Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Having narrowly missed getting into the end of season Showdown, Lee was just looking forward to getting his head down at a circuit he loves and mixing it with the eight ‘title fighters’. For Rory, it was the opportunity to ride again at the scene of his first competitive superbike outing. That experience and the data gathered would give him a strong starting point for the weekend. Traditionally, the Kawasaki ZX-10RR goes well at Oulton too.
Nice warm autumn afternoon, ideal conditions to get back up to speed. Two 45-minute sessions at a track that takes a bit of getting used to. Island Bend and Clay Hill are not for the faint hearted, so it takes a while to get dialled in.
Lee ended the first run P4, just 0.1 off Buchan’s fastest time, both using a new super soft Pirelli Supercorsa SCX slick rear tyre for the final few laps. Rory was a second back in P14 running on one set of tyres throughout. Brookes dominated the second session with Lee 0.6 back in P7 and straight through to the second part of qualifying in the top 12. Rory’s P13 time would see him out in the first part of qualifying, aiming to set one of the six fastest times to get him in to the 18 runners who go in Q2.
Saturday morning and unexpectedly the rain is back. Wet weather tyres on and suspension softened off, ready for the 20-minute session. It was a judgement call whether to risk it as the forecast was for a dry, sunny day. Good job we went out as the drizzle continued all the way up to qualifying time. Lee ran at the front in the early, wetter laps and ended up P8 as he didn’t manage to get a lap in at the end when conditions were at their best. Rory was out at the end and just pipped Lee’s earlier time. Good thing was they both had decent runs in the iffy conditions.
Rory’s P13 from combined free practice meant he would benefit from two qualifying runs, provided he was one of the six fastest in the first. The conditions were still damp and slippery out on track but with the hint of a drier racing line. His third fastest time saw him comfortably through to the second 12-minute qualifying session and with the benefit of having experience of track conditions.
Lee was determined to get a good result and knew a grid slot on the front two rows was going to be essential to getting away with the leaders. We were concerned that with just a few minutes to go he hadn’t set a representative time on a track which was drying fast in places but was still treacherous in others. Then there was Lee on the TV feed with his hand up signalling he was coming in. He was hoping for a small set up change but there simply was not time and he was sent out after being told he needed to nail it to get back round for one more timed lap. Green sectors all the way round on his outlap – indicating his fastest times in the session – he made it with 10 seconds to spare. Showing P12, Lee registered green sectors again all the way round and crossed the line in a time that would put him P5 on the grid. Too close for comfort. Rory made good use of the knowledge gleaned from his first run and with no dramas ended up P12, just behind Hickman.
Great launch by Lee who went in to turn one, Old Hall, P5 but attacking Iddon’s Ducati around the outside. On the run to Island Bend Iddon held his position so Lee slotted in P5 behind the two Yamahas and Ducatis. A crash by Vickers at the final corner of lap one broke up the field but the top five had already opened a small gap. The front four were ‘at it’ for the whole 14 laps with Lee holding close station just behind. By lap 10 he had dropped back to 1.8 behind Iddon but, on worn tyres, Lee set his fastest lap on the penultimate tour, an impressive 1.35. That closed him back up on the group and he benefitted when O’Halloran crashed out of the lead. Mackenzie passed Brookes on the last lap and crossed the line to win by 0.087. Lee was 0.396 further back but only 0.024 behind Iddon as they crossed the line alongside each other, the photo-finish shot featuring in the social media coverage. Iddon P3 and Jackson P4 – so close to the final step on the podium.
Rory had a quieter race by comparison. A difficult start and first few corners pushed him back a place to P13 and into a race long battle with Stacey. Buchan passed both of them, recovering from taking avoiding action when Vickers crashed. Rea and O’Halloran’s crashing out elevated them to P10 and 11, Rory coming off worst as Stacey beat him to the line by just 0.014. Another very tight finish.
Quick 10-minute warm up session when the track opened at mid-day on Sunday. No engines before noon at Oulton Park, respecting the local church service. A huge crash for Linfoot coming over Clay Hill brought out the red flag to halt proceedings after only a couple of minutes. After a clean-up operation the session was restarted for five minutes, just enough time for two or maybe three laps. Lee P7 and confirming that a small set-up change had worked. Rory, happier with the bike, on a similar lap time to Lee in P8.
Lee would line up P7 based on his race one best lap time. A pity he wasn’t further forward but he didn’t get a clear lap in the first race one when his tyres were at their best as he had been bottled up behind Iddon. Another good launch would be critical. Rory would be back in P14 as he’d been unable to replicate his best lap times from free practice. He had some experienced riders just in front of him so the aim would be to get a good tow and make progress.
Another strong start from Lee and away with the leading group of six, this time joined by Hickman. Bridewell a bit further back but putting in fast times until he ran on through Hizzy’s Chicane on lap four, relegating him to P13. Lee got past Hickman on lap five only to be repassed three laps later after which they were together for the rest of the race, just a fraction off the pace. Frustrating for Lee as a slight braking issue was making it very difficult for him to commit to passes. Unable to make safe progress, he crossed the line 0.091 behind Hickman and 2.4 seconds behind the winner, Bridewell, who’d made a remarkable recovery after running on and then riding back through the field. Brookes crashed out on the last lap.
Rory improved his race lap time by over half a second but spent most of the race by himself. Stacey, his race one rival, was black flagged for not taking the ride through penalty awarded as the result of a jump start. Over the line in P11 was a bit of a disappointment for him but every lap is good experience, especially at a circuit like Oulton Park which is a challenge, even for seasoned BSB superbike riders.
Passing at Oulton Park is all about braking from high speed to get alongside at corner entry. Knowing Lee was suffering in the final phase of braking – the critical bit where the riders must judge whether or not a safe pass is possible - we fitted a different brake component to see if the ‘feel’ it provided would give him an edge.
A strong lap time in the previous race would see Lee line up P4 for the final race of the day. Rory, P14.
Another strong start and first few corners got Lee away with the leading group again, only losing a place to a fast-starting Buchan. By the end of lap one, polesitter Bridewell had cleared off, opening up a one and half second gap and by lap 12 of the 18 he had settled into an eight second lead, which he held to the flag.
Behind Bridewell: Brookes, Mackenzie, Iddon, Buchan and Lee were battling for the remaining podium spots. Buchan started to drop back from mid-race and Iddon was out of the equation after being nudged off the track by Mackenzie on the entry to Lodge corner on lap 13. A lap later and Lee had found a way past Mackenzie at the Shell Oils hairpin and set off after Brookes. P3 and in a podium position. A few drops of rain were falling, but not enough to affect the pace of the race. Past Brookes on the way into the hairpin next time round, Lee ran slightly wide letting Brookes back through and allowing Mackenzie to close. On to the penultimate lap, Mackenzie attempted a pass on Lee going into the fast Old Hall corner at the end of the start/finish straight. Lee held his line but Mackenzie on the inside was running out to the kerb and collided with Lee taking his hand off the bar and sending him flying on to the grass in a cloud of dust.
If we/Lee didn’t have bad luck, then we’d have none at all. The stewards judged that Mackenzie had made contact causing a crash and added a long lap equivalent three second time penalty which dropped him to P5 and gifted Ray the podium position Lee had been holding. Tarran did have the good grace to come down to our garage to apologise to Lee in person but what can you say, there’s no way to correct the original mistake – the result just shows Lee DNF.
Positives were the brake modification seemed to work and, far more important, Lee had demonstrated his speed and race craft throughout the weekend. He had come so close to scoring two podium finishes.
Rory knew it would be difficult to make progress from so far back on the grid. For most of the race he was by himself, but he stuck to the task. By the flag he’d made up four places to finish P10. Once again, more laps in the bag and a better understanding of the tricks of the trade around Oulton Park.
Max and James Cook.
No British Talent Cup round this weekend so young James would be spectating.
Max continues to make progress on his Kawasaki Ninja 636 in the junior superstock class. Only P17 in the combined times from the two free practice sessions, Max was confident going into his 25 minutes qualifying session, especially as the track was wet. Max always goes well in sketchy conditions but unlike superbike qualifying, the whole entry is out on track at the same time – all 40 of them – so traffic is a constant challenge. Max posted the P10 time and was all set for his first race.
Max made up ground on lap one of the 12-lap race and came round P6, in with the leading group. His pace wasn’t quite good enough to stay with them as he was suffering with a soft front brake which played on his confidence at corner entry. Eventually he dropped back in to a two-man battle for P8 with Valleley. Max came off second best in another run to the line close finish – 0.012 this time. His best lap was his fastest of the weekend, P12 and ready for his race on Sunday which he’d also start from P12.
As Max had been complaining of brake issues, some modifications were made to the set up in the hope of giving him more confidence. Sounded similar to Lee’s braking issue. 10 minutes practice in the evening gave Max the opportunity to try the modifications to his front brake and which seemed to improve the resistance through the lever.
In the event, Max’s race was spoiled by a poor start and first lap which dropped him back six places to P18. Still struggling with a soft brake lever in racing conditions, Max wasn’t able to put up a fight so could only focus on getting safely to the end. Now he is getting more familiar with a heavy superstock bike, Max was disappointed to finish only P17 after expecting to run in the top ten.
All four of our riders go well at Donington Park. We’re sure Lee will be fired up to prove a point after his podium near misses and Rory will be able of show off his paces at one of his favourite circuits.
Meanwhile, runaway championship leader O’Halloran suffered two Oulton Park crashes and with Mackenzie and Bridewell scoring big points, the Showdown format has put him on the backfoot as the three are now covered by just seven points with 150 still on offer over the final two rounds.
Should be an interesting weekend. Hope to see you there.
Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.