Well, somewhat strangely here we are, the final round of the 2017 BSB Championship, I honestly have no idea how it’s come around so quickly, seriously it feels like just 5 minutes ago we were looking forward to round one at Donington and here we are at round 12 already, bloody hell, where did that go!!!
It’s as you probably all know been a really tough past few rounds for me and whilst after every round I hit my reset button and really look forward to going to the next race having trained harder or done something new to improve my approach for the next meeting hoping my luck would change for whatever reason we just haven’t been able to turn things around especially in the first two Showdown rounds meaning I’m heading into this weekend 33 points behind the leader, this however has done two things for me, it’s put me in a happier place, you see the reason being that I’m not stupid enough to think winning all three races this weekend is a given but I’m also not stupid enough to think that if Leon finishes in all three races with no problems I’m going to outscore him by 33 points, now I know I can approach this weekend and just try to enjoy it, you see the thing is ever since I’ve been old enough to remember all I’ve ever wanted to be is a motorbike racer and that dream came true so why not try to enjoy living that dream now, for me there’s not so much pressure now, the pressure is all on Leon, I want to just ride my bike, enjoy the weekend and try to finish the season on a bit of a high, there’ll be lots of local support for sure and hopefully I can put on a great show for you all, hey if and it’s a relatively big if we can win 3 races that’ll be 20 wins at the Brands hatch GP circuit, it may or may not secure another title but if I pull it off that’ll be no mean feat!!!
In typical BSB fashion of late the first free practice started a little bit damp, we never went out initially as the lap times were 10 seconds a lap off but as the track started drying up a bit I headed out and immediately went P1 which was nice, we had to use the hard rear tyre as the track being damp and pretty cold it just wasn’t up to temperature just yet for my preferred soft tyre, I pitted during the session then headed back out at the end improving my time on the same tyres and ended up P1 so it was a good start to the weekend!
FP2 was dry, not quite the 20 odd degrees that had been forecast but dry nonetheless, we started the session on the morning’s tyres and went out and did another 5 or 6 laps to take them pretty much to race distance and then pitted for a new front and rear, I did a warm up lap then got my head down and very quickly on my flying lap I caught up with Dan Linfoot, as we exited Stirlings to head down towards Clearways Dan was riding pretty much down the middle of the track so I went to the left side of him thinking he was maybe going to pit, at this point I was well under and I mean well under my session best so far but as we got to Clearways Dan moved over leaving me nowhere but the white line to go, fortunately I stayed on and upright and it was no fault of Dan’s but it certainly woke me up!!! I got a few more laps In and did a good little run before pitting just as the red flags came out, with 7 minutes or so to go we put a new rear tyre in and improved ever so slightly but regardless it was enough to stay P1 so I was happy enough with the days work, sure there were some areas to improve and I was hopeful of getting things dialled in ahead of free practice 3 and qualifying as obviously being a triple header we would have a race on the Saturday afternoon!!
Saturday morning started very well, we began the session on the tyres from the day before to put race distance on them and pace wise we were real strong, my 20th lap was pretty good to be fair so I was happy, we then put in a new front and rear and headed out to try a bit of a run on new tyres to see where that put us before finally sticking in a soft rear tyre towards the end of the session and going within a whisker of my own outright lap record from back in July so now next up was qualifying, as always it was going to be important to be on the front row but I felt calm and confident we could do a good job.
Q1 came and went, we used an old front tyre and new rear and went straight into the 24’s and I was the only one to do that so we topped that session, then in Q2 it was a bit weird as I did 2 laps but the lap timer on my bike had frozen so I didn’t know how fast I’d gone but as it turned out it was another 24 only this time a 24.8, that topped Q2 too so I knew that I was going to have to pull something out of the bag in Q3..
I always head out onto the track last in the sessions, it’s something I’ve always done and in Q3 it really worked in my favour, I headed out on new front and rear tyres and was just getting towards the end of the lap when I saw a red flag so I hadn’t pushed the tyres at all yet the guys who went out first were probably 3/4’s of the way around their first flying laps, I pulled straight back into the pits and sat and waited for the session to be restarted.
Once again I headed out last on track, did another warm up lap and then bang, I got into it, that lap was one of those laps when pretty much everything just came together perfect, I never once looked at my dash during the lap but I knew it was fast, very fast in fact and as I crossed the line I glanced down at my dash and saw 1.24.1, half a second under my own and the outright fastest ever lap on two wheels around the GP circuit… I never even bothered trying for another lap after that lol, Pole position but half a second advantage, I’d take that!!!
So race one then, conscious of the fact I got the best start I’d ever got in the first race at Assen but that it had come from a complete and utter fluke as the bike was starting to try to creep forward on the grid I left it pretty late putting the bike in gear to minimise the amount of time I’d have to sit there waiting for the lights to go out, well, typically I put the bike in gear checked my rpm on the dash and as I looked up the lights went out, I dumped the clutch and the front wheel went skywards meaning I got a terrible start, I settled in around 6th I think for the first lap then got up to 4th and sat there quite content but very shortly after there was a red flag due to a bunch of guys going down on some fluid from Dan Linfoot’s Honda.
For the restart I got a better start and was initially maybe 4th having been made to start 4th from the two laps we’d completed from the first part of the race, by lap 2 I was in the lead and basically I stayed there until the end, I tried mid race to make a bit of a break from the group and just started eaking away but I missed a gear down Pilgrims drop and the half second gap I’d built up disappeared again, with 5 or so laps to go though I had another little push and this time managed to get the gap and hold it to the line.
Taking 14 points out of Leon in that race was a fantastic way to start the weekends races and winning for the first time since July was even better, I felt calm and under control in the race but there was still two more even more important races tomorrow so a good nights sleep and regroup ready for Sunday was the plan of attack!!
Well like all plans things sometimes don’t work out, I went to bed that night and barely slept at all, I don’t really know if it was excitement, happiness, anticipation, pressure or what it was but by 7 ish I was wide awake..
Morning warm up was damp and with nothing to try or no point in risking anything in iffy conditions I literally just had a little poodle around staying safe and thought right come on mother nature you’ve got two hours to get this weather sorted!!
Fortunately for me and well just about everyone else she did just that, mother nature that is, the temperature was good, track dry, skies clear and everything else was in place for a good race. I got a fairly sensible start and opted for the same sort of approach as race one the day before, I got to the front fairly quickly and decided I was far better off there leading than risking getting caught up in anyone else’s battles, to be honest the race seemed real long, it’s always hard leading from the front as you want to set a pace fast enough to stay there but at the same time you need to leave enough in reserve that should you need to up the anti a little towards the end of the race you still have some tyre left to be able to do so, everything was going pretty much to plan until about 3 or 4 laps from the end of the race when for some unknown reason my blipper and quick shifter started playing up, it was especially bad timing as I’d just started breaking the group behind and had about a second or second and a half lead but the blipper was causing me big problems, basically when I needed to back shift one gear I was going into some corners and the bike would do the initial backshift 1 gear but then it started doing like 3-4 extra blips of the throttle pushing me into the corners a little bit too fast so I had to start backing off a little bit earlier and anticipating the blips, luckily enough for me I pulled it off and managed to win the race again but the best news and news that I never knew until I took the chequered flag was that Leon had finished way down in 10th so now after just two races I’d taken 31 points out of his 33 point advantage, basically whoever lead the other over the finish line in race 3 would become the 2017 BSB Champion, I was feeling pretty damned confident but at the same time this is BSB and as we know all too well anything can and probably will happen!!!!
To say that I was feeling a little bit tense on the grid for race three of the weekend was a bit of an understatement, sure things had swung my way a little, I mean I was starting on the front row and Leon on the 4th or 5th row but there was still one long hard race to go before we knew which way things were going to pan out, getting a good start which is never my most consistent of strengths was going to be super important as was holding my own for a lap or two until the race settled down a little.
I got a semi decent start as the lights went out and went into turn one in about 4th or 5th, somewhat amazingly though coming out of Druids Leon overtook me and from that point in time I knew things were all good, Leon being one place in front was like the perfect case scenario for me, the lap times we were doing whilst I was following him were around half to three quarters of a second slower than I’d done in both race one and race two so I was super comfortable sat in behind him, I figured right away that his pltboard would continuously read +0 “Shakey” and that would cause him to try harder and harder to get away from me but with me feeling so comfortable pace wise I figured all him trying to do that would achieve would be to destroy his rear tyre so I thought just sit there, let him use his tyre up and then at mid to three quarter race distance I’ll pass him and really put my head down then try to get a couple of others between us and that’s that, job done….. what I wasn’t expecting however was him to have the mother of all crashes at Hawthorne corner, being one place behind him I saw it all unfold, he went in a little bit wide then just bailed out, I’ve been off there a few times and it’s never nice and literally all I could think of was oh no, I hope he’s ok, you’ll probably read that and think yeah whatever, all you could think of was right that’s it, the Championship’s done but honestly I didn’t, not one part of me, I mean this was the guy I I was meant to be fighting for a Championship with right there, how could we fight when he’d gone down so badly!!!!
I think at that point there were 9 laps to go and for probably a good 4-5 of those 9 I was all over the place, making small mistakes, worrying about finishing it was like my whole focus for the race i.e. racing Leon had gone and with it had my focus too, eventually I got my shit together and relaxed a little bit and started going a bit better again, it’s kinda funny as every time I went into Paddock hill bend and I saw a shadow up the inside I literally sat up a little to let whoever it was through, at this point in time I’d done my job and didn’t need to be getting involved in anything unnecessary, I knew I could drop back to like 10-12th even if Josh won the race and settled nicely in 6th or 7th and basically just rode the bike home to the end of the race, that feeling crossing the line to successfully defend my title for the first time ever in my career and take title number 6 was all a little bit overwhelming, I had to stop at the bottom of paddock hill to get myself together a little bit, it was like I’d done the undoable, sure I was confident I could win races this weekend but honestly even I didn't think that alone would be enough, my mindset was totally focused on winning races and at least finishing the season on a little bit of a high, not winning two then taking the Championship too, what a feeling, WHAT A FEELING!!!!!!!!
After all the photos, TV stuff etc that follows I finally got back to the Motorhome about 19-30pm and the gutting thing was Petra and the kids had to go before I even got back so I didn't even get a chance to share the moment with them, sure we saw each other on the finish line but that was with hundreds of people around us, that special moment together as a family after it all never got to happen.
I took the majority of the team out for dinner that evening and without getting absolutely off my rocker I did consume a fair amount of Champagne, we had a great dinner that eventually was made even greater when Ducati WSB/Superbike boss Ernesto Marinelli picked the bill up for it even though I was meant to pay lol!!!!
There wasn’t much of a party that night by the time we got back to Brands but we spent a bit of time with the Eurosport guys and just hanging around in general so it was a decent enough evening and I knew I wouldn’t have a banging hangover in the morning lol!!!
There’s so so many people I could thank right now, obviously, but typing out some and leaving out others would only cause hard feelings so the people who know, know, I actually think the right thing to do right now is to wish Leon a speedy recovery, to wish you all a great winter and to look forward myself to letting this title sink in as slowly as possible, I’m so so happy with this result, defending a Championship was something I was desperate to do, next year won’t be easy at all but that part of my career to do list has now been ticked!!
Right enough, I’m off to enjoy this now, well for just under a week anyway as I’m down in Jerez on site for WSB commentary with Eurosport next weekend, no peace for the wicked lol, take it easy guys and girls, Shakey #67 ……. 6 times British Superbike Champion :-)