A major part of the appeal of British motor racing stems from the venues that its national championships visit; nowhere in the world has such a plethora of tracks that offer the most extreme of challenges. Just a few weeks ago the British Superbike championship and its roster of support packages attended Thruxton, the ultra fast, terrifyingly exhilarating former airfield. Contrast that with Cadwell Park, the most recent offering on the calendar; still utterly terrifying and exciting in equal measure but tight, twisty and undulating, the polar opposite to Thruxton yet equally as mesmerising to watch.
Highlight of the venue, undoubtedly, is the ‘Mountain’, a breathtakingly steep uphill section that from certain angles appears to fire racing machines and their masters into the distant tree line – it must be seen to be truly appreciated. Undisputed ‘King of the Mountain’ is multiple BSB race winner Josh Brookes, the Australian jettisoning himself and his Yamaha R1 higher than any other over Cadwell’s most viewed section of asphalt, and it was he who claimed victory in both Superbike races, his fifth and sixth victories in a row! Could this finally be the Aussie’s year?
While Brookes and his Superbike peers are the headline act, providing perhaps the most thrills of the race weekend, as it so often does, was the Pirelli National Superstock 1000 race. Josh Elliot and Alastair Seeley continued their battle for the championship but the true thrills – and spills! – came in the ferocious battle mid-pack, where the Wilks Racing Kawasaki of Kyle Wilks could be found alongside his Mission Racing stable-mate Ben Godfrey.
The pair had tested at Cadwell Park the week previous and found it as challenging as ever, and equally rewarding when a hot lap was hooked up, but for race weekend, conditions had differed as Cadwell Park was bathed in glorious sunshine and blissful heat, hardly typical for Lincolnshire during British “summertime”. It would become an eventful weekend; lessons would be learned, laughs would be had and the ‘Mountain’ would play its part…
Cadwell’s BSB weekend is like no other on the calendar; billed as ‘The Party in the Park’ it comes with a festival-esque atmosphere, none more so than in the surrounding campsites, as this rather sleep-deprived, bleary-eyed writer can testify. The live music entertainment and seemingly endless flow of alcohol further enhances the enjoyment, as well as being surrounded by leather-clad ‘bike fans with whom you share a common interest – motorbike racing that is, not necessarily facial hair and dodgy tattoos!
But better yet is the atmosphere within the Mission Racing hospitality suite the night before race day; with burgers, sausages and the most sublime pulled pork you’ll find within the confines of a racing paddock, the mood was light and spirits were high, despite a challenging day. Kyle had suffered mechanical gremlins during Friday and his practice was cut frustratingly short, putting him on the back foot for qualifying.
Nonetheless, the number 32 Kawasaki would line up for Sunday’s race a solid 22nd, within 2-seconds of pole-position and two places ahead of Mission Racing’s other machine, the number 16 of Ben Godfrey. Ben too had suffered a difficult weekend, missing the first qualifying session completely, but with the supreme efforts of the entire Mission Racing squad both ‘bikes would qualify for the race.
The Cadwell Park round of the calendar is often the most well attended in terms of crowd figures but one fan stood out among the throng of racing fans – he wore a ‘mankini’, the kind of thing made famous by Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character and leaves very, very little to the imagination. Had Kyle Wilks known of this perhaps he could have used the distraction of the lime green mankini and the various things hanging out of it as an excuse for dropping the number 32 Kawasaki at the top of the ‘Mountain’ during Sunday’s morning warm-up. As it is, he didn’t, blaming only himself for the crash.
The tumble was significant – they all are – but the tireless efforts of Neil Pearson from NP Motorcycles, Russ Owen’s Mission Racing crew and Wilks Racing’s own Jordan Richardson, Corey Blackmore and Kyle’s younger brother Rhys saw the black and red Kawasaki ready for action for Sunday afternoon’s race. Spare a thought however, for Claire, Kyle’s mother who reapplied the sponsor decals to a new fairing minutes after watching her son fall off the ‘mountain’ in front of other speeding motorbikes – the mothers tend to be the true heroes in this paddock.
It’s doubtful that any previous BSB weekend had seen quite as many red flags, session stopping incidents and dramatic engine blow-ups; seemingly, every practice, qualifying, warm-up and race, save for the Superbike races themselves, was cut short or interrupted by the dreaded red flag. Sunday’s Superstock 1000 race, already delayed by an hour due to earlier stoppages, was no different.
Kyle and Ben were racing together on the fringe of the top 20 when Jesse Traylor dropped his own Kawasaki, prompting the race to be halted and the riders to be called back to their original starting positions – a blessing for pole man Seeley, the Ulsterman having made a pig’s ear of the first race start.
When the race got going again – Seeley leading away this time – Ben led Kyle, both comfortably within the top 20, but then, disaster…
That damn ‘Mountain’ again! Ben’s distinctive yellow and black Kawasaki emerged over the crest one way, then the other, then back again, all the weight over the front wheel with Ben clinging on valiantly before the tank slapper become too violent and spat him over the handle bars. With a crunch, Ben landed heavily on his left side, narrowly avoided being crushed by his own cart-wheeling Kawasaki and fortunate not to be hit by the pursuing riders, one of whom was a certain number 32 Kawasaki with a quick-to-react Kyle onboard.
The Wilks Racing Kawasaki emerged through the debris unscathed and would record a respectable 16th place finish when the red flagged put an end to the race moments later. Ben meanwhile, was off to a nearby hospital for routine checks but pleasingly is now back at home, sore and pissed off, but no doubt raring to go for the next race at Oulton Park in two weeks time.
Here’s hoping for a return to the points for the Wilks Racing team and a return also to full fitness for Ben Godfrey – it’s also hoped that Oulton Park sees not a single mankini…please!