Assen, Netherlands – Race

Matt Bond, 25/04/08 – 27/04/08
FIM Superstock 1000 Cup
Round 2

Friday – First Practice

With the new suspension fitted thanks to Richard at Ohlins GB along with a new quickshifter thanks to Gareth at HM Quickshifters, I was really looking forward to getting out and going forward form Valencia.

The bike felt a lot smoother and more stable on turn in, but was running wide and not inspiring much confidence in the front end, plus a somewhat damp surface on the circuit wasn’t the easiest of conditions to deal with. A few quick adjustments to the rear shock solved most of the running wide problems, but the front was still not how I wanted, feeling far too soft.

Three turns of preload were added to the front to enable me to brake harder and later and also run higher corner speed. It helped, but was a turn too heavy, and thus I reverted to just two extra turns.

I managed to get in one flying lap when the track was reasonably dry, and it was a fairly improved time from the previous laps, and faster than I had managed last season, by just a couple of tenths.

Friday – First Qualifying.

A few extra tweaks to the rear shock and a new ride height setting were the big changes made for the first qualifying session. A small gearing change to help pull through the gears faster through the back section was also done as revving out wouldn’t be a problem for us.

I focused on just pushing at every turn on every lap, and slowly but surely started to improve my lap times with each tour of the 4.5km long circuit. Turning later and harder and standing up on the gas earlier and applying the throttle sooner were the main focus points. I was trying to brake later and harder also, but this area proved to show little improvement as I was already late on the anchors pretty much everywhere!

A small off and excursion down into the middle chicane was the only major moment I had all session, and I returned to the pits soon after for new rubber and a quick adjustment to the front of the bike. I was fighting to turn the bike and keep upright as the front was severely overloading and tucking mid turn, especially on the slower, tighter turns at the start of the lap.

With new tyres the problem persisted, but with only three flyers I managed to knock another second off my previous best, despite having no tow. I tried a few different lines and turn in points but with the front end not wanting to go where I needed it a major improvement in lap time was never going to happen.

Saturday – Second Practice.

After the problems from the previous afternoon the team raised the front of the bike and also made some rebounded damping changes, in hope of more traction and drive through the slow bends, and more stability mid turn from the front.

Out on track the bike felt much better, smoother, faster and easier to ride. I was only able to get one out lap and one flying lap as the heavens decided to open just as I entered the final section of the course. I immediately entered the pits as the two riders in front of me jumped off!

We softened both ends of the bike to aid grip and traction in the wet conditions, but it still took four laps to get some heat and grip into the tyres, but my confidence grew and grew with each tour of the circuit. The lap times were dropping by around 2 to 3 seconds a lap which was a real positive sign.

Saturday – Second Qualifying

Thankfully it was dry for second qualifying, and with the new front end settings I was a lot happier and confident that the bike would be good enough for us to improve the lap time from the previous sessions.

Straight away the time I had done in the previous session was bettered, and I felt a lot faster, although the rear of the bike was very unstable. It was sliding all over the place and I was out of the seat at every turn, while the whole bike was still doing a two wheel drift! It was a big problem on the slower corners, where the hard acceleration was very unsettling.

I nipped into the pits and put a new rear into the bike, thinking this would cure the problem. It didn’t. The bike was still going sideways rather than forwards, and although I made a huge improvement in time, it was through pure balls that I actually went anywhere! I was power-sliding out of all the turns, and although it was looking good, it wasn’t the fastest way, and I was fighting the bike all the way.

My session was ended early when I had a hug high-side out of the final chicane, and landed with all my weight on my right arm, popping my shoulder out of place. How I stayed on two wheels I’ll never know, but I was on the grass when I got back upright and the pain seared through my right arm at such a rate I had to tour it back to the paddock.

We needed more grip from the rear before we were going to go any faster, initial throttle made the bike step out and when upright it just smokes the rear and leaves big black lines. Once we get this sorted I’m sure we’ll start going forward.

Sunday – Race

We got the bike fairly well sorted during warm up, but my shoulder was still proving to be a problem, so although I was pushing I couldn’t really go full out. I got it strapped more heavily for the race however and was certain it would be better.

I had a couple of plans ready for the opening few turns, fortunately I only needed to put the first one in to action, that was to just go in fairly wide and hold my line through the whole of the first complex. I managed this with the obligatory elbows-out-fairing-bashing, all the way through!

I made a few places up by the end of the lap and told myself just to hang on to the group ahead for as long as possible and hoped my shoulder would hang in there. The first few laps were awesome, the bike felt good, I was holding a great pace and was starting to get into a rhythm. I was able to hold my line properly and get on the gas early for the first time all weekend, and I felt confident with the front of the bike and was able to put it where I wanted. But no sooner had I started to get going and my shoulder suddenly just went and the pain became apparent.

It was a struggle for me to brake hard and turn fast, making the chicanes exceptionally difficult and like torture to my arm and shoulder every lap. The fast sections where the circuit flowed were okay as I could use my legs to help turn the bike, but where I needed to counter-steer was where my problems lay.

I had some great battles with a few guys, and pushed as hard as I could to stay ahead of them or on their tails, and was surprised at how well I coped, despite my fitness not being 100%. I must admit I was glad to get round the last lap. Any more laps and I don’t think I’d have been able to keep hold of the bars!

To come home in 21st, equal to my best result in the class, and gain 12 places from the grid, with my problems, was a real confidence booster. I’m really happy with how the weekend went as the team and I have made some excellent progress and things are starting to look really positive for us. Now I just can’t wait for Monza, a.k.a the cathedral of speed! As long as my shoulder is sorted I reckon we can have a good qualifying and an even better race!

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