More particularly, back to the original Donington Park national circuit layout, last used by the British Superbike Championship in 2002. That event marked Shakey Byrne’s first win in the championship he went on to dominate.

The layout misses the Melbourne Loop and instead uses the Roberts esses to link the back straight with the start/finish run down to Redgate. The flowing nature of the track with a number of high-speed corners doesn’t really suit the characteristics of our Kawasakis and after our early season run of success, we were just a little apprehensive, with good reason as it would turn out. The short lap would certainly increase the intensity of the racing and what’s more it was a superbike triple header with an extra race on the Saturday afternoon.

Our local round too so lots of family, friends and sponsors called by to say hello. Sorry if we had to nudge you out of the way, the garage is very small with two bikes and the crew busy at work!

Danny Buchan. Bennetts British Superbike. Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Danny was looking forward to the weekend and adding to his points tally. After three podiums in four races the pressure of expectations was rising.

A strong start to the first practice session tailed off as Danny and his crew chief Matt were trying a few set-up adjustments to tailor the handling to the demands of the circuit. P17 but only 0.9 off the fastest time. It’s only a one minute six or seven second lap and the first 18 were covered by less than a second. Close!

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A stronger run in FP2 took Danny to within 0.6 of the fastest time. Encouraging, but Danny still felt the bike wasn’t turning or changing direction as positively as he would have liked. This was confirmed by Danny’s best buddy and Moto2 rider Jake Dixon who was spotting for him at Roberts chicane and Shane Byrne in commentary. On the final lap of the session, Danny ran slightly wide at the chicane on to the dirty part of the track and paid the price as the bike slid from underneath him.

Winded, but otherwise unhurt, Danny was feeling frustrated. Not as much as the crew though. What looked like a quick repair job to replace clip-on, footrest and some bodywork took on a new dimension when it was spotted that one of the fixing lugs on the frame had been punched through leaving a small hole. New frame out of the truck as the bike had to be completely stripped and rebuilt. At least it was the end of day one so no serious time pressure.

Bright and breezy on the second morning and a few more subtle set-up changes. By the end of FP3, things still hadn’t clicked as Danny felt he was struggling for ultimate grip. Not wanting to risk another crash he ended the session P17, 0.9 off. It seemed that qualifying might be a bit of a struggle. In fact, Danny was languishing in P19 at one point in Q1, hampered by traffic. In went a new rear tyre – the second of three we’re allocated for the three-part qualifying format – and Danny immediately leapt up the timesheets to P2, only 0.035 of a second slower than Jason O’Halloran!

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Confidence boosted, Danny was sitting in P9 with seconds to go – the final position to get him through to Q3 – when Linfoot on a second tyre jumped into the top nine. Danny was ‘bumped’ by seven thousandths of a second by Bournemouth Kawasaki stand-in rider, ex-MotoGP star Hector Barbera.

It wouldn’t be long until race one but at least things were looking up and there was time for a few more tweaks. Danny got a good start, around the outside at Redgate Corner which starts the lap. Settled into the race nicely in P8 when after five of the 22 laps Danny sensed the rear tyre starting to slide and the front forks beginning to ‘chatter’, a vibration in the forks which takes away feel and grip from the front tyre. Certainly not what you want at Donington Park, of all places. Danny soldiered on to the point where the dashboard on his bike was hard to read as it was jumping around so much. Understandably his lap times slipped, and he was picked off by the following group, eventually crossing the line P13. Disappointing. Back in the garage it was discovered that the rear tyre had spun over 90 degrees on the wheel rim causing the out of balance vibration that transferred to the front suspension. Oh well, two more races tomorrow.

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Overnight, Danny and his crew went back to basics on the set up and made a few changes to make the bike feel more responsive. Nothing spectacular in morning warm up but Danny certainly felt more comfortable. The struggles with the tyre in race one meant Danny’s best lap was only good enough for P13 on the grid so he’d have more to do. Just to make life a bit more interesting, there was the threat of rain. Average start and soon battling with Andrew Irwin on the Honda for a number of laps until light rain brought out the red flag and the result was called on lap 18, two-thirds distance having been completed. Danny crossed the line ahead of Irwin in P11 and with a lap time good enough for P9 on the grid for the third and final race.

The track had dried by the time the grid formed up. The changes to the bike had certainly given Danny more confidence and he was looking forward to a strong race to round off his weekend. No such luck as we fell foul of the new for 2019 minimum tyre check regulation. It’s a sensible safety requirement to prevent the risk of tyre damage that a lower pressure might cause. We were extra cautious as we’d suffered the same issue with the superstock bike – see below. The crew couldn’t believe it as the official reading taken on the grid by Pirelli was dangerously low and we were taken off the grid …. In pit lane the official gauge failed to give a reading. I won’t say anymore here, as the matter is under investigation. After the officials confirmed the tyre pressure was in the safe zone, Danny was released to join the grid, but he’d have to start from the very back, P26 .…!

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Making up five places on lap one, Danny worked away until he caught the mid-field pack and battled through to dice with Stapleford for P10, but with a big gap to Andrew Irwin who was already further up the road. At the line, Stapleford snatched the place by less than two-tenths of a second. So, another P11 finish for Danny but a pity he wasn’t in the fight with the P6 group.

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The tyre pressure issue was very frustrating but at least Danny came away with 13 more points, 68 in total now, and sixth place in the standings. We also survived a small crash with no injuries or substantial bike damage, so we live to fight another day.

Up front, the expected domination of the new V4 Ducatis continued, this time with Scott Redding taking the honours, winning all three races. Well done Scott and PBM.

Lee Jackson. Pirelli National Superstock 1000, Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Lee was going to have a busy weekend too. Saturday’s programme included a back-to-back, two-part race over 44 laps, plus a flag-to-flag race on the Sunday.

The ZX10-RR had a new engine fitted, matched with a titanium exhaust system to save a couple of kilos, run-in and set up by our friends at MSS Performance. The bike certainly felt strong and Lee completed his FP1 in P7, 1.3 seconds off fastest, but then Cooper was clear of P2 by 0.9! FP2 later on Friday afternoon, was stronger still with Lee completing 17 laps and ending up P5, just 0.7 off Cooper this time.

First thing Saturday, into qualifying. Another 17 laps and this time only 0.5 down, and 0.2 from P2. Lee’s second row start was lost in the dying seconds as his time was pushed back to P7. Inside line isn’t ideal down into Redgate, but Lee knows how to stay out of trouble.

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However, trouble came early – the tyre pressure check. We go to the grid with 27psi in the rear tyre (1.861 bar) and trim the pressure to 24.5psi (1.689 bar) before the three-minute board. The minimum being checked for is 1.65bar (23.931psi). A chilly wind and no ‘live’ tyre warmer and maybe we hadn’t appreciated the pressure drop in the final moments. Our check read 1.648bar (23.902psi) on the official gauge – two millibar or 0.029psi low – 0.12% under.

Our gauges are certified by an aerospace testing company and we verify them against the Pirelli set up at the circuit too. You’ve already read that we had a similar issue with the superbike, but that case was different because of the issues with the measuring equipment which all concerned want to get to the bottom of. One thing is certain, in both cases we were not trying to gain an unfair advantage or doing anything which could jeopardise our riders’ safety.

Anyway, Lee had to start part one of the race from pitlane, no warm-up lap and P40. Head down and made up 10 places on lap one. Lee went at the task relentlessly and must have had some hair-raising moments as he worked his way through groups of riders engrossed in their own mid-field battles. By lap 16 he was through to P12, having made up 27 places. By the time he arrived there the top 11 had established a big gap so all he could do was come home safely, ready for part two.

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At least Lee was on the grid this time and on the outside of row four, a better angle to attack the first corner. Actually, the start wasn’t that brilliant, and Lee slipped a place but was soon into his rhythm and moving forward. By lap six he was P9 and on the back of the second group, all circulating at the same lap time. Overtaking would not be easy. With five laps to go Lee got stuck in and went onto the last lap P7 and then out-dragged Lahti and Mackenzie from the chicane to line to claim P5. Brilliant effort from Lee – P40 to P5 over the two parts, but who knows what could have been.

Warm up on Sunday was held on a damp, patchy track, following overnight rain. Lee restricted his running to bedding in new SBS brake pads and then going back out to do a practice start. His lap time from the first part of the Saturday race placed him P9 on the grid. However, by this time the heavens had opened, and Lee’s bike was fitted with full wet tyres and the suspension softened off to give him more feel in the soaking conditions. Lee doesn’t mind the wet though.

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A cautious start as he got a feel for the suspension set-up saw Lee drop back to P13. No such worries for rain expert Rollo who had a three or four second lead by the end of lap one! It turned out that Lee’s set up could have been softer again as he had to feel for rear-end grip. Once he got the hang of the conditions, Lee moved up the order and was closing in on Lahti, catching him with five laps to go and once again pipping him across the line for P7. The leaders had long gone but in view of the conditions and the dramas surrounding Saturday’s race, Lee was happy enough to come away with another 16.5 points, now P5 in the table with 55.5, one behind Rollo who got a 25 boost from his wet weather win.

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FS-3 Racing Team.
Away from the track, there’s always plenty for Dave and Matt to do. As well as the routine strip, check and clean (that’s the bikes), there are always little improvements and developments to be tried out. Sometimes there’s a big project planned between races and here’s an example. With the superbike engine nearly due a top-end refresh at FW Developments, we decided to use up on remaining life with some dyno work.

Matt and Jason – whose day job is doing clever stuff at JLR – set off to see our friend Ian Rhodes at RPM Bikes in Northampton to spend a day on the dyno there. The plan was to build up a comprehensive library of ignition and fuel maps to further optimise the 2019 ZX10-RR Special engine which is a fair bit different from last year’s model. Would you believe 87 dyno runs in a day? I’m not surprised Matt said his head was buzzing by the end. The result though is a store of data which can be used in real time to adjust the way the engine behaves on a corner by corner basis to give Danny the throttle connection that is so critical to getting the most out of the bike and rider.

Next Time.
For now, the focus switches to getting ready for one of the best events of the year, Brands Hatch GP circuit in June. Hopefully by then our fancy new tyre gauge will have arrived from Italy, just the same as the one the Pirelli people use.

If you do get to Brands, take a walk to the top of Dingle Dell, it’s one of the most impressive spots to see a superbike ‘on it’ close up.
Hope to see you there.

Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.