September 2012 Reflecting on a tough weekend at Donington Park and looks forward to this weekend at Assen…
My team blogs seem to keep coming up after really tough weekends in British Superbike and this month is no different after what can only be described as a rubbish weekend for me at Donington Park.
In saying that, I completed a test at Silverstone just last week, where we changed my position on the big Suzuki, among a number of other bits and pieces, which will hopefully help me get back on the pace at Assen.
The test was pretty positive all round for me as we are at Silverstone straight after Assen, which is next up. I now have a much better feel for the bike. I’m able to get up over the front a whole lot easier and it’s made me more comfortable with my riding position.
I didn’t get over to Assen to test but my girlfriend Dani got me set up with the Playstation game to learn the circuit and I’ve also been on the simulator at Road to Race at Eddie Irvine’s place in Bangor. It’s a fast flowing circuit, which I like but it’s looking like we’ll be using the kerbs a lot. When I get there on the bike I’ll just stay out for the first two sessions and really learn the place.
I normally pick up circuits pretty quickly so hopefully it shouldn’t be a problem for me. I’ve now got to forget about the top six, re-load and try to get in amongst those boys and show what I can do.
I just haven’t got the momentum going this year in BSB. The silly front end crashes I’ve been having, normally you can run and pick the thing up and get going again, but they have been causing more damage than a fast high-side to the bike, giving the boys a lot of work to do.
The idea now is to try and do what Michael Laverty did last year for Tommy Hill, only I’ll be looking to help Josh try and win the championship.
The big positive I’ve taken from Donington is saving that big slide down Craner Curves. It’s the last place you’d want to bail off. I’ve had plenty of support from people ringing me and texting to say, ‘keep the head up’, but unlike 2010, I’m not letting my head drop this year.
I aim to finish the season strongly; well that’s the plan anyway. I’ve not really had such a flat season before, and I just keep reminding myself that we’re all only as good as our last race. Thankfully the gap between weekends is short.
Take a look at John Hopkins in World Superbike. Last season he was the best thing since sliced bread in BSB, but this year everyone says he is rubbish, which is harsh. He’s had a couple of injures and he’s struggled to get his confidence back. That can only come for a rider by getting results.
After Donington I cleared my head by going out on Dani’s brother’s pushbike – even though it was about two sizes too big for me! I was just so determined to get some miles in, so I put on his size nine shoes with two pairs of thick socks and dropped the seat post right down through the frame.
It felt like I was climbing on to my Superbike, but once I got going it was great. I printed out a Google map from the Internet and kept an eye on the GPS on my phone and clocked up 30 miles. The only problem was, I never got to see any of the countryside, as I was so intent on not getting lost.
It’s now a matter of going to Assen and getting a result on the Tyco Suzuki, and after the recent test I’m a lot happier and don’t have to turn up with my tail between my legs.
May 2012 I’ve been pretty busy since the North West getting back home to see Lewis and getting my camper ‘dunged out’ and also taking in Snetterton which was a bit of a come down after the North West, but that’s racing.
The week at the North West couldn’t have started any better going P1 in two classes and P2 in Superstock and less than a second off pole – so we knew we were bang on the pace straight away.
On Thursday we knew it was going to be wet so it was important to get those times down on Tuesday. I just took the Superstock bike out in the practice on Thursday so we could get it set-up for the Thursday night race. I think we ended up about fourth but had a bit in reserve, although in the race I didn’t think I was going to get it as comfortable.
It certainly wasn’t in the script to win it by 22 seconds but you take it whatever way you can get it. I had my BSB team-mate Josh Brookes out giving me an extra board at the Magic Roundabout and Davy Turk at the start line. The boys were relaying the times to Josh so I could see if anyone from the second group was in the mix.
The gap just got bigger and bigger and after that I just calmed it down, short-shifted everywhere and found the damp patches to preserve the tyres; but the Pirellis did a brilliant job and it was nice to give Suzuki their first-ever win in Superstock trim for the new GSX-R1000.
There was a lot of media hype again this year around me possibly doing a clean sweep on Saturday and with Thursday night’s win they were even talking about me winning six. That’s a big ask for anybody and can make me look disrespectful to other riders which I’m not.
It is possible to win them all as Ian Hutchinson proved at the TT, but you have to take each race as it comes and you need a lot of luck to win them all, which I didn’t get on the Saturday, but I’m more than happy with my results.
The papers were saying William Dunlop won the first 600 race and blew my chances, but it’s them that keep talking about five and try to draw me into it. In that first Supersport race I couldn’t believe the speed of the Wilson Craig Honda – it was unreal!
Even in the slipstream he was pulling away. I couldn’t get close enough to get into his slipstream, and with McGuinness right in mine, he was sucking me back which wasn’t helping matters.
I managed to break away from McGuinness and with William being a Dunlop rider I’d a fair idea his tyres would cause him difficulty at the end of the race. I just kept chipping away and was riding the Coast Road really hard and fully committed in and out of all the chicanes.
I could tell the gap the gap was coming down from Metropole to York Corner as I was much faster on that section, but as soon as we got out of Mill Road and down to University I could hardly see him again. It was an accordion effect and it was frustrating, but I kept my head and hoped he’d make a mistake, which he did at Juniper Hill just before we went onto the last lap.
He run onto the grass and made a mess, then down into York there was a backmarker and he fluffed that up and I dived up the inside. But as soon as I got to Mill Road the red flag was out. Someone said William had a hand injury, so maybe that was coming into play or the Dunlop tyres were starting to fail, but I never got my chance and that was it. It’s ironic my team-mate caused the red flag that probably cost me the win, but I’m just happy Guy is okay and back in action at the TT.
All the flak has come from my pass on William in the second race on the last lap, but he has his followers and I have mine and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Anybody who gives me ‘jip’ on Facebook or Twitter just gets blocked. I don’t need to be listening to that.
I’m sure once William calms down he’ll be all right. I’d be the same if someone did it to me, but there was nothing malicious in the pass. I’ve got the utmost respect for all the other riders and William included. We’re all there to win; we’re not playing billiards – it’s a high-speed sport and you get a split second to make a decision. If I see a gap I’m going to go for it, but I didn’t intentionally run into the side of him.
Look at Lowry at the Sunflower. He run into the side of me and I didn’t complain about it. But if I had of got the chance I’d have repaid the compliment that day. That’s the way I work.
William and I rubbed elbows yes. As I say there was no malicious intent and it wasn’t so bad that it forced him up the slip-road or onto the kerbs. I hadn’t planned to touch him but we did. I was rubbing elbows with Hillier and Farquhar in the Superstock race and no one complained about it.
I suppose the fact that it was the last lap and it cost him the win people are going to accuse me of hard riding. It was a hard pass but there was nothing in it. It was no different to the pass I did on Easton a couple of years ago.
In the first Superbike race I felt comfortable in the lead, but I selected neutral instead of first gear for Church. I stamped it back into gear but it unsettled the bike, so I picked it up and took the slip-road; did a three-point and got back on the track. I got back in behind Hutchy in 14th and at Juniper I hit neutral again and had to go straight on.
So I was telling myself to be more positive selecting the gears. I caught a big freight train of riders and just picked them off one by one. The Suzuki was fast and very stable, but I knew it would be a miracle to catch John, even though I could see him on the last lap, but he’d probably rolled off by then.
In the big race [NW200 Superbike] I didn’t use first gear for Church, I just rode it in second and we had no issues. Everything was smooth and I just rode to my pit board. I could hear them on the first three laps in my slipstream, but then I saw my board creeping up and I knew I’d broken the tow. Lucky enough there was no one on my bumper at the Juniper Hill Chicane on the last lap and we got the win.
Snetterton BSB didn’t go to plan and after going fastest in the first session I had that big crash in FP2 and the bike went on fire. The boys did a brilliant job building it back up and apart from my confidence being dented; I was lucky to walk away with just sore ribs.
I had tyre and gear selection issues in the races and with not being as confident as I was entering the weekend, I think it all rolled up into a bit of a disaster of a meeting for me. Josh did a good job for the team and is really on it, now leading the championship.
I don’t dwell on bad weekends so while the boys are at the TT, I’m off to Majorca for a bit of R&R and I’ll be back to my best at Knockhill. We’re not out of the hunt yet!
April/May 2012 The season's now in full swing and it's just Oulton Park this coming Bank Holiday weekend for the triple header then back home to try and add to my tally at the North West 200, and get the Tyco Suzukis on the podium... but despite what people think, it isn't going to be easy.
I'd like to just forget about Thruxton BSB at this stage, I suppose we all have to face up to difficult weekends in racing and hopefully Thruxton will be one of very few I have this year. The races were tough for me as you could probably see. I was struggling in both races for entry feel and on the exit; the tyre was really spinning up and pumping out of the turns. It was disappointing and I didn't even take my helmet off after the second race. I just marched back to the motor home with my bottom lip out!
We've since looked at the data and apart from a few things we can change, I think I have to accept I'm probably still riding the Superbike a bit like a 600; carrying too much lean angle and being too aggressive on the throttle. It's something I'll have to work on and I've been thinking about adapting my riding style a little to overcome this. I haven't just got that front-end feel yet to lash it into the corner, but again it will come. In the wet we are bang on; we are actually mint with that set-up, which brings us to Brands...
We knew from the first race at Brands, where we just lost out on giving Tyco - our new titles sponsor - its first win and we needed to get a bit more weight on the rear of the bike for more grip entering the turns and over the bumps and ripples in race two. The temperature had dropped at Brands and as much as I was disappointed that race two didn't run (as I thought I could win it), there definitely would have been more crashes. So postponing it on safety grounds was the right thing to do.
The new rules have already shown that there will probably be quite a few race winners this year. Kirkham and Lowry are both good riders, but no one would have expected either of them to win so early in the year, or probably me if I'd won at Brands. It's good for the Championship that other riders are coming through and pushing the likes of Hill, Brookes, Laverty and Byrne.
The new GSX-R1000 definitely has winning potential as Josh proved at Thruxton. I just need to get my bike working that bit better now. If you don't feel the bike is well planted and has enough grip, then the likes of Thruxton is character building to say the least.
After testing and especially coming away from Kirkistown - where I was doing consistent 54-second laps and matched my best ever time around there - I sort of thought we'd nailed it. But when you get to Brands and different circuits, it always throws up a few other things that need to be ironed out. I lost a bit of confidence at Thruxton and it just magnifies the problems. I really just couldn't get my head into it. One positive from Brands and Thruxton is how fit I feel. I've been training at the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland (SINI) and I'm a lot stronger than I was. I can chuck the bike about and I hardly broke sweat on it at Thruxton, so there are no problems physically.
Oulton Park is next up, and as I say, we have three races there. I like Oulton. I was watching the Superbike races from there in 2010 where I qualified fifth. I was running top-five but missed a gear on the last lap and John Laverty nipped in to take his first podium.
After Oulton it's off to the North West 200 and I've always had a bad round before the NW200, so I'll not be panicking or letting it creep into my mind. Last year I had a bad weekend at Croft on the Supersport bike before it, but this year I'm fully focused on the BSB races and the NW200 can't be taking up my thoughts until we get there.
I need to be getting some decent results at Oulton, as it'll work both ways: If I do well there I'll be back in the hunt in BSB and it will give me confidence for the North West, even though we're back onto the full FIM specification Superbike there. It's all about having a good Tuesday practice at the North West. I know how I prepared last year and also in 2010, so we can build it up on Thursday; then we have that Superstock race on the Thursday night.
I heard the other day, unfortunately, it's going to be the coldest May on record. What we don't want is another race day like last year: cold and wet. We have a good wet set-up so that wont bother me at all but it's no good for the fans. I think we'd all prefer dry and sunny if we had a choice.
Hopefully between Conor Cummins, Guy Martin and myself we can get some wins for our new sponsors Tyco Security Products - as they are an enthusiastic bunch - and bag a few decent cheques for the back pocket!