What has happened since last October?
Pandemics aside, we have had a busy autumn, winter and spring….
Lee Jackson heads into his second year on our superbike, joined by runaway Supersport champion, 19-year-old Rory Skinner. We said goodbye to Danny Buchan, off to BMW land, with our best wishes.
Kawasaki have provided a significant upgrade to the ZX-10RR Ninja in the form of a homologation special engine. Lots of dyno work to make best use of the extra revs and release (even) more power to help us along. Good thing is the chassis remains unchanged so we can still call on all the set-up data we’ve collected. However, we have made a number of small tweaks to the suspension set up working with our friends at MotoSpec and K-Tech. We’ve also introduced world superbike style 336mm front brake discs to help get the thing stopped using SBS pads.
The most noticeable change is the new aerodynamic bodywork. Designed in the same wind tunnel as Kawasaki use to develop their bullet trains, the nose features in-board wings and vents rather than following the big external wings trend. The aim is to help keep the front down under acceleration and smooth the airflow over the rider.
Plus, we have got an all-new, super smart workshop courtesy of Clarke and Strong. An excellent facility for all the behind-the-scenes preparation work that goes in to running two top level superbikes.
A big change we will have to adapt to is the new championship format. Three races per weekend again with two free practice sessions on the first afternoon followed by a new Moto GP style qualifying format, based on two 12-minute sessions. The fastest 12 from free practice go straight through to Q2 with the rest out in Q1, competing for the six places that go forward to join the Q2 seeded riders. After that, grid positions for races two and three are again determined by in-race lap times.
The only other change worthy of mention is that we will have a choice between two rear tyre compounds. Last year was simple as the previously softest Pirelli Supercorsa SC0 slick was the tyre everyone used. This year we have the option of using the softer again SCX slick as seen in world superbikes last year. Two tyre types will make life a bit more complicated as it introduces another variable but expect faster races as the softer tyre will offer more edge grip although maybe not over a full race distance.
Our outlook has always been to support younger riders and with that in mind we are helping Max and James Cook again this year. 13-year-old James is a real contender for British Talent Cup honours, building on his seventh-place finish last year, his first in the series. James will be competing on a Wilson Racing Honda. Older brother, 18-year-old Max, is back from Red Bull Rookies and Junior World Championship duties. After six seasons on a Moto3 machine, Max will be competing in the Junior Superstock on a Kawasaki 636 Ninja prepared by MSS Performance. Adapting to the increased power and weight, and getting into the swing of the super close racing, will certainly get Max’s attention.
Right, let’s go racing.
Predictably, the weather threw a seven. Chilly and wet with drizzle out on the track as the green light went on for the first of the two Friday afternoon practice sessions. Hardly ideal for rookie Rory who hadn’t ridden his Kawasaki ZX-10RR Ninja in the wet. Never mind, he was soon turning competitive lap times and was actually showing in P2 when the track was at its wettest. As the track improved and the times dropped, Rory settled for some set up work as the times were 10 seconds off dry pace and finished up P15. Lee completed the session P10, feeling out the conditions but not pushing as the forecast for the weekend was predicting dry weather.
By the time FP2 came around the track was almost dry all the way around on the racing line but with wet patches at critical points. One of those points was the infamous wet patch at the apex of turn one, Old Hall. Unfortunately, Rory found it on his second lap. Clipping the edge of the wet patch the bike flicked him out of the saddle and turned left onto the in-field grass. Rory was fine but the bike needed new bodywork, plus a clip-on and footrest and unfortunately there was not enough time to do the job safely. However, a red flag to clean up oil from another incident and a decision to run the sidecars before the superbikes resumed gave the crew valuable extra time which meant Rory would be able run in the final 15 minutes of the session. He posted a respectable 1.36.4 lap time for P16. Lee got on with the job and avoiding the dramas and recorded a 1.35.8 for P8.
Under the new format there are two 12-minute qualifying sessions with each rider allowed to use only one rear tyre. The top 12 from free practice go straight through to Q2 with the remainder fighting it out for one of the six places that would take them through to join the top 12.
Lee was straight through based on his free practice time while Rory would have to go first in Q1. This is where tyre selection comes in. The new for this season Pirelli SCX offers more ultimate grip but doesn’t have the consistency or duration of the SC0 tyre that has been the soft option for a number of years. Our Kawasakis work better on the SC0 but the short qualifying sessions means we have to go with the SCX.
Rory got his head down in Q1 and finished in P5, so he’d progress to Q2 with Lee. Neither of them particularly enjoyed the final part of qualifying. Time limited on a busy track with 16 other riders and using the SCX for the short session, Lee and Rory could only manage P15 and 16 respectively. Not quite what we had hoped for but we’d soon see if race conditions would bring a different result.
The Saturday afternoon race one is a shortened sprint race. At Oulton Park that means 14 laps, so not much reduced from the two full length 18 lap events on Sunday. The weather had certainly improved and the track temperature was nudging 40 degrees as the riders lined up; our Kawasakis both fitted with the harder SC0 tyre.
Lee made up for his qualifying disappointment with one of his trademark gritty rides. Made up seven places to P8 by lap nine including five laps battling with and eventually pulling away from Josh Brookes. Lee finally crossed the line hard on the heels of Irwin and Ryde. Another two laps and the extra grip from his more durable SC0 rear tyre would probably have seen him through and competing for Mackenzie’s P5 as he equalled his fastest lap time on the final tour. Despite being in traffic all race long, Lee’s fastest lap would see him line up in P9 for race two on Sunday afternoon.
Rory’s first superbike race ended with points for a safe finish in P13 after a recovering Buchan passed him with three laps to go. Only nine seconds behind Brookes at the line and recording the eighth fastest lap on lap two was really quite an achievement. As the race wore on, Rory’s times slowed as he was under no real pressure but also starting to feel the early effects of arm pump.
Dry and warm but overcast as the 10-minute warm up got underway at mid-day on Sunday. No dramas as Lee recorded his fastest lap of the weekend so far and Rory posted a lap time in the 1.35 bracket.
Another sound performance from Rory and more points for P12. Starting from the middle of row three, Rory was surrounded by a group of very experienced and very fast riders. Brookes spent six laps behind Rory before he and Lee got past on lap seven. On lap four Rory set his fastest time of the weekend, a 1.35.4, just over half a second shy of race winner O’Halloran’s best lap. After that the dreaded arm-pump set in as the effort of steering and braking on a superbike around Oulton Park gave Rory the sensation of pins and needles in his fingers. As a result, the force of the brake pressure he was able to apply and his steering inputs were reduced. Off to the medical centre for some physio and taping up ahead of race three. Peter Hickman, who started from pole position and ran with the leading group, also reported being hindered by arm pump.
Lee had another tough race in a group of seven riders who were covered by 1.5 seconds at the flag – from Buchan P4 to Ryde P10 with Lee in the middle, finishing in P8. Not able to pass as effectively as in race one, Lee was left a bit frustrated knowing he could have headed the group but for small margins determining the way he could ride the circuit. His best lap, a 1.35.1 would see him line up in P7 for the final race of the weekend. Rory would go off the fourth row from P12.
Despite the arm pump issue, Rory made it three races in the points with another P13 finish. It was a lonely ride with big gaps of around 15 seconds in front and behind him at the flag. Rory’s lap times fell away, clearly demonstrating the discomfort he was experiencing and based on his performance over the weekend there’s no doubt that when the arm pump issue is sorted out, he’ll be running in the top ten. The team was very impressed with how he approached his first superbike weekend and how he performed on track.
Meanwhile, Lee was having another race-long scrap with Brookes and Buchan. Brookes made it to the front of their group and Danny got by with three laps to go but Lee retaliated with a brave move into Old Hall at the start of the final lap. He held off Danny by half a second and was only 0.1 behind Brookes as they crossed the line – another P8 for Lee. 25 points in the bag – equal P6 in the overall standings, level with Brookes and Buchan. A much better round one outcome than at Donington in 2020, even if not quite up to his Oulton Park results last season. But let’s not forget how little time Lee has had on the bike this year. It is good to have him up to speed.
Max and James Cook.
First time out in the Junior Superstock Championship on his Kawasaki 636 Ninja, Max had one of those weekends you couldn’t make up.
Caught out in FP1 going out on an almost dry track on wet weather tyres and then not having time to change wheels. To make matters worse, FP2 was hit with a rain shower after a couple of laps. Max went in to qualify with no proper running under his belt. No surprise that the best he could manage was P20. A good start to his first race making up eight places on the first lap but he was in at the end of lap four – the quick shifter had packed up! After such a short run his best lap time placed him P17 on the grid for race two. Max’s second race was even shorter – into the pits at the end of lap one with a footrest missing. Going for a gap and snagging with another bike, the impact caused the footrest fixing bolt to fail – a one in a thousand chance.
Max has reset and cleared his head ready for three support races at the World Superbikes round at Donington Park this weekend.
Younger brother James had an interesting weekend too. Having dominated British Talent Cup pre-season testing, expectations were high. Up against a couple of older lads who are also racing in Spain, James was top three in the three free practice sessions and headed the second run. He missed pole position by less than a second and would line up on the front row in P3. Slightly slow start and P5 through turn one but clearly on the attack – despite being reminded it is a championship over a long season. Challenging for the lead going on to the second lap, James got as far as the exit of the Shell Oils hairpin at the far end of the circuit. On the throttle hard James lost control and high sided, landing in the middle of the track and infront of the following pack. Somehow, the following riders avoided him but in the confusion another rider had the same crash and he and his bike collided with James. Red flag and a worrying delay while the medical team attended both riders and ambulances were dispatched to bring them back to the medical centre.
James was lucky to get away with a sore neck and a burn to his inner thigh. The other faller, Harrison Dessoy, was less fortunate and suffered a broken arm – we hope he makes a speedy recovery.
Signed off to race by the medics, James was under strict instruction to take a steady run in his morning warm up for race two. He did and ran round in P12 a few seconds off the pace. His early crash in race one meant he hadn’t set a lap time and would therefore have to start from the back of the grid – P28. In a long 14 lap race, James was confident of working his way to a good result. He made his point by making up eight places on lap one. By the end of lap four James had passed half the field – P13 but with a big gap ahead of him which he set about bridging. He’d made it to P11 on lap 10, closing on P10 when the red flag came out. Not having completed the lap James was classified P11. With a full race distance, P9 was on the cards, the leading group having moved a long way ahead. His performance certainly caught the eye of the commentators and let’s hope he’s fully fit in time for Knockhill when we hope he’ll be back running at the front again.
Max has got three support class races at Donington world superbikes this weekend. Hope he has better luck.
Next stop for the superbikes (and James Cook) is Rory’s home circuit, Knockhill. We had a very positive two-day test there three weeks ago so we’re ready to go.
Sadly, the crowd is going to be restricted to just 1,000 under the Scottish Covid regulations. However, there is going to be free to air coverage on Quest plus the usual Eurosport broadcast, so don’t forget to tune in.
Regards, Nigel Team Principal.