With seven races complete and just five to go, the Pirelli National Superstock 1000 Championship is beginning its run to the finish line of 2015. Along for the ride is Wilks Racing Kawasaki, the family-run team forging their way in the championship for the first time as a fully-fledged independent outfit.
For the Wilks family and their small race team, their inaugural season has provided challenges aplenty, but through each one the team has emerged stronger, smarter and even more enthusiastic and determined to succeed.
At Donington Park Circuit in early April, the distinctive red and black Wilks Racing Kawasaki ZX-10R made its racing debut. Despite the limited budget, the efforts of mechanics Jordan and Corey, Team Manager Claire and star rider Kyle Wilks enabled the Kawasaki to come home in the points.
Having qualified an impressive 20th of forty-four competitors around Donington Park’s famous and challenging circuit, a stellar start saw Kyle leap to eighth before another competitor’s mistake forced him wide at turn one, Redgate. Nonetheless, a superb effort and race-long consistency saw Kyle work his way up to 14th, a position he would valiantly defend until the chequered flag.
“This was our first weekend running as ‘Wilks Racing’ and although expectations were high we anticipated a few teething problems as everybody jelled and we worked out what we were doing!”, Kyle commented. “I felt very relaxed and comfortable all weekend and I’m happy to have started the season with a points finish. I’m now looking forward to building on that result at the next race.”
That next race took place at the world famous Brands Hatch, on the short ‘Indy’ layout, and still jubilant from scoring points on their debut the team looked to repeat that achievement at their second outing.
After setting the 11th fastest time in Qualifying 1, Kyle went only fractions slower in Q2 and would start the race an impressive 13th of 35 starters, putting himself in a great position for those all important points. His time of 47.470s was less than half-a-second slower than that of P2 on the grid, highlighting both the competitiveness of the championship and what a great job Kyle and the team were doing.
The constant curves and elevation changes of Brands Hatch make it difficult for overtaking but Kyle rode with a mix of intelligence and ruthlessness; having lost a couple of positions on lap 1, Kyle fought his way back up to where he had started and became entangled in a race long battle on the fringe of the points-paying positions. It was great racing as Kyle and his Wilks Racing Kawasaki fought tooth and nail, at one point slipping to 17th, but with the aid of just a single faller in front of him, Kyle stole 12th place at the finish line!
That position matched Kyle’s best ever result in the championship and meant once again Wilks Racing collected points towards their championship campaign and continued their impressive start to life as an independent team.
Team Owner, Mike Wilks, said after the race; “Claire has put together a great young team for Kyle, who is a happy rider. And a happy rider delivers! This is only the start…”
That start gained further momentum as the championship moved on to Oulton Park, but for Wilks Racing it would prove a challenging and ultimately disappointing weekend…
Having arrived at the Cheshire circuit on Friday evening, the team encountered their first challenge of the weekend: the brakes on the team transporter seized due to a lack of pressure in the system. A few hours passed before the issue was resolved, by which time the team were refused entry to the circuit’s paddock due to an enforced curfew. Having explained the issues and the fact that they had indeed arrived hours before the curfew cut-off, the Wilks Racing transporter was eventually granted entry, but the mechanical misfortunes would sadly not end there.
Number 1 mechanic – Jordan Richardson – worked tirelessly to get the Wilks Racing Kawasaki ready for action and after the first free practice session Kyle resided in an incredible seventh! For a damp first qualifying session things at first appeared to be improving further; on Kyle’s final lap he shattered his time through Oulton Park’s first sector by 1.7 seconds, targeting a position within the top 5! Entering the tricky Hislop’s chicane at the end of the circuit’s back straight however, the Kawasaki deposited Kyle onto the track’s surface and tumbled across the wet grass.
Kyle was naturally disappointed, yet damage to the motorbike appeared at first purely cosmetic – bar, lever, foot peg, exhaust, fairings etc. – and so all was fixed by the evening. The engine however, soon became a concern. Following an inspection by Nick Morgan of MSS Performance it was decided to be too risky to run the ‘bike through fear it may expire on track – the safety of Kyle and the other riders must always come first.
With too little time to replace the engine before the dry second qualifying session, Kyle was forced to sit it out, meaning he would unfortunately, officially, qualify last. As a result, the painfully difficult decision was taken to withdraw from the weekend’s event.
“Sometimes for sanity’s sake you have to dig deep for the positives,” said Claire. “Kyle was strong at testing and in FP/Q1 but an unfortunate off in the wet has caused more damage than we first thought. The team pulled together despite the disappointment and will come back fighting at Donington in 3 weeks time.”
A return to Donington, scene of the team’s remarkable debut the month previous, would be an opportunity for Kyle and the team to impress on the world stage, as the National Superstock 1000 Championship supported Britain’s round of the World Superbike series. The weekend would see the young team convert initial frustration and disappointment into yet more points toward their championship campaign.
That initial frustration, courtesy of a faulty wire which lead to an early end to the first free practice session, was soon put behind the team as they searched for a suitable set-up in qualifying – the Kawasaki having been refreshed by MSS Performance following the misfortune of the previous race weekend.
In the hunt for set-up performance, Kyle reported the ‘bike to be “all over the place” as it took him to 21st place come the session’s end. The second and final qualifying session would see Kyle’s efforts rewarded with P24, a position the team admitted to being a disappointment. The ensuing investigation showed that the Kawasaki was suffering from a lack of power, presumably part of the hangover from the issues of the previous race weekend.
Nonetheless, against all odds and following further set-up changes, Kyle raced arguably his finest race of the season yet, advancing nine positions to continue a 100% scoring record of all races started so far this year! Once again, Kyle demonstrated his undoubted talent as the team continued to learn and grow; despite the set-backs, they were continuing to score points and impress.
The solitary point scored at Donington was a welcome reward but further still Kyle was awarded Rider of the Meeting, given a free set of tyres and well earned recognition for his, and the team’s, stellar efforts.
Snetterton, venue of the season’s next race however, would be a race to forget…
Practice and warm-up sessions proved Kyle and the Kawasaki had pace, showing him comfortably capable of challenging the top 15 – points paying positions. The first session of qualifying suggested similar, with Kyle residing in 15th come the session’s end following only minor set-up altercations to improve the Kawasaki’s handling.
Second qualifying proved more challenging however; gearbox difficulties shortly after fitting a new rear tyre curtailed the benefit of the fresh rubber and Kyle’s position dropped to 21st. The team removed the gearbox for inspection and with parts and the continued support from MSS Performance, the Kawasaki was prepared for race-day morning warm-up.
That brief warm-up session proved once again that Kyle and the Kawasaki possessed the pace to achieve rewarding results, but come the race, mechanical gremlins troubled the Wilks Racing squad once more.
Unfortunately, the quick shifter on the Wilks Racing Kawasaki failed on the first lap of the race. Kyle initially persevered by shifting manually but the quick shifter fault became worse, leaving Kyle no option but to retire from the race – his first race retirement of the season.
Prior to the faulty quick shifter hampering his race, Kyle had made a blinding start, rocketing from 21st on the grid to well within the top 10, and brimming with confidence that he could have run there all race long had it not been for the unfortunate mechanical failure.
Wilks Racing made the difficult decision to skip the next race, held north of the border at Scotland’s Knockhill Circuit, giving the team time to re-group, come back stronger and focus on the remaining races, the first of which saw a return to Brands Hatch, this time on the much longer, challenging, Grand Prix circuit.
With the entire team ready and raring to go, the weekend’s first practice session saw Kyle and his Kawasaki run smoothly, posting the 16th fastest time having made only minor altercations to the motorbike. That form continued into the first qualifying session when Kyle again posted the 16th quickest time, having bettered his practice time by a whopping 1.3 seconds.
The all-important second qualifying session posed a challenge for Kyle and the team; a fuel pump failure left Kyle’s Kawasaki with a severe lack of power compared to his rivals. Nonetheless, Kyle came within four tenths-of-a-second of his Q1 time and would line up on the grid for Sunday’s race a solid 21st place.
With the fuel pump changed and the Kawasaki back to full power Kyle maintained his position from the start of the race before settling into his usual rhythm and working forward through the field. Kyle found himself in an enthralling battle for twelfth with up to six other racers and, despite a monumental “moment” exiting the Druids Hairpin and a brief scare as a fellow competitor lifted Kyle up as he was at full lean through Paddock Hill Bend, Kyle battled well to finish 15th, once again claiming a championship point for his family-run team.
It would mean still, despite the challenges of competitive motor racing, Wilks Racing had scored points every time Kyle had seen the chequered flag, an achievement others could only dream of.
“I’m pleased, having had a few technical issues this year it’s good to still be getting points in each race, that’s every race we’ve finished now we’ve scored points. The next goal is to move into the top 10!”, reflected an ambitious Kyle.
At time of writing, Wilks Racing are preparing for their home race, at Thruxton, the country’s fastest circuit. The ambitious and determined young team will be looking for that illusive top 10 position, a goal that is tantalisingly within reach. Their debut season has started strongly; the points scored proving the team’s worth, the mechanical issues providing ample learning opportunities and as the team collect more fans and supporters, continue to seek sponsors and financial backing, things are looking bright for the future of Wilks Racing.