Tuesday, May 05, 2009

BSB Oulton: Camier Cruises to Double Victory

Oulton Park is a fine racetrack. As the name suggests, it is set in parkland, surrounded by forests and a lake. The tarmac twists and turns upwards and downwards, with so many blind corners that a guide dog would come in handy. Leon Camier stamped his authority all over the championship by taking both the wins in the British Superbike meeting.

Camier started from the front, having snatched pole position in the dying seconds of the qualifying session. The tall, laconic Englishman didn't make good starts, but was typically unflappable as he picked off his rivals, even surviving a scare on the grid for race two when an official claimed to have spotted fluid leaking from his Airwaves And Thanks To GSE Group And Jewson For Getting Me Here Yamaha (I think that's what he calls it).

The bike is still running with a tarted up road bike engine, with the full-on WSBK spec motor not appearing until team-boss Colin Wright takes an oxy-acetylene torch to the padlock on the GSE chequebook, probably when they reach a fast, non-twisty track where the extra 15 to 20 horse will be direly needed. You certainly wouldn't want to be going down the back straight at Snetterton 20 horse down on your rivals.

The fact that the youngster dominated the race meeting on a wheezing bike, despite being one of the biggest riders out there (either 6'2" or 6'3" depending on who you listen to, with about a foot of that being taken up by his giraffe-like neck) shows just how well he is riding. I had thought he would take a while to get back into the 4-cylinder groove after a year on V-twin Ducatis, but I was wrong about that. The new Yamaha R1's "bag of spanners" firing order gives it the best of both worlds, and it seems to suit Leon perfectly. I had picked Glen Richards for the title, and although the Aussie's consistency should help towards the end of the season, Camier is now looking like the favourite as he racks up the points early on.

Small Scotsman Stuart Easton took the lead early on in both races like some kind of mildly-overgrown Dani Pedrosa, but dropped down to fourth in the first race, and retired with electrical gremlins in race two. The Borders boy is certainly paying back the support of his fans, who have long claimed that he could do great things on a great bike.

His Hydrex Honda team-mate, Karl "Bomber" Harris had a better day. The Yorkshire bruiser had his personal trainer on the grid, presumably to stop him lying down and snaffling chocolate cakes before the races. It seemed to do the trick. Karl had horrible luck this time last year, but stayed on the bike and raced hard to climb onto the second step of the podium in both races. It was also a great result for Hydrex Honda, who have really rubbed the formerly factory HM Plant Honda team's nose in it.

Popular Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli was hugely impressive on his first race visit to Oulton, taking his Worx Suzuki to a pair of third places. Everyone agrees that this is a difficult track to learn, and nothing remotely like the MotoGP tracks that Sylvain is used to. Add to that the fact that the Suzuki is generally considered to shine on high speed tracks, and you have an excellent start to the season. Guintoli even came out with a bizarre story, claiming that he knew he would do well because he dreamed that his team boss Jack Valentine came down his chimney dressed as a blue Santa Claus, and handed him a trophy. Presumably, being French, Sylvain had been eating cheese before bedtime that day.

Other riders who stood out include Simon Andrews, who raced his Kawasaki brilliantly in the early stages of both races, despite being injured, before crashing in one and dropping down the field in the second.

Young Aussie Jason O'Halloran also punched above his weight on the SMT Honda, particularly in race one.

Gary Mason won the Cup class as usual on his Quay Garage Honda, embarrassing some of the riders from vastly richer teams.

Overall, it was a great day's racing, with the conditions staying pretty dry for the Superbikes. Camier looks like the favourite for the title, but it's a long way to the end of the season, and he knows better than most how badly things can go wrong mid-season. Still, the race for the title is already fascinating.

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