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09 April 2007

Tunstall’s season starts on the podium

Superbike rookie Tom Tunstall kicked off his 2007 season with a solid performance at the weekend. Coming away with two Superbike Cup (championship within main championship for privateers and independents) podiums, and also gaining much valuable experience on the highly powered 1000cc machine.

The opening rounds of the 2007 Bennetts British Superbike Championship were staged on the legendary 2.3 mile Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit over the Easter weekend. And for the Huddersfield rider in his first ever Superbike race aboard the Hardinge - Ice Valley Honda CBR1000RR it was to be a steep learning curve throughout the weekend.

The consistent near perfect weather conditions that bathed the Kent track in sunshine throughout the event helped Tom and Hardinge - Ice Valley team (who were also new to the superbike class) to continue learning, and building upon the progress gained from pre-season testing. However a mechanical problem in the final free practice session saw Tunstall miss virtually all of the 50 minute session, missing out on vital track time.

"It’s always frustrating when you miss out on track time, but it’s even more important at the moment. I'm still struggling with the bike especially stability and we had also planned to sort out our race tyres in the session," commented the Yorkshireman.

With only one qualifying session for the British Superbike class, it was another new experience for the former World Supersport rider with the availability of the super-sticky one lap qualifying slicks.

Using the early part of the session to catch up on race set up, a singular "qualifier" was utilised leading to Tom’s best lap with an average speed of 92.76mph and the third fastest of the Cup riders.

"I’m happy with how the session went. We got some good data on potential race tyres. Plus I managed to work with the qualifier. I tested one in Spain but couldn’t get anything from it. It’s yet another area where I’m learning."

The grid for the race saw Tunstall lined up alongside former superbike winners Scott Smart and Steve Plater.

In the first of the days two races Tom got away well but was soon embroiled in a battle with Superbike cup stalwart Malcolm Ashley. The pair regularly swapping positions allowing other riders to get away.

By lap 10 Tunstall got clear and immediately gapped Ashley by up to a second a lap whilst chasing down the rider ahead, Aaron Zanotti. In six laps the determined Tunstall had closed down a gap of 4.5seconds to last years Superstock runner-up, but was unable to pass before the flag.

However with the demise of Irishman Marty Nutt on the last lap Tunstall was promoted to 2nd place in the Cup, behind former cup champion James Buckingham.

The second race of the day – another new experience for Tom – followed a similar pattern with Tunstall losing time early in the race before getting into his faster rhythm. However the intervention of the pace car adding an extra three laps to the race meant Tunstall – now in a safe second place – decided to ease his pace to ensure he had the fuel to complete the distance. The race was again won by James Buckingham.

"It’s been an incredible weekend – there’s just been so much to learn. I still haven’t "clicked" with the bike. The superbike is very powerful and I still don’t know which issues I have can be ironed out with set-up changes and which are just superbike characteristics."

"We made some changes overnight which helped the stability of the bike, but brought issues to corner entry and mid-corner grip. My confidence on the bike still has room for improvement and that showed at the start of the races. That said I think it’s been a great start to our championship, to come away with two 2nd places and a lot more experience – I can’t wait for the next race now!"

Tom and the rest of the British Superbike Championship riders won’t have long to wait with the next race this weekend (13th - 15th April) at Thruxton in Hampshire – the fastest track in the UK.