The highs and lows of racing were perfectly encapsulated at Silverstone last season. Qualifying on the front row, genuinely in contention for a podium, and then this happens…
As the British Superbikes rolled into Silverstone for another instalment of ‘The Showdown’ phase, the penultimate round of the 2015 Ducati TriOptions Cup was nearing a more stimulating crescendo. Embroiled in a miserable season battling my own demons and racing depression, it’s been all too easy to forget the epic battle at the sharp end of the series involving my team-mate (and mate), Leon Morris, and the skirmish continued to deliver some of the best racing in the BSB paddock.
Assen was encouraging for me, if a little disappointing, but Silverstone is another GP-style circuit that I enjoy best. And Friday’s free practice session, initially, brought much comfort and joy, comfort and joy. We had a clutch issue that hampered downshifts and I was struggling with rear grip, so when the boys proclaimed I finished the session in third place, I knew something wasn’t right. It turns out the timing system went haywire. I was actually 12th, although still celebrated with a Thatchers Gold.
Friday night’s hospitality at Ducati didn’t solely bring Italian cuisine to the table. Rumours started circulating about blocked fuel pumps caused by the anti-slosh foam being sucked through, and how, when cleaned, made the 899 Panigale faster at the top-end: something I’ve been struggling with for a while. Before you know it, there was a multitude of Ducati fuel pumps being hacked apart and cleansed.
My real pace wasn’t too shabby, so opted to bung some fresh rubber on for qualifying and leave the set-up bar a few tweaks, hoping the purified fuel system harvested horsepower. Being first out on track at 9am on a cold, murky autumnal morning at Silverstone isn’t the most accommodating of situations. Ambient temps were shiveringly low, as were track temps, so it was a case of holding off going in balls deep for a few laps and sussing grip levels. But there’s nothing quite like Silverstone’s Maggotts/Becketts section as an early morning wake-up call: a 150mph entrance followed by a challenging pair of left/right high-speed flicks that require massive testis and commitment.
I ended the session 14th besieged by poor rear-end grip but well within sight of a top-10, and the speed traps proved that the fuel pump pampering worked: I was 4mph faster in some areas. Meanwhile, Robbie Brown obliterated the field with a 2m12s lap that was well over a second faster than second place, and a time that would have put him 15th in British Supersport. Utterly ridiculous, unfathomable, but he is a quality rider.
With the weekend’s first race later in the day, we elected to whip out the shock and install a Scania leaf spring heavier spring in a bid to remedy grip issues – the spring I used for most of last season. My team take the piss (including a fair chunk of shite banter) about constantly changing set-up, though the 899 Panigale is a fickle bugger sometimes, as am I. With no idea of accurate preload or damping settings, it was a bit of a gamble but a gamble that was essential.
During the sighting lap, I knew things weren’t bang-on. The bike felt far too nosey, too much weight on the front although, overall, much better over a lap. The race itself was an epic affair with tyre marks embedded on my leathers to prove it, multiple passes on each lap and a four-way battle all race long to finish 15th. I don’t come racing to finish 15th, yet it’s easy to forget why we all go racing in the first place – to have fun – and much fun was had. Somehow, Leon Morris pulled some magic from his botty and managed to beat Robbie Brown across the line by the finest of margins.
I needed 0.5s a lap to even think about a top-ten placing for the second race, so we reduced shock length in an attempt to encourage grip. Sunday’s race was an equally enthralling matter including some tasty, committed passing, just with more of a frustrating outcome. It was like a primary school football match with every little runt going for the ball or, in this case, the same patch of Tarmac. I’m not going to lie – I got absolutely banjaxed over a period of a few laps that saw me drop from 11th to 16th, before making a last corner, last lap fairing tap underneath William Monie to claim another 15th.
Onto the final round at Brands Hatch GP where Robbie Brown takes a 6-point lead over Leon Morris after victory in Sunday’s outing at Silverstone, and I can revel in yet more emphatic underachievement.
Carl Cox Motorsport
South West Karting
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