WorldSBK Donington: Special podium for Lowes after ‘fun battle’

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

After a tough 2021 and some up and down luck in 2022, KRT’s Alex Lowes took his first WorldSBK podium of the latest season in race one, in front of a big and sun-kissed crowd of eager British spectators at Donington Park.

With Rea second, it made two Brits, and two Kawasaki’s on the podium for the Japanese factory’s 500th, but it was a special day for Lowes.

“It took a while to get!” Lowes admitted. “It feels a while. We’re not that far into the year but it feels good, especially here at Donington.

“To be honest, when the temperature jumps up, even though it’s only ten degrees, let’s say, on the track, we seem to struggle with our bike, if you compare it to the opposition. When it’s relatively cool, it’s quite easy to go fast. Then when it gets hot, we’re missing. The other guys, it doesn’t seem to affect them as much. So, I didn’t have the speed I expected in the race, but the pace I had, I managed to keep good until the end.

“I had a good battle with Scott [Redding]. He was smoking the rear tyre! After the old hairpin you go left at Schwantz’s, I was behind him and I could just see the side of the swing arm. He was just smoking the tyre. I thought, I’m probably going to have more grip than him in a couple of laps. I just waited there, and at the end I had a bit more grip. It was a nice battle.

“I was losing a bit of time because of a little bit of battles. I was able to save a little bit of tyre for the last few laps. Nice to be on the podium.

“Obviously, I gained the podium with Alvaro’s mistake,” he admitted of Bautista’s crash. “I wouldn’t have had the pace to be genuinely on the podium. I was a little bit off that pace, but not too far. Closer than we’ve been. Small changes for tomorrow and try to do a bit better.”

Lowes’ second place in Superpole was another feather in his cap, even if nobody got anywhere near Rea’s new track best of 1’26.080.

“That was one of the best laps I’ve ever done,” said Lowes. “I enjoyed it so much. The first lap, the pace, everybody was going slow like Moto3. Me and Jonny was going to do one in front, either tyre. We did it last year and it worked quite well. Everyone just waited for him to go out, so it was chaos! I was just like, ‘you know what? I don’t want to be involved in this.’

“I went off to the front. I had a lot of people behind me. I was on the harder tyre the first run, so I knew when I went for the softer tyre for the second run I was going to be a bit stronger. I was like, ‘all right, get clear track and just see if you can do the best lap you can do’. When I saw 1’26.3 I thought, that’s nice. I was expecting ‘26.7, ’26.8. So, I really enjoyed that one.”

Razgatlioglu got the best start of all, and Lowes lost some advantage at the start. “Our start wasn’t the best,” he confirmed. “Toprak passed me and then Jonny went wide, so I was behind Toprak. Then with Bautista, we had some passing but it’s impossible to pass this guy because he just has that bit of acceleration so he’s always there. Then he doesn’t brake too late, so it’s quite difficult to race against him. That upset my rhythm a bit. Then Jonny came past.

“To be honest, the first five or six laps, I wasn’t fast enough. I was struggling a bit with a full tank. The front was sliding a lot. I thought, ‘it’s going to be a long race, but try to be consistent. We’ve got another two races tomorrow’. And it was okay.

“The middle of the race, I felt quite good. I felt not too bad at the end. It’s always like that here because there’s some good passing places, but also after Craner Curves and the Old Hairpin, if you get it wrong, it’s easy for someone to pass you. Then you pass them back… and you get this sort of effect. So, it’s normally always pretty good racing here. Obviously, Toprak got away and rode great. Like I said, we’re going to try and make some changes tomorrow to be a little bit closer to Jonny.”

A special ‘hot weather’ test was organised by KRT for Aragon, after Misano, but there is maybe more work to do on that score for the top Kawasaki team.

“Yeah, I think it helped but still, compared to the other guys, we slowed down more,” said Lowes about the Kawasaki’s reaction to a very hot track surface. “In this race, if you look at the pace in practice, Jonny was incredible. The pace he had on used tyres was just unreal. Now we’re at 45, 46 degrees, we can’t quite do that. The other guys are able to keep the pace. So, we do need to understand that between us.

“Both of us are pretty fast, so we’ve got a lot of information to try to improve a bit for tomorrow. It’s a general thing that we know that we can improve.”

The ten-lap race will bring some changes in Lowes’ set-up, according to what he thought on Saturday afternoon. “I expect a bit more,” he said. “I want to use the SC1 front in the Superpole race, and obviously a bit less fuel. So, normally the bike is going to be working a bit better. I don’t think it will be as hot, although tomorrow looks hotter in general. I feel like I can do the Superpole race. I’m starting second, which is the best place to be. Good start. I’ve got a bit of a feeling it’s going to be a hectic ten laps. Need to make sure I’m good on the brakes them first few laps. I think it’s going to be a lot of action tomorrow.”

Lowes had to pass the ever-improving Redding and BMW combination near the end of race one, and had more tyre than Redding to do it with. He also had a grandstand view of Redding’s tyre slides. “Scott, just from sliding so much, I knew that he was going to struggle for grip,” the 31-year-old explained. “Then all of a sudden he just dropped. He couldn’t enter the corner. Then I was thinking, ‘there’s no way he’s just going to let me ride past him for a podium!’

“Obviously, he’s done a great weekend and the BMW is improving. He wanted to get his first BMW podium. So, every time I passed him I knew the next corner he’s going to come straight back past. But that’s what it’s about. I enjoyed that. When I passed him at turn three, I tried to just make sure I was enough past. I knew that if I got in front there, there’s a couple of corners where he couldn’t pass me back and I would be able to get a little bit of a gap. So, a little bit aggressive, but it was fun both ways. I enjoyed it, anyway. He was riding really well. It’s a shame that he lost the grip, because he was actually at some points of the race going back to Jonathan a little bit.”

The fact that WorldSBK is getting harder almost every weekend, and how hard Lowes had had things made his 30th career podium and his tenth for Kawasaki extra special.

“Yes, it’s nice to be on the podium,” he said through a grin. “I think I’ve rode well all year, honestly. I think that now in WorldSBK the standards and the competitiveness is so high. I’m riding the best I’ve ridden. I’m happy to be on the podium. Obviously it’s nice at my home race. I live five minutes from here. So, I’ve got a lot more friends and family at the race. But any podium is nice. The fact that it’s here, a little bit better. We need to be consistently a bit closer to the guys at the front, I think.”

Sam Lowes, Alex’s brother, was in town but soon they will fly off to Italy for a special family occasion. “He’s nervous because he’s getting married next week, so he’s in England trying to get a little break. After this race, we’re going to Italy for his wedding. It’s nice to have him here.”

Lowes, like all the British riders and others, was blow away by how many people were at Donington on Saturday. “I think we’ve really missed it in England,” stated Alex. “We’ve been scared of the COVID obviously and the restrictions have been quite a lot. Obviously, the weather, too. I would like to say it’s always like this, but we know it’s not.

“English fans don’t need much of an excuse to go sit on the grass with their top off and have a few beers! I think the weather has helped and we’ve got some British riders at the front. From my days in BSB, I’ve always had a really good relationship with the crowd. I always say we’ve got a good following in England. You can actually see the support we’ve got.”

Picture: GeeBee Images
Picture: GeeBee Images