Round Six. Kent. Heatwave.
The last time the Brands GP circuit looked quite so scorched and parched was the summer of 1976. I know, I was racing there. I really am that old!!
Arriving to set up, the team was still buzzing after our brilliant weekend at Knockhill. Danny’s two superbike podiums and Lee’s strong races had clearly shown our team’s potential as genuine competitors.
The GP layout at Brands isn’t best matched to high-revving four-cylinder machines. Ducatis and Yamahas with their torquey power delivery can better punch out of the slower corners on to the fast bits. We’d see.
Lee Jackson. Pirelli National Superstock 1000. Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Lee’s weekend would feature a two-part 100 mile race on Saturday afternoon, as well a the more usual flag-to-flag race on Sunday.
Free practice showed that Lee’s improving relationship with his ZX10-RR is continuing. P4 and P5 respectively in the two practice sessions and lap times in the low 1.28s were pointers to another strong weekend. We had our eye on getting Lee up to fourth place in the championship standings.
Qualifying went well as Lee posted the fourth fastest time, significantly only 0.6 slower than McConnell on his superfast Suzuki.
Race one. 32 laps in two parts – and on a scorching hot day. Definitely a fitness test. Lee’s plan was to run in with the front group without pushing it and make sure he was in contention for part two. And that’s what happened. McConnell early on and Mackenzie on the last lap pushed too hard and crashed out, so no part two for them. Lee came in P4, 1.75 seconds behind the leader, Collier.
Then drama! The bikes come in to the pit lane to refuel and change wheels, so they are on new tyres for the second half of the race. We had a problem with Lee’s front wheel – one brake disc was dragging and a little out of alignment. All the usual easing of pads and calliper pistons made no difference and with time running out – and TV cameras pointing at the crew – we had to go back to the original wheel and tyre. It was then too late to leave pitlane for the grid. This meant Lee would have to join the pack from pitlane on the green flag lap and line up at the back of the grid – P25. Oh dear, sorry Lee. Turned out to be the disc carrier bobbins not floating freely.
Now Lee had a job on, but from our Knockhill experience, we know he gets really stuck in when things go against him. This time would be no different. Lee completed lap one in P12 having passed half of the field. Blimey! A couple more places on lap two and then grinding it out, passing tiring riders, until he got up to P5, closing in fast on the rider ahead. He crossed the line a mere 0.1 short of P4. He was only 11 seconds behind the eventual winner – Collier, who took the flag in both parts. What an incredible recovery ride and one which certainly made up for the mix up in the pitlane. Nice one Lee!
Sunday’s race was to be the conventional 16 lap affair. Lee started from P9. Exiting Druids Hill Hairpin on lap one, Collier high-sided, Lee, who hadn’t had a brilliant start, just missed him. The four or five riders behind weren’t so lucky and there was a nasty looking pile up. Red flag.
After the clear up the race distance was reduced to 12 laps – a sprint compared to Saturday. The race was restarted from the positions at the red-flag so Lee was P5. Another difficult first corner pushed Lee back to P8. He recovered to P5 on lap three when another incident brought out the safety car for two laps. The field bunched up for what was now effectively a seven-lap race. Up front the only change was McConnell passing Farmer for the win. Lee eased home three seconds later, holding P5.
A P4 and two P5s scored Lee 23 points, taking his tally to 88. As we had hoped, that moved him up to fourth in the standings, but with a big jump to third, reflecting our steady start to the championship. There are a couple of riders less than 10 points behind Lee, so there’s no let-up in the pressure.
Another strong weekend and a couple of things to try for next time.