Updated: Oct 20, 2020
The Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch is a special place and a fitting venue for the final round of the Coronavirus truncated 2020 Bennetts British Superbike Championship.
After the ups and downs of the previous, weather affected, round at Donington Park, this weekend would provide Danny and Lee with an opportunity to finish off their season on a high. This time weather looked settled, always a bonus at this time of year.
Despite what follows, the biggest event of the weekend was Danny becoming a father for the second time. His wife Stef gave birth to Brody on Thursday evening, or as Danny put it, ‘got it done before FP1!’. Congratulations and best wishes to you both. We were impressed by how Danny kept his focus when so much was going on in his family life.
Free Practice One.
Settling into the track on Friday afternoon. No dramas as both riders circulated within a second of O’Halloran’s quickest time. Lee posted his fastest time on the fourteenth of his 22 laps. Danny tried out both of his seat unit options and as a result got fewer laps in but managed to better Lee’s time by a tenth on his sixteenth and final tour. He decided to use the more sit-in rather than a new sit-back unit we created to help him tuck in on the longer straights.
Free Practice Two.
Overnight rain. Wet track first thing and slow to dry, especially under the trees at the back of the circuit. Wet tyres fitted and not too many ventured out, only Brookes among the title contenders. Most were avoiding unnecessary risks and had probably calculated that the track would be dry in time for qualifying.
Almost completely dry track so slick tyres were the only option. Just watch out for the damp patches. After our speed in FP2, the outcome was not quite what we had hoped for as both riders found themselves struggling for ultimate grip. Lee would line up P13 with Danny alongside him in P14, on almost identical times. Our worst qualifying session of the season – galling as we have scored two pole positions with Danny.
Lee’s issue was the behaviour of the rear suspension so a significant set up change was decided on. Danny’s issue was with the front end and how the bike steered, so an important change was made to his chassis geometry too. The boys were busy with the spanners making the changes in the run up to the race and all we could do was hope the changes were in the right direction.
16 laps for the Saturday afternoon race – four shorter than the two Sunday races would be.
Lee made a good start and found himself in the right place as the pack bunched up through turn one, Paddock Hill Bend. He emerged P10, three places made up which soon became four as he passed Rea on lap two and settled into P9. Danny didn’t manage to find a gap off the line and could only hold position before passing Hickman on lap two – P13.
Ray dropped out on lap four and by lap seven Lee was past Mossey and closing on the leading group of six, made up of the championship contenders and their teammates. Danny was getting the feel of his new settings and set off to work his way up through the field. By lap 12 he was closing in on Lee and up to P8. Over the remaining four laps Danny made hard but fair passes on Lee and the Irwin brothers, crossing the line with his fastest lap of the race – P5 and sixth quickest lap to book a second row start for race two. Pity we didn’t have the extra four laps for full distance. Great ride and well up to Danny’s usual high standard.
Despite his best efforts, Lee could only nibble away at the back of the leading pack and wasn’t able to get fully involved as the battle raged in front of him. Best seat in the house and he was delighted to report that everyone was smoking their rear tyres through the Paddock Hill dip! Lee crossed the line P8, hard on the heels of the two Hondas with Danny a second further up the road. Stuck in position, Lee only had space to record the tenth fastest lap so he’d have some overtaking to do in the next race, as usual.
Bright but very chilly for the inappropriately named ‘warm up’ session. A couple of small tweaks for Danny to try to finetune the set up that had worked so well in race one. Lee was also working on small changes to help settle the bike over the high-speed ripples. Brookes and Bridewell were up the road with the next 12 covered by 0.3, including Danny and Lee.
Full 20 laps this time. Danny P5 and Lee P10 on the grid. Up front Brookes, O’Halloran and Iddon covered by nine championship points. Big pressure.
Danny settled into P6 off the line, hard on the heels of Andrew Irwin. Lee meanwhile found himself in all the wrong places through Paddock Hill Bend and came out of Druids Hairpin in P14. He passed Ray on the first lap and next time round was ahead of Ryde and Glenn Irwin. The next six laps were frustrating as he was held up behind Bridewell’s super-fast Ducati. Once he was past, on lap eight, he was soon with and then got by Rea and Hickman who were having a close personal dice. Now P7, Lee could now see Danny up ahead.
Danny had continued his battle with Andrew Irwin until he out-braked him into Paddock Hill going on to lap eight. Andrew hung on and repassed Danny on lap 13, pushing him back to P5 – both had moved up after Mackenzie crashed out. Lee really had the bit between his teeth. He and Mossey caught Danny and Andrew and soon Lee was past Danny and fighting with Irwin for P4. He made it through only for Irwin to fight back. They went hammer and tongs over the last lap with Danny right there, impressed by Lee’s aggression! Irwin held off Lee by little more than 0.1 at the line with Danny eventually P7, 0.3 behind Lee. What a recovery by Lee – good race.
Based on their lap times, for the last of the 18 races the boys would line up with Danny P6 and Lee P8.
Couple of small changes to the K-Tech suspension on Danny’s bike, searching for the feel that had allowed him to come through the field during the Saturday race. A small change to Lee’s rear suspension aimed at perfecting his set-up was all that was needed.
Josh Brookes went into the final race of the season with a 12-point lead over Jason O’Halloran. As in the previous race, his tactic would be to get in front and stay there, controlling the race free from interference from his challengers. So it was. Josh set off at qualifying pace with O’Halloran and his teammate Mackenzie hanging on.
Danny made a clean start and consolidated his sixth position while Lee immediately made up a place and settled into P7 behind Danny. The three leaders quickly gapped the field and Danny set about closing in on Iddon and Andrew Irwin who were next up. In the event he spent the whole of the 20 laps inching up on them. He thought about making a lunge for position on the last lap but settled for his sixth place, the three of them covered by 0.2 at the line, but seven seconds behind the leaders. Early on it was clear that Lee had lost a bit of pace as he couldn’t go with Danny and got involved in a battle with Bridewell, Hickman and Rea. He dropped back at one stage but fought back to P7 on the penultimate lap. Into the Paddock Hill for the last time and Hickman pushed through running Lee wide and relegated him to the back of the group, losing him three places. He got back past Rea on the run to the line for P9, missing out on his P7 by less than 0.2 of a second.
Walking back from Parc Ferme, Lee was annoyed that the final suspension tweak had gone just a bit too far, preventing him from really going for it. Danny was happy enough with his and his bike’s performance and was impressed by the times the front three had been setting.
It really had been a very fast race with Brookes crossing the line with just over half of a second to spare, clinch the championship. Well done Josh and PBM racing and commiserations to Jason and McAMS Yamaha but you took it all the way.
It had been a good ending to a strange season. Good races by Danny and Lee, big points scored and no crashes, so everyone going into the winter safe and sound.
No crowd looking down on us from the banks really brought home how we’d missed the atmosphere and sense of excitement a big crowd brings tour events.
On 131 points, Danny was tenth in the final table. Not a true reflection of his speed but his challenge was over early on as a result of three DNFs in the first six races. All three crashes while running in strong positions and as reported at the time, illustrating the fine lines and ‘what ifs’ that are all part of top-level racing.
Lee grasped the opportunity of getting back into the superbike class with both hands. He certainly surprised a few people with his speed and aggression. Only one DNF after a slip off in the previous round, by the end he had amassed 157 points for eighth place in the standings, close behind Bridwell and Andrew Irwin.
As for us, the the Rapid Fulfillment FS-3 Racing Kawasaki team, in our first year running two superbikes we finished the teams’ championship in fourth place.
What could have been? Because of the shortened series, we missed out on Knockhill, Cadwell Park and a second visit to Oulton Park, all circuits at which Danny and Lee excel.
Overall, not a bad effort and a credit to the whole team. You know who you are.
It’s going to be a long winter. Our first job will be to see what needs doing to prepare the bikes for next year. From the New Year there is going to be a testing ban until April when the series organiser has laid on five test days at UK circuits. Round one will be a Oulton Park over the May Day holiday weekend – six months from now!
The testing ban and calendar changes reflect the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Team budgets are under pressure and there are doubts about when full crowds will be allowed back which is important to relieve the financial pressures on the organisers too. By starting later in the year, hopefully by then there will no longer be restrictions on crowd numbers.
The format of race weekends is likely to follow the new three race arrangement so the ‘BSB new normal’ will include even more top level racing. We are all up for that.
As well as our crew and riders, we would not be racing without help and support from so many people. Here they are. You can find links to them on our website or just Google them.
Clarke & Strong, Kawasaki UK Team Green, Rapid Fulfillment, Massingberd Mundy, Vantage R&D Consulting, Evolution Waste Management, RH Logistics, ElectroRent, Vistar Qualifications and OnPoint Logistics.
K-Tech (awesome suspension), MotoSpec (setup software), Fuchs Silkolene (oil and stuff), FW Developments (engine builders), GB Racing (crash protection), Performance Parts (Akrapovic exhausts and all sorts of bits and bobs), SBS (brake pads), Mode Performance (discs and OZ wheels), MSS Performance (advanced chassis parts), Samco Sport (radiator hoses), Eazi-Grip (tank gripper and other stuff), DuoSigns (all our bike, garage and truck stickers), Speed Fibre (bodywork), SkidMarx (screens), Kippax (Thermal Technology tyre warmers), Phil Morris Racing (thumb brakes), Tyzers (insurance), NGK (spark plugs), Sprint Filters (air filters), MAC Tools (tools!), ProMach (rearset kits and machining), Futura (one-off mouldings), ProBolt (Titanium fasteners), NoLimits (track time), Clinton Enterprises (team clothing), Van and Kombi (van for Danny), Adie (ace paint jobs).
Plus, anyone I’ve missed, sorry.
Finally, Stuart Higgs and all the Motor Sport Vision staff and volunteers – including the marshals and medics - who together operate the race meetings so professionally and keep us and the riders safe.
See you all next year.
Nigel. Team Principal.