Mike Edwards, 08/02/08 – 09/02/08
With the first two of our 2008 bikes stripped down as part of the build process and two test sessions planned for March everything seemed to be going smoothly for the race team. A sudden change of plan was required when the first test was cancelled at short notice.
Our friends at Racedays.net kindly offered us space on their Almeria test but given the short notice there was little we could do to prepare the 2008 bikes in time so we opted to use the spare 2007 machine that we had bought when we needed another engine back in August last year. We fitted our spare rear sets, bodywork, exhausts and steering damper, loaded it in to the van and set off for the 1550 mile drive to the South of Spain.
We were concerned initially as to whether the test would be worthwhile as our Ohlins fork internals, braided brake lines, clip ons, etc. had yet to arrive and we still hadn’t managed to source the Yoshimura ECU and other parts we needed to build a competitive SuperStock bike. Regardless even some time on a standard bike would be useful as Matt hadn’t ridden since the last round in early October 2007 and was bound to take some time to get back up to speed.
It was the first visit to Almeria for both Matt and the team and everyone was soon running through regular process for learning a circuit, defining reference points and other drills we go through. There were plenty of well known faces in the paddock to help with the Racedays MasterClass, a more intensive level of tuition from respected racers, including Leon and Ron Haslam (Factory Honda rider in British SuperBikes and ex-500GP respectively), Jeremy McWilliams (ex-British SuperBike, ex-500GP and ex-250GP) and Iain Macpherson (ex-British SuperBike and ex-World SuperSport). The class was fully booked so we had to work on Matt’s riding approach and techniques together as a team.
Rather than being out of practice Matt took to the new circuit quickly and after some advice on a couple of corners was soon picking up speed. The format of the Racedays.net event is plenty of Open Pitlane time coupled with a qualifying session and a variety of races to keep things interesting. Initially I wasn’t keen on Matt racing but it soon became clear the only way he was going to be able to learn from the instructors was to race against them I relented albeit it under strict instructions to stay our of trouble. I have to admit to being swayed by the fact that he qualified second overall just behind Leon Haslam and 1.4 seconds faster than Jeremy McWilliams and Ron Haslam.
We sat out most of the final Open Pitlane session to conserve our last set of tyres although Matt did a couple of laps following some advice from Ron on one particularly complex section of track where he was struggling to turn the bike fast enough. After declaring himself happy with the new approach to the corner and spending some more time talking through his lines through each of the corners it was time for the race itself.
Matt got away well and led in to the first corner opening up a small lead while Leon Haslam dealt with the traffic through the first few corners. Aside from a couple of mistakes a few laps in it took Leon until lap nine to catch up with Matt and he only managed to pass when Matt backed off approaching a backmarker on the way in to turn one. With Matt on his tail and both riders struggling for grip Leon led for the final laps with the pair separated by just 0.5 seconds after the 80 kilometre race with Ron Haslam some 30 seconds back.
It was only after event that we found Matt had lost his knee slider early on in the race when he hit his knee on a kerb. He bravely continued to race on and still got his knee down along the way. By the end it had worn through all the layers of leather and also the outer skin of the protective armour. He did say it felt a bit windy down the back straight so he knew that he had probably worn all the way through but kept on going regardless! I hope we can persuade Teknic to supply another set of leathers before the start of the season.
Leon was very complimentary about Matt’s riding and declared that had he not been able to pass when he did it was unlikely that he would have had enough grip left to attempt the same move later in the race. Obviously the team were delighted and Matt was very happy at having ridden a great race and having the ability to watch and learn from Leon at such close quarters. It was an excellent start to the season and everyone is looking forward to testing the fully prepared 2008 SuperStock bike at Valencia next month.
We were even more delighted when we found out that Matt had managed to get within 2.5 seconds of the unofficial SuperStock lap record set by the 2007 SuperStock Champion, Niccolo Canepa, on his fully prepared factory Xerox Ducati 1098 in testing before the season started last year. Matt was also faster on a standard bike than the then reigning British SuperStock champion Brendan Roberts, also on a factory Xerox Ducati 1098, at the same test last year although it has to be said that Brendan didn’t manage to complete the second day of his test due to injury.
With another test scheduled with Racedays.net at Valencia in March prior to the first race at the same circuit the question everyone is asking is how much of an improvement the addition of Ohlins suspension, Pirelli SuperCorsa Pro race tyres, Yoshimura ECU, quick shifter and quick action throttle will make to those times.