I think its fairly safe to say that the weekend didn’t exactly get off to a very good start whatsoever, in fact it got off to a terrible one, I’d arranged to arrive at the circuit by 6-30pm Thursday evening in order to get a good parking space but never even left Kent until about 5pm and I guess you’ll not need telling what the m25’s like on 5pm before a bank holiday weekend, needless to say we missed the 6-30 deadline, unbeknown to us though eventually we arrived at Lymme services to fill the motorhome with diesel only to discover a load of coolant flooding out the back of the engine compartment…this wasn’t at all good!!!
To not bore you to death and go into too much detail the long and short of it was about a 5 or 6 hour delay and we finally arrived at Oulton park about 5am Friday morning on the back of a dirty great big low loader truck, not exactly rockstar!!!!!!
Things went form bad to worse the following day when we realized the motorhome could only run for about a minute and a half before the engine stop light came on so we ended up in a little car park all on our own and once set up and sorted a further investigation found a dirty great big hole in the radiator.. just what you need to get your triple header race weekend off to a good start!!
On a positive note though first practice went pretty well, to be fair the weekend went pretty well from there on in, there were a few things we needed to do to the bike pretty much straight away but the way our bike makes its power right now seemed really quite suited to the undulations and flowing nature of the Oulton park circuit, we just needed to do a bit of work on the chassis setting and sort out a better gearing pattern to enable us to go forward.
It seemed real weird having two one hour sessions on the first day, you always spend a bit of time getting up to speed then gradually work through a few things before arriving at a point where you’ll maybe throw a tyre at the job towards the end of a session and have a dig to suss out where your at but we seemed to just keep working and working which was no bad thing because we continued to improve and ended up spending a few more laps on race tyres which I learnt last year is no bad thing..
With the first two sessions being on the Saturday it felt pretty weird knowing that nothing would happen until 12pm on Sunday morning due to the church nearby and then it was only a 15 minute session!!, we’d made some changes and just pretty much went out from start to finish to try the changes, I got into a pretty good rhythm and felt pretty cool heading into qualifying which was literally 40 odd minutes later.
I got through the first qualifying session with my first flying lap and didn’t bother heading back out as we’d start the second session on the same set of tyres, the 2nd session came and went with no dramas as did the final one which we got through to eventually qualifying 2nd for the first race on Monday, I was pretty happy with that..
For the first race of the weekend I had to start from the third row as this was taken from the fastest laps at the cancelled wet Brands hatch race and we all know how pants I was there but regardless I was feeling ok for the race, I got a decent start and settled in ok, making progress up through the field and closing in on Josh Brookes who was leading, I noticed a few times though at high rpm my bike was starting to play up a bit, like fuel starvation or something so I was pretty relieved when the race got red flagged whilst I was still P2, I wasn’t sure if we’d done enough laps for it to be declared a result so I got back to the pits as quick as I could in order to give the boys the best chance to try to rectify the problem.. unfortunately we hadn’t done enough laps for it to be declared a result so we were going to have to get back at it!!
Starting P2 I got a good start again and went 2nd into turn 1 behind Josh, I stayed there for a bit but for some reason the problem was just getting worse and worse, it was only an 8 lap sprint race so I thought I’ve got to just try to hang in there, the problem was it was getting close to a bit dangerous because my bike just kept losing power and it started getting more and more frequent, by the time the chequered flag came out I’d dropped to a totally pissed off 11th place, not what we came for at all!!!!
The boys got to the bottom of the problem straight after the race and the data showed I was actually really lucky to finish the race at all as the engine had been running so lean that I was lucky it never let go, you never know those few points might make all the difference at the end of the year so whilst it was only 5 points it was better than none at all!!
Morning warm up the following day I had a new engine in and the fuel starvation thing was fixed so my bike felt like a rocket, I ended the session 2nd on used tyres and was preying for two dry races even though the forecast wasn’t great at all.
Typically about half an hour before our race it poured hard but then eased off again so just before our race we got an 8 minute wet practice. In a funny kind of way this was exactly what we needed as we knew from Brands we had a poor wet setting then at Thruxton we got it much better but maybe here we could go another step, it certainly seemed to work as I lead the whole session before Rutter followed my around for a lap to pip me to fastest, I guess now after getting a bit of confidence in the wet I couldn’t care less if it was a wet or a dry race… not a bad position to be in ;-)
With race one coming so soon after the 8 minute practice the conditions were almost identical, basically wet with a few damp patches, I decided to go for wet tyres for a couple of reasons, one because I was fast a few minutes ago on them and two because Tommy and Josh both had them so we’d all be in the same boat, I got a great start as the lights went out and immediately went into the lead, I was pretty steady for the 1st lap but still built up over half a seconds advantage, I knew if I could keep that kind of advantage for a few laps I’d be able to hold and manage it and fortunately for me that’s exactly what happened, I tried to push but not push at the same time as just a few laps in I could see the track was drying pretty rapidly and in those conditions its really easy to destroy wet weather tyres, I knew from the grid that Rutter had gone with intermediates and I kept thinking that sly old dog he’s got this in the bag, after about 10 of the 18 laps my gap decreased for the 1st time and I thought here comes Rutter, I figured there’s no point trying to up my pace as I’ll eat my tyres and his choice will be so much quicker anyway that I’m better off staying safe and consistent, eventually with about 3 or 4 laps to go the pass came…..Chris Walker….on wets!!!! Initially I couldn’t believe it and had to take a second look, as soon as I was sure he was on wets I thought right that’s it then, I’ll just up my pace again and go with him but as soon as I did my bike started sliding around a fair bit and with about a 3 second gap behind me I thought do you know what, 2nd’s a whole load of points and 2 podium credits, a bin trying to stay with Walker will get me nothing, I opted for plan A and kicked back a bit until the end of the race to take my best result of the year, albeit a little disappointed not to take the win after leading for 15 laps!!!!
Somewhat unbelievably bearing in mind what the forecast had been for the day the final race was in full dry conditions, in some ways this was good because at least we knew roughly where we’d be plus we’d made a few little changes for the dry that should make the bike even better but in some ways I was kind of hoping for a full on wet race, when you bear I mind how crap I was in the wet race at Brands that’ll give you some kind of indication as to how much better we got my wet setting now!!
Anyway, it was dry as I said, I lined up 8th on the grid for the final race right on the inside of the track, on the start of the warm up lap I had a big look to make sure there were no wet patches still on the inside on the way into turn 1 because the track tends to hold a bit of water there and it looked dry enough so all I needed was a good start right…
As the lights went out I did get a pretty good launch, I think I exited turn 1 maybe 5th or 6th, I could see my team mate had nicked the lead and after the first few laps I was feeling pretty relaxed and getting to grips with the changes we’d made to the bike, after a couple more laps Tommy passed me and it kind of spurred me on a bit, Rat boy was still leading and had built up a bit of a gap but once I’d got passed Graeme Gowland and Josh I had clear track to try to reel Tommy and Rat boy in and it worked perfectly, as soon as I got the clear track I needed my lap times tumbled and I got going faster than I’d been all weekend lap after lap, Tommy managed to nip past Rat boy and a lap or so I did the same, before long I found myself rather quickly closing in on Tommy and by the time I’d caught him I saw his lap times had dropped off a bit, at that point there were two things on my mind, A how difficult Tommy can be to pass and B the worry of getting caught by whoever was in 3rd, it took me 3 or 4 laps to suss out where I could pass Tommy but eventually I got a run on him out of turn 1 then got alongside on the run down the avenue and managed to slip past him on the inside into Cascades, I deliberately never used all the track in order to give him somewhere to go because if I’d used my usual line it would have put us both in a bit of an iffy situation, Tommy let his brakes off a little but ran a bit deep into the left of Cascades by which time I’d got stopped and turned and fired back up the inside, I got my head down again and dropped about a second a lap that lap which gave me a bit of a gap, then a lap or so later I thought right I must check my pitboard to see how many laps are left this time round and as I came onto the start finish straight the chequered flag was waving, I thought bloody hell I’ve just won it!!!!!!!!
A victory burnout, that felt good i tell ya!!
In a way the great thing about the win was the way the bike was working for me, like everyone we obviously know roughly where the bike needs to be from a chassis setting point of view and the changes we made to the bike were going in exactly the direction we’ve been thinking about going since Thruxton where the bike also worked well, my crew chief Johnny sat studying the data and noticed some things that fell in line with my comments about the bike and both of us together agreed that we needed to change a few bits and the proof in the pudding was that final race where not only did I do my fastest outright lap of the weekend my rhythm was far stronger too. We now have a bit more of a plan going forward towards the next round at Snetterton, we started this whole chassis direction thing at the official test there ages ago, in the final session of the day after struggling I felt like we’d touched the surface of something real good so I can’t wait now to get back there an go racing.
Johnny and i discussing the local newspaper ;-)
Massive thanks have to go to my team for all their hard work over the weekend, I guess to the RAC for their help in getting us there in the first place and whilst it will seem a bit soft, to my mate Wagg who came along for the weekend to help out, his temporary repair to the motorhome got us to the garage for it to be fixed on the Tuesday after the race so thanks mate!!!!