Oulton Park really is a beautiful setting for a racing circuit and the track itself is a riders’ favourite with its mix of corners and undulations. Quite different from the flat and featureless layout of Silverstone. Our Rapid Fulfillment Kawasaki ZX-10RRs work well at this sort of track and Danny and Lee also go well here too. We were quietly confident for a good weekend.
We were blessed with glorious autumn weather throughout the weekend, but sadly no spectators to enjoy the setting and the spectacle of superbikes racing wheel to wheel. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic had tightened its grip and put the organisers under increased pressure to provide a safe working environment for all concerned.
The aim was to convert Danny’s top of the timing screen speed into some solid race results and for Lee to extend his excellent run of results as he becomes ever more familiar with his superbike.
Free Practice One.
All ready to go by mid-afternoon on the Friday. 45 minutes for the riders to dial themselves into the track. It may be beautiful but on a 220bhp, 170kg superbike the high-speed corners, tight chicanes and blind crests really get the boys’ attention. In normal times we would have had a test day and an earlier round, this time it was straight in. Danny and Lee were wide-eyed after their first runs!
It's the same for everyone, and in the event Danny headed the times for most of the session, pipped by O’Halloran using a new tyre for a final run. P2 in a 1.36 on the 17th of his 18 laps. Lee was quickly into the swing of things too and ended the session P5. On the final of his 16 laps he was only 0.3 off Danny’s lap time. Good start.
Free Practice Two.
Riders are never comfortable on the bikes here so fine-tuning chassis set up and engine mapping to make things as comfortable as possible is the order of the day. There has been a lot of talk about issues with this year’s Pirelli tyres. Other than wear issues at Silverstone, we have had no problems with tyres. Like most others, we run the soft front and rear options which are providing consistent performance. However, something has certainly mixed up the grid. Eight different winners from nine races so far on four makes of machine. Surprisingly, the three Ducatis which were so dominant in 2019 were not having it all their own way. Time for us to join the party.
Danny finished the session top of the times with his sixth lap 1.2 faster than his Friday mark. 0.4 faster than O’Halloran and over a second faster than most of the front-runners going into qualifying. Lee spent 18 laps working on refining the feel of his bike, mostly focussed on stability over the crests to keep the front wheel down. He was 15th overall but had improved on his Friday time and his ideal lap – the sum of his best sector times – suggested he had good ultimate pace.
A 30-minute, non-stop session this year, with the opportunity for two short runs on new tyres. A big issue would be traffic and finding a clear lap. 28 riders on a mix of out laps, in laps and fast laps, coupled with the nature of the track layout, was always going to make finding space a challenge.
On his first run Danny bettered his morning time by 0.2 but had had to wait until his seventh lap to get in a decent time. Others fared better and went faster so there was work to do. Lee’s first run was shorter and produced a time 0.5 faster than in free practice. Looking on from the pit wall, we calculated his ideal lap was a good half a second faster so a clear lap on his second run would be critical.
Because he’d stayed out longer initially, Danny’s second run would be a shorter, out lap and four flying laps when everyone was on track. In the event he came close but didn’t improve on his time. It looked like he would have to settle for P4 or 5. After his short first run, Lee was out early on to a clear track and immediately found his rhythm and improved his time by the missing 0.5 – 1.35.1. Then a slower lap to re-group, followed by two more laps in the 1.35.1 bracket. Looked like he would be on the third row, but his ideal lap was another 0.3 faster. Then on his 11th and penultimate circuit Lee got everything just right and found 0.5 for a very impressive 1.34.6. What’s more his time was just one-thousandth of a second faster than Danny’s! They would line up on the second row - P6 and P7.
Eyes down for a hard race as the top ten were all within tenths of each other.
The new format Saturday afternoon race at 16 laps is a couple of laps shorter than the Sunday rounds. As always at Oulton Park, overtaking is very difficult, so a good start and strong nerves are required. Danny got the jump on Lee off the line and through Old Hall and Cascades they were in a sort out with the Ducatis which had both made good starts from the third row. End of lap one; Danny P6, Lee P7.
Lee dropped back behind Brookes and for the next 11 laps was stuck behind him, looking for a way by. He made it through on lap 13 and immediately was on the back of Ray, passing him a lap later - P6. Next he closed in on the Irwin brothers battling on their Hondas. Penultimate lap into Lodge, the last corner, and he out-brakes the first Honda which then turns straight back underneath him. Last lap battle with both Hondas and over the line he split them – P5! But… then the screen changed to show Lee P6, 0.050 behind Glenn Irwin who had been passed by brother Andy who was a further 0.1 ahead. So, Lee ended up just over a tenth of a second from P4. Great ride.
Meanwhile, Danny had been battling in the lead group with Iddon, O’Halloran, the Irwins and Ray. Past Ray on lap five, up to P5, but was unable to make further progress in the tight group until lap 13 when the two Honda riders ran slightly wide at Lodge. Danny was hard on them and turned underneath – thank you, P3! He proceeded to close on the two leaders and gap the Hondas, leaving them to Lee. At the line, Danny was 0.8 behind winner O’Halloran with Iddon between them. Great result and his and our first podium of the year. ‘bout time too...
On the last lap the three leaders recorded their fastest laps, all qualifying pace. Danny’s 34.9 would see him line up P3 on the grid. Lee was caught out by the close times and a tenth of a second made the difference between P5 and P9 which is where he’d have to start race two. Clear run for Danny but looks like a lot of overtaking for Lee to do, again.
Good day all round for the team.
A quick 10-minute wake up run in the sun at high-noon. We don’t start until mid-day on Sunday because of the local noise rules.
No dramas – important with only an hour until the first race of the day. Both lads ran for six laps, times in the mid to high 35s. Tried a few small things ahead of the races.
All good and ready to go.
Stalemate at the front. Danny set off with O’Halloran and Iddon and they stayed in their grid positions all race long. 18 laps of 1.34 and low 1.35 laps. No one made a mistake, so it turned into a super high-speed parade to the podium. Crossing the line just 1.1 behind O’Halloran, another strong result for Danny and the team as he stood on the third step of the podium.
Lee had all the fun. Constrained by his P9 grid position he made a strong start and settled into P9 behind Ray and Mackenzie. By lap six he had passed both and set off after Glenn Irwin who he got ahead of two laps later, P6. Next up was Andy Irwin. Lee got his head down but on lap nine his marker did not come up exiting sector two, only to pop up three seconds later with Lee showing in P10. He’d run a bit deep in to Hissy’s Chicane and rather than risk cutting in on the grass he ran through the long-lap penalty route. Half race distance. He set off again at an even quicker pace and started re-passing people; (Glenn Irwin retires, lap 12) Mossey, lap 13, Mackenzie, lap 14, Ray, lap 15 and finally Andy Irwin on lap 17. Incredibly, Lee finished in fifth place, six seconds behind next man Brookes and nine behind Danny who had gapped Brookes in the closing laps. What a ride. In commentary, James Whitham called him ‘the silent assassin’!
Good news is that in his frustration after his mistake, Lee set the second fastest lap time. Danny’s best was third fastest so both Rapid Fulfillment Kawasakis would line up on the front row. Hopefully less overtaking for Lee to do and the chance of a strong result for both bikes.
Here we go. Lee led for at least 30 metres down to Old Hall but slightly over ambitious ran wide letting Iddon and O’Halloran through. They had both jumped Danny as well, so away to Cascades it was Lee P4, Danny P5.
Lee hung on tenaciously to the front three. Close behind initially, Danny started to slip back and ended up dicing with Glenn Irwin and Ray in the second group. Irwin found a way past on lap nine, but Danny retaliated at Lodge three laps later and retook fifth place. At the flag at the end of lap 18 he was eight seconds back from the leading group, strange after two podium performances. As we’d only polished his bike and very lightly breathed on the engine mapping, it had to be something else. Describing the feel of the bike and grip level, it quickly became obvious to Matt, Danny’s crew chief, that the rear tyre hadn’t performed as expected. It does happen from time to time and is really frustrating for both the rider and the team. Still, after some difficult days, we all agreed that two podiums and a P5 represented a decent weekend’s work for Danny.
Lee just didn’t give up. As the two Ducatis and the Yamaha slugged it out he was in their shadows. At one point O’Halloran slipped back and Lee was looking for a way by. A couple of times he fell a second behind – which is quite a way at these speeds – but soon he was right with them again. No way to pass when the man in front is looking for a way by too. Last lap, last corner. Lodge again. Iddon had made a mistake on the previous lap so Brookes had a clear lead. O’Halloran wanted second but as they almost tangled in their last moment braking manoeuvres, Lee sensed an opportunity. He turned tight, just as Danny had done in race one. Lee had a clear run through Deer Leap and over the line, 0.2 covered the three. We had no idea if he’d pulled it off until Lee’s name came up in P3 – podium for him too! After 18 laps, minus 100 metres, staring at the Yamaha’s exhaust pipes, he’d pipped Jason to the line by 0.096…
James Whitham in commentary again; Lee is now officially the fastest plumber in Lincolnshire. In case you didn’t know, Lee is on the road in his van at 7.30am the morning after each BSB round to earn an honest living on the tools.
Danny’s haul of 43 points made his tally look much more respectable. Clear of Ray and closing in on Andy Irwin, but still in tenth place. Lee clocked up another 37 points taking his total to 115, leapfrogging Andy Irwin into eighth place and closing to within five points of Silverstone double winner, Kyle Ryde.
Both bikes on the front row of the grid for the final race and and three P3 podiums, featuring both Danny and Lee, finally demonstrated our true potential.
Big thanks must go to our sponsors and specialist suppliers – they’re all featured on our website. We couldn’t do it without them.
Our rather obvious plan is to carry the Oulton Park momentum to round five on the Grand Prix layout at Donington Park. The nature of the track will suit some of the bikes that didn’t feature at Oulton, while all the usual suspects will be keener than ever with only six points-scoring races remaining. Two more steps on the podium for Danny and Lee podium to fill.
I’m saying nothing about spectators this time. Just hope we will be running without any further government restrictions.
Nigel. Team Principal.