Last year we arrived at Brands Hatch at the height of the heatwave which had left the spectator banks scorched brown. This year there were pictures of Graham Hill Bend submerged by a flash flood earlier in the week. Fortunately, things had dried out when we arrived, but the weather was looking changeable, to say the least.
After a steady weekend at Donington Park, Danny was determined to regain his championship momentum and Lee was looking certain to be much closer to the sharp end in the Superstock 1000 class. We’d also brought plenty of air for our tyres….
Lee Jackson. Pirelli National Superstock 1000, Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Just for a change, let me tell you about Lee’s weekend first. You’ll understand why in a minute.
First free practice, ten dry laps to settle in. P6, only 0.7 of a second off the fastest time. Bike felt strong, particularly on the high-speed stuff – Pilgrims Drop into Hawthorn and out of Clearways over the start/finish line. Remember that. Stronger again in FP2 and Lee was only 0.5 from the fastest time in P5 and feeling very positive about the qualifying session on Saturday morning.
Lee was right about qualifying, P3 only 0.4 slower than his mate Richard Cooper and on an almost identical time to Taylor Mackenzie who was second fastest. Cooper’s time was under the lap record and things were shaping up for a fast and close race. And it was no ordinary race as Saturday afternoon was scheduled for one of the season’s four two-part 100-mile races. 16 laps then an eight-minute pitstop for fuel and to change both wheels, fitted with new tyres, and then another 16 laps to the finish. Fitness plays an important part in the longer races. No problems for Lee on that score.
Cooper made the start but on lap two Lee was through into the lead. He held on for three laps before Cooper was back but on lap 11, he hit the front again. Two laps to go and there were back markers in sight. Four in their own private battle, the four front runners closing fast. A perfect storm brewing and where did they catch them, over the line approaching the daunting blind drop into Paddock Hill Bend. Lee had a 0.3 lead over Cooper who had a different advantage – he could see which way everyone was going. One back marker tried to get out the way taking Lee a tad offline and Cooper dived the other way, back into the lead. Lee stuck to him all through the final corners but couldn’t get close enough for a move – he crossed the line 0.2 behind in P2. Taylor Mackenzie was a further 0.2 behind in P3.
Straight back out for part two. Lee would start from P2 – middle of the front row – courtesy of his part one lap time. Cooper, Mackenzie and Lee cleared off from the rest of the field. Lee was content to sit behind the squabbling leaders for the first 12 laps before making a move on Mackenzie. A lap later he was past Cooper for the lead. Three laps to go. Inevitably, Cooper put a trademark move on Lee into the final turn, Clearways. Lee simply hung on and slip-streamed Cooper to the line – the screen flashed up that he’d done it by 0.073. Lee’s speed at the line was 163.3mph – told you he was good in the high-speed stuff! P1 and what a race. Fastest lap too. Well done Lee!
That was only Saturday. Warm up on Sunday morning saw the arrival of the first of the day’s rain. Light drizzle brought almost everyone in, except Lee who stayed out to get a feel for the conditions. Good move even if the track was streaming by the early race time of 11.00 am.
P2 starting position again for the flag-to-flag 16 lap race. Another three-way battle ensued. At one point the leaders were 29 seconds clear of P4, in a race of their own. After assessing the conditions, Lee moved to within 0.5 of the leading two but that was as a far as he got. Slight issue with a traction control setting selection and he was losing grip. With such a huge lead he decided to knock it off and come home safely. He left Cooper, the eventual winner, and Mackenzie to it and finished a lonely P3. Hardly a disaster and it completed the set – first, second and third place finishes – and particularly impressive that he was at the front in both the wet and the dry.
Not bad for a weekend’s work and another 44.5 points scored. The half point is because the two-part race scores half the usual allocation for each segment, plus an extra five for the overall winner. That moves Lee back into fourth place in the standings only 0.5 behind P3.
Special mention must go to Nick Morgan, the boss of MSS Performance the Kawasaki tuning experts and his technician Tom Brown who works with Lee at the circuit to optimise the set-up of the engine and chassis on his ZX10-RR. They’ve worked with the team to give Lee a great bike.
Great to see Lee’s side of the garage getting the attention they deserve.
Danny Buchan. Bennetts British Superbike. Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
As Danny wanted to make amends for a rather lacklustre weekend at Donington Park, it was good to see his confident smile in the garage as free practice one approached. The suspension and chassis of his superbike was close to the ‘base setting’ Danny and his crew chief Matt know works. Just a few small tweaks to deal with the Brands Hatch bumps.
Off we go. Temperatures rose during the first practice session and there were a few spots of rain too. 13 laps done and a time within a second of the best, P8. Some useful feedback to work on, despite the fact that the track temperature was on the cusp of the point where the harder SC1 compound tyre is likely to work better than the softer SC0, a situation that can lead to making unnecessary changes rather than waiting for the track to come to the rider. FP2 and more fine adjustments to the K-Tech development suspension on Danny’s ZX10-RR plus a few more spots of rain. We were nearly there with giving Danny a bike that worked all around the track. P10, still a second slower than the Ducatis of Brookes, Redding and Bridewell which were setting a blistering pace.
Things clicked on Saturday morning and Danny finished FP3 in P6, just 0.8 slower than Redding and with an ideal lap time good enough for P5. An ideal lap is made up by adding together each of the best times for the four timing sectors that space out the lap. Evidence of progress was that at times Danny was fastest in the Surtees sector where he had struggled the day before. Our Kawasaki was flying down the back straight.
Qualifying. Danny’s least favourite part of the weekend. He’s a racer and loves to get into a rhythm, something that’s almost impossible to achieve in qualifying. Riders are either on do or die laps or messing about looking for a tow – finding a quick rider to use as a target to, hopefully, enable a couple of tenths to be found. Q1, okay, P10 but suddenly feeling that the bike was all wrong. It wasn’t but it’s hard to resist trying to brake later and harder to ‘chase’ time, rather than relaxing and letting the natural speed make the time. Q2, sitting in P8 after the run, but only nine go through to Q3. Last minute decision to use a second new tyre to defend the position. Hickman did the same and got a clear run, Danny didn’t and was pushed back to P10, 0.05 shy of getting through. Not awful, just a bit disappointing. In the event, Tarren Mackenzie’s big crash in Q3 ruled him out for the weekend so Danny would start race from P9 on the inside of the third row.
Sunday morning warm up was wet. The organisers classified it as ‘wet practice’. If it has been dry up to the first race and then it rains, the rule is that a 15 minute ‘wet practice’ must be squeezed in. Using warm up to meet the rule avoided the need for an extra session later. This all meant that we had to change, soften the suspension for the wet – quickly as it’s only a 20-minute session – and get Danny out. He got four laps in and was fastest, 0.4 faster than Brookes. A nice confidence boost and proving again that Danny is quick in sketchy conditions.
By race one time it had rained properly. Full wet set up and the softer of the two wet weather rear tyres fitted. Amazingly, Redding opted for an intermediate rear tyre, obviously thinking the track would dry. Danny got a so-so start and after a lot of elbow banging going into Paddock Hill was back to P12 but soon in the fight, crossing the line for the first time in P10. By lap six and after some committed moves, Danny was in P6 right on the tail of TT hero Hickman. Running similar times, Danny waited for 10 laps before he saw the chance to get past, aided by Brookes coming past both running on the harder wet tyre and making progress as the track dried. His team mate Redding was running round at the back as the track was too wet for the intermediate tyre he had risked running. We chose the soft wet as it ‘switches on’ to provide best grip sooner as track position is everything if there’s the chance of more rain. Despite his soft tyre suffering as it wore down, Danny closed to within a second of Bridewell and crossed the line in a brilliant P4, just 3.5 seconds behind Brookes who went on to win.
P5 on the grid for race two. Redding’s earlier tyre choice had one benefit, as the track dried, he set the fastest lap on his final tour so would start from pole position! Better start and Danny slotted in behind Irwin who had also got a strong lap time in the mid-field of race one to promote him up the grid. Danny scythed past him going in to Stirlings on lap one and set off after Linfoot who had made the break with the three Ducatis. It took Danny seven laps to close the 1.8 second gap and a further two to make his move, into Stirlings again. P4. Linfoot hung on until lap 17 when Danny upped the pace to cross the line 1.5 clear in P4, four seconds behind Redding who took the final podium spot.
How about that? Two fourth places and just like Lee, wet and dry races – competitive in all conditions. Scoring 26 points, taking his total to 96 after four rounds, Danny is now a strong fifth position in the standings, closing in on Mackenzie and well clear of Fores. I think it’s fair to say he’s back…
Again, credit to MSS and K-Tech for all the technical kit and support, and FW Developments for providing us with such strong engines.
FS-3 Racing Team.
Fantastic weekend for everyone on the crew, our technical partners and our many sponsors and supporters. To be at the front in both the classes we run in is a real buzz, and totally nerve wracking. Lee and Danny deliver the final product but never forget what goes in to getting them there. We’re actually quite proud that we can put truly competitive bikes on to the grid and give our riders an environment that enables them to deliver their best out on the track.
Everyone who helps us is listed on the sponsor page on our website www.fs3racing.com Why not you take a look?
Scotland, Knockhill. Scene of Danny’s two podium finishes last year. He tested there on his lower spec practice bike last week – and was fastest. Steady away – as we say – but let’s see if we can trouble the Ducatis. Lee’s handy at Knockhill too so we could be in for another exciting weekend.
It may be quirky but Knockhill on a sunny day (fingers crossed) is a spectacular location. Hope to see you there.
Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.