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10 August 2008

Weekend of Challenges for Tunstall

Photo courtesy of Dave Couldwell / MONOPICS

The British Superbike Championships made their annual visit north of the border to the Knockhill race circuit in Scotland over the weekend.

Despite being hampered by a succession of technical problems Tom Tunstall and the Hardinge Ice Valley Superbike team still collected plenty of championship points with a brace of 5th places.

Perched on a hillside just north of Dunfermline in Fife, the Knockhill circuit is tight and undulating and presents a challenge to riders and teams alike.

The challenge for the Huddersfield based team Hardinge Ice Valley team was even greater as Tunstall only managed a handful of laps in the first of Fridays free practice session after engine and gearbox problems on both of the team's Honda Fireblades left him stranded in pit-lane.

Due to the severity of the issues and the short time between the day's practice sessions the Yorkshireman was also forced to miss the second practice.

An obviously frustrated Tunstall remarked, "Reliability hasn't been a problem for us this year, so to have major problems with both bikes is unfortunate. Hopefully the guys can sort the problems overnight and get back on track tomorrow. My biggest concern is the amount of dry track time we’ve missed out on, as the forecast for tomorrow is for rain."

The forecast was correct and Tunstall's pace in the wet free practice and qualifying sessions was strong and consistent. Despite being knocked from 2nd to 4th on the cup grid in the final moments of qualifying Tom was upbeat.

"I've been using my spare bike today and after a few tweaks the set-up for the wet is good. I'm only about half a second from the cup pole and my laps were really consistent. I didn't think I'd find myself saying it but I'm hoping for rain tomorrow."

Back on his number one machine, the Hardinge Ice Valley backed rider underlined his pace in Sunday's damp morning warm up session. However, by the start of race one, barring a few damp patches the track was dry.

Unfortunately the engine bogging off the start line wasn't Tunstall’s biggest issue as he struggled to match the pace of his cup rivals and he ended the 30 lap race in 5th.

"I had very little feeling from the front end of the bike entering corners and that's crucial, especially the first part of the lap where you really need to push the front tyre. It's pretty much down to missing the dry time on Friday and we're playing catch up but I know we can improve the dry set-up for race two."

When the riders took to the grid for the second race it was on a dry track, but a heavy shower meant a delayed start as the teams reverted to a full wet setting.

Swapping to his spare bike Tunstall's confidence in the wet showed immediately. Despite a grabbing clutch leaving him dead last, he had already started cutting his way through the field by the end of the first lap. By lap ten he was up to 3rd place when unfortunately a three rider crash brought out the red flag – stopping the race.

As Tunstall headed back out of for the restart he immediately noticed a problem with the drive chain jumping. Having to re-enter the pits to resolve the issue meant starting the race from the pit-lane.
Having been held for so long with a running engine Tunstall's machine overheated and when he did get away was sprayed with boiling engine water! Having taken a few corners to get the engine back down to temperature it took nearly six laps to catch the field.

Pushing hard he was up to 5th by lap ten, catching fellow cup riders Gary Mason and Martin Jessop, before a massive front end slide saw Tunstall having to cross the gravel trap and grass run-off to avoid crashing out. Fortunately the gap behind was great enough to hold onto 5th and he brought it to the flag safely.

"It was a real shame the first [wet] part of the race was stopped. I was making great progress and up to third. I can't believe how many issues we had at the restart. But in the race itself I was going well even though the track was too dry for the soft wet front, and inter rear tyres. In the end I was pushing too hard and was so lucky not to crash out.

"With the issues and circumstances throughout the weekend it's really been stacked against us but we've got two solid finishes, the whole team worked hard and there were a lot of positives to take from it and we look forward to Cadwell in a couple of weeks."

Always boasting large crowds the ever popular Cadwell Park round takes place over the August bank holiday weekend 23rd to 25th of August.

Photo courtesy of Dave Couldwell / MONOPICS

Photo courtesy of Dave Couldwell / MONOPICS