Friday, 10 May 2013

Oulton Park Rd.3 - Seeing Progress!

We've had a really tough past few weeks trying to find settings for the bike which work at the fast lap times. We made really good progress this weekend and it's such a refreshing breath of air after all the hard work we've been putting in. It turned into beautiful sunny, successful weekend for us, qualifying on Sunday and racing on public holiday Monday for a change!

We arrived on Friday afternoon, set up camp and met up with the team to talk strategy for the weekend.

This long weekend was the first forecast dry weekend we've had so far, but in true English fashion, it still rained, seeing us opt to sit out Free Practice after 10 riders crashed out of the session before ours. Fortunately we had tested last week so the wet riding was not essential for us. We set out for a dry first qualifying session on Saturday afternoon, getting some quick times in and making some small changes for qualifying 2 on Sunday.

We then set out for a track walk with the Oulton wizard - Jason, to talk me though some problems I was having on track. As we made our way round, the crowds already in the public camping areas astounded me. The weather was forecast to be great for race day, and it showed in the spectator attendance already! I settled in for the night after noting all the changes I needed in my riding and got a good nights sleep for qualifying 2 the next day.

We had a rough base setup from yesterday, getting the bike more comfortable to ride, but not fast enough. We went into qualifying on Sunday with a much better bike than we had at the previous rounds. Unfortunately as the nature of the championship goes, so did everyone else! Even though we only managed 31st place out of nearly 60 riders, after some changes between the two qualifying sessions, I got the bike feeling much more stable and ridable for me, which is the base setting we've been searching so hard for!  This comfortable setting now allowed me to push the bike harder and in more control than before, so in going faster we exposed more problems as the lap times came down.

Jason and Dan (My crew chief) sat with me to troubleshoot the bike as much as possible on Sunday night before the race - this brought up the need for a few changes that we haven't tried yet, but we went for the risk as our hours of speculation pointed us towards it! We then settled back into the pit as Jason and Donna brought out the good smell of a team braai (Barbeque for the British/Aussies...) to relax for a some well deserved braai meat and beers for the guys.

Monday morning we made the changes before morning warm-up and straight away the bike felt better, more stable and capable of going even faster - just what we needed! Then Monday afternoon came upon us and as we rolled onto the start line, I could finally approach the race with the confidence in my bike I've been wanting.

The lights went out and I managed to get the bike off the line nice and fast, jumping up a few spots before turn 1, then doing the normal 'hold your breath and let the brakes off early' into turn 1, fortunately making it through clean! A few laps in and the changes we made were paying off as I was lapping faster than my qualifying time while in the mix of riders and making passes. Our lap times came better and better until I ran into some rear end grip problems earlier than anticipated, as we suspected might happen with our changes we made.

We managed to get onto the back of the pack behind the leaders, the closest we've been so far, and bring the bike home in 23rd place. Not the best sounding result, but 10th place was in my sights as I got onto the back of the pack which held 22nd place to 10th place, and our lap times were good enough to be in that pack comfortably now, and were only just over 1sec off the leaders. MASSIVE progress for us since the previous rounds!

I arrived in parc ferme to a smiling team, seeing our hard work starting to show on track now. Everyone was very happy with how our race had gone! We had consistently gone around 1sec faster everytime the bike got on track, and we were within sight of the front times.

This whole weekend has been very productive for us, finding things that work for me and the bike as a pair and I'm very pleased with what we come away from the weekend with.

The whole feeling in our pit is much more positive now that we're getting somewhere with the bike setup. Mark and the team have been really great with giving me what Jason, Dan and I ask for to get the job done and I feel we are well on our way now.

A huge thank you to Mark and our whole MWR Kawasaki team for all the work they've put into me so far, I really appreciate it and feel like we're starting to make good use of it now. Jason Davis, my mentor, and Dan Edlin, my crew chief, have worked no end with me on set up and I'm really happy with how we're going about things. To Scotty, Taka and Mark Linton for spannering faultlessly when needed and to Paula, Benice, Mick and Tina for making sure we're all well fed over the race weekend!

Of course, no progress could be made without our sponsors who make it all happen - Mark, Mom and Dad, Rocket 88 and Leatt Brace for the great support, Jonny and the Moto Direct team for my protective kit, Stuart from Forcefield Body Armour and Clayton Francois. Without you we would just be watching the racing!

I'm home in Nottingham now, had a day off of pigging out on pizza and chips, and now I'm itching to get to Donington Park for the next round, which we will see us race with the World Superbikes as the support race, which I'm really looking forward to!

Cheers for now!

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