Luckily for me I'm a little bit faster at riding my bike than I am at preparing these Blogs for you guys to read ha ha, this has been one of those I'll finish that before this or I'll finish that after that type Blogs, I'm actually sat on a flight to Bologna right now as I'm off out to Imola with Eurosport for the WSB races so I figured now would be a great time to get this boxed off once and for all lol!!!
Oulton park wasn't the kindest of circuits to me last year, I remember riding the Panigale there for the first time, we'd been to. Private test up at Knockhill after struggling with the engine character at Silverstone for round one and i thought we'd made a bit of progress at the test but the problem was that whilst we were at our private test pretty much the rest of the teams in the Championship tested at Oulton park literally the week before the race so they were fully up to speed there and with all of it's crests, undulations and cambers i quickly realised the Panigale was going to need a bit more work!!
Fast forward a little bit to the second round there last year and in qualifying i set the fastest ever two wheeled lap there, a lap that wouldn't actually be bettered this year even by me to take Pole position again but the race results weren't spectacular at all, fast forward to a couple of weeks or so ago and this year we participated in the aforementioned Oulton park test however for some reason whilst i was fast i never really had a particularly good feeling the whole day on the bike which bearing in mind how good the bike had felt in race 2 at Brands hatch i found really strange, i knew the team would go back to base with all the data we'd collected and come up with a plan though so i wasn't too stressed heading into the round 3 weekend!
One thing that was blatantly obvious heading into round 3 was my dreadful start to the season, the crash in morning warm at Donington even though i knew we were fast enough to win races meant no racing at all that weekend for me, a crap start in race one at Brands hatch Indy meant despite being literally meters away from 2nd place and a podium i ended up P4, then feeling more than 110% confident having got through to 3rd and being on the back of the leading two that i could win race 2 i ended up upside down in the gravel trap at Clearways so like i said, it was blatantly obvious i needed to win!!!!
The race weekend got off to a really good start, my mate Wag and I went out for a training ride the day before i started practice and whilst getting lost for two hours on push bikes may not sound like much fun, we had a real nice ride in some real nice scenery and managed an M&S food hall stop for breakfast, we finished the ride by lunch time and got all set up and sorted ready for the coming weekend.
Free practice one went real well, the bike felt quite a bit different to the test the previous week, i only used one pair of tyres choosing not to fit a new rear at the end of the session and even so ended up just a 10th of a second off the pace, we had work to do for sure but i was more than confident that with a new tyre i could've improved the lap time considerably..
For free practice two i managed to do exactly that knocking a chunk of time off of my FP1 time to go P2, we'd tried a few things setting wise to improve the feeling on the bike and were making progress but after the session we sat down together to make a proper plan for FP3, as always it was all about compromise but that said Giovanni felt we could still improve overall so i looked forward to the following day and laying it on the line for qualifying!!
FP3 came and went, a few more changes again to the bike trying to achieve the best combination of braking stability and mid corner feel and turning, Oulton is always difficult for this, there's a few areas where you need good braking stability for instance down into the Hizzys and into the last corner but that braking ability generally costs you front feeling and at places like Cascades, Island or druids for instance that's the last thing you need!!! We made a bit of progress and ended the session P1 but for some reason everyone's times were real slow, pretty much a second off where I thought we should be, that said P1 is P1 right!!!
Throughout all of the 3 qualifying sessions we continued chipping away with the bike, I got the right hump a couple of times in the sessions with riders blatantly riding slowly on line looking back for fastest riders to get a tow from and in the first two sessions never got the best out of either myself or the bike because of it, Q2 especially I was fuming but then the weather looked like it was coming in for the final Q3 session which was declared an 8 moon open session rather than the super pole format because of the likelihood of rain.. I set off down pit lane and kind of ended up following Christian Iddon out onto the track but then figured I could hardly moan about other riders looking for tows then go out in Q3 and follow someone else around so I went fairly steady on my out lap to allow a decent gap but it very nearly but me on the ass as when I came around to start my lap it had started to spit with rain, I pushed as hard as I could and did a decent ish lap but I was a tiny bit hesitant in a couple of places as I knew worst case I was P8 and that was a whole lot better than being upside down, the rain continued throughout the lap and as I crossed the line I looked down at my lap time on my dash and it said 1.34.0, the fastest I'd been all weekend, I did a steady lap after to see if the weather would clear and after the 2nd lap I could see I had 0.6 advantage over everyone for Pole, the spots of rain continued until the last lap but by then I figured there was no way 7 or 8 riders would find .6 so I cruised back to the collecting area to take my first Pole position of the year!!!
There's not really a great deal to say about morning warm up, it was wet, ish, I did an out lap on wets and immediately while some parts of the track were quite wet a lot of it was damp at worst, I pulled straight back in to the pits after my out lap and immediately changed to intermediates which are basically just last year's compound slicks with light tread cut into them in order to generate sooner movement and therefore heat and headed back out, I finished the session and did my practice start then like everyone else including the crowd I just sat and waited for the sun to come out!!!
The track was dry for race one which was perfect, to be fair the track temperature wasn't as high as it had been at points throughout the weekend but numbers wise we were just in the zone where we knew our rear tyre choice would work. I got a good start and my plan went perfectly, Leon was out front setting a decent enough rhythm so I simply sat behind for a bit conserving my tyres ready for a push towards the end of the race, a good few laps in Leon sped up a bit and tried to stretch a gap but I felt fine and was happy to go with him, we had a bit of a gap already over 3rd so I figured let him do the work for now then I'll push for the last few laps to fight for the win, it's funny looking back now at how that race went, kind of reminds me a little of Brands hatch race 2, I was dart there so comfortable at Brands convinced I had the race won then next minute I was upside down, well, at Oulton a similar scenario popped up, there were parts of the track that Leon was a bit better than me but there were lots of parts where I was definitely faster but about 6 laps from the end I started having a few little issues making my parts of the track count, it wasn't so much exit grip I was struggling with more rear end corner entry grip, this got worse over the next couple of laps and with my current championship campaign being a total disaster and with a big gap to 3rd place I had two options, either push on and risk falling down or this time around take a 2nd place, 20 points and 3 podium credits, I opted well and truly for the 2nd option and ride her home nice and steady to get some decent points on the board for the first time this year!!!
Race two definitely played into my hands a little, track temp was up, the sun was shining and I felt good, I got an half decent start and ran 4th or 5th from my row two start place for a couple of laps but I quickly started making moves, I passed Jason O'halloran, then Leon then finally James Ellison then settled very quickly into my rhythm, after about 7 or 8 laps is broken the group behind me and had a second or so lead, I concentrated really hard on hitting all my markers and making no mistakes and then on one lap with about 5 laps to go I noticed a Marshall holding his arms out wide apart and thought oh no, what's wrong, that lap my pitboard went from +1 to what I thought said +.7, I thought right, up the pace a bit, they're catching you but then there Marshall did the same thing as I passed again, this time round I noticed my pitboard actually said +7, knowing I hadn't taken 6 seconds out of the group in two laps I figured something had gone on but had no idea what so I just carried on hitting those markers, lapping consistently counting down the laps, eventually I crossed the line to take the chequered flag and my first win of the year so I was absolutely made up with life!!!
It's funny you know how that one position completely alters a weekend, 2nd was a good result in the first race, it have me podium credits and a lump of points but winning's winning, it's what I do, it's what I love, it's what I strive for every single race, it's almost like a drug, I was so happy to get my fix!! My boys worked as hard as ever that weekend, in fact although I tell them I'm grateful for their efforts all the time I actually semi drifted away at one point in my garage over the weekend watching them work, if they get told a million times to strip my bike to bits they'd happily do it 2 million times, there's never a problem, never an issue and I sat watching them thinking to myself those boys are the best, were win together and we lose together but I know certainly from my side that's bang on but just sitting back for one minute workout observing I could see it for them too, I'm the lucky one that gets to play on a great bike, gets the glory, gets the TV time etc but our team is exactly that so a massive thanks to Giovanni, Sam, Kev, Chris and Jack, in no particular order, you boys are mega as are the rest of the PBM team.
Enough soppiness now lol, hopefully that weekend was the start of some better luck for us, we've got some time off now for the break for the Northwest 200 and the TT but I plan to come back even fitter and stronger when we get going again, we have a test up at Knockhill soon and some other exciting stuff is happening very soon too, I'll keep you all posted on that very shortly, for now though I need to order a coffee as the air hostesses are at my row lol, catch you soon guys and girls, take it easy, Shakey