Finally, the 2020 Bennetts British Superbike Championship got underway. After all the hot weather it was a drab and damp Donington Park as the Massingberd-Mundy, FS-3 Racing Kawasaki team set up on Thursday afternoon. A bigger job than usual now that we are operating out of a double garage with two superbikes – one each for Danny Buchan and Lee Jackson.
Running on the shorter National layout – no Melbourne Loop – the whole set up was going to seem a bit odd. First and foremost, no spectators, so feeling like a test day. Then there were all the Covid-19 health and safety protocols to follow – all carefully planned and implemented by the organisers and sensibly adhered to by the teams. On top of all that, the usual format for the race weekend had changed too. No running on Friday morning to provide extra set up time, with free practice one taking place mid-afternoon. Then on Saturday, a second practice session followed by a single 25-minute qualifying session – not the usual Q1/Q2/Q3 knockout format. Plus, an extra race. In addition to Sunday’s two full distance races – 26 laps on the two-mile national circuit layout – an extra ‘sprint’ race was added to the schedule to make up for the loss of races in the cancelled first six rounds. The shorter race turned out to be pretty much a full distance affair at 22 laps.
The revised championship calendar of six rounds will feature 18 races in total, compared with the usual 27 races over 12 rounds. Three quarters of a championship in half the time – more than enough track action to find a worthy champion. The final twist is there will be no end of season showdown for the top six points scorers to dispute. Every race and every point will count in 2020 – DNFs and non-scoring races not recommended.
Anyway, let’s go racing…
Free Practice One.
The first session was a question of picking up where we had left off a week or so earlier at the official test day. Both riders had some things to try but were well up to speed, both having finished the test in the top five on the timesheet.
Danny ran 24 laps including a 13-lap run working on race set up. He finished the session P5, 0.4 off O’Halloran’s best time.
Lee’s crew chief Ian Prestwood made him sweat. A quick installation lap and then 21 laps straight off, pretty much a full race distance – including 15 laps in the mid-1.07s, plus or minus a tenth or two, great consistency. A final shorter run and, working on race pace, his best lap put him P13.
Only one set of tyres each were used as the new schedule brought with it a revised Pirelli tyre allocation for the weekend. Six front and nine rear slicks – including two ‘stickers’ to be used in qualifying. We get to choose how many hard or soft compound tyres we use. We also have to put a coded sticker on every tyre of our allocation so the organisers can check that we’re not ‘cheating’ by using extra tyres! Previously the allocation was nine fronts and 11 rears, cut back to reflect the reduction in practice time. If it rains, we have free use of wet weather tyres.
Free Practice Two.
Lee completed 22 laps on Saturday morning. It is his first race meeting on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR superbike so he’s still trying lots of things to find what works best for him, under the pressure of a race weekend. His best lap was a 1.07 dead, but still a second off the ultimate pace.
Danny ended the session second fastest, behind O’Halloran again. 1.06.3 on the 22nd of his 25 laps. Happy with his speed and fine tuning his chassis and engine settings working with his crew chief, Matt Llewellyn.
During free practice, both riders get a lot of help from our K-Tech technician James, who is with us to make sure we get the best out of our ‘factory’ front forks and rear suspension units.
A lot of people were trying things, so times and positions were not representative of what might happen in the races. For example, the all-conquering Ducatis were hiding in the mid-field. It was also much hotter than on the test day and speeds were down as the track became ‘greasy’ as the surface temperature rose.
Lee got in an early quick lap, a 1.06.7, his fastest of the weekend so far. Then it was a question of finding gaps in the traffic and breaking out of his race pace rhythm. In the end he was resigned to P17 but only 0.3 of a second slower than Andrew Irwin on the new Honda in P7, it really was that close. Lee was frustrated that he couldn’t pull a lap out of the bike and himself, but still early days.
Danny ended the session in P4 on a 1.06 dead. Initially sitting behind O’Halloran again before being pipped by Barbera and Ryde with a couple of minutes to go. Second row start would be fine.
Topping the timesheet again, O’Halloran on pole.
At last, Saturday afternoon’s 22 lap race. Steady start from Danny slotting in to P5 watching the four in front scrap for position while he looked after his tyres for a few laps. Best laid plans. Into the Robert’s chicane at the end of lap three; Andrew Irwin jinked under Barbera who reacted and moved wider, Danny cruising up behind had to avoid Barbera by running and bit wider and a bit deeper and critically, with a touch more front brake. There had been several fallers mid-corner in the previous race and Danny fell victim too. Front just slid away from him – rider and bike okay, minimal damage but race over. However, the race two grid is based on race one lap times meaning after only two full laps, Danny’s time would relegate him to P12 on the grid for the next race. Double disappointment.
Eyes now turned to Lee who having started 17th was already up three places and a lap later came through in P13. By lap seven he had made further progress to P11 and was battling with a recovering O’Halloran who hadn’t capitalised on his pole position and dropped down to P8 in the opening laps. As a result, O’Halloran got caught up in Danny’s crash and lost more time taking avoiding action. Once O’Halloran moved ahead Lee managed to get past Hickman and with Ryde retiring, he was P10. And that is where he finished, behind Vickers and O’Halloran. Good work for first time out. Lee would line up alongside Danny in P13 for race two.
What else did we learn? The new Honda is fast out of the box and the Irwin brothers are toe to toe for supremacy. The Ducatis had woken up.
Sunday Warm Up.
Chilly morning. Just ten minutes on track in the new schedule. Danny and Lee both managed to get in eight laps to tune themselves in for the races to come.
Danny in good spirits despite not scoring points in race one. Lee ready to go with some subtle changes to the bike to help him on his way.
Danny and Lee in the ultra-close mid-field pack. Danny got a good run round turn one, Redgate, and emerged P8 at the end of lap one. Lee caught the first corner in the ‘wrong’ place and lost a couple of spots. Actually, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ at Redgate from a race start – it is more a matter of luck, sometimes the pack opens up but sometimes you get pushed wide or pinched on to the apex curb.
13 laps in, half distance, and Danny is P6 behind Bridewell. Lee is battling away with Hickman, Ray and Vickers in P14 – tough company. Bridewell overshoots the chicane and Danny is up to P5 and past Iddon, P4, only to get pipped by Ryde going on to the last lap. So back to P5 across the line heading Brookes home and only 1.4 seconds back from winner Andrew Irwin. A great recovery ride after Saturday’s disappointment and a strong lap time to take to the race three grid.
Lee’s race was a beginning to end battle with Ray and Vickers. Dipping in to the 1.06 lap time bracket, he did not give up but, in the end, couldn’t make it past. The three of them were covered by less than half a second at the line with Lee P13. Still good going.
Grid: Buchan P4, Jackson P13 – interesting that Glenn Irwin on the Honda was only P12.
Danny passes Ryde out of Redgate and is off down Craner Curves in P3 – 125mph approach to the right/left drop into the Old Hairpin. Some hard passes by others and just lacking a bit of drive off the corners and Danny is levered back to P8 by half distance. Stuck behind Barbera for a few laps, by the time he’s repassed the leading pack is three seconds ahead, with Bridewell away in the lead a further four seconds up the road heading for a flag to flag victory. Danny crossed the line P6, this time a couple of seconds behind Iddon’s Ducati.
Lee had another race-long battle with the usual suspects. At the line he was only 14 seconds back of Bridewell who, compared with race two, had trimmed six seconds off the race distance time. Lee was only six seconds behind Danny after 26 laps with his fastest lap only 0.1 shy of Danny’s best. Fair to say that Lee was up to speed. Finishing one second behind Vickers in P11 soon became P10 as Barbera was given a two second penalty for exceeding track limits.
A good day’s work got better for the wrong reason later in the evening. Andrew Irwin was disqualified from P2 having been adjudged by the stewards to have caused the accident which saw Brookes crash out on the approach to Craner Curves – the 125mph section. Thankfully, rider okay. As a result, Danny was promoted to P5 and Lee P9.
Sound start to his superbike season for Lee, P11, 16 points.
Danny pleased to get away from a circuit that has never suited Kawasakis with two fifth places, P9, 22 points. 9 or ten points from race one would have been good as things are so close.
A final word on our first race weekend in nine months. Well done to the team. Two superbikes and a new garage to master with some new crew members fitting in and it all worked like clockwork. So many compliments about the appearance of our bikes and garage helps to make all the effort seem worthwhile. Strong performances by both riders completed the job.
Super high speed Snetterton next. We know our ZX-10RRs are fast, in fact Lee was fastest in most of the speed traps at Donington. Both riders usually go well there. It will be interesting to see how the Hondas go, helped by a test they ran there two weeks ago. The Ducatis will be able to stretch their legs.
It is going to be close and exciting racing. Such a pity you won’t be able to come along in person, but you can be sure that the TV coverage will be up to its usual high standard.