“I came back from holiday, loaded the van and went straight to Brands. Back Sunday night, unloaded the bikes and suddenly I was back in work at 8am yesterday. It felt like Groundhog Day,” explains Astro JJR team manager James Jackson.
“It was like that for the whole team, everyone back at work today,” he adds, summing up the full privateer Pirelli National Superstock 1000 experience nicely.
The contrast between track and work life must have been made even starker by the UK’s heatwave making everywhere feel like Cartagena on a good day, plus the fact Astro JJR with rider Alex Olsen bagged a pair of prime podiums over the weekend, the team’s first of the season.
“Like buses they were,” says Jackson. “You wait ages, then two come along at once”.
The first podium arrived after some serious miles, just under 100 of them in fact, thanks to Saturday’s Superstock race being one of those new-fangled 100-mile affairs. A pair of back-to-back 18-lappers of 50 miles each, with a ten minute interval for refueling, plus a wheel and tyre change.
“Alex was seventh on the grid, and got away nicely with the leading group but couldn’t quite match their pace or rear grip and so held on for fifth place.
“We fueled the bike up, made some minor changes - nothing too daft, we didn’t want to cock it up - and sent him back out”, says Jackson.
It was here the rogue duff rear tyre struck, forcing Olsen to ride a smart race, using his pit board to manage the gap behind while reluctantly letting the leading trio disappear.
Lady luck hadn’t deserted Astro JJR just yet though, because Tom Neave - one of said trio - promptly exited stage left into the gravel for a lie down, with Olsen picking up his third spot.
Now those of you familiar with racing (and the Big Book of Racing Excuses) may already be raising an eyebrow or two at the ‘duff rear tyre’ mentioned earlier. Shame on you and your cynicism - this tyre was so duff, it started going flat exiting Hawthorn on the last lap.
Hawthorn to the finish head down on a Superstocker isn’t very far, but with the rest of the pack breathing down your neck and a flattening tyre it must have felt a lot longer for Olsen, who somehow held it to the line to pick up the team’s maiden podium of 2018.
While a fully functioning rear may have seen even greater glory for the team, there was much to be thankful for in this case because TV scheduling and the imminent Superbike qualifying right after the Superstock event meant the planned 18 laps in part two of Saturday’s 100-miler was cut to 16.
“Losing those two laps was a result for us - any longer and we’d have been stuffed with that tyre”, explains Jackson.
It was (small) celebration for the close knit team.
“I’ll admit it, we did have a beer while the bike cooled down,” says Jackson. “And a cup of tea afterwards, before getting the bike ready for Sunday. No beer for Alex mind, he was a consumate professional”.
“We went through the data to see what changes we could make to get with the leaders for Sunday morning warm up, and out on scrubbed tyres that’s exactly what Alex did”.
“He pulled out his best start of the season to get away with the front be pack before a big crash at the hairpin forced a restart. Still, he was confident he could do it again and so he did, before overtaking Billy McConnell for the lead.
“It could have been a fight between the two of them after that, but there was a safety car after Taylor Mackenize crashed out which allowed Keith Farmer and Josh Elliot to close back up. After that it was a four man battle to the finish, with Alex pulling out another third”.
“All in all, quite the weekend, and just to top it off we got pulled into scrutineering. Again. Fourth time in six meetings. And they pulled the airbox off and measured the throttle bodies. Again. Funnily enough, I still haven’t bored them out - I don’t think anyone’s done that since 1978”.
“But then you don’t mind being checked when your bike’s legal. I’d rather be doing well and getting the once over, than rolling around at the back and getting ignored”.
Edging up into fifth spot in the championship, the small but mighty unit that is Astro JJR Racing is ready to fight another day. Roll on Thruxton.