You could say we rolled into Oulton on a bit of a roll…. It turned out that our hopes were justified as we came away with three podium finishes, including a race win! Here’s how our weekend panned out…
A strong start to the season at Silverstone - including a race two podium for Rory – was backed up by an encouraging test day at Oulton last week – Lee and Rory both running at the front. The bank holiday weather forecast was mixed with rain predicted for Sunday so, as always, there would be some variables to contend with. The good thing is that Oulton is a real favourite of Lee’s and with a year on a superbike under his belt, Rory is getting the hang of the undulations and blind crests.
Saturday morning’s session took place in perfect conditions and the field was soon up to speed following on from the test day. Lee was immediately on the pace and the session data illustrated the speed of our Kawasaki ZX-10RR – over the four speed traps he was fastest in two and second or third fastest in the others. By the end of the 40-minute session, Lee had set the P4 time on 11 lap old tyres with the three ahead of him all taking new tyres for their final runs. Rory was busy working on his race set up and like Lee, using one set of tyres – P13, just 0.6 off Lee’s best.
Something of a surprise as we felt few spots of rain in the air minutes before the start of the afternoon’s FP2 session. It seemed as though the promised overnight rain had arrived early. Once a few had ventured out, it was clear that the precipitation wasn’t sufficient to affect times, at least for the first 20 minutes or so. Lee and Rory took advantage with Lee setting the fastest time and matching the lap record in the process. Lee P2 on the combined free practice times, 0.1 off Ray’s time from the morning. On new tyres, Rory took a big step to set the P4 time and take P6 overall.
Sure enough, the rain came in overnight and although it had stopped by the time we arrived at the circuit, more was forecast during the morning. As there is no running on Sunday morning, to respect the church service in Little Budworth, there was a chance the track would dry before FP3 at mid-day. In the event, the track was dry so the short, 15 minutes, FP3 was the usual opportunity to get up to speed for the day. Rory went out on new tyres while Lee ran on the tyres he had used in FP2. Both set strong times, Rory P4 and Lee P6, 0.1 apart and half a second slower than Bridewell who was looking strong for the races.
Despite the Weather App indicating that a light shower would just miss us, for once it was wrong. A few spots of rain 15 minutes before the start of the first qualifying runs turned in to just enough to wet the surface. The fastest 12 from Saturday’s free practice – including Lee and Rory – would go straight through to Q2. With tricky conditions out on track, the six riders who got through from Q1 had the advantage of knowing track conditions as they went straight back out for the second of the 12-minute qualifying sessions.
Like everyone else, Lee and Rory went out on wet weather tyres and with enough fuel to run the 12-minute session non-stop as the last across the line on a drying track is usually fastest overall. The earlier runners did benefit but things levelled out and those more confident in the improving conditions made progress. Rory kept his head down and with seconds to go popped up in P2 which quickly became P4 as the final lap times registered. Lee was up and down the time sheets as conditions changed. With a minute or two left he was recording personal best ‘green’ sector times but decided to abort the lap and ride through pitlane. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to complete another lap and as those who stayed out continued to speed up, he ended the session a disappointed P15. A real handicap for the shorter 14 lap race later that afternoon. Lee would have some fast but out of position riders to fight through. Pity as he had been consistently among the very fastest all through practice.
A near perfect launch from Rory took him past Mossey and round the outside of Brookes at turn one, Old Hall. With just Ryde ahead, Rory out braked him into Lodge – the last corner - completing lap one in P1! However, Ray was closing fast and the three of them arrived at Old Hall together, Ray somehow emerged in front and the race pattern was established – Rory up against last season’s dominant R1 Yamahas which are now being run by OMG Racing. Back in the pack, Lee was making progress and by the end of lap two had cleared Haslam, Sykes and Kent and was off in pursuit of Glenn and Andrew Irwin. By lap seven Lee had made up six places to P9 with fellow recovery rider Bridewell hard on his heels. Bridewell sneaked past Lee and they both closed on the second group. Buchan fell away placing Lee P9 again and on top of Iddon and O’Halloran when the red flag came out. The result was declared at the end of lap 11 as two-thirds distance had been completed. More frustration for Lee as he lost the opportunity to move up to P7.
Back at the front, as Ray was building a clear lead, Rory was holding off Ryde with Brookes and Hickman in close attendance. Ryde got past going into lap 10 only for Rory to fight back immediately with a brave move around the outside at Cascades to retake P2. With the red flag signal, the scrap was over with Rory making it onto the podium again – a great effort in only his third superbike visit to Oulton Park.
With race one lap times used to set the grid for the longer 18-lap race two, more good news. Rory would be starting from the front row – P3 – alongside the two Yamahas with Lee leading off row two from P4 meaning he’d be able to demonstrate his true race pace. It was shaping up to be quite a battle.
Rory was delighted with his day; Lee felt fed up that he hadn’t converted his speed into a stronger result.
Ten-minute warm up session on Monday morning to blow away the overnight cobwebs. Lee had turned up looking very determined to make up for his race one disappointment. He recorded the fastest time with Rory P3, just 0.1 slower. Game on!
As the lights went out, Lee nailed his start (for once!) and slotted in behind the two Yamahas and just ahead of Rory who had Bridewell on his heels. Over the first few laps the five of them circulated with times faster than the old lap record. It was full on and going into Lodge Corner at the end of lap four, five became four as Tommy tucked the front under braking as he saw an opportunity to pass Rory who himself was having a moment on the brakes.
By the end of lap seven, Rory in P4 had opened up nearly three seconds over Haslam who had inherited P5 from Bridewell. At which point the safety car was deployed to allow an injured rider to be recovered. With the pack back together, the safety car was in after two laps and battle resumed but this time Haslam had a tow from the leading group. With four laps to go Ryde was dropping back from Ray and Lee made a very neat pass on him at the change of direction in Hizzy’s Chicane – and set off after Ray who was slowing too. Lee crossed the line just half a second behind Ray to score his first podium of the year – P2. Meanwhile, Rory caught but couldn’t quite find a way past Ryde allowing the wily old fox, Haslam to get past Rory and Ryde in the last two laps and finish on the final step of the podium. It seemed that the incredible pace had caused Ray, Ryde and Rory to feel the effects of arm pump as they hung on.
Race two lap times placed Lee on the front row of the grid this time in P3 with Rory just behind in P5.
Rory got the better start and jumped Bridewell and Lee into Old Hall and came out right behind the Yamahas again with Lee right with him. Neave crashed heavily at the same corner which brought out the safety car again. Restarting going onto lap four, Lee forced his way under Rory in a firm but fair move which allowed Bridewell through to P4. The ‘fast five’ were up and running again with Haslam and O’Halloran a little further back. Lee passed Ryde for P2 going onto lap six and Bridewell followed before passing Lee two laps later.
Ray had built up a small lead but just after half distance started to slow- arm pump again? Bridewell and Lee were past on lap 13 – P1 and P2. It looked as if Bridewell had it in the bag, but Lee never gives up and he’s strong on worn tyres. Then things got interesting – to say the least. Through Island Bend and into the Shell Oils Hairpin at the far end of the circuit, Lee lined up Bridewell and executed a neat out braking manoeuvre into the corner to take the lead and immediately opened up a gap – P1.
A bit further back, Rory had passed Ryde who was dropping back fast and was holding off Haslam and O’Halloran. Try as they might, Rory fought all the way to line for his P4, 2.5 seconds behind Ray and Bridewell and quarter of a second ahead of Haslam. Meanwhile, Lee was giving us all the fright of our lives with a small out of the saddle moment exiting the hairpin as he built up an impressive three second lead over the final four laps.
Finally, in his 140th superbike race – Lee crossed the line to WIN.
Tears were shed (especially by his mum Sam) as he’s such a popular lad and the Jackson family has been a cornerstone of the BSB paddock for decades. Rory did another stellar job and was was straight round from Parc Ferme to congratulate Lee. They’d both had fantastic weekends and the team scored 96 points out of a possible 150.
Championship standings: Rory P3 on 86 points – 16 behind leader Ray. Lee P5 on 80 points, one behind Ryde and 20 clear of O’Halloran.
Everyone sees Lee and Rory out on track but there are another dozen people behind the scenes, developing the bikes, organising everything and crewing the garage at race meetings. It’s a motley crew, as the picture below shows. Then there are all our sponsors and suppliers – see their logos below. Thanks to you all.
Anyway, that’s Oulton done and as not every weekend is as special, it’s off to Donington Park next to start all over again.
Hope to see you there.
Regards, Nigel. Team Principal.
PS. For several years we’ve been helping and supporting Max Cook. BSB Moto3 standard class champion in 2017. Talent Cup front runner alongside Rory. Red Bull Rookie and Junior World Championship runner for three years. Now riding for Binch Racing and setting the standard in this year’s Pirelli Junior Superstock championship. Unfortunately taken out of the lead at round one, Max scored two resounding victories at Oulton and set a new class lap record. Well done, Max!