten finish on a superbike and on his first visit to Brands Hatch, and in the rain. Lee didn’t have an opportunity to get stuck into the big group and finished a disappointed P13.
10-minute morning warm up first. Track still patchy as it hadn’t fully dried overnight. Both went out on slick tyres. Max came straight back in as he reckoned it was a waste of time and not worth the risk. He would just go back out for a practice start at the end of the session. Lee persevered and ended up fastest but some three or four seconds off the dry pace.
Grid positions established from lap times in Saturday’s wet race. Lee P11 and Max P9, the first time he’d start in the top third of the field and a good opportunity to go with the more experienced riders. As it turned out, it was a difficult race for them both. Maybe the change in track conditions caught us out as Max and Lee couldn’t get within a second of their dry weather times. In Max’s case, there was a degree of frustration as he got a bit beaten up by the fast boys and pushed back. Trying to get back by braking later and carrying more corner speed made matters worse. Stuck behind Hickman in P13 with Stacey behind, Max finally passed Hickman only to be repassed and it didn’t help that Stacey pipped him by less than a second on the final lap – P14. Lee had a better race making up four places on lap one, P7. Pushed wide at Druids hairpin by Irwin on lap three didn’t help as it upset his rhythm which then enabled Haslam and Ryde to get through. A safety car period covering laps seven and eight closed things up but didn’t really help Lee who, who like Max, was struggled with the way his bike was working. After six laps behind Kennedy, who he passed on lap 16, and Haslam retiring, Lee crossed the finishing line P8. All a bit of an anticlimax.
Race two issues left us with lowly grid slots for race three. Lee P11 and Max right back in P18. Only very minor changes made to the bikes, just a note to the riders about adapting to the changed conditions. We told Max that he would be the hunter this time. Max thinks he’s worked out a new starting technique which seemed to work as he made up five places on lap one…. Ryde dropped out with a technical issue on lap four, promoting Max to P12 behind Kennedy. 16 laps right on Kennedy’s seat unit trying to make a pass. Both passed Buchan at mid-race and Max finally made it through on lap 17 with three to go, P10. Lee made a place off the line and then battled with Buchan who fell back and Nesbitt who had sneaked by before Lee got back past seven laps later. By that time the leading group was three and half seconds up the road. Past a slowing Haslam and despite lapping faster or at least at the same speed as the leaders wasn’t enough to make any further progress so Lee crossed the line P7, six seconds behind winner and championship leader Bridewell. Meanwhile, Max was on course for a second top ten finish, but Stacey had good speed in the final laps, passing Hickman and Kennedy and closing on Max. Less than 0.1 behind Max going on to the last lap, Stacey got by at the back of the circuit. Coming out of the final corner, Clearways, Max buried his head in the tank and as they crossed the line together, his name came up first – 0.030 separating them. P10 and revenge for Stacey beating him in race two.
Another good weekend of progress for Max, still heading the Rookies standing by 15 points from Charlie Nesbitt. P17 in the main championship on 34 points.
Lee scored more hard earned points but drops to P8 as Iddon now has 0.5 points more following the half points wet race. Vickers is only three points behind after celebrating his first race win.
High speed drifting through the Hampshire countryside next. Thruxton is a love it or hate it circuit for the riders which rewards bravery and the experience to know how to miss the big bumps! Lee has been very competitive there in the past and he will be more determined than ever to get back to the front. It will be interesting to see how Max gets on. He was runaway winner on his junior superstock bike last year, and we expect his steady build up approach to serve him well.
Whatever the outcome for the Cheshire Mouldings Kawasaki team, Thruxton guarantees close and exciting racing.
Sponsors and Supporters
Finally, a grateful word to the teams at Cheshire Mouldings and Kawasaki UK, and all our trade supporters. We couldn’t do it without you. See all the names on our sponsors panel below.
See you at Thruxton.
Nigel. Team Principal.