The whole team, and especially Danny and Lee, were looking forward to Oulton Park. A proper circuit after the high-speed triangle of the Silverstone National layout and one which demands precise bike set up and rider commitment.
Better still, a test day was scheduled for the week before the round. We’d be able to fine-tune the bikes and get the boys up to speed, ready to hit the ground running when the real business started. The only downside was that the weather had gone back to April showers and a cold wind.
Danny had a really positive test. P2 behind Josh Brookes in both morning sessions. Josh was on a mission to make up for his Silverstone disappointments, but Danny was comfortably best of the rest. A bit like Bautista and Rea in world superbikes! Lee had a good run out too, in the top four of the superstock 1000 class, including a very wet afternoon session which would stand him in good stead as it turned out his race would be a wet one. We parked the superbike for the afternoon. Slicks and hail don’t mix….
Danny Buchan. Bennetts British Superbike. Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Cold, windy but dry. Danny was straight on to it in the first free practice session. Getting some laps in on the harder compound SC1 rear tyre to get a feel for it, even thought we knew the softer, grippier SC0 would be the one to be on as it’s much more durable this year. Our K-Tech development suspension and Danny’s riding style also help to extend tyre life. At the end of FP2 Danny had recorded an impressive 1.35 lap for P2, but still 0.7 shy of Brookes’ fastest time. Still, over 30 laps in total on day one and a bike and rider that were clearly working well together and demonstrating very strong race pace. The SC0 tyre was looking perfect after covering race distance.
The weather radar App we use showed two showers over the whole of the United Kingdom, one on top of Oulton Park and the other following. As we hadn’t run in the wet so far this year, we were keen to get Danny out. He’s very relaxed (and fast) in sketchy conditions. Eight laps run and a happy Danny reported the bike was spot-on with its softer suspension and engine settings. No need to go out again. Overall, Danny was P2 on the combined practice times. We were looking forward to qualifying.
Q1 and Q2 went perfectly to plan. Five laps and P2 in both – slightly faster on each run. Brookes at the front again. Q3 is a different matter as Danny himself will freely admit. Eight minutes, nine fastest riders, low fuel and (if you got Q2 right) a new rear tyre, quickest session of the weekend. Plus, thousands of eyes watching. Some riders can close theirs and hold their breath for one lap which is two or three tenths faster than common sense says they should be going. Danny is still thinking when he goes in to Q3 and is always surprised by the way most of the others approach their runs. Never wanting to overdo things, although he went faster again in a 1.35 dead, Danny ended up in P6, albeit only 0.1 of a second from a front row time. Safe and sound but there’d be some work to do. Moving forward would mean overtaking the likes of O’Halloran, Hickman and Redding.
It was wet again on race day morning and there was a delay to clean up a diesel spillage from a service vehicle. Danny ran for six laps in warm-up on a patchy track, just in case it was still wet come race time, ending up P4.
Bright and breezy for race one. There was a delay to the start to clean up the oil from an engine failure on the formation lap. That meant a rush back to the grid to get the tyre warmers back on during the stoppage. Another formation lap with the race shortened by one lap to 17 all added to the tension. Finally, lights out and a decent start, holding position but nearly clipping the back of Redding on the run down in to Cascades. Five frustrating laps later, Danny found a way past Redding and set off after Iddon who was slowing slightly with what turned out to be a technical issue. He was past Iddon in no time and set off after O’Halloran and P3, over two seconds up the road. Four laps later he was on him and then past with an audacious move on the short run from Shell Oils hairpin to Britten’s. Clear in P3 but with the two Ducatis, Brookes and Bridewell, now 4.4 seconds clear. For the next seven laps Danny was the fastest rider out there and by the flag had closed the gap to 3.3 seconds behind Bridewell who finished a strong second to Brookes. Great ride by Danny – no lucky breaks, no mistakes, confident passes.
First question when Danny arrived in Parc Ferme. ‘Where am I for race two’? (Second race grid positions being settled by race one lap times). Answer, P4. ‘Good, I can win this’! Based on his late race pace, Danny was convinced that if he could get away with the Ducatis he could fight with them. We’d see. Interviews, podium, time to calm down and plan race two.
A good but not outstanding start and Danny rounded turn one, Old Hall, P5 having been beaten to the corner by Iddon. Not quite what we’d hoped for. At least there was no threat from Hickman who’d been pulled of the grid for a tyre pressure infringement and would have to start from the back. O’Halloran was Danny’s first victim on lap four followed by Iddon two laps later. Their brief battle through Hizzy’s Chicane, over Clay Hill and into Druids had the commentators, crowd and TV viewers on their toes. Close, but very fair.
Lap seven, P3. This time the Ducatis were three seconds ahead. Danny got his head down but the pace at the front was even faster than in race one as the times dropped into the 1.34s. The immediate threat was from behind as Redding closed to within 1.5 seconds after he got past Iddon. That was as close as he got as Danny crossed the line nearly three seconds clear, but this time 4.5 behind Bridewell who Brookes had dropped by 2.2 seconds – after nearly 29 minutes of racing.
Another podium! Four races, three third place finishes, and at circuits with totally different demands. Surely a good omen for the rest of the season but there’s a long way to go. Still, 55 points in the bag, nine behind series leader Mackenzie and sandwiched between the Ducatis of Bridewell and Brookes. We’re happy with that. Being the leading Kawasaki makes us happy too as we get great support and encouragement from the team at Kawasaki UK.
Lee Jackson. Pirelli National Superstock 1000, Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Never let Danny’s achievements overshadow Lee. He’s a very fast, safe and rather under-rated pedaller. He also must contend with performing in the toughest class in the championships. Up to 50 very fast bikes on track at any one time, many being ridden by newcomers or heroes, which can make life rather interesting for the established front-runners.
The superstock class gets relatively limited track time compared to the superbike and added to the crowded track it can make sorting out the final set up of the bike and bit of a lottery. With a total of 17 laps across the two practice sessions, Lee was happy enough to end up P4 just 0.7 slower than Cooper who was dominating and 0.4 faster than the second-place time. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with Lee’s ZX10 which was fastest through all the four speed traps.
The single, open pitlane qualifying session was a bit of a nightmare. The routine is to go out on a used rear and new front tyre, and then change to a new rear after a few laps ready for a final push. Bikes everywhere on track and in the pitlane. Lee was struggling to find a clear lap, even after hanging back he was catching slower riders before he completed a lap. Would you believe the speed differential between pole position and last qualifier was nearly eight seconds a lap?
On his twelfth of thirteen laps, Lee found a gap and although he crossed the line already starting to pass the next group, he recorded at time good enough for P4. A second off Cooper who was almost half a second clear of everyone again, comfortably on pole. Good effort and well placed for a strong race. The outcome didn’t stop Lee stomping off to race control to complain about riding standards.
No warm up for Lee as his short session was cancelled due to the circuit clean up exercise. Straight into the race then, and it had rained again. The track was wet but drying quickly. Oulton Park has a stretched-out layout so it’s the best part of a mile from one end to the other. Bone dry on the banked hairpin, wet under the trees at the other end. Which tyres to run? Everyone opted for wets, front and rear. Soft rubber with a deep, grooved tread pattern gives amazing grip in the wet and hang on quite well in the dry. A ‘dry’ rear – slightly treaded for the stock class bikes – would be a brave and potentially race winning choice, but what if you clipped a damp patch or it rained again… Lee’s forks were stiffened up but with no time to alter the rear shock he’d have to make do.
Great start and up in to P3 past McConnell who didn’t get away so well. Lee, Mackenzie and Copper were soon out on their own and on lap three Lee passed Mackenzie for P2. He only held the position for two laps but was still in the hunt. Three seconds behind, Olsen had recovered from a poor start and was closing on the leaders. By lap 10 he had caught and passed Lee for P3 and set off after the front two. On the fast-drying track, Lee was suffering with a lack of rear grip due to the soft set up and an over-heating tyre. Everyone was running seven or eight seconds slower than dry pace but there were no miracle rides as everyone was struggling with wet weather tyres. Despite his woes, Lee crossed the line three seconds behind the leading three and 10 seconds ahead of McConnell.
Yet another fourth place for Lee. Surely the podium can’t be far away. He’s scoring big points and is – wait for it – fourth in the the points table. Matching Danny, Lee is the top Kawasaki rider in his class.
FS-3 Racing Team.
It’s hard to say how the team feels – a mixture of elation and relief perhaps. We knew we had all the ingredients as the new Kawasaki engine is a big step forward and we get great technical support from K-Tech, MSS and FW Developments. We worked with them during the winter to plan building our new superbike and preparing the stocker, and devising a programme for the pre-season tests, which in turn enabled us to arrive at a base set ups which Danny and Lee were really happy with before we got to round one. On the human side, Danny and Lee are in great shape mentally and physically. However, we like to think the key is our team spirit which bonds the riders with the crew in the garage who develop, fine tune and operate the bikes, and Anne and Kirsty who look after the PR and business side of the job. Our mug-shots are on the website!
For now, we can just enjoy having delivered some great performances with Danny and Lee while never forgetting that there are bound to be challenges ahead.
Back to work. We’re on the dyno with the superbike for a full day next week to optimise the ignition and fuel maps, now we’re more familiar with the new engine. After that the engine is coming out and going off to be refreshed while a new unit is installed and checked out on the dyno running the revised maps.
Lee’s bike in on the way to MSS to run-in and set up the spare engine which was fitted after the race at Oulton. We’ll be fitting the full titanium Akrapovic system supplied by Performance Parts to save a couple of kilos and we’re sure Nick Morgan and Tom Brown will have everything spot on in time for Donington.
Donington Park next in three weeks’ time. Our local round. The races are being held on the National layout, missing out the Melbourne Loop, so it’s a short lap of mostly bends. Danny’s happy as the Loop section is never his best!
It’s going to be some weekend. Three superbike races – qualifying and race one on the Saturday, and two more races on the Sunday. Lee has a 44-lap race in two parts on the Saturday followed by a regular flag-to-flag race on Sunday.
It’s going to be non-stop action. See you there.
Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.