The 5th round of the 2009 season was held at the iconic Brands Hatch GP track over the last weekend in July. The weather was fine and dry for the race days but changeable conditions in testing on the Friday had the team changing wheels and tyres 5 times just to get out on track in 5 of the 6 available sessions. Showery I think would be the way to summarise that day!…
As the test day ran on the shorter ‘indi’ track this allowed good track time to learn about half of the bigger GP track and with the British Superbike event on the horizon, any additional track time was much needed.
After a few spills this year I decided to treat myself to a new set of leathers for the BSB meeting. Breaking them in at this event, after about 5 laps in the first of 4 qualifying sessions on Saturday (each very brief), I had a moment coming out of the first corner where I rode up onto the kerbs, expecting all to be well I didn’t panic as I drifted wide, only for the front tyre to loose grip dramatically and the bike to be dumped on it’s side at over 100mph with me underneath it. My new Arlen Ness kangaroo hide leathers were now being tested to the full as red dust and sparks flew into my face. Some 100 yards later I and the bike came to a stop just off the racing line. Fearing the worst, I lifted the bike expecting it to fall apart in front of me only to discover not a mark on her save for the crash protection post being totally worn away. My leathers were totally wrecked on my right leg and arm (which got very hot!) needing a comprehensive professional repair with new panels needing to be sewn in but the bike was fine. The remaining sessions were spent getting my confidence back together and getting used to the larger GP track which resulted in a qualifying spot of 16th from 44 bikes. The first 8-10 riders were regular BSB riders on quick bikes and with much more experience. We also tried a softer qualifying tyre for the first time which worked well, an essential bit of kit for a quick lap time.
After a steady start I began to circulate in a group which had riders placed around 12th-17th. My team mate, Sarah Jordan, led the group and was showing us the way round having done a trackday at the same venue about a week before. Still learning the track, I wasn’t entirely sure where I could pass and where there would be room so I was a touch hesitant. I managed a finish of 15th with a few changes potentially in mind to make the bike go better in Race 2 the next day.
Sunday’s events were attended by staff, friends and family of Keen Shay Keens, enjoying a day out in one of the hospitality boxes that I’d arranged. It was nice to meet with them and share the day’s racing. Several came into the garage to see the bike up close with some even having a sit on it and playing around with the bike running.
After checking the bike over on Saturday night it was apparent that new brake pads were required which usually take about 5 laps to bed in, with morning warm up not quite offering this, I started race 2 thinking the pads were worn in but after the first few corners of really putting them to the test it was clear they weren’t ready for hard use. For the first 3-4 of 8 laps the brakes performed inconsistently and wreaked havoc on my confidence - I basically didn’t know when to brake and how hard. This translates to people making easy passes and it looking like you’re touring which was really galling! Towards the end of the race the brakes began to bite properly and so good were the new pads that this showed up a handling problem that had started to show itself in recent races as I’ve now started to get used to this Supersport 600 machine. Basically the rear was lifting and upsetting the handling going into corners, pulling the bike wide and with my new better fitness, I was able to brake later and harder than before. I finished 18th which was disappointing but changing the chassis so more weight would be on the rear in Race 3 meant I was confident of setting a PB laptime and finishing in the top 12, maybe top 10.
All of the drama unfolded in the minutes leading up to the race start. The weather had closed in and it was getting darker. A misty rain began to fall but not enough to moisten the track surface, it was still warm and the wind was blowing. About 3-4 minutes before we had to be on the grid, the mist turned to drops and I decided to throw in a set of wet tyres. On rolling onto the grid, of the 44 bikes starting only about 4 others had made the same gamble, hoping the rain would persist and the track get wet or the point of dry tyres being of no use. The pace lap was taken very slowly by the dry tyre runners obviously sussing out the grip. As we formed on the grid I had a rye smile and knew we’d made the right choice……………….In the first lap and a half I went from 16th up to about 7th with the leaders in sight and the pace very inconsistent, some people were obviously relishing in these mixed conditions, others really suffering. By the third of eight laps, the rain drops had stopped and with the surface dry, those on dry tyres began to run quicker. Those on wets like me began to overheat their tyres and slow down. The result was a heart breaking slip from being well inside the top 10 to back in 19th place by the finish. The handling of the bike was terrible with it feeling like I was riding on punctures as the tyres cooked and fell apart. Had it have kept spitting or worse i.e. a bit of lady luck, we would have for sure finished in the top 5, maybe got on the podium.
In summary a frustrating weekend with lessons learnt. This bodes well for the next round at Cadwell on August 22-23 as the handling should be more stable with the better brakes which will be essential on that twisty track. We will also have 4 races there that weekend instead of 3 as one is postponed from our May visit there.
Next outing is the BSB meeting at Brands Hatch as a wildcard in the Supersport class over the weekend of August 7-9. This will be the highlight of the year with some 80,000 expected to attend the Sunday races with my race being LIVE on Eurosport at 15.00 on August 9th. The entire event is covered on Eurosport that afternoon. The aim at this race, being up against WORLD class riders and machines is to finish and not get lapped. This sounds pessimistic but we are hoping to be less than 5 seconds a lap off the pace which in my first year on this bike, only 3rd year of competition and on a machine that is much lower in spec, this would be considered a big achievement.