All of a sudden, it’s the end of another season. It’s also the end of two important partnerships and the advent of a new one for FS-3 Racing. Huge thanks to John and Jacquie at Cheshire Mouldings for their support and encouragement over the past two seasons as our title sponsor. You may have seen that their place on the side of our Kawasaki ZX-10RR Ninjas is being taken by Completely Motorbikes – the leading bike dealership chain. We’re look forward to working with Rob and James Ayland, to provide a range of opportunities for their customers to get closer to the action and for the team to be directly involved in helping promote bike sales across the country.
It’s the end of an era as we say goodbye to Lee Jackson after six years with the team in both the National Superstock 1000 and Superbikes classes. Lee is the ultimate reliable performer and it’s perfect to see him still in contention for this year’s championship as we go into the final round. While we will miss his quiet determination, I have a sneaky feeling that our paths will cross again.
Going into the weekend, our rookie Max Cook was focused on beating his lifelong friend and competitor Charlie Nesbitt to Rookies Cup honours.
Back in the pitlane there were nervous faces everywhere you looked. The new championship points system – plus a whole number of on track incidents – saw no fewer than eight riders in with a mathematical chance of scooping the main prize. While the two Ducatis were favorites, there was every possibility that the pressure and the weather might lead to a shock result. Game on!
Wet, but still reasonably warm as the bikes rolled out for FP1 on Friday afternoon. With the forecast for dry but much colder conditions on Saturday and Sunday, Friday’s practice sessions would probably achieve no more than dialling in the riders and establishing the order going into qualifying on Saturday lunchtime. Fastest 12 over both sessions straight through to Q2.
With a degree of caution due to the conditions, Lee ran 15 laps with his best time on his last time around and a couple of seconds off the pace – P12. Max got in 18 laps and was also faster at the end of the session 0.4 behind Lee – P16.
Mixed up time sheets with the true form disguised by the conditions. That all changed for FP2 as by late afternoon the track was almost dry, except for a few damp patches. Times dropped by some 12 seconds a lap, only one or two seconds from lap record pace. Without the leveller of a wet track, the true speed order emerged with Lee P7 and Max P9, a couple of tenths shy of Lee’s best time. There had been quite a rush at the end of the session following a red flag caused by Nesbitt hitting a wet patch at Clearways, the final corner.
With just eight minutes to go the whole pitlane emerged on new tyres to determine the final order going in to qualifying. Lee posted his time on his penultimate lap and Max on his last of 17. Max had time for one last lap but as he came into Clearways with the chequered flag in sight, he clipped that wet patch and down he went with his Kawasaki cartwheeling in front of him. Rider okay but fair amount of damage as the bike didn’t make it to the gravel trap and bounced along the hard tarmac. Lots of work for Max’s crew.
FP3. 20-minutes on Saturday morning. Cold, damp track – especially under the trees. Just enough time for Max to test out his rebuilt bike. Couple of issues quickly sorted out and all okay for qualifying. Three steady laps for Lee and back in.
Slightly warmer than expected as the morning wore on but a few minutes before the start of the 12-minute Q1 session a very heavy shower of rain - and hail – enveloped Brands Hatch. Urgent work to clear standing water put back the start time. When we did get going, conditions favoured the brave with Haslam leading the way and making up for difficulties in free practice. He and the five other riders who progressed to Q2 would have the distinct advantage of understanding the conditions. So it proved with Haslam and fellow Q1 runner Nesbitt making up the front row behind pole-sitter O’Halloran.
Times fluctuated throughout the session as track conditions improved. Running at the front in the early laps, Lee slipped back to P16 at the flag, just missing a final lap as a number of others made it and jumped up the order as the track continued to improve. Max was just 0.2 faster than Lee – P13. The disappointing outcome partly determined by luck and partly bike set up and tyre choice in uncertain conditions. The mixed-up grid would make for an interesting race as Lee had championship contenders Irwin and Brookes alongside him on row six.
12-lap sprint race. Cold air and track temperatures in the late afternoon, and still damp all around the track but with a drying line. Nothing for it other than to fit slicks and be careful not to stray offline. Lee worked his way forward demonstrating his usual race craft and crossed the line P9. Max held position to finish P13 after falling back in the early laps after a difficult first lap. Uneventful for us but the drama for the championship was building as the four main contenders battled it out – Ryde crossing the line 0.015 ahead of O’Halloran, followed by the two Ducatis.
Uneventful warm up on Sunday morning. Seven laps dodging the damp patches under the trees.
Grid line-up based on the sprint race lap times, Lee P10 and Max just behind, P13. Max made his best start of the season and consolidated his gains by running around the outside at Druids hairpin to emerge P9. Lee got chopped on the line and had to back out of a potential crash which cost him a number of places, P14 at the end of lap one. Big crash for Iddon brought out the safety car on lap 8 with Max up to P7 and a couple of seconds clear of his pursuers. Lee P10 in the safety car line but now closed up behind Brookes and the lead group. Safety car in as the riders went on to lap 10, half distance. O’Halloran crashed out after the restart and after a mistake by Haslam, Max came around P5! Unfortunately a bit of arm-pump set in, but Max held on for P7 at the line. Probably his best race of the season. As always, Lee was there to pick up the pieces and make some strong passes which saw him finish P5, great recovery ride.
The final race of the season. Not only Lee’s last start for the team but also his 200thsuperbike start in total. Quite a milestone which we celebrated with a team picture, surrounding Lee on his P11 grid slot. Max was just ahead, P8, courtesy of his his race two performance.
Quiet race for us as Lee finished P8 and Max P11, suffering with his arm again. Nesbitt passed Max in the race but it wasn’t enough to deprive Max in their personal battle for top spot among the rookies.
All eyes were on the epic battle up front with Ryde really mixing it with the two Ducatis. If you weren’t watching, going on to the final lap of the season the order was Irwin, Ryde, Bridewell - Irwin leading the championship by 2.5 points. Bridewell forced his way past Ryde at Druids and just held on to the line to win the big prize by just half a point! Irwin had won 10 races to Bridewell’s eight making it the closest thing to a draw. Good to see them shake hands on the slowing down lap. Well done Tommy and Glenn. Paul Bird would have been proud of you.
Behind the Ducatis and Kyle Ryde, Lee was next up in the championship for the second year running – P4 on 376.5 points, just ahead of Haslam and O’Halloran. Most impressive was Lee’s racing record; 33 races, 33 finishes, 33 points scoring results. All testament to Lee’s ability to always be there and take advantage of mistakes by others and technical failures, plus some brilliant race performances. We’ll always be Jacko fans😊.
Max – Rookies Cup winner! 12 points clear of Nesbitt. Taking a leaf out of Lee’s book, while Nesbitt may have had some stronger results, he also made a number of mistakes and crashed out. As they say, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Max had 20 points scoring races which netted him 114 points in the main championship, P15 overall. Max even led a race at Thruxton! Excellent first season on a superbike after stepping up from the junior superstock class.
Here’s another impressive statistic for you. Across all the test days, free practice sessions, qualifying runs and over 66 races – not one single technical issue with engines, electronics or chassis. How is it achieved? Perfect preparation. Regular engine rebuilds and careful running in. Nut and bolt strip down and rebuilds in the workshop between events. Careful cleaning and an oil change every evening at the race meetings. Awesome crew working on the bikes.
Lee and Max are the beneficiaries of all that hard work behind the scenes. They also have top crew chiefs in their corners. Former superbike winner back in the day, Matt Llewellyn is a top rider coach and has had a major role in bringing Max along. (And Rory Skinner and Danny Buchan before him). Lee has had Ian Prestwood on his shoulder. Probably the most experienced and multi-skilled race engineer on pit lane. Ian guided Alex Lowes to the BSB championship and looked after him at world superbikes level too.
We have had fantastic support from our sponsors - particularly Cheshire Mouldings – and critically, a number of specialist suppliers who help us with development work and provide high quality products. They are all listed on our sponsor board below.
And we couldn’t do it without Stuart Higgs and the team at MSV, all the voluntary staff and of course the marshals out on every corner at every circuit on every lap. Thank you.
By the time you read this we will have given Jason O’Halloran his first run on a Kawasaki ZX-10RR Ninja at Donington Park. Wonder what he’ll make of it – we’ll let you know.
Then it’s off to the NEC Show, closely followed by a two-day test at Jerez where we are joining the world superbike teams for a two-day test.
Then we’ll have a lie down.
Thanks for all you support, see you next year.
Regards, Nigel Team Principal.