- Pre-season testing started well but the season itself began very differently. Was this caused by the new range of Pirelli tyres and what effect did they have on handling? Did the start of this season feel different to others (from over here it seemed that a whole range of bike brands and riders were suddenly looking very competitive). What was the effect on teams having multiple rounds over the same weekend?
Pre season testing took place in March, we had 3 days at Monte Blanco and 2 days at Jarez, where we had plans to try settings that we didn’t have chance to try in 2019. Also on the list of things to try were the revised 2020 tyres (Different rubber compound and construction, rear taller in the centre and the front wider). Both of these test events were positive- good lap times and refined bike handling with me being second fastest at the opening test and fastest by over half a second on the final day at Jerez, at this point apart from a small amount of front chatter at Monte Blanco there were no issues with the tyres.
However when we got back to England for the British test at Donington (one week before the opening round), the performance of the bike was really unsatisfying, which came as a surprise as we’d thought the bike had improved from our work done in Spain. At this point we reverted back to 2019 settings, thinking that the changes in Spain would be the source of the issues, but the bike was still far from ideal leaving us confused as to where the performance drop had come from and at this point had started to think of the tyre as being the contributing factor.
We entered the opening round still a little unsure as to why we had lost some of the performance we were used to having. The need to revise every tuneable area of the bike was further compromised by the changed schedule. 2019 was 3 practice sessions and a 3 stage qualifying system plus morning warm up before race 1, but for 2020 track time was slashed to just 2 practices 1 qualifying session and then straight into race 1 on Saturday afternoon. This obviously restricted our progress in getting the bike back to its winning potential quickly.
While early on the tyre appeared to work fine on other bikes, some tracks have also become noticeable to suit certain bikes more than others, so we were seeing a variety of different riders being in results at the front in the opening rounds of the season. We continued to fall into the trap of trying last years settings in the first practice as that was a sensible and normal procedure of the past. The success of the 2019 season and all the settings and data had became a hinderance. For the second half of the year we completely abandoned all of our old data and began to start each weekend fresh, making new notes and settings for the bike like as if we were taking a new bike to a new track for the first time. The combination of less track time, the need to make more changes and the arrival of 3 races per weekend only compounded the problems to the point we were forced to make quite big changes between races to get the results. This is normally something i’m reluctant to do.
- Talk us through the points accumulation of the season and how it happened, ie the problems you solved to get the bike the way you wanted it
For sure there were some improvements from our rivals with new models or updates, but the pace of the races had not improved in any major way, for me it was more a drop in our performance from the lap times of the 2019 races. The common issue that I was complaining about repetitively was chatter. Chatter is uncontrolled bouncing of the tyre across the surface of the track. As if it has corrugations like you would find on a country dirt road. When you get chatter you cant push anymore or go any faster, in fact you are often doing your best to not crash. Some corners it would come from the front and other times the rear. Throughout the whole season we never fully cured this problem but were more in a management strategy.
Another regular area of focus was working on braking efficiency. I didn’t feel like we were getting stopped as good as we should. Obviously we have the best brakes available so it’s not a component issue but a combination of engine brake control, weight bioss, chassis position and suspension setting. Like always with bikes you often rob one area of performance to gain in another area. The times when I was happy on the brakes and the bike was stable for turning-in, the rest would almost take care of its self.
- The Saturday Brands Hatch race is being described as perhaps the greatest ever in the series with so many riders vying for the lead. what’s you take on it
The Saturday race was great, so much courage from every rider with the desperation of trying to recover their chance of being the Champion. I did enjoy it but i could have enjoyed it more if I didn’t have so much to lose. For most of the guys the mind set was win this race or lose any chance of the Championship. For me as Championship leader it was very different, I had everything to lose and found myself vulnerable as every one was fighting for every corner like life depended on it. In hind sight I should have taken the risk by pushing myself to my own limit and leading at the front out of harms way. But I hesitated and rode conservatively, and like a pack of dogs they all seen my vulnerability and pounced. This was a good lesson and in the final 2 races I just took the lead and set the pace that the others couldn’t match and therefore had all the risk in my own hands instead of them.
- Overall, looking at the 2020 season, was the mix of riders and bikes better than previous years
Last year I won 10 races and Scott won 11 so our team took 21 wins, with our dominance being reduced this year one way or another it has therefore given way for a verity of other riders to show through on their day.
- With some many different kinds of circuits, from air-field flat to international standard to ultra tight circuits, does this make the series more of a leveller as perhaps it’s almost impossible to get a bike set up to win at all of these
I think the tracks suit some bikes better than others, this year we lost Cadwell, Thruxton and the Brands round from the Summer, last year these were big point scoring rounds for me but we still had to work on Silverstone national and Donington national. The shorter layouts don’t work so well with our bike but its details like this that make taking the Championship this year more important and that little bit sweeter.
- What was it like racing with no crowds, and how the team worked under the Covid controls at that time?
When you’re racing you cant very often notice the crowd so during the battle of a race it hasn’t had any noticeable affect. However the atmosphere of the event has definitely changed. It’s a nice buzz about the place like when there were 65 thousand spectators at Brands last year. I would love to get back to this and I can only image how it must have been having 150 thousand there for WSBK in early 2000’s. I would love to have that size attendance again some day before I finish racing. I think everyone involved in BSB missed having spectators and crowds around the events this year, we can only hope for some normality in 2021.
- What you are looking forward to most once you get back “home on the ranch”
The weather this summer in England has been one of the best in my 13 years of living there but I always look forward to the warmth of the Australian summer. I love going to the river or the beach with jet skis on a typical Summer weekend. I also love the vast rugged feeling of Australia, Im far more at ease in the bush than in the City so to get home and get out on the road and in the countryside is something I look forward too and enjoy so much when I can do it.