This last weekend (17-19 October) signalled a successful return to the British Superbike grid for Ducati, as a newly-formed Lloyds British Moto Rapido team fielded Czech rider Jakub ‘Kuba’ Smrz for the final three races of 2014.
The squad, headed by Moto Rapido team manager Steve Moore, treated the weekend as an ideal opportunity to get some valuable track time around the historic Brands Hatch GP circuit in preparation for a full season assault in 2015. With new sponsor Lloyds British confirmed and adorning the side of the striking 1199 Ducati Panigale Superbike, Smrz returned to race following a three-event absence due to a wrist injury sustained at Cadwell Park.
Despite the injury, it wasn’t long before the 31-year-old was back on the pace, progressing up the order throughout the three free practice sessions to end up seventh quickest ahead of qualifying on Saturday. When the stopwatch came out to decide the starting order for race one, Smrz was able to post the fourteenth fastest time on the 29-strong grid.
With rain falling moments before lights out in the opening encounter it was doubly difficult for the recovering Smrz, but despite dropping down the order initially he was able to make his way back up to fourteenth as the chequered flag fell.
The final two races took place in front of packed grandstands on Sunday, and with the sun shining it was clear that changes made overnight had had a positive effect on the sole Ducati in BSB.
Starting 16th for the penultimate encounter Smrz made steady progress, moving to 14th by mid-distance and eventually crossing the line 12th to take his second haul of points. Significantly the lap time he was able to put in racing in clear air late on secured ninth spot for the last race of a breakthrough 2014 season for the Ducati Panigale that has seen a first front row and pole position for the model.
As battled commenced for the final time Smrz gave himself more work to do off the line, struggling to get the power down and dropping to 17th by the end of the first lap. He was then metronomic in his passing in the early running, making up one place a lap for the next three consecutive circulations taking him back up to 14th.
At mid-distance Smrz made his move by the Suzuki of Waters and the Yamaha of Backlund in quick succession. A safety car deployed to clear debris from the track then closed the field right up, and on the restart he set off in pursuit of a top ten finish. Just as he got to within 0.091s of Chris Walker ahead, the red flags came out and denied a last-gasp top ten. Despite this, it has been a successful return to the top level of superbike racing in the UK with three points finishes.
Team principal Steve Moore said: “The idea was to preview our team and our new sponsor, and we’re pleased with how the weekend has gone – we’ve achieved what we set out to do, shown that we’re very competitive and learned a lot in the varied conditions. We’ve come a long way this year as a team, Kuba has progressed as a rider and we’re one of the few squads that hasn’t had a single mechanical or electrical failure all year which is testament to everyone in the garage.
“We’ve got exciting times ahead – our plan for the winter is to go straight into a testing programme. We’re going to come out stronger than ever next year and do everything we can to get the first podiums and wins for the Ducati Panigale.”