Millsport Ducati rider Jakub Smrz battled through the intense pain of a back injury to score two impressive results today (5 May) at Oulton Park in Cheshire. In front of a packed out bank holiday crowd, the thunderous 1199 Panigale Superbike ran inside the top ten in every session except race two where Smrz just missed out on tenth place by a small margin.
Lapping the circuit considerably faster than the 2013 pace meant that the Millsport squad had a steep learning curve to fine-tune the Italian machine, and with Smrz carrying injury the task was even harder. Despite this the Czech rider was able to secure tenth spot on the grid for the opening contest, and a solid start saw him in ninth position for most of the running. Two big moments in the latter stages caused ‘Kuba’ to drop a place, but he held on to cross the line in tenth picking up six valuable championship points.
Lining up in 12th on the grid for race two based on his race one lap time, it was another impressive effort from Smrz, who by mid-distance was suffering some fatigue. A mediocre start saw him slip back to fifteenth position by the second lap, but a surge on lap four put the Millsport bike back up to 12th.
It was a war of attrition from then on, with Smrz edging closer to the battle for tenth as the laps ticked by. With just a few tours remaining the Ducati closed to within 0.067s of Kirkham in tenth, but he couldn’t find a way past. Taking the chequered flag 0.153s back in 11th, both team and rider left Oulton Park in high spirits having shown impressive pace at a circuit that has not brought the Panigale a great deal of success in the past.
The British Superbike Championship returns to Oulton Park for a triple-header of races in August, and the team has gathered a huge amount of valuable data for a fully fit Jakub Smrz to utilise when the racing next gets underway in Cheshire.
"From the first day I’ve struggled with my back which is very painful at the moment. This morning I had big problems in warm-up, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the physio and it was a bit better in the races. It’s still not perfect, I just can’t move properly on the bike. The first race was going quite well, but then with a few laps to go and a good gap to the guys behind me I had two huge high-side moments and lost two positions. Tenth was still really good, this is one of the most difficult tracks for us – we said if we can do top tens here we are doing OK.
“The start of race two was not so good which made it tough. Because of the temperature we had to use a tyre we hadn’t used all weekend so I wasn’t very comfortable. Despite all these things making it difficult, I’m very happy that we were able to get two good results – it’s something to build on and importantly we tried lots of things.
“The most important thing is to learn all we can – there’s going to be a triple header here later in the year and we need to be quick for that. Snetterton for the next races is something completely different, I know it really well and it’s more like a European track. The bike is working well, I’m very happy because there’s a great atmosphere in the team and the changes we make move us forward.”
Steve Moore, Team Manager, said:
“There were a lot of things working against us this weekend and we still came away with some good results. We’ve gained a place in the championship standings at a circuit that doesn’t particularly suit us and with a rider who’s injured, so I’m pretty happy with that! We tried a lot of settings and moved forward with the bike which is really important as we’ve got three more races at Oulton later this year.”