With the winter’s preparations completed, the FS-3 Racing transporter set off south. Over 1,000 miles south in fact, as the crow flies, to Seville in southern Spain. A couple of days or so by road and ferry, if you’re unfortunate enough to have to do the driving.
The new for 2019 ‘official’ Bennett’s British Superbike Championship test programme, which marked the end of the winter testing ban, saw nearly all the superbike class entrants assemble at the Monteblanco circuit. Just to the west of Seville: 2.44 miles long and 15 turns, excellent facilities and, as it turned out, a very abrasive track surface.
A new circuit for the team and riders so the first couple of days would be all about getting familiar with the circuit and our new and upgraded Kawasaki ZX-10RR homologation specials, not lap times.
Just Danny Buchan on the superbike for day one of three, to be joined by Lee Jackson and our superstock crew on day two. Being able to get the crew together again, especially with a couple of new faces, is just as important as getting the riders up to speed. Sorting out working practices and garage routines in a more relaxed atmosphere pays dividends when it comes to handling the pressures of a full-on race weekend.
Three days at Monteblanco and then a Saturday transfer, 130 miles over the border into Portugal for two days at the magnificent Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, or Portimao as we all know it. 2.9 miles, another 15 turns but this time with some dramatic elevation changes. Sort of Oulton Park and Brands Hatch GP together, on steroids!
Here’s what happened.
Danny Buchan. Bennetts British Superbike. Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Fit, healthy and ready to go. Danny was really looking forward to trying his new bike, totally changed from last year’s model. The new Kawasaki with its special engine was producing more power, the development K-Tech suspension and Suter swing-arm were in place, various MSS Performance chassis set up parts were ready to try, so let’s do some laps.
62 laps in fact on day one. Just trying things on a full fuel load and getting used to the prodigious tyre wear, not helped by a track temperature that got into the 40s in the afternoon. Feeling comfortable, Danny did one short end-of-day performance run on new tyres and put himself in P4 on the timing screens. An encouraging start, but early days.
Day two could not have been more different. Nothing untoward in the morning, more short runs trying things. Same again after lunch when Danny went out for a long run before resting up for a couple of hours while the track temperature was very high. Another end-of-day performance run saw Danny post his fastest laps of the day, and then the red flag came out while, we thought, Danny was on an in-lap. It wasn’t quite like that as Danny arrived back in the garage on foot (which turned out to be a good thing).
At the end of the long start straight, Danny went for the front brake lever at 183.2 mph and …. nothing. One more quick pull on the lever to check and off. Danny made the instant and very brave decision to abandon ship. The circuit CCTV and onboard camera clips capture the moment. Investigations as to the cause continue, but the main thing is that Danny got away with a grazed elbow. The bike wasn’t so lucky as it ran on into the tyre wall at over 100mph. Lots of damage we could have done without, but the crew set about rebuilding the bike with a new frame, essential, and a new engine, just in case. Plus, exhaust, radiator, dash board, bodywork, and so on; you get picture.
After a big fall, it’s good to get back on to the horse as soon as possible. Late afternoon the following day we sent Danny out to run-in the new engine. 14 low speed laps to shake-down the bike and to make sure Danny wasn’t shaking. Both were fine, remarkably so.
The superbike crew packed up for Portugal encouraged by the baseline performance of the new bike and relieved their rider was in one piece.
Portimao is a riders’ favourite and an ideal circuit for testing. Huge garages and a track with a bit of everything; slow stuff, fast stuff, up and down stuff, and including some bumps and variations on a surface which was kind to the tyres. Very British, but for some reason a number of teams missed this leg of the test and had headed home.
Danny put in 134 laps over the two days. Slightly steady on day one, mainly because turn one is approached at over 180mph and has less run off than turn one at Monteblanco. Remember? Danny was understandably a tad circumspect on the brakes to start with. With a less aggressive surface and less dramatic track temperatures, longer runs on heavy fuel loads were the order of the day with rear tyres lasting up to 25 laps. At the close, Danny’s best lap was a second slower than Scott Redding’s fastest on the new V4 Ducati. That’ll do.
Danny and the team were fully up to speed on the final day. Cruising into turn one at over 185mph and lapping within a few tenths of the fastest times, including that of Honda new boy and world superbike refugee, Spaniard Xavi Fores who must have done a thousand laps around Portimao. A longer performance run at the end of the day saw Danny P7 on the time sheets. Less than 0.5 slower than O’Halloran’s final short run on new tyres.
What many people missed was the ideal lap times list. A rider’s best times through the three sectors that make up a lap. Danny P3, only just behind Fores and O’Halloran.
257 laps in total, massive crash, running at the sharp end, smiling faces. Roll on Silverstone.
Thermal underwear, damp patches on the track, biting wind. Yes, we’ve arrived at Silverstone!
The support classes test day a week or so earlier had taken place in unseasonably warm weather. It hadn’t lasted, although setting up and formal photography sessions took place the day before the test day in decent enough weather. Getting our garage fully set up for the first time to make sure it still all fits and sorting out all the demands from the organisers and sponsors for rider and bike photography is an important part of the exercise. Series title sponsor Bennetts insurance even spent an hour with us interviewing Danny, touring the garage and transporter, and going through the superbike in detail for a feature under their Bike Social banner.
The weather on the day of the test looked as though it would be okay. No such luck, early morning damp was topped up with a mid-morning shower, so we stayed in the garage. More photography and sponsor visits which actually worked out quite well as we were able to give people more time than is usually the case when we’re busy on track.
Finally, after the lunch break, Danny rolled down pitlane on the superbike on slicks to check out conditions. Air temperature 9 degrees, track 14 – still too cold and damp to press on. The Silverstone national circuit is short, 1.6 miles with two high-speed sections making for a lap record of 54.1 seconds. In the end, Danny recorded 18 laps running in the mid-55s. He was actually eighth fastest, not that it meant much.
By the final session of the day the track conditions had improved, but it was still bitterly cold. 23 laps this time with a best of 54.9 but running on the harder SC1 compound rear tyre. Just outside the top-ten and fastest Kawasaki, but only 0.5 off the best time and a couple of tenths shy of Josh Brookes on the all singing and dancing V4 Ducati.
We didn’t have enough time, or the conditions, to find an ideal set up for Danny, so there’s more to come when the real work starts when we’re back in eight days’ time for round one.
All in all, a decent pre-season testing programme. Our highly developed version of the Kawasaki ZX-10RR has worked well and Danny is very comfortable with the team and his bike.
Lee Jackson. Pirelli National Superstock 1000, Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
Lee blew away his winter cobwebs with 75 laps of Monteblanco on his first day on track on the new Kawasaki. Like Danny, he immediately noticed the increase in power and set to work with his crew tweaking engine and suspension settings.
One of the benefits of the new BSB winter test tour is that teams with superstock and supersport entries can join in with the superbikes. While that excluded most of the superstock field, eight other class riders – mostly front runners – were there to provide us with a comparison against which to monitor how Lee was doing.
Lee likes to build up his speed without pushing it. That’s exactly what he did on day two, knocking nearly 1.5 seconds off his fastest time from the previous day. Another 53 laps of data gathered despite a long afternoon break when the track temperature hit 45 degrees.
No dramas for Lee so straight into it again at Portimao. 73 laps on day one and some very encouraging race runs on full fuel and worn tyres. Whichever class you’re in, ‘confidence’ runs on low fuel and new tyres don’t really tell you much about the big picture, it just puts the tyre bill through the roof.
On the last day Lee continued long runs on worn tyres before switching to find a new tyres set up, one that would be the baseline for qualifying sessions back home. After 71 laps Lee was in the groove knocking off 1.4 seconds on the day and posting a very strong lap time. He was in amongst some of the superbikes and hitting over 180mph on the main straight – and you can buy one in the shops.
272 laps and over 1,000 kilometers in the bag with no dramas and definitely no issues with Kawasaki power! We left Portugal looking forward to seeing how things stack up when we join the majority of the superstock grid at Silverstone.
In the end, Lee’s Silverstone test day consisted of one 40-minute session due to the conditions. In total, he managed just 24 laps. However, his best lap was good enough for P10, a second off the fastest, but only 0.5 off last year’s front runner McConnell. What’s more, Lee’s time was less than a second outside the lap record. Despite the conditions and limited running, it was a strong showing for the new ZX-10RR. Let’s hope for some decent weather for the race weekend so that Lee can really show his paces in what is almost certainly the closest and most hotly contested class in the series.
Now it starts for real. All the pre-season talk and speculation gives way to discovering who’s hot, and who’s not as Round One gets underway. Who was ‘sand-bagging’ in the tests with long runs on worn tyres and high fuel loads (actually the right way to go about it for developing race pace) and who was throwing tyres at their bikes and running low fuel for time sheet glory?! It’s all part of the fun.
The final variable in the mix is tyres. At last year’s round there were issues with tyres overheating, causing blistering and in a couple of cases de-lamination. Why? Fourth/fifth gear drift through Woodcote, short start straight and in to Copse for a third/fourth gear drift up to Maggots. Rear tyre torture. Solution? Pirelli have supplied a different construction rear tyre for use at Silverstone and later in the year at that other tyre killer, Thruxton. Despite the conditions, all the signs were that they’ve got it right.
On such a short lap and in such a busy and competitive superstock field, Lee’s primary focus will be on finding a clear lap and posting a decent qualifying time. Anything outside the first two rows is always going to be a challenge.
We can’t claim that the Silverstone short circuit is one of Danny’s favourites, but we know he and the bike are competitive. A safe weekend and some decent points in the bag to get the season underway will suit us fine.
One thing we do know is that there is going to be some very close and exciting racing, so make sure you come along.
Regards. Nigel. Team Principal.