James Whitham: Who was hot and who was not at Oulton…

Picture: Impact Images

We came back to what you would call a typically English circuit at Oulton Park last weekend with lumps and bumps and off/on camber. Not at all like Silverstone ,which is flat and wide, gives good racing but is not at all like the other circuits on which BSB will run.

That said, some of the riders who were going quick at Silverstone were also doing their stuff at Oulton and top of my list is Josh Brookes. He was unlucky at the first round in that his bike exploded twice when it looked like he was on for rostrums – but he was hot at Oulton, loves the place and this time the V4 was faultless.

But what was really interesting were his comments on the famous, or infamous, Ducati wings. It was the first time anyone has said anything to me that told me they were actually doing something practical and helping.

He told me that at Oulton Park, and I remember this when I was racing a bike with only 160bhp not 220, keeping the front wheel on the ground over Hilltop, Clay Hill or even approaching the start and finish straight is a big problem.

To get it down you had to either touch the back brake or close the throttle, all of which upsets the bike and slows you down.

He told me he had expected to get a lot of ‘wheelie’ from the Ducati but didn’t. So that’s one advantage, at least for that circuit, the wings give.

So Brookes looked good. Who else impressed? Peter Hickman.

He’s getting something like the bike he can ride. Parts are coming through for that new BMW and I think with a bit more setting-up time he will have a very good package.

Scott Redding. He very much impressed me. He spoke on TV after the first couple of sessions of qualifying and he really is a dead honest lad. He admitted the circuit frightened him, saying he had never raced as close to the ‘guard rails’ – Armco to you and me – in his life.

But he got stuck in on, in my opinion, the hardest circuit to get right and feel comfortable with. His fourth place in the second leg was absolutely excellent.

Who else? Ryan Vickers. Again, riding a 220bhp Superbike which isn’t working exactly as you want it can be frightening. But he went about his business quietly and efficiently, talking to his crew in a serious way, no dummy spitting, and ending up with two top ten finishes which, for him, was excellent. And for Kawasaki, which seem to be a little bit problematical this year.

Tommy Bridewell seems to be different this year to the one I’ve seen before. More efficient, looks like he’s been in the gym a bit more and while not that there’s been much to criticise before he just looks better. And more focussed.

And the Oxford Ducati team boss Steve Moore says they have a rider who can run up front if they give him the right bike, so, within reason no expense on their Ducati V4 – save for a megabucks swingarm – has been spared. I am impressed with them and Tommy.

Danny Buchan was impressive, too. We’ve all felt that the big Essex lad would be fast on a Superbike if he could ride it the way he does a stocker , and now it looks like the savvy FS-3 team may have given him a bike he can do just that on. Two podiums for him was good work.

Who isn’t impressing so far? You’ve got to feel sorry for him but Glenn Irwin is really, really struggling. The fact is that he went from a Supersport bike which he rode unbelievably well to Superbike and a Panigale which was completely different to a screaming four. And now to a Kawasaki which he is clearly not happy with, nor the team where his crew chief Simon Green left on Saturday. Glenn is a very good rider, well capable of running at the front, but when things aren’t going well you start to look for reasons why. And you have a very short time to get things right.

James Ellison. I don’t really know what’s going on there but he struggled all weekend. They seem to have teething problems with that BM but even when it was going how it should he didn’t look particularly comfortable. He is a rider who needs things exactly how he wants them and when he gets that he is really good.

It can’t be said that Tarran McKenzie isn’t impressing, he is after all still leading the championship. He went to Oulton wanting more and he came away probably satisfied but not pleased. He was not too happy with the Yamaha in terms of stability. But he’s only a little fella and he was clinging on to it.

That said the team made progress from poor grid positions and by the last race it was reasonably competitive.

What’s happened to Bradley Ray? Well, the whole Buildbase team had a bad weekend. Luke Stapleford fell off and knocked himself about and Brad is just generally struggling to find grip, to find a feeling that he can cope with plus he’s probably lost a bit of confidence.

But there’s no question in my mind that Brad is a very talented lad and we haven’t seen the best of him. But there’s something fundamental that needs sorting out.

Now to WorldSBK at Imola this weekend. You’d think after 11 straight wins the powers that be would have to do something to slow Bautista and V4 even more? Another 250rpm, although the last cut didn’t seem to make much difference.

Well, without the God-rule being implemented which would allow them to do anything at any time to anybody’s bike, the organisers have got to go with the agreed pre-season balancing mechanism.

And if they do stick to that they have got to wait until after the sixth meeting has finished, that’s Jerez on June 9, before they can implement another rev cap. Otherwise, it starts to get silly and unfair.

We’ve discussed before it’s not just the bike that’s good, Bautista is very good and has clicked with what is proving to be a good bike. You can’t penalise someone for riding well. We’ve had people dominate the championship before – the last four have been won by one rider – so it seems a bit unfair to have knee jerk, let’s cap it, reactions.

Imola is a very good circuit, quite old school. And of all the places I ever raced in the world, which is most, it is one of my favourites together with Monza, Jerez and the old Hockenheim. Places like this are just stunning and Imola is one of the best.

You’re racing round at 170mph past the back of someone’s garden, in the middle of a town in a place where today you would never get anywhere near obtaining planning permission. They always get a good crowd, very partisan, with the Ducatista out there in strength cheering on the red bikes.

Will Bautista win again? Well, he seems to have an advantage and not just in straight speed, corner speed is mint as well. When you see the overhead shots from Assen, a sinuous circuit, he seemed to have very good mid-corner speed.

But ever the optimist, I’m hoping that someone like Johnathan Rea can give him a run for his money. Or maybe Chaz as we all know he has been making inroads into getting his V4 to work as he likes it.

But even when you see someone one their own, but riding really well, it is still good to watch. This is the thing about bikes, unlike cars which are a bit one dimensional, there is a certain beauty for me of just watching one being ridden properly. Roll on Imola.

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