Something unusual happened. Standard Silverstone issue thermals packed away after the previous week’s test day to be replaced by short sleeves as we bathed in the glorious Easter weather. One less variable to worry about on track and a draw for a big crowd.
Although it provides great entertainment, the Silverstone National layout over 1.64 miles isn’t really a rider’s favourite, and it ranks as Danny’s bogey circuit. One to get out of the way then, hopefully with some reasonable points to take home as the foundation for a good season. Same for Lee, consolidate winter testing and get some superstock 1000 points in the bag.
The new for 2019 Kawasaki ZX10-RR homologation special may look pretty much the same but it’s a very different bike from last year’s, courtesy of the new higher revving and more powerful engine which has changed the characteristics of the bike from a rider’s point of view. For our superbike in particular, that has meant a winter of intensive development work with our technical partners at FW Developments (engine), MSS Performance (chassis) and K-Tech (suspension).
After some tyre life issues at the Silverstone National round last year, Pirelli had brought more durable tyres and a strict minimum 1.65 bar rear tyre pressure instruction (23.9 psi in old money). Backed up by the organisers, failing a random pressure test on the grid would mean starting the formation lap from pitlane and the race from the back of the grid. Setting up for the tyre specification and making sure we didn’t fail a grid check were significant variables to be taken in to account.
Danny Buchan. Bennetts British Superbike. Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
We had an important upgrade for the race weekend. Our components partner Performance Parts is the UK distributor for Akrapovic who work with the Kawasaki Racing Team at world level. They supply the exhaust systems that have been developed over the winter to work with the new engine and now adorn Jonathan Rea’s and Leon Haslam’s bikes. Using a bit of influence, Performance Parts have secured for FS-3 Racing exclusive use of the handmade WSBK systems which arrived just before the winter tests started. Needing to checkout fitment and make sure everything was all right engine-wise on the dyno meant that free practice one was the first time Danny had ridden with the factory exhaust fitted. He could really feel the difference in power, torque and most important, rideability. All provided through top mapping thanks to the efforts of our electronics engineer Jason and Matt riding the dyno.
Just one set of tyres for FP1, working on fine tuning the set-up of the bike which felt quite a bit different from the hot Portimao and cold Silverstone tests. P14, a tad off the pace, but as Shane Byrne reminded me – the clue’s in the name, free practice. Only qualifying and the race matter.
More suspension and chassis tweaks in the afternoon session and Danny got down to a best time of 55.4, only 0.3 shy of the lap record. Still not 100% with the bike which tended to run a bit wide exiting the fast turns. Saturday morning’s FP3 was good though. Lap record pace and P6. Ready for qualifying, or so we thought.
Pitlane gossip – do you know the weight limit has changed? Actually, no. For as long as anyone can remember, the superbike class minimum weight has been 165 kgs with oil and water but no fuel. After spending a lot of money on titanium fasteners and the super lightweight Speed Fibre kevlar bodywork that the world team uses, plus chassis and suspension component weight improvements, we were down to 165.8 kgs. But the new limit, set out in the handbook we received on Thursday evening and apparently placed online some weeks earlier, introduced a new technical specification – minimum weight 168 kgs. Normally we get a one-off technical bulletin when there’s a significant operating and/or safety related change, but not this time.
What to do? Quick visit to the karting shop the other side of the circuit to spend 40 quid on lead wheel balance weights. Wrap them up in a block and gaffer tape the lot inside the belly pan – pinnacle of motorsport! And all between FP3 and qualifying…. Needless to say, qualifying didn’t go as we’d hoped and without boring you with the details, Danny ended up P14 in Q2, although his ‘perfect lap’ made up of the best of the four sectors would probably have scraped us in to Q3. Not ideal. It’s fair to say we were all a bit crest fallen.
Overnight the garage dealt with the weight issue in a far more elegant manner, spreading the extra weight by replacing some parts with heavier items and placing the lead in areas which, critically, meant we could retain the original percentage weight distribution between the front and rear contact patches. Danny, crew chief Matt and our K-Tech suspension technician James also agreed on a significant chassis geometry change to alter the steering, aimed at overcoming the slight understeer issue in the highspeed stuff.
It all worked! Fastest in morning warm-up ahead of the two Yamahas which had been dominating the time sheets. Better still, second fastest lap at the end of the session on an 18-lap rear and much older front tyre. But still starting from row five, right in the middle of the danger zone where first lap heroes lurk.
To lift the mood in the garage further, Danny’s best mate Jake Dixon had turned up to add his support. Cue ‘Likely Lads’ TV interviews.
Race one. Good start and a clean first lap, P13 and then P11 through sector two. Then a delay on the screen – four seconds longer in the short sector three left/right at the end of Wellington Straight. Danny made a small mistake and had to get off the brake and then avoid an over-ambitious move to his inside. Running around the run-off area cost four seconds. Back on the screen P28, dropping 19 places. Oh dear, our luck again but 28 laps to go. Head down Danny. Lap three and he’s already made up seven places. P21. Lap four – safety car for three laps to clean up after a Ducati. Back on it – lap 10, P18. Lap 20, P12 – in amongst the quick boys now. Lap 25, P10 – battling with Stapleford and Corti. Flag, P9 as a result of O’Halloran’s unfortunate coming together with McKenzie at the final turn. Right on top of Corti and Stapleford at the line, 0.5 from P7. Spectacular recovery, but what could have been. Despite his heroics passing people, in clear air Danny set seventh fastest lap for a much-improved row three grid slot for race two. Evidence of his efforts were clear in the blister opening up on the righthand edge of the rear tyre.
Bike was working really well and only 3mph down on the Ducati on the back straight – they have wings, Danny has elbows! No changes.
Race two grid lined up behind Redding. Typical Buchan moto-cross style start and braving it out around the outside at Beckett’s. On to the Wellington Straight, P3 in an elbow fight with O’Halloran. Briefly back to P5. Then P4 with McKenzie on his tail when O’Halloran’s Yamaha blew. No sign of Redding as he was getting some ‘welcome to BSB’ treatment which didn’t end well for him.
Lap 11, past Linfoot for P2, chasing Elliott on the Suzuki. McKenzie then bested both of them and that’s how it stayed to the flag – McKenzie, Elliott, Buchan. But there’s always a twist. Lap 21 – safety car to tidy up after another Ducati. Oil down, would the race be called a two-thirds distance under the safety car? No – and three laps added – so 33 laps and marginal on fuel, plus a charging Bridewell behind. At the flag, Danny was one second behind the winner and had pulled 1.3 on Tommy. Just for good measure, Danny also posted the fastest lap.
Wow! That race proved what we knew about both the bike and Danny. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but certainly a promising start.
Sunday’s performances can be traced back to two key factors. The technical planning meeting we held in November with our engine, chassis and suspension partners, which led to a pre-Christmas test in Spain to test the new K-Tech development suspension, courtesy of No Limits. But the most important factor has been unstinting team work to build the bike and Danny’s hours in the gym and working on his total approach to the job.
Equal fourth in the points for Danny, one behind Tommy Bridewell. Top Kawasaki. At the front McKenzie and Elliot scored a win and a second place each with McKenzie having lost his race one ‘win’ after being awarded a 3 second time penalty as a consequence of his clash with team mate O’Halloran.
Now we move on to Danny’s second favorite circuit after Cadwell Park, Oulton. By the time you read this we’ll probably be on track at this week’s official test.
Lee Jackson. Pirelli National Superstock 1000, Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Lee’s style is to build up his speed and get comfortable. No heroics in practice, just relentlessly working on race pace. However, his FP1 was less straightforward than we would have liked due to the recurrence of a brake fade issue. It was problematic from time to time last year but hadn’t particularly shown itself over the tests.
We changed a few things but the one that worked was to go back to the standard Brembo front brake lever which comes with the bike. That set-up doesn’t have the facility for an adjuster which can be used on track to re-position the biting point as the pads wear down. The after-market lever we were using to provide an adjuster clearly doesn’t have the same leverage ratio as the standard part. Problem solved but we’re going to fine-tune the solution at the Oulton Park test.
FP2 was much better, P7 with a 55.6, 0.6 from the fastest time. 29 laps of dodging the traffic. Qualifying on Saturday morning was going to be fun as the reason for all the traffic on such a short circuit was that the organisers had accepted 52 entries! To make life a bit easier for the riders, the entry was split into two groups of 26. Lee was allocated group A which went out first for a 20-minute session which was interrupted by a red flag.
Usual routine for superstock qualifying, a few laps on old tyres then in for fresh rubber for a final attack on a fast time. Lee ran 17 laps with a best of 55.3 for P4. We then had to sit back and see what happened with group B before we’d know Lee’s actual grid position. In the event, only two riders from the second group went faster so Lee was P6 on the combined list.
The race on Saturday afternoon was to be one of the longer two-part affairs. 24 laps and into pitlane for a 10-minute stop to change both wheels for ones wearing new tyres and to re-fuel. Then back out for another 24 laps. Just under 79 miles in total and four tyres worn almost smooth by the end. The superstock class runs on road legal, lightly treaded tyres.
Race part one and a sound start by Lee who settled in P6, working on achieving a long race rhythm while the front three locked horns. Lee’s pace and overall fitness level saw him close down and move ahead to P4 by three-quarters distance. That’s where he finished part one, eight seconds behind his buddy Richard Cooper but with a best lap time good enough to promote him to P4 on the grid for part two.
Slick pit stop work by his crew while he rested in the shade of the garage and then back out on to the grid for the quick restart procedure which got part two underway. Away with the leaders this time but jumped by Finnish rider Lahti for P5. Safety car out on lap eight by which time Lee had already repassed Lahti and was on the back of the leaders. The field was released three laps later and Lee hung on in there for the next 14 laps. With two to go Lee was only 0.8 off the lead, still in P4, but then knocked it off a bit to bring the bike home only two seconds down. Reckon the brakes must have been okay.
Half points for each part of the race, but only if you finish both. Plus, bonus points for the part two podium finishers. So P4 overall for Lee and a very impressive start to his campaign.
Eight minutes warm up on Sunday morning and then a mid-afternoon ‘standard’ flag-to-flag race over another 24 laps.
Such had been the carnage in the two-parter which saw a third of the field crash out, race director Stuart Higgs called a rider briefing which included a football style group handshake session to try and engender some mutual respect out on the track. Nice idea….
In the event, 24 laps became 18 from a restart after a red flag on lap five. The cause was a dramatic multiple collision at Copse, the high-speed turn one, which saw one rider hugely airborne and still in the saddle before a sickening impact with the barriers and catch fencing. We hoped everyone was okay, but it did look nasty. Initially, seeing a ‘new race’ message which which would mean 24 laps again, Lee’s fuel was topped up, so when the 18-lap message came up we knew he’d be carrying extra fuel weight.
Lee’s first start had been spot on, right with the leaders. Second time around didn’t go quite as well as he fell behind Lahti again and this time McConnell muscled in too. It took Lee until half-distance to clear them, by which time the three leaders had cleared off leaving Lee to come home to another strong finish, 10 seconds behind the winner Olsen.
Three times P4 and not surprisingly P4 in the points for Lee and top Kawasaki again for the team. Big thanks to Nick Morgan and Tom Brown at MSS Performance who have set up the engine electronics and suspension on Lee’s new Kawasaki, ably assisted again by James from K-Tech.
Got to a be a podium contender next time out. Lee loves the mix of corners and elevation changes at Oulton Park which suit his smooth high corner-speed style.
You’ll have gathered we’re testing at Oulton Park on Thursday ahead of the May Bank holiday round. Might be some rain around which won’t be a bad thing as we haven’t had an opportunity yet to work on wet settings for our fancy new K-Tech kit.
Rain or shine, the team is raring to go after seeing all the hard work paying off at Silverstone, enabling Danny and Lee to show theirs and the team’s true potential.
Finally, a quick credit for Bonnie Lane Photography for all the great shots she gets for us to share with you.
Hope you’ll be making your way to Oulton Park to cheer on our boys.
Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.