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Brands, Donington & Thruxton

Brands Hatch was the first of the serious races, British Supersport is widely touted as one of the most competitive racing series in the world, certainly it is up there with the World and US series for Rider skill, aggression and technical excellence. Paul was going to have to get used to a really different world of competitors, while 250's are very competitive the 250 is a very light bike and problems that can be steered around in that series are potential crashes with the heavier Supersport bikes.

We had done quite a bit of testing, we did the Mallory Park Race of the Year and the bike was on the pace, the three small races helped Pauls starting technique. We were conscious that Paul has not raced a four stroke the full distance before, indeed the first time he had sat on a four stroke was at Donington this February.  We were really impressed with his input so far, he had adapted to the differences very well.

We want very much to allow his talent to grow, without pressure. Bruce Maus said 'Paul has settled in to the team well, he likes the bike, and doesn't seem to notice the extra weight, we have tried several different set ups, the one Paul prefers makes the bike act just like a big 250 or 125'.

Practice was not the easiest with constant showers interrupting things, we were a disappointing 17th with only minutes to go in the first timed session when the heavens opened. It stayed wet and we decided that an outing with the wets on would be a good in the second practice in case it rained on Raceday. Paul was going really well when he went down hard at Druids, we couldn't work out how but we were presented with a big fixit problem.  Now its worth stating here that compared to Japanese bikes the Ducati's are tough, unfortunately they are not tough on the outside, the frame and engine are very tough but batteries, battery boxes, airscoops and fairings get wiped out with boring regularity. If you use real skill the seat saves the exhausts but is trashed in the process. Paul is skilled.

The warm up was used getting the suspension better, really the only really dry practice in the weekend , then came the race.  A good start soon went haywire after a slide at Clearways, this dropped him back.  A crash involving Ian Simpson on the red bull ducati stopped the race and we took the opportunity to make a few changes to the suspension. These did not have the desired effect and the last laps turned into a glorious slide fest, it was obvious that racing against works Honda's was going to be different to practicing against works Honda's.  At the end of the meeting we were in a miserable seventeenth; but with a motorcycle that was consistently in the top few for top speed.  Paul received a lot of compliments on his ability to hold on to a bike through the corners sideways, a compliment that fell on fairly stoney ground…………

Donington was next, we entered a track day the day before the meeting and did some serious chassis changes, all of a sudden we Had the traction we thought we had at the first meeting, looking at Paul all tucked in and racing as opposed to cruising round you could see some of the problem.   Paul was scrunched up to the front, head under the screen (honest!), there was simply no weight going on to the back. We raised the forks in the triple clamps and fitted a softer spring at the rear. By the end of practice we were going better but still had a few problems with a wobble coming out of coppice onto the main straight. We got 13th on the grid, it could have been better but we blew up a clutch in practice and lost a little time, the times improved in the race though so we were still getting better……

During the race Paul got up into the lead group before tyre grip problems dropped him back to eleventh. Paul said 'I managed to get into the lead group, sixth I think, and thought right now we are really on it, it was really comfortable, then the rear started to slide. I just stayed out but I could not get the power down, had a good dice with Vermeulen for a while but he just had so much grip'.

Bruce Maus said 'the jump from a 250 to something like a 748 is not easy, it is a different style of bike, there is a lot of weight and the treaded tyres are different to what Paul has been used to. It is going to take a while but we are getting used to Paul and are trying very hard to give him what he needs, I think he is doing really well so far, sure was neat to see him up there for a while'. Again we had one of the fastest bikes in the field.

We arrived at Thruxton with two learning races behind us and a determination that this round would see the establishment of a good basic setup for the future. Free practice went well and first timed practice saw Paul in eighth. 'It was clear that tyres were going to be important with the new surface on this very fast circuit, typical gearing is higher than Daytona, only there is no banking, so we concentrated on a good race setup, one that would allow Paul to hold the same pace for the whole race' said Bruce Maus.

The second timed practice saw Paul drop down to 17th during the last few laps, only ten minutes from the end of practice Paul was comfortably within the top ten, as the lead bikes came in and went out they each got in one very fast lap. we did not have any choices of rubber that would improve matters but Paul had stayed out and proved we had a setup we knew could last, we made a couple of quick fuel injection map changes while in pit lane to make the acceleration more crisp which aslo seemed to help.  In the final warm up we made a few changes, that saw Paul fifth fastest on the track and fastest through the speed trap; by quite a bit.

Paul was baulked at the start and fought his way up to ninth place, circulating a second a lap quicker than his best practice times and . In the last two laps rain started to fall and Paul, who is no great enthusiast for intermediate conditions, fell back in to the chasing group, at Noble corner on the penultimate lap Jamie Morley hit Paul and put him onto the grass, at 130mph, Paul controlled the bike and went on to finish 14th.

Paul said 'I was really comfortable and the times were looking better, I got held up for the first few laps and couldn't get through, did in the end but I was too far back then, but its good, we had grip, the bike went well, we will be right on it next time....

 © Neil Spalding 2000. All rights reserved

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