Mike Edwards, 06/10/06 – 07/10/06
European SuperStock 600 Championship
The final round at Magny Cours had come around very quickly. It seemed only a couple of months ago that we arrived at Valencia for a couple of days testing the week before the first round of the series. Difficult to believe that Matt had never ridden a 600cc bike before that test and Chris was embarking on his first full season in the SuperStock 600 class. It was always going to be emotional with everyone getting together for what could be the final time but with a weather forecast that wasnâ€™t looking promising and a temperature a good 15 degrees colder than Imola the week before it was going to be a challenge for everyone.
Chris has raced at the circuit once before when he finished in 19th place as a wild card at the tail end of 2005. Matt wasnâ€™t due to arrive until the early hours so wouldnâ€™t see the track until he was actually out for the first practice session! Chris and I took the opportunity to do a few laps on the scooter to see the circuit and define reference points ready for the morning. Having to give up after three laps due to the extreme cold didnâ€™t bode well nor did the dark clouds rolling in, especially when it rained for most of the night.
The morning was cold and damp although as free practice wasnâ€™t until midday the track had time to dry before the SuperStock 600 class had time to venture out. Matt was bedding in new brake pads so did three gentle laps and came in to the pits to consider his lines. Both riders opted to build up the pace slowly with Matt taking the opportunity to get a tow from as many faster riders as possible to help learn the track. Whilst Chris was concentrating on his reference points Matt was clearly benefiting from the experience of those around him and by the end had progressed to 17th place with a best lap of 1â€™52.408 – Still 0.442 seconds above his ideal time (adding together his best sectors throughout the session). Chris was also happy with his progress although disappointed to end up in 26th place despite a best lap of 1â€™53.366, some 0.25 seconds faster than his fastest lap here in 2005. There was still some way to go as Chris had set an ideal time some 0.594 seconds faster showing promise for the later sessions.
First qualifying was later the same day and with the temperature dropping the lap times were obviously going to improve. Both riders made a good start and posted their best times four or five laps in to the new session. Matt was struggling with getting clear track and despite the rear tyre going off significantly in the remaining laps he was consistently between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds down on his best time which was a real shame as having been 9th fastest when he set his best dropped to 16th by the end of the session. Having improved to 1â€™51.757 was very promising and with more laps on the scooter that evening things were looking good for second qualifying on Saturday. Having put in a good time early on Chris spent most of the session working on certain corners and improved to 25th place with a 1â€™53.023 lap.
A few freezing laps on the scooter later that evening were cut short by workers needing to paint lines and logos around the track so we were left with some ideas for both riders to work on in second qualifying. After more heavy rain overnight the track was wet first thing and still rather damp when the SuperStock 600s ventured out for their session. With many people nervous about pushing hard in the wet the Brits were in their element, well, at least they were used to the conditions! Matt started off second fastest and maintained fourth place for much of the session as the track continued to dry. Finishing the session in 12th place with a best of 1â€™53.757 Matt was confident he could improve if the conditions were the same for the race.
Meanwhile Chris was steadily building his confidence and with the first sector of the track now dry he pushed on putting in a series of quick laps ending the session with a 1â€™53.172 putting him in 7th place for the session. Not sure how he managed get within 0.15 of his dry time in the damp although I suspect the new turning points we defined the previous evening helped as did making sure he was looking far enough ahead in the tighter turns. Needless to say he was bouncing up and down hoping for rain come the race.
Starting in 16th place meant Matt would be on the inside for the first turn which wasnâ€™t ideal but at least the weather was dry albeit getting cooler once again. Matt made a good start only to get boxed in on the inside and had to watch all his hard work disappear as lots of other riders came by. Chris was in a similar position but had held back to see how things unfolded in the first turn. Both set about making up places in the first lap and with some brave overtaking crossed the line in 12th and 23rd place, respectively.
By the second lap Matt had overtaken another rider and with his new found focus Chris had both overtaken several riders and benefited from the misfortune of a three others who went down together just in front of him to move up to 17th place. Matt appeared to be struggling to improve his times and even when a couple of faster riders came by he was unable to stay with them. He was still catching the group ahead whilst Chris was averaging a rider a lap as he ploughed through the field at a pace most could not match. By lap seven Matt was up to 11th and Chris was in 14th place and gaining rapidly on the group in front, including Matt. As another rider went down in front of Matt requiring avoiding action Chris was taking another place and could now see Matt up ahead.
With no more laps there was nothing Chris could do to improve on the 2.5 second deficit on Matt but taking his best placed finish of the year in 11th place with Matt in 10th was just the finish the team needed. As the top privateer Suzukis to finish almost together was an excellent achievement. Matt put in a fastest lap of 1â€™51.101 whilst Chris blew that away with an excellent 1â€™50.594 – Who knows who would have finished ahead given another few laps but Chris had more than doubled his points tally to 9, finishing the championship in 30th position. Matt now had 21 points putting him in 17th overall and, if you exclude those that had competed in the series before, 5th â€™Rookieâ€™ in the class. Iâ€™ll repeat that, someone who had only ridden a 72 hp Suzuki SV650 until the week before the first round had finished 5th â€™Rookieâ€™ and 17th overall in his first year!
All in all it has been an incredibly hard year with everyone in the team going above and beyond the call of duty but the results have spoken for themselves. I am confident that were both riders young enough to compete in the class in 2007 I am convinced Chris would finish in the top ten and Matt would easily be in the top six. Both riders have had their share of bad luck, with Matt being punted off in the first couple of turns at two different tracks only to rejoin in last place on both occasions, and Chris being punted off at Assen and his premature clutch failure at Valencia hurting his chances.
We have all learned a great deal from the infrastructure and backing required to compete at this level to the importance of testing between the rounds to learn the bike and keep up to speed. Both riders are now too old so will have to move in to the SuperStock 1000 class next season if funds allow us to return. We also have had interest from other young riders who wish to race with us in the 600 class. Fingers crossed that we can raise enough sponsorship to return in 2007 where we hope to once again be the largest all British team in the paddock and, if the Foggy Petronas team are absent, we will be the largest British team overall!
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.