Racing, oh how I’ve missed you. Those long, derelict winter months have whizzed by and we could have done with a few extra weeks until the first 2016 British Superbike round at Silverstone. A hectic pre-season schedule involving zero pre-season testing (and budget) isn’t an ideal scenario, but that’s life.
Although there was the obvious task of representing P&H/Carl Cox Motorsport, delivering the best possible results and not looking like a complete nobber, this weekend was all about two fundamental objectives: finishing Saturday’s race and finishing Sunday’s race in order to obtain signatures for my TT Mountain Course licence. To put it simply – no finishes, no signatures and no TT for me this year. It was the perfect excuse.
The crux of the team remains but 2016 sees a fresh paintjob for the trio of P&H 899s. New rules for this season also mean a ban on fuelling modules after several clever folk managed to tweak additional parameters. Leon Morris, fresh from another 2nd place in last year’s championship, re-joins us for a third season looking like a right weapon resplendent in his Dainese airbag suit, but former champion, Dennis Hobbs can’t commit to racing until his poorly lad recovers. Get well soon, Charlie…
Instead we were joined by a wildcard. You probably won’t be too familiar with James Cox. Super-fast and loose as a goose, he was destined for big things until snapping his femur in half several years ago and hasn’t had the breaks he deserved…until now.
Free practice was all about getting reacquainted with the 899, making sure the wheels don’t fall off and getting up to speed again. I may have span a fair few laps on various tracks over the winter, but nothing can prepare you for the hustle and bustle of a British Superbike support race, and getting the brain reengaged into racing etiquette. I still had the tyres that I raced on at the final round at Brands last year (you could still smell the burnout), so I wasn’t too fussed on times.
Qualifying was 9am Saturday, still thawing out from arctic climes in my mobile virgin conversion unit. Although the sun was shining, it had rained heavily during the night and the track was sopping. And cold. We didn’t change a thing on the bike other than a few damping clicks to soften her up, and it was immediately obvious there was bugger-all grip. I think there were three crashes on the out-lap.
The morning sun was causing havoc with pit boards and I had no idea where I was in terms of position, precariously wobbling round searching for faster riders. I thought I was going ok until Leon flew by, kneedown and railing bends like it ain’t no thang. I crashed three times without actually falling off the bike in one corner trying to maintain a tow. He disappeared. I wept, ending 16th but happy to even stay onboard after witnessing 18 – yes, 18 – crashed 899 Panigales in parc ferme. It looked more like a Desmo salvage yard.
Again, we didn’t change anything for Saturday’s race other than switching back to a fresh set of Pirelli Supercorsa SC2s. With dry track time at a minimum, I elected to enter the pits and bust an extra sighting lap rather than join the grid like the rest of them. Which was all fine and dandy until I entered Maggots/Becketts and was greeted by a line of hail and heavy rain. Somehow, I managed to stay on after buckarooing through the mud and gravel traps, and wobbled back to the grid.
In this time, the other teams had a head start on changing wheels and fitting wets, as we were left scrambling for tools and running out of time. I was eventually removed from the grid and forced to start the race from the pit lane.
Granted, there were 9 DNFs, but the race wasn’t the crash-fest carnage everyone was expecting. I struggled to get any feel in cold, wet conditions, finishing in a lonely yet gratifying 14th place. Phil ‘fighter’ Atkinson won from Leon and Sean Neary.
Sunday’s race was pretty much confirmed to be a dry outing. I had a gash place on the grid (18th) after a poor lap time from the first race, although I was soon in 13th and pecking around the top-ten. The bike felt incredible and was offering bags of grip but by lap 4, I had forearms like Popeye and had to surrender to arm-pump, offering tows akin to slipstreaming a caravan and was soon passed by the chasing pack to finish 16th. Still, both objectives accomplished.
I think it took me four rounds to score points last season, so to come away with a 14th and a few points from the first outing with bugger-all testing – and finish two races – is fairly encouraging. The Ducati TriOptions Cup misses Oulton BSB but we’ll be back at Brands Hatch. Big thanks to the team, you beauties.