Monday, 22 October 2012

Brands Hatch - The Championship Finale

Just 6 short months ago, we touched down on UK soil to embark on our mission for 2012 - begin establishing ourselves in the BSB paddock, and at this moment we feel we have succeeded! We headed back to Brands Hatch for the final time this year to say goodbye to our rookie season at the same place we greeted it, and with my dad back on the scene supporting me as he always has!

We drove through the grand entrance of the circuit and got everything set up for the weekend.  Our trusty fan manager - Evelyn, collected my dad from the airport and they arrived at the circuit shortly after us. It was great to see my dad again as it had been 4 months since he headed home!  The atmosphere in our pit was light and pressure-free as we had already won the premier championship, and had a small lead for 2nd in the overall championship. The team were happy and really enjoying the weekend, as was I, but I had my heart set on taking victory over the weekend as we had a good set up and I know the track well.

First practice went well and we hardly made any changes, and this set up stayed in the bike the whole weekend making Morne's job too easy, as he even resorted to working on other riders' bikes to stay busy! Between him and my dad, the bike was well looked after and a new set of tyres thrown in, saw us heading out for qualifying on friday afternoon.

Qualifying was a hectic affair with Rob Guiver, Phil Atkinson, Chrissy Rouse and myself all changing place for pole position as it's been for the last few rounds. With a few minutes to go, we were in 3rd place, front row, which was a favourable spot for me, so I pulled in to save the tyre for the race. On the final lap I would be knocked down a spot to 4th, which was still fine as it was front row.

We called it a day and returned to our caravan for supper, then I headed back into the paddock to continue team hunting...

Saturday's race 1 was a an upset for us as it was shortened from 10 laps to just 7. I was told this before I set off, but once we were on the line my mind went into normal race mode. This race set the mood early on with the 5 way scramble to turn 1 after the lights went out. Phil Atkinson and I led the way with Tom Hayward, Rob Guiver and Chrissy Rouse in hot pursuit, and by lap 3 it had turned into a wrestling match for space in the corners with myself, Rob, Phil and Chrissy. I spent the first 5 or so laps focusing on keeping a fast pace to keep the others behind me until Rob, Phil and I got into a battle, Rob broke away a little when Phil and I started passing each other a little too much. This played to my demise as I decided to rather settle imstead of passing back and try regain the lost ground on Rob, when as I pull out to pass Phil and pursue the lead, the unanticipated checkered flag was waving. I didn't realise how many laps had passed and missed my pit board on the final lap, forcing me to settle with 3rd as I only passed Phil after the finish line...I was livid to say the least, with myself for letting this happen when I felt so comfortable in the lead.

We packed up for the evening and I tried to head to bed for a sleep but couldn't take my mind off the day's mistake. I felt comfortable knowing our setup was good, pace was equal and race 2 couldn't come fast enough!

Waking in the morning, I was eagerly waiting the start of race 2 to make up for the previous day. Finally the time came to head to the grid, but with another twist in the situation - A lunch time entertainment car had decided to use its engine oil to lubricate the tar instead of itself, leaving an oil spill all round turn 1. It was cleaned up but none of us knew what the traction would be like.

We lined up on the grid race 2, the lights went out and we got another good launch into turn 1. From lap 1, Phil, Rob and Chrissy made sure I wasn't going to win this race easily, but I had my heart set on it and fought hard. After only 4 laps, each of us had hit the front at some point and I was fighting hard to stay in the lead. Rob hit the front, but going into turn 2's hairpin, he missed a gear while on the brakes, making him and Phil both run wide. I managed to get back on line and dived up their inside. Rob was pulling back hard from the outside of the track until he discovered I was now on his line, only by the big thud and crunch of us colliding! It was a hard hit, even knocking my bike into a higher gear, while lifting his rear wheel off the ground! I managed to keep the lead, but my bike was now in 3rd instead of 2nd gear, so I lost all the time I made by fiddling the gearbox before the next corner, and they were back onto me!

The race continued with the incident allowing Chrissy to get past us in the next few corners, and resuming our 4 way battle. I managed to take the lead again with 2 laps to go, then, in the same corner Rob missed a gear, Chrissy says his brakes faded as he sat behind me, making him shunt me on as he tried to stop his bike. I ran to the edge of the tarmac trying to regain control and slow the bike, which, annoying, saw my lead become a forced 4th place. I was fuming under my dark visor as I rejoined the circuit to chase down the leaders, but with only a lap and bit to go, I had to settle for 4th place...

Luck dictated we were not to have victory this weekend as all our other factors were in line to take the top step. My dad's little bar at home is called the "If, But Bar" - IF I hadn't been bumped wide, I could've won the race. BUT I didn't...

We had more to celebrate than to pity over as we had won the Premier Championship at the previous round, but we had now secured our 2nd place in the Elite (overall) Championship in our rookie season!

This weekend was incredible, not only because my dad returned for our final race, but also as it marked the end of our stirring of a new step in my career. I am no longer a rookie in the BSB paddock and hopefully our actions and results during the year will speak loudly enough for us to return successfully next season, in a higher class.

A huge thank you to everybody who cheered for us, supported us and to the people who made it possible for us to make this season happen! It's been a massive step in my career and a heck of a life experience. The support has been incredible and a great chunk of it came the special people who spent the time at the track getting hands dirty - Our team itself, Mike 'Dad' Egan; Morne Grundling who gave up his lifestyle in Australia after immigrating 2 years ago, just to help us have a successful season here in the BSB series; Jason and Donna Davis with their great help and Jason's expertise and priceless advice on track; and to our own PR and fan club manager - Evelyn and Rab, for supporting us and helping in every field where they can.

It's hugely appreciated how we all made a success of this season and had a great time doing it!

Thanks to the ones who really made it all happen - Mom and Dad! My parents are out of a pension to help me go racing, so we're making sure we put all our efforts into doing our best. Of course we also couldn't get it done as well as we have without our sponsors - Lawrence Watson, my lovely girlfriend Roxanne's dad, from LD Refrigeration; Jonny Towers and Mark & the team from Moto Direct, who kept me safe with RST Race Suits and Leatt Brace; and to Stuart Long from Forcefield Body Armour for my much appreciated thermal base layers and back and chest protection in this chilly UK climate!

We are now in pursuit of the age old racer's mission of sponsorship gathering to secure a ride for the 2013 season, so my home trip has now been delayed a month so we have more time in the UK instead of being out of sight and out of mind by going home. It was a tough decision to make as I'm really missing home, but home will wait for me, sponsors and teams won't! Please hold thumbs for us over the next few weeks!

I'll keep everyone up to date with our 2013 plans when they materialise a little further;)

Cheers, and thanks again for your support!

James and the team

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Silverstone BSB - Racing at its closest, bringing us our first UK Championship!

Coming from a victorious round at Donington Park, we had a weekend off and were straight back on the road to the Midlands, this time to the famed F1 circuit of Silverstone.

This was a big weekend for our series as Rob Guiver, the championship leader and 10 year 125GP British veteran, had built a lead with his fast pace from the start of the season and was one race away from sealing the championship. We were the closest to stopping him from doing it, and were determined to delay his championship as much as possible. We now know our bike well, but the circuit was still a new one to learn for me with only a part trackday under my belt.

We arrived, set up and headed out for a track walk. This isn't your small-time circuit and being 5.9km long, over an hour later we arrived back at the pits slightly wiser.

Friday practice was cold and windy, as the rest of the weekend would continue to be.We had an idea of set up from our trackday, and a good base setting we found at Donington Park. This made my job a lot easier as all I had to to do was focus on learning the fast lines of this very fast, 14m wide ocean of tar.

We then qualified in the afternoon with our opening laps setting us in 1st, then going down to 5th with only a lap left of the session. Fortunately for me, Rob Guiver came past as I started the final lap and could use him as a guide to learn the lines, whilst putting in my and his fastest laps setting him 1st and us in 3rd.

I still didn't know the track well enough to push as hard as I wanted to, and the bike felt good with our base settings so we had a relaxed afternoon before a good nights sleep.

Race 1 was a late afternoon 5 way battle for the lead, producing some of the best racing I've ever experience. We got off the line well and took the lead into turn 1, followed by an aggressive by Phil Atkinson on me into turn 2, setting the 'take no prisoners' attitude for the race. Nearly every corner saw 2 or 3 position changes in our leading pack of Myself, Rob Guiver, Freddie Pett, Phil Atkinson and Chrissy Rouse. We bumped and bashed our way around 8 laps of the Silverstone GP circuit and started the final lap with Freddie in the lead, followed by myself, Rob, Phil and Chrissy in 5th, covered by under 1sec! Freddie and I exchanged the lead nearly every corner of the final lap, then coming onto the final straight, I closed on him and made a lunge on the brakes into the second-last turn, unknowingly having the same done to me by Chrissy who had been on the move from 5th place. He bombed both of us, sending me wide and Freddie free to dive back under me into the final turn, but in turn making them both run wide on the run to the line. I squared off the corner and dashed up the inside as we all crossed the line together, all 5 covered by 0.5sec! We managed a 3rd which we were happy with considering we were 2 spots ahead of championship leader, Rob, and closed a few points down on him.

I knew the track a lot better going into race 2 as we started from the front row again. The pace just as hot as the previous day's race, with our same 5 way battle from lap 1. Phil lunged past me into the lead on lap 1 again, I came straight back at him nearing the end of the lap with a debatable aggressive move, but nothing more than his move on me in race 1. This was to be the flavour of the race! While the 5 of us were batting it out, Rob Guiver picked up our slipstream down the long Hangar straight, blowing past us into the lead. He was just out of my reach on the brakes and managed to hold the lead to the end. We were left fighting amongst each other for the remaining podium spots, and what a race it produced!

The final lap saw us going 4 abreast into nearly every corner of the circuit, right to the flag. I lunged past everyone with two corners to go and ran a bit wide, nearly holding onto it, but it wasn't enough to fend them off, Chrissy, Freddie and Phil were on my inside, fortunately we managed to fend off all of them but one, giving us another 3rd.

It was the most fun I've had all season, and possibly ever during a race, bar the result of a non-victory. It's a great pleasure racing extremely hard, but fair against such talented riders such as Rob, Phil, Freddie and Chrissy. We can bump and push eachother as hard as we dare without the fear of one of us doing something silly.

Both times we arrived at the podium, greeted an excited group of BSB staff, team members and spectators. The reception of our races really made us, as riders, feel great. Thanks to everyone who was watching and supporting us! Well done to Rob Guiver on sealing the overall championship, a faultless season well deserved.

Scroll through to 4:50sec for our race highlights

Our season has been full of challenges and one of the most difficult to date, but it paid off this weekend with celebrations of our own to conclude as after race 1 on Saturday we were officially the Premier class Champions!

Thank you to my Dad, Morne, Jason & Donna Davis, Eevie & Rab and everyone who has helped us win  this championship and achieve so much in our rookie British season. We wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for my Dad and his now tiny pension fund which he cashed in to bring me to the UK, the help from Lawrence Watson, and all our supporters including Jonny Towers from RST and Moto Direct, Leatt Brace and Stuart form Forcefield Body Armour.

We have one round left, bringing a close to our intense rookie season of British racing at the famous Brands Hatch circuit next weekend.

2013 planning has started and we hope to have a deal not too far away!

Cheers for now,
James and Team