Round Two. Norfolk. Windy.
We were wondering what effect storm Ellen would have over the weekend as we set up on the windswept former air force station that we know as Snetterton 300. Three miles around with two very long straights and a complex infield section, the circuit rewards a stable chassis set up and lots of power.
Danny and Lee had decent enough races last time out at Donington Park. Now all the teams are settling into the heavily revised championship season, it would be interesting to see how things would develop on the fastest circuit we visit. In the second race last season, the Ducati riders filled the podium, over 20 seconds clear of the field. Ominous. We were also wondering how the new Hondas would perform after their impressive debut at Donington Park.
Free Practice One
Bright and (very) breezy. Strong head wind or tail wind on the straight and cross winds in the infield complex got the riders’ attention. Big effects on braking points and requiring leaving a bit more room than usual in the turns, just in case a gust moved the bike a couple of feet offline.
Danny was happy with the stability of his Kawasaki and despite his size in the wind recorded the fastest time of the session by over one second on the 14th of his 16 laps. Lee almost made it an FS-3 one, two as he finished the session in P3, eight thousandths of a second behind Kyle Ryde.
The lap times were actually the best part of two seconds shy of the lap record so we couldn’t really gauge where we were with setup or know if the competition was going easy in the wind.
Free Practice Two
Still very windy when the green light came on for Saturday morning’s 45-minute session. The times picked up but there was still a margin being allowed for the conditions.
Danny finished the session P4, using his laps to try out a couple of suspension changes but also getting more used to an important change to the way we use the power and revs of his ZX-10RR engine. The overall feedback was positive as we looked forward to the afternoon’s qualifying session.
Lee had been trying out some important set up changes too. Getting around the seemingly endless downhill right-hander at Coram and through Murray’s chicane cleanly is critical for a fast lap time, leading as they do out onto the uphill start/finish Senna Straight. The timing screen showed that Lee had been losing a few tenths to the field in sector three but as practice played out, he was closer and closer to the ultimate pace. In fact, in the races the timing screen would show him posting ‘purple sectors’ to finish the lap – denoting fastest time.
Wind or no wind, now it is for real. 25 minutes to establish the grid positions for race one.
New tyres front and rear for the first five lap runs and then in for another pair of new tyres for the second runs. (So that is eight tyres doing 15 miles each – a total of 120 miles!).
Was it worth it? It certainly was as Lee clocked a 1.48.3 to claim P6 on the second row, 0.3 off the pole position time. And the pole time of 1.47.9 – the first into the ‘47s’ – was set by our very own Boom Boom Buchan! Top work Danny.
Now we had something to look forward to for race one, especially as we had out-qualified the Ducatis and Hondas. We knew their riders would be in the mix come race time, but what a start to the team’s weekend.
Good launch by Danny, followed by an immediate attack from Brookes and Ryde which ended when they went wide at the turn two hairpin. Danny was away, closely followed by Iddon, and a useful two seconds clear of Brookes. We already knew he had the pace to try and make a break from the pack.
Into the final sector and the safety car flag was out. Not ideal. A penalised Andrew Irwin, who started from the back of the grid, had collided with another rider and crashed at Agostini’s, leaving oil on the track. Danny followed the rather slow safety car for two laps and then set off again, closely followed by the two Ducatis. Well positioned into turn one he held them off, and through turn two, before heading down to the left-handed Agostini’s hairpin. Hard drive to keep the Ducatis behind but as he touched the front brake the tyre folded. Danny later called it a rookie error on a cold tyre – graphically borne out by the tyre pressure data once the bike was back in the garage. What a shame. Without the safety car a win had definitely been on the cards….
While all that was going on Lee was working away. Boxed in at turn one off the start – a common Snetterton problem – he came through sector one P11. He had moved forward a couple of spots when the safety car flag came out so was following in the queue, P9. Danny’s restart crash gave Lee another place, but he was behind the Ducatis and the Yamahas.
Neat passes on the brakes past the Yamahas of Mackenzie and O’Halloran moved Lee up to P5 on lap seven, half distance in the slighty shorter Saturday race format. Glenn Irwin on the remaining Honda made it past Lee with six laps to go. Lee stuck with him and they moved in on Bridewell who in turn was closing on the leading two. All six across the line covered by just over two seconds. Three Ducatis on the podium with Christian Iddon scoring his first BSB win. Lee just a second behind Brookes who was third. Excellent ride and rewarded with fourth fastest lap meaning a better starting position for race two on Sunday.
Despite not posting a representative lap time, Danny would start race two right behind Lee from P7. Before that, Danny’s mechanics - with Lee’s crew mucking in – had to build him a new bike. Sadly, the bumpy grass at the crash site had launched his bike into a barrel roll. The obvious damage is easy to deal with but it’s so hard to know if any critical parts have been only slightly damaged – frame, swing-arm and so on – that’s why the routine is to get the spares from the truck and build a new bike, engine and all. The boys were finished by 10pm.
Only ten minutes. Danny had to do an out/in installation lap to check over the rebuilt bike and adjust the new chain which will have stretched slightly. When he came back from the three laps run he’d had time for, he was worried by the feel of the bike. Rather than start checking everything, thankfully our tyre monitoring system provided the answer – low rear tyre pressure, the result of coming in after a slowish lap and then not being able push. All would be well for the race.
Lee had the luxury of trying a few small changes. Completing six laps he was comfortable in P5.
Not quite so windy and with a threat of rain later. Lee got a better start this time but still lost a couple places first time around, with Danny tucked in behind him. Ray dropped back after an incident and on lap three Lee squeezed past race one winner Iddon and in to P4.
Although the leading positions were unchanged over the remaining 12 laps, it was actually a titanic battle. The first four crossed the line covered by 0.8 with Lee a frustrating 0.15 shy of Bridewell’s third place. But wait, full race distance dicing on equal terms with three Ducatis and and the championship leader’s Honda. They may have had the slightest edge on drive off of the corners and on top speed, but there really wasn’t much in it. So great ride by Lee and not much wrong with our ZX-10RR.
More drama unfolded behind Lee. Following him over the line at the end of lap one, Danny moved past at the turn two hairpin and set off toward Agostini’s. Closing fast on Ray and braking hard, Danny could not avoid clipping the back wheel of Ray’s BMW. While Ray ran wide letting Lee and others through, Danny was down again at the same place and with the same result. New bike flying through the air.
Fortunately, Danny was completely unhurt in both crashes. But now we would have to provide a third bike to get him into race three – two and a half hours later. Out came the spares boxes again.
To prove what a good race Lee had, his best lap was second fastest so he would be starting from the middle of the front row. Danny, again without a lap time, would have to go back two rows and start from P13.
Danny’s new bike was ready with five minutes to spare. Chain adjusted after the formation lap this time.
Making up three places on the opening lap, Danny came through P10 and had set his sights on the leading group. Closing in he set a fastest lap third time around and looked like he was going to join the battle. Progress slowed as Danny felt something not quite right. With a rebuilt bike, in a practice session he would have come straight in for checks. However, after two DNFs he wanted a finish so reduced his speed as once Ryde passed him there was a big gap behind him. He brought the bike home in P11, six seconds behind the leading group.
Lee was at it again. Bit pushed around in the first few corners he just stayed out of trouble. P6 became P7 on lap two as Glenn Irwin passed. Then battle commenced. This time Lee was in the mix, committed pass on Andrew Irwin on lap seven, then Brookes a lap later. P4. Brookes came back but Lee was then past Bridewell on lap 13, P4 again, three laps to go. Bridewell came back past in a tight battle with Lee and Brookes. On to the last lap. Glenn Irwin had a one second gap, the next five cover by one second, heading to turn one at 165mph.
Remember Lee’s sector three from free practice? Round Coram for the last time, lining up Brookes, neatly under him into Murray’s, would he be able to stop and turn? Yes, perfect! So now the drag to the line, surely the Ducati would nose ahead. No! The gap was 0.0045 in Lee’s favour as they crossed line. Another great ride from Lee, so close to a podium place for the second time in the day.
With six races done and 12 to go, Lee has got 52 points in the bag and sits P8 in the table. Danny’s misfortunes leave him on 27 points in P12. Painful to say but on another weekend – and with no safety car – he would have been on for three wins and 75 points.
Highs and Lows.
Lee’s on a roll but we know Danny will be back fighting at the front. The Silverstone National layout is very short with a lap time of under a minute, and it is a bit ‘point and squirt’. Not a riders’ favourite but Danny was on the podium there last year which bodes well. With things a bit mixed up so far this year, who knows what the outcome will be.
Still no crowd permitted so I am afraid you’re going to have to follow us on TV again.
Nigel. Team Principal.