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We’re back!  Oulton Park, May Day Bank Holiday.

Updated: May 9


Just over six months since the chequered flag fell on the final race of the 2023 season at Brands Hatch, we’re back for for the first home round of the 2024 British Superbikes Championship. Better still, we’re at the magnificent Oulton Park International circuit in rural Cheshire.

 

A lot has happened for us since that race at Brands Hatch. While we’re still the official Kawasaki team, the Completely Motorbikes chain of motorcycle dealers has joined us as title sponsor, plus major support from AJN Steelstock. Then there’s the trade support we get from a wide range of component and materials suppliers, many of whom have been helping us since we entered the series, all the way back in 2016. Take a look at our Sponsor Board at the end of this to see the long list of all our helpers.

 

On the rider front, championship front runner Jason O’Halloran has joined us alongside our protege and 2023 Rookie of the Year, Max Cook.


Straight after Brands Hatch we arranged for Jason to have an initial run on our Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR at a No Limits track day at Donington Park. AJN Steelstock then funded a two-day test at Jerez in Spain in the run up to Christmas alongside the world superbike teams. With a testing ban after the New Year, it was then a long wait for the first official test of the season at Donington Park before another trip down to Spain for an official test in Spain at the MSVR circuit at Navarra, in the shadow of the Pyrenees in Northern Spain.

 

A reduced BSB round in Spain with two superbike races was organised to complete the Navarra test. Max and Jason came away with 17 and 16 points respectively, for P7 and P8 in the standings at a circuit that favoured the three Yamaha entries who cleared off into the distance.

 

We were sure that normal service would be resumed at Oulton Park. A two-day test in the run up to the races gave all the riders an opportunity to get up to speed at such a fast and demanding circuit. It was good to see Jason running at the front with Max not far behind.

 

All in all, a long winter followed by a very busy four-week period to kick off the season.

 

Free Practice


Usual format. Two 40-minute sessions on Saturday afternoon. First time for one of the significant operational changes for 2024 season with reduction in the tyre allocation and restriction on rubber compounds. No supersoft SCX Pirelli slicks this year with everyone instead restricted to using the still very soft SC0 compound tyres and only six pairs allowed over the course of a race weekend. Three pairs for free practice and qualifying, and a new pair for each of the three races.


With the benefit of the test days, the riders were soon posting some impressive lap times. FP1 and Jason posts a lap of 1.34.1 for P2, just a tenth slower that Glenn Irwin. Max P9, 1.34.5. Faster still in FP2 – starting on the worn tyres from FP1 before a mid-session change for new rubber, Jason was faster again, 1.33.9, P6, less than a tenth slower than Bridewell P2 with Irwin again the fastest. Max matched his FP1 time and finished P12, placing him in the top 12 group that goes straight through to Q2.


Qualifying


Slight change as now only the fastest three in Q1 go through to join the 12 Q2 qualifiers, down from six last year. Also, the three who go through must use the same SC0 rear slick they did in Q1, so no second new tyre advantage. Sensible changes.


No running at Oulton Park on a Sunday morning, respecting the church service in the nearby village. However, that means no warm up - so straight into qualifying after nearly 24 hours off the bike. Quite a challenge to start off the business end of the weekend.


Some riders went out on used tyres for a couple of sighting laps before coming in for new tyres and a time attack in the final six or seven minutes. We didn’t bother and went out on new tyres from the off. Just a couple of minutes into the session and the red flag went out after Hickman crashed heavily in to Brittens Chicane.

On the restart, Jason and Max got their heads down, alternating fast laps with slower cool down laps. Both improved their best times by 0.2. Max, P10 1.34.2, 0.001 slower than Brookes and 0.002 off Bridewell’s best time and 0.02 back of Skinner, it was that close. Jason lapped faster than he’d ever done on one of the Yamahas he’s ridden for the last five years. 1.33.7 good enough for P4 on the grid, 0.3 from Ryde’s pole position lap with Irwin and Vickers in between them.


All set for a close, full distance Feature Race over 18 laps, the shorter 12 lap Sprint Race having moved to Monday afternoon.


Race One


Reasonable start by Max but a decent run through the middle of the pack into turn one, Old Hall, netted him two places as he slotted in behind Jason and just ahead of Bridewell. Cheeky pass on his teammate into Lodge, the final corner and he completed lap one P7. Jason had a reasonable launch off the line, but the cards didn’t fall for him causing him to drop three places and then one more as Max came through, P8. Bridewell was soon through leaving Jason and Max circulating together and closing on Skinner’s BMW. Jason found a way past Max three laps later, but both were stuck behind Skinner.


Sadly for Max, his fun came to an end at half distance. Too fast into the heavily banked Shell Oils Bend, closing on Jason and Skinner, Max ran a bit high squeezing the front brake a bit too hard and lost the front. Simple somersault onto the muddy grass finished his race. Good effort though as he went down fighting after posting a number of personal best laps in the 1.34 bracket.

Jason made his way past Skinner two laps later but by then the gap to the leading group was 2.9 seconds. The gap came down to 2.2 over the closing laps but that’s where it ended, P8, hindered by a lack of ultimate grip as the track temperature rose. Cooler conditions forecast for Monday together with some subtle set up changes should help Jason back to the front.


Bit disappointing overall but positives to take away. Two races to come but the boys will have to get their elbows out as stuck in traffic their lap times leave Jason P9 and Max P10 on the grid for race two.


Race Two


Quick warm up session in the morning to check everything is working and for the riders to wake up on track. Then on to the Sprint Race in the afternoon – 12 laps, two-thirds full race distance.

Deeper in the grid than he would have liked, Jason lost a place in the first lap sort out before settling in with the 10-rider leading group. As the race went on, Jason made his way back past Vickers, Haslam and Brookes, crossing the line P6, just behind Ryde and three seconds back from from the four leaders who were covered by less than a second with Irwin taking the flag.


Max got passed by Haslam off the line but held on to the lead group in P10, right behind Jason. Unable to make as much progress as his more experienced teammate, Max spent the whole race closely following Vickers’ Yamaha. Over the line still P10 but only five seconds behind the leaders. Remarkably, Max’s fastest lap of 1.33.865 was identical to the thousands of a second with Jason’s and Kent’s best – 0.1 off Irwin’s fastest race lap and only 0.2 shy of the lap record. Irrespective of his finishing position, Max has shown he’s genuinely now one of the leading group. Mind, sticking with them is one thing, racing them is another – that’s the next challenge for Max!


With grid positions for the final race again determined by race two lap times, with three riders on the same best time, positions were determined by next fastest lap. On that basis, Jason would be P6 and Max P7 on the grid.

Race Three


Once again, the gaps didn’t fall right for Jason and Max, both having dropped a couple of places as they completed lap one of the 18 lap race. Having missed the break at the front, Jason ground it out and was running at the same speed as the leaders as the race settled down – but you can’t give them a couple of seconds in the opening laps and lose the tow. Running consistent lap times throughout, Jason closed fast on Haslam and Bridewell over the closing laps and the three crossed the line covered by just a quarter of a second. P7 but another lap or two and that would probably have been P5.


Max went off fast again, running with the leading group, but from half distance his pace dropped. Using a ‘scooter’ style rear brake lever which he pulls on with one finger to control wheelies, Max’s wrist had started to cramp up. Not surprising after two days of testing and a full race meeting at the most physical track we visit. Brookes passed Max as he slowed but he still finished a comfortable P9. Before his brake finger gave up, his fastest lap was slightly faster than Bridewell and Haslam, so he was still fully on the pace. Good effort and another top 10 finish.

Jason continues to make good progress as he adapts to his Completely Motorbikes Kawasaki ZX-10RR. He’s in the same boat as Bridewell, getting comfortable on a new bike. Most of those around them have been on the same bike for a year or more and have well-established chassis and engine set ups, and all the data. Jason is now in the ‘frustration zone’ - up to speed in free running but just chasing the final bit to give him the confidence to nail it from the instant the lights go out. Only five races into the season, that’s not a bad place to be.


Max continues to impress everyone with his sheer speed. Running within tenths of a second of the older riders who have been running at the front for 10 years or more is no mean feat. Every run is a school day for Max so he’s only going to get more competitive and work out how to put passes on the riders running at lap record pace.


Championship Standings


Jason is now P7 in the overall standings on 44 points, three behind Bridewell and 30 behind Irwin who leads the standings after his clean sweep of three wins.


Max has 30 points in P9, just ahead of Brookes. Pity about his non-scoring DNF after his race one slip off but still a good showing.

Next Time


We have got a weekend off after such a busy start to the season with testing at Donington, a long testing trip with a couple of races in Spain, and a week testing and racing at Oulton Park. We are back to Donington Park next, great circuit for spectators and the riders love it. Sweeping high speed corners to suit the Yamahas and a heavy braking sector to suit others.


Hoping for more spring weather at Donington before we get a month’s break while the North West 200 and the TT run.


Hope to see you there.


Regards, Nigel Team Principal.



 

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