Back to the spiritual home of superbike racing, the Grand Prix layout at Donington Park. One of our local rounds as we are based down the road, just outside Coventry.
Both Danny and Lee ran well at the first round here back in August, on the shorter National layout. There was every reason to look forward to another successful weekend, building on the back of our three podium finishes at Oulton Park two weeks earlier. Since then we have been busy working on an upgrade to the engines in our ZX-10RRs, as well as all the usual ‘care and attention’ maintenance that takes place between rounds.
As always, we were watching our weathers apps in the days leading up to the event. It was not looking good, and so it turned out. At least Lee and Danny are known for performing well in wet conditions.
Free Practice One.
Thursday evening and an important message from the organisers pops up. Anticipating the approaching storm, first free practice would be brought forward to early afternoon and the second session, which usually takes place on Saturday morning, would now take place later in the day on Friday. We were warned that if the rain on Saturday prevented qualifying taking place at the normal time then free practice times would determine the grid positions.
Travelling to the circuit on Friday morning in the forecast pouring rain, miraculously it stopped ten miles from Donington and soon after the road was bone dry. The rain held off for the duration of the 45-minute session, so we got some decent dry running in. Lee and Danny got in 17 and 18 laps respectively with Lee ending up P7 half a tenth ahead of Danny who was P8. They were half a second off Brookes’ time which bettered the field by 0.25 – the next 11 riders covered by half a second. Close! If it rained for FP2 and there was no qualifying session, then those would be our grid positions for race one.
Free Practice Two.
The rain duly arrived an hour or so before the second session. All the usual set-up changes were made to soften off the suspension and the engine characteristics. Riding in the wet is all about feel so the bike needs to move a bit with the power coming in progressively. Even so, there would be no chance of times improving, in fact the best times were 17 seconds slower than in FP1.
As expected, Lee and Danny went well, Lee again pipping Danny by half a tenth – P4 and P5. Wet or dry for the races, we should be in good shape.
More news from the organisers anticipating the weather and confirming replacing the mid-day qualifying session with race one, after a short warm up first thing.
Saturday Warm Up.
The 15-minute warm up was eventful. On to his first flying lap, Danny’s sector one time did not come up. Then the dreaded Donington screen message ‘Faller No. 83 Turn 3, Craners. Rider okay’. Normally that means a trip to the medical centre and a very expensive crash bill. Today we got lucky. Miraculously, after flicking Danny off on the right/left change of direction, the bike carried on under its own steam, over the grass and down the hill before flopping on to its side. The only damage was a broken front brake lever protector and a slightly bent bar. New protector fitted courtesy of our friends at GB Racing, thanks. Quick wash down and the bike was fine. Danny unharmed.
Lee’s nine lap run was uneventful. Just getting a feel for the conditions and checking out some chassis set up changes aimed at reducing wheelspin to improve drive off the corners.
As expected, qualifying was cancelled so the free practice times would indeed determine the grid. Lee P7, Danny P8.
Well, we tried. Lining up on the grid at the allotted time in pouring rain. The preceding supersport race had featured several crashes and it was pretty obvious that the conditions were too dangerous for the superbike grid, so we all trooped off. An hour or so later we tried again. This time the riders were sent out on the green flag formation lap with six of them designated by the organiser to indicate if they thought it was safe to race. Arriving back on the grid, they all put their arms up to signal no-go, so we trooped off again.
Rain stopped play. No further attempts so three races were programmed in for Sunday! They would all be slightly shorter 15 lap affairs, rather than the usual 18.
Sunday Warm Up.
No rain but a wet track for the 10-minute session first thing in the morning. Lee P9 and Danny P13. No dramas, just checking out the conditions and the feel of the bike.
Race One – again.
Dilemma. Drying track so which tyres to use? Most of the field chose wet weather tyres, front and rear. On a mainly wet surface but with drying patches on the racing line, the issue is having to go off-line on to wetter areas to make a pass. We choose the soft wet, some others the harder option while a few brave souls went for an intermediate rear – basically a treaded slick.
Great start by Danny around the outside in to Redgate. Came out in P3 with Andy Irwin in the lead and sandwiched by the PBM Ducatis. Lee was less fortunate and got stuck mid-pack through Redgate coming out P10 with lots of work to do.
Brookes was by Danny on lap 4 to take third place. By lap 8, mid-race distance, Danny had dropped back and was falling into the clutches of runners on the harder compound wet that was holding up and intermediate tyres that were coming into their own as the soft wets wore away on the now almost dry lap. With the right-hand side of his rear tyre resembling a slick, Danny could not resist the fast finishers and slipped back to P9 at the flag.
After his difficult start, Lee soldiered on reclaiming places but also giving ground to the riders with tyres more suited to the conditions. He was on the soft option rear tyre as well and crossed the line P10, seven seconds behind Danny. Bit disappointing really.
The issue with tyres meant Lee and Danny did not register competitive lap times so would have to start from P13 and 14 respectively. Race two would be hard work from there and riskier too.
Dry track now, just the odd wet patch well offline. Both riders made up a couple of places as they raced each other side by side down through the Craner Curves, Danny just taking the position as they cleared the Old Hairpin. As a result of the race one tyre choices the grid was a bit mixed up, so the pack was really jockeying for position.
In to the Melbourne Loop hairpin and Andrew Irwin and Vickers collided and hit the deck. Behind Stacey clipped Hickman who went down with his bike collecting a totally innocent Danny who was out of the corner. A knock-on effect of his grid position…. Worse still, as it was a first lap incident Danny had not set a time meaning he would be relegated to P20 on the grid for race three. Yet he had done nothing wrong. Race control deemed it a racing incident.
Meanwhile, Lee was in P9, benefitting from fallers in front of him and dicing with Iddon. He got ahead of him into the Old Hairpin and headed off after the leading group. The next we saw of him on the TV screen was sitting in the gravel at Coppice corner. He had run in a tad faster than usual and on the cold surface his front tyre gave up grip and down he went. He would be back down in P14 on the grid for the final race of the day.
Both riders unhurt and crash damage not too bad. The snowball effect of our tyre choices for race one was spoiling our day! Things were certainly not going our way.
Third time lucky then….
Lee and Danny were compromised as they had missed most of the second race so hadn’t got a feel for the fully dry track or had the opportunity to make some set up changes for the final race. Both made reasonable starts, but nothing spectacular. They knew they would have a lot of overtaking to do if they were to get anything out of the race.
Danny chipped away getting through the riders who usually run towards the back of the field – but they are still not slow. Over the course of the race he made up eight places and followed Hickman over the line in P12. Frustrated and disappointed that the weather and on track incidents had literally dampened down a promising start to his weekend.
Starting two rows further up the grid, Lee at least had an opportunity to get into the top end of the field. He was soon picking off the riders who had started around him, following Andrew Irwin as they moved up the leader board. He passed Irwin on Lap 7 and with Bridewell’s retirement he was running P9 and lapping at the same speed as the leaders. He passed O’Halloran who was struggling with a technical issue and soon closed in on and got by Francis and Mossey, with Irwin still hanging on behind him. P6 a couple of seconds behind Iddon and Rea. He was on them with two laps to go and even looked for a pass on both at the Old Hairpin. It was never going to come off but demonstrated his speed in sector one and through Craner Curves – fastest time in the race. Rea was riding very defensively, slowing mid corner but Lee still had a go into McLeans, but just ran wide with Rea coming back through. Irwin had caught up as Lee was delayed but he held him off and crossed the line 0.2 behind Rea with Iddon a further 0.7 up the road. If it had been a full distance 18 lap race, he would surely have made it through to P4. And if he had had a better starting slot he might even have competed for the win. That is two ifs – typical race then.
Danny is on 101 points, still P10 but well clear of Luke Mossey. Lee is now on 131 having pipped Kyle Ryde by a point to sit in P8, eight behind Andrew Irwin.
Funny old weekend really. The team, our bikes, and both riders are ‘on it’ but the results cards have not fallen our way. Despite that, we are still fourth in the teams’ championship.
Before you know it, we are leading up to the final round of the shortened championship. Three races to come around the wonderful Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. 2.65 miles of undulations through Kentish woodland – if you have never been, it is a bucket list item. That said, sadly no spectators again due to the government’s health protection regulations.
Again, it’s a track which both Lee and Danny like and have enjoyed great results there in the past. Hopefully they’ll both get something special to reward their’s and the team’s efforts in unusual circumstances.
It would be nice to have some lovely calm and sunny autumn weather to sign off on.