Our first visit in two years to the most picturesque venue on the calendar. The traditional Cadwell Park ‘Party in the Park’ round of the championship marked the halfway point in this year’s British Superbike Championship. Yet again we were all over the weather Apps as the dodgy summer weather was again threatening mixed conditions.
An old-style track with temporary garages set up on the inside of the circuit makes it a real challenge for the crews operating the bikes. However, out on track, it’s a challenge the riders enjoy, and the crowd has the spectacle of the bikes leaping over the crest of the mountain section to entertain and amaze them in equal measure. Our Lincolnshire Lad Lee Jackson is a circuit specialist and the superbike lap record holder. For Rory Skinner, Cadwell Park marked a special challenge in his superbike rookie year.
As setting up the safety barriers and fencing to contain the superbikes is a major undertaking, it has become traditional for a superbike only, open pitlane test session to be held on the Thursday evening. Everyone is set up and ready to go and it makes sense to get the riders safely up to speed.
Having had some issues with tyre choice for races at the previous three rounds, the test provided an excellent opportunity to try out all the options. Rory and Lee had never raced on intermediate rain tyres on the front wheel, and after Donington we agreed that if the opportunity presented itself, we would give the boys a run using that tyre. Until recently, no one had used intermediates for a few years so we knew it might be some time before an opportunity to test on them arose. Wrong! It poured down just before the pitlane opened.
The rain meant the evening became one big tyre test. Wet/wet to start, then inter/inter, then slick/slick on damp track settings and finally slick/slick on dry settings. Lee and Rory got in nearly 40 laps each. Really good ‘feel’ information for the riders and hard data for the crew chiefs to refer back to if or when similar conditions arise.
All the riders were up to speed after the previous evening’s test. The first free practice session was all about fine tuning the race set up, making good use of the cool but dry conditions. Rory was still getting to grips with the circuit, but his quickest lap was only 0.8 slower than the fastest time set by Peter Hickman. With the overall times from FP1 and FP2 deciding the order for qualifying (the top 12 going straight through to Q2) speeds were up as a number of runners focussed on one lap pace. Vickers topped the sheet with an eye-catching lap at 1.25.8, a full 0.3 ahead of the field and 0.6 under the lap record! Maybe the new for this season SCX rear tyre with its extra grip was contributing but still a great lap. Lee and Rory were both through to Q2, Lee P8 and Rory P11.
Heavy rain was forecast for Saturday so the timetable for the day was altered in an attempt to dodge the showers. The plan worked despite the 20 minutes free practice taking place in damp, drizzly conditions. Nothing much to be gained but with bad weather expected – again – it was a chance to get a feel for iffy conditions. Lee only completed eight laps and Rory just five, but both were dialled in if it was wet for the races. Vickers was still ‘on it’ and lapped 1.3 seconds faster than anyone else.
By the time qualifying got underway, the track was mostly dry. Just 12 minutes each in Q1 and Q2 – time for eight or nine flying laps and with one set of tyres allowed. The Q2 qualifiers were joined by the six fastest from Q1, a distinct advantage for them as Cadwell needs laps to build up to a time. No one told Glenn Irwin as he set the pole time of 1.26 dead in only four laps. Lee was fifth fastest, 1.26.3, and Rory seventh qualifier 1.26.5 – great effort. Vickers was going for it again but suffered a huge crash. His team did well to completely rebuild the bike in time for the afternoon race, but Ryan was nursing a few bruises.
The nature of the track, narrow, undulating and very twisty in parts, makes grid position even more important than usual as there are very few overtaking opportunities and even those require nerve and determination. Because overtaking is such a challenge, getting a good start and holding position through the first few corners can make the difference between a great race and a frustrating race.
Dry race! Lee had a hectic time finishing P6 but less than a second away from the final step of the podium. Holding his P5 grid position he got ahead of Bridewell’s fast Ducati but was passed by hard riding Andrew Irwin. Lee was all over Andrew for 10 of the 14-lap race, briefly ahead at Charlies on lap six but unable to make it stick and with Bridewell closing in. Bit wide at the Hairpin on lap 11 making another move on Andrew, lost drive and Bridwell edged past on the start straight followed by Iddon a lap later – the Ducatis still have an extra bit of top end power. P7 – how annoying, but some consultation that Lee finally managed to pass Andrew on the last lap and cross the line less than 0.1 behind Iddon and in sight of the podium.
Rory had a very sound race. Held on to his P9 grid position throughout – no one passed him, and he didn’t manage any moves. He shadowed Vickers who’d got a decent grid slot before his qualifying crash and crossed the line less than a second behind him and within sight of the leading group. Really a great effort in his first superbike race around Cadwell Park.
Winner Hickman broke Lee’s 2017 lap record during the race - by just over a tenth of a second – using the new super soft SCX rear tyre. Pity, but just shows how well Lee was going four years ago.
It was wet and miserable again in the morning for the 15-minute warm up session. Nine laps each – Lee P5 and Rory P7 and prepared in case it did rain later. We were promised a rain-free afternoon for the races but still kept an eye on the clouds. Despite occasional flurries of rain drops, we got away with two more dry races.
Race went off in the best conditions of the weekend and we even had a bit of sun on our backs. Main race day so longer races, both 18 laps. Lee’s lap time from race one placed him P5 on the grid – middle of the second row. Good first few corners and Lee settled into P4 running with O’Halloran, Hickman and Iddon. Out of Charlies on lap four and under pressure from Lee, Iddon tapped the throttle on a metre early and the rear came round on him – big crash but rider unhurt. That promoted Lee to P3 and he held the podium spot for the next 10 laps. Glenn Irwin was dropping back behind Lee, but Bridewell was steadily recovering from a poor start and on lap 13 he was right with Lee who hadn’t be able to find a way past Hickman. Bridewell powered past Lee on lap 14 and that’s how it stayed until the flag – across the line 1.8 behind eventual winner Hickman and nearly six seconds ahead of Brookes. So near and yet so far!
Rory started from P9. Back in the pack meant his start and first lap would be important but a bit of a lottery. It didn’t work out this time and Rory lost four places and was left with a lot of work to do to recover ground. He stuck to the task and by lap eight he was up to P10, shadowing Vickers again but only two seconds behind P5 and with a gap of over ten seconds behind him. Then on lap 15, with three to go, it went wrong! It got a bit messy among the four immediately in front of him going into Park Corner braking zone at the end of the back straight. Rory had a big slip stream behind Vickers and arrived fast and partly unsighted into the corner only to be confronted with slower bikes sorting out some messy overtaking attempts. Rather than risk tagging anyone, Rory tried to go wide but couldn’t avoid going on to the wet grass where the bike flopped on to its side. No damage to bike or rider but a pity not to finish with another top 10 and on the back of the second group.
Front row start from P3 for Lee based on his race two best lap time. Rory P10.
We hoped the the start position advantage would get Lee away in front of people who would then struggle to pass him. It didn’t quite work out that way. Lee lost three places on the first lap as he was pushed wide by Brookes, demon braking into Park, meaning he lost drive around Chris Curve and was unable to defend. Lee repassed Brookes on lap five and set about passing Glenn Irwin. He got under him at Charlies on lap eight only for Irwin to fight back on Park Straight losing both of them momentum and allowing Brookes to pass and effectively neutralise the race for Lee. He did pass Irwin later in the lap but was then stuck behind Brookes for the next eight laps, trying everything he knew to get past as he watched the three leaders pull away. Our updated ZX-10RR engine has the acceleration to match the Ducatis, Yamahas and BMWs, but is just a fraction short at the very top giving the others a defensive margin at the end of the two straights, making an out braking ‘lunge’ too big a risk to take. Eventually, Brookes made a small mistake at the Chicane and Lee managed to squeeze through at the bottom of the Mountain. P4 for Lee but the leaders were now five seconds up the road so that’s where he finished.
One consolation for Lee was setting the fastest lap of the race – only two hundredths of a second slower than Hickman’s new lap record!
Rory had a quiet race after another average start. He raced around with Vickers again and came in P12 less than a second behind Vickers in P10. On his way through he passed his friend Storm Stacey on the inside at turn one, Coppice the fast uphill left-hander. Stacey held on for a bit too long and had to take to the grass on the outside where he fell. Rory gave Storm a lift back after the race so no hard feelings and no action after race control took a look. Rory was disappointed that after a strong start to the weekend he didn’t make more progress in the two Sunday races. Sometimes it’s like that and passing riders at Cadwell Park is notoriously difficult – making qualifying positions and strong starts is essential for a good result. What’s more, the bike always feels better when you’re fighting at the front with no time to analyse what is going on underneath you. We reminded Rory that his best lap of the weekend was only a quarter of a second slower than Lee’s fastest – and he’s a Cadwell specialist. No speed issues then, and next time he’ll know what to expect.
Championship. Lee 133 points P8, 21 behind Glenn Irwin and a couple ahead of Ray. Earlier issues have cost Lee a fair few points so it is good to see him making up ground. Rory is on 111 points sandwiched between Vickers and Brookes in P11.
Max and James Cook.
More progress for Max in his free practice sessions as he gets more and more comfortable with his 636 Ninja in the junior superstock class. Still around a second a lap off the ultimate dry pace but definitely making progress. He was caught out at the hairpin in wet/dry conditions early in his qualifying session after a change from wet to dry tyres. A crash clipping a wet white line at the Hairpin meant Max didn’t get a representative time and would have to start on the tenth row of the grid from P30 with only three riders behind him. He is good in wet conditions so that’s what we hoped for, but we know how hard it is to pass at Cadwell. A very wet morning warm up and then mixed conditions for his race so wet front/dry rear. Great race through the field to P12 and with a fastest lap less than 0.2 slower than the race winner. If only Max had started at the front his first race win in the class was on the cards. Snetterton will give him a chance to show his real talent as he’s got a fast bike and a strong set up, and he’s never been shy of fast corners.
No Talent Cup round at Cadwell so James had a weekend off, ready for his support class race at the MotoGP round at Silverstone next weekend. Quite an adventure for a 13-year-old.
The long fast corners at Snetterton in a couple of weeks’ time will suit Rory’s style and Lee always goes well there. The opportunity for Lee and Rory to slipstream on the long straights and put the ZX-10RRs aerodynamic bodywork to good use will ensure we are in the mix. Let’s just hope we can have a weekend without needing the weather App.
Hope to see you there.
Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.