AN INTENSE WEEKEND AT SILVERSTONE SAW THE CHANCE OF A SHOWDOWN PLACE SLIP FROM THE GRASP OF BRAD RAY DESPITE HIS BEST WEEKEND OF THE SEASON
Silverstone, the home of the British MotoGP was the destination for the often-dramatic conclusion of the regular Bennetts British Superbike Championship season before the showdown phase begins. Six riders, including our own Bradley Ray were to battle it out for the final placings ahead of Round 9 at Oulton Park next time out. With Kyle Ryde alongside Brad on the Superbikes and Billy McConnell on the Superstock BMW M1000RR the team also decided to enter the Ducati Performance TriOptions Cup with Team Principal, Paul Curran. It was to be a busy weekend for the RICH Energy OMG Racing team!
Opening day for the awesome foursome brought strong results for the regulars as Paul took the sole practice session to get to grips with his new machine having not ridden a racing motorcycle in seven years and never racing a Ducati. It was a steep learning curve for the former Superstock campaigner as he adjusted to characteristics of the Ducati, but respectable times were shown, and improvements came almost lap on lap on lap as the boss qualified 26th for the weekends two races. It was a positive Free Practice Friday also for Brad, Kyle, and Billy as they showed real pace ahead of the weekend’s race action with high hopes for all for strong results.
Saturday brought a day of frantic action in the garage with one superbike Free Practice session followed by Superstock and Superbike Qualifying and then three races! Friday’s combined Free Practice times for the Superbike pair saw both riders advance directly into Q2 with an impressive 2nd and 10th fastest times for Kyle and Brad as Billy McConnell scorched to 2nd fastest and middle of the front row for his opening race. Q2 didn’t quite live up to the expectations of the team and the riders as a cancelled lap and a crash for Kyle left him off the pace of Friday and Brad just behind as the pair registered 14th and 15th fastest respectively.
The Pirelli National Superstock race was, as expected, a fast and frantic affair with McConnell leading the charge and harassing long-time race leader, Tim Neave at every available opportunity while defending against a hard charging Luke Mossey. Keeping a cool head and a measured throttle hand, Billby took his third podium in succession and his seventh of the season, just 0.2s behind the race winner! P7 on the grid for race 2 on Sunday meant there would be work to do.
The temperature seemed to rise in the garage as the Bennetts British Superbike Championship Race 1 was drawing closer. Ray and Ryde knew what was needed and worked hard from lights out to flag. A race of attrition and the fortune of keeping out of trouble saw a vital top ten for both riders, as Brad Ray took an impressive 5th place to pile pressure on those around him in the battle and Kyle Ryde a strong 8th place to instil confidence after it was knocked in Qualifying. With other showdown contenders returning DNFs the intensity raised a notch or two for Sunday’s two deciding races as to who would and who wouldn’t join the final eight.
Sunday brought a bright and warm day; no weather interference was needed as the intensity was already at a season high. BSB race 2 remit for Brad Ray was ‘simple’, finish ahead of Josh Brookes – no easy feat in the form the Aussie is in, though. It was an effort of herculean proportions from the Kent man as he put in his performance of the season to try and beat the reigning champion, ultimately losing out by just 0.086s at the line. Issues with rear grip were to be the story of Sunday for Kyle Ryde as he picked up the final championship point. Race 3, the final chance to make it into the Showdown would bring the intensity to its crescendo.
Before the final BSB action of the weekend, Pirelli National Superstock race 2 saw Billy McConnell get a lightning start to make up for his third-row grid position, slotting into second place as the pack rounded Copse for the first time. An early challenge for the lead faded as the race unfolded, an issue with the rear of his machine meant the title challenger couldn’t push as hard as he wanted, dropping back to sixth at one stage before pushing through the issue to claim fourth at the flag and vital championship points.
Soon it was time for BSB Race 3. The focus was on Brookes and Buchan, as a race finish beyond both riders would see the former Red Bull Rookie home and dry in the Showdown eight. Plans are fine but this is British Superbikes and the unexpected happens more often than the expected. A mechanical failure for a Suzuki left fluid on the circuit, bringing out the Red Flag and therefore a race restart. A bitter pill to swallow for Ray who was patient in the opening stages of the race while Ryde still searched for grip.
The restarted race over 15 laps fell into the hands of Buchan and Brookes as the pair headed Ray through the race and as valiantly as he fought to close the gap, the Showdown slipped from his fingers. A clearly frustrated Ray returned to the garage to rapturous applause from the team, all acutely aware of the efforts made over the weekend. Ryde also received a warm welcome despite his obvious frustrations at the lack of rear grip that blighted his Sunday. It was Brad's best weekend on a RICH Energy OMG Racing superbike, and it arguably deserved more.
Team Principal, Paul Curran, was happy with his Ducati Cup debut bringing his machine home in the top twenty twice and enjoying the whole experience. After the racing had ended, he said, “That was a difficult weekend for us all as far as the superbike pair of Brad and Kyle are concerned. We knew we had a chance of the Showdown with Brad and that Kyle is really fast around here so hopes were high. Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to; Brad deserved a Showdown place on today’s performances alone, but it wasn’t to be. Kyle is disappointed not only with his results but also in the fact that he couldn’t help his good friend out which shows the bond in the team.
Billy was exceptional again this weekend, another trophy to the collection and so close to that elusive top step and taking valuable points when things weren’t quite right for him showed his professionalism and tenacity in its brightest light. And as for me, I really enjoyed my time back on a bike, it’s been a long time and it took a little while to get used to the Ducati characteristics. To bring home two top twenty finishes is great, it’s definitely been a lot of fun and a pleasant distraction. Will I do it again? Maybe…”