Oulton Park. Round Nine. Showdown in Cheshire.
With the end of season Showdown places – the eight Title Fighters – settled at Snetterton, all eyes were now on title sponsor’s Cheshire Mouldings home round at Oulton Park. The spectacular circuit layout is a firm favourite with riders and spectators alike. And it’s a Kawasaki circuit where our ZX-10RRs always perform well so we could expect to be in the thick of it.
Points are reset for the final three ‘Showdown’ rounds – 1,000 plus the podium credits earned over the previous 24 races. Brad Ray leading the way on 1061 with Lee P5 on 1014 and Rory P7 on 1009. P4 – P8 covered by just eight points.
Lee was looking forward to getting back to the scene of his maiden BSB victory earlier in the season. Rory was keen to shake off the effects of his Snetterton qualifying crash and get back among the leaders. Lots of pressure up and down the pitlane as the season was building to its climax.
The first run is used to get the riders comfortable as Oulton Park is a real challenge with blind rises, undulations, tight chicanes and fast bumpy straights. Lee turned 19 laps using his race winning set up but the colder conditions and ‘green’ track after heavy rain on Thursday demanded a few changes to give him the feel he needed. Using one set of tyres Lee was P9, a second off the fastest. Rory needed a bit more time to settle in but was only 0.4 behind Lee in P14. A number of riders used a second pair of tyres to post a faster time.
FP2 got off to a difficult start with Lee crashing out at Lodge, the final corner, on only his fifth lap. A wheelie over the final rise, missed braking point, too much brake pressure to recover and the front wheel locked….. As well as losing important track time, Lee’s best lap dropped him to P14, just outside of the top 12 who go straight through to Q2. Rory got in 16 laps, but he crashed too – at turn one, Old Hall, on what would have been his final lap of the session. At least he was just inside the top 12, but a second off the pace.
It had been a difficult day with two crashes and the boys not running at the front as we’d expected. As always, the crew did a great job to have both bikes checked over and rebuilt by early evening. Better luck tomorrow we were hoping.
The short, 20-minute free practice session on Saturday morning was a chance to reset. Rory P9 and Lee P12. Neither of them was really happy with the feel of their bikes which was a bit of a worry.
At least Lee had a bit more track time to help him get going as he had to go through Q1. He immediately set the fastest time with a 1.34.3, comfortably his best of the weekend. Brookes pipped his time towards the end of the 12-minute session but he was comfortably through to the second part of qualifying.
Q2 – After strong early laps from Rory and Lee, the field got up to speed. Dropping down the standings, both had to put in big efforts in the dying moments of the session to secure P10 and 11. But here’s the thing, if they had been just 0.15 faster over a 93 second lap they would have qualified P3 and P4. P4 to P15 covered by just over 0.2! Even more frustrating, their ‘ideal’ laps – adding together the best sector times – would have comfortably achieved the target time for the first two rows of the grid. Tiny margins can make a huge difference and at Oulton Park starting from the first two rows really is important as overtaking is difficult.
While all that was going on, Ray set a time almost one second faster than the field and 0.7 inside the lap record…..!
The rain that had been threatening was holding off as the warm up lap for the 14 lap sprint race set off.
Starting from the fourth row was far from ideal as the circuit layout funnels the riders right and then left at high speed. Rory took advantage of a good launch and an aggressive first sector to make up two places. P8 in a close battle with Mackenzie which went on for six laps. After that, Rory started to feel the effects of his Snetterton injury. After a promising first half of the race, he slipped back to finish where he started, P8.
Lee had a steadier start and first lap, making up a place before slipping back to P12. As the fuel load came down Lee speeded up but there were now big gaps ahead of him. Eventually Lee caught Rory who had dropped off the pace and went on to finish a slightly disappointing P6. In fact, both our finishes were flattered by the two McAMS Yamahas crashing out. O’Halloran went down after a last lap clash with Hickman. The stewards investigated the clash and found Hickman was at fault and was duly disqualified from the results. In effect, we’d been gifted three places.
Always a late start at Oulton to respect the church service in the neighbouring village of Little Budworth.
Two 18 lap feature races were scheduled with a quick 10-minute warm up run at noon. Just enough time for Lee to try a couple of suspension changes aimed at giving him back the race winning feel he had enjoyed earlier in the year. As it happened, the short session put a smile on our faces as Lee and Rory set the pace until Ray put in one of his banzai laps. Still, P3 and P4 was encouraging. However, the lap times from race one placed Rory P8 and Lee P10, not ideal.
Where to start? Lap one and Bridewell tangles with O’Halloran and runs him to the edge of the track at Druids, the scene of the race one clash with Hickman. The outcome was the same – rider and Yamaha barrel rolling through the gravel trap. Incredibly bad luck. A couple of laps later and Mackenzie crashed in Hissy’s chicane and was collected by Hickman. Red flag and sadly for Tarran a broken femur putting an end to his championship defence. Thankfully, our boys managed to avoid getting involved and actually made up places. Rory had got to P4 off the line and gained two places because of the O’Halloran incident – P2. Lee also made progress and by avoiding the carnage jumped to P4.
For the restart Rory and Lee would be starting from where we had hoped for, P2 and P3. Now we would see if they could translate their race pace into decent results. By lap four Lee had passed Rory and Ryde - who had got past off the start - for P2 and was off after Ray. Going into Britten’s chicane there was another nasty incident. A sprinkle of rain and Ryde took a cautious approach into the chicane, Iddon and Rory were side by side on the approach with Glenn Irwin right there too. Iddon moved to avoid Ryde’s rear wheel and with nowhere to go, Rory rear-ended Iddon’s Suzuki. Frighteningly, he landed astride the rear wheel and was dragged and spun around by the crashing bike. Irwin just managed to avoid the melee by going through the escape road. It looked awful but thankfully Rory and Iddon survived with broken bones in their hands and a world of bruises and strained muscles. Needless to say, red flag.
The third attempt to complete the race would be over seven laps with new tyres sanctioned – a real sprint race! Lee going off the middle of the front row alongside Ray and Irwin. Three laps shadowing the other two before exceptional moves in consecutive corners to take the lead. Inside Irwin at Old Hall followed by a beautiful drive along the Avenue to pass Ray into Cascades. Quite something. Bridewell came through to follow Lee home. Lee’s second Oulton Park victory of the season but actually a bit underwhelming in the circumstances. More important was the news from the medical centre that Rory was okay but with a proper check over needed at Chester hospital.
Still another race to go but with three of the eight Showdown runners missing due to injury, including Rory. Middle of the front row again for Lee – same company as for race two but this time with Irwin on pole and Ray P3. Race distance reduced from 18 to 15 laps.
Lee dropped to P3 off the line which became P4 three laps later as Bridwell moved up, and then P5 when Buchan slipped through at half distance. Lee held station, looking after his rear tyre which was suffering in the cool temperature on the abrasive surface with several hard drives each lap on the edge of the tyre.
Lee passed Ray on lap 11 and Buchan with two to go. Lee was right with Bridewell and Irwin but was unable to take advantage of his tyre saving. If only we’d had the extra three laps…. The three crossed the line covered by 0.2. We couldn’t really complain as Lee scored another podium finish after a difficult start to the weekend. Thankfully (once more) the race ran its distance without incident.
Using the Showdown scoring format – Ray 1113, Bridewell 1073, Lee 1069, Irwin 1062, O’Halloran 1048, Mackenzie 1031, Ryde 1027, Rory 1017.
Funny old weekend as it turned out. Great recovery by Lee to score two podium finishes, including another win. He’s right there in the title fight. Although Rory finished his weekend in hospital, it could have been so much worse. He was running strongly when it went wrong and he’ll take that with him as a positive thought. Great work by the crew in the Cheshire Mouldings FS-3 Racing Kawasaki garage and all the track marshals and race official who handled all the dramas in their usual professional manner.
All to play for at Donington and Brands Hatch with six races to run with 150 points on offer. We know we are in for an exciting time. Currently, we are not sure if Rory will be fit to ride as with back-to-back race weekends there’s only limited recovery time. Let’s hope the weather is on our side as Donington is very tricky in the wet. Everyone will want things to go off without any painful and expensive crashes.
Regards, Nigel Team Principal
PS. From time to time I mention our supported rider Max Cook. With two race wins over the weekend, Max secured the 2022 Pirelli National Junior Superstock championship – with three races to spare. Eight wins, two runner up spots and two DNFs, only one his fault.
Well done Max.