A Winter’s Tale. Five Months Preparing for a Test.
The 2019 Bennett’s British Superbike Championship started for FS-3 Racing as the flag dropped on the final race of 2018 at Brands Hatch. A cold mid-October afternoon.
Five months later, Mediterranean warmth in mid-March. This week our superbike and superstock 1000 machines will be rolling down the pitlane at the Monte Blanco circuit in southern Spain, joining the official five-day BSB pre-season testing trip. Three days at Monte Blanco and then a hop over the border into Portugal for two days at Portimao.
Here’s what happened in between. Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way.
End of Season Distractions and Rider Selection.
After Brands, Lee Jackson had a run out on a No Limits track day at Mallory Park to prepare for the Race of the Year meeting and to get some early running on K-Tech’s radical new rear suspension unit design. The races were good fun, no real pressure and lovely autumn weather. Meanwhile, Danny Buchan was over in Ireland competing in the Sunflower Trophy races at Bishopscourt.
Rider selection is always a bit of a thing. Rumour, speculation and negotiations. Fortunately, we were able to quickly and easily agree that Danny and Lee would be with us for a second year. Danny, determined to make up for just missing out on a Superbike Showdown place and Lee, hungry for more superstock 1000 podium visits and a strong championship challenge. They were on stage at the NEC Show in November to confirm our plans for 2019.
With more help and support from our friends at No Limits, the team headed down to Spain for three days at Cartagena. Danny was taking his turn on the new K-Tech suspension and trying a few other things we wanted to check out before Christmas.
With the BSB series organisers declaring a testing ban from 1 January until the start of the new official test arrangements in March, that was it for a while.
We were able to return the compliment for Mark Neate and the No Limits team in January by attending their race series awards night at the National Motorcycle Museum, with Danny handing out trophies. A good night out and a clear demonstration of the place No Limits has established in the track day and club racing world in the UK.
After one more PR-day out in February at the London Show when Danny and Lee were on duty at the Kawasaki stand, it was all eyes on Spain.
When we entered BSB in 2016, FS-3 Racing were running the Paul Bird Motorsports Kawasakis that carried Shakey Byrne to so many wins. We’ve quietly developed the bike over the last two years as Kawasaki have evolved the ZX-10RR, but nothing radical. 2019 was going to be a bit different.
There was always going to be a lot to do after Kawasaki announced a limited-edition ZX-10RR homologation special. More particularly, some important engine developments to help Jonathan Rae defend his run of four World Superbike Championships. Titanium conrods to reduce crankshaft inertia coupled with finger-tappets to reduce friction in the valve-train, both allowing the engine to spin 600 rpm faster. Adding on the BSB allowance of +750 rpm over standard would mean a new rev limit of 14,850. With the Ducati V4 on the way and an all new BMW too, every little helps!
We really enjoy being a small part of Team Green, working with Ross Burridge and the team at Kawasaki UK.
The new bikes arrived from Kawasaki UK in the run up to Christmas and once they were stripped of all the road gear, one of the engines was out and straight off to Cumbria to the workshops of our engine tuner Frank Wrathall Developments. After an initial assessment of the cylinder head-porting the head was parcelled up and sent off to Vance and Hines in the United States for air-flow diagnostics and some minor modifications to help the superbike engine. Under the rules, the superstock engine can’t be altered.
Once the cylinder head was back from the States, the engine was re-built with the addition of Kawasaki race kit camshafts and valve springs and run up on the dyno. The actual power output is a trade secret. Let’s just say Danny will have to hold on (very) tight….
Three full spec superbike engines prepared and ready to go. Thanks Ian.
To suit the new engine, Akrapovic spent the winter developing a new exhaust system for KRT, the Kawasaki world superbike team. As we were building up Danny’s superbike the news came through that our sponsor and Akrapovic importer Performance Parts had negotiated for us to have access to the new system on a UK exclusive basis. We’ll need to make a few ‘tweaks’ to fit around the swing-arm we use but the benefits of such a special bit of kit should be worth it.
Mostly hidden from view is a military grade wiring loom made to our layout by Mototronics, connecting the MoTeC control unit and dashboard with the engine and a host of sensors – gear-change cuts and blips, wheel-speed, suspension movement and so on.
Keeping the engine cool will be aided by the excellent hand-made water hoses supplied by Samco Sport. The moving parts will continue to be protected with the special oils provided by Fuchs Silkolene.
There’s less to do in preparing a superstock 1000 machine but fine details make a huge difference. With that in mind, we’re delighted to have agreed a tie-up with Nick Morgan and MSS Performance, renowned Kawasaki tuners. We worked with Nick in 2018 on our Ninja 400 project and have always been impressed by the engineering and electronics skills and experience he brings to the party. More of that later.
After the initial build, Lee’s bike spent a couple of days at MSS on the dyno for running in and mapping. With a still ‘tight’ engine the power output figures were impressive. Think superbike level from three or four years ago!
Suspension and Chassis.
All the power in the world isn’t much good if you can’t use it.
When we inherited the Shakey bike it was running on K-Tech suspension that had served him and the PBM team so well. We’ve stuck with them since and this year we’re benefitting from a ‘factory’ deal with K-Tech which will see FS-3 and two other superbike teams having exclusive use of the next generation forks and rear units that K-Tech have spent a couple of years developing and which follow the latest Moto GP technology.
They say if it looks right it is right, and the K-Tech components certainly pass that test. Both bikes will be using the new rear unit. Danny and Lee were impressed when they tested the previous version of the new shock at the end of last season. A winter of development work – including significant weight saving – will have moved things on again. The superbike will be running all new forks and the superstock bike – which has to use its original external components – will have the latest development internals.
More help from Nick Morgan, this time on superbike chassis geometry and adjustability. Through Nick’s links with Suter in Switzerland, we’ve had swing-arms made to his dimensions. More exquisite engineering. We’re also going to be using MSS Performance fork yolks and triple clamps to keep the K-Tech forks where we want them.
Away from the hardware but to make it work to its optimum, we’ll have both a K-Tech and an MSS technician in our garage as part of the crew.
Other than one small area of additional bracing on the superbike frame carried out by Pristine Welding, the final important piece of the jigsaw is the alloy fuel tank. What you see on top of the superbike is actually a carbon fibre cover. Below that lurks a fuel tank, made by Sergeant Fabrication and designed to carry enough fuel for a race distance in the available space, but in a way that places the weight in the most advantageous position. As well as the original PBM tank, we have a new version which will spread the weight in a different way as the fuel is burnt off. Something else to try – as fuel load has an important bearing on the balance of the bike and, by extension, tyre wear.
Once again, the superstock bike has to remain ‘standard’ meaning the frame can’t be altered and it has to use the original tank.
Wheels and Brakes
With help from Performance Parts, in 2018 Japanese manufacturer Galespeed designed and made bespoke wheels for us which both save weight and provide a neater fitment. Yet another thing of beauty!
Stopping the wheels turning is the job of a braking system which is made up of HEL Performance lines, SBS pads and Brembo calipers and t-drive rotors. We use Galespeed levers, which are definitely worth a closer look, and an adjustable PMR thumb brake for Danny on the superbike.
A Kawasaki race kit gear cluster, connected to the rear wheel through AFAM chainwheels and a ThreeD by RK Moto GP chain from Performance Parts, complete the drive-train.
These are all important. Beautifully made ProMach footrest kits (and Mick also looks after our little machining jobs). FIM approved engine, chassis and bodywork protectors from our good friends at GB Racing. Loads of titanium fasters and a beautiful engine bolt set from ProBolt. Plus, the bit you see most of on the superbike, super strong and lightweight Kevlar bodywork and seat unit by Speed Fibre – the very stuff KRT use for Johnny and Leon’s bikes.
The bodywork is painted to our design by our mate Adie and the stickers are lovingly crafted and produced by Katrina at Duo Signs.
Pirelli are the series tyre manufacturer again for both classes. Tyre construction and rubber compounds are dark arts which we all struggle to fully understand. There are new versions for the 2019 season, aimed at improving longevity as power outputs climb and lap times drop. Something else to test.
The critical task of conditioning the tyres ready for the track is handled by warmers and control units supplied through Kippax, all snug on the tyre rack in our ‘tent’ which creates a consistent environment. It’s draughty in the back of the garage at Silverstone in April….
Workshop and Crew.
No one is perfect, but a team can be.
As you’ll have gathered, there’s rather more to building race bikes than meets the eye. It all takes place in workshop facilities provided by my partner-in-crime Darren Fry (the F in FS-3) at his factory in Coventry, Clarke & Strong.
Our full-time technicians Dave Parkes and Matt Llewelyn bring years (and years) of experience to the spanners. Together they turn hundreds of parts into two beautifully finished and turned out bikes. Dave oversees the garage when we’re at the track and Matt acts as Danny’s crew chief.
On a race weekend they’re ably assisted by Jason our electronics engineer who we borrow from JLR and James our K-Tech technician. Then there’s Chris who looked after Jake Dixon’s bike last year, Tom from MSS who will be looking after Lee’s bike set up and preparation with another Tom who works at Darren’s, plus our new truckie and tyre man Richie.
Moving the race transporter is courtesy of Birmingham based OnPoint Logistics UK who provide a tractor unit and cover its running costs. Many thanks Anthony.
This is where Anne and Kirsty come in. Anne is our team co-ordinator and business secretary. You wouldn’t believe the amount of back-office work that goes in to running the team. Organising travel, accommodation and feeding, looking after the accounts and all the race meeting organisation. There’s a particularly important job sorting out all the insurance we need to cover a whole range of assets, liabilities and risks. We get great help and support from Simon at Integro who makes sure we’re properly covered.
Anne also has an important job linking up with all of the trade supporters you’ve been reading about and looking after our commercial sponsors – RH Logistics, Microlease (part of the ElectroRent group), Raised Modular Flooring (RMF) and Vistar Qualifications.
Kirsty works in Darren’s office and does a great job overseeing website design and content and managing our social media which includes keeping everyone up-to-date during race weekends. We always enjoy her end of season round up video compilations. Kirsty is also a dab hand at operating the embroidery machine in Darren’s factory which we use to finish off our team clothing, which comes courtesy of Kawasaki.
We do the bikes, Danny and Lee look after themselves, in theory.
As well as the obvious fitness training and careful dieting, Danny and Lee practise reaction training using the Zing Performance brain training programme. Danny is also getting some extra support from a sports psychologist and he’s had an in-depth consultation with Dr Stefaan Vossen at Core Clinic to straighten out his joints and make sure everything is working properly after his big crash at Oulton Park.
Finally, we’re off Testing.
If it isn’t ready, it’s too late now. The bikes, equipment and crew are on their way to Spain
Good luck to FS3 Racing for the season and If you see the truck on the road make sure you give it a wave!
Report by Nigel Snook.