Portimao, Portugal – Race

Gareth Jones, 31/10/08 – 02/11/08
FIM Superstock 1000 Cup
Round 10

We headed over to Portugal for the final round of the series, with great anticipation of riding on the brand new circuit, which was certainly reported to be very exciting. With the project only 8 months in the making, and at a cost of 159 million pounds, it was an amazing circuit, although only just ready for the event.

On our arrival, there were tipper trucks, bull dozers, concreters, carpet layers, plumbers, electricians and all number of workmen still preparing the grounds and associated buildings and also completing the main road into the circuit, which wasn’t quite finished!

All things considered a remarkable feat. We got all set up but had a few minor hiccups, like no power, or hot showers for a couple of days, until all that got sorted.

We did some laps on the track on the scooter on Thursday, and I couldn’t wait to get on the bike. The track is unlike anything I’ve ridden on before with tremendous undulations, but the surface was very slippery and quite abrasive.

Friday – First Practice

First practice on Friday morning was rain soaked. Learning the brand new Algarve circuit in the rain was challenging as the surface had no rubber on it to speak of. I stayed out on track most of the session to get as many laps in as possible and making sure to keep it upright. No one wanted the statistic to be the first to go down on the new circuit!

Friday – First Qualifying

For the afternoon qualifying the track just wasn’t dry enough to be out on full dry tyres. I began the session on full wets to put a time in to qualify just incase the rain came down again. However the track was quickly forming a dry line towards the end of the session.

I pitted and swapped for a rear dry tyre. My plan was to do a few laps with a wet/dry combination and then swap to full dry tyres later in the session when the track was dry enough. Unfortunately on my second from last lap with this combination my engine developed a misfire while heading over the line to complete the lap. 2 corners later it expired in a cloud of smoke. Unlucky, but that’s racing.

Saturday – Second Practice

Morning practice was dry, allowing me the opportunity to learn the circuit in better conditions. The plan was to use our qualifying tyres from Friday afternoon and swap to a new set mid way through the session. Because the new surface was so abrasive it was wearing tyres very quickly. However with the engine blowing Friday afternoon, it dropped oil onto the rear tyre and we were unable to use it. If nothing else, the dry track time was great.

Saturday – Second Qualifying

Saturday afternoon qualifying was my only chance to better my grid position just as long as it didn’t rain because obviously no one would go faster on a wet track. So what happens, this massive black rain cloud covers the circuit, and it absolutely pelted down not long before we were due on track! Couldn’t believe it.

So I did my best to find a good rain setup in case of rain on race day. Obviously not bettering my time but finding a lot of time compared with my first wet practice time on Friday morning. I felt a bit of bad luck attributed to my 29th starting position. In fact I don’t really feel I’ve had too much go my way all through this year quite frankly.!!!

Sunday – Race

I can’t say I was particularly thrilled sitting on the grid on Sunday morning, knowing that I had a 12 lap mission ahead of me from my starting position. And it didn’t get any better. Going into Turn one on the first lap, I got completely boxed in with absolutely no where to go, ran wide and ended up dead last in 40th position.

So the red mist set in and I just had to do what I had to do from there, so I spent the whole race playing catch up, passing 18 riders to finish in 22nd position. Nothing else really to add, I did my best with what I had, and that was as good as I could do.

Ahead of me the battle raged with Brendan Roberts fighting for the lead, where he needed the win to take the championship title. Chris Seaton had an amazing race holding the lead for a number of laps before he ran out of tyre. I can truly say that I have had such a good time in the paddock this year with these two top blokes and I am very proud to be able to call them my friends.

The silly season of who goes where, is still in full swing, with lots of talk in the paddock of which riders will be with what teams. Currently we are looking at a couple of options before making a final decision, but I can say that I will definitely be back to race in Europe for the 2009 season.

Overall, 2008 has been an amazing experience and a very positive one with regard to what direction I want to take. In all honesty though, there has only been 2 occasions this season that I feel that I have had the bike sorted enough that I could actually ride to my potential. So, I feel I have some unresolved business in this paddock, and I hope that I will be able to ride next year with more confidence.

After the meeting, we had a few days in Portimao, which is the most picturesque place with a spectacular coast line. It is also one of the cheapest places we have been to this year, and one definitely worth a visit, so put that one on your calendar if you intend heading to a WSBK round next year.

Massive thanks to everyone involved in helping me ‘live the dream’ in Europe this year. I hope I can reward your continued support with more impressive results next year.

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