Mike Edwards, 29/09/06 – 30/09/06
European SuperStock 600 Championship
Imola has to be one of my favourite tracks of the season with just the right combination of steep uphill and downhill sections, long sweepers and the odd chicane or two. Shame the same canâ€™t be said for the paddock which was lacking even the most basic amenities. Two toilet and shower blocks with one working light between them, previous few door locks, no working doors on half of the showers, blocked drains and a distinct lack of hot water. Fortunately the weather smiled on us and it was between 25 and 29 degrees for most of the weekend.
I guess the team scooter is getting a bit tired but two up there was only one place on the circuit that required brakes. A new shock wouldnâ€™t hurt either as the rear was still bouncing half way down the straight after testing a few of the kerbs. With Matt and Chris there early we had plenty of time to go round the track and select reference points for braking, turning and apex points. As one of the â€™old schoolâ€™ tracks there are plenty of suitable markers unlike some of the more modern, slightly antiseptic tracks that we have visited. In fact, I liked it so much I was itching to have a go myself but perhaps that will have to wait until next year.
Free practice was dry and warm and both riders spent the first half of the session putting the theory in to practice. Chris came in after a couple of laps after bedding in some new brake pads and to think about the lines. Very pleased with the consistent improvement during the session with each rider knocking around half a second off each lap. Matt finished in 21st place with a best of 2â€™03.972 with Chris in 33rd after putting in a 2â€™06.334 lap at the very end. Both riders were confident of going much faster in qualifying.
First qualifying was later the same day and warmer still. Both riders went out early to ensure they were at the front of the pack to make the best use of any tows from the faster guys coming past. It obviously worked as Mattâ€™s second flying lap was the quickest of the session so far putting him on the leader board for the first time. Okay, so it only stood for 2.5 seconds but thatâ€™s not the point in this company. Chris stayed out for most of the session only coming in towards the end when he was happy with the progress he had been making. Unfortunately he didnâ€™t turn off the bike the second he came in and it boiled over effectively ending the session as there was no way he could ride with a belly pan full of water. Matt also came in towards the end and after some, er, motivational advice, went out and immediately knocked 1.1 seconds from his fastest lap so far.
Matt finished first qualifying in 17th place with a best of 2â€™02.776 with Chris in 32nd after managing 2â€™05.566 early on in the session. Obviously disappointed at the bike problems Chris was never the less confident of going much faster in second qualifying the following morning. More laps of the scooter in the evening along with some advice from British SuperStock 1000 Champion Brendan Roberts, who would go on to win the European SuperStock 1000 race on Sunday, helped give the guys some ideas for the following day. Fortunately Brendan agreed with the braking and turning points that we had chosen and was able to offer some useful advice on using the throttle through a couple of corners that would make a difference next time out.
Another hot day, not bad for the last day of September, and fresh tyres saw Chris out immediately on the pace from the previous day and after half a dozen laps soon upped his game with a dramatic 2.5 second improvement to ensure Matt didnâ€™t get it all his own way. After getting a little out of shape and making a detour through the gravel Matt pitted to collect his thoughts and discuss a plan for the remaining part of the session. Immediately a second faster Matt eventually dropped to a best of 2â€™01.919 leaving him in 21st place. The improvements from Chris hadnâ€™t moved him up the grid but the 2â€™03.268 lap did put him up with the next half a dozen places to ensure a good fight come the race.
A poor start from Matt saw him in 24th place half way round the first lap with Chris right on his tail, not bad from 32nd on the grid! By the end Matt had recovered to 20th with Chris now up to 23rd place. Matt was once again chasing his nemesis, Barry Burrell, who he felt had held him up in Germany so he was determined to go one better here. Both riders making steady progress through the field with Barry just pulling ahead through the traffic giving Matt something to aim at. Chris was making good progress having dropped his lap time by another half a second. With four laps to go Matt was still chasing Barry who had opened up a gap through the traffic. Closing the gap by 0.5 seconds per lap we were on for a nail biting finish especially as both riders were now in the points.
Chris was overtaken on the penultimate lap and looked set to take back the place at the final chicane when they both almost ended up in the gravel as another rider fell right in front of him. Relieved to have actually finished although disappointed not to have taken the place back Chris finished in 22nd position with a best of 2â€™02.841! Matt made a brave move on Barry half way round the final lap to ride round the outside at the chicane and keep the place through the final few corners where he pulled away to take 14th place at the line. A best of 2â€™02.000 was close to his qualifying time but with no clear track there was nothing to be done.
More points for Matt and new found confidence from Chris. Both riders have shown they can improve dramatically on their qualifying positions this year reflecting the importance of track knowledge. With just 23 laps of practice and qualifying to learn a totally new circuit itâ€™s no surprise they keep getting faster and faster. Hopefully our 2007 programme will ensure plenty of testing time to at least be on an equal footing come the race weekend.
Team Manager – MIST Suzuki
Would like to thank main sponsors www.givemethekeys.com and Steve Jordan Motorcycles and ongoing support from B & C Express, Dyna Pro, Pipercross, RaceDays.net, S&B Commercials and Silkolene.