The Gloucester-based Smiths Triumph team endured one of their toughest meetings of the season at Silverstone over the weekend with riders Billy McConnell and Graeme Gowland struggling to replicate their strong form of previous rounds.
For the first time this season, the factory-backed Triumph Daytona 675R duo couldn't manage a podium at the meeting which comprised the penultimate round of the 2014 Motorpoint British Supersport Championship, but still remained first and second in the title race.
A wet qualifying session saw the duo line up in the unfamiliar positions of seventh and 10th for Saturday's 'Sprint' race, although conditions had dried up considerably when the race got underway. It proved to be a race of mixed fortunes for the pairing with Hexham's Gowland retiring on the fourth lap and Australian ace McConnell slipping back from fifth to eighth on the final lap.
The results meant they found themselves back on the fourth row of the grid for the 12-lap Feature race and although they circulated together in the early stages, it was Gowland who was able to lap quicker as the race wore on. Indeed, he was able to fight his way into the top five, eventually finishing fifth, to take some points back off McConnell, who could only manage seventh.
With rival Alastair Seeley, victor on Saturday, taking 38 points from the two races, there's now just 34 points between the leading three riders with Billy still leading on 349, 18 ahead of Gowland with Seeley a further 16 points adrift in third.
The final two races, with a maximum of 50 points up for grabs, take place at Brands Hatch in two weeks' time.
Billy McConnell: "It's been one of those meetings and a tough one for sure but the positive thing is that I've come away with a bigger lead in the championship. I saw that Graeme had pulled in during Saturday's race and then it was a battle to bring the bike home but I got duffed up on the last lap and got pushed back to eighth, which obviously lost me some good points. It put us on the fourth row for today's race and although the bike felt strong, the front group just disappeared and their pace was phenomenal. If you're not with that front train, it's tough but I've extended my lead so I'll go to Brands Hatch which is a strong circuit for me, and look to seal everything with some podiums."
Graeme Gowland: "It's been a hard weekend and with not having tested here, it made Friday a hectic day in terms of set-up and the wet track on Saturday put us even further on the back foot. The technical problem in Saturday's race was a massive disappointment for all of us and although I salvaged the weekend with fifth on Sunday, I really struggled with the set-up of the bike and just couldn't perform as I'd have liked. I've lost a few more points to Billy but I'm still in the title race and with Brands Hatch being one of my best tracks, I'll go there, come out fighting and give it everything I've got."
Rebecca Smith, Team Manager: "We never saw this weekend coming and, after a strong free practice session on Friday, we were all feeling confident that we could compete strongly. We always knew it was going to rain on Saturday but we certainly didn't expect it to have the impact it did although Graeme's mechanical problem was just one of those things. Billy saw that Graeme was out and with him putting a lot of pressure on himself to win the title, it proved to be a difficult race for all of us. Although not the results that we wanted, we at least got two solid finishes in today's race and, at the end of the day, we shouldn't be too disheartened as we're still lying first and second in the championship. We all knew it would come down to the final round so we'll just go there and look to end the year in style."
Motorpoint British Supersport Championship Race One - 9 laps1 Alastair Seeley (Yamaha)2 Taylor Mackenzie (Suzuki)3 James Rispoli (Yamaha)4 Luke Mossey (Triumph)5 Sam Hornsey (Triumph)6 Luke Jones (Triumph)8 Billy McConnell (Smiths Racing Triumph)DNF Graeme Gowland (Smiths Racing Triumph)
Motorpoint British Supersport Championship Race Two - 12 laps1 Glenn Irwin (Kawasaki)2 Luke Stapleford (Triumph)3 Luke Mossey (Triumph)4 Alastair Seeley (Yamaha)5 Graeme Gowland (Smiths Racing Triumph)6 James Rispoli (Yamaha)7 Billy McConnell (Smiths Racing Triumph)
Championship Points (after eleven rounds)1 McConnell 349pts2 Gowland 3313 Seeley 3154 Irwin 2705 Stapleford 2506 Jones 247