Ducati TriOptions Cup: Rd1 Brands Hatch

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Pic: Bonnie Lane

Racing can an emotional rollercoaster riddled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. When it’s good, everything else in life is irrelevant. When it’s bad, it’s very, very bad – life itself is almost irrelevant, the journey home is a miserable place, something only racers can fathom. After an encouraging end to last season, we headed to Brands Hatch with happy, smiley faces and genuine podium aspirations. We left with anything but.

Free practice went ok. With an abundance of new (and very fast) riders entering the 2015 Ducati TriOptions Cup, things were never going to be easy. Neither was getting a clean lap of the Indy circuit with 37 baby Panigales circulating, booming around the Kent countryside. Finishing 11th wasn’t ideal but I wasn’t far off the pace, and we were running shagged Pirelli Supercorsas that had been punished for well over 50 laps and past their best. The usual frontrunners and champion elects headed the timesheets, with Rob Guiver, my P&H Motorcycles/Carl Cox Motorsport team-mate Dennis Hobbs, and Marty Nutt half a second quicker than the rest of the field. Normal service resumed.

With fresh rubber and a potential chunk of time at our disposal, we changed little for qualifying. The bike felt ok but I was busting my balls and constantly reading P13 on my pit board. Panic sets in in, you try harder, and end up over compensating, making stupid mistakes. It was the same trio who led the qualifying pack, again a fair chunk faster than the rest of the field. Sure enough I ended 13th, yet an epic fart would have bumped me up the grid to 6th spot with 0.4s worth of additional tailwind. 0.4s, the difference between a fourth row start and a second row start – a sign of things to come in 2015.

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Our first race was on Saturday, just after the sidecars. Sidecars provide entertainment, the racers are a good bunch, and it’s a friendly paddock within a paddock. But all they do is cause mayhem after frequently ejaculating fluids – usually onto a vital part of the racing line – and the ensuing clean-up operation triggers delays to an already busy schedule. After the same outfit that spewed its guts at Donington did so at Brands, the track was left in a disgusting state, despite the best efforts of the organisers. The entire stretch of the Cooper straight was covered in dust/oil dispersant and proved sketchy on the sighting laps. From what a respected journalist/TV commentator told me, the rough gist involves sidecars’ sumps and how they’re altered to cope with engines remaining upright. Sorry for the negatives but there needs to be an alternative solution.

I got a decent start but things soon went shit-shaped. On the approach to Surtees where the track’s condition was at its worst, I got pushed wide, tried to brake, lost/locked the front on an area of diminished adhesion left from the sidecar jizz and ran onto the grass. By the time I re-joined the circuit, the entire field was already at turn one. While it was good fun carving through the pack, 15 laps wasn’t enough and I finished a lowly 23rd.

Amazingly, race one’s winner, Rob Guiver was soon excluded from the results for ‘a front brake infringement’, which loosely translates to fitting oversized 1199 Panigale brake discs. If you’re going to cheat, at least paint the 5mm spacers between the calipers and fork legs next time! British Superbike organisers and Ducati UK have tightened the regs for 2015 and fitting Ducati Data Analysers to various bikes in the quest to catch out cheats who flash ECUs and heighten rev limiters, which is good to see. The amended results meant that Dennis Hobbs won, Marty Nutt took second and my other team-mate, Leon Morris blagged third. Happy for little legs, not so happy with my result.

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It was Dennis Hobbs’ weekend

When you’re that far off the pace and not sure why, things can get deeply frustrating and head-fucky. I wasn’t sure on which way to go with set-up but we needed to try something. Having race winners in the team has its obvious benefits, like copying Dennis’ settings, so we gambled with shortening the 899’s wheelbase and a few other bits in the hope of magically unearthing something for race two.

With race one results dictating the grid for race two, I needed a telescope to see the lights from where I started. After getting caught up with slower riders and letting the points-scoring pack go by riding like a complete tool, it was more of a parade than a race, ending 20th and wanting the ground beneath to swallow me up. I’m certain I’d be tasty. Hobbs again took the victory for the weekend maximum, with Guiver and his 899 brake discs in second, and Marty Nutt third.

My third-world miseries and trivialities are put into perspective after a horrific crash in the Junior Superstock race on Sunday. James Puttrell and Jordy de Jonge were involved in a multi-rider incident and consequently airlifted to hospital for treatment to their injuries. Thoughts and prayers to those involved.

Big thanks (and sorry) to my P&H/Carl Cox Motorsport team: they tirelessly grafted, endlessly fettled but nothing clicked this weekend. Also, shameless plug for those who fund my addiction: South West Karting, HRG Paint, Vanworx, DP, 5-Toes Excavation. I bloody love you all.

Onwards and upwards to Oulton Park. If Rossi can do it at thirty-something, so can I…or something.

Pics: Bonnie Lane

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There’s an apex somewhere…

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