Pirelli National Superstock 1000 - 24th
The two previous visits to Oulton Park had been pretty disastrous, what with an engine blowup at the end of last season and a hand injury sustained in Qualifying earlier this year which put me out of the running.
I was looking to break this run, and really get to grips with the challenging Oulton Park roller-coaster; a circuit I have always loved but never really mastered.
The weather was looking a little unpredictable, but Free Practice was dry and I got some good laps trying out different lines which I had gleaned from watching many previous races from the last few years. I set some reasonable times, with which I was happy with for a starting point; already quicker than what I had achieved in the two previous fateful visits.
Although it looked uncertain, the weather held again for Qualifying 1 that afternoon. I continued to work on the lines I was relearning, and with a couple of little tweaks to the bike I set improved times again, within 1/10th of my PB from early last season. I knew I was still learning a lot of new lines, and the effects that had in turn on the rest of the circuit, so I was happy with the progress.
Rain overnight added a little more uncertainty for Quali 2, but the track dried up just in time for us to be able to go out and really push. I was keen to put to the test all the new lines and really pick up the pace. It worked, and almost immediately I put in some good quick laps, knocking 2.1 seconds off my PB! A huge chunk of time, and what was more the bike was feeling really good and so my confidence to push was building.
Our 'Warmup" session was to be held at 1750 Saturday night(!), and I used that session to work on consistency in my lap times. I was able to put in consistent laps well under my previous PB, so was very excited for the race. A few more tweaks to the suspension for the race and I was ready to go; shame I had to now wait until 1420 the next day!
Race day came, and the sun was shining. I lined up on the grid, keen to get going and nervous to put all the good progress to use.
I got a fairly good start but held back a little to give the inevitable gaggle into the narrow first corner a little breathing room; and when we pulled towards the 2nd corner I had held position and was nicely tucked up behind Ryan Gibson on his R1. The first lap I felt comfortable with the pace, and so decided I would hold my attack for moment to allow it all the settle in. The first couple of laps I set faster times again, another 0.4 secs faster, so another new PB!
Gibson made a move and overtook the rider ahead of him, and a couple of corners later I quickly followed through, out-braking him into Lodge. I was still on Gibson's tail, looking for a way past.
We quickly caught the next rider, and Gibson soon found a way past up Clay Hill - a very fast and tight place to overtake, but the grunt of his R1 made it possible.
I looked to get past the rider as soon as I could, too. I tried a move into Shell Oils hairpin, but was not quite close enough and as we rounded the hairpin side by side and inches apart, I had to yield at the last.
No matter, I was quicker and I knew I could get past somewhere. I ensured I got good drive out of Knickerbrook, up Clay Hill and closed the gap right up through Druids. The exit from Druids over the hump was great and I lined up for a pass down towards Lodge. Late on the brakes, and the move stuck.
All this racing fun had allowed Gibson to pull away a bit of a gap, but I managed to quickly close it up, and by the end of the next lap I was right on his tail, once again, over the line.
I was quicker than him, I knew it, but the low end torque and 'drivability' of the R1 allowed him to just pull away enough to be out of range into the big braking areas, where I would immediately close the gap again.
I crossed the line every lap just a bike's length behind him until 2 laps from the end, when finally he started to pull a little gap. It seemed that final place gain was not to be, but even so I brought it home in 24th position.
So, with a PB 2.6 seconds faster than the start of the weekend, and an ideal lap from the race another 0.5s faster again, I have finally come away from Oulton Park a very happy chappy! We couldn't really have asked for a better result to the weekend, and I cannot wait now to keep the momentum going at Donington Park - which is this coming weekend!