From Brno to Nurburgring…
The last time I posted was after Aragon, which was undoubtedly the toughest race of the year so far for us as we struggled with speed and acceleration as well as other technical problems. Although I was pretty unhappy leaving the event, the weather and the track had been fantastic – overall the Spanish circuit is a great place to race and hopefully next year we’ll be able to come back with a more competitive performance.
We had a much more positive experience at Brno for the next round, followed by some positive development work with the bikes’ engines at Crescent, with the intention of going into the Silverstone event with a much stronger package.
During free practice and qualifying at the British round, Leon was up front in both the dry and wet sessions with John not too far behind. Birthday boy Leon missed out on giving himself a great present with a pole position when Smrz nicked it by just .003sec. However I was happy with P2 on the grid and it proved we had a good set-up for race day.
Unfortunately, as weather conditions deteriorated during the weekend, so did Leon’s luck, with a certain podium on the cards in Race 1 Leon was caught out when it started to rain and crashed and Hopper was just as unlucky, experiencing an electrical failure when an earth lead broke. In Race 2 Leon was again on for a podium when the mechanical gremlins we had at Aragon returned and caused him to D.N.F. It’s been a tough year, a real learning curve, and we’ve been working hard in partnership with Yoshimura to try to overcome the engine problems that have been plaguing us for most of the season. However, the team and I are still as motivated as ever and are always looking towards the next event with confidence.
Next stop on the calendar was Moscow Raceway for the first ever Superbike World Championship event in Russia. I thought the track was great; it had a really demanding twisty section and also a very long straight. The team came here with a positive attitude after Silverstone and John and Leon soon got to grips with learning the new circuit and posting competitive lap times. John achieved some good laps, qualifying eighth in Superpole. Leon was also riding strong until he hit the crashed bike of Loris Baz who had crashed on the start finish straight. Leon hit the bike at over 200kph and was very lucky to come out of the incident with just severe bruising, his bike travelled the full length of the straight finally coming to a halt in Turn1. As a result of his accident, he lost his confidence, when he was back in the seat for Superpole and this coupled with tyre problems, saw him qualify in a lowly 18th. However, he pulled out all the stops in the races and finished a strong fifth in Race 2.
Meanwhile, Hopper raced to his best World Superbike result finishing in ninth place in race one. We know that both riders need to work on qualifying stronger in order to give them the best possible chance in the race, but the new power we’re now working with should suit the team well at Nurburgring for the next round. I’m hoping for a dry event in Germany, and hopefully our best performance of the season so far!
Off the track, we had some good fun in Russia! After waiting for two hours for my hire car, I was given a beat up VW Passat covered in scratches, not in the mood to hang around any longer I set off on to the 5 lane motorway from hell, were I found at 70mph the wheels appeared out of balance so it was faster or slower to calm it down. After 8 days of this and a few moments in wet conditions I finally spotted what was the cause, when fuelling up before dropping the car back off. The front left side tyre was completely bald and had parts of the carcass showing, talk about driving a potential death trap!
There were some hilarious-looking cars on the roads, mainly Lada’s with go faster stripes, spoilers and rear wings on them. I don’t think anyone over in Russia has passed a driving test because the standard of driving was diabolical. It’s not a speed thing it’s just a lack of road sense completely, especially on the motorways.
On to Nurburgring, Germany were my wife Doris beat me to the paddock on her Harley, she wanted to ride there because the Eiffel Mountain area which surrounds the circuit is a beautiful area and even though she’s from Germany had never really toured through it.
Nurburgring is an awesome track and John had to learn it from scratch having never raced here. Leon was on the pace straight away and successfully qualified in Superpole where he eventually finished in P7 and on the second row of the grid for the race. John struggled with his confidence and qualified in P14.
In Race 1 we had a drama on the grid when Leon come round of his sighting lap, there was an oil leak and Leon’s bike had to be removed from the grid. The boys did a mega job in fixing it and Leon started the warm up lap from pit lane and the race from the back row of the grid. Leon rode a fantastic race and came from 21st to finish 5th in Race 1 with John a strong 9th.
In Race 2 Leon now starting from row two rode an awesome race to finish 3rd and on the podium, it could have been 2nd but for a missed gear change, allowing Laverty to capitalize on this mistake and pass Leon on the penultimate lap. John came home in 12th.
Leon’s podium was well deserved and is a massive motivation for the team to challenge for more in the final two races at Portimao and Magny-Cours. While at the Nurburgring I got chance to drive a lap of the old circuit, the famous and dangerous “Norderschleife” 14 miles of blind crests, tight turns, fast turns and even the famous banked “Carousal”. A truly awesome experience which I intend to do again away from the pressure of a race weekend.