Tuesday, 22 July 2014

First Top 10 Result! 9th Place - Brands Hatch GP Rd.5

I've had a good time back in South Africa over the past 2 weeks, having braais with friends, training hard, seeing one of my best friends get hitched, and have some much needed catch-ups with some special people! But when I had to return to the airport, I actually couldn't wait to get back to the UK for this race.

As usual, hectic pace was present as I landed in Manchester on Tuesday night, unpacked my case, packed my bags for the race, had a sleep and I was off to Brands Hatch 7am Wednesday morning! But it dodn't ease up there with a string of hold ups all the way down... From Mark and I both forgetting our wallets at breakfast, to spending 4 hours in a road block for a brake light just 1km from the track! Not a great start to the weekend...

I was confident coming into this weekend as I knew we had the whole package; bike, team, fitness, track knowledge, etc. all in good form and improving each round, so I was expecting quite a bit when we arrived. This started early as we had a good FP1 (Free Practice 1) so felt good going into Q1 (Qualifying 1)

The weather was very hot, even by South African standards! Over 30deg with 70%+ humidity, the tyres and cooling systems (of the bike and rider!) were suffering. The forecast looked dodgy for Saturday's Qualifying 2, so I wanted to use all my tyre allocation in Q1 to throw in a fresh tyre half way through the session. Fortunately the wise advice of my team convinced me to save my tyre just in case the small chance of a dry Q2 came about, because it did!

Sitting in 19th from Q1, knew we had top 12 pace to reach in Q2. I hit the track with my new saved tyres with a few mins to go so they wouldn't overheat, and the pace was looking good with our times quickly approaching my Q1 time. Two laps to go I bettered it by 0,2 and started my final lap already up on my best, with each sector showing even faster  setting us on track for a predicted 11th! Then I came up to a slower rider with about 1/3 of the lap left, so I went for a pass trying not to sacrifice time, and he cut me off!! I tried again immediately at the next corner as every corner I was behind him I was losing time. Again he blocked me and I managed to get through with 1 corner to go, costing me 0,4 of a second!! Which saw me get 17th instead of 11th. I was highly irritated... My ideal lap time would've put me 9th! But that's how it ended.

Determined to show my pace, even though it wouldn't count for anything, I went hard in morning warm up to prove to myself and the team we had the pace and we came back in 7th place! Ecstatic to say the least to be in a strong top 10 placing just before the race!

The race came about in the heat of midday and we lined up in 17th, eyes set firmly of the top 12. Lights on, lights off and the bike launched great into turn 1, seeing me shoot a few places up, I lined up a gap into turn 2 at the hairpin, shot into it, but unfortunately had to sit up when the rider in front of me got sat up by the rider in front of him, seeing a bunch of riders shoot past both of us, putting me back to 20th!

I gathered myself and kept calm to stay on the bike, chipping away over the 16 lap race. The bike felt great and we were making great progress through the field getting inside the top 15, then into 12th place with about 4 laps to go, but a big gap to the top 11. I pushed with everything I dared to close the gap, and with just one to go, I managed to grab the back of the pack.

With just a few corners to go, I knew I had to dig deep to make sure I didn't settle for 11th and into the last corner I lined up the two riders battling in front of me for 10th. They were going at eachother oblivious to my position and as we ran into the final sweeping corner they defended their lines and I decided to go in wide to carry my corner speed as that would be the only way I could pass them on speed over the finish line - exactly how it panned out in our favour! I got onto the front rider's outside through the sweep and pinned the throttle as early as I could and tucked myself into the bike as tight as I could manage to out drag him to the finish line by just 0.04s to take 10th and our first top 10!

It was an awesome race, I'm really enjoying my bike's setup now and it's so satisfying returning to the pits greeted by a jovial team jumping for joy. We celebrated our 10th place finish with the knowledge that we were capable of even better than that if I had got a clean opening lap, and were later graced with news of a rider in front of me who was excluded for not complying with technical regulations! This gave us our deserved 9th place!

I am thrilled to get our first top 10 finish and also now sit 15th in the championship, just a few points off top 10 too - a major milestone in this championship's standings.

Our whole team is working like a well oiled machine now, starting to reap race results, and such good vibes in the evenings between all of us. A rare thing to have in a race team.

Thank you so much to Mark, Dan, Ian and my whole MWR Kawasaki team for giving me the support I need on and off track.

A special thanks to our sponsors Rocket88, Leatt, Pawsons Commercial and big welcome to our new team sponsor Spur Steak and Grill!

Next up is Thruxton down south on 3 August to start our full month of races.
Cheers for now!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Successful Scottish Weekend with Top 10 Pace! - Knockhill Rd.4

Our previous race at Snetterton two weeks ago went really well, seeing us take a solid top 12 finish with matching pace throughout. I was a little concerned at our expectations for this race at Knockhill as I had only ever been to the Scottish circuit once before and it was not my favourite! Fortunately we came away from the weekend with our best pace yet, seeing us consistently lapping in the top 10! 

After a hectic week of meeting was relieved to jump in the truck with boys and hit the road north to Loch Ness country. 

I decided to set aside my expectations for the race and approach it the same way I did for Snetterton. I knew I had the bike handling how I like it, so not much would need changing there, it was a case of finding good gearing and engine tuning for the tight and very physical little circuit. First practice went ok, but exposed a problem we had with the quickshifter when changing gear under acceleration over a bumpy section of the track, which was robbing me of massive time! When I pitted and saw our laptimes, even with us in 27th place, I was pleased because I knew how much time I was losing just in gear shifting! We worked on the settings of the quick shifter and prepared for first qualifying that afternoon.

Qualifying 1 saw only a gearing change for me, but most importantly for me, to test the shifter. I gave it my all, but our problem persisted and I couldn't better 23rd. Again, I felt quite positive with that because when we adjusted my laptime by the amount I was losing on the shifter problem, we would've been 11th! I slept well that evening knowing all we had to do was fix the shifter and we were in the running for a top 10 finish at a track I dislike!

Myself with the Captain of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth 
Saturday qualifying 2 would be my big push for a top 12 start and I confidently knew we were capable of it because I'm really enjoying my bike how it is now, and a happy rider is a fast rider! We suited up, helmets on, dark visors in for the beaming sunshine, it was all in order for a good session - then...RAIN?! Thanks Scotland for literally raining on my parade. We scrapped qualifying 2 as we would not be able to better our times on a wet track. We parked it up with a gearing change ready for morning warm up, but we would now have to start the race in 23rd. Not ideal, but it's what we had.

Sunday what another glorious day and we hit the track for warm up, new gearing in and I pushed as hard as I dared to test it out. It was good but not great, so I would take the gamble of trying a change for the race.In the new settings went and we prepped for the race.

I pulled up to my spot on the grid, the lights went out but I had to hold back my normal starts and accept that I needed a few laps to find shift points with the new gearing. After fighting my instincts off, I had found a good rhythm and felt ready to push hard. The bike was working great under me and it got better and better seeing us go from 23rd, up to 18th, and then on the move to close the gap to the top 15 pack.

The bike was great on the brakes and it lapped up the passing moves I asked of it. I then had clear road ahead of me to chase down the pack which held 9th to 15th. Much to our pleasure, we closed it in every lap and set a whole string of top 10 pace laptimes, but it was only just not enough as I would cross the line just meters behind them. I was wishing for a few extra laps, but it was not to be and we would take 16th place, but our predicted finishing place with 3 extra laps was 9th! A fact we are all over the moon about!

I returned to a joyous team with high fives flying all aorund - just what we needed. Even though it is not our best result, I felt it was one of our best races, and certainly has proved to all of us that our goal posts have moved permanently form top 15 to top 10 now. 

It's a great feeling to see our efforts over the past months coming to fruition. Let's keep the ball rolling!

A bug thank you to Mark, Dan, Ian and my whole MWR Kawasaki team for all the effort put in, much appreciated guys! None of us this would be taking place without the help of our sponsors - Rocket 88, Leatt Corporation, Pawsons Commercials, SA Racers Abroad, my Aunty Kath & Uncle Keith for giving me a bed to sleep in, and of course Mom & Dad! The support has been awesome from everyone - makes me really feel good knowing the backing we have. We're doing our best to report good news every weekend this season!

Also, if you haven't seen it yet, check out our new website which went live last week - www.mwrkawasaki.co.uk
About as professional as you can get, as you would expect!

I'm sitting in Munich right now, in the middle of possibly the busiest 3 weeks of my life, bombarded with travel, meetings, work, training, racing and one of my best friends wedding as I head back to South Africa. It's been a relentless attack on my body and mind of long distances, late nights and early mornings lining up my 2015 plans, and I wouldn't swap it for any other job in the world! Hopefully it will all be worth it - fingers crossed! 

If anyone needs me, I'll be on the beachfront with my mates!
Cheers for now,