Alex’s Mid-Season Blog
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki World Superbike rider Alex Lowes reflects on a hectic, but entertaining few weeks that saw him testing for Japan’s world-famous Suzuka 8-Hour race, fly to America for the Laguna Seca World Superbike round; and then cross the international time-line again to compete at Suzuka before flying to Sepang in Malaysia to commence his World Superbike duties…
I hope the sun is shining and you are enjoying the summer! I have just got back from a very busy five weeks on the road: Suzuka 8 Hour testing, then over to the United States for a short break and the WSBK race at Laguna Seca, before heading back over the other side of the world to tackle my first Suzuka 8-Hour race in Japan then finishing off at a hot and sticky Sepang as I got back to WSBK duties.
After changing our electronics to the homologated system at round three of the Championship we have been playing catch-up, not helped by the ban on team testing in WSBK. We have therefore been testing during the race weekends, which is very hard for the whole team, but we have put our frustrations to one side, kept our heads down and worked as hard as we could to move forward. Finally over the last two races I feel like we have a bike we can race properly again and start challenging towards the front which is testament to the team I have around me; and also great news for the final three rounds of the series.
Laguna Seca is a great track, one which I really enjoy and suits the Suzuki too. We managed to get back into the top-six again, after a couple of very tough races for me at Portimao and Misano. I enjoyed riding the bike again and it set me up perfectly for Suzuka which was the following weekend. The long trip and big difference in time zones had been worrying me, even more so because the ‘8-Hour’ race schedule starts on a Thursday, one day early than normal, giving me one less day to rest. When I landed in Japan – with my right-hand man Glen Richards – we were looked after very well by all the Yoshimura staff and team and I found the jetlag and everything was totally fine. It was an honour to ride for such a famous team as Yoshimura Suzuki at such an iconic race; especially as it was my first time at the Suzuka circuit, first time on Bridgestones and the first time I competed in an endurance race!
After a solid job throughout Qualifying and the practice sessions they gave me the job of starting the race – I admit I was nervous! I hadn’t done the different procedure they use to start where you run across the track nor did I know how to pace myself for the hour-long first-stint. I was unsure whether I should ride like a normal race or ride more steadily. So I spent the Saturday night trying to get off to sleep and also trying to plan for the unknown. When the lights finally went out and the strange silence of no engines running was gone, I felt really good, immediately finding a nice rhythm. A memory that I will never forget is leading out of the final chicane on lap one to a sea of fans and flags on my left in the main grandstand and all the team’s pit-boards and mechanics on the Pit-wall on my right, with a clear view for me down the main straight. I remember having a smile on my face thinking ‘well you don’t have much choice now other than to get on with it’. The nerves had gone and I could enjoy leading the first lap, and then the full hour stint, of my first Suzuka 8 Hour!
Unfortunately for me and the team, we didn’t have the same view on the final lap of the 8-Hours as we ended the race in fifth place. I had led from the start and also regained the lead briefly again in hour three, passing the Factory Yamaha team. I gave the bike to Tsuda-san at the start of hour four in a comfortable second position. During the next hour Tsuda made a small mistake colliding with one of the many back markers you have to contend with at Suzuka. It was a shame as this caused him to crash and effectively ended our chances of winning or finishing on the podium. Endurance racing is different than anything I’ve been used to before, as you ride as a team of riders. I had joined Takuya Tsuda and Josh Waters – who is a BSB race winner for Suzuki – and they had both finished last year’s 8-Hours in second position. I was upset because we had all worked so hard, but not with Takuya: He is a great guy and I enjoyed working with him.
So in the end it was a disappointing result but it would have been wrong if I didn’t take positives from my performance. Many things were new to me and I learned a lot racing there. After the race I was excited to go to Sepang and get back to the day job of WSBK, especially as I felt my confidence was coming back after a difficult season.
Malaysia was a good weekend, I managed to qualify in fifth and do my best laps of Sepang. On race day I was really happy with my performances to bring home sixth and eighth place results despite some tricky conditions. In race two I was dead last on lap one due to getting caught-up in a turn one incident, which happens in racing, but I dug in and gave everything I had to fight back to eighth place: It was a hot, sticky race and the tyres were difficult for the last six laps; something I have had to learn to adapt to since moving up from BSB is riding in the really hot conditions, as the tyres work a lot differently, so to be as strong as anyone towards the end of the races in the heat was satisfying for me. I flew back home to Heathrow via Germany that night and reflecting back on the three back-to-back events, it was an awesome experience and I enjoyed it a lot. I have also learned so much and feel lucky to have had the opportunity.
Since I have been home I’ve had a couple of days off and been out on my Suzuki RM-Z450 motocross bike –which I really enjoy even if I take it fairly steady! Last week I attended the annual Suzuki track day at Silverstone. It was a fantastic day and I felt like a kid, even though I was riding a totally standard street-going Suzuki GSX-R1000, they couldn’t keep me off track! It’s always nice to ride with the public, pass on a bit of knowledge, and when you can play and ride without the pressure of a race weekend it makes you realise how lucky you are. I absolutely love riding bikes and it’s a bonus I get to do it as a job!
For the rest of the break I will be hanging-out with my brother, hopefully riding some more off-road, going to Cadwell Park BSB – which is like home for me – taking some money off Sam at golf, then training hard to make sure we keep moving forward to finish the year as strong as I possibly can. I feel very happy, and even considering this year has been really tough, I have come through the toughest part still smiling with 100 percent motivation to ride my bike again! Thank you so much for the support I really appreciate it! And thanks for reading!
Take it easy…