Max Symonds at Brands Hatch

By: Max Symonds MotorCycle Direct Posted: August 30th, 2016
Max Symonds at Brands Hatch.

National Superstock 600


The British Superbike Championship is the leading motorcycle road race championship in the UK and is largely regarded as the premier domestic motorcycle road race championship in the world. I am due to compete in a number of the rounds in the National Superstock 600 Series, a race that runs alongside the main superbike class at 11 of the 12 rounds with one additional race at the World Superbike Series. The aim of the National Superstock 600 Series is to promote young riders and give them a chance to prove themselves on the major stage. The bikes remain fairly standard in order to keep costs down and the age of competitors is limited to between 16 and 25, to prevent over-experienced riders taking part.

Racing in this class is always really close. With fierce battles all the way down the field and several crashes every time they're out on track, this series has earned itself the nickname 'the axe-murderers!". Essentially, it puts the top five fastest 600 racers from every club series into one race making it exciting, crazy and incredibly close on lap times wherever they race.

Thruxton


Arriving and setting up for my home round (the first of this year) in the National Superstock 600 Championship at Thruxton Race Circuit was a mixture of excitement and nerves. The high class of riders and expensive paddock set-ups highlighted what a challenge and a step up competing in the British Superbike paddock is. Nevertheless, myself and the team went about our normal preparations putting together our paddock awning and the usual set-up that has served us so well over the past years. Although we don't have the budget to be the most glamorous set-up out there, years of experience have helped us developed a cost effective and race effective solution.

I went out for free practice on Friday morning and the hectic nature of this series soon became apparent with most riders heading out in a mad huddle at the front, all keen to get up to speed and put in some fast lap times. Riders were all over the place bumping into each other, running off track and crashing! Once everyone started to spread out and some space had opened up, I was able to really get to grips with the track. This meant I could identify where the bike was spinning too much and what we would need to do to get it gripping and handling how I needed it to, to allow me to put in some fast times.

With Thruxton being so fast and a wide means to be competitive, you have to get the bike sliding in and out of the corners at over 150 mph in some places. So being strong enough to manhandle the bike and a good suspension set-up are key.

The two qualifying sessions, one on Friday afternoon and one on Saturday lunchtime, were over in a flash but ended up a success with me bettering my personal best time by 0.8 of a second placing me 25th. I was able to get out behind some of the fastest riders at the start of both sessions which gave me a target to aim for and great slipstream round the fast back half of the circuit.

Just as the dust was settling after qualifying it was time to prepare for our final practice, on Saturday evening, ahead of the main race. Using the same tyres from qualifying I was able to simulate how the bike would handle towards the second half of the race when tyre wear would start to become an issue. I put in a fairly long run and the result of it, in terms of bike set-up, gave myself and the team great confidence that throughout the weekend we had got the bike set-up just right. This left me confident that I could improve on qualifying come race time.

After a pretty smooth start to the weekend with no major problems, the race was a completely different experience with this going of track (literally!) from the very start. I got off to a good start, passing the row in front by turn one which put me right in the middle of the pack through the first corner. As we reached turn three there was a crash involving three other riders which pushed me off track. Trying avoid the debris, I managed to re-join in last place some way back from the rest of the field. In this position, I knew I had to change my plan. Instead of trying to save the tyres at the start of the race I had to go flat out, getting the bike all out of shape and making some really close overtakes to ensure I got through as many people as possible. After some close battles I managed to get back up to 22nd place, but was disappointed as I knew if I hadn't been involved with the crashes on the first lap I would have been several places higher up come the finish.

Luckily I don't have too long to try again as the next British Superstock 600 race is in just two weeks' time.

Brands Hatch GP

Max Symonds at Brands Hatch.


After the excitement of Thruxton is was great to be out again on the equally thrilling Brands Hatch GP race circuit. None of the tracks I've been to really capture the essence of riding a rollercoaster at 150+ mph like Brands Hatch; and with all the overhanging trees and close viewing points for spectators, you really get a sense of the speed when you're on the bike.

As soon as I got out on track it was clear that this weekend would be a harder task, as my previous experience on this track was very limited. Nevertheless, I put in a lot of laps in the opening free practise session which gave me a good idea of where I needed to improve and I quickly identified that the bike was set-up much too softly for the steep drops and climbs of the circuit.

Going into qualifying the bike felt much more comfortable. Having already been around the circuit in the morning, I was able to attack the track from the off and put in my fastest ever times. After 4 laps of the session I came into the pits to make some further adjustments to the suspension before going back out for one long run. I was able to get the bike spinning and carrying speed on the steep exits of many of the corners, dropping my time by 2 seconds on free practise. For Qualifying 2 we planned to go out on an old tyre, get up to speed at the start of the session, then pitting and going out on a brand new tyre to put in some fast laps from the off. This worked well as there was a red flag just after we put the new tyre on due to three riders crashing on a steep downhill part of the course and spilling oil, giving me a chance to focus on the lap. Once I got back out, I got in behind two riders to get a really good tow and put in 5 fast laps dropping 1.3 seconds off my time from Qualifying 1. Putting in a fast qualifying lap is something that I am only learning to do well recently.

After the first lap issues I had at Thruxton, I was determined to get a good start and stay out of trouble. Things were immediately difficult as the start of the race had to be postponed due to two bikes overheating on the grid which only added to the tension. Once we were finally ready to go, I was off the line as fast as I have ever been. I passed everyone in my row and moved up the inside of some of the next row, leaving me right in the middle of the pack come turn one. The next couple of laps were wild with people running off track and nearly crashing into each other. There were several riders form the front that dropped back through the field, as well as riders from the back doing the opposite. I found the best way to make progress was to defend going into corners, hold a tight line and then cut under people at the exit as they ran wide. This was also the safest way to stay out of trouble. Having survived the first two laps several places ahead of where I had qualified, everything was looking good for me to improve on Thruxton's result. But disaster struck once again, as a problem with the front brake caused major issues with getting the bike to stop. Despite the brakes, I managed to get the bike to the finish in 22nd place (again!), which was a good result all things considered.

Having made good progress throughout the two meetings, it gives me confidence that once I manage to get through a race with no disasters a great result will be inevitable.