Updated: Aug 4, 2021
Don’t know what we’ve done to deserve another weather App weekend. Calm set up day on the Thursday followed by gale force winds and torrential downpours on Friday, and so it went on.
At least Rory’s arm was fully healed, and Lee was determined to make up for not getting the results he deserved at Brands Hatch. The workshop had been very busy in the three day gap between getting back from Brands and leaving for Thruxton. Nut and bolt strip down for cleaning and fresh engines fitted.
A drying track and very windy wasn’t exactly ideal conditions for Rory on a superbike starting to learn one of the more challenging tracks we visit. He’d only raced at Thruxton once before on a supersport bike. The circuit really is a one off, a ribbon of tarmac surrounded by grass. No trackside reference points, few entry, apex and exit kerbs and a very abrasive surface which eats tyres. (Because of the wear rate issue, the organisers suspended use of the supersoft SCX option for this round so everyone would run the standard soft compound SC0 Pirelli Supercorsa).
If Rory had his work cut out then Lee was straight on it. Dry enough to run with slick tyres, he put in 17 laps and ended the session with the fastest time, a 1.17.2, about 2.4 slower than the lap record but 0.5 faster than anyone else. Rory didn’t do too badly either with only 12 laps completed he recorded a 1.17.9 for P7.
FP2 was a washout so the earlier times would determine the 12 riders who would go straight through to Q2 – Lee and Rory included.
Saturday morning’s usual 20-minute free practice and warmup session was extended to 30 minutes to allow the teams a bit more running in what turned out to be dry conditions. Lee went round in a 16.4, 0.8 slower than O’Halloran but comfortably in the top 10 in P8. Rory got another 19 laps in but in dry conditions the challenges of the circuit were more apparent, and his time, a second a lap faster than FP1, put him only P16. More time would come as his circuit knowledge developed. It was also difficult for Rory to give feedback on the handling of his ZX-10RR as due to the nature of the circuit he didn’t really know what to expect and wanted to avoid sending Matt and his crew in the wrong direction with suspension set up.
Without the benefit of a Q1 run, Rory had just the 12 minutes of Q2 to set a competitive time. At least the track was still dry. The abrasive surface meant the tyres would be at their best for only two or three laps. On his second flying lap Rory got down to a 16.2, his best of the weekend so far and which meant he’d line up P17 out of the 18 riders on track. Still more to learn but there’s nothing like a race to speed up the process. Lee ended up eighth fastest on a 15.4, a time just 0.3 faster would have put him on the front row.
15 laps for the shorter Saturday ‘sprint’ race. Still a need to manage tyre life but less critical than it would be for Sunday’s 20 lappers.
After a decent launch off the line, Lee had an awkward first few corners and dropped three places to P11, and then the safety car came out. An incident off the line had involved Ryde who was tagged and collided with Francis, both ending up in the turn one safety fence but uninjured. The safety car was in after two laps and Lee got his head down to recover ground, setting the fastest time of the race, a 15.3, on lap five giving him pole position for race two. By lap nine Lee had climbed to P4 only to lose a place to Vickers on the final time around when he slowed slightly thinking he’d lost a knee slider – critical equipment for judging lean angle. P5 over the line, 0.2 behind.
Rory did get a good race under his belt and improved his best lap time by 0.7. He narrowly missed being taken out in the incident that brought out the safety car, dropping him to P19. In with some experienced riders, Rory was learning more about the lines people use around the unique Thruxton lap - no narrow racing line as there is at a more traditional circuit. Dicing with Bridewell and then Linfoot, Rory recovered to claim two points in P14, only 0.7 behind Buchan who had served a long lap penalty for cutting the Club Chicane. Maybe a bit disappointed but looking at his grid position for race two, surrounded by far more established riders.
10 minutes warm up in dry conditions on Sunday morning, enough time for eight laps. Lee was second fastest behind O’Halloran. Rory was trying some set up changes and recorded 17th fastest time, still searching for the ‘feel’ from his Kawasaki that would allow him to push on to the next level.
Lee got lots of attention as he lined up on pole position. He had an unobstructed view up to turn one and would be clear of the chasing pack. He did give up a couple of places off the grid but was happy to sit back and manage his rear tyre wear for the first half of the race. Having settled into a dice over fourth place with Christian Iddon, Lee sensed the leaders were getting away and it was time to use his tyre to get to the front. On to lap 10, Lee lined up Iddon going into the complex when disaster struck. Wider than usual and aiming to drive up the inside, Lee caught a big Thruxton bump which unsettled both bike and rider. He braked hard to avoid Iddon but lost the front and went down. His bike just clipped Iddon’s rear wheel, taking him down too. No serious damage to bikes and riders but to say Lee was horrified by what had happened was an understatement. He apologised to Iddon at the scene and later to the PBM team as he returned to pitlane, feeling all the worse as Christian had lost points in his championship battle with O’Halloran. Christian is a friend of our team and a gentleman, and he held no grudge as he knows Lee is a clean rider and it was racing incident. Lee later said it was the first time he had ever taken out another rider in all his years of top-level racing.
Lee had set third fastest lap time before the crash but understandably, the stewards penalised him for causing the incident and imposed a three-place grid drop so he’d start race three from row two in P6.
No big dramas for Rory but a very encouraging race performance. From sixteenth on the grid Rory crossed the line in P11, and it could have been P9. Dicing with the two Suzukis he got ahead on the final run up to the chicane but going in hot he decided not to make the corner and risk a crash. Running through the chicane cost Rory the two places and he rolled off to make sure he didn’t get a time penalty as he knew he had a three second gap back to Bridewell. During his progress in the race, Rory clocked an impressive 15.8 lap and was in with Fores, Bridewell, Linfoot, Kent, Rea and Andrew Irwin – not shabby company. He’d start race three from P12.
Another lottery race and unfortunately, we didn’t buy a winning ticket! The threatened heavy rain finally arrived an hour or so before the race start time. The track was flooded for a while, such that the youngsters’ talent cup race was cancelled. The supersport race went ahead as by then the rain had stopped and the track had drained, but it was still very wet.
Lee’s and Rory’s bikes went to the grid on full wets. However, with the track drying and a split decision on the likelihood of more rain, most of the grid elected to run an intermediate wet rear tyre. It would be sketchy early on but ‘inters’ would have much better resilience if it stayed dry as the infamous Thruxton surface would destroy full wet rears. We still thought full wets was the way to go for Rory bearing in mind his lack of laps and general circuit knowledge. Lee was thinking about running an intermediate but the amount of spray on the out lap put him off the idea. Hickman and Mackenzie felt the same, but the other faster riders rolled the dice and elected to use the intermediate rain tyre. For the first few laps we hoped we had made the right decision. Hickman and Mackenzie cleared off on their full wets and Lee was dicing with O’Halloran for P3 while Rory had made up seven places to run P5.
As the track continued to dry and the intermediates got up to temperature our mood on the pit wall changed. Lee and Rory were being caught and passed by the ‘inter’ runners. With seven or eight laps to go the rain did come back, but too little too late. If it had poured down, we’d have looked clever but, in the event, we made a wrong call. Mackenzie and Hickman dropped back to P7 and P8 and Lee to P12. Rory fell back further and once he saw he was out of the points he retired his bike with four laps to go, rather than risk a crash for nothing. All rather frustrating as on another day we could have scored a hat full of points.
Rory’s now seventh in the championship standings with 93 points and Lee eighth with 88. Hickman and Bridewell are in their sights, but Ray and Glenn Irwin are closing in.
Max and James Cook.
James had a strong free practice, P2 in the dry and P9 in damp conditions. Qualified P8 and battled for P7 in the second group in his first race but finished in fifth place with a bit of luck on the final lap as others failed to finish. His second race on Sunday was cancelled due to the heavy rain shower just before race time. The plan is that the Talent Cup will have three races at the next round at Donington Park. James is fourth in his championship’s standings on 76 points, 15 shy of third place.
Max continues to find his feet on his National Junior Superstock Kawasaki. P12 in his first practice session he ended his FP2 run in drying conditions fourth fastest, demonstrating his ‘feel’ in more difficult conditions. P15 in qualifying, 1.3 slower than pole and in a very tight group. The race proved tough as Max battled in the group which covered P11 to 20 and got shuffled back to P17 and out of the points. With help from our friends at K-Tech, Max is fine tuning the set up of his bike this week and we’re off to Donington next, scene of his P2 podium finish at the world superbike round support race.
Donington Park on the shorter National layout next, missing out the heavy braking Melbourn loop section. It’s a short lap so close racing guaranteed. We are looking forward to Rory impressing again and Lee fighting for that elusive podium finish.
We’re expecting a big crowd and hopefully some warm and sunny summer weather. Hope to see you there.
Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.