Sometimes, results don’t do the effort that has been put in justice. While this was probably true for our ASBK Round 2 effort, we also feel our results were also a bit of a reflection of where we are currently at as a team.
Round 2 of the Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) was held at the impressive Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP), with the added spectacle of night racing under lights. And it really was a great spectacle.
On the Back Foot
As previously reported, we had set ourselves a very difficult task, Luke Sanders #88 had never seen SMSP until we arrived for the race meeting itself. While that alone would normally be a decent obstacle to overcome, added to it was the condensed 2-day event format, plus the current point of the development path that Luke and the team are on.
The condensed 2-day format meant that qualifying was held on day 1 of the event. Normally a rider would first get a day of practice, an end of day de-brief, followed by a good night’s sleep to reflect and reset before qualifying the next day. But not this time, Luke was thrown straight into the heat of battle with qualifying taking place on Friday afternoon and evening.
It must be said, while the condensed format presented the extra challenge, we actually loved the format and how the event was run. We are big fans of 2-day events opposed to the usual 3-day, not just for the format but also due to the fact there is less budget and less time off work required to compete.
Another factor is that Luke and the support team, Julian (Jools) Redondo, Colin (Boner) Bone and father Bob Sanders are still pretty new to this level of competition. While Luke is no novice, he is at this level and it is a big step up in competition, especially this year’s Supersport field.
For the support team, competing at national level competition adds extra pressure and requirements in order to field a competitive package. From things like the additional sporting regulations, schedule requirements, being organised for media grids with all tyre options in mixed conditions and the obvious extra performance required from the bike, the list goes on and on.
It’s all a big step-up for all form state level racing however it is being guided by our very experienced team principle and Race Center technical lead, Darren Sciberras, so it’s not all green to us.
After the morning 2 practice sessions, Luke was sitting in 18th out of the 27-rider field on combined times with a 1.36.7, which was already impressive. Luke then produced a performance in Q1 that was simply outstanding! Luke set a brilliant 1.34.6 moving him up to 12th by the end of the session and very close to some of the series heavy hitters.
Just outstanding, a testament to Luke’s mindset and work ethic heading into the round. Rather than seeing obstacles he only saw challenges and just set about working through them.
Finding that sort of pace on day 1 is also testament to the work done by the team both at the track and back at the workshop. Ensuring that Luke had a strong package underneath him, supported by good run plans and strategy.
Fastest Lap - 1.34.6
Q2 was held under lights, a first for all of us. And boy o’ boy it was a great spectacle, motorsport under lights is a seriously great experience.
While we were hoping to improve our pace yet again and knew we would need to in order to maintain our position, we were unable to find any additional pace. This saw us slip down to 14th position and row 5, where we would start both of Saturday’s 11 lap races.
A little bit disappointing in isolation but when the entire day is factored in, an absolutely outstanding start to our Round 2 assault.
Grid: P14 – Row 5
The threat of rain was ever present on both days of the event, yet as Saturday afternoon’s race 1 approached, it was still dry which was a bit of a surprise.
Luke was aware he still had a bit of a pace deficit but was hopeful of latching onto some of the faster riders if he made a strong start. Luke’s start was ok but was boxed up on the outside heading into Turn 2, leaving him vulnerable to other riders and any potential incidents. And this proved to be the case, Luke was forced to take avoiding action as one rider went down and a number of others all pushed wide. The melee saw Luke drop to 19th which kind of sucked as all hope of latching lead group was gone, however we were actually fortunate not to be taken out and still circulating.
In true Sanders style, Luke didn’t bat an eyelid and just knuckled down to the task ahead. Luke moved his way up to 15th by lap 3 before some of the consequences of a lack of testing and circuit knowledge started to show. Luke felt a big drop in rear grip that worsened and worsened as the race went on. By the end of the race Luke had his work cut out just keeping the bike upright as the bike was starting to come around on him on corner entry, followed by a severe lack of drive grip on corner exit.
Again, he just knuckled down and did the best he could with what he had. It’s never a nice feeling as a rider managing a problem like that while your pace and position continue to drop. Yet he stuck at it best he could and crossed the line in 19th as the chequered flag dropped.
Our post-race investigation revealed that we had made the wrong call on both tyre compound and pressure for the race. That is an area we normally do well, however this time we sucked. Parts of the SMSP had been resurfaced and it caught us out.
There was a decent break between race 1 and 2 and the rain that had threatened all weekend finally arrived. As the night race, to be held under lights and on live TV, approached the rain had stopped leaving us with a half wet and half dry track by the time we were on the grid.
We had wet and dry tyre options ready to go and this time we definitely made the right call with wets as some parts of the track were still too wet for slicks.
Luke made a great start, while being somewhat cautious to feel out the conditions he also was mindful that he needed to move forward quickly as the track would continue to dry as the race went on and he couldn’t let the front pack get away.
And that’s exactly what he did, by the end of lap 1 he had moved his way up from 14th, to 5th, mega first lap.
Luke then steadily built his pace becoming more and more confidence to push harder. By the end of lap 4 he had closed the gap to the podium places and had front running pace. Luke moved up into 4th position on lap 5, however on the exit of turn 3 our race ended abruptly. Luke had a rear snap that sent him over the bars. It was a sudden snap leaving him absolutely no chance of saving it and nor did it give him any warning.
Obviously, a bummer to be out of the race when in such a strong position, however when all things are taken into consideration it was massively positive to be right up there in the mix again.
DNF - Stack
Overall, the weekend was great experience on all fronts. While the results don’t look great on paper and we still have loads of work to do, we are still very happy with the performance and really impressed with what Luke dished up.
Luke Sanders: “While it's never nice to leave a round with so little points, I've taken a lot of confidence in being able to bring solid pace to a new track on a reduced schedule and to be able to back up a push into the top 5 in tricky conditions. Now to draw on the positives from how myself and the team performed to keep training over winter and come back strong at the end of the year.”
Our attention will now shift to preparing the rest of the team for our Victorian Road
Race campaign. We are unlikely to be attending the next couple of rounds of the ASBK due to budget and work constraints. We are not yet at a sustainable level where we could do the full ASBK series plus the full VRRC series.
However, Luke will be back in the ASBK field for the last couple of rounds of 2023.
For anyone that missed the action and wants to watch it, you can do so via SBS on demand.
As always, thank you to all our supporters and followers, it’s wonderful to have such great support.