Michael Rutter was denied a podium by a holed radiator, having qualified in third place while Peter Hickman took a big step forward with machine set-up at Thruxton BSB this weekend.
MSS Bathams Kawasaki travelled to Hampshire for round two of the MCE British Superbike Championship on a high, following an inspired ride by Michael Rutter just days earlier when the 39-year-old Midlander rode to a fine third place at a rain soaked Brands Hatch.
With similar tricky conditions to contend with in the early stages of the weekend, the team worked hard throughout the free practice sessions to achieve a chassis setting that would cope with both the huge horsepower of the Kawasaki and the fast, flat rippled turns of the UK’s fastest race circuit.
The first session of qualifying saw a drying track test the bravery of Britain’s fastest motorcycle racers with damp patches throughout many of the high-speed corners waiting to catch out the unwary.
Michael Rutter’s experience showed as he worked throughout the sessions that saw him push hard with an intermediate front tyre to get through the second session before a blistering lap in the final session on slick tyres, saw him qualify on the front row as the fastest Kawasaki in third place overall.
Peter Hickman also enjoyed a good qualifying session, improving the set-up of his Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R throughout the sessions to finish 12th, only edged out of the final qualifying session in the dying seconds of second qualifying by Brands Hatch race winner, Jon Kirkham and a hard charging Patric Muff.
Race one saw Rutter make a fantastic start and slot into second place briefly before being out-braked into the chicane by eventual race winner, Ian Lowry.
The race looked likely to develop into the a three-way scrap with Lowry, Rutter and 2011 BSB Champion Tommy Hill but sadly it wasn’t to be, as a stone through Rutter’s radiator caused overheating and subsequent engine failure put paid to what looked certain to be a second podium in as many races.
Hickman didn’t get the start he so desperately wanted but was picking his way through the field in the early stages before he retired with tyre issues, the choice to go for the softer SC1 compound costing the 24-year-old from Lincolnshire dearly.
The second race was almost a repeat of the first. With Rutter once more third on the grid and looking strong in the opening stages of the race, almost unbelievably he suffered another mechanical problem, this time with an unexplained overheating issue that forced him out of the race on the second lap.
With just one MSS Bathams Kawasaki left in the race, Hickman worked hard from his 18th position on the grid, working his way through the pack, putting in some classy overtaking manoeuvres at the chicane to finish a determined twelfth, kickstarting his 2012 campaign and finally getting some points on the scoreboard.
Michael (Retired from race one, holed radiator, retired from race two with an overheating motor): “It was all going the right way in qualifying so obviously I’m really frustrated that I was denied the chance to convert all the team’s hard work into a result. For it to happen twice is unbelievable and I’m bitterly disappointed that I’m coming away from here with no points. All I can do is forget this weekend, look ahead to Oulton Park and hope for some better luck.”
Peter (Retired from race one with rear tyre issues, 12th in race two): “It was a tough weekend and we’re still learning the bike. It’s a great bike, but it’s also quite finicky and only works in a small window that we’re only just really starting to discover. This weekend was the most comfortable I’ve been on the bike since I signed for the team, so we’re going in the right direction. Full credit to the team, I’ve kept them busy with making changes and it’s starting to pay off now. Twelfth isn’t where I want to be but it’s a step in the right direction and I’m feeling happier and a lot more confident heading to Oulton Park.”
Team boss Nick Morgan: “There are plenty of positives to draw from this weekend with Michael proving that we have the pace in qualifying but unfortunately you need results and coming away with no points from two front row starts is obviously very disappointing. The upside is that Michael, the bike and the crew worked well – so I really have nothing to complain about. Hicky had a bit of nightmare in race one with a rear tyre problem but showed his form in race two coming through from 18th to finish 12th and grab some points so after a tricky start to the year for him, hopefully this is something of a turning point.
“With the Superstock riders, we’ve still got a bit of work to do there. Sandra showed a bit of form in the shootout, improving her lap times by over a second, which is good progression. We just need to get Leon [Hunt] working better on the bike and give him a little more confidence which I’m sure will see him qualifying further up the order and give him the opportunity to start fighting closer to the front in the races. It’s been a difficult weekend, but we’ve made some positive steps forward ahead of Oulton Park so we can look forward to the first weekend of May.”
In the Superstock 1000 class, Leon Hunt continued to adapt to the MSS Bathams Kawasaki ZX-10R after a difficult first round at Brands Hatch last week that gave Leon and his team little time to find a good dry weather setting. With mixed weather conditions plaguing the early sessions yet again, the likeable youngster from Essex was left with limited time to get to grips with his 195bhp machine.
“Practice and qualifying was quite difficult. We didn’t find a great set-up until fairly late on which put us on the back foot going into the race. We got things going in the right direction for second qualifying but it was wet so we didn’t get the chance we needed to improve. The bike felt good in the race and while we were struggling a little with grip, I felt comfortable on the bike until I got arm-pump about five or six laps from the end and really struggled to pull the bike down into the faster turns. The team have worked really well though and I know the arm-pump issue is just down to the new leathers so we’ll get them altered before the next race. We’ll come back – quite literally stronger – aiming for the top ten at Oulton in a few weeks time.”
Sandra Stammova just missed out on qualifying for the main Superstock race but put in a determined performance in the Shootout race. Starting from 21st on the grid, the 27-year-old Slovakian worked her way through the pack to finish in 16th place, posting lap times towards the end of the race that would have put her in with a fighting chance of qualifying. Indeed, the extra track time is starting to prove valuable as both Sandra and the team keep on finding improvements and with it, a newly found competitive pace.
“First qualifying was good and I ended up going faster in free practice than I did throughout the weekend last year so we’ve made some good progress. First qualifying went okay but we were trying a few things so didn’t get a good lap time in. Unfortunately, it rained for second qualifying and we didn’t get the chance to improve so we had to do the shootout race. I worked hard to get near the top ten but just didn’t have enough laps. The main thing is I have improved my lap time here by over a second and we have found a riding position that works for me and have made some positive changes to the bike. This is only the third year I’ve been racing so I’m very excited at these recent improvements and am now really looking forward to the next round at Oulton Park.”