Luke’s BSB Scottish adventure….
The second round of the British Superbike Championship meant a very long trip north of the border to Knockhill. Although it’s the shortest circuit on the calendar it’s a tricky place with lots of blind corners and big elevation changes. Despite having short straights it’s also a real power circuit with hard acceleration out of slow corners so with a stock motor and being 30-40 BHP down on the fastest factory bikes it was always going to be a tough weekend for Luke. Oh yeh…...and did I mention that Luke has done less than half a dozen laps around the place? The final complication was that due to Scottish government Covid restrictions the usual three day format was replaced with a crammed two day timetable. Friday, which normally includes two free practice sessions for BSB, became setup day meaning Saturday would see Luke out for two practices sessions, qualifying and a race with little time between outings. It was going to be hectic…
FP 1 saw Luke head out to learn the track with new forks (again) and zero setup info for this circuit so to finish the session 25th out of 27 and just 2.79 seconds off the fastest lap was a nice steady start. No dramas this time… With some valuable data Luke went in to session two actually knowing where he was going; always handy. He knocked over a second off his lap time to finish the session 25th from 26 but only 1.7 seconds away from provisional pole. Qualifying 1 saw Luke knock another 2/10ths off his time to finish the session 11th out of 13 to put him 23rd out of 25 on the grid. And so to race 1…..
Turns one and two at Knockhill are frantic on the opening lap. It’s a narrow track and the bikes funnel downhill in to a tight right hander at turn two where a bit of a barging match saw Luke drop a place to 24th. He then settled in to a nice rhythm clocking off consistent laps to claw his way up to Bjorn Estment ahead. He passed Estment on lap 15 and set off after factory Honda rider Ryo Mizuno. For a while he was in a five way scrap for 16th with Storm Stacey and Brad Jones but a lunge by Luke under Mizuno, only to then run wide, split the group. Luke re-focussed and within four laps he was back on Mizuno’s tail lining him up for a last lap pass at the hairpin. This time he nailed the pass, hit the apex and held off Mizuno to the line to claim a fantastic 19th place ahead of two works Hondas and just 1.5 seconds off the fastest lap! Luke headed in to Sunday with some hard earned data and a spring in his step. He even made spaghetti bolognaise for the team…..all five of us! How many other BSB riders spanner their own bikes and make dinner eh?
I don’t really want to talk about race 2…. On Friday I had a chat with Gareth (Luke’s dad) and commented on the fact that in the short time I’ve known them I couldn’t remember them having a mechanical issue that resulted in a “Did Not Finish” (DNF). Guess what happened next? Watching Luke in the race I could see he was having issues and on lap 18 of 30 he pulled in to the pits to retire. A £6 part had failed meaning Luke couldn’t change gear. Gutting. I held my head in shame…. As Gareth was not slow to remind me, I had jinxed them!
With the bike sorted for race three, Luke went 2nd last off the back of the grid due to the DNF. He battled throughout with Mizuno, losing out to the works Honda rider on lap 23 to finish 20th from 25. He was taking chunks out of Mizuno on the brakes only to lose out on acceleration; check out the photos for his stoppies! Most importantly, Luke once again chipped away at his lap times finishing the weekend under a second off the winner’s fastest lap. Given the tight schedule and being on a skeleton staff, the weekend had been really solid. Luke rode really well and the team made some super sensible decisions over the weekend (like not going out in the half wet / half dry Sunday warm up) to ensure we got through the meeting with relatively few dramas. Luke improved his lap time every time he went out on track and the team has a load of extra data. All good.
For the many reasons described here, Knockhill was always going to be one of the more challenging weekends. To leave in 19th place in the championship ahead of two factory Hondas was a real result. From here on, Luke has some good tracks where he can really shine. The next round is at Brands Hatch, 23rd-25th July. I cannot wait!
Photo and words: Mike Woodward