Racer Report: Setup brings results for Luke Stoneman

Just wanted to start off by saying thanks to all those friends and family who came to Brands Hatch to watch and support last weekend, it was nice having familiar faces in the paddock and I hope you all enjoyed the experience!

It was Thursday 4th October and work was done for another week and I had got that Friday feeling a day early on Thursday due the race meeting ahead. I arrived at Brands Hatch on Thursday evening very much looking forward to the weekend ahead and after setting up the garage for the weekend it was time to get some rest to which I slept like a kid at Christmas, very much looking forward to getting out on track in the morning.

So, Friday arrived and typically so did the rain. With the tricky conditions making it a wet morning for testing, it wasn’t ideal as Saturday’s qualifying and racing was forecast dry and I needed the track time. Not helping with the low temperatures, the track was taking a long time to dry out however it did eventually dry by the afternoon and I managed to put in two good sessions on the slick tyres to which I was matching my times previously at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. However not all was great back in the pits, the last time I was on the bike I raced at Oulton Park for the second round of the season where the bike felt really good beneath me and I was able to go very quick and again before that at Brands for the first round, which was my first ever race meeting. Coming back to the Indy circuit after Oulton, it became very apparent that the bike was not feeling like it did at the second round at Oulton Park. It felt like I was having to fight it to get the bike to do what I was asking and it just did not want to turn as easily as I remembered it doing at Oulton, something which I wouldn’t have noticed at the first round at Brands due to it being my first time on track, let alone a race meeting. I started to ask around the paddock for some advice and spoke to mainly Adrian Howard who was in my garage with another rider for the weekend and due to his advice, I now owe a big thanks to. I was describing what the bike felt like and he quickly advised me that it seemed the suspension setup wasn’t working for what I was asking of the bike. It was then Adrian’s good knowledge of setting up bikes massively helped me out for the weekend, I didn’t want to make any major changes as I didn’t want the bike to feel alien, but I wanted to be able to go quicker naturally. As Adrian explained to me the stiffer setup that was on the bike made sense that I was faster at Oulton Park due to the nature of the circuit, with its harder braking and faster flowing corners however coming back to Brands with the braking points not being so hard on the front of the bike and the corners being at a slower pace meant a softer setup would benefit me. So, with his advice we took some preload off the front and a little bit of compression due to having plenty of travel in the forks from checking during the test day and without any more testing for the weekend called it a day and hoped the bike would feel better for qualifying on Saturday morning.

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Saturday morning came and it was a dry qualifying to which I was eager to see if the small changes made, had made a difference to my times. I got out on track and I was surprised at how such a couple of minor changes made the bike feel so much easier to ride, the issues before hadn’t completely vanished however the bike was far easer to turn in and I started to get into a rhythm without having to wrestle the bike half as much. I managed to put in some consistent laps before the flag came out to end the session. Then riding back to the pits before even looking at my timer to see times, I said to Adrian how much better the bike felt. I then did check the times and I managed to knock off 2 seconds from my PB and consistently hitting similar times. This was a massive tick in the box for me as after the test day I was unsure what the problem was, whether it was me or the bike, this indicated that it wasn’t me. My first thought was that maybe if I softened the bike up a little more then I could maybe go quicker as there was still more available travel on the front forks however I thought against it as I didn’t want to make another change and go the wrong way and it mess up my first race. I thought it best to run with what I had.

Race One
Race 1 came around and I started on the 9th row, the pace was fast in this class, my first time riding with the Clubman MRO 600 riders as the Rookie 600 championship had finished a round earlier this season. It wasn’t my aim to go like a mad man but to be consistent and as the first lap got under way I got a good start and made up one or two positions to which then the leading pack had made a gap, I was racing on my own for the second half of the race and I didn’t feel the need to push overly as I had no one ahead to try and catch as they were too far up the asphalt, leaving me with a 14th place finish. I was feeling better on the bike and was confident I could push harder for race 2.

Race Two
Race 2 came later in the day and due to grid position being from your own fastest lap time in the first race I was starting on the 8th row, a row up from the first race. I managed to get a very good start and swiftly made some moves up the inside into turn 1 and again on the brakes into turn 2. I was getting the time I needed on the bike during testing but unfortunately in the race, I had a lot of confidence in the bike and managed to bring it across the finish line in a better 12th place.

Race Three
Race 3 on Sunday was declared a wet race and for the first time I got the wets on during a race. With little experience in the wet I wasn’t expecting to be attempting any late lunges into Paddock Hill and certainly not any podiums, but to gain the valuable experience for the conditions I have very little in. With a sensible pace I slowly pushed on each lap with more improvement before the chequered flag to bring the bike back in another 12th place, to which I was happy with due to lack of wet riding time I have on the bike.

Race Four
Race 4 would conclude the weekends racing for me on Sunday afternoon to which I wanted to push harder with the attitude that if I did drop the bike there’s all winter to get it ready again for racing, I didn’t want to leave Brands Hatch after packing up the garage thinking I could of gone a bit harder and then having to wait a winter before getting another crack at the whip. So, race 4 was upon us and I did not want to be the first one on the brakes into Paddock Hill. I made up some positions in the early stages of the first lap and I got into the mindset to push on and get the absolute best from what I had. I had a very consistent race and overall it was easily my best. My lap times were virtually the same other than a couple of minor mistakes from pushing a little too hard on the brakes into Paddock Hill on about lap 6, and again into Surtees a couple of laps later but I very much got the feedback from the bike that I couldn’t push any harder. Coming out of clearways onto the start finish the rear was starting to move around a lot and I felt the front end starting to move around a little bit where I was trying to stretch my braking points. I honestly felt that I couldn’t have gone much quicker with the way the bike was setup which ultimately left me with a smile to end the weekend as the chequered flag appeared after lap 12. Of course an end of season wheelie was in full send down Cooper Straight before making my way back into the pits as spectator’s waved us in as we crossed the line.

To summarise the weekend, I feel as though I got the best out of the bike in race 2 on Sunday without changing any more of the setup. In hindsight I wish I had more time to test in the dry and therefore change the setup and been able to get back out on track to test the changes made rather than make them before qualifying and hoping for the best. Lots of positives to take away from the last round of this season though to prepare myself for the 2020 season. For starters getting the suspension out and fully servicing it all and getting the bike to a suspension specialist to get a base setup for my weight and style of riding which I then can adjust accordingly at each circuit depending on the nature of the track. Also a few upgrades I want to make on the bike like doing away with the road bars and widening them with Renthal clip on’s etc etc. Lastly and most importantly the search for sponsorship continues and without it a full season’s racing cannot be possible so its time to get cracking with the ‘Winter Prep’ and come back with a well setup bike for next season that I know I can be competitive on.

Looking forward to 2020, hope to see you there, peace!

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