Chilly autumn weather as the British Superbike Championship assembled for the final time in 2022. At least we were promised some sunshine and calm conditions for the races.
However, a dark cloud hung over the event as the news had come through earlier in the week that Chrissy Rouse had succumbed to the injuries he sustained at the previous round at Donington Park. Much has been said since of Chrissy’s contributions to the championship as a fierce competitor, talented podcaster – Chasin’ the Racin’ – and highly qualified mathematician and teacher. His sunny disposition will be sorely missed. The championship organised wonderful tributes to Chrissy over the weekend. We joined with OMG to organise an auction to raise funds in memory of Chrissy.
Back to our plans. Only one bike in the Cheshire Mouldings FS-3 Racing Kawasaki garage as Rory was still wearing a cast on his right hand, the aftermath of his big crash at Oulton Park. There was big news for Rory overnight on Thursday as the news came in from the Australian Grand Prix paddock that he had been signed by American Racing on a two-year deal to compete in the Moto2 World Championship. We are all delighted for Rory as he joined us two years ago with the intention of demonstrating his potential as a world class rider. Always good when a plan comes together and it certainly makes up for earlier in his career when opportunities to race in Moto3 didn’t materialise. It a pity he’s been injured for the final rounds as Rory would have loved to have been in the Showdown fight and signed off with a couple of podiums. Good luck Rory.
Lee’s objective for the weekend was to secure the runner-up spot in the Championship as he, Glenn Irwin and Tommy Bridewell were separated by only 10 points. Brad Ray was way ahead, nine points shy of securing the championship.
After light overnight rain, damp patches were hanging about under the trees on the grand prix loop when the superbikes rolled out for FP1 on Friday afternoon. Lee ran a race distance on his tyres and posted 11th fastest time. Not a true representation of his pace as a number of the riders with faster times had fitted a new rear tyre for the final few minutes of the session. That was it for the day as a light shower passed over Brands Hatch and spits and spots of rain continued to fall throughout the time allocated for the 40-minute FP2 session. One or two riders ventured out to assess the conditions, but most sat it out.
More overnight rain and the track looked very slippery when we arrived on Saturday morning. It wasn’t looking promising for the short FP3 session at 10am as news came through from race control that the session would be extended by ten minutes to make up for the time lost on Friday. Lee went out for an exploratory run on wet weather tyres and was soon back in as slick tyres were the way to go. The Indy circuit layout was dry but there were some wet patches under the trees at the back of the circuit which required a cautious approach. The other early runners all took a gamble on slicks from the off. After some suspension changes to suit slick tyres, Lee was back out with the rest of the field as conditions improved over the final 15 minutes. Building up steadily, Lee got behind Brands specialist Brookes for a few laps and set the fourth fastest time of the session – 1.26.7, despite the conditions, only a couple of seconds off the lap record. Lee was happy with how the bike felt and was confident of a strong qualifying run on a fully dry track.
A top 12 position in free practice saw Lee straight through to the second part of qualifying. Moments before the session was due to go a few spots of rain could be felt. With grey clouds surrounding the circuit, all the riders were anxious to get going – only for race control to signal a five-minute delay. The marshal post out at Westfield was reporting heavier rain drops so the idea was to avoid the pack arriving from a dry track on to a damp section. However, as the pit lane was about to open the timing screen reported ‘drops of rain in all sectors’. Lee normally tries to run by himself in qualifying but the rain meant he went out in the first group and got caught up behind Owens and then Vickers. Sitting in P11, Lee decided to ride through the pitlane to find some clear track – just as the rain intensified. All he could do was come straight back into the garage. Ironically after the delay, the final five minutes of the 12-minute session were lost to the weather. If only the session had started on time! Needless to say, Lee was very frustrated as he should have qualified comfortably in the top six. Luck of the draw but P11 (which became P10 when another rider was penalised) was a difficult position to start from at Brands. It would also be difficult to get a good lap time to move him up the grid for race two on Sunday.
Middle of the fourth row…. Determined to make a good start and first lap to get on to the lead group.
10 seconds later Lee’s weekend was over. As the pack dropped into the dip at Paddock Hill, Buchan moved wider to avoid a collision, hit Brookes alongside him taking off one of the Ducati’s wings, sending Brookes wide and into Lee who was accelerating around the outside. Lee cannoned off Brookes and across the gravel trap at high speed. As the bike went down Lee’s hand was caught under the bar – broken wrist. The bike barrel-rolled and landed on top of the safety barrier. GAME OVER.
Sadly, a first lap chain of events but thank goodness the barriers are far further back nowadays and well protected. Thanks as always to the marshals and medical staff who looked after Lee and sent him back to the garage with his arm in plaster.
The crew rebuilt the bike but with two riders in plaster we were spectators for the rest of the weekend. No chance of competing for the runner up spot and with a real risk of losing Lee’s hard fought for P4 in the standings.
We turned our attention to Max who we’ve been helping for years now. Fresh from winning the national junior superstock championship, Max has been having an interesting time. We gave him a run on one of our superbikes at a race meeting practice day at Donington as a treat for winning his championship! Max thoroughly enjoyed himself and didn’t do anything silly. Then it was off to Darley Moor to race a full spec supersport bike prepared by his entrant, Dave Binch Racing. It was a try out ahead of racing the same bike at Brands Hatch, in with all of the supersport regulars.
The conditions at Brands in free practice didn’t help and Max qualified in P13 for the 12-lap sprint race. He got boxed in at Paddock at the start and spent the race battling in the midfield to finish a frustrated P11. He had been determined to demonstrate his talents, but circumstances were working against him. Max’s best lap placed him P13 on the grid for Sunday’s 16 lap feature race. Warm up was wet but Max ventured out to check out some clutch modifications designed to help him get off the line better. It worked and Max got a great launch and immediately got stuck in to avoid getting caught up in the mid-field. Making up five places, Max ended lap one in P8 and picked up another place on lap two. The three leaders had already made a break but Max was in a group of six riders which included recent race winners and a former champion. By lap nine Max headed the group – P4! A small mistake on lap 12 dropped him to the back of the group and getting caught out by back markers didn’t help. Max crossed the line P9, 1.1 behind P4. He reported that his rear tyre had gone off in the closing laps and admitted that in the longer race he didn’t have the same tyre management experience of those around him. Still a very impressive debut.
Well done Max!
Back to the superbikes. Remarkably, Jason O’Halloran’s bad luck continued and he failed to make up the points gap to Lee. Kyle Ryde also had a quiet weekend. With his arm in a sling, Lee held on to fourth place in the championship equalling our previous best finish with Danny Buchan back in 2019. Rory and his broken hand were stuck in P8 overall, but we remember that for most of the season Lee was P3 and Rory P4 in the standings.
Glenn Irwin had a race winning weekend to secure the runner up spot ahead of Bridewell. Congratulations to Brad Ray and OMG racing on winning their first championship.
Our efforts secured the runner up spot in the manufacturers’ standings for Kawasaki. In the teams’ standings Cheshire Mouldings FS-3 Racing was just pipped for third spot by the Oxford Products Ducati team. Those hands in plaster again! The two Yamaha teams had dominated.
Not a bad season, overall.
So many things have to work to run at the front in such a competitive championship. Key is the team of people who organise and run the team with Darren and me. We have a brilliant crew and back office. Band of brothers and sisters - you know who you are😊.
Obviously, the bikes must have the performance to run at the front. We really appreciate all the help and support we get from Kawasaki UK and their contacts in the world superbikes series.
To complete the job, we couldn’t do it without the encouragement and support of our title sponsor Cheshire Mouldings and others who provide financial support, particularly Kawasaki UK and Vantage R&D. Then there is the long list of trade sponsors who provide us with materials and technical support – see all their logos below. We have a particularly close and important partnership with K-Tech Suspension and Darren’s company Clarke & Strong who provide us with world class workshop facilities.
Finally, Lee and Rory finish off the job on the track. They’ve both been exceptional this year. We are already looking forward to doing it all again next year with Lee while we cheer on Rory in the world Moto2 championship. You’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out who will be replacing Rory alongside Lee.
With the worst effects of the pandemic behind us we will have a more normal winter testing programme, including a run down to Spain. We will keep you posted on how things are going.
I’m ending where I began, with Chrissy. The money raised will be used to support more causes close to Chrissy’s heart.
Thank you to everyone who supported the auction either by donating lots or bidding to buy them. There is a PayPal page for anyone who wishes to donate. Simply click the Paypal button below, log in, and send your donation to email@example.com :
Maybe see you at the NEC Show or in the New Year at the ExCeL.
Nigel Team Principal.
RIP Chrissy Rouse
1995 - 2022
"It's about the journey not the destination"