Racers Edge Performance, North Coast V-Twins and Craig McMartin Racing ventured north to the Hidden Valley circuit in Darwin to score another solid top ten finish at round four of the 2017 ASBK over the weekend of 7-9 July.
Thursday’s official “un-timed” pre-race practice gave Beau Beaton the opportunity to ride the Panigale R for the first time on the teams new K-Tech suspension. Having missed the Winton round due to family commitments Beau looked comfortable from the start of the two short sessions before official “timed” practice got underway on Friday morning. Unfortunately for the team Josh Hook was not able to ride at this round due to testing commitments for the Suzuka 8 Hour race leaving Beau to develop the new suspension package solo.
Looking at home immediately on the Craig McMartin prepared Panigale, Beau finished the first timed practice session in seventh place with an impressive 1:07.477 lap of the popular Hidden Valley layout. Comprising fourteen technical corners, along with many subtle elevation and camber changes, the Hidden Valley circuit provides little rest for the rider. Feeling comfortable with the bike Beau, along with Team Manager Greg Maher and Craig White from Whites Racing Products opted to utilise the second practice session as a full race simulation to test the endurance of the Bridgestone Battlax slick tyres. By the end of the session, after lapping consistently and with a fastest time of 1:07.281 under the wheels of the Racers Edge Performance North Coast V-Twins Craig McMartin racing Panigale the team had pretty much decided on the race tyre selection.
With the race tyre selection looked after in the previous session Friday’s third practice session late in the afternoon allowed the team to test different options for the first of two qualifying sessions on Saturday morning. Using the same medium front tyre Beau was able to push the limits of the suspension a little more looking for that one fast lap as opposed to consistency over race duration but unfortunately a low speed crash at the hairpin just pushing the front a fraction to hard ended the day early for the team. Following this session, a strategy was developed for Saturdays qualifying sessions in relation to tyres and suspension, after discussing possible setup changes with Steve Mudford from Race Precision, the team also made some minor adjustments to the impressive K-Tech suspension that was proving to be extremely competitive straight out of the box. Saturday morning saw track temperature down slightly from the day before and the riders hit the track just after 11:00 local time, Beau started the session with a string of laps in the mid to low 1:07’s before uncorking his best lap of the weekend on the penultimate lap of the session to dip into the 1:06’s for the first time securing a provisional third row starting position. Saturdays second qualifying session saw track temperature up by over seven degrees and opting for the same front tyre Beau got down to business.
Unfortunately, a crash early in the session as Beau pushed the front end too hard into the hairpin ended the day early for the team and they slipped back one position to tenth resulting in a fourth row grid for both of the races on Sunday.
Race day Sunday saw a healthy crowd of Territorians line the circuit as the first of two scheduled seventeen lap races got underway just after midday. Track temperature was up and Beau got a good start and managed to stay out of trouble as the big field streamed through turn one for the first time. The pace was hot from the first lap, about once full second under the existing lap record at the front, and Beau was in the middle of the action fighting hard with Matt Walters and Michael Blair for ninth position until an incident at turn five on the eighth lap caused a red flag stoppage. Under the new for 2017 rules, and in line with those used in World Championship races, the riders took up their positions on the grid for the restart based on the finishing order of race one for an eight lap sprint to decide the result.
Beau got away well in the restart and had moved forward one position into seventh by the end of lap one. Lap two saw Beau and the Panigale get the better of Matt Walters to move into sixth place and assume the point in a four bike battle that was covered by less than half a second. Lap three was hectic with Beau being relegated to the rear of the battle group before going in too deep at the deceptive turn one on lap five and running off track losing about fifteen seconds and eight places. Beau got the Racers Edge Performance North Coast V-Twins McMartin Racing Panigale back on track as quickly as possible and got down to quick laps times to make up over three seconds and overtake Ben Stronach on the final lap to take fifteenth place. Race two was a far better indication of the speed of Beau Beaton and the Bridgestone shod, K-Tech equipped Racers Edge Performance North Coast V-Twin Craig McMartin Panigale. Beau surged forward off the line and was right on the leaders as the highly credentialed field made their way out of turn one for the first time. It was vintage Beau Beaton, riding with controlled aggression, that completed lap one in fourth position right on the back of reigning champion Troy Herfoss’s factory Honda.
Uncorking a 1:06.881, his best lap of the weekend, and fastest ever around Hidden Valley on lap two, Beau maintained his position with the lead group, the Panigale more than matching the other bikes for top speed on the longest straight in the 2017 ASBK Championship. With the pace heating up triple Australian Champion and former MotoGP rider Bryan Staring pushed his factory Honda through and was immediately followed by the factory Yamaha of Wayne Maxwell and Corey Turner. Beau held seventh position but lost a little time on lap five, enough to miss the slipstream next time down the straight. Robbie Bugden closed in on the rear of the Panigale and managed to just squeeze past to take the position on lap six. Beau and the Panigale held position for a further two laps until Cru Halliday moved past on lap nine pushing Beau back to ninth. With the lap record setting pace continuing out front Beau moved forward a position on lap ten as Winton round winner Wayne Maxwell crashed out at the notorious turn five. With eleven laps down Matt Walters closed to within a tenth of a second and the two traded places, each utilising the abilities of their bikes to take advantage. Beau lost a second to Walters on Lap 14 but just as he was starting to close back in the race was red flagged due to on track signage coming loose and flying onto the track. Race two was declared after fourteen of the scheduled seventeen laps with Beau taking ninth place and twelve championship points. Despite missing the previous round at Winton Raceway Beau still holds ninth position in the title chase.
The next round of the 2017 ASBK Championship will be held at Morgan Park on the 25-27 August. The Racers Edge Performance North Coast V-Twins team will hopefully have both Beau Beaton and Josh Hook on track at another new circuit for the team but one that should suit the nimble Panigale R.
“I was a bit rusty, but in all honesty you don’t forget how to ride a bike” said Beau Beaton. “It was great to work with the new K-Tech suspension and to go faster around this track than I ever have before on only my fourth lap, on old tyres was a great feeling and shows how well Steve Mudford nailed the setup from the get go. We really only made very minor changes to the suspension from Thursday through to Sunday. Unfortunately, I gave Greg a bit of work to do when I crashed in qualifying, on the only weekend when Doc (Mark Downie) wasn’t there to help, so I apologise for that. In race one I used a soft front, and I was pushing hard in that restart and I think it was a bit too soft, consequently I got into turn one a bit hot, couldn’t turn it and ran off, totally my fault and went from top then to sixteenth, but I kept it upright. In race two I used the medium and it felt fantastic, I got the best start, probably ever, and was in a good position going from tenth to fourth. I was pushing really really hard and I probably overcooked myself, and the tyre. Everyone was so close in times so only the smallest drop off in times was going to cost because it was so cut throat. I can’t really thank Greg and Julie from Racers Edge Performance, Craig White and Bridgestone enough for the efforts this weekend, they put so much into this round and I wouldn’t be able to have done this weekend without them. The nest round is at Morgan Park and I have done plenty of laps there before on the old 1198R, I think it will really suit the Craig McMartin prepared Panigale.
I will hopefully make it to the test and look forward to getting back on the bike and developing the K-Tech suspension”. “Quite happy with how everything went this weekend” commented Team Manager Greg Maher “First weekend on the K-Tech suspension and I have to say we were very impressed. Beau said it is providing plenty of feedback and it has enabled us to cure a few of the issues we have had earlier in the year, so all in all the change has been a positive step. As always, Craig McMartin prepares a great bike and the Panigale R ran faultlessly all weekend, we only rode the second bike, a 1299S, in the second session on Thursday just so we could get a base setup on it if it was needed. Our race pace was good but we probably just lacked a little match fitness due to Beau not having ridden much lately, but all in all was probably better than we expected.
This weekend wasn’t really all about the results; it is just great to have Beau back on the bike and getting everything back to normal. It was also great to have Dale McMartin and Ash Beaton helping out in the pits”.