Finally, the government’s Covid regulations would allow for an unrestricted crowd at Brands Hatch and for the first time since the 2019 BSB finale. The best part of two years ago…
Another big bonus was the weather, almost too hot in the days before the action started but naturally a change in the weather was on the way. What would we do without our weather Apps!
The other big news was Rory’s arm-pump operation to relieve the build-up of pressure in the carpal tunnels of his right hand. Under the knife on the Monday evening after Knockhill, his focus has been on speeding up the healing process. Resting the arm, sessions in a hypobaric chamber to increase the oxygen levels in his blood and a micro-current belt to stimulate muscle repair and reduce swelling. All seemed to help. Good news was he was passed fit to ride when he visited the medical team at Brands Hatch on Thursday afternoon. He still has to be careful though.
Lee on the other hand was relaxed and ready to go at one of his favourite circuits.
The weather had started to turn but was still warm and dry when FP1 kicked off on Friday afternoon. Lee was straight on the pace and happy with the bike, just settling in and making a few very small changes. He finished the session P7 on a 1.26.8, 0.6 off O’Halloran’s time. Rory spent the session getting his head around handling a superbike through the dips, rises and high-speed corners through the trees at the back of the circuit. He was also conscious of the stiches in his arm rubbing in his leathers. 17 laps and a 1.27.7 for P15 was a reasonable enough start.
By the time FP2 started, the temperature had dropped significantly, and a chilly wind had sprung up. Lee was flying again and was right up there in the speed traps, the engine upgrades in the ZX-10RR showing their worth. Almost a second quicker than earlier and P6 was more encouraging. As he was in the top 12, he’d go straight through to Q2 under the new format for determining the race one grid. Rory also picked up speed matching Lee’s time from the earlier session. Still only P16 but working away on getting comfortable with the bike. He’d have to go through Q1 but the extra track time can help a rookie get up to speed going into the final 12 minute session along with the top-12 runners. Mind, first you have to be one of the six fastest in Q1 to progress.
Big rain overnight and a wet track greeted the riders for FP3 which is effectively a warm up for qualifying. Wet weather tyres and steady away was the order for the 20-minute session. Lee and Rory don’t mind a wet track although as the rain had stopped the track would be changing lap by lap as a dryline started to appear. Lee ended up P5 with Rory back in P15, still working away to feel a bit more comfortable on the bike.
Still mixed conditions as Rory rolled out for Q1. Dry enough for slick tyres on the racing line but wet enough offline to tempt fate. The times were dropping lap by lap as the track dried and the riders adjusted to the conditions, finding out where they could push and where discretion was the better part of valour. Rory was comfortably in the top six throughout the session but had to abandon his final lap after a big moment at Stirlings on his final circulation. He had two purple fastest sectors showing on the timing screen when he pulled in but fortunately his previous time was enough for P6 and to see him through to Q2.
The benefit of a Q1 run was magnified by the conditions. Rory was able to take a short breather and go straight back out again on hot new tyres. Knowing the track conditions, he was able to push from the off and was soon at the top of the timing screen. Lee on the other hand was handicapped as he and the others who went straight through to Q2 would need a couple of laps to weigh up the conditions – and they only had 12 minutes to run.
Unlike the other Q1 riders, Rory capitalised on his advantage and with a minute to go was still in P1 and heading for a surprise pole position. Rory came in with a minute or so to go as he said he couldn’t go any faster and knew he had a good grid slot. Mackenzie was 0.001 off of Rory’s time but then bettered it with his final lap and in the dying seconds Bridewell popped up in to P2 leaving Rory in P3 for a front row start.
Lee battled with traffic as he tried to build up some rhythm but with time and conditions against him, he had to settle for P10 out of the 18 runners. Despite being out of position based on the earlier running, we knew Lee had great race pace and would be able to put his race craft to good use.
Few spots of rain in the air but still warm. Rory got a good launch and came out of the sector one argy-bargy P3, dicing with Buchan and Iddon. He pushed past Ray in to P2 when the red flag came out to stop the race. Lee had got caught up in all the jockeying for position. It really is important to hold position or make gains in sector one of lap one as it’s actually very hard to pass at Brands Hatch, so the riders take extra risks.
The cause of the stoppage was a big crash for Brad Jones who was badly injured. The MSV medical team stabilised his condition and called the air ambulance to take Brad to Kings College Hospital in London for specialist care. We all wish Brad a speedy recovery.
The restart was a new race but with the distance reduced to 12 laps from the planned sprint race distance of 15 laps. So, it really would be a sprint. Not quite such a good start from the front row for Rory this time as he came round in P6 where he stayed for most of the race. Towards the end Rory lost a couple of places as Lee and then O’Halloran caught and passed him. P8 and three seconds in front of champion Brookes and P8 on the grid for race two was a decent result.
Lee rode one of his trademark battling races from 10th on the grid. Picking off places lap by lap he moved up to P6 when he passed Rory. With two laps of the shortened race to go, he’d caught Ray but O’Halloran had joined them and pushed through at Paddock Hill going on to lap 11. Lee passed Ray and crossed the line less than 0.2 behind O’Halloran. Up front Mackenzie had a flag-to-flag win.
Race one lap times placed Lee P6 and Rory P8 on the grid. First, we had a short 10-minute morning warmup. Wet and nothing to be gained. Six laps each, steady away.
A later than usual race start on Sunday afternoon and weather radar Apps in full swing as news of post-heatwave storms over London filtered through. Somehow, we missed anything dramatic as the weather system circled Brands Hatch.
The grid at Brands slopes in two directions – down to the pit wall and up towards turn one, Paddock Hill. From P6 Lee was at the bottom of both slopes, so not ideal, Rory’s P8 in the middle of row three was a bit better as it gave him the option to go high and try to get around the outside into Paddock. Sure enough, Lee got pinched giving Bridewell room. For his trouble got clipped by a Suzuki diving through the inside meaning he lost his drive up the hill to Druids, ending up P16 coming out of sector one and then P14 across the line for the first time. As usual, head down and start overtaking people. Up to P7 by lap nine with Rory next up, but he was already two or three seconds up the road and running at a similar pace.
That’s how it stayed for the remaining laps. Lee chipped away and crossed the line 1.2 behind Rory, the turn one incident having cost him an opportunity to fight for a podium place as he was on the leaders’ pace throughout the race.
Rory’s arm had been a bit sore after race one, so we wondered how he’d fair over a full 20 lap race distance. In the event his arm was fine. He got a clear run off the grid, using the high line into Paddock worked and Rory emerged in P6. Lap two and a mistake by Kent on South Bank and Rory managed to pass him and slip by Mackenzie at the same time for P4!
Bridewell arrived on the scene and he and Mackenzie were soon past Rory who settled into a race long ride tracking the leading group. He sensed a chance late in the race when Iddon started to slip back but there was nothing on. Over the line P6, 2 seconds behind Iddon and eight behind the winner O’Halloran who had cleared off. The rest of the field were nine seconds back from Rory and Lee. Strong result.
Grid - Lee P6 again and Rory P8. Nightmare ensued….. The previous supersport race was interrupted when the rain finally arrived. Not heavy, but enough to be dangerous on dry tyres. The rain was intermittent but sufficient for us to go the the grid on wets. However, the hot surface and intermittent rain drops proved a real dilemma – would the track dry out? We opted for an intermediate rain tyre in the back of both bikes; others stuck with wets, some intermediates and a few brave souls risked slick rears or slicks all round. Lottery.
Lee had never used the tyre combination in all his years and Rory certainly not, so he was really nervous on the grid as he had no idea what to expect. Brookes flew off into the lead on wets, hotly pursued by Buchan who always goes well in sketchy conditions. Lee and Rory played it safe. Then Rea’s Suzuki blew its engine in spectacular style over the line. Immediate red flag.
After a delay to check for and treat any oil, it was decided there would be a new race – a seven lap sprint! Tyre and set up changes permitted for safety reasons as it was now fully dry. Based on red flag positions, we’d line up Lee P10 and Rory P14. This would be like Q2 over again. Drying track and shiny new slicks. Lee managed to miss the start again as he ‘jumped’ the clutch and had to regroup, dropping him to P14. Rory played it safe again and dropped to P16 first time around. Off we went again. Lee up to P8 by lap four which is where he finished, 0.051 behind Hickman and 0.2 behind Glenn Irwin – so close to P5 and only three seconds behind the leader. Rory settled in after two laps and from P14 moved up to P8 at the line with Lee three seconds head of him. The red flag had been a bit of luck as it meant we got a second chance with out a tyre lottery, but still starting a bit further back. In the end, a great recovery by both of them.
Championship – Rory P6 on 86 points, 14 behind Bridewell, and Lee equal P7 with Hickman on 73. That’s only us and Yamaha with two riders in the top eight.
Max and James Cook.
Two great races for James. Qualified P5 in damp conditions. Race one started with early drama as two riders made a break when an incident at Druids Hairpin broke up the field. James was pushed back to his start position and by the time he’d fought through to P3 the leaders were nearly four seconds up the road. Head down and James caught them with two laps of the 14 lap race to go. Having briefly made P2, James had to settle for a hard won P3 for his first Talent Cup podium. His second race was was a one-to-one fight for all 12 laps, constantly swapping the lead with championship leader Evan Belford. Together they pulled nine seconds clear of the field. Leading on to the final lap, James just missed out on the win as he crossed the line in P2 – the gap just 0.061! Still, two podiums was a good weekends work and moved James to fourth place in the points standings.
Another difficult weekend for Max. Qualifying in damp and drying conditions, and not able to get out on the right tyre at the end of the session saw him drop down from the top of the times to end up P16 on the grid. Just one junior superstock race this weekend and further bad luck spoiled Max’s race as a traction control issue slowed his progress. Unable to make up ground in the race, Max didn’t add to his points tally and is now down at P14 in the points standings. Hopefully Max will have a straightforward weekend at Thruxton and be able to show us his true speed.
Off to the Wiltshire countryside for some high-speed drifting on the long corners of the old aerodrome’s perimeter road! Lee loves Thruxton and Rory has only raced there once before but that won’t phase him as everything is new on a superbike. The loads placed on the tyres by the track layout and its abrasive surface means everyone will be running a different, more resilient Pirelli Supercorsa rear slick - provided it’s dry - so no super-soft SCX’s.
It really did make a difference having the crowd back at Brands. Totally different atmosphere. So let’s hope we get a big turn out at the weekend to cheer on all the riders.
Nigel. Team Principal.