Pic: MSV Photography
Actually, although the project has ended, 2015 has only just begun. After an epic first round of British Superbikes at Donington to whet the racing appetite, the BSB circus rolls into Brands Hatch for round two next weekend, which also means the first instalment of the 2015 Ducati TriOptions Cup and a chance to reignite my passion for pain and visits to A&E.
This is the first time – for what seems like an eternity – that I’ve done any pre-season testing: my incredible P&H Motorcycles/Carl Cox Motorsport team assembled for a day of testing at Brands in preparation for the new season, blowing off the cobwebs, settling back into the 899 saddle and getting the brain up to racing speeds after a winter of comfort eating and life at a far more casual pace. Although I’ve had plenty of track time over the off-season, parading round trying to look dapper for the camera at a press launch is very different to racing, especially at this level.
Pic: MSV Photography
Not a lot has changed as we roll into the 2015 season: same team, same riders, same bikes, same personnel. But in 12 years of racing, this is the first time I’ve ridden the same bike for consecutive seasons. I’m still highly addicted to racing. Some people say that edging into my mid-thirties with two young kids in tow should be the time to stop. Bugger that. Nothing in this world comes close to the kicks you get from racing, and when your 4-year-old son asks why you’re not on the podium but your team-mates are, I’m as hungry as ever for success.
It took the majority of 2014 to sort my little Panigale’s set-up and adjust to its idiosyncrasies, culminating in a front-row start at the final round and several top-5 finishes in the latter stages. After finding a base setting, we didn’t touch much from circuit to circuit other than gearing, so jumping on at Brands after six months off to the bike feeling like a pair of old slippers wasn’t a shock. I still can’t fathom how the 899 is relatively slow in comparison with Superstock 600s – we’re usually a second off their pace. The Ducati has a genuine 140bhp at the rear wheel, a substantial (and functional) electronics package, and a sweet chassis. Thankfully this is a one-make series.
What is new for 2015, aside from the sexual paintjob, are the Carillo con-rods. Instantly, the Panigale felt more eager on the throttle at Brands Hatch, revving freer and ripping to the redline quicker. It still needs revving like never before but the rods have made corner exit a little slicker. I’ve also been upgraded from a CRT package to the full-factory outfit, with the addition of the MWR air scoops and filter, which suck in huge amounts of fresh air for a bigger bang.
Having team-mates like Dennis Hobbs and Leon Morris (both of whom have raced in British Superbikes) take a 1-2 in the 2014 championship and head into 2015 as absolute favourites has its benefits. I’m not sure what they are yet but it’s good for morale. Dennis likes to gnaw on a bit of grub now and then, which helps me with gearing and set-up concerns as we’re roughly the same weight. Leon weighs as much as my ball bag, so only having his little legs in front acting as a dangling carrot is the only advantage to having him as a team-mate.
Most of the day was spent gawping at the blisteringly sexy new colours, but the shakedown proved worthy and we’re in a good place heading into the first round. Annoyingly, despite passing the static noise tests, most of the 899 Panigales were black-flagged towards the end of the day after triggering the drive-by noise meter. Even the addition of baffles didn’t remedy the situation, those bastard baffles.
Hope to see some of you at Brands next weekend – I’ll be happy with a podium… @F4G4N
L-R: Leon Morris, Dennis Hobbs, and Jason Statham