Mike Edwards, 08/09/06 – 09/09/06
European SuperStock 600 Championship
Having to return to the UK after Assen meant the drive to Lausitzring took longer than we had hoped. Nestled in the far corner of Germany just a stones throw from Poland and the Czech Republic we were thankful for German Autobahns and the Mercedes Vito we use as a support vehicle during the 1,800 mile round trip. With the race truck heading straight there from Assen it was nice to have everything set up by the time we arrived. Spending the afternoon before scrutineering exploring the facilities, along with the largest grandstand I have ever seen, was interesting and after numerous laps around the circuit on the scooter we had quite a good starting point for lines and reference points around the track. A spectacular track albeit rather flat after some we have visited it appears rather like Rockingham at first although on a rather larger scale.
Having fitted a lap timer to Mattâ€™s bike at Assen which he found useful we did the same for Chris in Germany. Some times the riders have struggled to see their pit boards as there are only so many free slots in the safety fencing along the pit wall and unless you get there early it can be hard to get the best spaces. Iâ€™ve learnt itâ€™s best to steer clear of the Ducati pit wall set up as they seem to think that leaving their pit board there all day reserves the little window for them and having half a dozen shouting Italians loses itâ€™s entertainment appeal after a few minutes.
The first half of the free practice session was spent putting the theory on the best lines in to practice and both riders got to grips with the circuit fairly quickly. Chris struggled initially with what appeared to be warped discs and some suspension problems as it was the first time out on the bike since his crash at Assen but where as earlier in the season it would have ruined his session he concentrated on the lines and riding smoothly before coming in to the pits towards the end of the session. It was too late to go out for more flying laps but he still went out to try a couple of new lines in the first section of the circuit. Both riders had pushed a little hard fairly early on and had run onto the oval section of the track at one point which led to that lap time being cancelled but had made steady progress since then improving pretty much every lap.
A last minute tow for Matt dropped his times down to 1â€™51.452, down from a previous best of 1â€™52.503 the previous lap, and Chris managed to get down to 1â€™54.560 which was pleasing, especially as he had already beaten the early sector times on the lap he chose to come in to the pits. Matt finished the session in 17th place which was promising with Chris in 30th. After the session Chris felt that the brake judder had improved so put it down to a rough pad surface caused by debris from the crash. Some suspension adjustments to allow for the additional bumps on the track meant that everyone was hopeful for the first qualifying session.
Qualifying was on Friday afternoon and with only three sets of tyres to last the weekend both riders went out on the part worns they had used in free practice. Both riders were quickly on their previous pace but took a few laps to show any improvement. Chris reached his previous best mid way through the session before coming in to discuss some options on a couple of the wider turns where there seemed to be a number of possible lines. Matt, meanwhile, was also consistently able to reproduce his previous best lap but struggled to improve on it so came in to the pits also. Focussing on a clear turn point in to the first corner and driving through the next complex helped Matt to drop his times and he was soon lapping almost 0.9 seconds quicker. With strict instructions to relax and look further ahead Chris initially struggled until the very last lap when it all came together and he too improved by 0.7 seconds over the first session time.
Having noticed that we were having to adjust Mattâ€™s clutch regularly to take account of the wear it was still a surprise when he reported that the one of the reasons he was struggling in first qualifying was that the slipper clutch had started to disengage under braking and only engage again way beyond the turn in point on the back straight and in to turn one on the front straight. Not pleasant given how sideways the bike was getting with the back end trying to come round with no engine braking to slow it down. With a new set of clutch plates on hand the next job was to get them swapped over.
With a best of 1â€™50.580 Matt found himself in 22nd position, almost in the 1â€™49.xx bracket that was the aim for the session, and Chris in 31st with 1â€™53.854 – The team were a little disappointed as they felt both could have improved a lot more but valuable lessons had been learnt and both riders were positive they would improve a lot more in the afternoon. With second qualifying on Saturday the evening was spent cleaning the bikes and doing more laps around the track looking for improvements in the lines and additional reference points to help improve consistency. At least the sunset was nice although having been sunburnt during the day it was surprisingly cold at night.
After running Mattâ€™s bike on the dyno, thanks to the Arrow exhaust guys, to ensure the clutch appeared to be working and we were out for second qualifying. Matt was back in the pits after a couple of laps to let the new brake pads cool as part of the bedding in process and to report that the clutch was now fine. Both riders were then able to go out and improve immediately putting in fast laps before the majority of the grid slowed and came in to the pits. A bike had gone down in the first sector showering the track with gravel and giving Matt and Chris a few unpleasant slides. The rest of the session was a total loss for improving the lap times as despite going faster around the back of the circuit they were losing so much time due to the gravel the benefit was negated. Both finally managed to get close to their previous best on the very last lap but it was too little too late as those who already knew the track had all gone faster earlier in the session much to our dismay.
On a positive note both had improved but progress had been limited by wasting the majority of the sessions thanks to the gravel. Matt managed to get up to 26th place with a lap of 1â€™50.238, an improvement of just 0.3 seconds, and Chris was up to 30th place with a best of 1â€™51.527, an improvement of over 2.3 seconds. Amazing what relaxing and looking further ahead can do for your lap times! With both on the outer side of the grid the key was to resist the temptation to go mad in to the first corner, especially after Mattâ€™s experience at Assen, and get round the first sector before really getting their heads down. Another lesson in why itâ€™s important to qualify well when there are this number of talented riders on the grid.
It must be the British club racing backgrounds but Matt and Chris both made good starts and were 19th and 23rd, respectively, at the end of the first lap. Matt was quickly on the back of another rider but was struggling to find a way through. It later turned out that his slipper clutch had decided to stop slipping at all which made life very difficult. The extra effort when changing gear and the superior mid range grunt of the bike in front meant he was likely to stay in that position for the rest of the race. Chris was having a great race, holding his own against at least one rider who had qualified on the second row but had to do a ride through penalty for jumping the start. If only both guys could qualify at the pace they eventually run at it would be points every round and many more top ten results. I guess thatâ€™s the advantage of circuit knowledge and not having to learn the circuit from scratch each time.
Matt eventually struggled his way up to 16th place, still behind the same rider, as they both made progress through slower riders and as a couple of faster guys had to do their ride through penalties. Three laps from the end Mattâ€™s frustration and slipper clutch problems got the better of him and he ran wide letting four riders come by. In the next couple of laps he fought back to regain three of the places only for a front runner to have problems and fall back almost to within his grasp. I know we should be pleased with 18th place, and given the clutch problems we are, but when the rider that you have spent most of the race being held up by finishes in the points it is frustrating, particularly after so much bad luck recently. Chris continued his good form and battled his way up to 21st place by the flag.
18th and 21st place finishes count as a huge improvement over qualifying, 26th and 30th respectively, particularly on a new track and both improved their times again to 1â€™49.312 and 1â€™49.824! Pretty good for just 33 laps of free practice and qualifying. Both riders are getting much better at learning new circuits but for 2007 the focus really has to be on testing as much as possible, both on the circuits we will race at and making the most of every opportunity to get time on the bikes.
The team hope to contest the European SuperStock 1000 class next year on the new Suzuki GSXR1000K7 machines. The quest for sponsorship for the season is on and is vying for time with continuing the development of the 600s for the final two rounds of the series. Hopefully our run of bad luck is over and we can make some good progress at Imola and Magny Cours. With Matt in 20th position in the championship and Chris in 28th we are aiming for both to move up at least a couple of positions by the end of the year. Fingers crossed!
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.