Round Three. Northamptonshire. Tyres.
Silverstone is a bit soulless at the best of times but felt particularly dead with the huge, empty grandstands staring down across the massive run off areas.
Setting up the garage and wheeling out the bikes revealed a change of title support for the team. Rapid Fulfillment, the delivery service for online retailers, joined the team as a sponsor back in the winter. They have stepped up their support to help out as the health crisis has impacted on some of our other sponsors. Take a look at their website to find out more https://www.rapidfulfillment.co.uk/ .
Our main focus was on the short National Circuit layout, basically three straights with a few corners thrown in. Historically a happy hunting ground for Yamahas and Suzukis. Our Kawasaki ZX-10RRs had shown good pace at Snetterton with Danny securing pole position in qualifying and he had made the podium at Silverstone last year, so we were optimistic of being in the mix.
Free Practice One
Lee made a sound start to the weekend. Going out on his Snetterton settings, he posted fifth fastest time on the 26th of his 27 laps. Quarter of a second off the fastest time, which was up on last year’s pace, probably due to the new surface and grippier tyres that are on offer from Pirelli this year.
Danny fared less well. Trying a set up change that did not help in practice left him 0.8 off the pace, down in P19. Rethink for FP2.
Tyres looked okay on both bikes but they do take a hammering on the righthand bias layout which includes the long and ultra-high-speed Woodcote and Copse corners, one after the other.
Free Practice Two
Danny was much happier and ended the 45-minute session fourth fastest. Using a new rear tyre for his final run, Danny posted his time on the 27th of his 33 laps and was only 0.3 shy of the best time. Lee was satisfied with his long run to establish his race pace. He clocked 31 laps on one tyre with a best time only half a second down.
As suspected, the Suzukis and Yamahas were looking strong and the new Hondas were in there too. In fact, it was all very close with 16 riders covered by just over half a second. Mind, with such a short lap on a relatively simple circuit layout, it was always going to be nip and tuck. Miss a braking point and lose five places – accuracy and consistency would be the key to a strong race. Plus, a good grid position.
As it turned out, Danny qualified on pole position, but there is quite a story behind that. Decent enough first run, nine laps on new tyres and then a red flag period to clear up debris on the track. Back out again and Danny’s first lap was a blistering 53.2 seconds, nearly a second under the lap record. P1. In fact, his hypothetical perfect lap, made up of his best times through the four track sectors, was a quarter of a second faster – a 52.9!
Almost as soon as Danny crossed the line, another red flag came out. Barbera had crashed on his own oil at the high-speed apex of Copse. Danny was able to take avoiding action as he saw the drama unfolding and a flash of flames as the oil hit the bike’s hot exhaust. The next four riders were not so lucky, and all crashed on the oil – including Lee. Lee had just completed his first flying lap in P8 and did not have time to react. He saw the dust rising and spotted the oil slick but could not avoid it. He went in deeper and faster than the others, his bike clipping another which sent it over the first catch fence, causing a lot of damage.
With so much clearing up to do and over two-thirds of the session run, race direction ended the session without a restart for the final few minutes. So, Danny was confirmed on pole and Lee P8.
Fortunately, Lee was unhurt, but Danny’s friend Alex Olsen was not so lucky and received urgent attention at trackside from the excellent medical staff. We wish Alex a speedy recover from his injuries.
Bright and chilly on the grid for Saturday afternoon’s 25 lap race. Good start and Danny came through in the lead with the field behind him, nose to tail. Losing three spots the second time round, Danny’s pace was being hindered by not being able to run his lines as everyone jockeyed for position. As the race went on, he was picked off and slipped back to P9 at the flag. Right behind Iddon’s Ducati at the line – both suffering from severe tyre blisters on the over-worked righthand edge of the tyre. They were not the only ones, tyre wear was going to be an issue all weekend.
Lee also had a difficult first few laps and dropped back four places, P12. As always, he got his head down and started his fightback. By mid-race he had caught Danny and circulated behind him for 11 laps before he managed to get by as Danny’s tyre went off. He managed to pass the other man in tyre trouble, Iddon, and crossed the line in P7, just over six seconds behind the winner, Mackenzie on a Yamaha.
Looking at their relative performances, Danny and Lee recorded near identical best lap times, they would line up Lee P6 and Danny P7 for race two. Speed traps were similar too, with Danny having the edge as he goes deep and brakes very hard. Lee on the other hand brakes earlier and carries maximum speed into the corner, loading the front tyre. Danny works the rear harder, searching for drive to keep up on corner exits. Danny’s size does not help at a circuit like Silverstone; more mass to accelerate exaggerates the concertina effect out of corners – the gaps always open up on corner exit as the man in front can get on the throttle earlier. Losing a bit off the turn can end up as a speed disadvantage into the next braking zone. As always, the trick is finding the sweet spot between outright power and chassis set up – and that varies from circuit to circuit.
No dramas on Sunday morning during the 10-minute, 11 laps ‘wake up’ session. Lee 0.2 off in P4 and Danny P8 a further 0.2 back. Both ready to race and with the earlier threat of rain receding.
Sunday’s races would be over 30 laps, an extra five. An even tougher time for the tyres….
Off the line, Danny from his outside grid spot passed Lee around Copse and settled in to P6. Lee’s grid slot, one ahead of Danny, was on the inside and contributed to him getting boxed in off the line and losing three places. He would lose two more and on lap four had dropped back to P11, behind Ray. Cue another fightback. His battle with Ray lasted the whole race. They worked their way up through the field with Lee ahead at the line on a couple of occasions, but he could not make it stick until lap 26, four to go. Lee was now P5 and had a small gap which suddenly disappeared with two to go. A big front-end tuck going into Copse cost him a second and let Ray and fast finisher Bridewell through. P7 at the line and riding into the garage pointing at the front of his bike. The front tyre was completely worn out and more worryingly, and unusually, had blistered. We know Lee is harder on the front, but he would need to alter his approach with a bit of set up help for race three.
Danny had moved up to P5 with Mackenzie’s retirement. As his rear tyre started to lose grip he could not maximise his corner exits and approach speed which meant he could not defend and run his optimum lines. Eventually he slipped back into the fight Lee was having with Ray and Bridewell. Danny crossed the line P9, which soon became P8 as Andrew Irwin was put back a place for exceeding track limits as he repassed Danny out of the final corner. Danny’s rear tyre was a mess and an issue with his front brake performance had not helped.
Lee headed row two in P4, courtesy of his best lap time in race two. Danny would line up right behind him in P7, both on the outside of the grid.
Danny’s turn to have a difficult first few corners. Dropping back to P10 he was caught up in the scrapping pack with his lap time suffering accordingly and getting pushed back further to P12 on lap four. He spent a frustrating race dicing with Mossey and could not make a break. When he was in clearer air Danny was lapping at the same speed as Lee, but by then Lee was well up the road. Eventually finishing P11, Danny’s race emphasied the trials and tribulations of racing on a circuit which is so different from the others we visit.
Lee lost only a couple of places off the start this time, but he had competitive race pace and was hard on the back of the leading group. In fact, he spent 16 laps stuck to the back wheel of Brookes’ Ducati. If only he could have made a move stick as Brookes dropped off the leaders. Lee had the pace and would have passed Iddon who was once more suffering tyre degradation. In the event, Bridewell pipped him again and Lee ended his day crossing the line P8 but with the three Ducatis immediately in from of him. Less than half a second covered the four of them – the difference between P5 and P8.
Meanwhile, congratulations to Kyle Ryde, first time and double race winner on his Suzuki. His first superbike race was with FS-3 as a stand in rider at Brands Hatch for the final round of the 2017 season.
Lee added another 26 points to his haul and now stands on 78 placing him P9 in the table, five behind Andrew Irwin. Danny’s three DNFs are hurting him so he is a couple of places further back from Lee in the standings. Such a short, intensive season with three races per round is throwing up some interesting results and making things hard to predict. So far, seven different winners.
Oulton Park. Back to a traditional riders’ track. Lee upped the superstock 1000 lap record there last year and Danny is always a front runner. We are all looking forward to converting the speed of our Kawasakis, as demonstrated by Danny’s two pole positions, into some solid results and hopefully a podium or two.
We are still awaiting news on the spectator attendance front, so it may have to be another weekend in front of the television.
Nigel. Team Principal.
P.S. Thank you, as always, to Tim at Impact Images for the excellent images of our team in action. Superb job!